FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Welcome to My Home

with Paul and Sandy Coughlin | May 3, 2011
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If you think entertaining is intimidating, think again. Today Sandy Coughlin, founder of the blog, “The Reluctant Entertainer”, and her husband, Paul, share the 10 Commandments of Hospitality, beginning with #1: It’s not about you, but about making others feel warm and welcome.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • If you think entertaining is intimidating, think again. Today Sandy Coughlin, founder of the blog, “The Reluctant Entertainer”, and her husband, Paul, share the 10 Commandments of Hospitality, beginning with #1: It’s not about you, but about making others feel warm and welcome.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

If you think entertaining is intimidating, think again.

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Welcome to My Home

With Paul and Sandy Coughlin
May 03, 2011
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Bob:   You never know what you are going to stumble into when you decide to practice a little hospitality.  Here is Paul Coughlin.

Paul:  We had one dinner party where it was really remarkable.  We asked everyone their middle name and their college degree if they had one.  Little did we know that those were the two questions that this one person, who was dating a friend of ours, did not want asked.  I had no idea.  We think it was a divine issue because it showed pretty quickly that this was not the person for our friend. 

When I asked it, I looked at our friend—I didn’t know anything by it.  Her eyes got really big because she thought, “He is asking the two questions my boyfriend is not supposed to be asked.”  I didn’t realize I was part of something much bigger. 

Bob:  This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, May 3rd.  Our host is the President of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey; and I'm Bob Lepine.  Are there some divine appointments waiting for you?  All you need to do is open up the door and practice a little hospitality.  We will talk about that today. 

And welcome to FamilyLife Today.  Thanks for joining us.  You and Barbara are busy—you travel a lot, you are off speaking places, you have the ministry going; but you have people in your home with some degree of regularity.

Dennis:  More so now that the kids are gone.  We didn’t entertain a lot when the kids were little or teenagers.  Some of that had to be where we lived.  We lived out in the country.  If you ended up at our house, you had to be invited.

Bob:  You had to be because...

Paul:  Or lost! 


Dennis:  It had to be very intentional to get there.  Honestly, Bob, I would have to say for the first couple of decades of our marriage, entertainment and hospitality was not a great strength.  I am not sure either Barbara or I would say it is a great strength today, but it has been more developed.

Bob:  It wasn’t really a value for you guys, was it?  Not something you looked at and said, “This is important.” 

Dennis:  I guess not because if...

Bob:  If you had, you would have done more of it.

Dennis:  What about you and Mary Ann?

Bob:  I would say we have not seen it as really the biblical value that it is.  That is where you do have to pull back and go, “The Bible speaks to hospitality, and to entertaining strangers, and to caring for the people in your sphere of influence.  I would say we have not done a great job of that.  Part of that is the distraction of children; but part of it is just selfishness—if you get right down to it. 


Dennis:  I am glad you pointed that out in my life, Bob!  [laughter]  You know what....

Bob:  I was testifying. 

Dennis:  I think I agree with you.  I do.  I think sometimes we can self-absorb.  The phrase that used to be used was “become a couch potato.”  I think far too many folks are. 

Well, we have someone who is going to pry the potato off the couch and launch you two as a couple into action.  Sandy and Paul Coughlin join us on FamilyLife Today.   Paul, Sandy, welcome back.

Sandy:  Thanks for having us.

Paul:  Great to be with you.  Thank you.

Dennis:  Sandy and Paul have three teenagers.  They live in Medford, Oregon, where they grow their own food. 

Bob:  What do you grow?

Dennis:  When you go to their house, you get to eat out by the garden where they picked the food you are eating.

Bob:  Or you can pick it yourself.  Right?

Dennis:  I mean....

Paul:  In fact, that is what we prefer. 


Dennis:  Really, Sandy, aren’t you contributing to the very thing you are trying to eliminate?  You have a blog called “The Reluctant Entertainer.”  All of a sudden you are picking the food—the broccoli, the fresh vegetables out of your garden, and then you are serving it up there. 

Bob:  It is a little intimidating for the rest of us.

Sandy:  Actually, we live on a city lot.  We are trying to make it attainable to people.

Bob:  So what are you growing in the backyard?

Sandy:  We have a cow, a horse; we have chickens. 


Bob:  Now wait.  You live on a...


Dennis:  Yes.  That is a city Medford, Oregon.  That is right.  You have written a book called The Reluctant Entertainer.  I want you to share with our listeners your “Hospitality Ten Commandments.” 

Before you share that, I just have to reflect on my own mom.  Even though I wouldn’t characterize my mom as reaching out to others, she did reach out to her extended family and really modeled what entertaining looked like—at least for me.  That is true of you as well.

Sandy:  Absolutely.  First of all—my list of “Ten Commandments”—I came up with this list to help women who are reluctant to practice hospitality—not just entertaining, but hospitality.  Little sentences that they could print out and put up on their refrigerator to remind them of little hospitality rules to help them. 

The first one is:  “Hospitality is not about you.  It is about making others feel warm and welcome.”  I have always taught my kids, and I have written about this on my blog, that it is not just a dinner party.  It is about making others feel warm and welcome.  I think if we live a hospitable life, we are going to have a richer life. 

Bob:  But you know there is some of you wrapped up in what your house looks like and how the food tastes.  It is kind of hard.  If you get invited to somebody’s house and it looks like a tornado just came through and the food is sub-par—you know, it is Stouffer’s® lasagna for dinner—don’t you walk away going, “Sheesh!”?

Sandy:  I haven’t had that happen, but I guess that you could feel that way.  Although, I have really tried to encourage women and myself to not compare—not to compare ourselves with this Martha Stewart over here versus somebody who is doing the Stouffer’s® lasagna. 

It is more about connection.  “Gosh!  They have invited us into their home!  That is a beautiful thing.  We get to know these people and see their kids.” 

Bob:  I guess at the end of the night, if it has been great conversation and good fellowship, you kind of forget how messy the house was or how stale the lasagna tasted anyway.  Right?

Sandy:  That is right.

Dennis:  I think about our culture today.  There is a phrase used by an educator,

Dr. Roberta Hestenes.  She describes what people are suffering from today—crowded loneliness.  Crowded loneliness. 

I think what Bob is hitting on here is, “People are looking for a way to connect.”  They are looking for a way to experience real relationships with real people.  There is something that happens when you get invited into somebody’s house that won’t ever happen in a restaurant.  It won’t happen in a sterile environment.  It needs to happen where life is lived. 

As I think about my mom, she was hospitable because after you had been in her home or had a meal she helped prepare, she was so much fun that you just enjoyed the festive experience.  Yes, the fried chicken was good.  It might not have been healthy for you, but it was the relational dynamic that really floated the boat and raised the waterline. 

Bob:  Okay.  So “Commandment No. 1:  It is not about you.”  What is “Commandment

No. 2?”

Sandy:  “Commandment No. 2 is:  Plan ahead.  Be organized and know your recipe.”  Part of that for me—what helped me as an early entertainer—was to master three recipes.  If that means you tape them inside your kitchen cupboard door—that they are there.  You just, “Oh, company’s coming.  Okay.  I am going to make this.”  There it is.  You don’t even have to go look for it. 

Master three recipes and keep cooking them over and over again.  You will have it down where you aren’t going to be so intimidated by the cooking part. 

Bob:  That is interesting because sometimes Mary Ann will use a dinner party to want to try out some new recipe just because you so rarely cook for a group like that.  Then, it does increase the anxiety level, “How is this whole thing going to go if this is not a tried and true recipe?”

Sandy:  I have done that.  I often bring in Paul or one of my sons to come help me in the kitchen because at the last minute with a new recipe, you don’t really know the time involved that it is going to take.  If you save it for the end, it can be horrible. 

Planning ahead; being organized—part of that “Commandment” is delegation.  I think with the economy right now, too many people are saying, “I can’t afford it.”  Believe me, if you do a whole dinner party, it is expensive.  I have encouraged women all along, “Open up your homes, but delegate half of the meal.” 

If you have two couples coming over or four people, have them bring dessert.  Have somebody bring appetizers.  Have them bring two things.  People don’t mind bringing food to a dinner party.  In fact, they like it.  To me, it is the new way to entertain in America.  You delegate part of the dishes. 

Dennis:  There is another way to for somebody like me who only has one recipe.  You just don’t have the same people back to your house. 


Paul:  You are going to keep sharp notes on that. 

Bob:  Either that or they better really rave about it the first time. 


Dennis:  They want to come back!

Sandy:  Dennis, just seeing how I have cooked the same thing over and over for different friends that come more often to our home.  They have had my salmon many, many times; but they love it! 

Dennis:  So your salmon—that would be one of your three. 

Sandy:  That is one of my three.

Dennis:  What are the other two?

Sandy:  Years ago it was chicken divan, which I have diverted from now. 

Dennis:  Is that in here?

Sandy:  It is in there.

Dennis:  What is the third?

Sandy:  The third would be probably my chicken with goat cheese and balsamic glaze.

Dennis:  I do make a mean balsamic salad, however.  I mix it with a peppercorn ranch...

Bob:  [announcer’s voice] You are listening to the Food Channel here on whatever Christian station...


Sandy:  Dennis, did you know we are coming to your house for dinner tonight? 


Bob:  Your third “Commandment” is:  “To set the mood.” 

Sandy:  The “Third Commandment” is, “To set the mood.”  Yes.  I think this is important to not go overboard—but to just think about what people see, what they feel, what they are going to taste.  Think of the five senses—actually, that is coming up in another commandment. 

People want to relax.  Whatever you can do to help them—I have written about that also on my blog.  People have written to me and said, “Wow!  I have never even thought about considering five senses or the mood that needs to be set.”  Walking into a home—we play a lot of jazz—right away, you walk in and say, “Wow!  This is going to be fun!  This can be a great time.  It smells good; the table is set.”

Dennis:  To that point of the visual, our daughter, Rebecca, went to a culinary school in Denver.  She pointed out to us that before people taste the food, they see it.

Paul:  Yes.  We eat with our eyes. 

Sandy:  Yes.

Paul:  We do.

Dennis:  It is interesting.  You know, God made all these senses.  He made us to enjoy and savor both the visual as well as the tasting of food.  It is a good host who sets it all up to be able to be done in a way that really is excellent.

Bob:  I am here to say you don’t have to pretty it up for me. 

[Laughter]   Just slop it all down there.  Let’s go!  Come on!

Dennis:  Bob’s favorite place to entertain, Sandy.  Cheesecake Factory.  He has been to how many now, Bob?

Bob:  Sixty-nine different locations. 

[Laughter]  Seventy is coming up very soon.

Dennis:  We could take up the rest of the broadcast, and he could tell you all sixty-nine.

Bob:  But let’s move through “Commandment No. 4”

Sandy:  “Avoid perfectionism.”  This can ruin entertaining.  If you think that you have to have a Martha Stewart table set or even a Rachel Ray meal—I mean, her food is fantastic—I love to watch her on TV.  She can whip up this incredible meal in 30 minutes.  It is inspiring, but it might not be real for some of us.  We have to put expectations aside and know that “good” is good enough.  It doesn’t have to be perfect. 

Bob:  That is good.

Dennis:  Okay.  What is No. 5?

Sandy:  No. 5 is: “Stimulate conversation.”  People can come to your table and you can have your questions you want to ask; but what about the person who dominates the conversation?  We learned this early-on. 

We had a couple of dinner parties where we allowed somebody to dominate the conversation.  It was misery!  I remember by the time it was time to serve dessert, I was slapping down the dishes because this woman just consumed the whole conversation.  She didn’t ask us anything about our lives.  Now I know it is not all about us, but it just seemed wrong.

Bob:  She probably had a delightful evening. 


Sandy:  Yes.  So after that,...

Dennis:  Well, before you get to that—so Paul, your advice is do what Thomas Jefferson did?

Paul:  Oh, Thomas Jefferson used to have a book by the dining room table.  If his guests failed to inspire him—grab his interest—he would just start reading a book while he was having dinner. 


What you have to do with someone like that is you have to learn to interrupt them without making it look like you are interrupting them.  I eventually did.  I interrupted and then asked another person a question.  You have to intervene and move on. 

Sandy:  We haven’t had anybody pull out their phones yet at our dinner table.

Paul:  That is right.

Bob:  Do you have three or four questions that are kind of your “go to” questions?  I have always kind of kidded Dennis who has this, “What is the most courageous thing you have ever done?” question.

Paul:  Great question. 

Bob:  That he asks.

Sandy:  We have asked that many times.  I think the one that has been the most fun with people we don’t know is, “What is your middle name, and how did you get it?” 

Bob:  Okay.

Sandy:  That has been very interesting.

Paul:  We had one dinner party where it was really remarkable.  We asked everyone their middle name and their college degree if they had one.  Little did we know that those were the two questions that this one person, who was dating a friend of ours, did not want asked.  I had no idea. 

Sandy:  Divine intervention. 

Paul:  We do think it was a divine issue because it showed pretty quickly that this was not the person for our friend. 

Bob:  Wow!

Paul:  When I asked those two questions...

Sandy:  There were about 10 or 11 people at this dinner party. 

Paul:  So it was a big dinner party.  I asked it, and I looked at our friend—I didn’t know anything by it.  Her eyes got really big because she thought, “He is asking the two questions my boyfriend is not supposed to be asked.”  As a result—I didn’t realize I was part of something much bigger. 

Bob:  You have to be kind of careful about your questions and not ask, “What is your secret fear?  What is the one thing you would never tell anybody?”  You know, you want it to be something people can engage in without feeling threatened by it, right?

Paul:  Yes, a difference between personal and private.  We ask personal questions but not private questions. 

Bob:  “Commandment No. 6.”

Sandy:  Demonstrate thriftiness.”  I am a big yard “saler”, and I love the dollar store.  I think they are great places to buy entertaining items.  I say, “Start with white dishes.”    We have had white dishes for 20 years now—the same dishes.

Bob:  They are still white after 20 years?

Sandy:  They are still white.

Bob:  That is good. 


Sandy:  I just think, “Over-focus on the table.”  I take about five minutes.  I know I am using white dishes.  I know I am using my dollar store goblets.  What is in the yard?  What herb can I use?  What flower is in bloom, or what does my neighbor have that I could go and ask if I can “borrow”?  Put a few candles on the table. 

M heart is really more for, “I can’t wait to talk with our friends tonight.  I can’t wait to go deep.  I can’t wait to see what is going on in their lives.”

Dennis:  This next one that you have, No. 7, reminds me of a dinner I had one time at another person’s house where the moment you walked in the front door, where there were all of these apologies taking place:  “Oh, I am sorry the house is a mess.  I am sorry the food....”  On and on and on. 

Sandy:  Doesn’t that make you feel uncomfortable? 

Dennis:  Oh, it does! 

Sandy:  “Don’t apologize.”

Dennis:  It is like, “Relax already.  This is okay.  I am fine.”  What is No. 7 then?

Sandy:  “Don’t apologize, and it is okay to make mistakes.”  It is funny because I broke my own rule last Saturday night.

Paul:  I wasn’t going to bring it up, Baby.

Sandy:  We had friends over, and our one friend doesn’t eat salmon so I made my chicken with my goat cheese, balsamic glaze, and fresh basil.  I couldn’t find the recipe at the last minute.  I made this a lot, but it has been a while since I made it.  I looked everywhere and couldn’t find it. 

When it came time to serve the food, I said, “Yeah, I couldn’t find my recipe so I kind of winged it.”  Well right away, if someone is going to say that your first thought is, “What did she leave out?  Is it going to taste okay?”  It makes that person feel uncomfortable.  It also makes you stand out.  It puts all the attention on you, and it makes your guests feel uncomfortable.

Dennis:  Go over these last three just real quickly because they are really good.

Sandy:  Okay.  “Be creative; use what you have.”  I already talked about, “What is in your yard?  What is in your neighbor’s yard?  Go to the farmer’s market.”  Keep it simple; don’t overcomplicate.

Dennis:  You are not talking about stealing stuff out of your neighbor’s yard? 


Sandy:  No, no, no. 

Dennis:  Okay, good.

Sandy:  You have to ask first. 

Dennis:  That is one of the Commandments, too, you know.

Bob:  There are gleaning rules in the Old Testament.  If it is near the edge of the yard, it is yours. 


Sandy:  Okay.  No. 9—“Commandment No. 9:  Learn from others.”  I think this one is very important, especially for younger women who do not know how to entertain.  I could tell you a lot of stories about that—whose mothers didn’t teach them the art of hospitality.  They just feel lost on what to do. 

I say, “Find somebody who does it well.”  Implement what they do.  It is okay to copy.

Dennis:  Bob, you can come over and learn how to make blackened salmon.  It is okay.

Bob:  I can?

Dennis:  You can come on over.  I’ll mentor you.

Bob:  Thanks so much! 

[Laughter]  You are so kind.  You are so kind and humble, too.

Paul:  He is proud of his humility. 


Sandy:  I am still waiting for dinner tonight, Dennis, at your house. 

Bob:  The last “Commandment”.

Sandy:  Life impact is everything.”  I think I have hit on that a lot today.  It is all about relationships and connection—getting to know people.  One thing I would like to encourage younger people is to think of some older friends that you can have over. 

We have a few sets of retired doctor friends.  We love to get together with them because they have nothing to prove.  They have raised their kids.  They have lived life.  They enjoy our family.  They have wisdom to give us.  It is beautiful.  It is really beautiful.

One of our friends left one day.  She took me by the cheeks and she said,  

  “Sandy, I just have to tell you, ‘You are the only young couple that invites us over.’”  That makes me really sad.  I think we really need to reach out to our neighbors, to elderly people, not just to our close friends.

Dennis:  I agree with you.  I think your book is going to help a lot of people be able to do that.  Before we are done, Paul, I have one more question to ask you.  “If you could have her only prepare one meal out of this book for you, which one is it?” 

Paul:  It would be the salmon with probably Sandy’s signature side dish, zucchini noodles in white sauce.

Bob:  Zucchini noodles?

Paul:  Unbelievably easy to make.

Dennis:  You make the noodles from scratch?

Paul:  They are made out of zucchini.

Sandy:  Yes. 

Paul:  The noodles are actually zucchini.

Sandy:  You take a peeler and you actually peel the...

Dennis:  Oh, I got it. 

Sandy:  Yes, and we do grow the zucchini. 

Paul:  Zucchini will grow under your home. 

Dennis:  You just put me “under the pile.” 

[Laughter]  I mean, back to the perfection-deal.  I’ll never grow zucchinis.

Paul:  Oh, you could.  You live in the south.

Sandy:  Dennis, we live on a city lot.  We have turned our flower beds into garden beds.  Anybody can do it.  Even you can. 

Dennis:  You have convinced me.  Thanks for being on the broadcast—both of you.

Paul:  It has been a pleasure.

Sandy:  Thank you very much.

Dennis:  Alright.

Bob:  Is there really a Cousin Reggie and a Cousin Jim? 

Paul:  There is!

Bob:  I was just checking.  Okay, because there is a recipe in here for Cousin Reggie’s marinade and Cousin Jim’s St. Louis-style steaks.  I am thinking about using this. 

With the steaks, you use a little olive oil, a little bit of sugar, and some Lawry’s Seasoned Salt.  You rub those on the steaks.  The marinade:  You take a clove of garlic, mince it up; 2 tablespoons of ketchup; 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar; ¼ cup soy sauce, and a ¼ cup of honey.  Mix it all together and put the steaks in a bag for 24-48 hours before you cook them.  That will add some flavor.

Again, we have put the recipes for the marinade and for the steaks online at  The recipes are in the book you have written, Sandy, called The Reluctant Entertainer.  We have copies of the book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center.  It has a lot more than recipes in it.  It has a lot of tips on how you can turn your home into a place of ministry. 

Go online at for more information about the book, The Reluctant Entertainer.  Order a copy from us online, or call 1-800-FLTODAY to order a copy (I-800-358-6329).  That is 1-800-“F” as in Family, “L” as in Life, and then the word TODAY. 

Now I also want to make sure our listeners are aware of something that is happening here during the month of May.  Like a lot of radio programs, when you get close to summer, you start to—well, you get a little concerned because during the summer, people get busy and oftentimes folks who regularly support a ministry like FamilyLife Today get preoccupied doing other things.  As a result, summer can be a challenge for ministries like ours.  There are times you have to look and say, “Do we need to make some adjustments?  Do we need to trim some things or cut some things because we just don’t have the money for them?” 

We have some friends of the ministry who are aware that this happens.  They came to us and they said, “We want to help, and we want to encourage your listeners to help as well.  We will make available a matching gift.”  They offered to us $750,000 if we can have that money matched by FamilyLife Today listeners.  That is the largest matching gift we have ever received outside of the month of December. 

We thought, “This could be a challenge, but we are going to ask our listeners if they will help out.”  That is what we are coming to ask you to do.  When you make a $20-, or a $50-, a $100-, or a $500-donation to FamilyLife Today this month, that donation is going to be matched on a dollar-for-dollar basis.  Every donation is doubled during the month until we reach that total of $750,000. 

We are hoping you will do whatever you can do to help us out.  You might think, “All we can do is $20 or $10.”  That helps!  If you can do that, go online at and make that donation, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY and make that donation.  It is really asking everybody to do whatever it is you can do to help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today. 


Again, make your donation online at, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to make your donation.  When you do, your donation is going to be matched dollar-for-dollar.  You will be helping us take advantage of the full amount of this matching gift fund here in the month of May.  So we hope to hear from you and want to say, “Thanks,” in advance for whatever you can do to help support FamilyLife Today

Now, we want to encourage you to be back with us again tomorrow when we are going to meet a young woman and her mom and dad and hear about how she spent the summer a couple of years ago memorizing Scripture—I mean, a couple thousand verses of Scripture.  She will share her story with us tomorrow, and we will hear about plans for the upcoming national Bible bee and how your kids could compete.  That all comes up tomorrow.  Hope you can join us. 

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team on behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey; I'm Bob Lepine.  We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas. 

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