Last month, I had the opportunity to experience hospitality in an unexpected way. I took the day off to visit with the Faith and Character Community Program Coordinator at the Dick Conner Correction Center in Hominy, OK.
I’ll have to admit arrival and entering the Correction Center did not feel very hospitable. The Hominy location is a medium security facility, the first thing I noticed driving up was the rolls of barb wire in front of the fence all the way around perimeter. Then I noticed the guard tower and the barb wire across the top of the fence. Upon arrival we called to get instructions for entering, and were directed to use the gate behind the guard tower, which is not a phrase that is a part of my everyday conversation. To enter the facility we had to stand at this gate until it was opened electronically, step inside, let that gate close behind us, then a second gate opened electronically, and we went through. Once inside we had to go through a metal detector and we had to exchange our drivers’ license, the only possession we could bring in with us, for a visitor badge. The Faith and Character Community Program Coordinator took us through the facility to her office, with walls of concrete brick.
And then the conversation started and we had the opportunity to visit with someone who is so energetic and passionate about what she does that it was encouraging to us. We were able to meet the team of two that work with her, and see and hear their passion for what they do. And that is where the impact was made. That’s where the hospitality began. It didn’t matter that there was miles and miles of barb wire around us, it didn’t matter that it felt odd to leave our cell phones in the car, or how unusual it was to go to meet someone without taking a notepad and pen, all that mattered was the conversation that ensued, and hearing about the difference this team of people are making in the lives of individuals who, some have committed very serious crimes, and some who will be spending the rest of their lives in prison.
It was interesting to hear how their programs work, and situations they run into that are similar to what we run into in the community in promoting character, but what occurred to me later as I reflected on hospitality is it doesn’t matter where the conversation occurs, what matters is the time that is put into the conversation.
Character First indicates the opposite of Hospitality is Loneliness. As I’ve been reflecting on the character trait of hospitality, I decided that I think the opposite of Hospitality is Busyness, or even worse Indifference. In an age of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and whatever else I don’t even know about because I can’t keep up, we have daily contact with so many people, but yet people are longing for real relationships, wanting someone to care about them deep enough to know their heartaches and to truly share their joys. The Character First bulletin states that Hospitality is ultimately about sharing and investing our life in another person. And I think that defines what people want, they want someone to care enough to invest in them.
Back to the Hominy visit, when we were getting ready to leave, we were given flowers made from paper and a card made by a group of inmates currently participating in the Faith and Character program. As I look at the paper flowers, I wonder how often do we fall short in hospitality or investing in others because we make it too complicated?
What if we kept it simple…
- What if we didn’t feel like we had to be a Martha Stewart to invite someone into our home?
- What if we met a friend for coffee and didn’t get that load of laundry folded?
- What if we dropped what we had planned, and made time for what was needed?
- What if we took what we had, even if it’s just colored paper, and turned it into something to give to someone else?
Inside the card that was given to us was a poem written by one of the inmates. It reads:
Opportunity & Soil
Planting a seed of knowledge.
We are a lot like common soil.
An opportunity to plant a seed
And grow Character. Positive & Productive.
Soil itself is not pretty, in fact
It’s messy & gritty.
But the possibilities & opportunities
Are dependent on what seeds
You place in it.
Sunshine & water dedicated to it.
Thank you for planting
Change in us.
Faith & Character Class
The card says thank you, but we didn’t do anything for them, their program isn’t a spin-off of ours, but yet they demonstrated a heart of gratitude. The hospitality I felt during this visit makes me wonder, what excuses do we need to overcome to turn hospitality into action, and make those around us feel special, and build true and meaningful relationships.