I remember hot summer afternoons like these as a child. My best friend and I would skip down the sidewalk to ring the doorbell at Mrs. Raines’ little house. No matter the day, she was sure to answer with a smile and invite us in for a fresh-baked snickerdoodle. As we nibbled our cookies, our eyes took in the keepsakes on display from her missionary travels. She answered our questions with patience and helped us to see a world past the edges of our tiny Missouri town. Without preaching a word, Mrs. Raines’ hospitality showed us the welcoming love of Jesus. She knew the power of fun to open a child’s heart.
Fast-forward to the present, and I see that same gift of hospitality in our friend, Deanna Day Young. She has lived out a commitment to open her home and offer creative fun, friendship, and a listening ear to her girls and kids of all ages. Deanna offers a motivating example today of how to show Jesus’ love to the children in our lives. We know you’ll be inspired too!
Soda, Scripture, and Sidewalk Chalk
“You want those kids at your house. That way you know what they are watching, doing, eating, drinking and who they are hanging out with.” I heard these very wise words from a speaker several decades ago at a women’s conference. And she was right.
Our girls were very young at the time and I didn’t realize how much knowledge those couple of sentences held.
Hosting children of all ages can be trying at times. And when they hit the teen years, it can be doubly trying. But I Peter 4:8 says, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” And I love children! I love people. I am a social person, but more than anything I love sharing God’s love with others.
When raising children and including their friends during those formative years, we have to love. We must choose love above all else. Pouring our lives into our kids and their friends has the power to open a child’s heart–it is our Christian witness that shows them Jesus. We become the hands and feet of Christ.
My husband and I took those words seriously from that speaker about wanting those kids at our house. We took 1 John 4:7 as our personal call: “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.” We determined to show love to our own children as well as those who crossed our path.
And so we began that journey.
As most young couples, we didn’t have much extra money, so we looked for ways to do fun things that didn’t cost a lot. We wanted to be the gathering house, and as the gathering house, we knew we would have to spend money on snacks. By sacrificing spending on some things, we could use our funds to provide a safe place for kids to gather. Hebrews 13:16 was our go-to verse during those times:
And do no forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.
What did gatherings look like in our home?
When our girls were younger, we would have parties for about any occasion we could think of: Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, summer, back-to-school, Halloween and Christmas. We baked homemade cut-out cookies and poured Kool-Aid® drinks. Simple games like drop the clothes pin in a jar, Duck-Duck- Goose or tag were played in the front yard. We had a swimming pool that was always a favorite summer activity. And we did crafts. So many crafts!
During those parties, we would decorate valentine cards and take them to the local nursing homes for residents. We wore green and ate green food–whether naturally green or with a little help from food coloring–for St. Patrick’s Day. Easter egg hunts were hosted with eggs filled with a dime or a piece of candy. One year, we had a carnival where each child decorated their own cupcake, which in turn became the party snack. The kids had a blast throwing sponges at adults and competing in a football-through-a tire-swing throwing contest. We set up an obstacle course for kids to ride a tricycle around little orange cones in record time. We played hopscotch on the basketball court and used sidewalk chalk to show our artistic talents.
My girls, Kiersten and Morgan, recently reflected on these childhood memories. They shared, “Kids don’t have what we had when we were little. And not from a material perspective but from a family perspective. If we were little and home during this quarantine, we would have a ball!”
When the kids got older, we felt a calling to continue to pour into them.
Not only did we continue creating a safe gathering spot, but we used every opportunity to share with them spiritually. We made sure our basement was clean and included a TV, a dorm size refrigerator filled with soda and a table full of snacks. We wanted every young person to feel welcome.
During those teen years we hosted the girls’ sports teams for dinners, and then left them to enjoy time to themselves in the basement. We had a basketball goal that was strong enough for those show-off boys trying to dunk the ball. We even splurged on a hot tub for the girls’ basketball team to gather after games for team bonding. Plenty of Mountain Dew® and Doritos® were kept on hand to satisfy their hunger.
Before meals, we always prayed. After a few visits to our home, visiting friends came to expect and respect that. They didn’t eat even one bite until we prayed. It was also understood that we didn’t tolerate illegal activity nor cursing or disrespect. I kept a Bible out on the table, and decorated the house with subtle pictures of scripture and positive messages. Our faith was shared even if we didn’t speak a word.
With a houseful of teenagers, we took I Peter 4:9 to heart: “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.” We didn’t care if kids wore their shoes in our home, and they were always welcome to eat and drink in all rooms with no judgment. Spills were wiped up and stains were covered with a rug. If I needed to sweep up dirt after they left, then out came the sweeper.
Since we had created an open place of welcome, we could be there when it counted. One of our daughter’s friends and teammates was tragically killed during their senior year. In the aftermath, our house was the place of refuge. We grabbed soda and water bottles and boxes of tissues and placed them in the circle of sobbing teens. Kids, coaches and parents alike came for community support.
Loving others’ kids didn’t just impact their lives, it was a priceless gift to me as well.
One of our girls’ best friends became like a daughter to us over the years and we shared a lot of life together. She shared the way our relationship has made a difference to this day:
“Now that I am a mom, it’s the little things like Easter bunny cakes, holiday sparklers, and sitting at your table in the bay window that mean the most. I wish I had a family friend who had kids the same age where we could do all that. If I lived closer we would come to your house every single Friday and do fun things. And one day when you have grandkids, and I live closer, my kids and your grandkids are all gonna want to hang out at your house.”
“You want those kids at your house.” That saying continues to echo in our hearts.
As parents raising children, we hear Proverbs 22:6 a lot: “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” We can’t keep a child from going astray, but we can do the best we know to train them in the ways of the Lord. We also can’t raise everyone else’s children. But, we can offer hospitality and a safe place to gather while pouring the love of Christ into each child.
During these years, there may be days you want to be left alone. You may have days you don’t want to make one more batch of chocolate chip cookies. There may be days you can’t hear yourself think because of the noise. But those days go by quickly, and I promise you will crave the laughter, the smashed chips in the carpet, and the driveway full of cars.
As you look back, you will know that obeying the command of Jesus to “love one another, as I have loved you” will bring joy to your heart and a simple smile to your face. Your hospitality and the power of fun will open kids’ hearts, and you’ll celebrate God working before your eyes.
“You want those kids at your house.” Yes, I do.
Deanna Day Young’s mission statement for her life is “to make a difference to someone every day.” She has a passion for random acts of kindness. Deanna has been speaking to women’s groups for 19 years and has a treasure box of topics to share.
Deanna is the author of Extra Hot Fudge Please, a collection of daily devotions. She is also President of Bucket Buddies Mission, providing buckets of goodies to children suffering from cancer and other life‐threatening illnesses. Deanna lives in southeast Indiana on the Young family farm with her husband of 31 years. Find even more wisdom and encouragement at deannadayyoung.com and Facebook.