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Magic Under Paper Lanterns

This past weekend we hosted an outdoor dinner party, a garden party if you will. It was a beautiful night of feasting on tangy hoisin pork, crunchy Asian slaw, fresh Israeli salad, still-warm bread, and more. Our guests showed up in festive summer clothes, happy to be in airy dresses rather than thick sweaters after a seemingly unending winter. We sipped wine from the other side of the world and danced under paper lanterns to a playlist made just for the occasion. It was all so beautiful.

A few times during the evening I found my eyes tearing up, my throat tightening in utter thankfulness in the midst of a perfect night with amazing friends. We laughed and joked and sang and swatted mosquitoes. We smiled appreciatively, knowing the hard week so many of us had faced. It was truly joyous, and I could feel the fleeting nature of it all, even as we sat enjoying spoonfuls of avocado mousse.

As we all took to instagramming the evening, I knew others felt it too. This was a rare, beautiful event, and we all wanted to drink it in as deeply as we could, to capture it somehow in pictures.

It was beautiful because the weather was perfect and the twinkling lights in the trees cast a warm glow. But what truly made the evening beautiful was how it all came together—each person offering something.

My husband, Jim, busied himself with yard work and set up. I focused on decorating. Others offered their skills at making delicious salads and drinks and mousse and playlists. Others prayed or occupied our dog or cut bread or opened wine bottles or set the table or carried dishes out. Our friends helped themselves to things in our kitchen, mixed up their concoctions at our table, and helped us clean up.

You know you’ve made a true friend when you’re given “refrigerator rights”—that you can open the refrigerator and help yourself instead of waiting for the host to get it for you. It may seem like a silly measure, but it’s an honor we keep for close friends and family.

And yet as we bustled about preparing the meal this weekend, everyone had those rights. Everyone stuck their head in for some water, or to pull out the green onions, or to get the dessert.

It’s striking, though, just how rare this is. It’s a sign of real friendship and openness and sharing. In a world where so many are crying out for real relationships, for meaningful friends, we have an opportunity to provide just that. We can invite others over for meals, get to know them over hoisin pork, laugh with them over silky mousse. And summer is the perfect opportunity.

Linger outside a little longer at night. Play with your kids in the front yard. Walk your dog and strike up conversations with your neighbors. Invite neighbors over for a dinner party, or a dessert party, or just appetizers. Fire up the grill and let everyone know there’s enough to go around.

Take advantage of the summer months when life’s pace slows a bit and the sun shines a little longer. Focus on building relationships by being present in the moment with your friends and neighbors. Invite a few extra people to the table—there’s always enough to eat.

But remember this: let everyone offer something, no matter how small. Real relationships are mutual, and that requires give and take. So often we think of hospitality as doing all the giving: setting up, cooking, cleaning, and making sure our guests are comfortable. But hospitality also means creating a safe space for others to offer what they have, to celebrate that everyone has something valuable to give.

So let someone else cut the bread. Let someone else pull the butter out of the fridge and knives out of the drawer. Let someone else offer their musical talents or decorating talents or conversation-making talents. For goodness sake, let someone bring more of that amazing Asian slaw. Let everyone come to the table, bringing their own unique offering. And celebrate it all. Celebrate that it’s all so good. The food. The joy. The sharing. The laughter.

Soak up the tiny piece of heaven that you experience in meaningful community when everyone brings something to the table.

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