What an Old Farmer Teaches Us About True Hospitality

July 18, 2017 | 23 comments

This is my friend Helmer.

He’s an old farmer who lives up the road from us. If you drove from our farm to his, you’d pass by the country church where we worship together on Sunday mornings.

There are a lot of things I love about Helmer.

The way he sings hymns by heart – all four verses.

The way he carries a comb in his front pocket.

The way he and his sister, Hazel, take care of each other. (Both in their 90s, they now live together in Helmer’s house.)

The way that Helmer likes to keep things simple.

When I need a shift in perspective about life, well, I pay Helmer and Hazel a visit. They keep the main thing, the main thing – devoid of the nonessentials.

A while back, I drove the familiar road between our two houses, past the church and the harvested fields. Like I often do, I brought my notebook and a pen. We talked about the church, and how to keep the faith in hard times. They are always so wise, so I scribbled notes while sitting on a sofa, between those two sages.

Then, it was time to go.

Before I left, Helmer rose from the couch, in a bit of a rush. Soon, plates and cups clinked. I knew he was setting a table, but I felt short on time.

I peeked around the corner, to protest. Sure enough, Helmer had set out “lunch,” which in our part of the world is shorthand for a “small mid-afternoon snack.”

But lunch would require us to sit. Lunch is not a grab-and-go activity. It’s a linger-at-the-table event.

Mind you, Helmer didn’t complicate matters. That’s not his style. This was it —

Three cups of hot coffee. A small plate of Oreos. And an extra place at the table, for me.

I tried to wave him off, told him I needed to get back home. But … oh then, … well. Sure.

Helmer insisted; I acquiesced.

The old farmer with a comb in his front pocket led us in prayer: “Come Lord Jesus, Be our guest. Let these gifts to us be blessed. Amen.”

We nibbled on Oreos. We blew our breath over the tops of our cups to cool our coffee. We talked about the weather, and the news. About God and the church. And crops.

I left an hour later than I’d planned, but felt surprisingly unrushed. I felt a warmness, a lightheartedness, an awareness of my breathing—the way one feels after a particularly satisfying, winsome day.

Later, I thought about what those hours with Helmer and Hazel taught me about the nuances of hospitality.

1 – Hospitality is insistent, a pursuit.

In some translations, Romans 12:13 has a palpable zeal: “Pursue hospitality.” This hospitality is actually quite aggressive. The Greek is saying to chase hospitality. To run hard after it. To actually trouble people about it! (I can almost imagine Helmer’s photo on the pages of the Greek dictionary, plate of Oreos in hand.)

2 – Hospitality requires a guest.

Sometimes the most hospitable thing we can do is to stay. We say yes to the table set before us. Hospitality is a relationship between a host and a guest. Surely, every good thing in life can be improved by sharing it with another soul. And if we don’t acquiesce from time to time, we disallow the gift being offered by another soul.

3 – Hospitality is about human dignity.

At the heart of hospitality, is the simple act of opening a space, of making room. It is a quiet acknowledgement of the automatic sacredness of another human being’s life. It’s the easy dignity of sharing a table.

It doesn’t need matching napkins or three courses. It doesn’t require Pinterest’s help.

Sometimes, it’s only this –
One old farmer,
who sets out a cup,
and lets you know you matter because you exist.
And you can’t help but stay awhile.



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Our featured writer this week is Deb Wolf. Friend, if you struggle with fear or play out “what if” scenarios in your mind, I highly encourage you to read Deb’s words! Find Deb here.

To be considered as our featured writer, be sure to use our badge or a link to my blog from your post. xo Jennifer

by | July 18, 2017 | 23 comments


  1. Debbie Putman

    Sometimes the most hospitable thing we can do is stay…I loved this because it reminds me hospitality isn’t at all about me, but about others. Community with others is part of God’s plan for me. As I prepare to move to a new state, I’m treasuring lessons on community and hospitality.

    • dukeslee

      That was a key takeaway for me, as well, Debbie. Thanks so much!

  2. Lynn Morrissey

    This was worth reading again. I love this story–a story of true hospitality–about Helmer, the farmer–Helmer, the churchgoer–Helmer, the lover of simplicity–Helmer, the lover of souls. I’m so glad you sat down for that hour, and then sat at your computer to share it with us. We should never be to rushed to be either the recipient or the giver of hospitality.
    Love you, Jennifer!

    • dukeslee

      Yes! I first wrote this over at Grace Table! You always have the best memory, Lynn.

  3. Martha Orlando

    I remember Helmer! Beautiful reminder of how simple, yet how necessary, hospitality is in our Christian walk.
    Blessings, Jennifer!

    • dukeslee

      We are so blessed to have him in our church and our neighborhood!

  4. Theresa Boedeker

    Love your three points. Hospitality is often pursuing another, especially when we are all busy and making excuses. Hospitality requires a guest. We need someone to receive our hospitality. We can’t all be givers, we need some takers. We can’t all be servers, we need some receivers. It’s a beautiful picture. And also shows how we need to be both. On the receiving end and giving end.

    • dukeslee

      I loved this concept of pursuing hospitality. I’ve viewed hospitality more passively, but the Bible instructs otherwise.

      • Sue Donaldson

        Yes. I preach it regularly ☕️👌❤️

  5. Michele Morin

    May God give us all hearts like Helmer! Thanks for taking the deep breath and sticking around.

    I’m always in such a pucker — rushing away and offering regrets. So much better to cool our coffee together and talk about crops, which, by the way, my green beans and tomatoes are all in blossom. Hope yours are doing well, too!

    • dukeslee

      My tomatoes look terrible! But thankfully, the crops are looking great, and we got a blessed and very needed rain last night. Thank you, Lord.

  6. Susan

    I love Helmer and Hazel! Are you ready? I had a Harley and Hettie! They are both in heaven now but oh how I loved visiting those two (they were married). She could quote Psalm 91, KJV, without a hiccup. I would drop in and 3 hours later I’d be saying goodbye. They were precious and we loved them dearly. Dementia came and stole our Hettie away but even in that weakened and feeble condition, this would roll off her tongue…He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. All the way through. Thank you for reminding me of these two dear saints by writing about Helmer and Hazel. God bless them and you. Prayers and love for Dad & Mom.

  7. Ruth

    Such a beautiful story with a beautiful lesson! I wonder, what changes do I need to make to be more hospitable. Hmmm. Thanks for getting me thinking on this.

  8. Liz

    This is precisely why I so enjoy visiting my husbands home town lost in a sea of corn and bean fields somewhere in Illinois. They are high on hospitality and low on rush. It soothes this weary soul every time! Thanks for the challenge to pursue that in my own life! Blessings!

  9. Rebecca

    I love the simplicity of this life. The idea that we can present a feast with oreos and coffee because the feast is never about the food, it’s about the people with whom we share the food

  10. Sue Donaldson

    Loved every bit about this! I love helmer and hazel and that you take a notebook. I love oreos and hot coffee on a hot day in Iowa (visiting in August even hotter). I love the insight that hospitality is a pursuit worth pursuing and that it makes us stay and sit and slow and savor. (PS You are a great writer. (: ) I think I’ll go down the street and see who I can collect. thanks, Jennifer.

  11. BlessingCounter - Deb Wolf

    What a blessed surprise this morning. Thank you so much for featuring my post about conquering fear. I love your story about Helmer and Hazel. I felt my breathing slow and muscles relax and I read about your time with them. Not only a lesson I needed about hospitality but also one about peace, joy, and simplification. Thanks and God bless you, Jennifer!

  12. Tara Ulrich

    Such a sweet story! I think I already love Helmer and Hazel and I’ve never met them.

  13. JViola79

    Such a beautiful story and lesson! Jennifer, thank you for making the powerful point that the heart of hospitality is human dignity. A most precious point to me this morning!

  14. Pam Ecrement

    How rich this story and how dear the reminder of what hospitality looks like. I have one friend who is 91 and now lives in assisted living and I cherish every time I make the time to go visit her. I feel soothed by her presence and her grace!

  15. Maree Dee

    What a special relationship you have with Helmer. You both are so blessed by the other. You inspire me to take time to get to know others and get out of my comfort zone and make some new friends. I have some amazing neighbors I would love to get to know but feel so strange knocking on their door to say hello. Thank you for your post.

    I learned about hosptiatlity when I went on a mission trip to the Dominican Republic. Here we were there to serve and build a church but I took away more than I ever gave. As went house to house to meet the people they would run to neighbors and grab chairs so we would have a place to sit. They would offer us what they had. I felt so welcomed and loved something I didn’t always find back in the states.

  16. Julie Loos

    What a blessing Helmer and Hazel are! We’re in a culture of rush that any reprieve from it is welcomed!
    I miss sitting around the table with my great-grandparent and grandparents.

  17. Nancy Ruegg

    Love the statement that hospitality includes “a quiet acknowledgement of the automatic sacredness of another human being’s life.” Hospitality is more about attention on the guest(s), to make them feel valued, cared for, and appreciated; it is not so much about the decor or food. Thank you, Jennifer, for bringing us back to the main thing about hospitality–devoid of nonessentials.



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