The non-profit aftercare center occupied a deserted church overlooking an industrial zone. I was told people should never be given anything for free because it breeds entitlement. So, four dollars became the monthly fee for kids to receive transportation, help with homework, a balanced meal, along with occasional extras such as eye care and speech therapy. The tiny amount was just a “dignity fee” as far as I was concerned.
The parents received letters explaining this arrangement, and those who were unable to read heard whatever their kids could remember to tell them when they got home. Here and there a payment made it to the center. Then, one day, this note: “Would it be okay if I paid one dollar weekly instead of four dollars up front?”
How could just four dollars a month require a payment plan? I wondered.
I looked at the girl who gave me the note, and when she saw my puzzled face, she told me I could come to their apartment that afternoon to make the arrangement directly with her mom.
“My mom cleaned the house very nicely in case you could come, Ms. Hettie.”
I probably didn’t do so well helping with math homework that day. I tried to imagine an apartment cleaned for my visit — an apartment where someone was going to hold onto her dignity while explaining the impossibility a four-dollar payment held for her. I wanted to run. I wanted to write back, “It’s okay! Forget about the four dollars!” But something about the writer of the note touched me deeply, and I knew I had to meet her.
The paint on either side of the narrow staircase to the second-floor apartment was peeling, and the door opened to a very humble home. Elsabé had nothing except light, joy, and a bashful kindness with which she hugged me without making eye contact. She motioned me to a chair. Next to it, a pile of laundry stood folded on a little table, and in the corner, she had her sewing machine and several projects going at once. A tray was already set on the table with a mixture of instant coffee, sugar, and powdered creamer already spooned into each cup and the kettle next to it steamed and on the ready. There were two cookies on two little plates that didn’t match the cups.
I saw the loving preparation in it all. It had been a long time since I felt so welcomed.
She told me she fixed clothes for almost every household in her apartment block in exchange for most of what her family needed. Cash was a rare luxury. She said she would be happy to adjust any of my clothes or fix zippers, or if I’d like, she could make some curtains for me since I just moved into the neighborhood.
Instead of the one dollar down payment, I asked her to volunteer at the center and read to the younger kids, help with their homework, and love on them. When Elsabé came, she’d stand by the center’s gate to welcome each kid by name. She needed no help with dignity nor an antidote to entitlement. The kids and I, on the other hand, did.
With every subsequent visit to my newfound friend’s home, I learned more about welcoming others with the little you have, contentment and hard work, and seemingly obvious things that say so much, like sending advance notices when you’re unable to make a payment.
A friendship started that day – almost eighteen years ago – and even though we now live an ocean apart from each other, I get texts from her with some form of Good morning! just before my bedtime each night.
In the temporary house I live in now, I’m slowly getting ready to invite someone over, welcoming them into my own humble home where the plates don’t match the mugs and a chair may need to be dug out from under the laundry. Elsabé taught me how after all.Leave a Comment
Michele Morin says
Hettie, I’m speechless.
Thank you for sharing the gift of your friend with her fierce commitment to giving of herself. And I’m reminded by your story that THIS–the gift of ourselves–is the essence of hospitality.
Indeed, and, surpisingly, we are often enough when we give ourselves in sincerity and love!
Bev @ Walking Well With God says
The true story of Elsabe really spoke to my heart. We think we have to have a fancy, clean house or we think we have to have our act together entirely in order to offer what we have (love and friendship) to someone else. I believe God wants us to offer ourselves, just as we are, to others. Jesus modeled a humble and contrite heart. Elsabe obviously understood His example. That’s really all we need. This is a story/lesson that will stick with me. Thank you for sharing!
I just realized the irony of the phrase “having our act together” that you used so aptly – it’s an ACT! Our true and uncamouflaged selves are beautiful in their simplicity!
Elsabe did and does indeed understand the humility of Jesus and I could write many more stories about her following his example of servanthood and love.
Oh, Hettie, tears were running down my face as I read your story of Esalbe. What a testament she is of a servant leader! I’m sure she would never think of herself as a leader, but her example leads all of us who hear her story. Thank you for sharing this! Praise the Lord for bringing her into your life, so that her simple life could touch thousands of women, calling each of us to be more than our circumstances, and to willingly offer what we have to be used by our gracious God. Blessings on your day!
You are so right! The world wouldn’t likely call her a leader, but I often saw her with children bunched cozily around her as she helped them with their reading or spelling. Leadership, for sure! She led hearts to hope and closer to Jesus every day!
This sounds like my mother. It’s a tear filled reminder to release to everyone the love that God has given to me.
Blessed, Thankful, and Generous.
Dear Gail, what an advantage in life to have a mom with such a heart! Able to make a feast out of left-overs, and unforgettable memories out of unplanned events. And I agree that the Source of all this, is the Love of God poured out into their hearts and ours.
Such a fantastic and inspiring story!!
Thank you, Christy. Elsabe lives in South Africa and has no idea how far her inspiration has traveled!
Beth Williams says
What a testimony Elsabe has. She has shown main stream America that you don’t have to have it all together tied up in a bow to offer hospitality. We just need to be ourselves & love on others as Jesus would. True hospitality is being humble & contrite. I applaud her openness & willingness to share what she has. More people need to follow Elsabe’s example & offer hospitality no matter the state of your home or heart. People want the gift of you & friendship. We are hungry for someone to share life with.
Dear Beth, what truth you share here! Some of us may still invite others in when our home is in a sorry state, but who invites others in when their heart or emotions are “messy”? Perhaps that is the highest form of hospitality – welcoming others when we are ourselves in need of a hug. What humility!
Becky Keife says
May we all have the tremendous blessing of having a friend, neighbor, mother, daughter, or sister like Elsabé! And may we follow in her welcoming footsteps. Just beautiful! So glad to have your words here at (in)courage today, Hettie. xx
Thank you for your kind words, Becky! I am blessed by this opportunity.
Kathy @ Devotions from the Heart says
This is a wonderfully shared story and the take away for me is a beautiful heart eclipses a beautiful home any day of the week.
Kathy, I’m going to take your quote with me tomorrow as we look for a home to rent for the coming year. If my heart can be beautiful in any home, any home can be a welcoming place. Thank you!
This was a complete aww moment for me, deeply touching, thank-you so much for sharing with us.
Have a blessed day all,
You are kind, Penny! I was in Amish and Mennonite country for the past 4 days, and conveniently away from Facebook and such, but will take your kind wish on board for this week! Blessing to you as well!
Sarah Seiz says
Isn’t God so creative in the way He introduces and forms friendships?
Even though I will probably never meet Elsabe or have a conversation with her, your written words about these interactions have already spoken so much to my heart. Thank you for sharing this message of humility, hospitality, contentment, wisdom, and love. ❤️
You’re helping see that when we know we are enough, we’ll always have something to serve up!
Hettie, the beautiful story of ElsabElsabé é touched my heart in so many ways. Giving from the heart what you have is really demonstrating God’s love. Thank you for reminding me that it doesn’t have to be perfect to share God’s love with others.
Oh, I still often want that “perfect”, but it is exhausting isn’t it? Let’s give up on it together! xx
Hettie, sounds wonderful to me!
Denise Agnew says
A fellow sister in Christ was reminding me of this literally a few days ago as I bemoaned my home, what little furniture we have and how much I wanted to open my home to others . . . It was always my dream when I married that we would host people, fellow believers in Christ and those who are just hurting but it never happens because I’m always embarrassed about my home.
This was a nudge from God. Thank you!
I hear you! For so many years, before moving into temporary homes for this season, we had space but no guest room; food in the fridge but little capacity to serve it up for others; all sorts of excuses and inconveniences. I’m now planning my husband’s 50th with perhaps 40 guests in a very small but pretty wooden cabin where we’ll be staying for 3 more weeks. I’ll simply have to swallow my pride as I ask some people to bring their own coffee mugs and an extra chair :-)!!!
K Ann Guinn says
Simply beautiful. Such a touching reminder of what’s truly important.
Thank you Ann, and I need reminding all the time myself! If it’s not the home, it’s the supply of food or drinks to everyone’s liking that we fear may not measure up… What freedom we’d taste when we finally do know and discern what is truly important, just as you said!
Afton Rorvik says
What a beautiful story to remind us all that hospitality starts with the heart not the stuff. 🙂
Carin Orth says
This story touched my heart! My husband and I have a bed and breakfast in our home, we try to make everything nice for our guests as far as linens and comforts, but what we hear quite often in comments or reviews from them is the loving atmosphere and acceptance in our home. As I read your story, my heart felt a tug, in that I don’t ever want to take being graciously hospitable for granted. It is very humbling for me! Thank you!
What a beautiful ministry/witness she has! I love it when we think we are blessing others and He shows how they can truly bless us.