This week I visited the homeschooling family of my best friend Kayla to celebrate the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles. Being Gentiles, none of us normally celebrate the feast, but we couldn’t resist an instructive adventure.
The family of eight had been sleeping outside in a hay wagon (their version of the Old Testament booths) for three nights already. The fourth night, I huddled in the wagon with them. In Upstate New York, the descent of fall has started to deliver 34-degree evenings. I do not know if the weather was so unaccommodating to the ancient Hebrews.
“There will be plenty of blankets,” Kayla said on the phone. “But bring a hat.”
We warmed ourselves before a campfire, bracing our bodies for the long night. Christian radio played from the wagon, camped in the backyard, covered with tarps, and outfitted with Christmas lights and decorative cornstalks.
A little brother shouted over and over, “I want to sleep on the hay wagon!” When his mother told him he could, he ran so hard toward it that he tripped, fell in the grass, recovered himself, and continued his pursuit.
At bedtime I tiptoed around his small head in the dark wagon, and curled myself into the bed at the farthest end with Kayla. I still had no idea what the Feast of Tabernacles was. I knew how cold I felt and that I verged on sickness already. Soon, though, the bed warmed me up. With the exception of my nose, which stubbornly protruded and exposed itself to the night air.
“It’s to make us remember that God has another home prepared for us,” Kayla’s mother explained to me the next morning over waffles. Kayla’s mom has an enviable brown-haired beauty that her goodness amplifies. A smile slices into her face and her laugh shakes down through her body. “It’s a celebratory feast,” she said. “You know your warm bed sits right inside the house, but you’re not home yet. You have to be a pilgrim first.”
She sent us to town that morning with the mission of acquiring milk, butter, and 50 pounds of potatoes. They expected several families that evening to join their feast of thanksgiving. When we arrived back, the little boys sat learning to write their E’s, and several loaves of homemade bread had been set to rise on the stove—confirming for me, again, that homeschoolers know how to live as no one else does.
Kayla’s family practices hospitality in a way I have never witnessed. Their kitchen door revolves with visitors of every description, nationality, and creed, and something delicious perpetually simmers on the stove. In receiving their generosity, you receive more than a bed, food, and a hot shower. You get a chance to celebrate and be celebrated. To be invited into their home is not an invitation to a hotel. It’s an invitation to a family and an adventure.