Guest Towels, Unwritten Rules and Uncommon Sense

It was forbidden, but I did it anyway.  A cardinal sin.  I’ll have to check my Bible, but it may even be one of the seven deadlies.  The worst offense any family member can commit in his own home.  You know what I’m talking about. I used the guest towels.

These are the towels reserved for visitors only.  Heads of state.  Foreign dignitaries.  Persnickety grandmothers.  In fact, they cannot be accessed alone.  Usage of the towels requires inputting a launch code, as well as two keys, turned simultaneously before they are jettisoned from the towel rack.

Due to solar flares and a misalignment of the planets a few months ago, I was caught soaking wet in the guest bathroom without my normal, slightly bleach-stained towel that fits like an old tennis shoe.  So, I looked around to make sure there wasn’t an audience, and did the unthinkable.  I dried off with the puffy, extra-large blue guest towel.

It was positively luxurious.

Sort of.

The luxury was in my mind.  It felt kinda’ wrong but oh so right.  I felt like a special person.  The way a person should feel.  But a person using a towel should also feel drier.

And I didn’t.

The towel really wasn’t doing its job.  A good towel needs to be broken in, like a good pair of loafers or a baseball glove.  This one was brand-spanking new.  It hadn’t even received a “courtesy wash” after coming home from the department store.  It’s like it came Scotch-Guarded, straight from the factory.  Lacking its full sopping potential, the towel was just smearing the water on my skin.

Then I looked in the mirror.

Apparently, due to the lack of washing, the “towel debris” that normally fills the lint screen during the first wash was getting cabin fever.  When the lint saw its first chance at freedom, it chose to stow away in the stubble on my cheeks.  I looked like a color negative of Papa Smurf, with my fish-belly white skin contrasting a puffy blue hobo beard.

Not a good look for me.  Naked or clothed.

That’s when I realized the absurdity of it all.  The unwritten rule.  We save our best for guests.  Think of the china in your kitchen.  Gabby and I have lovely set that we got for our wedding.  The problem?  Mass murderers sentenced to solitary confinement see more sunlight than those plates.  They sit there in our cabinet in their own little Alcatraz.  Apparently, we’re waiting for the Prince of Burundi to visit.  For him, we use the china.

But only if it’s a holiday.

It’s a curious thing, saving our best for the guests.  We bring out the best food.  We clean our homes.  We light candles and spray air freshener to get rid of that weird odor coming from the kids’ playroom.  We bake cookies.  We exhaust ourselves to make sure everyone is well cared for.  That’s hospitality.

So why is it that when we are giving to poor people, it’s nothing but hand-me-downs?

I’m as guilty as the next guy.  When the local high school crew comes by the house looking for donations for their canned food drive, I’m the one that reaches waaaaaaaaaay back in the pantry for that 3-year-old can of hominy.  I justify it by finding some stat on the web that shows how poor people love hominy 50% more than people who aren’t poor.  But we all know the truth.

Nobody likes hominy.

The same is true when I make a special trip to the grocery store to buy items for the food pantry.  I’ll pick up generic brand this and off-brand that.  If I make a run to Goodwill,  I reach into my closet for the shirt with the small stain, the pants with the torn cuff, the jeans that are ten years out of style.  And the homeless guy on the corner? He gets my spare change.

It’s the follow-on to the unwritten rule.  Guests get our best.  Poor people get the leftovers.

Sounds kinda’ silly, doesn’t it?

So, this begs the question:

What if I become close friends with a poor stranger and they come over for dinner?  Or what if one of my close friends suddenly becomes homeless?   What category do they fit in now?  What’s the rule there?  Do they get my best, or do they get the leftovers?  It’s a tough call.

Consulting my “Rules of the Absurd” handbook, I believe you’re supposed give them one of your old college sweatshirts for Christmas, but wrap it in valuable stock certificates.

Problem solved.

If I’m honest with myself, part of the reason guests get my best is that I want them to know I have the best to give.  These are usually people who are friends and neighbors.  It’s a status thing.  I’ll roll out the red carpet for them so they can say, "Did you see?  Scott and Gabby have a red carpet!"

And the poor?  They have nothing, so anything is better than that, right?

Logical.  Reasonable.  Common sense.

But God relishes in the uncommon.

A few years ago, Gabby and I were visiting some friends, Rob and Lodie, for a weekend.  They didn’t have a particularly large home, and with two daughters in high school, they didn’t have a guest bedroom either.  Fully expecting to sleep on the pull-out sofa, we dropped our bags in the living room.

“Oh no,” said Lodie, “you’re in there. “

We hesitated, and she grabbed one of our bags and marched toward the back of the house.  We followed her to the master bedroom.  There, she had laid out a couple of towels on the bed to welcome us.  Though the master bedroom is usually the best room in the house, it’s also kinda’ private.  It’s sacred space, and now they were giving it to us.  We were speechless.  How do you describe that feeling of gratitude mixed with humility?


Another time, we were traveling in Guatemala with our friend Charity.  It was a cold, damp day, and she was wrapped up in a really snazzy scarf.

“I love your scarf!”  Gabby commented.  “It’s so cute!”

Charity replied, “Thanks!  I like it, too!  It’s my favorite.  My mom gave it to me.”

We knew what this meant to Charity.  Here she was, in a foreign land for a year, with no family nearby.  This was a tangible reminder of her mom.  She could wrap it around herself as tight as their relationship.

Gabby continued, ‘It’s really beautiful.”

Charity looked down at the scarf, thought a moment, and then blurted, “Well why don’t you take it then?!”

Charity, true to her name, removed the scarf and handed it to Gabby.

“It’s a gift.”

There was lots of back and forth.  “No, I couldn’t!”  “No, I insist!”

Grateful and humbled, Gabby accepted it.

Uncommon sense.

I pray for this uncommon sense.  Giving with a spirit of a true giver.  Truly knowing the recipient, their needs, wants and desires.  And then letting go of all the hang-ups, judgment and rules and just giving all I have.  And it’s not about giving ‘till it hurts.  That only breeds resentment.  No, it’s more than that.  First you gotta’ accept and rejoice in everything that God has given you.  Own it and embrace it.  And then bless others, all others, with the best you have to give.

Don’t give ‘till it hurts.

Give till it surprises.  Offer the uncommon.  Rewrite the rules.  Use the guest towels.

But wash them first.