When we think of the word hospitality, so often we envision friends, extended family, or even strangers entering our home to be fed, loved, and cared for. But what about our own family members? Are we to think of hospitality as pertaining only to outsiders and not to those with whom we rub shoulders and share living quarters day in and day out? I know this was the case for me for many years -- too many, I might add. Factoring in the reality that my journey began with an all-out attempt to impress others, it is easy to see how I so easily fell into this pattern.

For a few years it worked. I had a very agreeable husband who worked many hours a week, pouring himself into the lives of teenagers and their families at the church where we were serving. My life was equally busy. Teaching school, coaching cheerleading, and the many hats I wore at church kept me away from home for the majority of my waking hours. But I did try to use my newly acquired cooking and baking skills to bless others. I'd bake a pie for a family going through sickness or take a casserole to a new couple at church.

Together Todd and I would entertain an occasional guest or two on the weekends. It was then I'd pull out all the stops -- perfectly clean house, fresh-cut flowers, and a fancy meal unlike any I prepared on a regular basis. I expended great amounts of energy appearing to be a natural hostess. One would think I cooked this way nightly, paid great attention to detail in my house at all times, and pampered my dear husband on a regular basis.

Hardly.

But as I say, I was able to get away with it for awhile. But then something happened. One morning upon rising I discovered it. The stick turned blue.

First comes love, then comes marriage, and well, you know the rest. Along came three babies in six years. Once those little darlin's could string together their first tiny words into coherent sentences, it didn't take long for them to articulate just what they saw.

"Mommy, who is coming over for dinner?" my then-three-year-old daughter would inquire. Wondering how she knew we were expecting company when I hadn't told her, I replied, "Why do you think someone is coming, honey?" "Because you're making homemade rolls, not the 'whack open' kind. You only do that for company," she chimed.

As they grew, more comments began to emerge. "Mom's burning candles. I'll bet she's having her moms group over tonight." "Homemade blueberry pie! Who's it for?" Hardly ever did they assume it was for them.

As much as I hated to admit it, the jig was up. My kinds, who often serve as a painstakingly honest mirror when it comes to my actions, had me all figured out. I was a woman living a double standard. I wanted to minister to - read "impress" - others while at the same time ignoring my own family's needs for refreshment.

This was easy to do when our clan consisted of just my husband and me. My Mr. Wonderful is a calm, laid-back kind of guy who on the surface never seemed to need much to make him happy. It was easy for me to gloss over him and his needs, surmising he was happy as long as he had something to eat, clean clothes to wear, and well, plenty of "horizontal fellowship," if you know what I mean.

But with my kids, it was different. Early on they began to verbalize their displeasure at the great meals I would craft for others, not just when company was coming to our house but when a church member or neighbor had a baby or was going through a crisis and needed a meal brought in. I shudder when I think of the many nights another family dined on piping hot baked lasagna, glazed carrots, homemade rolls, and strawberry cheesecake while my own family had a tasty choice between lunch meat sandwiches or peanut butter and jelly. Shame on me.

Now I have adopted a new rule of thumb. With very few exceptions, if the meal I whip up for my own family can't be the same one or at least equal in "yummyness" to the one I would take to another family that night, then I don't offer to make a meal for said family. Ouch! That can be painful to a people-pleasing, how-does-this-look-to-the-outside-world kind of gal like me.