Welcome to part 6 in this series in which some amazing artistic women are helping me explore the idea of creating being a sacred act. Our baseline is that the creation mandate is the beautification of raw materials and the inherent nature of art is a reflection of the work of the Creator. Though I know there are strict definitions of fine art, I have been liberal in my interpretation. Today we have the privilege of hearing from Kourtney Street, whose art is "Soul Hospitality." I first basked in the beauty of her creation 9 or 10 years ago, when my dry and weary soul stumbled to her little villa outside of Paris, craving something I had not identified. If there is a birthplace to my understanding of beauty coming out of chaos, it is in her dining room. She talks about holy ground, knowing the art that you've produced is sacred... does it by definition welcome the Holy? Mull this over with me today and enjoy Kourtney's offering of beauty to our world!
1. Kourtney, first off, I'm so excited for you to share with us about your art of hospitality. Even though it's been years since we shared a meal, I have vivid memories of your home in France and how you brought to life my soul and senses in your attention to detail, extravagant food, and sacred space! Let's just start with hearing about your thoughts on creating a space like that, because I know it is intentional.
Beth, thank you for inviting me to share. How delightful that you’ve dubbed my hospitality an art form. Spending my first 23 years in Texas replete with hospitality, beauty, and good Mexican food laid a strong foundation. Our front door was constantly revolving, and my parents never hesitated to set extra places at the table on the spur of the moment. Holidays welcomed people with nowhere else to go, even during a Christmas season that was extremely financially lean. Mom infused beauty and meaning to occasions, no matter what was going on circumstantially. Dad helped with whatever Mom needed, and no task was off-limits for his heart of service. My art is truly part of my DNA.
2. This series is born out of my own exploration of bringing beauty out of chaos through art and how that is a reflection of our Creator. You have been all over the world and walked through some incredibly tough ministry challenges. Can you share a story of how you've seen the art of hospitality have that effect?
We lived in a small village outside of Paris for almost five years. We had one baby and then another son two years later. Rich, my husband, traveled in and out of the Middle East and Central Asia for at least a week each month. During those years, the number of overnight guests in our home frequently felt like we were running a bed and breakfast in addition to being missionaries. We hosted everyone from family members to global ministry leaders. There were also strangers. Lots of strangers. Friends of friends who would call and ask if they could stay with us. We rarely said no. Looking back, I know God provided people to bring life and learning to me in a season in which I otherwise would have crumbled in loneliness.
Christmas of 2004, we ended up with an unbelievable number of guests, even for us: a missionary family of four from Central Asia, their married son and his wife from the USA, a pair of college students who were traveling Europe—dating and sorting out their lives. A few other people came and went during those two weeks for just a night or two. There was always someone needing a ride, a meal or a shower. I was nursing a baby and caring for a toddler while cooking, cleaning, listening and praying. On the outside it might have looked chaotic. It probably was. But really it felt so life-giving. I imagined it was what the early church might have been like. Christmas without our families should have felt so empty, but we were so full. At one point, I looked at the faces around the room and knew that I was on holy ground. It was a privilege to sustain a home that could bless so many people with so many different needs.
3. I remember helping you prepare for a special event on a boat when we were in Istanbul. We still drink from the blue glasses we used for vases that night! Give us some tips on how you create a space that feels extravagant without the price tag and why that's important to you.
I loved that night, Beth, and I could not have pulled it off without your help. I remember that you drove me to a Turkish grocery store to grab last-minute things. I was so impressed by the beauty that you’d mined and cultivated in the midst of birthing babies and faithfully serving in ministry.
It was actually at a similar conference in Turkey where God solidified my desire to bring beauty to women no matter where I was in the world. One of my dear friends from Texas had given me a wooden tray for Christmas one year lined with fresh coffee beans on the bottom and three vanilla pillar candles in the middle. I went to an Ikea in France and created my own version for centerpieces for a women’s night at the conference. I loaded up the supplies in a suitcase with delicious chocolates and flew to Istanbul with Rich and our son.
The night of the event, when the women walked into the room and saw the lighted candles and smelled the vanilla laced with coffee beans, they were visibly moved. They offered their hearts and words to each other in that makeshift beautiful space. Again, I was walking on holy ground. When the night was over, many asked if they could take the centerpieces back to their countries. And then one of the women said the words that I’ll never forget, “When the electricity goes out, we will have candles to burn.”
4. Tell us a little about your ministry now and some of your joys and struggles when it comes to your art.
This year marks our ninth back in America and my sixteenth with Cru. Our boys are almost 13, 10, and 8. Like my parents, ours is a revolving door. I am joyfully refining the practice of what I’ve dubbed “Soul Hospitality.” If you come to our home, there will inevitably be a huge pile of unfolded laundry on our couch, but you will hopefully leave with a full stomach and a soul that felt seen and heard.
My greatest struggle is wrapped around the health challenges of our kids. One has a life-threatening milk allergy and we also have Celiac Disease in addition to some other biggies. I ache for their lives to be as normal as possible despite an ongoing below the water line awareness of the dangers that eating can pose for them. It’s so interesting to live in the tension of one of our greatest joys also containing one of our greatest sorrows.
The good news is that our boys are showing a propensity for practicing hospitality. All three roll up their sleeves and can get our house ready for a gathering in record time. They are learning to ask good questions and are becoming increasingly inquisitive about people’s stories. When the fear of their futures starts creeping in, I am learning to offer it to the Lord and practicing trust that He has a plan for them that is good. Realistically, they are going to have to be excellent chefs and know how to cook well for themselves. Thankfully, we are heading in the right direction.
We recently took the boys on a ministry trip with us in Western Europe. We stayed in places where we could cook as there were not safe eating out options. It took a lot of planning, but we had two of the most meaningful weeks of our lives. And we visited that little house in France where God met you, too, Beth…
Kourtney Street is a native Texan, turned global nomad thanks to Rich, her husband of 16 years. Kourtney and Rich joyfully serve on staff with Cru in Global Digital Strategies. Her days start with good coffee and are infused with life and laughter via her three sons. She reads voraciously, blogs sporadically, and loves with her whole heart. Find her at www.hearditonthestreet.com/kourtney.