Last week I was headed back into town after a quick trip to Georgia. As I sailed down 65 South getting closer and closer to Andalusia, the traffic was picking up slightly with each mile. Jamming to my music in my own little world, it suddenly hit me: “It’s a Saturday.” The overwhelming sense of dread came over me as I came face to face with my unavoidable reality that I would have to drive all the way into Destin, on a Saturday, with all the dreaded spring breakers. The traffic would be awful, and I would have to slam on my breaks a million times to get home because the car in front of me most likely doesn’t have any idea where it is going. Great!

As I took the Andalusia exit, it was backed up with people getting off of 65 to go to Destin. I thought, “OK, here we go.” Thirty minutes later I took a little pit stop at a fast food place, and as I got out of the car there were two families that were headed to their vehicles. The girls were skipping to the car in excitement for the beach, the parents looked ready to be done with the car rides, and all of them had on shorts, Destin shirts and flip flops even though it was still chilly. Suddenly, my heart was hooked. I grinned and said hi to them. I thought back to my own time living in Tennessee when I would come down on vacation. I would anticipate months of waiting to stick my feet in the sand. As we would go over the Mid-Bay Bridge we would roll down the windows of the car to get our first whiffs of salty air. I remember my first year living here when I found a Destin T-shirt from some restaurant that I had bought as a souvenir on vacation at some point.

It is all in our perspective. At times it can be easy to look at vacationers as vultures who come in and take over our territory. In reality, we have a tremendous opportunity to provide them with a spirit of welcome, hospitality, and the love of Jesus. What if instead of grumbling when we see their Destin T-shirts we began saying “Welcome back!” or “Welcome home!”

In 1 Peter 4:7-10 it says, “ ...therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers. And above all things have fervent love for one another, for ‘love will cover a multitude of sins.’ Be hospitable to one another without grumbling. As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.”

What if we took this seriously? What if we upped our prayer game for the city and those here this season? What if we received each person as a gift? What if, without grumbling, we welcomed newcomers? What if the love of God covered the multitude of the sins they have when driving? What if our city truly does make them feel at home? This is the spirit of God that welcomes. Let’s welcome them with that spirit.

Caroline Hare is assistant to the pastor for Ministry Coordination and the Next Generations pastor at Destin United Methodist Church. She can be reached at chare@destinumc.org.