Sunday was my birthday, an ice cream social on the books to celebrate with friends.
On Saturday morning, I looked out at my yard. It was in serious need of attention. The grass was too high for my Lucy to walk, her little feet getting tangled in the wildness, tipping her over. The trees had shed limbs during the last few storms, and even though my dad had helped me clear the big branches, there were still plenty to be moved, to make way for the lawn mower to feast on the tall grass stalks.
Baskets of clean and dirty clothes punctuated the path to the laundry room, which doubles as my office. Desk and washing machine compete for floor space, so I can only sit down to work when I am not hoarding dirty cotton like there’s no tomorrow. My desk was full of clutter that I had been ignoring for some time, hoping some strange magic would sort and file it all away without me.
I wanted to curl up in my bed and let my four kids run around like the little crazy people they are and ignore the cleaning and tidying that needed to take place. But guests were coming.
Hear me out: I am not a clean freak (I’m sure my mother--who is--would agree). I like things picked up and in their places, but it’s hard to stay on top of that. Add a huge yard to the workload and it’s a beautiful lot to keep up with. But I wanted to share my birthday with my friends, and I wanted to make space for all of us to enjoy time together. And that meant getting my stuff together.
I paid my big kids a dollar for clearing sticks in the back yard. My husband swept the ground, inside and out. I shoved all the clothes into the laundry/office combo, regardless of their cleanliness. In the minutes before guests started to arrive, we arranged all the chairs on the back porch with joy and anticipation.
The first guest to arrive was my good friend Jennifer. We don’t live in the same town and this was her first time to see my house, so she wanted the tour. I looked towards the laundry room. Of course, I could leave the door shut and keep all my dirty laundry and clutter desk from her sight. But my office is one of my favorite parts of my house. It's where I write and thinking and color and create. Jennifer is one of my cheerleaders, always encouraging me to be my whole self, and I wanted to show her where a lot of that takes place. I took a deep breath and let her in, warning her of the impending chaos. She came, she saw, she smiled, and we went on with the grand tour of our small and cozy house.
I’ve been thinking about how hospitality keeps me honest. The urgency of someone coming over makes me really look at the state of my house and its fitness to make others feel at home--are there enough dishes to eat on? Will the floor crunch under their feet with left-behind cereal? Is there space to sit? (Have I picked up all my unmentionables off the floor in my room?) Honestly, I keep some blinders on during daily life, because that’s how I make it with four kids under six.
Hospitality is a calling on my life. In fact, as I’ve written elsewhere, I think hospitality is central to our calling as followers of Jesus. My husband and I want our home to be a place where every person is welcomed as Christ, as St. Benedict of Nursia says.
There are acquaintances, friends, and family who come into my house for a party, when the toys are put away and the lawn is mowed, when the chairs on the back porch are cleaned off and the sidewalk chalk in one place. It is wonderful to have them in the place I call home.
And there are friends who ask to come inside and see the tour, and I have to decide if I want to be vulnerable with both my most cherished and my most unkempt places. Sometimes, my drive for hospitality pushes me to clean up these spots before I let someone in. But more often than not, necessity and friendship demand that I let my friends in to see my beautiful mess.
I’m thankful for both situations, when I get to ready my home to receive guests and when I don’t have time to clean. One makes me honest to look at what I can change to make my neighbors feel most welcome. One makes me honest to see that I don’t have to be cleaned up to be loved and enjoyed.
What makes you feel most at home in someone else’s house?
What do you do when you are preparing to receive guests?
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