This changed the way I thought about hospitality

Credit: Valeria Boltneva on Pexels.com

In the two plus years since we’ve lived in our new home, I’ve had a lot of design flops. There was the time we tried an online design service that suggested we order a rustic café table for our bay window. Once unboxed and assembled, the table was noticeably too tall for the space—a big disappointment. (It has since been relegated to the basement.) Or the time I hired a talented interior designer for a three-hour consult session to help us pick out furniture. She came and left in one swooping whirlwind of measuring tape and Pinterest boards. Afterwards, I sat alone at our dining room table, staring at her hastily assembled email of suggestions, overwhelmed at the tasks ahead and by the sense I wasn’t really heard.

Our living room’s been a thorn in my side since we moved in, mainly because in my eyes, it’s still “unfinished.” Anyone who knows me well knows I hate a job undone, a task uncrossed off the to-do list, and perhaps that’s what bothers me most of all – not the stuff in the room itself, just the fact we haven’t gotten the mix of items in it right. For a while, I even let this hold me back from inviting over guests.

Despite the fact that I know I should feel differently, I cannot seem to shrug these insecurities about our home. Though I love guests, I’m often afraid to host them.

I would venture to guess I am not alone in this feeling. There is something about opening up our homes that makes us vulnerable. When we host a visitor, we expose our dusty corners, unfinished window treatments, the bin of wrinkled laundry waiting to be folded. We show off the beautiful parts too. Our guests take in our taste in furniture, books, art. They taste our food, see our family photos. Oh, and our peeling baseboards. Our homes have a way of outing us. And what I mean is simply our homes show we are flawed. Our homes show we’re human. This is really hard and good for a recovering perfectionist like me.

But I realized by inviting neighbors into my home — for a planned gathering or, better yet, an impromptu cup of coffee — I practice bravery. Anyway, is a home really a summation of fancy, good-looking stuff that gets posted to Instagram or is it about the people inside of it?

When I think back on all the times I’ve been invited into others’ homes, I rarely recall if they had a fabulous rug or an unfinished kitchen. I think most about the way being in their home made me feel and how I was so grateful to be invited in. 

My friend Megan has this thing with inviting people over — for dinner, snacks, Bible study. All in all, she is an excellent hostess. That’s actually how we met. We were strangers and she invited us into her home for a church barbecue. What I love most about Megan’s hospitality is that it feels effortless. When she hosted us at her old apartment in Chicago, her home looked as though real humans lived in it, not like an HGTV space. The food wasn’t always ready, which was good, because I could help cook or while she cooked, we could sit and talk. Whenever I was at her place, I felt so comfortable and loved.

Like Megan, I love making others feel comfortable, but I’ve struggled with this worry that my home wasn’t good enough for them, for one reason or another. But what I found recently when I invited friends over for a book chat is that none of them were worried about my chipped baseboard or retro light fixture. They were interested in my art and the food and sharing stories. As we sipped Pinot Grigio on that rainy, spring afternoon, I realized how silly it was to fixate on all the unfinished stuff when there was so much to be grateful for. For one, I did have a perfectly imperfect, beautiful home. Furthermore, here was this new group of women who were smart, kind and funny. Making friends in your thirties is hard and I’m glad to have met other women in my neighborhood who are eager for connection.

One of my favorite authors, Shauna Niequist, has an incredible book of stories and recipes, Bread and Wine. She recounts well-loved family recipes — her mom’s blueberry crisp, which I make often — and tales of sisterhood built through a monthly cooking club. I devoured the book when I was in my twenties and thought, Gosh, one day when I grow up and move out of the city, I want to have a cooking club like her. I want to have a community like her. Now I’m in my thirties, I live on the city’s edge and I want this more than ever. Who among us doesn’t ache for sacred community?

In Bread and Wine, Shauna talks about the need for tables, gathering people around them, for ditching our worries about appearance and focusing in on what matters — the brave act of opening up to others. She writes that hospitality “is about what happens when we come together, slow down, open our homes, look into one another’s faces, listen to one another’s stories.”

And sure enough, what happened at my recent book chat is what always happens when you put a table between women and when you’re brave enough to slow down, ask hard questions and really listen. We cracked open a book briefly. We sipped wine. We broke bread. And we talked about work and motherhood and infertility and hope and purpose and it was indeed sacred. 

Gosh, I couldn’t have been more wrong worrying about the window treatments in my home. All that really mattered was that my neighbors felt at home enough to share their hearts.

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