The phone rang three times before I could pick it up after an awkward scramble across the room dodging a minefield of Legos leftover from my twin three-year-olds.
Beginning with a chipper greeting, a haggard quality took over as she said, “Hey, can we come by for a bit? We’re in the area and need a place to land for a few hours.”
‘No,’ I immediately thought to myself.
I wanted to say no for many reasons.
‘I have an appointment this evening and will have to leave as soon as she arrives.’
‘There is no food here. As it is, I am cobbling dinner together out of random bits in the pantry, and I don’t have anything to offer her family if they are hungry.’
‘My sons are still working on their aim, so the bathroom smells like pee because I have not had time to clean it.’
‘Papers are in piles (precarious piles that cannot be disturbed or something awful might happen).’
‘There are odds and ends strewn all over the house.’
The excuses boiled forth as I grasped at anything that would validate my choice to deny her entry into my home so that I would not feel insecure about myself and my housekeeping.
Our friendship is no slouch…nearly 20 years in the making. We’ve seen each other through painful times, bolstered one another with laughter, stood up for the other on their wedding day…we are not strangers. She needed me and I prepared to immediately reject her. Why? How could I? What is it that I am trying to hide from her? Who am I trying to be in her eyes that I know she is going to see through anyway? I want her to always feel welcome to ask me for help, to be able to count on me no matter what. I have no idea where the death grip on image came from, but I’ve been white-knuckling this sort of pride for a long time. That day I loosened the grip of my security blanket, my ideals of what it meant to be hospitable, my messy house, my unpreparedness and took a deep breath before saying ‘yes, she could come over.’
Five kids tumble through my door, flinging their coats and shoes off, setting their bags down then just as quickly scampering off to find a toy to play with or a book to read. I barely say hello to each one as my boys come around the corner roaring like a pair of hot rods redlining at a starting line. FRIENDS! Bang! They are all off to various parts of my small house happily playing. My friend and her baby are the last to straggle in and I feel an awkward mix of joy that her kids feel so at home at my house, and trepidation that somehow I am being rude for leaving.
“Hi,” she heaved with a heavy sigh and I hugged her.
Relief washed over her face, only partially masking the weariness. I took a bit of solace knowing that I was providing a safe harbor for her to rest and be welcomed.
Until that day, I believed that to show hospitality was to be expert at keeping a clean home, cooking delicious food, engaging in sparkling conversation, and entertaining with flair. The work that came with making my home live up to my standards of “presentable” left me feeling exhausted, stressed, and worse–unavailable. The day my friend spontaneously called in desperate need of a refuge, was the day these notions came crumbling down, and I learned about true hospitality. It is all about people. Inviting them to be a part of my life, reaching out as a gesture of love, acceptance, and goodwill to meet their needs. There is no showmanship necessary, but rather as I welcome others in and share my own honest humanity—whatever it looks like—authentic hospitality happens.
Jennifer lives in Seattle with her husband and three children (twin boys and a baby girl). She is a teacher, musician, and currently a stay-at-home mom. She loves fueling the imaginations of her children with creativity, songs, all things science, good food and lots of play indoors and out. She blogs at Pepper Sprout Home and you can also find her on Instagram.