Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Hospitality & Dirty Baseboards

When my husband and I first got married, we had a steady stream of visitors. A few times a week, we'd have company -- sometimes invited, but more often than not we'd get surprise guests. 

Back then, I didn't worry about being embarrassed by a messy house. We lived in a teeny-weeny two-bedroom house that was a snap to clean. Plus, with just the two of us, nobody was painting marshmallow fluff on every door handle or strewing underwear in the foyer.

After our first child was born, we moved to a bigger house. It was more work to care for a baby, maintain the house, and keep a full-time job, but it was manageable -- and we still had company. Some of my fondest memories are of a couple neighbors who didn't even bother knocking. With regular frequency, they'd throw open the door and yell, "Are you dressed? Put something on 'cause I'm coming in!"

A few years later, we moved again, but this time into a fixer-upper at least 75% larger than our previous home. And we had another baby. All of a sudden, there didn't seem to be enough time in the day for basic things like keeping my children clean and fed, meeting work deadlines, or even showering on a daily basis. Housework? Hah! Home improvement projects? Hah hah hah! (wiping tears from eyes) The truth is, we've only just mostly finished a flooring/baseboard project that we started FIVE YEARS ago.

In fact, during the last four years, we really haven't invited anyone other than family or very, very good friends over (i.e., people who have no choice but to love me). This is partly because I haven't felt up to de-stickifying every surface 60" or lower (and then being too tired to carry a decent conversation) and partly because we have so many unfinished projects that we only need some cheap beer cans littered about to complete our late 20th-century frat house decor.

Lately, though, I've really felt convicted about being so unsociable. This began awhile ago when I was visiting a friend who is hands-down one of the most hospitable people I know. She has a gift for making people feel at ease, and her house is an oasis of warmth, serenity, and comfort. We were having a lovely, lovely visit, when I noticed her baseboards. Her dirty baseboards. The moment was a revelation. In addition to liking my friend even more, I knew I couldn't care less if she'd had grape jelly smeared across the wall. I would still be having a lovely time.

I suddenly realized that I'd bought into the nonsense that gets billed as hospitality. A lot of shows and magazines seem more than happy to dictate what kind of centerpieces I need, what to serve, how to serve it, how to make place settings and parting gifts, and what my house should look like, and... Well, if you've ever watched Martha Stewart or read Fine Living, you know what I mean. Real hospitality, though, is not something you learn from shows and magazines. To me, it's simply about serving others with an open heart and being generous with what one has. You can't make or buy that. Even better, it never has to be cleaned!

Thinking back to those early days, I don't recall anyone who stopped dropping in simply because there was dog hair on the floor. I don't think anyone ever quit visiting just because they didn't like what was on the menu that day -- even if it was just humble toasted peanut butter and banana sandwiches.

Please, don't misunderstand. I don't want to knock anyone's efforts at creating an pleasant, hygienic environment or a special meal. However, if I had to choose between my friend exhausting herself by scrubbing up and down and cooking up an elaborate feast or just spending time together -- I would choose the latter every time. I think (at least I hope) my friends would make the same choice when it comes to me.

So to anyone who's reading this, I give you fair warning. I may have dust and toys all over the floor. I may not give you a tour of the house because of dirty laundry in an upstairs bathroom. However, if you want a cup of tea and conversation, the door is always open.

Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love,
in honor giving preference to one another...
given to hospitality.
Romans 12: 10, 13


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