Simple Hospitality.

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I used to think hospitality was my “thing”. I mean, I seriously love the concept – always have. I was the 8 year old reading Martha Stewart Magazine and studying how to set a proper table, so obviously I thought hospitality would be as natural to me as breathing.

Recently, we’ve had a lot of people over and almost every single time they say, “I’ve never been inside your house before!” Seriously. Every time. And these aren’t mere acquaintances, these are people that I consider close friends. Heck, even my sister-in-law said it! (Yeah, we JUST had them over for the first time. We’ve lived here over a year.)

Then it hit me, maybe I’m not as good at hospitality as I thought I was.

I realized like I had been a miser over my own home, keeping it close to my heart instead of pouring it out as an offering to the Lord.

And then God really opened my heart to some harsh realizations about myself:

1. I’m obsessed about cleaning my house. I clean it every day. I can’t handle messy. The word “perfectionist” comes to mind.

2. I’ve never wanted to be one of those wives that keeps her husband on pins and needles in the home (“don’t put your feet on the table!” “can you not lean on that pillow?”) but I am one of those wives that keeps herself on pins and needles. I wasn’t letting myself do anything because it would be a mess.

3. I would do a huge rush around clean up anytime anyone said they were coming over resulting in stress and strife between me and David (so not worth it!)

4. I shut down the “make it special” side of my brain and just “make it meh”, out of fear. So instead of a home cooked meal, I order pizza. We all know, pizza is amazing and totally ok to order when you have people over – but it’s the heart behind the pizza. The heart of “I’m afraid to try to make this special because I think I’ll either fail completely or end up being stressed and unhappy (and thus, fail at the happy hostess aspect)”. I think this also stems from me being a Culinary school graduate. People have expectations when I cook, they think it’ll be the most amazing thing ever since I’ve had training (and it’s not always! I’m still just a normal girl!). I combat this by making the dumbest, easiest thing possible. Then it wouldn’t be a “you tried and failed” but a “oh, I guess you didn’t even try”.

Now I’m in training mode for myself – letting of of a perfectionist standard and leaning hard into true, beautiful hospitality over “design” and “entertaining”.

In my mind’s dictionary, “Entertaining” sparks the visual of a celebrity party…fancy snacks, cocktails, a band. In home terms, it = stress for the hostess.

Hospitality sparks a different vision for me…it’s laughter around a table. Simple food made with love. It’s not having an agenda or a plan or a schedule – but letting the night flow in fellowship and comfort. It’s not trying to “impress” with fancy recipes or a perfectly decorated home – it’s trying to “express” a love for others and a love for Jesus that flows from a thankful, gracious, hospitable heart.

Here are some tips I’ve found or discovered in my quest for hospitality:

– First of all, it’s a Biblical call on your life. THIS article by John Piper says it better than I ever could. If you’re struggling with the desire to be hospitable (I’ve been there!) please seek the Lord, read the Word and pray for a changed heart. It is the Lord in our lives that allows us to truly welcome people into our homes and hearts – otherwise we’re just posing and I promise you will get burned out if you rely on your own efforts.

– Let your house be imperfect. People will actually be more comfortable and more apt to snuggle in for some conversation and fellowship (The Nester is all about that). Light a candle and turn on some soft, conversation inducing music, this cures a multitude of sins.

– If you don’t typically keep a clean house, or don’t care about a clean house (you know who you are) then at least, at LEAST, have a clean bathroom and clean kitchen (and a clean place to sit!) for your guests.

– Relax in your home. You aren’t putting on a show, you’re showing love. If someone wants to be entertained they can buy tickets to a Taylor Swift concert. If you relax, your guests will relax. Offer them a drink (it can even be just water!), give them the best seat in the living room and then, here’s the kicker, sit down with them and talk.

– Have some easy snacks ready for drop-in or last minute guests. If someone dropped by my house right now, I’d be able to offer them coffee/tea and a sit on the couch or a popsicle out on the deck watching the kittens play. Neither is huge, elaborate or amazing – but I can imagine it would make someone know that I wanted them there and that I wanted them to stay a while. You could also do something as easy as always keeping a lemon on hand – that way when someone stops by you can offer them water with lemon, it’s simple and actually an easy practice, but it still says “you’re special”.

– Have a couple “go to” recipes for dinner parties. I really love this concept, I don’t know why I haven’t done it yet. I guess one of my “go to” meals is spaghetti with homemade sauce, usually served with bread of some kind, salad and red wine. Nothing invites people to sit and stay around the dinner table more than carbs + carbs + wine.

– Don’t be afraid of a potluck. You provide the main dish and the drinks, another couple brings sides and another, the dessert. I promise you, people don’t mind. If David and I are eating steaks for dinner and a couple of our guy friends want to join we just have a BYOS deal (bring your own steak), and we’re golden!

– Don’t be afraid, as I have been, to try to make something extra beautiful and special. Even if you fail, most people will still appreciate your efforts.

– S t r e t c h your food. In school we learned that a meal is made up of balance. “If your protein is breaded, maybe lean off the starchy vegetables.” “You can’t have corn and mashed potatoes – too heavy.” “If you have something spicy hot, you need to pair it with something more on the simple flavor side.” – and if you are trying to learn how to be a chef or creating something for a restaurant then definitely live by those rules! But in a home that is open and welcoming you probably should throw those rules out the window. Let’s say I’m making grilled chicken, rice, green beans and a salad for a couple that David and I invited over. Then, for what ever reason, another couple stops by OR the lonely girl from church texts to see if anything fun is happening that night OR your neighbor walks over because they smell the chicken OR your kids bring a couple unexpected friends…WHATEVER the situation. How cool would it be if you invited those people to stay for dinner. What if you welcomed them with open arms and then heated up a couples cans of beans or chopped up the chicken into halves (so it’ll go farther) or bring out a bag of chips you had in the cabinet or whip up the 99 cent box of mac and cheese from the pantry. Your guests won’t care if their plates aren’t “balanced” but you would 100% bless their socks off if you just rolled with it with a smile.

– Have something fun to do. A lot of times David and I have invited people over to play some of his vintage video games – competition, excitement and nostalgia. (I personally would suggest the fun vintage options so it doesn’t turn into everyone just zoning into the TV while one or two people play Halo or Assassin’s Creed. We usually play Mario Party, because we’re all still together while we play. It really won’t suck you in.) We also keep some of our favorite board games on hand, some dice, a deck of cards…We’ve even had friends over to put together a puzzle (We worked on that puzzle for EIGHT HOURS).

– One of my goals is to get some small toys for my little guests to play with. In the past, when my 3 year old niece and 1 1/2 year old nephew have come over, I’ve gotten out a big bag of beads, or our bean bag chair for them to play with. I’ve recently covered the front of our fridge with colorful letter magnets, kids of all ages love playing with these. My brother likes to make bad words out of the letters for me to find later (thanks bro). You could also paint a chalkboard wall for kids to draw on and adults to write fun notes or quotes or pictures.

– Read “The Nesting Place” by Myquillyn Smith, “The Hidden Art of Homemaking” by Edith Schaeffer and THIS article by She Reads Truth – all amazing resources for “big picture” entertaining and hospitality.

I’ll leave you with this, Shauna Niequist, one of my favorite authors, said, “The heart of hospitality is when people leave your home they should feel better about themselves, not better about you.” My prayer is that we can all take our eyes off ourselves, that we can stop being embarrassed or insecure or too busy, but that we can open our hearts and our homes to the people that God puts in our lives.