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When Hospitality Means Leaving the House Messy

I learned something interesting quite by accident yesterday. We invited a family over for dinner who we had never met. They have three young children, just like ours. The same day I also needed to run our kids up to stay at the grandparents’ house for the weekend. That entailed some brief packing and then about two hours of travel time.

That week two kids caught colds, then the day of we had some other guests drop by earlier. The colds meant that my ability to do pre-tidying disolved. All I managed to stay up on was the laundry. So the house was very “lived in” Friday afternoon.

My meal plan also didn’t work as I intended. The pizza dough recipe I tried wasn’t actually for a bread machine (which would have been ready in about 2 hours), but I didn’t figure it out til after I got started. I tried to salvage my plan, but my dough ended up rising for the whole 2 hours I was gone. I don’t know a lot about baking but I was pretty sure that wasn’t going to turn out well. Then there was the minor detail of the missing mozzarella cheese. By this point I was late and had to run out the door with the kids and withOUT doing the dishes.

When reality hit me an hour later (denial is a powerful thing!), I had to launch a Plan B. I called a pizza place with a drive-up window. Then I might have pushed my speed a wee bit, trying to get home a few minutes ahead of them so I could race through the house with a laundry basket, gathering up all the toys, laundry, mail, school papers, and other clutter.

It didn’t work. They still arrived at our house first and walked in to our lived-in, dirty dishes, school stuff everywhere, granola on the floor (different granola than my previous story) mess. My heart sank when I rounded the bend and saw the car in our driveway. These strangers were going to see how we really lived! WERE seeing it now!

But you know what? It was totally fine. They were normal people who probably forget to buy enough cheese, print the wrong recipe, and have young kids who make messes at the most inopportune times.

Scott told me later that when they all walked into our house, the kids immediately felt at ease. They dove into the toys and had a ball. And the adults could totally relax because we clearly were used to kids and messes.

So it got me thinking about whether I might over-emphasize neatness and appearances. OK, clearly I do. It’s the classic “Martha” trap. Martha and her sister Mary hosted Jesus in their home one day and Martha got pretty ticked at her sister because Mary was sitting and talking with Jesus instead of bustling around like Martha was. It’s easy to read the story and just assume that I am nowhere near as silly as Martha.

But I really am. I easily find myself more focused on and worried about truly, in-the-eternal-scheme-of-things unimportant details and my relationships suffer as a result.

I’m so thankful for the chance to meet this family. I’m thankful that they were so gracious to us, and that I had this somewhat awkward moment (I think I was the only one who felt awkward and only for a moment). It showed me that a clean house, a tidy house, clean dishes, etc… all are “good” things to have. But it showed me that hospitality is FAR more than just those good things. It’s about opening yourself up to people, offering kindness and friendship; it’s about providing them a place to feel comfortable.

So, come on over to our place sometime. I need to practice this new people-focused, rather than keeping-up-appearances focused, hospitality. I can’t promise neat and tidy, but I can promise a friendly smile, a place to sit, and great entertainment from our kids!

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