“Asking people into my life is not so different from asking them into my apartment, my interior life is never going to be wholly respectable, cleaned up, and gleaming. But that is where I live. In the certitude of God, I ought to be able to risk issuing the occasional invitation.” —Lauren F. Winner, Mudhouse Sabbath
From a very early age, I checked out books at the library on entertaining. As a ten-year-old, I read about the art of napkin folding and the etiquette of keeping glasses full for my guests. As I flipped through decorating books, I dreamed about the day I would have a home to welcome people into.
When I was in college, I tried to make the best of my dorm room. My roommate and I devised the idea of hosting “bring-a-friend” gatherings, where we would invite friends and encourage them to each bring another friend we didn’t know. Although I still love this idea, it never got off the ground.
After college, like so many millennials, I moved back in with my parents. I did it for a lot of reasons, but chief among them was that I thought it wouldn’t be long until I was married. My college friends were getting married by the handful after graduation, and though I’d missed the fabled “ring by spring” so often talked about at my Christian liberal arts college, I still thought my long-awaited spouse would come along quickly.
In the meantime, I itched to entertain. I began hosting parties at my parents’ house—a birthday party, a water and wine tasting for Epiphany, a movie or game night here and there, with potluck appetizers. When I had friends over for tea, I would pull out matching cups and saucers and cloth napkins.
Two years ago, I moved into a beautiful little house with two other women. It had a sunny kitchen lined with windows and a purple painted porch. Before the lease was signed I knew—this will be a place to entertain.
We were known for our gatherings. Big, sprawling ones in conjunction with my roommate’s weekly small group, which usually involved a barbecue grill in our front yard, and smaller ones, like my St. Martha’s Day celebration in July.
I kept a stack of board games in the corner and would pull them out at a moment’s notice. My roommates teased me about my full bar, but I had remembered that part of being a good hostess was keeping my guests’ glasses full. I kept cases of Coca-Cola, tonic water, sparkling water, and a huge selection of tea on hand. I was ready for any beverage request.
It became second nature to invite a friend over for dinner. I would plan the menu and shop for the ingredients I needed. Before they arrived, I would set the table, complete with cloth napkins. I was finally living my dream, welcoming people into my well-appointed home regularly.
But last summer my lease was up and my roommates were moving elsewhere. I had thought about relocating to another city, but at the last minute that didn’t work out. That is how I found myself, almost six years and four boyfriends later, living with my parents again.
Right now my parents are remodeling their home. It’s hard to have a party when your living room is wrapped in plastic and covered in dust. It can also be hard to have a party when you’re staring at a shelf of books on entertaining and decorating, things you thought you’d be putting into use in your own home, the setting for a life you’d begun to build with someone else.
In the very midst of this season I’ve been thinking about hospitality. Many years ago I read Lauren Winner’s lovely chapter on the subject in her book Mudhouse Sabbath, and one concept that’s always stuck with me is this: hospitality is about inviting people into your life, as is.
When I read those words the first time, I had no idea how my life would twist and turn. But now I expect twists and turns to continue. Even if I meet that longed-for spouse and we find a cute little house together, with shelves for all the glassware I’ve collected over the years, I doubt the path will cease to be winding. And I will find reasons to avoid letting people into my life no matter my circumstances.
Last week I celebrated my birthday. Earlier in the month, I had reached out to a friend who lives in a lovely little house with her dog, her cat, and her true love, and asked her to host my birthday party. When she opened the door the night of the party, she was wearing a swishy black-lace dress. The oven was preheated for the stuffed mushrooms I was making, and she’d already started the first round of cocktails. In that moment I understood she was not showing hospitality to me only then; we had been showing hospitality to each other all along—in the game night she’d invited me to after a bad breakup and with dinners out in the dead of winter, when our conversation was interrupted by loud caroling.
I thought about the friend who let me hang out with her while she folded laundry and created a Halloween costume from scratch, and the friend who let me hold her baby at her dinner table as we talked and laughed and ate enchiladas. I thought about a visit with another friend and her two little kids, making pretzels in her kitchen and watching my first episodes of Friends. These women weren’t just showing me hospitality; I was showing it to them, too, making room for them in my messy life.
It’s so easy for me to think I will be hospitable only when I have a place to show hospitality. I look forward to that day, and to once more putting into effect what I’ve learned about entertaining. But more and more I’m realizing I need only myself to practice hospitality. I need only to open wide the door of my heart and say, “Come on in.”