I had people over Tuesday. Not one person. People. Eight if you count children. Four if you don’t. I do. Children make for a bigger and louder crowd.
Eight people coming to my house to decorate cookies. Toddlers, frosting, and sprinkles. A combination that had the potential to be amazing. Or amazingly messy.
I haven’t hosted more than one person since we moved into our old house. We hosted over a dozen people for a Christmas party, just five weeks after we drove a U-Haul across town and unloaded it into the house with the creaky wooden floors. That party came before we were truly settled in. Before the house was a mess. Before it was lived in. Before the mail basket overflowed and before the cat peed on the couch.
It was when the old house looked perfect. Clean and ready for anyone.
We have lived in the new house for over a year now. It is far from perfect. There is clutter on the counters. The pantry is far from organized, though I can find everything I need. (I put it there, didn’t I?) The toyboxes sometimes hold dirty laundry and I’m pretty sure there is pizza sauce smeared on the back of the couch.
It’s far from perfect, but it is mine. It is ours.
The night before my friends came over we decided that our plans were to clean - to get the house as close to spotless as possible. We wanted to make sure the house was perfect for everyone. Both my husband and I worried about the perceptions of our house. I get nervous inviting one person over and here I was expecting eight people. When even for one person I feel like it all has to be perfect.
I expect that of myself but not others.My house should smell like fresh candles and not whatever I cooked last. There should be no fur on the rug and freshly scooped litter boxes, with no trace of litter nearby. The overflowing mail basket is often a bone of contention. The pile never seems to shrink, despite how hard we try. I would never judge a friend’s home for these lived-in details, yet hold my own to an impossible standard.
So one person makes me scramble to find homes for all the clutter of my lived-in house. Eight sent us into a tizzy. We swept, mopped, hid litter boxes and relocated the cat food. The mail basket went untouched, but the front of the fridge was fingerprint free.
Then, Tuesday morning happened. I woke up and everything slowly came undone. First, I stepped in cat barf on the white carpet. Then the long-hair cat missed a spot cleaning his bottom and there was poop. Poop.
Another cat threw up in the foyer and litter scattered across the dining room. What was perfect Monday night was no longer perfect Tuesday morning and I scrambled to make it so, anxiety in high gear. What would my friends think?
I got everything cleaned up again, just in time for everyone to start trickling in.
Then, something happened that surprised me: my friends complimented my house. The layout and the photos on the walls. How open and airy it felt. The holiday-appropriate smell from the cedar-juniper candle I’d lit that morning, mingling with the cookies and making it smell homey.
The mail basket went completely unnoticed as they gushed about the handmade table it sat on, asking where we found it.
We settled into the dining room and made a mess, laughing as sprinkles went everywhere and the cookies, one after another, were frosted and topped with candy. We ate as many as we decorated, finishing the afternoon stuffed with sugar, chocolate, and sprinkles.
My friends came together and asked me if they could help clean. I wanted to say no - that I had it all together, don’t worry about it! I knew if I did I would regret the decision later - there were a lot of sprinkles on the floor, and I’d rearranged my dining room to make extra room for everyone. So I said yes, My friends came together, making my house their own. They helped clean up from the cookie frenzy. They put furniture away and refilled the pantry with decorations and snacks pulled out in haste. They offered to put away toys and took pictures in front of the tree.
As we said good-bye, I thought about hospitality. I wondered if this was how the innkeeper in Jesus’ story felt when he had two more people arrive. More than he had rooms for. Until then, I imagine everything was perfect for him. A room for every person, made with fresh linen and brightly burning candles.
Two more arrive, one with child, and he has only a manger to offer. Does he? Does he offer them shelter, even if it’s not within the inn? He does. We don't know if he hesitated - a manger is far from perfect, but it is warm and dry. Perhaps he did. Perhaps he didn’t, instantly offering a place to stay for the strangers in front of him.
What I do know is that he offered hospitality and grace, even if it was imperfect. It was perfect enough for our savior to be born within. He provided a home for Jesus to be born. When I open my home to friends, I am offering a home and a place of rest. I am sure I am not the only one who scrambles to tidy when a friend visits. As my friends walked through my home, I realized how little the cleanliness matters. They want to a place to belong and rest their feet as I do.
They want to be the ones to relax and by opening my home, I provide that. A place where we can rest and belong. A place I call home, and hope my friends do, too. I think often about making this feeling last all year - the feeling of celebratory warmth, friendship, and togetherness. I love to entertain, but my fear of imperfection keeps me from doing so. When I do host, I am reminded quickly that perfection doesn’t matter - being together does.
I realized, long after my friends left, after the toys were put away and the toddler slept, dreams of sugarplums dancing through his head, that I can keep these feelings alive. I can do it by continuing to be the innkeeper. I can worry less about being clean and tidy, and more about the joy of bringing people in. I can open my home to be a place of happiness and comfort, even as the mail basket continues to overflow. I can offer up my imperfect house: a place to rest, and a place to make a mess.