“You want a wee cuppa, Noelle?”
She has one of the friendliest faces you’ll ever see. Her eyes are full of life. The smile she wears is carried with ease and yet brims full of grace. It is not a common thing to come across a truly joyful person. When you do, you cannot help but feel completely safe in their presence.
My children pull out all of the toys into her kitchen. She is able to shuffle around them as she finishes clearing up the dishes from “tea” (dinner). My youngest runs to her side and hugs her leg, “Can I have another bickie, please?” This will be the fourth cookie my kid has consumed since being in our friend’s home. Our gracious host cups the face of my five year old in her hands , as if she was her own granddaughter, and laughs:
“Of course, you can, my wee pet!”
My friend hands me my “cuppa” (hot tea) and instructs me to take a “soft seat” as she points to the sofa. She hands me another “bickie” (biscuit) to accompany my tea. I sigh into complete comfort. I nuzzle into the coziness of the sofa my friend shares with me. I am at home in her sweet hospitality.
There is an art in hospitality, you know. The people in Ireland are gifted in this art. It is in their culture to make their guests feel “at home” or “very welcomed” (as they would say). As I live here in this beautiful island, they share their secret with me.
PREPARED HOME vs. PERFECTED HOME
My friend leans in as I continue to enjoy my “bickie.” She tells me about her secrets to hospitality, “Our home is always clean, Noelle, but it is lived in. I think that’s what makes people feel comfortable.” She’s right. I look around and see signs of life all around her kitchen: the boots that are warming by the oven, the stack of papers that sit on the counter, and the damp clothes that hang neatly on the drying rack near the corner. It is a “lived in” home and I like it.
For a long time, I thought being hospitable meant that my home must be perfect before I had anyone over. All the laundry must be put away. The toys must not come out, papers must be filed, and all of signs of “life” must be buried.
The secret to hospitality is NOT having a perfect home but having a prepared home. <<Click to Tweet
My friend keeps her home prepared. Her cupboards are always well stocked with tea and biscuits. She always makes enough for “tea” (dinner) to feed a hungry guest or two. She lives in expectancy that her home will be a place through which she will serve others. It has nothing to do with the “Pinterest perfect décor.” Instead, it’s about being prepared to keeping an open door to your home and heart.
ENGAGING GUESTS vs. ENTERTAINING GUESTS
My friend calls my son over to her knee. “You are good boy, Silas! Aren’t you, wee pet?” My son cuddles her and then goes back to playing with some toys on the floor. She tells me stories about the farmhouse and the cows they own. She asks me about my own family and if I feel settled in Northern Ireland. We laugh. She encourages me and I ask her questions about what life was like when her own children were “wee.” She engages me. Our exchange is real and honest.
There is a great deal of difference between engaging guests and entertaining guests. <<Click to tweet
Entertaining requires “performing” and acting as if you are someone you are not. Engaging is when you share yourself with another and invite them to share themselves with you.
I often feel exhausted when I am “entertaining” company. The performance of being the perfect host is too wearing. But when I decide to just be me and engage the company around me, I found it very refreshing. I get to share my story and at the same time find new strength in the stories of others.
OBLIGATION vs. OPPORTUNITY
As I clean my home and make a list of my weekly groceries, I ask myself, “Am I striving for a perfect home or a prepared home? Am I ready to welcome any person that sets foot through our door?” Suddenly, the obligations of weekly chores and menu planning are transformed into newfound hospitality opportunities.
As I share tea with a friend who stopped by to say hello, I don’t apologize for the homework that is still lying across my dining room table. I shuffle the papers aside and decide to engage her. I tell her about how I lost my car keys yet again and we laugh at my problematic tendencies to lose stuff. As I brush aside the cobwebs of feigning perfection, I put the kettle on and say to my friend,
The art of hospitality is opening the door to your heart…and it is truly beautiful.
How about you? Have you found ways to be hospitable? Do you struggle with perfection vs. preparedness?
Noelle Rhodes is married to her best friend, Troy, and 'mama' to two of the most hilarious human beings to exist: Silas and Olive Pearl. She and her family reside in Derry/Londonerry, Northern Ireland, as missionaries. When she is not wrangling her children or beating her husband in a game of Scrabble, you would probably find her doing laundry. Noelle blogs at Coffee with Noelle.