11 Mar 2013

There’s no such thing as perfect hospitality or perfect people

Sunday afternoons are messy at our house. And I like them that way. (If you follow me on Instagram you’ve probably noticed).


We’ve usually let the weekend play around us with all its Legos and dolls and light sabers and blanket forts and left over pizza. We’ve let the dishes pile up and a pile of well, everything really, accumulate in the boys’ room. At least one of our children is wearing only underpants. And Pete and I will have napped and then dragged our bed heads up and back into the land of the living when Zoe wakes us and herself up and the late afternoon sun is pouring in the windows across the brown sofas, showing up every single spot or stain or trail of old milk.

It is very hard to open the door when someone knocks on afternoons like that.

When someone arrives without calling or planning, but simply comes over to say hi or to ask the boys over for a play date or to drop off hand-me down clothes for Zoe the last thing I want is for them to catch me right in the middle of my real life.

There’s panic and a profound desire to hide. Then the reflex to kick everything into the boys’ room and try to wedge the door shut. To fix my hair, rush on a layer of make up, kick off my mismatched socks.

There’s an instinct to hide who I am at my most messy behind a volley of words, excuses, explanations for why the back yard looks like the place where toys come to die. How I’d been watching Peter and Jackson sword fight there way across the dirt and in between the discarded plastic guns that were everywhere except in the gun bin. How I’d cracked open the window to yell out that guns have to be put away before new games are started and instead I just stood and watched the two of them whack and laugh there way across the sunny afternoon.

If I wait for my house or my life to be perfect before ever inviting someone into it, I just might never let anyone in.

I met up with four friends on Saturday morning and we talked about letting each other deep into the layers of our real lives, selves, fears, hopes, and desperate prayers. It seemed fitting that I was still tired from a late flight the night before, with hair thrown up on my head and no make up, no chap stick, no camouflage.

We get to choose this kind of intimacy. Or not.

“(Y)ou can decide that every time you open your door, it’s an act of love, not performance or competition or striving. You can decide that every time people gather around your table, you goal is nourishment, not neurotic proving. You can decide.”
~Shauna Niequist, Bread & Wine.

I never feel more vulnerable than when a friend is stepping over the threshold and picking her way in between the layers of chaos that say, “We live here. And we’ve never got it perfect.”

And I still prefer the days they drop by when candles are lit and carpets vacuumed. But if I believe what I say about community, then that includes the messy days. The ones where I’ve been too tired to catch up on much of anything. It includes welcoming my people into the nooks and crannies of my ordinary and remembering not to be ashamed.

Remembering that to become real, friendship more often than not requires becoming comfortable with the snapshots of life often taken at an unflattering angle. I love how my friend Sharone put it, “I don’t care about the good pictures, really. The world can have your avatars. Give me the pictures you’d never want anyone to see. The things that are unpublishable. Let’s be just us, in the space between photos.”

So I open my front door wearing the jeans that always fall down without a belt. And my hair pulled back in a pony tail. The red shirt I’ve just discovered has a long thready pull. And no make up. My son complains about his afternoon and my daughter’s diaper looks like it’s got a full load. There’s yesterday’s dinner dishes piled up in the sink, and a load of laundry chugging around in cycles. I haven’t had time to force the boys to pick up their room yet, but you’re welcome to sit down with feet up on the ottoman cover I just washed, again, this time because of orange, drippy, ice cream stains.

Because I want you here. Whether I’m ever perfectly ready or not. I want you.

Just the way you are. Which will likely mean most days, I must open the door just the way I am.



{ Leave a Comment }
  1. 1

    I found a quote on Pinterest that I framed for by our front door…”Please excuse the noise and mess, our children are making memories.” Your photos from real life & your descriptions are fitting of me and so many others. Perfection is pathetic in that it is unachievable. I try and strive at times, but find peace and relaxation…true joy in the mess! Hope you have a messy Monday!

  2. 3

    But does anyone really want in the messiness of our lives? Seems to me people are too busy for that or get scared and run.

    • 4

      But maybe it’s worth giving it a shot, eh?

      • 5

        I only have one person in my church that it might be ok with.

        • 6

          Be thankful you have at least one… I’m ok with my messiness and the messiness of others, but have no one (times 9 years) at our church that wants to spend time at our house or theirs. People seem so broken, scared, busy, etc. to come and have a drink at any well that’s offered.
          Will pray for you!

  3. 7

    Love it! Never forget the day, I shoved all the junk in the master bedroom (as I normally do before guests arrive) only to have my friend take her two year old up and into that very same master bedroom for a nap when she arrived. I was occupied with a child else where upon her arrival and her 2 yr old was sleeping so she thought she would just plop him down on my bed to continue his nap before greeting me! Oh my face was so red, the mess she discovered. We laugh about it now.

    • 8

      What a great story! Made me smile. I’ve (more than once) made a mess of the food I’d prepared for guests. I hope it at least made them feel good about their own cooking! Lol.

  4. 9

    Loved this one, Lisa-Jo. I’ve been there (most recently when the Welcome Wagon lady rang our doorbell).

  5. 11

    What a beautifully terrifying post! I can keep the house mostly clean now that my youngest is 8 1/2, but I wish I had back the days that I spent feeling buried by mess so I could enjoy my babies more and fret less. Your last line sums it up–if we want real fellowship then we have to be real. If we want freedom to invite others in, we have to give them the freedom to be real (without us entertaining those thoughts like, “Wow, her house is messier than mine, I’m doing something right!).

    Thanks so much for sharing. Reading what you write is like listening to music. You have such a sweet way with words.

  6. 13

    Oh my word … right now I’m staring at the baby swing plopped down in front of a doorway. Sitting beside it is the Walmart bag of curtains that need to go back and on a nearby shelf is the can of Pledge left there to remind me I *really* need to dust that shelf because my daughter wrote a message in the thick layer that has accumulated there since the last dusting (which honestly was probably in early January when the Christmas decorations were taken down). But you know, not one person noticed any of that during our Sunday afternoon lunch yesterday.

    We sat around and laughed at the sweet nephew who did not want any part of the swing but preferred the warm snuggle with his great-grandmother while we ate leftovers from Saturday night and laughed at my husband and his brother who still, even at ages 41 and 38, can look at each other and laugh so hard the tears flow from their eyes and ours. We watched my girl practice her cheers for tryouts coming soon and started making plans for a family Easter dinner … 4 generations piled into my house that will never be big enough to hold all the love and laughter but we squeeze in tight and make memories that echo through the walls of our hearts. Because perfect is just an illusion anyway, right?

    {And why is it, my dear friend Lisa-Jo, that when I start to leave a comment here I always end up leaving a story instead? I suppose it’s because that’s what I’d do if I were at your house … and I feel right at home here too.}

  7. 16

    perfect = real
    so, you’re covered ;-)

  8. 17

    Oh, I needed this today for a Monday full of Monday-ness. Thanks for putting words to the real life we all live. It’s so hard to open the door but some of the best times I have had surrounded by mess and realness.

  9. 18

    Love this, yet again.

    My mom was amazing at keeping her house clean. So, since I am most decidedly NOT organized or great at keeping the house looking presentable, I carry a little bit of shame. And when people are coming over there’s such a desire to HIDE IT!

    But other people’s messy houses have been gifts to me. And other people’s messy lives have been as well. It’s just lovely to be able to let down my guard around them…and I’m growing and learning to hopefully just leave that guard down in general.

    Right now, there’s a little spaghetti handprint on my kitchen wall. The dishes are undone. And I am ignoring it all to get some downtime. Should someone come over, they are welcome in my mess…and I won’t apologize or make excuses. At least, I will try not to.

    I loved the line about your backyard looking like “a place toys come to die.” Such a great description. :)

  10. 20

    Girl, I wouldn’t even notice the drips and the blur of toys strewn. I’d simply want to celebrate being a part of your every day glory.

    and thank you for reminding me that’s why I open up the door, too.

    I remember months back, a couple from out of town we hadn’t seen since our wedding a decade ago showed up in the midst of our bedtime routines. I was on crutches, which means the house was even worse than normal. laundry hadn’t been done so I was wearing my hubby’s basketball shorts with the waist string pulled so tight it was hanging lower than the hem of the shorts! no make up. hair in a day-old pony.
    but I answered the door. and allowed myself to enjoy reconnecting.
    my husband said he had never loved me more…

  11. 23

    From what little I have seen of your house, it screams “WE ARE FAM-I-LY, I’VE GOT ALL MY KIDOS WITH ME – YEAH!” And I would sit for hours in the middle of all of that and love it!

  12. 24

    Just the thought of being able to ring your doorbell and step inside made my heart rate speed up… simply because the reason WHY we love you so – across these screens… and most likely – across your street – is BECAUSE you are brave enough to be real – and yet still share this little honest fact : you TOO have moments of panic and a desire to hide! But you invite us to, right alongside you, try to overcome and open the door (literally – and figuratively!) and be real anyway! And Oh my Stars… the quote from Bread & Wine? That is SO my heart… I’m gonna have to paint that quote I think!

  13. 25

    (Just realized my old email was attached to that last comment! Oh the techy things that I forget about?)

  14. 26

    This post is just a freedom song, and it’s so beautiful and so refreshing. Don’t we all want those kinds of friendships, the ones that happen in the messy of our lives, no apologies necessary?

  15. 27

    Dear Sweet Sister in Christ,

    I love this post. I feel I have found a kindred spirit and if you were to read the first page of my intro of my ebook Clutter Free Simplicity, you would read how I describe how my neighbor walks in my home and literally sits on the laundry on my couch. Meanwhile I noticed a diaper that had popped open exposing a gooey load! Classic mess, but still a sweet time of connecting. Thanks for the reminder what is really important! Your words are inspiring and real. #blessedbyyou


  16. 28
    Leslie Hawk says:

    I think everyone has already said it, but I leave a comment anyway to cast my “vote” on this topic! Not hiding from hospitality – this is definitely the kind of encouragement I need. Thank you! And like it – ideas for neighborliness in this isolated culture we live in. How to get past the fear and unknown and get to know your neighbors? Perhaps a post for another day of your experience… I need all the help I can get in my neighborhood.

  17. 29

    We call these people our backdoor or kitchen door friends and generally just come on in after a quick knock and sticking their head in. It’s how I grew up and I sure do miss it! If you’re ever in my neck of the woods feel free to come up on the deck and on in. I make no guarantees about the chaos you’ll walk into, odds are I’ll have some tea to drink- hot or iced. We always have tea. :)

    • 30

      Oh, yes Amy! I remember one day when of my closest friends was letting our family in through their back door (which often involves a trek through the garage) and she said something very similar to me. It was something along the line of, we know we are very special when we get to go in through the back door! :)

      I like that.

  18. 31

    You have put this so beautifully, Lisa Jo. I spent too many years of life fighting for “perfect,” afraid friends might come over and realize what a mess my life is and never want to come back.

    But there’s something I’ve learned (well, more accurately, am learning — it’s quite a process). That is, that true friends don’t mind the real you. True friends will scoot the pile of blankets over and straighten a cushion to find a place to sit. They will pick their way through “Mr. Bulldozer’s” city to get there, and have no second thoughts about it.

    Or they will step into your kitchen and start washing that pile of dishes from last night’s supper while you gratefully grab the dishtowel, and the two of you talk away about whatever.

    And when, by chance, they come over at the moment you just cleaned your house (for we do clean it — really), sure it’s a bit more convenient, but it makes not a bit of difference anyway. They are there to see *you*. :)

  19. 32

    This post is so lovely… When we have unexpected visitors, I go through similar mental convulsions, before remembering that the chaos that reigns is simply a sign that we really *live* here.

    Thank you for opening your home to us in this real and vulnerable way. You aren’t alone, and now we know that we aren’t either! :)

  20. 33

    You know, these days it’s not so much my house that I try to hide (only one kid left at home, so it’s pretty easy to stay picked up), but your post reminded me that so much of mySELF isn’t where I’d like it to be, so I hide. Sometimes. It’s not a far leap from our homes to our hearts.

  21. 34

    You totally just described my house every single weekend. And most of the week, for that matter! I still struggle with feeling comfortable about letting people see the realness, but I am getting better. I’m most neurotic, though, of having to answer the door in my sweaty workout clothes. Why can I run outside and not care, but catch me in the middle of Pilates and I want to hide behind the couch until the door knocker gives up? Craziness!

  22. 35

    OK, my 5 are 10-18 and we’re still cluttered and undisciplined. It’s frustrating. Where does doing all things “decently and in order” like Christ come in?? I get confused, my husband and perfectionist first born get frustrated.

  23. 36

    Thanks for sharing that, I loved it! Too many times, I too, feel like dropping to the floor to army crawl into hiding when someone knocks into my “messy” days! Although, this last Sunday, our church speaker, talked about how God is much more often reflected in messes and not pictures of perfection. If I think about that, how true it is!

  24. 37

    I love this post!! I can totally relate to not wanting people to come over because my house is never picture perfect. I do the compare game a lot, which is very dangerous. Thanks for inspiring me today to let things go and let people in.


  25. 38

    Back when I was a stay at home mom of one we had some people over. I am a very organized person and my house at the time was always in order (years and kids later that is no longer the case). I was very hurt by a lady commenting to a person about how clean my house was and that “at least her house looked like someone lived in it”. I think we all tend to cast judgement where our insecurities lie.
    I have a friend now that stays at home and has a perfect looking house whenever I stop by, I remind myself often of the lady who hurt my feelings. I strive to be happy for my friend and her ability to keep up and not be catty about it b/c my life has gotten crazy and the dishes just haven’t gotten done.
    Someday my house will be organized again, just not today. I have had to learn to be fine with the mess and give myself the grace I would offer others.

  26. 39
    ElliejoyMobussell says:

    O my gush – this article is awesome, so have been there .thank u for this!

  27. 40

    I’m so late catching up on every internet thing ever these days, but I wanted to come by and say thanks for the love. I’ve been thinking so much lately about how self-conscious I am about me and my messes (of all kinds) – apologizing for all the books in the car (did that this week!) or the mascara smudges under my eyes first thing in the morning after I’ve fallen into bed at the end of a long day makeup-be-damned…and then I thought about how many times I’ve felt frowzy or flustered or whatever and had someone tell me out of the blue that I was beautiful, mascara and all. Because love doesn’t care about books or mascara or unwashed dishes. :)

    Love you, Lisa-Jo. Come over and hang out in my book jungle any time. I promise to serve ice cream in a (clean!) bowl and not apologize for anything. :) xx

  28. 41

    Nice job!

    If the Lord wanted us all to be perfect, He would have made us all in the image of my Aunt Millie.

    (thank God that didn’t happen)

  29. 42

    My small group leader growing up is absolutely the epitome of hospitality. To this day, whenever I go to her house, I know I can walk in unannounced and I will be welcomed fully. Now that I’m married and have my own home to open to others, she reminds me of her motto: “Just bless, don’t impress.” Words to remember!

  30. 43

    One time I spur of the moment I invited 2 moms whose husbands were deployed to Iraq and their 5 preschool children over for dinner. The house was a filthy mess and I had no groceries but I just had time to run to the store and clean up before they arrive. Except I got stuck in traffic and we all arrived at my house at the same time.

    They help me carry in the groceries and we laughed and cooked together while my teens entertained the little ones. I’m convinced we all had a better time than we would have if my plan A had worked. I was able to bless them because of my chaos not in spite of it.

  31. 44

    I came over from Rachel Held Evans. This is so encouraging! I am not great at cleaning (my husband is awesome at it, but he’s not here all the time!) and I have two preschoolers in a smallish house. Their playroom is what used to be our dining room, so our mess is always right out there in front of God and everybody. I have been somewhat successful in reining in the clutter by making sure I have an organization system that plays to our strengths (bins and boxes and baskets for dumping stuff in- we are not filers or drawer-openers. Because opening drawers is SO HARD, right?) and reining in the horror by lowering my standards for “presentable” a LOT. It has made me much less isolated. I have been fortunate to make a few friends (even some who are naturally clean and organized) who don’t mind seeing my real, messy, slightly broken life- and letting me into theirs. We all have junk, right?

  32. 45

    I just started reading your blog and cannot tell you how much I enjoy reading your writing. As a new mama your blog has been such a breath of fresh air and motivation to live life as it happening, messes and all. Thank you for being so honest.

  33. 46

    I have read so many articles concerning the blogger lovers however this
    post is truly a fastidious post, keep it up.


  1. […] most of this post before I read what one of my favorite bloggers, Lisa-Jo, wrote today. I love her perspective…hop over and read her heart. It’s […]

  2. […] one’s for Natalie. Who wrote to me after yesterday’s post. The one about how there’s no such thing as perfect people. But maybe it’s for you […]

  3. […] There’s no such thing as perfect hospitality or perfect people – Lisa-Jo Baker […]

  4. […] You may be more comfortable having friends and family over. As Lisa-Jo Baker says, “If I wait for my house or my life to be perfect before ever inviting someone into it, I […]

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