21 Oct 2013

How to feel at home in your house and your skin

Sunday afternoons in South Africa —

there were always watermelons bopping in the swimming pool.

On big hospitality in a small house via lisajobaker.com

It was to keep them cool till they could be split for dessert.

But to us kids they were just a challenge to ride, to raft, to water polo between ourselves until a grown up finally noticed and yelled to quit it before we turned the insides into pure pulp.

Sunshine on the watermelons and their green striped skins and our shoulders and legs all gangly and growing up living large on the hospitality of our parents.



I can still feel the water running down my back from wet hair as we stood dripping around the table under the thatch roof lapa as dad cut into the melons slice after juicy slice.

We’d stand and bite and suck and spit seeds and there were always more people than chairs.




My mom could make an ordinary afternoon an event.

So much goodness dripping down our chins and still feeding my memory tonight – 23 years later – in a small rental house in Northern Virgina.

It’s a long way from my southern cross childhood and that swimming pool in Pretoria.

Hospitality as I’ve grown up has looked different.

I discovered a dirty pot in the microwave last night.

I stood and stared at it. Looked like it was from yesterday’s tacos. “Pete,” I ask over my shoulder. “Did you know there’s a pot in the microwave?”

There’s a pause before he answers.

And then his laughter rolls back from the couch with his words, “Yea, I guess that’s where I hid it before they came over.”

I wonder if my mom ever did that? Shoved dirty dishes in the stove or a cupboard? I don’t remember us having a microwave.

We’ve had a lot of guests pass through our conveniently-located-right-outside-D.C. house. My desire to host them with the carefree abandon of my childhood has gone head-to-head with my desperate self consciousness about how small our home is.

How the size of our house has felt like it stunted the size of our life.

How pockmarked our yard is with the holes of busy boys, the mud they’ve lovingly smeared as “cement” all over the back pavement, the rakes and hammers and shovels and old gloves they’ve forgotten in piles around their precious work site that I don’t have the heart to complain about.

How we only have 4 dining room chairs and the table is littered with markings that even Mr. Clean’s Magic Eraser can’t seem to remove. And how inevitably my kids will open the hamster cage and bring him over to the table right as I’m trying to serve the meal.

It used to give me profound waves of panic. Because there’s nothing like seeing your house through someone else’s eyes to realize the carpet might actually be beyond cleaning.

Or that the toilet seat with the one loose side that never bothers you is an embarrassment when you think about someone else using it. And that if you don’t warn the friend helping you load the dishwasher she won’t know that you can only pull it out so far before it comes completely off the rails and glasses and bottles bounce foolishly off the tracks.

Last weekend one of my oldest friends and her good man who has been deployed more than he’s been home the last few years and their three kids came to visit. They came several days earlier than we expected.

And there it was. The choice.


Panic or delight.

Fear of appearances or fully opening my arms to one of my favorite friends.

Picking up the backyard or inviting her boys to join the well-loved chaos.

Stressing the stains or surrounding ourselves with toys, kids, and enough time to catch up.

Frantically planning something to cook or ordering pizza and slicing a watermelon.


After five years in this small house with all the brown paneling I’ve learned a lot about big hospitality.

And no matter how much you clean or remodel or or move or rebuild, hospitality will always be more a matter of the heart than the architecture.

And your guests will only feel as comfortable in your house as you feel in your own skin.

And there’s no shame in paper plates if they’re heaped high with delight in each others’ company.

And kids are great role models when it comes to the unselfconscious art of explaining the ins and outs of each others’ toilets.

And no one ever did actually die of embarrassment.

But missing out on community is a kind of dying and what if I’d said no to catching up on two decades and three kids since we shared a dorm together?

So, it’s later, after we’ve said a hundred good-byes in the space of ten minutes and the boys have all agreed they’d like to be brothers and next-door-neighbors and I’ve wiped down sticky counters, chairs, and sofas that I discover that pot in the microwave.

And think about how my mom used to burn the beans because she wasn’t paying attention, or run out of mashed potatoes because the kids helped themselves to too much, or flip the brown sofa cushion over where it had split a gut right open.

But she always opened the door.

She always pulled out one more chair.

Kids were always included in the charades, the impromptu Bible lessons, the cleaning up.

And there was always watermelon for dessert.


{Sharing this post I originally wrote for my friend Ann this summer.}


{ Leave a Comment }
  1. 1

    Thanks, I needed that. I wrote 2 FMF’s ago how I was embarrassed by my always-under-construction house that we were hosting a bible study in. The first meeting was last Friday, and of course it went fine and my panic-induced over cleaning was completely unnecessary. I need to be reminded that it’s not about the architecture :)

  2. 2

    Oh, my heart just needs to read your small house posts over and over and over again. Thank you.

  3. 3

    Such a great reminder that what really matters is our attitude and how we feel and make others feel. I tend to stress out too much over “company”, and that makes me miss out on some of the real joy! Here’s to being more real and letting them see our hidden dirty pots and pans! :)

  4. 4

    What a gift for me to read this today. I am constantly arguing with myself over being open and welcoming guests into our small home, with the piles, the fridge covered with stuff, sports equipment in every nook. Or, choosing to stop and enjoy. To embrace our friends and family, the moment. Yay for pots stashed in the microwave!

  5. 5

    This is 100% yes!!!! People say “I like how your house looks lived in.” I can take it as, I am a bad housekeeper or I try to have fun with life and not stress over perfection. bellesbazaar-heather.blogspot.com

  6. 6
    Kellie Budge says:

    It is truly a gift when we open our homes and hearts and let ourselves be seen. When we scrub and bleach over the beautiful imperfections of our lives, hiding behind clean windows and crumb-free kitchen floors, we hide ourselves, and step away from the vulnerability that comes with connecting. Oh to open the door wide and invite all to come in to our chaos, to let them see our weakness, now THAT is hospitality.

  7. 7

    This is a great reminder of what true hospitality is, a home opened with love, despite it not being pinterest worthy!

  8. 8

    Lisa.. your blog, your words are awesome. I have an online friend coming to visit this weekend, that Ive never met in person before.. but have known for 5 years. I so struggle every time someone comes here that has never been here before. “my house is too small.. my house is too old, my house needs so many repairs…” I know Im a good hostess and that my little house is like a little dollhouse cottage and is cozy and charming.. but those other things seep in to suck joy out and cause stupid stress.. I know those things.. but I sometimes let those thoughts in anyways. I thank you because I read your post at exactly just the right time! my friend will arrive friday afternoon and we are going to have a great time!
    thank you!

  9. 9

    We all need to be reminded that we aren’t defined by how clean our home is, that even type A personalities can find room to have kids be kids and have adults feel welcome in the cramped space. You are so good at this.

  10. 10

    Love, love, love your posts and love sharing them! It is awesome to find someone who thinks this way – whenever I begin to wonder if there’s something wrong with me and perhaps I should simply start following everyone else’s lead. You remind me that it should all come from the heart – thank you.

  11. 11

    Love this ;) Love your honesty and your heart. Hope I can somehow stifle down my pride at holiday gatherings this year and embrace the warmth and love that you embodied in this post. thanks!

  12. 12

    Thanks Lisa. I needed to hear this.

  13. 13

    Oh my goodness, did I ever need to read this today! I really am trying to get over the imperfections and the chaos and the clutter, but sometimes it is so, so hard. Especially when the people coming over do have bigger, nicer, cleaner homes than I do. But then, they don’t have four kids who keep me in stitches all day or a hubby who could care less if we have fries and chicken sandwiches every single night. Thank you.

  14. 14

    Love this. We get our focus on the wrong things altogether. Such a great reminder I had to share it. Thank you!

  15. 15
    Nicole Sansom says:

    That was a great post! I struggle with the same issues but when I let go, I am so much more relaxed and happy. Good to get the confirmation!!

  16. 16

    This was beautifully written and shares the comforting picture of true hospitality. After decades of asking people to wait outside while we talked, I finally gave over to feeling comfortable in my own skin. People are always more important than a clean and tidy home, or a completely prepared meal. People are what matter most to God!

  17. 17

    Wow, I loved this post!!! I really needed to be reminded of this today…THANK YOU!!!

  18. 18

    As a family of six renting and sharing 1 bathroom I needed to hear this! Thanks for the comforting words and reminders. I don’t know if I’ll ever have that dream house on the hill but you reminded me that it doesn’t matter… Family and friendships and people matter. Besides, more house = more to clean! :) I love your blog.

  19. 19

    As always, you wrote what I needed to hear. Your mom sounds like such a wonderful person. I wish I could meet her. Thank you for writing this.

  20. 20

    Hі to every body, it’s my first go to see of this weblog; this
    webpage containѕ remarkable and really еxcellent information designed for reаders.

  21. 21

    I am regular visitor, how are you everybody? This paragraph posted at
    this web site is genuinely good.

  22. 22
    Danielle says:

    Your words resonate so deeply. My favorite line “She always pulled out one more chair.” Thanks for sharing.

  23. 23

    Excellent beat ! I wish to apprentice at the same time as you amend your
    site, how could i subscribe for a blog web site? The account helped me a
    appropriate deal. I were tiny bit acquainted of
    this your broadcast provided bright clear idea


  1. […] has happened to me.  It happened to Lisa-Jo Baker, too.  In that moment, we’re faced with a choice, aren’t […]

  2. […] I shall remember that guests will only feel as comfortable in my home as I feel in my own skin. […]

Hide me
Free eBook for Blog Subscribers!
Just enter your email & you'll receive a welcome email with a link to download the eBook. Easy Peasy!
Show me