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I meticulously vacuumed and mopped, water streaks practically mocking me with the contrast of dirty to clean. Tending to the floors was always my least favorite chore, but now that people were coming over, it was a necessity I couldn’t ignore. I obsessively worried that crumbs would stick to guest’s feet during dinner and that thought alone sent me into round three of detecting those that were camouflaged.

When the new couple arrived, I was relieved they were wearing socks. I had set the table with extra linens and placemats to which my perplexed children inquired, “What are these?” as if they were martian chattel.

“They make the table fancier,” I quipped, but mentally I acknowledged they were useful for covering undesirable crayon stains.

Immediately, Heather got on my daughter’s level. “Hi! My name is Heather! What is your name?” In what felt like a minute and nothing at all, my daughters were telling her all about the bunk beds they got for Christmas. Eden smiled coyly as she noticed the same package I did, tucked neatly under Heather’s arm, trying to remain discreet. “You want to know what’s in this present? Let’s ask your mom if you can open it for her.” Inside were princess coloring books for the girls, truck books for my son, and a handmade trivet for me. I felt humbled by her thoughtfulness.

RELATED: I’m the Hostess without the Mostest, but Who Cares?

Conversation navigated around the cacophony of children, no one said anything about remnant floor drippings, and the girls colored their new princess books contentedly. At the end of a comfortable evening together, we bid our new friends goodnight while the warm air drifted out of our home and into the night sky.

Hosting has become more difficult now that we have four kids, yet I’m realizing that no one cares about the noise or the crumbs on the floor. In solving so many quibbles about sharing and things breaking over the years, I find myself repeating aloud, “People are more important than things.” Do I really live this out?

Having people in our home is hard. There are parts of me that go to war with one another. One part feels guilty that I’m ignoring my children to engage with adults. The other says, “It’s good for them. They can’t always be the center of my attention, and learning how to cope with that is important.” There’s another part of me that feels extremely self-conscious, “They are going to see that I’m terrible at housekeeping. Why didn’t they say anything about the soup I made? Is it gross?” You get the idea.

Unfortunately, it turns out all these thoughts are about pride. If I can just appear like I have my life together and my children cooperate for a meal with friends, perhaps from the outside others will think, “Wow, Ashley has got it all together. Her home is clean, her food somehow simultaneously nutritious and delicious, and her children are delightful.” Pride is underneath it all. It’s vulnerable having people come into your place of living and provide an opportunity for inspection where things (or children’s behaviors) are slipping through the cracks.

RELATED: Just Come Over: The Art of Gritty Hospitality

People are more important than things. Do you know what happens every time we are saying goodbye to guests? I feel happy we did it. I feel connected, engaged, and authentic. I feel free. It turns out that strengthening the bonds we feel with others and sharing in the authentic messes of life begets freedom from superficial things like worrying about the house or the children’s presentations.

Even more honestly, in caring more about the house and even the kid’s behaviors, I’ve been overlooking the heart of hospitality. Hospitality in its very essence is a generous reception. It excludes a stingy self-absorbed panic. Hospitality personified is arms wide open to receive and hold the individuals brought in. Anxiety curls us inward and spirals us into an individualistic tunnel vision that leaves no room for thinking outside of self.

I’ve gone back to my why so often with hospitality. Why do I even want to invite others into our home?” This shapes the actions that follow it. And shockingly, the vacuum isn’t necessary to fulfill my why.

Yes, It would make the week more straightforward if we only had our family unit here. And yet, I realize that with every “Heather” that enters, we are reciprocally blessed. A sense of belonging is what we all desire and that is what my hospitality seeks to cultivate for anyone who should walk through our door.

With vulnerable humility, I’ll continue to open my front door and my heart to others even if it does mean the resurrection of the vacuum. I’m not trying to make anyone lose their appetite, after all. But though it isn’t always very clean or orderly, it is a warm and welcoming place to belong.

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Ashley Elizabeth

This has been written by Ashley Elizabeth, a licensed associate counselor and mom of four children five and under. Her blog is ashleyelizabethwrites.wordpress.com and her IG is ashley.elizabeth.writes if you want to follow along with her as she shares her heart behind motherhood, homeschooling, and identity.

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