Practicing Hospitality Imperfectly

One of the seven values of our home is the practice (that is the making mistakes along the way of learning) of hospitality. When we practice hospitality instead as entertainment, that is, the act of amusing or performing for our guests, we miss a very important quality in the intended expression: the administration of care to brokenness, the being of a hospital

Of the making of Pinterest boards and Hygge books and shiplapped magazines there is no lack, but what does it mean to be a hospital at the dinner table or over coffee or in the doing of daily tasks around the house? How is doing laundry or washing dishes or having difficult conversations or listening an act of hospitality in a culture that wines and dines and lauds the farm to table spread in an autumn cornfield at dusk? When these latter expressions are the pièce de résistance, the thing we think of when we think of hospitality, how does the mere folding of socks, packing of lunches, and being seen with your hair undone express a better hospitality? 

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These are the questions that have rattled around in me for the entirety of my life. From my earliest memories, I have been surrounded by the earthly, simple, practical act of hospitality. For years of my teens we had three different families living with us in our home, giving over entire floors of our house to them, siblings squished in bedrooms, dinners rowdy affairs. I don't want to paint those experiences as perfect, they were, without doubt, some of the most difficult of my teen years (and, I'd venture, for the adults as well), but they happened. The sharing of resources and home and opinions and reputations was commonplace in our home. Some of the most painful memories of my life happened in those spaces and others, where our family was meshed with another family, imperfectly but still done. The option for a closed door was never one considered. This way of life felt natural to me, still feels natural to me, although I am learning it carries dysfunction in me too: a belief that saying "no" is not an option. This is why I am still learning to practice hospitality and not perfect it.   

How does one practice hospitality, the being a hospital, and yet also confess they are not the Great Physician and there are some maladies even a good soup and hearty homemade bread cannot fix? I do not have the answer to this question, though it seems like it should be easy, but here is how we generally think about our home and hospitality: 

We can only give what we can give. If we do not have it, we cannot give it. If we cannot give it, we cannot give it. But Christ can and so sometimes the best act of hospitality is to say: I cannot, but he can. To administer the grace which says, "We do not have what you need to become better. But we do have Christ." 

We sometimes must let things be awkward. If every space in an evening or a life must be filled with small talk or inventions of stories, there is no space for the awkward growing pains of maturity to stretch. Being quiet for longer than the noted beat of acceptable silence reminds us in sometimes painful ways that not all is resolved yet, that we are still in process, and in need. Most of us ramble to fill that space and in doing so we crowd out the small voice of the Spirit who may want to move the conversation in another direction entirely. Part of true hospitality is times of quiet, sometimes awkward quiet. 

And yet, we must also move toward the person in our home, initiating questions, drawing them out, being a "there you are" person instead of a "here I am" one. We ask questions like, "How does your heart feel about this?" or "What is this sadness teaching you about God?" or "What is being revealed in your anger/fear/pride/hurt?" instead of only "How was your day?" "How is your job?" "How are your kids?" The heart is the wellspring of life and so we must get at the heart if we are to minister life. 

We eat good, nourishing, healthy food at the table almost every night. There is no magic here, no fix to the world's problems, no Pinterest worthy spread. There is only true food that nourishes a body because bodies matter too. Hospitality is not only about caring for the emotional or relational needs, but the physical ones too. We light candles every night (I have some beeswax ones in squatty jelly jars right now, if tapers don't work for families with young kids), we use cloth napkins, we eat on real (but mismatched) plates. We nourish the soul while we're nourishing the body by using real things instead of disposable ones or the finest china. We want to remind ourselves that we are real things in a real world on a real earth and if hospitality doesn't extend both inside our bodies and outside our front door, it's not real hospitality. 

We sometimes say "No." As noted above, this one still feels wildly uncomfortable in my mouth. I have a lifetime of saying "Yes" behind me. Yes to the extra mile. Yes to the extra cloak. Yes to whole spaces of a home. Yes to open doors. And yes to open lives. But sometimes saying "No" is best. I think generally folks are either "Yes" folks or "No" folks, and we each must learn to curve into the unnatural word, turn it over in our mouths, utter it occasionally until we realize the world won't end if we say it aloud, and then practice saying it, sometimes saying it at the wrong time or in the wrong way, but practicing it nonetheless. I am learning to say "No" now more than ever before and this too is an act of hospitality, I am learning. It is saying that I am not the Great Physician and I cannot solve the world's problems, I cannot even solve my own, and so sometimes I must say it right out loud: no. 

If you come to the Wilbert home for dinner or coffee or breakfast or Christmas or Easter or homegroup or a weekend or a year, you will feel each of these things in some way in the way we practice hospitality today. Because it is something we value, it is something we hold dearly and inspect often, looking for holes or ways to make better or ways we have failed to make good. We value hospitality, but we are far from perfect at it. Christ is the perfect expression of hospitality, the one who entered in and allowed himself to be approached, the one who brought the best wine and ultimately showed himself to be the best wine. We look to him not as our model of hospitality, though, but as the only one who "makes all the sad things come untrue." 

Here are some books I've read through the years that have helped shape, right, and challenge my perspective on hospitality: 

The Hidden Art of Homemaking

The Life-Giving Home and The Life-Giving Table

Glory in the Ordinary

The Quotidian Mysteries

Acedia and Me

Keeping House

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Seven Ways We Fail and Get Back Up Again

The first time the word sin is mentioned in Scripture is not at the moment when sin entered the world, but the moment before the fracturing of two brothers, Cain and Abel. After Cain brought his offering to the Lord (which, for whatever reason known to them and not clearly to us, displeased the Lord), the Lord said, "Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it” (Genesis 4).

That phrase, "Its desire is contrary for you," has always stuck to me like an autumn burr on a wool sweater.

There are so many things in our lives pressing us back, crouching at our doors, slinking in unforeseen gaps and spaces, taking up room, both invited and uninvited. Sin is not a passive agent, but if we are passive, it can rule over us. There are so many areas in my life where I am the passive agent regarding sin. I say something smartly but intended to get my point across: sin. I leave something unfinished in hopes someone else will notice and do it: sin. I cite needs and desires as my primary motivator: sin. I avoid dealing with my emotions, letting them build and bubble over: sin. Wherever I look, sin is crouching at my door. 

A pastor at our church once said, "We don't get over our sin by constantly looking at our sin, we get over it by looking at the work of Jesus on the cross." This sounds really good, but if we don't make the cross both deeply personal and deeply practical, it can be difficult to see the ramifications of the work of Jesus in all the small places where sin reigns supreme in our lives. We can apply the gospel to the Big Sins, but overlook its power over the "little foxes that ruin the vineyards" (SoS 2:15).

Nate and I have been talking about some work God did in us as singles and now as a married couple, ways we have recognized the power of sin to creep in and the ways it has ruled us (and still does in so many ways), and exercises we do to press back and bounce our eyes to the cross. These are not grand theological gestures, they are small things designed to teach us restraint, remind us to submit, to fear God, of the bounty of God, and of the joy found completely in him. 

Over the next few weeks I'll be doing a series of posts on seven ways we try to rule over the crouching presence of sin in our home. I'll expound on our methods for engaging the gospel in these areas of our lives, the ways we fail, and our hope for the Church more and more. 

None of these things are done perfectly. In none of these areas have we arrived. And in every one of these areas we are prone to wander, to fail, and to forget. One of the best blessings of the gospel, I think, is the fact that it never changes. When I fail, forget, and wander—the cross and the empty tomb never change. The point is not to do these things perfectly, but to actually let the imperfection of my doing them remind me of how much I need Jesus every single day. We fail often and regularly at all of these, but: 

1. We choose reading, writing, and talking instead of screen-time in order to engage and flourish as flesh and blood humans. 

2. We practice not a work/life balance, but a work/rest model in order to see God as our Creator, Redeemer, and Joy. 

3. We eat whole foods, in-season, and locally if possible, in order to care for our bodies and the earth well. 

4. We practice hospitality not as an event or social engagement, but as a way to sacrifice ourselves, our time, and our energy, for the flourishing of others.

5. We choose the way of peace instead of violence and listening over making ourselves heard, as a way to remind ourselves we are not omnipotent, omnipresent, or omniscient. 

6.  We eat meals together in order to press back against the culture of busy, quick, fast, and convenient. 

7. We endeavor to live using restraint in our finances, not so we can build bigger savings accounts or retirement funds, but so we can serve others more freely today.

I often get questions about the way we practice Sabbath as New Testament Christians or why we choose to have a young man living with us or what made us decide to not have a television, and more, and my hope is that in writing more on these specific intents, I will be able to answer those questions more fully. None of these things are without theological purpose and very real—sometimes painful—sacrifice. That's on purpose. Not because we're masochists, but because we're Christians living in a hostile-to-the-way-of-Jesus-environment. It's never been easier, more convenient to not carry the cross and follow Him. So how, in 2017, in the suburbs, without children, with paying jobs, with every gadget available to us, do we say, "No, sin, you will not rule over us. We're already the children of a King." 

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The series will be tagged: Seven Ways so if you're looking for the whole thing at some point, just click on that tag at the bottom of the page. 

Enough Beauty to Go Around

I used to dream of an old house on a quiet county road with a front porch and a clothesline strung taut. Perhaps a swing or two, each from one of the ancient trees in the front yard, and a child or five taking turns on them. I held on to that dream for years and years and years and I still do, if I'm honest with myself. It sits in the back recesses of my heart, in the dusty corners where I rarely go, waiting to be fulfilled. Somewhere along the way, though, I sold my gathered Newberry Award winners off for .25 a piece, gave the small calico smocks I'd been keeping for someday away, and packed the dream away, determined to find beauty in today, wherever it might be found. 

And, surprisingly, I found it. 

I found it in so many small things, previously unnoticed or undervalued by me. I found it in the appreciating of people, not things, in the love of Jesus and not man, and in the business of making do instead of fantasy.

I am, like many women I know, prone to imagining the best, the cleanest, the most organized, the tastiest, and peace itself is somewhere soon if I can just wrangle all the parts and pieces of my life quickly enough to get there. But it's not true, is it? The ever elusive someday never comes, and even if if looks to all the world that it has come for you, you know the gross truth, don't you? You go to sleep every night with the girl who still has so much she wants to do and accomplish and be and go and have, and you wake up, still lacking. 

Part of this is just the reality that we live in a world fractured by sin, but it's also the truth that we who live in this fractured world have eternity written on our hearts: we are longing to be home and are digging the tent pegs of our lives in as deep as we can get them until we arrive on eternity's shores. This is good, regardless of what the naysayers say. All through Scripture the heart cry of God's people is "Home! Home! Home!" Every year the Jewish people, even today, say to one another, "Next year in Jerusalem. Next year in the Holy Land." We are born homesick, every one of us. 

How does one, then, live on this earth and keep that longing for heaven fresh and fervent? I think it is by instead of living as though we are paupers waiting to be clothed with the stuff of heaven, to walk under the cloak of the Most High today. And the Most High is a generous giver, a maker of beauty, and an endless supply of good today. He is not waiting for some far off day to bless his children, to bless you. He's doing it today. Where is he doing it? Well, I don't know in your life because I'm not living yours, I'm living mine. Here are some ways I remind myself of the great clash of heaven and earth we grow closer to every day: 

We surround ourselves with nature, the raiment of heaven, even just a bouquet of flowers or some houseplants, instead of surrounding ourselves with the noise of earth. We have this Lavender in a few rooms of our home.

We make meals intentional by how we gather it (in season and local—living within the constraints of God's seasons and helping to serve and prosper our community), how we cook it (slow and whole), how we serve it (every meal is special, there is no fine china or paper napkins in our home, we use what is beautiful every day), and how we eat it (slowly, conversing, sharing, and serving one another). Here is a book that helped shape our intentions. 

We light candles in the dark months. We eat outside (weather permitting) in the warm months. 

We embrace silence, turning off music, television, the radio, and even talking for periods of time. Letting ourselves alone with our thoughts—sometimes a scary place, but always a rewarding one because the Spirit lives inside of us, teaching us all things. 

We open our home. It is rare we have an evening without friends at our home and so we have to intentionally schedule a night, once a week (currently Tuesdays), where we lock our front door and enjoy one another. But other than that, our home is a circulating flow of people, conversations, prayers, and friendship. This sounds sweet and romantic but this is not an easy thing. This takes sacrifice of time, finances, and food, but we think it is a slice of how the New Earth will be and is how New Testament Christians are to live until then (Acts 4:32-37).

This is how the Wilbert home celebrates the forward momentum of eternity's arrival every day. Much of this both of us did in our respective seasons of singleness (the very first time I knew about Nate, I heard he had an open door to men in his home every Tuesday night for spaghetti dinner and deep conversation), and some of it we've arrived at together. The point is to do it, today, without excuse. 

I know many of you have young children and cannot have folks over for dinner every night or lighting candles at your dinner tables sounds like a recipe for a house fire. Or maybe eating locally isn't in your budget (eating seasonally probably is though—in-season food is always cheaper than January's tomatoes or November's strawberries). Or maybe you live with roommates who like to have the television on at all times. I don't know your circumstances exactly, but I do know if you're a child of God, you're homesick for heaven. I also know the Spirit of God lives inside of you, leading and teaching and helping and comforting you as you do the work of building the kingdom of God on earth. Begin in your home, however it looks like. Begin today. With one thing. Maybe sort through clutter or organize a drawer or pull out that tablecloth you only use on "special occasions," or light that dollar store candle while you wash the dishes. Don't wait for special somedays, begin today to see how the Maker of all beauty has made enough beauty to go around to remind you heaven is coming soon. 

The Art of Repairing Broken Things

We were married less than three months when I broke his favorite mug. It was bound to happen. My favorite mug had broken on the move to Denver from Dallas, which was why, I suppose, it was his I carried that day. Coffee from the morning pooled in the bottom, my hands full of books and papers and another cup, which is why, I suppose, I dropped his mug as I opened the door. It lay there in seventy shards and I on my knees trying to find every one of them, crying and apologies and it's okays. I think he went inside frustrated. I think I stayed outside thinking if only I could keep everything together it might never have happened.

The shards moved with us, inside a grocery bag, and stuffed in the back of our pantry all this year. The bag also holds a ceramic bowl my mother gave me which sliced neatly in two with not a single other piece to be found. This afternoon I took them both out, as well as a teal peacock whose head had broken off in the move from Denver to D.C. I gathered them all on our wooden table and laid their remains around them and began the work of piecing broken things back together again.

The Japanese have a word for this, kintsugi, only they use precious metals like gold or silver to bind brokenness back together again. They think of it as an art: the history of a thing is part of a thing. I think it's beautiful to think so, but that was before all of the moves and the breaking and storing and sealing and healing that has been a part the history of our thing. It is romantic to call to memory the history of breaking and healing, but it is not romantic to feel in pieces at the front door or stored away in a plastic bag in the back of the pantry or to even sit alongside your other broken comrades while you are pieced together with strong glue. I wonder if the mug or bowl will be useable again. I know the peacock will be because what does one do with a peacock anyway except look at it?

There have been times this year when I wonder if we have been broken beyond repair. I know the Christian-lite will hurry to allay and calm the picture this brings to mind, but I wonder if the Bible tells a different story. Wasn't it Jacob who walked with a limp all his life—proof of his wrestle with God, but still, a limp? Wasn't it a whole chapter in the letter to the Hebrews that tells of their forefathers and mothers: those who did not see what was promised. It is a temptation, to be sure, to believe wholeness is for tomorrow or next year, but what if wholeness is not until eternity? Or what if healing means beautiful, but not useful in the former way? These are the things I have thought about this year and the things I thought of today, while piecing pottery together again.

What if our intended use is different than the Father's intended use for us? What if he pieces us together again with precious metals, but puts us on a shelf, never to be filled again? There are many rebuttals that come to mind when I think of the possibilities, but none of them are promises. God does not promise to heal the old hearts, but to give us new ones entirely. Why then, are we so bent on bandaids and also trying our best to hide our collective bandages?

I love the idea of kintsugi because it is the story of the thing I love most about any thing. It is beautiful to think of the work and love that went into the making of our table, but I know the history of it, not just ours, but the makers of it, and that story wasn't and isn't always beautiful to others—but still, that enhances the beauty of the table to me. I know the hands that made it and I love them. And I know the conversations that have been had around it and I love those voices. And I know the man who it was first given to and I love that man. It isn't the table I love, it is the story it tells.

The mug and the bowl and the useless peacock are sitting on the table drying. I hope we will fill the cup with coffee tomorrow or the next day and it will hold it so well the coffee pools and overflows. I hope the bowl will hold, at least, small tangerines or applesauce for our dinner soon. I know the peacock will strut in place on our mantle or bookshelf as though it has never left. If you came to our home you might never know you were drinking from a mug I broke three months into our marriage, it will be useful to you even without the story. But I'm not promised any of that, I know, and on this I meditate today.

We are trying to move back to Texas. I wasn't sure whether I was going to say that on here until after we'd moved because what if, like so many of our other plans, it didn't happen? I confess, since the day we made the decision (a decision I've been asking God and my husband for to varying degrees and with various levels of passion and passivity nearly since we left it the night of our wedding), I have been scared it won't happen. Yet another thing we tried for and failed. Yet another broken plan. Broken endeavor. Broken heart. I know God heals, but what if not on earth at all?

A friend told me that if we do come back, to be okay with being different, a different bowl or mug or peacock. Pieced together, but barely, and not with gold or silver or fine metal but with the faith and hope and love of God that has carried us thus far. We may not be beautiful or useable in the former way, but our marriage has a history now and it is threaded in the finest cracks and crevices of our lives, barely seen, but there.

Guiding Principles for Making a Home

They say to be a good blogger, one must have a focus, a platform, a drum to beat. But I have always supposed to be a good writer, one must know one's audience. And if you must know, I write for you and as long as you keep reading while I write about Springs and Winters and marriage and singleness and theology and sadness and joy and home and tithing and homemaking and women in the church, well, I suppose I'll keep writing about all of it. One of the questions so many of you ask (especially those of you who follow me on Instagram), is "Tell me about your home, its decor, your intentions, how-tos, and such." Well, blow me over, I never planned on having any advice about that ever. I just surround myself with what I love and try not to love it too much and paint my walls white. That's mostly it. But as I tried to articulate an answer to a reader the other day about why our American flag is hung backwards, I realized, no, actually there is a lot more to why we do what we do.

All of us are trying to make our little plots of life home, and for some it means copying what we see in an Ikea or Pottery Barn, or doing what our mothers or fathers did, or keeping every scrap of everything that's ever meant anything, or throwing it all away and keeping our belongings to a countable number. I suppose I don't care much for movements (minimalism or whatever Pantone calls the Color of the Year), but I do care about the folks who come into my home and I care about the ones who live in it. And that sets the stage for what you might call decorating and I call living.

I don't have a canned response for all this, but I have a few guiding principles and they've helped me in every home in which I've lived for the past seven years. In my brain it works itself out like a little family tree diagram and so I've sketched it out for you here and I'll unpack it below:

First, love Jesus and People more than things. This is my overarching goal in all that comes into our home. This means I cannot be upset when my favorite drinking glasses get broken or that little ceramic bird gets crushed or a child gets enamored with a little plaything they found in our home and it would bring them (or their parent) joy to have it. It's meant loss more than gain in terms of things, but it's also meant relationships are forged because I'll be sad when that drinking glass gets broken, but that sad won't turn to mad. It's also meant that I try not to have emotional attachment to things. There are some heirlooms in our home, gifts from family or friends that are precious to me for various reasons, but the people and the God who gave me our relationship is more important than the thing. I love everything in our home in the sense that it's a gift for today, but there's no guarantee of it tomorrow.

Right underneath that is a quote from William Morris, "Have nothing in your home that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful." I split this up in a couple of ways.

Under useful, I consider things in two ways. The first is, "Is this useful for hospitality?" The second is, "Is this useful because I use it?"

Under beautiful, I think about it in two ways. The first is, "Is this pleasing to my eye?" Second, "Does this fit both aesthetically and spatially in our home?"

Is this useful for hospitality? This can be as pragmatic as a pair of guest room sheets or a guest room at all. But I think about it more in terms of does it make guests feel welcome and at home in our house? I consider that a useful aspect of decor. I want visitors to feel comfortable as soon as they walk in the door, like this home is theirs. They can put their feet on my coffee table, they can scrounge through our fridge, their kid can break a glass and no one freaks out. I'll get to the atheistic of what is welcoming below, but this is a guiding principle for our home: do visitors feel welcome here? The word on the street is they do, and so we're going to keep doing what we do because it seems to be working. The idea that home is our own palace is a flawed one and not a Christian one, we think. Our homes are our primary places of ministry (whether to our immediate family, roommates, or those who come in), so we want to shape them in a way that says, "Welcome home."

Is this useful because I use it? We really try to keep only what we use. A friend of mine has a rule that whenever a box from Amazon comes into the house, she fills it up with things going out and drops it off at the thrift store. I like that idea. I also like just weighing the need/wants etc. before they come into our home. This is tough especially if you're someone who receives a lot of gifts. What do you do, for instance, with the seventy-fifth Rifle Paper journal you've been gifted when your preference is skinny brown Moleskines and who gives those as gifts? Regifting is our friend. Give away things you do not use. Find a way to be grateful for what you receive and clear your conscience because no human has a use for everything single thing that we stuff in our homes. Set goals for yourself in this: Get rid of ten things a week. Keep seasonal decor to one big rubbermaid bin. Get rid of extra pots and pans stuck in the back of your pantry. Don't buy what you don't actually need.

Is this pleasing to my eye? Art is really important to me. There isn't one piece of furniture or art in our home that doesn't have a specific story to it and its purpose in our home and this is very intentional. I love beauty. I love simple white walls that draw attention to the art on them. I love plants. I love pottery and baskets and wooden bowls. These things are useful in the everyday sense, but they are useful in the sense that they bring me joy and that is useful to me. I still keep these things to a minimum (there's no count in my head, I just think, "Goodness, that cupboard looks cluttered. How can I fix that?"). I lean toward minimalism mostly out of the habit of moving so much, but most of what we own is actually visible to anyone who comes over (we don't have closets cluttered with things stored away or rarely used equipment). And so I want it to be pleasing to my eye when I look at it.

Does this fit both aesthetically and spatially in our home? One of the problems you can run into when so many things are pleasing to your eye is clutter just grows and grows and grows, taking over space and time and your life. We really try to keep only what fits in our home, in the living areas of our home, in hues, tones, and materials that are pleasing in our home. Nate and I both love wooden things, handmade things, and pottery, and so there is a plethora of that around our house. We don't love plastic or aluminum or granite, and so there just isn't going to be a lot of that found in our home. We want what is useful and beautiful to fit both spatially and aesthetically.

So these are our guiding principles for decorating. It's really very simple, although it takes checking our hearts, our hands, and our heads often. It is much less about furniture placement or mantle decor, and much more about the position of our hearts and the clutter in our minds. When it comes to specific pieces and art, there are stories to why we have what we have and why we do what we do with it. Those are important to us and we love sharing them with others when they ask. I guess I want to have a defense for our home, if that makes sense, to not simply gather things and substance just to have them, but to have intentionality behind it all.

I hope this was helpful to those of you who've asked and for the rest of you who are already thinking about these things. It's always helpful for me to think and rethink through these principles. Also, here are a few books I highly recommend if this is stuff you like to think about:

The Hidden Art of Homemaking

You Are What You Love

Kinfolk Table

Kinfolk Home

The Life-giving Home

Missional Motherhood