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The (he)Art of Hospitality

I love the sound of the vacuum cleaner. I like the constant whir it makes as the motor runs. The pop, pop, pop it makes as it plows through debris, sucking it away deep into it’s belly. This might seem strange, really. Thinking of a vacuum cleaner in that way, but I find it calming. When I was a young girl, after we were tucked into our beds my Mom would bring out her vacuum and clean up after us. Not every night, I’m sure. Still, hearing that vacuum as I drifted off to sleep made me feel safe.

I’ve always loved a clean and tidy house. When my house is sparkling clean, I feel like I have my life together. When I was twenty, I had the cleanest apartment in the building. (I think. I mean, I don’t actually know for sure, but it was really tidy). I would clean when I was stressed, and fourth year was all that and then some. I loved going to the laundromat, taking my work with me and listening to the drone of the machines as I studied (okay, okay – I was often distracted watching the clothes going round and round in every dryer). I loved to sort and fold the clothes when they were done. Carefully carrying them home in my basket and putting them away in my drawers.

Now I think back to those days and laugh. How easy it was to clean after one person, to do a small load of laundry once a week? Fast forward fifteen years, and I’m cleaning after four people now. On an easy week, I do twelve loads of laundry (on not so easy weeks, sixteen). I don’t mind, really. When I sort and fold the clothes I think of it as a simple way I can love on my family. I still live doing laundry. It’s just, so much has changed and it is different now.

Cleaning the kitchen or bathroom used to be easy and fun, because the results were immediate and rewarding. I would get down on my hands and knees and scrub away grime, watching everything wash away like it was a problem I’d solved. Everything so clean and fresh, like a new beginning.

Now I walk into the bathroom and I see grime line the floorboards. I walk into the kitchen and I see spaghetti sauce on the side of the cupboard near the garbage can. Sometimes I grab my cloth and scrub it away. Other times, I turn away because I just can’t do it. Because oftentimes, having a chronic illness means you just can’t live like you used to. Honestly, I don’t feel sad or ashamed about what’s happened to my body. I just feel discouraged sometimes. To know what I used to be capable of, and to understand what my limitations are now.

My husband has the gift of hospitality. He loves having people over to stay, to come for a meal, or even just for coffee and a chat. I do, too. It fills my heart with joy to spend time with others. But, being hospitable sometimes comes at a cost. And often, whe my husband suggests we have company, it’s a struggle for to set a date. More often than not I have to choose between the super clean house I’d love to have when guests arrive, and actually spending time with my guests. Because in my world, I can’t always do both.

I’ve learned to manage over the last few years, as my body started to get worse. I have to work in phases, taking many breaks. It takes so much longer to clean now, and sometimes it is worth it. But other times, I wonder what have I been missing while I cleaned? And more importantly, who am I missing because I cleaned?

My mother’s house was (and still is) sparkling clean whenever she had guests. I was always taught to have my house looking spectacular when my visitors arrived. I’m not sure if it was to make them feel special, or if it was just so they wouldn’t know the chaos we usually live in. But the point got through – clean. When I was a child I figured the art of hospitality was a sparkling clean home, a fancy meal and a spectacular dessert. Now, I’ve learned sometimes the art of hospitality is the heart of it.

I don’t want to be caught into the trappings of a spectacular house, a fancy meal and a spectacular dessert. But I do want to have guests. I want to spend quality time with them, share a meal, have a few laughs, bring encouragement. I want to be present with people, and not stressed over whether my windows are so clean you can see your reflection in them. I don’t want to give my chronic illness one more reason to keep me from experiencing a rich life.

If you ever happen to be a guest in my home, please be gracious. It will be as clean as I can make it so you feel special. The food may not be fancy, but we’ve prepared it with love and are pleased to share it with you. As for the spectacular dessert, why don’t you bring it? We’ll enjoy it together over some tea and talk.

The heart of hospitality is, after all, love. And I’ll never be too sore or to tired for that. ❤️

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