In Praise of Crappy Hospitality, Or Why I’m Finally Having My Neighbors Over

The morning I walked through the door into my friend’s second floor apartment, I wasn’t prepared. There he was, kneeling on the carpeted floor of their kitchen with a fuzzy haired baby girl whom he met only hours before. The baby’s two older brothers bounced on couch cushions and half-heartedly watched Guardians of the Galaxy in the next room while my friend attempted to wrap a diaper on the baby. He struggled. The diaper was backwards.

My friends are a married couple with no children but on this particular Thursday, they welcomed three kids under the age of five who were placed in police protective custody in the middle of the night. A queue of friends dropped off clothing, car seats and other essentials, and my friend and I arrived to help parent. In this moment, I walked in just in time to turn the diaper around the right way.

I wouldn’t expect average people with no kids to want to parent someone else’s. And I wouldn’t expect someone who isn’t familiar with diapering or bottles to want to figure it out in the middle of the night. But my friends were not ordinary people. Here he was with a real live baby and her tiny brothers his wife at work, and he had no idea the diaper tabs were supposed to fasten in the front and not the back. In that moment, I knew I’d run out of excuses.

If you peered through the open screen door of my house any given evening, you’d see my oldest son’s hoodie draped over one of the metal stools along the living room wall. Stacks of books and mail sit on the bar between the living room and the kitchen. The speakers on the entertainment center belt out John Coltrane while the Himalayan salt lamp casts its orange glow into the corner. The blankets on the couch are never folded properly and someone is always about to trip over the scattered tennis shoes in the entryway. The green paint tape from this summer’s home improvement expedition peels away from the doorway awaiting the final coat of White Sand, but perhaps it will always be waiting.

My home is never clean, never perfectly tidy. Sometimes things are put away, but only for a moment, the exact moment something else is being brought out for play or wear by one of my sons. Nothing here is as I envision it. The carpet might be as old as the house, nearly 45 years. The watercolor painting of Cannon Beach is tilted slightly to the right, but I haven’t adjusted it yet.

I keep telling myself it needs to be perfect, or at least better, before I invite people over. My neighbors, people I barely know, they can’t see it like this, not in its half-complete disarray. Not when I know what I want it to be, but I have no idea when I can get it there.

Yet when I saw my friends with no children inviting strangers into their two-bedroom apartment, saying Yes with no proper training on diaper application or formula mixing, I realized that the perfect environment or the right credentials weren’t the barrier I assumed they were.

My kitchen is still a dark blue, the kind that might not have ever been stylish. But six years ago when I lasted painted it, I liked the color. In the bathroom, a set of terrible, brown accordion doors separate the washer and dryer from the sink and shower. After eight years in our home, our bedroom has never been painted despite a fresh coat of paint in nearly every other room. We aren’t ready. But we are saying Yes to crappy hospitality.

Today I handed out cardstock invitations to the neighbors on my street, crammed a few in mailboxes or walked them up to doors with lights on. I introduced myself for the first time to some of my neighbors and talked about new countertops and paint with the ones I knew already. I have not been a good neighbor. I’ve been waiting for the right moment, and it never came.

I have never been ready, until now. And the only reason I’m ready is because I know I never will be. The house, the walls, the carpet, the kids, me. We aren’t going to be perfect or presentable. All I ever have is crappy hospitality, cold fridge water in Mason jars, warm meals served on white Corelle plates with stains on them, chairs sliding across pretend-wood floors that are actually laminate. It’s not pretty. It’s crappy. But it’s hospitality.

I’m thankful my friends taught me we don’t have to be ready to say Yes. We can just say Yes and figure it out later. Because the hospitality is all that matters anyway.

 

To My Best Friend Who Is Becoming A Mother

Dear Jazzy,

I know you’re already a mom. You’ve transitioned beautifully into that role over two years ago. You’ve taught me so much about love and sacrifice from the way you parent Peyton. I know in the future, I will be coming to you to listen to your wisdom about keeping your head in the crazy times.

In many ways, there’s not much I can teach you about motherhood. But I want to talk to you about this little tiny baby you’re making. This little infant making space in your body, your home and your heart: you’re going to be his mommy. And I want to tell you what this wild ride of being a baby mommy is like because that’s something I do know about.

You and I were never “kid people”. We rarely got called to babysit. We were never the girls at parties holding other people’s babies. Baby talk from parents always annoyed us. Our mouths wrinkled into frowns when ever something cute was on display. We can’t define cute really, but it usually involved something fluffy with enormous eyes looking at us like, “Love me”. And we were like, “Um, no.”

I think you always hated that stuff more than me, or at least your reaction was stronger than mine, but this is definitely one thing we had in common.

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I think we always knew we would grow up to be mothers, some faraway day, but we were in no hurry. Because really, who trades disposable income and personal freedom for poop, lack of sleep, and demanding, whiny voices? We knew we could delay motherhood as long as we needed to. It would probably do the world good.

But something strange happened when we both got married. We were enjoying our husbands and the solo couple life just fine, and then one day it hit us: this weird belly ache that felt like a desire to be a mom. It’s a curious thing for the girl who doesn’t like kids to want one. But it’s okay. They tell you your kid is different. And I can assure you that it is.

Now you’re going to be a mom to little Max. I’m so excited for you. As we are planning your baby shower, I’m well aware that you want to avoid lots of squishy, cute stuff. I don’t blame you. But you have no idea what you’re in for. You have no idea how your heart is about to get wrecked by motherhood.

It happened to me too. My son emerged from my womb, and all of the sudden my mouth, once fully functional with adult language, melted my words at my lips. Everything I stood for about speaking like a grown-up to a child, for crying out loud, went right out the window. Suddenly all I could manage were a lot of vowel sounds and words that started with B. “What have I become?” I lamented to myself. But I didn’t really mind that much. My son deserved the outrageous pool of affection I poured on him every day.

I had no idea at all I was about to label everything, including bodily functions, as “cute “. Before I knew it, I didn’t even mind those obnoxious, giant-eyed jungle animals staring back at me from the nursery bedding. 

I lost my mind, but it was for a good cause. And I want you to know that this is exactly what’s about to happen to you. You’re about to lose your dignity, and you won’t mind at all. Because something you love far more than dignity and cute animal protests is about turn your heart into a puddle. 

You are about to get the least amount of sleep you’ve ever gotten in your life. I promise it’s even less than college. And somehow you’ll survive. You’ll be living on love. It’s the weirdest thing I can explain. Well, I can’t explain it. When Max cries at night, you will be upset that you have to go and get him – again. But when you see his face, all the mad will evaporate. You will suddenly realize that you don’t want to be anywhere else in the world. Well, sometimes you will wish you were somewhere else, like in your bed asleep, but still, it’s surprising how powerful something that only weighs seven pounds can be.

This will be the hardest thing you have ever done. It will be harder than your Master’s program. It will be even harder than teaching every day. And I know that’s extremely challenging. It will be harder then parenting, as you already do, and it will be harder than marriage. But you won’t regret it. Nope. You will want to lock yourself in the bathroom for a few hours, or run off to happy hour with the girls, but you won’t ever wish yourself out of motherhood. But I guess this is the part you already know about.

You’re going to be a natural, Jazz. I know it already. I’ve seen it in your enormous love for your bonus son, and in your growing, generous heart for your nephews. And even if you’ve loathed rainbows and puppies and unicorns your entire life, and even you never really could get too excited about other people’s kids, it’s just because you’ve been saving all your love for this little one.

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I can’t wait to see how suprised you will be by all the love you didn’t know you had. I’m so proud of you, and I’m so glad we get to be baby-mommies together. I love you.

Sarah

People Who See The Past and Future You

I am one of those lucky people who seems to have friendships that never end. My bridesmaids were nearly all women I’d known and been close with for the better part of a decade, if not longer. And we are all still friends.

L-R: Ingrid, Holly, Jen, Ica, Rachel and Jazzy. [Photo credit: Sara Tafoya Photography]

L-R: Ingrid, Holly (my sister), Jen, Ica, Rachel and Jazzy. [Photo credit: Sara Tafoya Photography]

I met Jazzy on the playground when we were 12. My cousin, Jen, helped me leave the party scene and (try to) stay on the straight and narrow the summer before I turned 17. I met Rachel in high school, and Ica in youth group. Ingrid was my newest, college friend, but by my wedding, we already had a few years behind us.

Each of these friends in their own way grounded and stabilized me. I could look into my past and see how each of these women helped shape and define me, dreamed with me about our future husbands and lives, splashed my canvas with creativity and fun, and helped deepen my love for God, giving me someone to walk life with.

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These friendships are foundational for me. In many ways, they are the launch pad of my life, the shoulders I stand on. They know the old me, the historic Sarah who changed her major at least three times and finally pulled the last major out of a cereal bowl in indecisive desperation. They knew what I looked like after too much to drink, they talked me out of bad relationships and consoled me when I couldn’t make people think I was cool. We shared wardrobes and bad ideas, midnight road trips and slumber parties.

They know me well. But in many ways, they know the old me best.

I am so thankful for these friends who are still integral in my life, but I also needed friends who didn’t just know my past. I needed friends who could see my future.

During the past two years, I’ve developed friendships with two women who have been brave enough to believe in me in an unprecedented way. They don’t just know I’m a writer – they read my blog regularly. They tell me they know I’m going to make it, that I will be an author some day. They tell me God wants me to write, that my “words will set the word on fire”.

These friends know little about my past, but they see the future me. They know the today-me struggles with discipline and self-doubt. They know sometimes I get writer’s block. They see my insecurity. And yet, they believe in me. They remind me of the God-breathed, Spirit-enhanced version of me.

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And I can see this in them as well. In these friendships without years of history, we only have a short collection of months to go on. But in getting to know each other, we are intentional to listen in to heaven and see what God says about the other, to not let one another dwell in the painful present but to call out the gifts and destiny in each woman.

No one friendship is better than the other. I need all these women. I need all these friendships. I need the foundational, grounding voices, the ones who know my past. And I need the friends with binoculars who know that what I only dream about is really my future history.

I am so thankful for the effortless friendships of the women who’ve known me in every season. And I am grateful for my new friends with their confident, reassuring voices of what’s to come.

As I write, I remember the importance of aiming my eyes toward the future for all my friends, no matter how long I’ve known them. We all need someone to see the giant in us when we feel next to invisible.

We will always need shoulders to stand on and eyes to see the future we are afraid to dream of for ourselves.

So let’s be intentional to nurture all our relationships, the old and the new. We can’t neglect any of them.

Do you have both kinds of friends? What can you do to cultivate these friendships in your life? Tell me in the Comments below.

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