what hospitality is & isn't

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Hospitality used to be a one time deal for me. An event or a production. It meant a perfectly clean home and everything homemade. It meant waiting on people hand and foot, assuming that to care for them really well meant always being one step ahead. It meant refilling water glasses, serving up more food on half eaten plates, and asking interesting questions when conversation ran dry.

It looked like scanning the scene to make sure everyone was okay and fed and warm and cared for and seen.

These things aren’t necessarily bad on their own -- what’s bad is what I let them do to me. I let them take the fun out of gathering. And guys, when something used to bring you life & joy doesn't anymore, it's time to get low and listen (as my friend Amber would say) and make a change. I let these things wrap around me so tight I could barely breathe. I gave them authority over my worth, identity, and permission to take up space. These things became my reason for being enough, my reason for being liked, and having friends.

And without them I felt plain, ordinary, and unlovable.

I’m a two on the enneagram. So I’m hardwired for helping. It’s how I’m made. But I can often help out of a place of fear. I begin to believe I am only loved and necessary because I help. So I wrap my worth and identity up in these things. And  sometimes I still do. It’s taken many years to get here so it may take a few years to find freedom --- freedom in offering out of love rather than acceptance.

This way of living left me exhausted and worn out. I felt more like a mannequin on display rather than a real person. I left interactions not actually knowing how people were doing because I was so stuck inside my own head --- Do they like me? Did I talk too much? Was the food okay?

I’m hardwired for helping. It’s how I’m made. But I can often help out of a place of fear. I begin to believe I am only loved and necessary because I help.

I remember hearing Jennie Allen speak at an event and share something along the lines of this -- those times we criticize and nitpick our every move, wondering if we're too much of this or too little of that, stems less from a place of caring deeply for others and more for caring deeply about how we're perceived.

It’s my own pride. Not an act of selflessness.

I was maintaining an image that didn’t even exist. And I couldn’t point the finger at anyone because no one had asked me to live up to this other than myself. I had placed the burden there. And as a result, I was missing the beautiful narrative unfolding around me.

I really don’t want to miss it anymore.

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In efforts to make hospitality a lifestyle, something we don’t merely do but carry with us, I had to break some unhealthy habits. I had to find truth over some lies in my head. So that’s why I hold tight to these three things instead -- the things hospitality isn’t (to me).

Maybe it's time you make your own list too. But until you’re able, borrow mine if you'd like. I truly hope it helps free you a little bit. You ready? Here we go.

Hospitality is not always fancy and homemade.

If cooking things from scratch brings you life, you should do that. Do the things that bring you life. We need more of that in the world. But if cooking stresses you out then pivot. If it’s the very reason you don’t gather -- make adjustments. Typically, I make one part of a meal and buy the rest.

For me, that might mean homemade soup with store bought bread. Or baked fish with a premade salad. You could even buy pizza crusts and the toppings to go with it so friends could assemble their own. Better yet, make the meal a potluck. Throw some meat in the crock pot or a casserole in the oven and invite friends to bring a dish to pass and share. Or call in your favorite carry-out and serve it on paper plates for easy clean up.

The point isn't what's on the table, the point is whose around the table.

It's for this very reason I hesitate when posting really pretty, curated pictures. I want to celebrate all that is lovely and the incredible talent of others but I really wrestle with the false narrative it creates. My life doesn't look like a pinterest board. It's messy and full of clutter. It's dishes piled high in the sink and leftovers. Social media allows for snapshots, not the full story. We must remember this while scrolling.

The point isn’t what’s on the table. The point is whose around the table.

And I believe there's just as much magic hovering above a table covered in homemade food as there is sitting on the couch with my husband, eating from a carton in yesterdays yoga pants. Because in both scenarios we are choosing slowness over hustle, connection over distraction.

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Hospitality is not something we only practice in our homes.

It happens everywhere we dwell. In grocery stores and coffee shops. In libraries and playgrounds. To me, it’s showing up to your ordinary, everyday life with extraordinary intention. With a lot of our friends having babies, we’ve found it’s easier for them to gather in their own space. So sometimes that looks like bringing a meal to them and staying long enough to catch up and hold the new babe (so mama can pee!). Or it's picking up a pizza along the way. Hospitality happens on a walk, swinging in a hammock, or on the front porch. The table is sacred and grounding but because God cares about every square inch of our lives -- all places we gather are holy.

It’s showing up to your ordinary, everyday life with extraordinary intention.

If you aren't sweating, you aren't serving.

This one has been harder for me to let go of. For so long, I assumed hospitality always meant being one step ahead, having just what people needed before they asked. And while it’s kind to take note of what folks might be craving, turning the kettle on while passing out desserts, refilling water when it’s gets low, it can so often turn into striving over serving. For me, it looked like never actually sitting with guests but running around waiting them.

It looked like being in multiple conversations at once, glancing from person to person, making sure everyone was okay, instead of being fully present and engaged with the person right in front of me, deserving of my attention.

My grandma Jul had a way of doing this naturally. She always made the person she was talking to feel like the most necessary and important person in the room.

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Hospitality involves presence. It involves being right there in the thick of it with people. So that means letting people grab a glass for water from your cabinet. It means letting a friend stay over to wash a few dishes. We can check in every now and again on how folks are doing but here's what I'm finding, over and over again -- we gather for so much more than food.

We gather for intimacy and connection. We gather to know we're not alone and that someone understands the road we're walking. And if they don't understand, they can at least be the light guiding us through the dark. We gather to make peace with where we are and find joy in the waiting. We gather to forgive, foster unity, and break any walls that divide us.

We gather to laugh and cry and dance and sing.

It's not a gift we either have or we don't. We all have the potential to make someone feel seen and known and loved. At least, that's what I believe.

We gather because it's Kingdom work. And that's work we've all been called to do. Kingdom work happens in the exciting and in the ordinary. Around a lavish table and a messy front porch.

I find it happens best when I quit worrying about being too much or too little and simply delight in the person right in front of me. When I remember they're a child of the Beloved, carrying dreams, pain, and joy. And the best way to hear their story of suffering and resiliency, is to take a seat and stay a while.

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PHOTOGRAPHY :: HILARY HYLAND