I tend to guard my space. I feel like the outside world is where chaos and socializing and excitement ensues, while the inside of my home is reserved for tranquility and rejuvenation. Even through college and pre-marriage adulthood, I never really offered up my home as somewhere for people to gather. I always specified to roommates that I didn’t want a “party house,” and when I shared a three bedroom apartment my senior year of college, I requested to be in the room that was separated from everywhere else by a long, dark hallway. They called it “the cave.” It was absolutely ideal.

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When I lived in a studio in New York, I used my tiny living quarters as an excuse for why I never really invited people over. I guess part of me felt guilty asking people to travel so far (181st street in Manhattan is basically Upstate  New York), but the other part of me loved the seclusion.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always loved having friends come in town to stay with me, and go out of my way to open my home whenever someone needs a place to sleep. I just don’t often have people over when they’re not overnight guests.

In recent years, I’ve started to wonder if my lack of daily hospitality underlines more than just my “extroverted introvert” propensities. Perhaps my guilt plays a larger part than I realize. I will drive hours and hours to go visit people just for an afternoon, but always feel really awkward when someone goes out of their way on my behalf– even if they’d only have to be in the car for 20 minutes. When my friends were planning my bachelorette party, I was constantly apologizing to them for having to go through the hassle, despite knowing I would’ve been beyond happy (and had already been, in some cases) to do the same if the tables were turned. The point is to say that whenever I’m making plans with friends, I always assume it’d be easier for them just to stay comfortably at home, and I’ll come to them.

Now, in most cases, I think most people really would rather stay at home and have someone come to them. But it’s probably time I start offering up my space more regularly instead of just showing up places with a bottle of wine. Welcoming people into your home is an age-old symbol of selflessness, community, and love. Those sound like things I should be involved with, no?

But the guilt isn’t the only thing I have to get over. Insecurities seep in, as well– the top of the list being how small our current apartment is. This time, it’s not just a lame excuse like it was in New York, where everybody lived somewhere tiny, so that was no justification at all. You see, my husband and I technically could live somewhere a bit bigger in Virginia Beach, but I really adore small spaces and a cozy atmosphere, especially with Aaron deployed half the year. Little ol’ me doesn’t need much room! Still, I get worried that my love for our little home won’t be matched by guests. The obvious response is “Who cares? They’re not the ones living there!” Yeah…but I’d be lying if I pretended that I have no fears of feeling inferior. I’m pretty sure that’s a natural human reaction for most of us when we expose something personal about our lives.

As far as size goes, besides the concern with people’s “judgment,” there’s just the plain old fact that we can’t host that many people at one time. That doesn’t mean we can’t host at all, though, so that’s a moot point. Hospitality has nothing to do with attendance numbers.

Another insecurity that pops up is cooking. Hosting dinner usually means actually having to prepare edible food. I have a few decent recipes up my sleeves, but I’ve only been brave enough to make them for my husband. The expectation to cook is probably the top reason I rarely, if ever, invite people over for dinner. I never realized how vulnerable cooking makes you until getting married. No wonder chefs are easily offended or disappointed when a plate is brought back to the kitchen! There’s so much pressure to present something your guest will enjoy!

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If you haven’t seen Ratatouille, you need to right now.

In a leap of faith, tonight I had a friend over for dinner. It may be the first time in my LIFE I’ve cooked for anyone other than my husband. (Besides mac and cheese.) I made a very simply meal of salmon and squash. She is such a good friend that I knew she’d love me no matter what it tasted like, but even while we were talking each other’s heads off during the whole meal, I couldn’t stop wondering if she actually liked the salmon or if she had just said that to be nice after the first bite.

This concept of inviting someone over for dinner– not for a movie or a wine night or to go to the beach behind my house– but for a meal, was a big deal for me. Not only did it challenge me in ways I clearly need to be challenged, but it showed me that it’s not so bad. It’s not as scary as it sounds. All hospitality means is making your home a place where other people feel loved, encouraged, and special.

My favorite people’s houses to go to are the ones who make it clear that hosting doesn’t stress them out in any way, shape, or form. They serve you like you’re at a restaurant, but put you at ease as if you’re you in your own home. It’s truly an amazing way to show love to someone, and how ridiculous is it that I let my own selfishness, guilt, and insecurities stop me from paying forward all the love I’ve felt from hosts throughout my life.

I think I’ll start small, and make it a goal of mine to invite someone, a couple, or a small group over for dinner once a month. One of my girlfriends hosts girls night for 4 of us every single week (occasionally we go to one of the other girls’ houses), plus has other people over intermittently! I’d says she hosts at least 6-7 times a month. Maybe one day I’ll be as great as she is at encouraging people in my home, but for now, I need to just start somewhere.

As my brother and I discussed at length today, community is such an important value that seems to have gotten lost in today’s American culture. We barely know our neighbors, much less invite them into our homes. Even expanding beyond our neighbors, we don’t necessarily go out of our way to create communal spaces where people can talk through life together. I think it’s high time I imitate the amazing hosts I’ve been served by, and offer my home to be a place where people can be uplifted. I’m so excited to have been able to recognize this huge area of my life in need of growth, and look forward to making it happen!

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