For several weeks, our house has been a partial construction zone. It would be a hard sell to tell you we’ve been roughing it, but because of the nature of our remodel, we and all our belongings have completely vacated the part of the house we usually sleep in. Aside from my middle-of-the-night treks downstairs to the bathroom, my son’s inability to nap in that room, and that there is clutter seemingly everywhere, life goes on as usual.
These are temporary annoyances, but we’ve found ourselves with unexpected opportunities to host guests. Let me be clear: we love hosting guests. It is, we believe, in large part our family’s mission. When we bought our first house, a narrow Baltimore rowhome with little over 1,000 square feet, we relished throwing cramped parties and dinners. I found surprising joy in changing sheets and washing towels, in placing fresh flowers in our modest office/guest room. I learned how to make big breakfasts. I discovered a side of myself I hadn’t known before.
From there, we lived in rented houses, looking forward to the day when our space might match our desire to welcome people in. So, when we found this house, despite its needed updates, we fell in love. It is nearly three times the size of our first home, but that’s not its appeal. This home, with its rambling layout and cozy nooks, its shady backyard, front porch and pool, lends itself to company. A lot of company. As we contemplated making an offer, we talked about why we wanted the house.
“We don’t need a house this big,” I told Daniel. “But it feels like a calling. Like, if we get this house, the answer is pretty much always yes.” He agreed.
We have joyfully carved pumpkins in the back yard with seventy of our closest friends and neighbors. We have hosted pool parties, planned and impromptu, roasted marshmallows with a crowd, tucked kids in on the floor because grown-ups occupied all the beds; we have hosted Easter and Thanksgiving and Christmas, parents and siblings, cousins and old friends we rarely get to see. I’ve had the joy of hosting dinner parties, a paint night and first-day-of-school mimosas for my mom’s group, and every year a week before Christmas we cram twenty people from Daniel’s company into our sun room, which we do our best to transform into a wonderland.
This house, and our belief that it comes at a cost—that God has asked us to be generous with it, and share it sacrificially—has been such a beautiful gift. It has taught us so much about others, ourselves and operating within our gifts. Saying yes to generosity with this house, it turns out, means saying no to other good, worthy things. We can't open our home to others if we're never here. We've had to be available.
Over the past month, Daniel’s dad and uncle came to see their ailing father and help with demolition, and I had the flu. We ate out of takeout boxes on the kitchen counter, and their accommodations were far from perfect. The next week, a friend of Daniel’s passing through Virginia asked to crash on our couch. The week after that, my parents stunned us with a few-day visit that is one of my favorite surprises in memory. Later that week we had planned to host old friends and their five children overnight but sadly had to cancel when Daniel’s grandfather passed away.
“I know the house is torn up, but I’d really like to be able to offer my family a place for meals and to stay if they need it. Can we do that?” Daniel asked.
I went to the store and bought the makings of big breakfasts and dinners and s’mores. We cleaned around the clutter, vacuumed and washed towels and put flowers in vases. At breakfast, we talked to our girls about our family mission, about the reason we change sheets and clean the house and invite people in.
“How do you think our family will feel when they arrive for the memorial, after a long day of traveling?” I asked.
“Sad and tired,” they replied.
“Wouldn’t it be nice for them to have a comfortable place to rest?”
Emerie set to work chalking a welcome on the driveway, and Mirabella made a sign for the door.
In the morning, before the memorial, I got up early and baked muffins and a casserole, set out juice glasses and made two pots of strong coffee. And it felt sacrificial and consequential and good. So rarely does that kind of work provide evidence of its importance in the moment. But I saw our people unwinding, exhaling, connecting, healing. The cluttered, imperfect space we offered them somehow felt sacred, and though I was tired, I felt revived.
We shared another dinner and one more breakfast, huddled around our kitchen, before we parted ways. As I collected towels and sheets and took Mirabella’s sign off the door, I noticed what it said: “Welcome to Virginia. Relax.” Emerie’s in the driveway was similar: “Welcome to the Caro’s House, a place to rest.” Tears pricked my eyes at the realization that this calling we felt so long ago, before these children were born, was as real as I’d felt then and had come alive in them too.
If our family felt rested when they left, it wasn’t because their stay or the food or the conditions or our children’s behavior was perfect—none of it was. But we were present. We were available. And I needed to remember how much that matters. That I need not concern myself with ensuring my importance by over scheduling my time with things that may look more like ministry on the outside. I needed the reminder not to be fooled into thinking I should wait to throw open the door until everything is perfect. And I needed to remember the necessity of white space to make that happen.
Don’t underestimate the value of your availability to those around you; don’t discount the ministry in that. Your life doesn’t need to look like mine; maybe you can be available to your co-workers, to your grandchildren, to your neighbors, to your friends. Don’t cave to the pressure of being so busy “making a difference” that you lose sight of all the ways you are capable of loving and serving others that are already in front of you. You may not feel the eternal value in a smile, a cup of coffee, a listening ear or a place to rest, but if you keep making it available, someone will.