“If you need to evacuate, you’re welcome here.”
What had I just done? Even as I extended the invitation, I was horrified I’d done it.
The largest hurricane on record in the Atlantic was bearing down on Florida and the entire state was on high alert. New data showed a sudden change of course and the Category 4 storm was now headed straight toward my sister’s house.
She had already taken in her in-laws. Now they all needed a place to evacuate to and every hotel room within 700 miles was booked from those fleeing this mega-storm.
“I’ll call you right back and let you know,” my sister replied. As we ended our call, I silently hoped they might go north as they’d originally planned. But a few minutes later, I got a text: “We’re on our way. Don’t worry about dinner. We have supplies packed.”
Um, dinner was the last thing on my mind. What worried me was the state of my house.
There was a day when I would have happily opened my home without reservation. In those days, we regularly hosted cook outs with friends, youth events with church, and holidays with family. I loved entertaining and loved opening our home to friends and family. But that was then.
And all of that had slowly become another one of the losses after my husband’s death.
It’s not that I didn’t want people over. But as a single mom, it felt awkward to have other couples over for games or dinner, so those evenings had petered out. Plus, I had so little time. I was the only parent to our seven kids and the only one to taxi, cheer, advise, help, cook, clean, and keep up with bills, work, appointments, holidays, grandparents, and the rest.
With all of that, my house had become a low priority. And now it reflected it.
I’d meant to recover the threadbare living room chairs but hadn’t gotten to it over our busy summer. The guest bath still sported a hole in the ceiling from a repair a couple weeks earlier and the upstairs bedrooms were nice in a kid-friendly way.
And here I’d invited not just my sister (she’d understand) but her in-laws (would they?).
We started cleaning like crazy. I enlisted every child at home and we stripped beds, scrubbed bathrooms, cleaned woodwork, bleached the kitchen floor, and took one whole van load to Goodwill — all while continuing to prep for the coming hurricane.
But the real cleaning was in my own heart. I realized I had stopped inviting people over – not because of an imperfect house, but an imperfect heart.
I wanted people to see a certain house and think of me a certain way. And my own pride had almost made me close the door to real need.
As I cleaned, I prayed that regardless of what they saw in our house, they would feel loved and welcome.
I thought back to my missionary mother-in-law who would squeeze students and families around her small dining room table for legendary Sunday dinners.
And another friend who invited us moms over while our kids were in class. Amid our soul-filling conversation that morning, she offered the only snack in her bare fridge – a bag of apples.
Truth is, we all have imperfections. We just get good at hiding them. But keeping our imperfect behind closed doors keeps us from each other.
What people long for is not perfect homes, but real community.
When my sister and her in-laws arrived, exhausted from the day’s pre-storm driving, we welcomed them to a safe home and sweet tea. When they said, “Your house is so cute,” I bit back excuses and apologies and instead smiled a thank you.
Conversation and news updates filled my kitchen as we pooled our hurricane provisions to make dinner. I was tired, but deep down also glad they hadn’t gone further north. For one, my house was now squeaky clean. But more than that, I realized our little family’s love for hospitality was no longer a loss.
It just looked different. And I’d made peace with that.