Messy Homes & Open Hearts
Words by Ann Swindell // Image by Brett and Jessica Donar
We were new to the church, and I was getting desperate for some friends. After the proverbial dust had settled from our move back to my hometown, I found myself more displaced than I expected to be. Sure, I hadn’t lived here in over 15 years, but it was my hometown. Why did it feel so hard to connect with other women? Why did settling in feel suddenly foreign?
Well, for one thing, I had changed—I was returning to my hometown now as a wife and a mom, and the unspoken rules for friendships had drastically shifted. In high school, friendship had been based off of mutual passions and pastimes (mine had been volleyball and poetry). We had weekends and weeknights to spend together, studying and laughing and driving around our mid-size town until we made it to Steak N Shake.
But here in these early years of motherhood, friendship was much more opaque. There might be other women in town who loved writing, but where would I find them? There might be other moms who loved to discuss books and theology, but how would I discover them? No, friendship in these years, I knew, was probably going to stem from being in similar stages of life. I needed some other moms who were on the same steep learning curve of figuring out how to care for the little ones at our feet.
But I needed someone to let me in. Although I was back in my own town, I was the new girl, and for the first time in years I felt unsure about how to start friendships. The church we had joined was established, and many of the friendships there seemed to be deeply established as well.
But then there was Laura. I met her for the first time on a Sunday morning after our husbands struck up a conversation. Laura laughed easily, was quick to encourage, and—paired with her effervescent husband, Jake—made us feel immediately welcome in their presence. They invited us to their small group, and I practically jumped at the invitation. Friends!
We showed up to our first small group, after listening to Google Maps tell us when to turn and how to get to Laura and Jake’s house. They opened the door to a whirlwind of children and noise, and their smiles were broad. We quickly learned that they had just moved into the house a month earlier; the walls were still bare, the furniture was sparse, and there were toys all over the floor. But Laura wasn’t apologetic; instead, she was vibrant.
“I’m so thankful we have all this space to invite others into!” she said. I wasn’t at all worried about the toys or the empty space, but there’s often an unspoken assumption of shame for us as women when our homes aren’t perfectly put together. Laura obviously didn’t care about appearances, and it put me at ease to know that she wasn’t worried or concerned about the lack of decorations or the toys underfoot. It made me feel truly welcome—I knew, almost immediately, that she was a woman who wasn’t interested in pretense or facades, but in acceptance and friendship.
She was choosing to live out the exhortation in 1 Peter 4:8–10: “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace….” Laura knew that her highest call wasn’t to have a decorated home or fancy furniture: it was to love. It was to open her doors. It was to serve. And she did all of these with great joy and warmth.
My gut reaction to Laura proved true. She’s welcomed me into her life, just as she initially welcomed us into her home. And every time we have small group at her house, the same tornado of children are running around and making messes—and my daughter willingly jumps into the beautiful chaos. There are now adorable family photos on the walls, and the rooms have filled with furniture. But the heart of their home is the same—warm, unapologetic for the season of life that we’re all in, and happy to receive anyone who comes through their door just as they are. I’m so grateful she let me into her mess, because in the middle of the mess is where true friendship—and godly love—are forged.