Sarah Anne Hayes

on making a house a home

HospitalitySarah Anne HayesComment

This week, the house I currently live in went up for sale. Last week, my roommates and I were painting walls and straightening up spaces and decluttering stuff before the realtor came to take pictures.

For the ninth time in seven years, my life is being packed into boxes and the next few weeks will be this weird combination of half living in one space and half living in another as more stuff is organized and packed and taped and moved until the transition is complete.

Growing up as a military brat, you think I'd be used to frequent moves, but the truth is I've always hated them. And I don't think anyone could ever truly get used to packing up their life into boxes at the same time every single year. Add that to the fact that I've moved more as a single adult than I ever did as a child (all without the help of movers, mind you) and you might be able to understand why the fact that I will spend the next few weeks surrounded by boxes is somewhat disheartening.

My military upbringing instilled one extremely strong desire in my heart — I have always had a deep longing for roots that go deep.

While I know home is far more about people than it is a specific place, I have always longed to live somewhere and stay. Not just in one general area, but one physical house. One where I'm rearranging furniture and hanging new pictures not because the space is new but because the house changes and grows to reflect how life changes. One where the memories taking place in the rooms grow year after year after year. One that is a house but is also a home in every sense of the word.

For reasons unknown to me and circumstances beyond my control, the Lord has seen fit to keep me moving at least once a year since 2010 and it seems life will be in transition for the foreseeable future, as I will spend about three months in my parents basement before spending an undetermined amount of time in my sister's guest room before going only the Lord knows where and for how long.

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At the beginning of the year, I decided to read through the Bible again, though in chronological order rather than cover to cover. But even chronological order means that you spend most of the first few months of the year hanging out with the Israelites, watching as they become a nation, enter into slavery, make their exodus from Egypt, and spend 40 years wandering and complaining in the desert. Then they enter the promised land and still have to go through years of fighting the inhabitants to lay claim to what God has promised them.

As I've been reading these familiar passages again, I've continued to think about a conversation I had with my mentor recently.

This world is not our home, she reminded me. As believers we know this, but in many of us there still resides a deep desire for belonging and rootedness. We want to feel known and seen and loved. We want to feel stable. We want to have a place to come home to at the end of the day that feels comfortable and welcoming and safe. And often, the Lord will give those things to us, but sometimes He intentionally uproots us, sometimes over and over and over again, to remind us that this is not our home. To remind us that we are forever in transition, forever on a journey, forever able to only find true stability in Him.

But even in the midst of their journeys through the desert, the Israelites had periods of rest and respite. They had moments like Mount Sinai, where they camped and they set up the tabernacle and the Lord resided there with them and they were able to make a place home, even if only for a moment.

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When your life is fraught with movement and it seems almost a guarantee that a certain month each year will be punctuated by the sounds of tape and the smell of cardboard and the search for another place to, however temporarily, call home, it is easy to get into a mindset that the space you're in isn't important. It's easy to think that because you'll probably only be in this particular house or apartment or condo for a year that you shouldn't paint the walls or hang the pictures or buy the little table that will go perfectly in the entryway.

But I believe the Lord intended for us to put down roots whenever able. Yes, He could pull them up at any time, but uncertainty about the future should never rob you of living in the present.

Over the last seven years, I have called seven different places home. Some of them have felt more like home than others, but without a doubt, the ones that have felt most like home are the ones where I chose to invest. The ones where I chose to paint the walls or hang the picture or make the memories and dig my roots in even though they might get pulled up a year later. And in the last seven years, I've learned a couple of things about making a house into a home and planting those roots in seasons that seem fraught with instability.

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i. make it yours.

Making a space homey looks different for everyone. Some people are totally good keeping the walls white and bare and others require more throw pillows than you can count before a space feels like them.

Whatever it is that you have to do to make a space feel like home to you, do it. Check with your landlord of course, but go ahead. Paint the walls. Hang the pictures and the curtains. Buy the side table. Fill it with plants and throw pillows. Don't buy into the thought process that it's not worth the effort because you could be gone in a year. You might be. But you also might not be. 

In our most recent house, we went all out. One roommate and I painted our bedrooms. We hung pictures and and canvases on the walls. We put up shelves and hung curtains. We took pieces of furniture that did one thing in an old house and made them do something new in this house. I even painted a bathroom with a pedestal sink and, let me tell you, that is not fun.

You might be in transition for one year or, like me, it could be several. Don't feel like you have to wait until things are settled to make the space you life in feel like home.

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ii. throw open the doors.

In an era of Pinterest and Instagram and perfectly curated lifestyle blogs, it's insanely easy to believe that if your house and your life are in transition, that you're not in a "place" or "season" to focus on hospitality.

We get caught up in the thought process that everything has to be perfect before you can open the walls of your home and heart — that your walls must be worthy of a home decor board on Pinterest, that your tablescape must look professionally done, that your food must rival that of the best contestants on Top Chef.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to put your best foot forward. There's nothing wrong with wanting to have a gorgeous tablescape or an enviable gallery wall or an absolutely amazing meal to share with your friends. But if you're waiting for all of those things in order to open your home, the doors will forever remain closed.

Life is messy and what people are looking for isn't a polished and curated experience. They're looking for authenticity. They're looking for comfort. They're looking for a place where they can open up their hearts and be vulnerable. They're looking for a place where they can know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they are seen, heard, and loved.

So go all out if you want to, but don't let that be the prerequisite for hosting a dinner party or a game night or a girl's night in. Dress up or wear sweatpants. Make a fancy meal or cook up a frozen pizza. Set up a gorgeous tablescape or set out paper plates and napkins.

As Shauna Niequist says, "Entertaining isn't a sport of a competition. It's an act of love, if you let it be. You can twist it and turn it into anything you want—a way to show off your house, a way to compete with your friends, a way to earn love and approval. Or you can decide that every time you open your doors, it's an act of love, not performance or competition or striving. You can decide that every time people gather around your table, your goal is nourishment, not neurotic proving. You can decide."

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In so many ways, the things that makes a house a home, even a temporary one, are intangible. But I think they can truly be summed up in those two lessons — make it yours and throw open the doors. 

Infuse yourself into the place you're living and let it become a haven and a place of respite, for yourself and for others.

It's no guarantee that you'll stay in one spot for a long time. It's no guarantee that your roots won't be torn up year after year after year. But the worst thing you can do is wait to live your life until things are certain. The worst thing you can do is never try to put down roots because they might be pulled up sooner than you'd like. That kind of life turns into a vagabond existence where you miss out on places and people and relationships and all the amazing lessons those things can teach you.

So wherever you are — a condo, a mansion, a basement apartment, or the house of your dreams — make it yours and throw open the doors.