If you know me, you’re probably laughing at that title right now. You’re probably also thinking something like “Don’t worry, Elise. If that’s your goal, you’ve already succeeded. With flying colors.” But this isn’t a blog about who I already am–it’s about who I want to be, future tense. And it’s about how I realized that while I’m not there yet, I might be more on the right track than I expected.
A few days ago, I spent a morning in downtown Rome with a friend (she blogs about her adventures here), and we came across an adorable little garden-and-gift shop that was decorated to look exactly like I want my perfectly manicured lawn to look like one day. (This is a problem, because I can’t keep weeds or cacti alive. I’m working on it.) So, obviously, we wandered through and made believe that we were wealthy women with gardens who did things like invite people over for tea parties.
Tucked between two lush, perfect ferns (how in the world does she make them grow so well inside?!) was a stack of Yvette van Boven’s Home Made Summer, a collection of summery recipes with titles I couldn’t pronounce, complete with magazine-worthy pictures that must have taken a team to create, because there’s no way a hostess could make food that complicated and beautiful while simultaneously designing a table as complex and perfect as the ones each dish sat on.
My mouth started watering and my inner hostess started strategizing ways she could live up to this fabricated standard. See, there’s this huge part of me who wants to be the perfect socialite. You know, the one who hosts monthly dinner parties and has a handful of perfectly-behaved children who always are dressed immaculately but are also polite and fun to be around, the one who has a house with a guest bedroom that is occupied more often than not, who can make a hundred different meals from scratch without recipes using only the leftover odds and ends that happen to be in the fridge at the moment, and who also has a really cool hobby on the side like photography or knitting or winemaking or something, and whose fashion sense is on par with Kate Middleton’s.
I know that this human being doesn’t exist anywhere except in my head (and also Kate Middleton’s body. Let’s face it, she’s perfect), but she constantly plagues me nonetheless.
I will never be that woman. I know this. The person I need to be is vulnerable and a little bit messy. She loves Jesus more than anything, and sometimes Jesus gets in the way of having an immaculate house. She cares more about making the world a better place, and less about making her home Pinterest-worthy. She knows how to give careful advice and make people feel deeply loved and valued. The hostess version of the person I want to be only knows how to make people envy her.
It’s sort of like Mary and Martha when Jesus visited. Martha ran around trying to make everything perfect, but Mary just fell at his feet. Mary was right. She cared about the important things. And a huge part of me wants to be her. But Martha is always hanging around the other side of my brain, telling me that I should be prioritizing the outside stuff.
So here I was, flipping through this book of recipes while this existential crisis comes bubbling to the surface. Who will I be – the perfect hostess, or the messy, too-emotional adventurer who sometimes gets herself into trouble by doing things like moving to a third-world country?
And then, suddenly, I figured it out. That obvious truth that I’ve known forever but not been able to articulate.
Those perfect pictures of the perfect meals looked delicious, but they also made me feel supremely inadequate. They weren’t inviting. If someone served me something that perfect, I wouldn’t know how to interact with them. I want to be a good hostess, but not because everyone I invite over is so impressed with me. I want to be the sort of hostess who is mostly just a friend. When people come into my home, I want them to feel like they are part of my life, too; not just a spectator, there to gasp and sigh at the appropriate moments.
I want to be comfortable with people seeing a little bit of the mess in my life, because I am a person who has a lot of mess, and I want to be honest with the people who are around me. I don’t want to seem perfect from the outside, because then there wouldn’t be room to show the Grace I’ve received.
I want grace to be the driving force behind everything I do. I want it to be visible everywhere, from the words I speak to way I use my home. Admitting that I need grace involves a whole lot of humility and vulnerability and honesty. And that means it can’t look perfect all the time, because it’s not possible to be honest AND perfect.
Maybe this seems like I’m taking it a bit too far. Maybe it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense on a screen. But a miniature existential crisis in a trendy garden shop showed me who I want to be, and it’s not Kate Middleton anymore. It’s messy, disorganized, Elise. Elise who burns the toast and makes jokes that aren’t always funny and who loves to hear people’s stories and to share her stories with others. The one who loves to share her home and is a hostess at home, but not a perfect one, because she lets people see the imperfections for no better reason than the fact that it’s the honest thing to do. That’s not who I am yet, but it’s who I’m trying to be. And it’s gotten a whole lot easier since I decided I don’t want to be perfect anymore.