For years, I strived to host perfect holiday parties, as if they were an exam to pass. Hours before guests arrived, I dressed the table with my porcelain best, each item set precisely in its place. Thin lines of shimmering silver bordered its delicate rose pattern. Folded linen napkins bloomed on the plate.

My china, a wedding gift from 1980, held not a single chip or scratch. I’d stand on a chair to retrieve the set from its protected place—high in the cabinet over the refrigerator. With each tiptoed reach, I handled the pieces as if they were eggshells.

Next, I’d pull the walnut silverware chest from the kitchen drawer and open its hinged top to rouse the silver, nestled in its red velvet bedding. Salad and dinner forks parked to the left; dinner knife, teaspoon and soup spoon set to the right.

Even with festive conversations over a feast of full plates, I felt fragile. What if someone viewed the food, my house, or me as less than perfect? I worried any detail would crash at any minute and my insecurities would break open for all to see.

I handled my parties like eggshells.

One day, a good friend invited me to her place. Our afternoon visit eased into evening and our appetites grew. We combed through her cupboards to create an impromptu meal. I moved newspapers and books from her table while she pulled out paper plates. Then, we sat to eat.

In between bites of leftovers, she asked me if I felt welcomed. Was I having a good time, despite the slight disorder?

I knew what she was getting at.

Placing a hand on my forearm, she told me she attended my gatherings to see me, not to grade my house, my cooking, or my Emily Post etiquette.

In my aim for perfect, I missed the target. I could see how I depleted myself before my guests arrived, and deprived them of the blessing to help. My attempt at perfection caused me to miss out on the joy of the people.

My friend imparted a valuable lesson.

Over the years, I learn, imperfectly, to ease.

On occasion, my husband still has to remind me that I don’t need to “spring clean” before dinner guests arrive.

I nod in acknowledgement.

Five months ago, he and I had dinner at a friend’s house. When we walked in, she stood at the kitchen sink, tending to the final stages of freezing her garden kale. I placed my bowl of potato salad on the end of the counter, near the stack of packaged kale. She asked if I’d grab a knife and slice tomatoes for caprese. We talked as I tucked mozzarella between tomato slices. I felt I belonged—like family. My friend let me enter her everyday life.

My china hasn’t been out in years. Linen napkins stay in the drawer, suffering stains of the past. A layer of dust clings to the dark walnut silverware chest.

At my last party, I tossed a batch of Vanity Fair napkins at the buffet, next to the stack of paper plates. I asked everyone to help themselves.

We laughed as we balanced plates on our laps and drank from red plastic.

I learn to give my best.

Sharon Gibbs
Sharon Gibbs / Posts / Blog

Sharon A Gibbs is an oncology nurse, blogger and writer with a passion for how our stories connect and heal us. When not tending to her patients, she tends to writing story. She also loves to collect memories with her husband, cook for family and friends, and curl up on the couch with a good book.

She’s been published at MakesYouMom, (in)courage, Art House America, Malleable Heart, and Deeper Waters.

Learn more about her on her website at SharonAGibbs or follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest.

  • Traci@tracesoffaith
    http://www.tracesoffaith.com

    Sharon! I recognized your name from FFW! I enjoyed your piece here very much. I loved your friend’s gentle nudge that maybe you could loosen up on the perfection a little bit. Either way, I’m sure you are a most gracious host. Such good reminders here.

    April 28th, 2017 15:20
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  • Sharon A Gibbs
    Sharon A Gibbs
    http://sharonagibbs.com

    Traci, I remember you too! (Hard to believe it’s been a year!) I had fun writing this. It reminded me to aim for quality time with friends rather than perfection. Thanks for reading.

    April 28th, 2017 18:36
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  • Leah Adams
    http://www.leahadams.org

    Sharon, this is such a beautiful piece. I love to have people into my home for meals, and as much as I would adore having a Pinterest-perfect table, I rarely do. I try to focus on the food and hearts that will be pulling up to my table. I have long believed that food does more than fill the tummy. It fills the soul and the community that is developed around the table is so much more important than what that table looks like. Thanks for the reminder.

    April 29th, 2017 4:34
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    • Sharon A Gibbs
      Sharon A Gibbs
      http://sharonagibbs.com

      Leah, Yes, food also feeds the soul, doesn’t it? What we as people bring to the table is so much more memorable than a Pinterest-perfect table. Thank you for your words.

      May 9th, 2017 17:48
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  • Angie Crane

    Sharon, I saw me in you in this piece. Thank you for reminding me of what us really important.

    April 29th, 2017 11:24
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    • Sharon A Gibbs
      Sharon A Gibbs
      http://sharonagibbs.com

      Hi Angie. Thank you for taking the time to read it. 🙂

      May 9th, 2017 17:49
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  • Theresa Boedeker
    http://TheresaBoedeker.com

    Ah, you just described me when I first got married and had people over. Only I didn’t have any old china or anything that nice. But I wanted it to be perfect. I finally realized that if I was feeling uncomfortable during the evening, so where my guests. Now, perfection is out the window. I love how your friend communicated her point to you. Showing you was much more powerful than just telling you.

    April 29th, 2017 20:34
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    • Sharon A Gibbs
      Sharon A Gibbs
      http://sharonagibbs.com

      Theresa, My friend is so relaxed about everything!. I have learned some important lessons from her. When I was asked to help (as if I was a family member), I felt like I immediately belonged. And it generated some wonderful conversation over the tomatoes! What a nice way to welcome to someone.

      May 9th, 2017 17:54
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  • Marilyn Yocum
    http://Marilyn%20Yocum

    Vanity Fair? I’m impressed! 🙂 I love those thick napkins.
    Enjoyed reading this, Sharon. My mom was a very nervous hostess, everything needing to be perfect, so I entered adulthood with some insecurities. I was put at ease by having a few older women in my life who were very down-to-earth, just as you described. I really liked reading about your experience with this.

    May 3rd, 2017 5:56
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    • Sharon A Gibbs
      Sharon A Gibbs
      http://sharonagibbs.com

      Thanks, Marilyn! Funny how age changes us—in good ways. 🙂

      May 9th, 2017 17:50
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  • Stephanie Smith
    http://www.readcookdevour.com

    A well written post and one I can relate to!

    May 10th, 2017 23:22
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