It’s that time of year, friends.

The crockpots are out, the decor is inviting, the cider is hot and touches of comfy are everywhere from candles to covers.

Maybe more than other times of year, we are coming inside to sit around a table — but wait! The house is a wreck! The kids have homework piled up on the counter undone! It’s been days since the little one’s fever but we haven’t Clorox-wiped everything in sight (or used our homemade essential oil version of whatever kills germs).

Gathering with others in our homes honestly can feel impossible with real life chaos and all that pressure to “do it amazing” – am I right?

Well friend, this is the permission you need to host and gather in a soul-friendly way – so YOU and your people can enjoy all the cozy this season has to offer – without the shame.

This goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway to be clear: I’m not an Event Planner. Hardly.

In fact, I’m fairly certain that the reason I take Zyrtec daily is less about hives and allergies, and more about my physical disdain for being the logistics manager for my family. As much as I enjoy being gathered with people in my spaces, coordinating the details makes me itch. It could be because I didn’t grow up doing this hosting thing much, or because old insecurities flare up and I feel clumsy at doing “lovely”, or the fear of people not enjoying themselves paralyzes me. Or, it could be all of that. Do you relate? What makes you hesitate from inviting others to gather in your space?

I share all that so you know I’m sharing these soul-friendly tips because I have discovered them the hard way and now live by them! They have served me by freeing me up to take joy in connecting with others without becoming the worst woman on the planet. (Because let’s be honest, who wants to gather in her house?)

There are many other things I’m sure I could think of beyond these 10 – plus so many that YOU would add (please send me them too, I need all the itch-free support I can get!) But in the spirit of keeping things simple (like we’ll aim for with hosting), I’ll just share these 10 soul-friendly tips for hosting a gathering. Ready? Ok, here we go:

1. 👟 wear comfy shoes. I know, it sounds lame BUT I’m telling you, your body will sing your praises and will support you as you set up, serve, and sort it all back later!

2. 🎓 recruit and/or pay a teen to come help you out! Whether it is setting things out, or watching your kiddo’s, or putting things away after your event is over; having a young helper do your bidding is a lifesaver AND it gives him or her experience with hospitality! If it makes you feel better, call it discipleship…because that could use some soul-friendly simplifying while we are at it too ya’ll.

3. 📝 make a list of every task, then run some copies so others can jump in and join you easily, without you having to remember what else needs to be done! Even kids like to help out, but often others want something to do too. Delegating is not failure, in fact, it is a sign of excellent leadership!

4. 🃏 put someone in charge of hosting a game…and forget all about it! Games are a fun way to let your people connect but it’s an easy thing for someone else to do – and let’s you do the things only you can do!

5. 🏁 go ahead and line up your recovery plan for after you finish! Maybe it’s a lavender salt soak in the tub, or a special movie saved, or your favorite hot drink with new extra-soft pajamas or all of the above 🙋🏽‍♀️ Hey, we love others as we love ourselves, so make a plan to be your own guest in your home later! Hosting takes courage, reward your soul for that big brave move!

6. 🍕🥪🌭🍩 I know this will not be everyone’s thing, but for me I am all about keeping food simple these days. In fact, with just about everyone offering catered items, it’s rare for me to host AND home cook the entire meal! Maybe you are a secret chef and have an intimate evening with close friends prepared, so creating a meal in delectable courses is appropriate. If so, will you invite me? For other gatherings sometimes pre-pulled pork with sauce added and Bob Evans mashed potatoes (in the freezer section – just heat in the microwave and consider never making them yourself again! Or get the cauliflower version and really impress folks by putting a couple containers in the crockpot to warm!) Then you know that grocery store hot zone? Veggies! ✅ I’m just saying.

7. 🐢 Once the guests arrive, consider how slow you can go mixing and lingering with them…this is what I forget and have to remember every single time! First, I conserve energy for the clean up later! But more importantly, I savor the moments with folks I won’t have around for long. Easier said than done, I know. So maybe set your timer to go off 5 min into the event with the word: “turtle” to remember to slow your hosting engine! People will forget the food, forget the music you had playing or the scent of the candles you were burning, but they will remember feeling loved, listened to and enjoyed – so aim for their heart and  you will invite your folks into the fullest expression of hospitality.

8. 🐫 This will also sound too simple, but drink a lot of water during the day. You will be talking and serving and who knows what else, but it’s not likely to be hydrating! Dehydration can leave you feeling exhausted, increases anxiety, causes headaches and your mouth to shoot off with easy irritation, so do yourself and all your people the favor of guzzling some high quality H2O. (Yes, that was a Water Boy reference.)

9. 🙊 Have 1-2 pre-planned questions to ask each person (the same question is just fine as long as the people are different!) This tip is a big deal, because I think it sits at the root of why most people don’t seek connection in person. We just don’t know what to do and say with each other! Having a plan does so much for your confidence, and eases the transition from “Hey! Welcome ya’ll”, which is over pretty quickly. Having simple questions on hand at any point during the gathering gives you a purpose for pursuing your people, because hopefully you sincerely want to know the answers! Questions also make sure you don’t fall into that awkward, “now what?” moment that makes our skin crawl. You know, the moment when you completely forget how to talk to people. It is a real thing folks, don’t let shame bully you into isolation this season…it’s just hard. We are an awkward species. We don’t know what to do with our hands and we don’t know what to talk about, so we just need to make a plan for how to navigate the weird with intention! We can do hard things and it is SO worth it if we make a little effort. (Even chattier folks like myself tuck this tip in our back pockets!) And to get you started, try these questions if it’s before Thanksgiving: “What are your plans for Thanksgiving? … Oh yeah? I’m going to …” then maybe follow up with, “Have you ever hosted Thanksgiving before?” … “What is your favorite part of the holiday?” Or, “…do you have a favorite Thanksgiving memory?” You get the idea. Other question sources are helpful too, you can even simply go online looking for “conversation starters” or you can buy some and keep them on-hand for any occasion! Some of my favorites include this set for a more faith-inspiring conversation from IF:Gathering:

Get these Conversation Cards from the IF:Shoppe

One other recommendation is Table Topics, that come in all categories from conversations with teens to couples, available on Amazon. The question doesn’t have to be stellar, and you don’t even have to memorize it. Have them sitting on the table, one at each place setting so each person gets a turn asking, with everyone getting a chance to answer! Or hand them out as people arrive and give THEM the task of asking “their question” throughout the event! Whatever you choose to do, just don’t let “what do we say???” ever be what keeps you from connecting with others!

10. 🙏🏽🤲🏼 Pray! Actually, do this first, during and after because these are real people you are welcoming, not robots! They have hard stuff in their stories too: scary fears, insecurities, doubts and hopes – and are probably just as nervous as you are to be there! (The whole, “oh it’s more afraid of you than you are of it” is true for people too, usually.) So maybe pray that God would give each of you peace in gathering, joy in being together and that you will be healthier because of the time spent in your space! (There. I even gave you a prayer to pray!)

The bottom-line ya’ll, is that we ALL need each other and need these spaces together. This world is crazy and getting crazier and we need places of refuge to be seen, heard and loved. But let’s go for less fuss-time (so we actually gather) and embrace more fully some simple face-time with one another! Plus, if you are reading this, like me, you likely have so much to be grateful for…including the people, the homes, and the food we will experience this season. Maybe then the best dish and loveliest decor we share in our spaces this season can be our sincerely grateful hearts.