Start where you’re at. This is the advice Shauna Niequist gives to people who want to be hospitable but don’t know where to start, in her book Bread and Wine. She recommends beginning with pizza and salad if you don’t know what you’re doing, and slowly adding in more to your repertoire as you practice.
It takes some time to learn, to try and fail and make a mess and try again. it takes even longer to get truly comfortable, to feel at home with a knife in your hand, to read through recipes as a guideline or set of ideas, to read through and add your preferences and tastes, your history and perspective. But it’s a lovely process, not a minute wasted. If you put in the time, the learning, the trying, the mess, and the failure, at the end you will have learned to feed yourself and the people you love, and that’s a skill for life-like tennis or piano but yummier and far less expensive. (41)
I’m taking these words to heart today, and not because I need to learn to cook and host people. I’m grabbing on these words because I’m notoriously good at putting too much pressure on myself. I’m great at making ridiculously high standards and expecting myself to meet them. In transition, I’m particularly frustrated at how many hot mess days I have or how chaotic things feel. I’m great at making up rules for how I should be performing and how put together I should be.
Start where you’re at.
In a new place and a new season, with new roles and responsibilities, my heart needs the reminder that the time I put into trying and learning isn’t wasted. Transition can feel like trudging through mud, but if I keep showing up, I’ll inch my way to the other side. The Lord uses my hot mess days and meets me there.
A few weeks ago, I was feeling sorry for myself and how hard it is to be in so much “new.” I felt Jesus whisper to my heart to get up and write a letter. So I did. I wrote a letter to a friend who needed to be told she is brave. I felt him tell me to not make up rules for what now needs to look like, but just keep showing up. I went on a walk to the park, pushing my observant daughter in her stroller. I made no crust quiche for dinner. I sent an email to a friend. This was my version of pizza and salad. It wasn’t as impressive as I might have preferred, but it was showing up and starting something.
“Start anywhere.” This is the title of the first chapter in the book I just got from the library about writing, and it seems to echo this theme of the importance of beginning. A few weeks ago a friend and I emailed back and forth about what it looks like to write for me. As much as I wished I had a polished plan to show her, much of how I write is just starting. I never know if it is going to be anything or not. I often just start with an idea and see where it takes me. It seems so much less about knowing what the end result will be and so much more about simply starting.
Starting where you’re at isn’t just for writers or would-be-hosts. It is for all of us. One of my favorite children’s books, The Dot, introduces the reader to Vashti who is discouraged in art class. Her teacher tells her “just make a mark and see where it takes you.” Vashti ends up simply making a dot on her paper before submitting it to her teacher. The simple act of making a dot starts a trajectory for Vashti of creativity and artistry that is inspiring to watch unfold.
Illustration by Peter Reynolds
I want to blaze ahead to the finish line. I want to have things figured out. I want to skip some of the pain of the process. I want to arrive without ever taking the journey. For me, starting where I’m at is giving myself permission to be a mess. It is submitting to the idea that I don’t know what is best for me. It is being okay not knowing what will happen next. It is being present today, in this moment. And it looks a whole lot like doing the simple, mundane things of showing up and loving the people in front of me.
So, here’s to pizza and salad.
Here’s to showing up.
Here’s to making a mark and seeing where it take me.
Here’s to starting.