My outdoor dining table.
It is lovingly referred to as “The Table”.
And it tells most of my favorite stories.
Last year I attended a “Storyline Conference” led by Donald Miller. A guest speaker, Sarah Harmeyer, shared about a desire to really know her neighbors that led her to ask her dad to build a table that could seat twenty-two people for her backyard. Once it was completed, she began walking around her community, inviting people over for dinner. Everyone who dined at her table were invited to sign it with a permanent marker. By the end of one year she had over 500 signatures on her table, and her community had connected in ways she hadn’t even imagined by the simple act of eating together.
An inspiring picture of what scripture so beautifully describes as the “breaking of bread”- the sacred connection that mysteriously happens between human souls when we are known over a shared meal.
I LOVED her story! And talked about it many times in the weeks following the conference. My husband agreed that it was an inspired idea, but he could not offer even a guess as to when we could purchase a ginormous outside table, let alone build one. So I just tucked that desire away in the “maybe someday, but definitely not now” section of my hopes.
A couple months later, the young men who share family dinner with us every Thursday presented Ryan and I with a thank you card for the countless meals, conversations, support, prayers, and unlimited use of our washer and dryer. And they told us that they wanted to build us a table for twenty…as a gift.
They split the cost of the supplies and one of the guys, who is a skilled craftsman, offered to design and build it – giving all of us opportunities to help with some of the finishing work.
And now we have a table for twenty that is covered by the signatures of our loved ones in our backyard. At least twice a week the seats that surround it are filled with the faces and hearts of young men and women who have been grafted into our family.
Five years ago when Ryan and I first responded to God’s call to open our home and offer it as a place of gathering for young adults within our community, we had a very small 8′ X 10′ kitchen with a portable dishwasher that rolled over to the sink and hooked up to the faucet. And our family of 5 had a dining room table sat 6-8 people comfortably.
I think often about the blessings that we would have missed out on if we had held back our “Yes” to God’s invitation until we could actually accommodate a large group of people. The love and the laughter and the memories and the relationships that would have never have happened if we had said “Yes, BUT not until we get our home ready.” Because “Yes, but” isn’t really a yes. And so much of what I love about my life and my home would have been lost if we had held back opening our front door until our human calculations were certain that we had gotten everything in order to host a crowd.
Creating something by our own power and resources – something that we knew was “manageable” would never have been as amazing as what has been built by saying “Yes. We’ll do that now. We will cook a meal in our tiny kitchen that can include others and eat together in our modest dining room. We can love others well even if our house is small and only has one bathroom. And we will open our front door wide and welcome others in – trusting God to teach, equip, and provide for us and the people who come.”
Many meals were spent bumping elbows around an overly full dining room table before we had enough money to purchase a larger one. And then we became squished around that table in our tiny dining room for a while before an even larger table was built for our patio. But ironically the imperfections, and out growing our spaces while we laugh and love and share our lives with each other is what makes it all feel like family – not hosting or entertaining or even ministry.
I would have missed out on all this goodness if I had decided that I couldn’t practice hospitality until my home and my furniture felt big enough or nice enough. Instead of waiting we decided that we could make due with what we have. We trusted God would provide what was needed if our community grew. And we started inviting people over for dinner.
And today, The Table is the place in my home where the sacred meets the ordinary over meal served daily.