The Power of the Table

The older I get and the farther removed I grow from the white-washed flannelgraph Jesus of my childhood, the more in awe I am of the actual Jesus. As a lover of food and the kitchen, I especially love how much Jesus ate with people during His life on earth. I think it is a significance that we have often overlooked. We tend to focus on His sermons and His miracles, and the proper ministry portions of His life, but what about the everyday life of Jesus – the ordinary? Perhaps there is even more to learn from these mundane moments of Jesus’ life on earth. Have you ever wandered through the gospels and took notice of how much ministry happened around a table and with food shared among friends? Meals around the table were such a significant part of Jesus’ everyday life. The table was a precious part of Who Jesus was and how He lived. What is perhaps so startling is the kinds of people that Jesus invited to His table. They were not the pristine looking religious people, but rather quite the opposite.

Later Jesus and his disciples were at home having supper with a collection of disreputable guests. Unlikely as it seems, more than a few of them had become followers. The religion scholars and Pharisees saw him keeping this kind of company and lit into his disciples: ‘What kind of example is this, acting cozy with the riffraff?'” Mark 2:15-16 MSG

Jesus’ choice to invite these people to the table was no doubt very intentional. He was blatantly ignoring the social norms of His culture and even the religious laws of purity. But these were the very people that Jesus continually chose to invite to His ‘Supper Club’. As these people sat around the table eating and drinking, and let’s just be authentic here – partying – with the Son of God, they were exposed to a little bit of heaven – to the Kingdom breaking into the ordinary rhythms of daily life. It was life-changing for many of these people who had been spit out by religion, but had been offered a seat at the table with Jesus and His friends. These people got a glimpse into a new and better way to live – they got a taste of a new life – of the kingdom breaking into earth. It was like the appetizer before the main meal – a taste of what is to come.

Our culture is not really a dinner table culture anymore. We live in a high-speed, fast-food country that celebrates individualism and isolation.  Although, we so easily curate status updates on our social media, and have a false sense of community through these outlets, the truth is, so many of us cling to our privacy. But there is still power to be found around the table. The dinner table is relational and communal and everything opposite of private and isolated. The table is the antidote for loneliness; it is a powerful expression of inclusion and friendship and belonging. Food ties us together, when it is eaten together.

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If I am to be a representation of Jesus on earth, which I am, then perhaps meals around a table with guests should be a significant part of my life. When we set a table, whether it be with perfectly coordinated dishes and wine goblets or paper plates and red party cups, when we serve a carefully prepared gourmet meal or buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken with our neighbors, our co-workers, our community, we are inviting the Kingdom to break into the ordinary rhythms of life. We are giving people a safe place to belong; many times people who do not feel like they belong in the chairs in our churches but are comfortable in the chairs at our table. We are nourishing bellies, and we are nourishing souls. We offer people a sanctuary to be covered in grace, to taste a new and different way to live, to experience sacred love. If you eat, which you do, and can put food on a table, which you can, then you can pull out a chair and invite a guest – even a disreputable one – to join you for a meal at your dinner table. And the more we become comfortable with this, the more our table expands, our reach extends, and we  discover that the table has become one of the most beautiful, authentic mission fields that we have ever been to – all without leaving the comfort of our homes.

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Learning to be all there

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Wherever you are be all there.  -Jim Elliot-

Every time that I read this quote it gets to me. I know exactly why.  I struggle to live this way, and have for as long as I can remember. God is so tender and patient with me, as He continually impresses on me this weakness of being fully present exactly where I am in life. Because I am super sentimental, sensitive, and nostalgic, I can often find myself longing for what was. My mind and memories are very selective with the past, and I hold on to the sweet moments tightly, but usually after the fact, in a nostalgic, missing them, wishing for what was kind of way. The irony is that when they are happening to me, I am unable to be present, because I am longing for the time in my life before that. If you have ever listened to the lyrics of Passenger’s popular song Let her Go, what I am writing will echo the song’s sentiment. In those lyrics, I cringe and find myself.

Well you only need the light when it’s burning low
Only miss the sun when it starts to snow
Only know you love her when you let her go
Only know you’ve been high when you’re feeling low
Only hate the road when you’re missing home
Only know you love her when you let her go
And you let her go

This theme of not realizing what I have until it is gone has wrapped itself around the years of my life, but I don’t want to keep missing out on the here and now. It has been years of striving to learn how to be present, of reminding myself to be mindful, purposeful, and intentional in the every day life I am living. I know that the beauty of this moment, of the day before me – the present – is that God has given me all of this as a gift. He is gifting me this life right here and right now, with these people, in this country, in this neighborhood for a great purpose. It’s a purpose I could completely miss out on, if I am constantly looking backward. I don’t want to keep missing the gift of the present.

I think that the people that really understand the gift of the present moment are more content and less filled with stress, and of course that is something that I desire. So, I am continuing on in this long journey of trying to learn how to be present, because it does not come natural to my personality. It is so easy for my mind to wander to the yesterdays, for me to feel and dwell in the pain of missing what was, and to fall into a cycle of depression and sadness. But this week, God in His kindness, brought me into the present a few times in a way that demonstrated the beauty of right now in tangible ways. Every single night this week we have had people in our home. Every person had a different story and a different reason for needing us in those moments, but it became evident that every one needed a moment to be inside of a healthy, loving family – yes, an imperfect, mess of a family at times, but a family who fights for each other, loves each other to the core, and makes time to be in each other’s worlds despite busy schedules and a span of ages. Two out of the three visits were completely unplanned; I had no time to make sure that my house was perfect, or time to prepare the kids to be on their best behavior, and prior to our life in Ethiopia this used to terrify me enough to not even answer my doorbell to let someone in. I couldn’t share any part of my life if it did not meet my expectations of perfect.

This week, I found myself opening the door, with a few floors that could use sweeping, a few dishes in the sink, with obvious signs that children live in this home, and yet I was at peace with letting people in to a real, living, breathing family. I heated up my stove and did what comes so naturally to me, fed people’s bellies, while my husband fed their souls. We work in tandem, merging the physical and spiritual.

I paused this morning after staying up past eleven last night to make teenage guys brownies and banana bread, and waking early to make a breakfast of french toast, eggs, bacon, and sausage. As the smells of fresh roasted coffee and sweet french toast sticky with warm maple syrup wafted through the air, I realized that I was actually living in the moment and loving doing exactly what I know how to do. I found myself smiling in my kitchen and filled with complete all-encompassing joy. Yes, it felt a bit like our life in Ethiopia, but I was really content with the present  – with life here in this moment.

This present moment will always be different from the past, because it needs to be. We were not met to live static in one frozen moment. There will still be days ahead where I find myself unable to breathe, because the waves of grief and shock will come again as the realization settles once again over me of the fact that we really no longer live in Ethiopia. But I have hope that the present moments will eventually calm and even still those waves. I am so thankful for my time on the mission field as a missionary. The experiences that I lived through in those two years radically shaped my life, and they taught me a new and a better way to live. I could never have learned the same thing had I remained here. But there is more life to live; there is more good, sweet moments to come. What I now know is that the past in Ethiopia taught me a way to live anywhere that I am in the world. I don’t have to live in Ethiopia to have a house full of people and a table spread with food. I don’t have to live in Ethiopia to meet people where they are and join God in meeting their physical and spiritual needs. I can be anywhere, and that includes right here – learning to be all there while right here.

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