The Table and Why We Gather

My friend Tim is a creative genius who writes, builds, makes good music and other stuff telling the story of God. When he was single, he spent many nights around our dinner table. The table we had at the time was an old traditional looking piece the previous homeowner left for us when we moved in. One night, after some good food and conversation, Tim declared he actually hated our table. The next day, he showed up with a stunning handcrafted table made out of reclaimed wood he had in his garage. It was indeed a labor of love I will never forget.

Several years later, that table wore out and another good friend, another mom of boys who knew we love to have people around our table,  gifted us their table. In the words of my five-year-old, it’s a “ginormous” white farm table that comfortably seats ten.

Some of my favorite moments around tables have been in my home with friends, talking about Jesus. What we think of Him, what He is teaching us in His word and how He is shaping us. For a couple of years, a group of sweet women would show up at my house on Monday mornings and together we studied and wrestled through the Proverbs, the Sermon on the Mount and other places in Scripture that widened our view of God and what we think about Him.

I’m currently going through Beth Moore’s Entrusted, a Bible Study on 2 Timothy. At the end of the first week, her daughter Melissa writes about the value of intellectual community as we study the Bible, discuss theology and “join a collective struggle for truthful speech.”

She quotes Benjamin Myers:

“Theology… is not a private table for one but a rowdy banquet of those who gather, famished and thirsty, around Christ.”

Elsewhere she quotes from author Shauna Niequist:

“We don’t’ come to the table to fight or to defend. We don’t come to prove or to conquer, to draw lines in the sand or to stir up trouble. We come to the table because our hunger brings us there. We come with a need, with fragility, with an admission of our humanity. The table is the great equalizer, the level playing field many of us have been looking everywhere for. The table is the place where the doing stops, the trying stops, the masks are removed and we allow ourselves to be nourished, like children. We allow someone else to meet our need. In a world that prides people on not having needs, ongoing longer and faster, on going without, on power through, the table is a place of safety and rest and humanity, where we are allowed to be as fragile as we feel. If the home is a body, the table is the heart, the beating center, the sustainer of life and health.”

We live in a time where we have more access to information and resources than we ever have before. And yet, our literacy of the Bible is dipping and our value of its truth and relevancy is largely debated. Many churches are trying to figure out how to disciple their people, how to remain relevant, and how to draw people in. There are varying opinions about whether or not we should have men’s ministries, women’s ministries, groups, and programs. Many people have given up going to church or come reluctantly. Their walls are up because they have been hurt by their past experiences with leaders and church people.

Think through the above quote. How can this simple, age-old tradition of being together around a table be rekindled in our purposes for gathering in Spiritual settings no matter how we go about them?

People come to a table expecting a feast. Give them Jesus. 

They come prepared for a conversation. Let us create safe spaces where it’s okay to voice doubts, cynicism, and fears along with hopes, dreams, and experiences of the goodness of God.

There is power at our tables to bring nourishment, comfort, stimulating conversation and the ability to build relationships.

In order to revive the beauty of a table, we serve without expectation. Invite people to lean in and feast. Create meals that are unforgettable and cause them to accept subsequent invitations. Leave them with a nourishing and satisfying taste.

Too often people come to the table feeling like they have to leave their masks on. Or they can’t say what they really think because it might be wrong or offensive. Manners, behaviors, and traditional thoughts trump authenticity. What if we who host and lead, created spaces where all those anxieties could be left at the door. Gathering spaces that are not only sacred but also safe and fully welcoming. 

Safe and welcoming enough to receive you the way you are but not leave you there.

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Grace, Peace and the Game Changer on Mother’s Day

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Saturday night, a four-year-old boy came to me at church asking for prayer for his mom.  The woman who was with him, was not his mom, she was his foster mom.

He looked at me with his sweet brown eyes and told me his name.  It was all I could do to maintain my composure to pray for her and to pray for him.

I swallowed hard and asked Jesus to make His presence known.

The kind of presence that supersedes understanding. The kind that brings joy and peace.

I wondered where she was, whom she was with and what was so worth having that it cost her the ability to raise her own child.  Then, my mind went to all the times I’ve chosen wrong, the mistakes I’ve made.

God’s grace became more real.

I prayed asking Him to keep her safe, for provision, restoration and for hope.

God chooses to be faithful and love us always regardless of our faults and failures.  So, as much as I wanted that little boy to know he has not been abandoned, that Jesus is with him, in the same moment it became very clear, his mother likely needs to know the same thing.

After the service closed, I went to pick up my own son who was so excited to give me the craft he made in his classroom. A beautiful, messy masterpiece very appropriate for a two-year-old made especially for me on mother’s day.  I came undone knowing this other boy made something for his mom and without a doubt had a sense of sadness that comes with the uncertainty of being able to give it to her or not.  Perhaps and Lord willing, he already knows his sadness can be directed to prayer.

Would he see her the next day? Would he save it for her or give it to the one who is trying to love and take such good care of him.  Thank God for foster moms who care. The ones who are in it knowing there will be days like this.  Thank God for moms who love in hopes of permanence, as well as those who love with the hope of reconciliation to another mom.

This was a game changer for Mother’s Day.

I am among the many who look forward to a little “me time” on Mother’s Day. I went for my manicure and pedicure and I enjoyed sleeping in.  I loved having my coffee served to me and I appreciated not doing dishes or thinking about the meals for the day.

But that little boy shifted the gears in my heart to pray grace and peace over the mothers who can’t care for their children.  Whether by choice or the chains they were born into, Mother’s day was a day of praying grace and peace over them.

 —-

Sunday morning, I couldn’t help but to notice who didn’t come that day.  The ones who are still living in the not yet.  The mother with a mama’s heart and no baby to hold. The ones who have had to surrender the babies they birthed because a mama’s heart always wants what’s best for her child.  The mothers lost in grief or those who haven’t been able to find their way out from the shame of an abortion.  The ones who woke up like it was another day because there is not a father around to teach their children how to love a woman well.  These are the mothers we need to pray for but not just on this day.  The daughters who are angry with their mothers. The ones who grew up like the boy from the night before and have a whole host of emotions bubble up to the surface around the second Sunday in May.

While many will rise up and be called blessed, there is a remnant of mothers, daughters and sons.  Those who are living in a silent place, a sometimes isolating place if we are not careful, where the voices of shame will silence the voice of Grace.

Let us be like the voice of grace that kneels to the sand and writes a message of hope.  Let us be the voice of grace that says, “I know, and you are still loved and wanted.”  Let us be the arms of grace that pulls her in for a hug when she feels no one will accept her.

—-

Driving home Sunday afternoon, I thought about the little boy’s mom.  If she didn’t get to see him, did she want to see him?  Did her heart ache for his scent, and his sweet little voice that calls her by name?  Does she live in regret or is she not even there yet?

She is no different than I am.  Perhaps full of failure with many shortcomings.  It’s only by grace I have been saved and only by grace I can parent my boys.  No one grows up with believing one day they will lose children to the system. No one has children specifically so they can hurt them.  Her story is that… it’s a story with a beginning, middle and an end.

The beauty of grace is that it tends to interrupt our lives and though birth pains are usually involved, the result is abundantly more than we can ask or imagine.

So we continue to pray.  We continue to wait.  We hope for divine interruptions.  We sit with the stories of failure, the not yet stories of redemption and the ever-present truth of Grace to be made known.

Grace and peace to all.

To Do List on Men’s Retreat Weekend

My church‘s annual Men’s Retreat is taking place this weekend. It’s always amazing to me that about 300 men go on a retreat each year hoping to come back with a better view of God, themselves and their people.

For those of us who are married or have kids, Men’s Retreat weekend affords us some opportunities we may not have on a normal weekend.  If you are wondering what to do while the man is away, I’ve created this list of ideas, in no particular order:

1.  Take advantage of not having to prepare a “real” meal and let the kids choose from any cereal they want for dinner. Why should Dad be the “fun parent” all the time?

2.  Pray for your man to encounter God in a real and life-giving way.

3.  Stay up late “pinning” to your heart’s content with no guilt attached to the way you are using your late-night hours.

4.  Pray the speakers at the retreat will speak on behalf of God in a clear and loving way.

5.  Don’t be in such a hurry to do the dishes or picking up.  Wait till Sunday.  Heck…make the kids do ’em.

6.  Pray he will establish and build friendship with others that will influence him well and spur him on to love and good deeds.

7.  Have a few friends and their kids over, turn on a movie and order some pizza and enjoy the 95 degree heat with a low of 75.

8. Go to the beach.  {See #7}

9.  Thank God you have a man who even wants to go on a spiritual retreat.

10.  Swap kids with some friends so you each have a few free hours in the day tomorrow.

11. Come to church this weekend – come on Saturday for tacos and you won’t have to cook.

12.  Tell your kids how much your miss Daddy so they see your love for him.

13.  Resolve to be interested without asking him 5,000 questions when he gets home on Sunday.

14. Make sure you clear your calendar for the women’s retreat, February 15-17 , because you need to do something for the sake of YOUR soul.

15.  Pray for God to raise up some awesome, courageous, strong and gorgeous {I mean why not? Eph. 3:20} men for your single friends.

16.  Take up the whole space in the bed.  Sleep in the middle and stretch out.  Enjoy the space.

17.  Catch up on magazines, pick up a good book or watch Downton Abbey {It never gets old}.

18.  Buy something sexy to welcome him home on Sunday night after the kids go to bed.  Just sayin’.

19.  Read the book of Ephesians.  Especially chapter 5.

20.  Have your kids make him “welcome home cards.”

21.  Don’t complain about how tired and stressed out you were all weekend taking care of everyone and driving all over God’s country. Pretend it was a breeze but reiterate how much better it is when he is around.  He wants to come home to a wife, not a martyr.

Finally… use any quiet space you have to think and pray, asking God show you how to love, support, encourage, help and partner with your man in ways that speak to him.

“An excellent wife who can find?
    She is far more precious than jewels.
 The heart of her husband trusts in her,
    and he will have no lack of gain.
 She does him good, and not harm,
    all the days of her life.”

Do you look forward to a little time alone? 

What will you be doing?

Would you add anything to the list?

One Body, One Spirit

Tonight I had the good pleasure of getting together with leaders from three other South Bay churches to pray, plan and prepare for Beth Moore’s So Long, Insecurity simulcast on April 24th.  We had a great time laughing, praying, eating chocolate cupcakes and sharing in the joy of doing something together.

The body of Christ working together in unity is something I have come to treasure and commit myself to praying towards. Not just the body I belong to, but the greater body of Christ… all churches who hold Him at the center and proclaim His name for His glory.  In a world that has come to see the divisive, hypocritical and harsh side of the Church, I believe God rejoices in is seeing His Bride represented by love, unity, harmony and peace.

As I left our meeting tonight, I felt a smile upon my face that was brought on by true joy that comes from unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”  ~ Ephesians 4:1-6

Photo courtesy of HBD Photography/www.hbdphotography.com