The Sunday evening meal reminded me of Labor Day family reunions on my Grandpa’s land in Jonesboro, Texas, when Uncle Ben would slow-cook barbecue spiked with Coca Cola and the aunts with names I couldn’t remember would bring their best-known dishes like Chicken & Dumplings and Hummingbird Cake. I knew faces but so few stories as the couples walked through our front door and gathered in the kitchen to bring their contributions to the evening. The dinner’s only reason for being was a simple invitation offered up by the Vicar at our church – a challenge of sorts, really, for the people who sit with each other on Sunday mornings to do it again around a dinner table.
Some entered with such great confidence, while others were like me – a bit clumsy with making small talk, and crossing fingers their dish would be liked at all. There was no theme beyond love, no instruction given, other than “we’ll fix the main course and you bring a side or a dessert – just something you like personally will do just fine.” The drinks were poured and appetizers were set out and the conversations began. I watched as people moved like magnets toward familiarity, huddling in groups of two or three to recount their day. I really knew only the Vicar and Brad, who were engaged in some sort of talk about something – so I simply listened to the calming sound of all the voices in unison. This couple has been in Texas all their lives, and that couple had found their way here after college. One couple lives on an acreage outside of town, and another lives in a castle-like home overlooking the lake. There were folks still in the thick of their careers, and folks who had found respite in retirement. One man had been healed miraculously of a heart condition that had threatened his life. There were saints and skeptics finding their place at the table that Sunday night – all because of the simple invitation.
No one who walked through our door that night knew much about me or my life. To them, I was the woman married to the tall man with the perpetual smile who recently had become part of the small Episcopalian Church that met in an elementary school down the street. Some knew we had family that had recently moved away. A few knew I worked for some sort of ministry. None knew that only days before, I had extended my own invitation on this blog for people to tell me what it was about the stories of my life that really mattered. Much like this Sunday night, a few people had accepted the invitation.
“I have two friends – both with tables,” I said, clinking a glass to get everyone’s attention. “One lives in Dallas, and one lives here. The friend in Dallas – her dad builds these beautiful, massive tables by hand. The original one is in her backyard, and now they are selling the tables to people around the country. Her table has hosted thousands of strangers-become-friends over the years. She says gathering people is a love mission. The friend here in Austin has a picnic table she bought at a hardware store and painted turquoise – she set in her front yard, and it’s become a gathering place for her community. Now, folks around the world are painting tables turquoise and putting them in their front yards to say, “I want to be the place people feel safe to gather.” If I could buy a Neighbor’s Table from my friend Sarah, I would have her paint it turquoise. And If I could put a Turquoise Table in our front yard to honor Kristin’s heart, I would want it to be handmade by Leroy. My two friends have taught me a lot about the beauty of the table – and the power of invitation. I’m thankful tonight that you’re here.” We passed around some Table Tokens that my friend Sarah made, each inscribed with things like “help clear dishes” or “serve dessert” or “say the prayer,” and James – a lively Italian man with countless stories about the life of love he learned from his heritage – prayed for the meal and our time together.
Seated at the table, passing potluck dishes, the conversation shifted from small to large. Differences melted away like butter on bread fresh from the oven, and every word served up was a reminder of what brought us together, and what made us the same. There needed to be no theme, no style, no great purpose in our gathering – for the gathering together was purpose enough. “This is communion,” said the Vicar as he smiled and lifted his glass. “This is Eucharist – the thanksgiving of our common union as we walk this journey.”
We break bread together, we live life together, we are confident and clumsy and we wonder if the stories of our lives matter – together.
The few who accepted my personal (and vulnerable) invitation to share their voices with me have reminded me it’s not the stories we share that are important, but it’s the life within them that matters. What happened at the table on that Sunday evening is what happens every time we encounter a “you too?” moment held within the heart of someone else. Invitation is a delicate forceful thing, something that’s been around since God first extended His invitation to walk and talk as the shadows cooled the day in Eden. He knew before we first shaped us in His image that our ears would always be listening for the invitation.
I think about the disciples – such a mess of humanity who doubted, feared, boasted, compared, denied, and did their best to follow without completely falling on their faces. Every single one responded to an invitation made by Jesus. They had little information beyond, “Trust Me – I’ve got this.” There was no beautifully crafted experience, no theme, no style. There was just the simple invitation, and there was the life that followed.
I am that disciple. I am the stranger-become-friend at the table. I am the Sunday night dinner guest bringing her covered dish and praying someone else might like it. And those who accepted my little invitation and told me what my voice means to them have taught me that that’s enough. One woman said I was filled with “grace and gumption.” I might add that to my next tattoo because goodness, I pray to be that description. While I may one day stand on a stage and share a single story, or gather all sorts of lessons and publish them in a pretty book, what matters is a life fully lived – because that’s what we all need in each other. That’s the communion we crave. That’s the “you too?” that keeps us.
When we see the miracles.
We we are skeptics.
When we are faithful.
When we are faithless.
When we are confident.
When we are ever-so-clumsy.
When we are filled with grace and gumption.
We need each other. And we are in this together. And for that, I am thankful. Here’s to the invitation. Here’s to the response. And here’s to the life in our stories.
You thought I was finished, didn’t you?
I’ve got a couple of things to share with two people who accepted my invitation – though they are personal messages, maybe you’d like to read them too.
To the one who says he can’t cook – and needs more #kitchentherapy help:
Spread a blanket on the floor and invite others to feast on store-bought cheese and bakery-fresh bread. Or order takeaway and invite others to bring something sweet – then show a movie and share the laughter. There is no such thing as a meal that can’t be served. #kitchentherapy is more than a recipe. It’s about great love when we gather. (if you need ideas about the whole cheese and bread thing, maybe this will help)
To the one who says she finds it hard these days to read anything about God because hope has been crushed:
One day soon, love, I’ll write about the Church – who she is at her best and her worst. Yes, I say “she” because she is a living, breathing thing with personality and complexity. I pray you read those words when they come. But for now, I ask that you consider one thing – to lean in and hear the invitation to keep walking the road even when you don’t see salvation on it. Jesus kept walking on a road with two people who couldn’t even recognize Him because, to them, pain had destroyed any hope in hope. He didn’t condemn, He didn’t reject – He just kept being Himself in the midst of their pain. They invited Him to stay, even though they couldn’t yet see Him for who He was. And He invited them to see again. He is there still, present in hopelessness and faithlessness. He is there still, walking the road even when we can’t see Him at all. Maybe that’s what I love the most about His every-day invitation – He doesn’t condemn or reject or walk away. He keeps walking, keeps whispering, always ready with cup and broken bread. One step and then another, friend. We’re on the road together. And He is here.
And to everyone who wants to know what was served at that Sunday dinner – here is how the potluck came together:
There are no recipes (yet), but trust me when I say it was a perfect meal. Should you ever be in our town, our table is open. I’d love to have a potluck with you.
CasaRock’s Lemon Rosemary Chicken and Herb-Crusted Smoked Pork Tenderloin
Stacy’s Keto-Friendly Kale Salad with Strawberries and Walnuts
Ellen’s Mashed Potatoes with LOTs of butter (because YES!)
Crusty bread and MORE butter (because, seriously, YES!)
Paula’s Texas Sheet Cake
Joan’s Italian Crème Cake
What would you bring to a potluck at CasaRock? And how may I pray for you right now? I love holding you up and holding you high.