The day after my new husband and I returned from our honeymoon refreshed and ready to start a beautiful life together, I couldn't contain my excitement to venture out to purchase our first dining room table. It didn't have to be expensive. It even didn't have to be perfect. It just had to be big enough and comfortable enough to hold conversations, love, and laughter - lots and lots of love and laughter.
While roaming each store I dreamed of fancy dinner parties and double dates and family holidays along with lots and lots of belly laughs and stories. To me, a dining room table wasn't just a resting place for your plate, it was a place to drink tea with your sister and catch up on life when she comes to visit, a place to fill up on popcorn and root beer while playing cards with the in-laws, a place where you can leave all your troubles behind and enjoy good company. That is the kind of table I wanted.
The furniture store delivered our purchase on a sultry summer day. I sat on the front porch waiting for the truck to pull up like a child on Christmas morning. It was so stuffy and hot that day that your brows would start sweating as soon as your foot stepped out the door. But I didn't care. It was delivery day!
The deliverymen gently placed the top portion of the table in the center of our dining room unwrapping the legs and assembling the parts piece by piece. It was like watching a beautiful painting come together - a painting that will be loved and admired for years to come. Different meal ideas flooded my mind as the men put on the last leg and flipped the table over to reveal the final product. Carefully, I polished the top, warning my husband not to touch it until we were ready to break it in with our first dinner party.
For days I browsed stacks of cookbooks planning the perfect meal. I selected the perfect place settings and picked out the perfect serving platters. It was going to be perfect, yet I kept postponing the invitation. I made excuses - the living area wasn't ready for entertainment, I needed to purchase flowerpots for the front door to create an inviting first impression, my husband and I just got into a big argument, and so on. I wanted fancy dinner parties and double dates and family holidays, but I was too afraid to open up my home with all its messes and allow others to carry in their mess as well.
People are messy and their stories are messy. However, the only way to enjoy the table is to get messy with them.
God is there among us, present and working, and all of life is framed with God's presence. Part of the gift of walking with him is seeing his fingerprints in all sorts of unexpected ways, especially in the mess.
Modern life has caused us to wander away from the table. It has pushed us into fast food and highly engineered food products cased in packages that we eat in the car or on the bus as though we can't be bothered with a table. It has created unbreakable walls around families too afraid to let anyone in. Too messy. Too close. It has diminished the sense of belonging that a gathering around the table brings. What happens around the table matters. It's the act of coming together, slowing down, opening up our homes, looking into one another's faces, listening to one another's stories, and being present.
We might not realize it at first, but the table teaches us things. It teaches us how to love freely, embrace each season - good and bad - with grace, speak confidently without hiding behind insecurities, and live a bold and adventurous life. The best stories are written, developed, edited, and sometimes rewritten at the table because it is a safe and open place. Old friendships are strengthened and news ones are created, it's the perfect place to build a community.
Invite a friend today. It may involve store bought chicken and unmatched plates and glasses and a messy kitchen, like my first dinner party ended up being, but it will also involve conversation and friendship and a whole lot of laughter, something that, messy or not, is worth calling to the table.