Around this table, I announced that I was pregnant and my friends laid their hands on my belly and prayed that our child would be equipped with all she needed to lead our kind of lifestyle. It was the most profound prayer ever spoken over me.
Around this table, I have laughed so hard that I cried and cried so hard that I eventually ended up laughing.
Around this table I have eaten more cheese, drank more wine and looked more deeply into the eyes of friends than I ever dreamed I would.
Around this table, I have fallen in love with my husband in a million little ways as I've listened to him peel back the layers of his heart in front of a group who wouldn't allow anything less from him, the quiet man.
Around this table he has found a safe place.
Around this table, I have found freedom. I've questioned. Doubted. Prodded. Read. Debated. And asked for the millionth time- do I have to believe in hell?
Around this table I have gone deep and wide with the most unlikely group of friends.
Two couples in their 40's. One of the couples had recently come back to church after decades away and the other couple were my pastors. One couple in their 50's, both recovering alcoholics. One single friend in her 40's running her own business. Another single friend in her 30's serving in her first ministry position. One couple our age and another couple, younger, and just married.
Different ages. Different backgrounds. Different careers. Different political parties. Different theologies. Different life stages.
But we came together. In part because my pastor, Jackie, co-coerced us to go deeper. And in part because the Holy Spirit drew us in. And through this divine intersection at the table, over wine and cheese and intentional questions, we moved from strangers- to friends- to family. We became the most unlikely, beautiful, family.
At this table we have sat and mourned with a friend who was cruelly fired, a friend diagnosed with cancer, a friend fighting Hepatitis C, a friend who's son was back in rehab, a friend who could never pay the bills and was plagued by loss.
At this table we have sat and rejoiced over new jobs, clean cancer scans, the end of the fight with Hepatitis C, kids getting out of rehab, and just enough money coming in to pay the bills at just the right moment.
At this table, we have asked each other hard questions. Not just rhetorical questions, but questions that required answers. And then we gave each other space to answer. Space and silence and safety.
At this table, we have dreamed big dreams. Dreams of writing books and digging water wells. Dreams of teaching un-churched women the Bible in settings where they felt comfortable (wine bars). Dreams of fostering and adopting. Dreams of doing church together. With open bibles and open hands and open hearts. Around this table we asked God to push us forward, to help us dream of what community might look like if Jesus himself lived in and among us. And we tried living that way. And it changed everything.
At this table, I have seen the gospel lived out in such an authentic way that my entire life changed.
Because at this table, we showed up. And we went all New Testament, communal, gracious, open, honest, vulnerable living. We navigated conflict, explored theology, asked hard questions, sought God's word, prayed for one another and set aside our schedules to just be present. Each Sunday night. And sometimes we prayed and sometimes we laughed. And sometimes we asked three questions the entire night that everyone had to answer and some nights there were no questions- just tears. Just the physical presence.
And some nights we walked away with just enough money to pay the bills.
And some nights we gave just enough hugs and hope for another person to make it through that week's chemo.
And some nights we cooked.
And some nights there were baby showers.
And some nights we switched tables.
And those five years changed my entire life. That table changed my entire life.
Because I learned what it looks like to live in the tension and beauty of authentic relationship. Always reminded that Jesus set the example by choosing to inhabit the earth alongside disciples. Companions. Partners in ministry. And he didn't have to. He really didn't. He was smart enough and God enough to do it all on his own. Or- to just meet up with the disciples in a very sanitized, clean setting on Sunday mornings. But he didn't do that either. They traveled together. Slept together. Worshiped together. Healed together. Shared meals and mules (?) together. Jesus showed us a picture of community that went against societal norms because it was needy, dependent, intertwined, messy, and not all Sunday-Morning-glossy. It was real and deep and wide and it mattered. Day in and day out, mattered. Kingdom wise- for Jesus' glory- His local gathering of disciples mattered. They changed the course of history.
And so I believe tables matter.
And I believe being brave enough or coerced enough or driven by the Holy Spirit enough and showing up is one of the most worthy and important things we can do with our lives. Showing up at a table- with people that are a little different than you- and doing life together.
And let's be honest: many of us feel like there is no place for us to show up. I felt that way. I ended up at the life-changing table, not because the owners of the table knew me from Adam or sought me out. I ended up at that table because I was desperate. I was desperate for community. I was desperate for another woman in ministry who might "get me." I was desperate to save my marriage. I was lonely. So freaking lonely. And one night after women's bible study- I basically attacked the lady on stage and introduced myself through tears and told her I needed her to be my friend. And every time she re-tells the story, I swear I sound a little more crazy. But who cares? I was. Sometimes, desperation is the breaking point that makes us leave our comfort zone and display it loudly for the world to hear:
I NEED COMMUNITY. I AM DYING OVER HERE.
Sometimes you have to make a community because it's a last resort. Don't wait to be invited. Everyone is doing that. Invite yourself or invite others. Some may come and some may go- but you are trying and that is what counts. And then? When the right group comes along- be brave. Show up at the table-
One of my new favorite reads is Shauna Niequist's book, Bread and Wine. I love this book because she loves the table too. It has transformed her. We are kindred table lovers. She says it beautifully in the chapter What the Table is For.
"This isn't about recipes. This is about a family, a tribe, a little band of people who walk through it all together, up close and in the mess, real time and unvarnished. And it all started around the table..."
So here's my challenge to you: Find a table and pull up a seat. Life is not a solo adventure- you were meant for deep, authentic community.
Though we no longer live in the same cities, we are still a tribe. So to those of you who sat with us at that beloved table and gave us life- thank you for teaching us how to really live.
Need a Table?
Why not start one in your own home? Join ladies across the world on March 9th at the table in your own home. Check-out the IF:Gathering Table!
Need a table in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area? Check out The Marcella Project - a place to engage in thought-provoking conversations about theology, practice and women’s spirituality. For women who love Jesus deeply and want to live like he did. A word from The Marcella Project founder, Jackie Roese.