Friendship

What Gathering Around the Table Has Taught Me

Photo: Sarah B. Gilliam

Photo: Sarah B. Gilliam

On a warm October evening, eleven long tables were set end-to-end to form one big, long table down the center of a meadow. Dressed in white tablecloths, mismatched fabric napkins, clear glass plates, flickering candles and lanterns, magenta and orange wildflowers in turquoise Mason jars, and twinkle lights draped overhead, the table shined like a beacon as dusk started to settle on the Tennessee hillside.

A young man played guitar in the background. In the pasture near the table, without any electricity, chefs created a makeshift kitchen using fire and iron grates and grills. Over these burning coals, they cooked the finest seasonal, farm-fresh fare: fire-roasted squash, potatoes, and beans, fresh bread and desserts, homemade pasta with Bolognese sauce, and porchetta from pastured pork that had been happily raised in the adjacent pasture.

As this fresh and rich meal was being carefully prepared, 88 dinner guests slowly began arriving. Everyone was chattering excitedly; no guests were in a hurry. As they passed over the crest of the hill encircled by blazing autumn trees flickering at the edge of the forest, they saw the long table set for them, waiting for them, and their eyes widened. Each person chose a seat with friends they already knew - or perhaps, they were brave to sit next to someone new. They sat and talked and awaited the first course, and soon, wooden salad bowls piled high with buttery lettuce grown in the field just down the hill were placed before them.

This scene is real - it’s from the first farm-to-table dinner we hosted on our organic produce farm in October 2017, and it was absolutely life-changing for me. This surreal night of gathering both old and new friends on our own farm at a long table under the stars and twinkle lights, was a dream literally years in the making. Even so, I had been slightly nervous about welcoming people we didn’t know to a dinner on our land just steps from our house. Would this feel invasive? Would it go smoothly? These people were purchasing tickets and trusting we would deliver. But my husband and I moved forward with the clear vision He’s given our family to gather people around the table on this beautiful land He’s entrusted to us. I’m so glad we did.

Before we even got to the feasting part, the behind-the-scenes preparation and anticipation of gathering around the table brought unity. Every friend, farmer, chef, and artisan involved in the event offered up their God-given gifts and abilities, and with each person doing his or her part, things went smoothly. A close friend offered her time and expertise as our event planner, and without her, we would have missed many important details.

Others came over and hustled to finish constructing our barn, paint a mural on the side, hang signs, and cut tree stumps to hold lanterns. Our photographer/farmer neighbor grew and picked the wildflowers that would dress our tables and agreed to capture photos during the evening so we could sear it into our memories. For the bonfires and cooking fires, her husband delivered trucks of firewood from his own woodlot, selecting the most fragrant varieties so you could walk past the fire and smell the sweet perfumy wood scent perfectly intermingled with the savory smell of food. The chefs spent hours developing and collaborating and prepping an exquisite menu.

And we did it because of one reason...it’s the biggest thing that gathering around the table has taught me: The table is for everyone.

There’s something about gathering around a physical table that unites us.  No matter who you are, where you’re from and whether or not you recognize it, feasting together is something human beings were meant to do.

In Scripture, God repeatedly compares the Gospel to food and drink and welcomes us to this feast of all feasts. “Taste and see that the Lord is good. Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him!” (Psalm 34:8, NLT)

In the book The Lifegiving Home by Sally and Clay Clarkson, they share a quote from author Leonard Sweet that’s a perfect analogy of the table:

“The first word God speaks to human beings in the Bible - God’s very first commandment - is ‘Eat freely’ (Genesis 2:16, NASB). The last words out of God’s mouth in the Bible - his final command? ‘Drink freely’ (see Revelation 22:17). These bookends to the Bible are reflective of the whole of the Scriptures: Everything in between these two commands is a table, and on that table is served a life-course meal, where we feast in our hearts with thanksgiving on the very Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation: Jesus the Christ.”

Clarkson goes on to detail the importance of “tableology” in the Bible and how an actual, physical table draws people together. Clay Clarkson says the table creates unity and interaction with other people who you look at face-to-face and becomes a physical anchor where people sit and stay for awhile without wandering. “It creates a physical unity - all who sit at the table become, in a sense, one with the table, and so one with each other while at the table...And that in turn helps to create koinonia, which means fellowship or partnership with others.”

Gathering around the table in community is something that’s innate - it’s how God wired us. I’ve experienced it firsthand over and over again...

Growing up in suburban New Jersey, some of our best Thanksgiving holidays were those where people we barely knew from the community accepted my mother’s invitation to join us. She always opened our table in a cramped dining room to anyone she would meet at church or the grocery store or just in town. “Do you have anywhere to go for Thanksgiving?” she would ask. If they said no, she would invite them without stipulation, and most Thanksgivings, several new friends would show up. We added chairs and all rubbed elbows while we reached for spoonfuls of mashed potatoes, stuffing, and cranberry sauce. We welcomed people into our small, humble home and family traditions. It might have been uncomfortable at first, but once we sat down around that table, it just felt right.

Our farm dinner took months of preparation, a small army of friends volunteering, and the talents of some of the best chefs around. It wasn’t thrown together but was carefully planned down to every last detail and aesthetic. But it’s just one example of a feast, because we can prepare any kind of “feast” in our homes using any kind of food or table. It doesn’t have to be fancy - it just has to be welcoming and created with love, offering a taste of what Jesus ultimately has to offer us as we nourish people’s souls and bodies. I’ve written some practical steps on how to do that in this post: How To Engage Your Family in Sharing Meals Around the Table.

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I hope for another table...except this one will be filled with every single person I know and love, and it will go on as far as the eye can see. The feast will stretch on for hours, and no one will have any food intolerances or restrictions. We will never be full. Our souls will be satisfied in a way we could not even fathom now if we tried.

One day, it will happen...

“In Jerusalem, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will spread a wonderful feast for all the people of the world. It will be a delicious banquet with clear, well-aged wine and choice meat. There he will remove the cloud of gloom, the shadow of death that hangs over the earth. He will swallow up death forever! The Sovereign Lord will wipe away all tears. He will remove forever all insults and mockery against his land and people. The Lord has spoken! In that day the people will proclaim, ‘This is our God! We trusted in him, and he saved us! This is the Lord, in whom we trusted.  Let us rejoice in the salvation he brings!” (Isaiah 25:6-9, NLT)

Until then, I’ll keep remembering the tiny glimpse of heaven’s feast that we experienced on a warm October evening, at a long table in a meadow under the stars.

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This post was originally written in November 2017 as a contribution to JellyTelly.

A Day In The Life - For The Art of Simple

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In my latest post for The Art of Simple, I’m sharing a typical day in my life right now as a homeschooling mom, wife of a chef, writer/creative, and organic produce farmer. If you’ve never taken the time to record a typical day in your life, I highly recommend it - it was quite an eye-opening experience!

“Recording my day in the life helped me recognize that slowing down time is important to me, as much as it’s in my control. The more I pay attention in the little moments, the more I’m able to pull back the reins on time. So, after I wrote this, I came up with a new daily motto that I’d like to share with you…”

Continue reading…

Lighting Your Own Candle

Do you ever let life happen to you? And then suddenly wonder why you feel so stressed, on edge, and disconnected from your own story?

Me, too.

Author Sally Clarkson said in a recent episode of her podcast, At Home With Sally,

"A wise woman takes care of her soul. And we do have agency. We have the ability to cultivate joy, to cultivate delight, to light a candle in our darkness so we can stay alive. We have the ability to roll up our sleeves and write a great story."

When I heard this quote, I actually pulled over in the shoulder of a winding country road to write it down.

Mamas of small children, I know it's hard to find time to "cultivate delight" in the middle of a crazy day where you're meeting everyone else's needs and reheat your coffee five times and barely have time to feed yourself. I homeschool 3 and 6-year-old girls, and we just started our farm, and I'm trying to foster this writing thing, and we eat three meals a day at home and...and...and...I'm with you.

But we have agency.

So, here are some ways I've found to "light a candle" in the middle of the day for myself so I can keep my soul alive, outside of who I am as a wife and mother.

  • Light a candle. Literally.

  • Put some fresh flowers on the table. If possible, go outside and see how many fresh wildflowers you can find (dandelions count!) and put them in a little jam jar on your windowsill.

  • Listen to an encouraging podcast. Since we live in the country, it takes about 15-20 minutes to get almost anywhere. I let go of the guilt and decided that every few days, it's OK for me to pop in my headphones in the car, let my girls play and talk in the backseat, and have some "me" time while driving. Here are my fave podcasts right now.

  • Invite a friend over. You know those friends who make you feel safer when they walk in the room? Those are who you need nearby. We weren't meant to live in isolation, yet so many of us stay in our own homes with our children all day, and while we love them fiercely, this can also be a breeding ground for discouragement and anxiety. All you need to do is extend an invitation and have some coffee or tea on hand - it encourages my heart so much on tough days to have another mom to talk to while our children play. It takes off the burden for awhile and reminds me we're meant to function as a community, a village.

  • Get up early. I'm so not a morning person. But lately I've made myself get up an hour before my children so I can have some time to myself, and while it's taken a lot of discipline, I've quickly seen the fruits of it. With two children now, I'm finally doing what so many other friends have been telling me - just having an hour to yourself in the morning works wonders for your entire day.

We are able to write the story of our days - a story of frustration and negativity, or a story of delight and joy. The choice is ours. I choose joy. What will you choose?