I grew up in a family that ate dinner together. Not every night, but most nights. Sometimes the meal was homemade, and sometimes it was pizza at 10pm as we ran in the door from after school activities, but we made it to the table.
As an adult, and especially as a parent, I’ve decided that time spent at the table is the special sauce. Our kids are at that age where going out to dinner is an exercise in exhaustion, frustration and, often, public humiliation (ours, not theirs – they are still oblivious to the fact that some people might frown on eating the food once it has hit the floor). But at home, table time means silliness and laughter, excerpts from our days spent primarily in four different places, and even tired silence, the kind that’s acceptable when you’re with your people and you don’t have to pretend to be or have more than you do.
Beyond table time with my family of four, one of my great joys is making the table bigger as often as possible. I love having people at our house and around our table. I love standing around the kitchen island on a Friday night with five of the most unhealthy dips ever concocted, an obscenely big bowl of tortilla chips, and the friends and family that make up the most incredible “framily” imaginable. Our children turn into a loud, untamed herd, but it doesn’t faze us because they’re having fun and we’re being so loud ourselves that we haven’t actually noticed.
A little over two years ago our church launched a ministry called “Expanding the Table.” At the heart of the ministry is a food truck, painted loudly in true food truck fashion, that goes out into different parts of our community three nights a week to serve free meals to whomever needs one.
To date, we’ve served well over 12,000 meals, but the joy has been watching our “table,” and consequently, our family, get bigger and bigger as we find ourselves at picnic tables, tailgate tables, and benches with neighbors in our community we may not have met otherwise. Our table includes kids, who much like our own, don’t sit still for long, but they devour grilled cheese sandwiches and look for the closest group of adults who will play soccer and kickball with them. Our table includes people still caught in the clutches of alcoholism and drug addiction, but sitting around the table we experience the gift of mutual encouragement to keep going, keep trying, and keep hoping for better days.
Family is complicated and often messy, but sharing our lives with each other is a gift. And because God says there’s room at His table for everyone – we get to keep inviting without feeling the need to protect what is our own. Jesus said there’s enough to go around. And so, we keep making the table bigger. We refuse to eat alone, and do everything we can to make sure others aren’t eating alone. And somehow, far beyond the food, our family meals give us strength for whatever is next.
What do your family meals look like? I’d love to hear some of your stories!
And if you’d like to know more about Expanding the Table, or if you’re local and you’d like to volunteer, check out expandingthetable.com.