There are currently eight chairs at my dinner table, but at least once or twice a week some little someone rolls an office chair or two or three in and joins us. I may be the mother of many, but I am no Betty Crocker or Martha Stewart. (Ask my husband how well I could cook when we married. No, don't.) Most days, I would be content to make a sandwich or pour a bowl of cereal. Many days, I wave the white flag and Romeo comes in with Papa John's. I get it right and go all out other days.
No matter what we are eating, I know one thing for certain during dinner prep: I never know how many will be eating, so I know to make plenty. Once in a blue moon, there's enough for leftovers. There has been a day or two I felt like the boy with his loaves and fishes, just trusting God to stretch it as far as it needed to go. Nothing brings me greater joy than a full table. Every time, there are enough scraps for a heaping plate for old Gloria, the English Mastiff in the backyard. I don't know exactly how, but it's true.
The little faces around our table are always familiar and so is the dinner time routine. They all know we are going to prepare and pass out plates, we are going to hold hands and someone is going to pray, and I am going to ask them, one by one, what they are thankful for that day. (We used to do "high-highs" and "low-lows" of the day, but a certain defiant curly haired girl told us her entire family was her "low-low" once and that was that.)
It’s nothing fancy - ever. I'm not sure our table is ever vacant long enough to have every last crumb cleaned off the top and who knows what the floor looks like beneath it most days. No one seems to notice, which I appreciate. No one ever asks if their friends can eat dinner with us. They already know the answer.
Children are so much more hospitable and forgiving than we are. Are they not? The sad reality is I cannot remember the last time I actually invited anyone to dinner. I'm too busy second-guessing myself and making excuses for why I am not prepared for guests. My kids have not learned that habit and I am so grateful.
The Lord has been pressing something on my heart, opening my eyes to see something I had taken for granted before. Never once have we stopped a child at the door and asked them what they believe, where they have been, or how clean they are before we allow them to pull up a chair at the table. It seems ridiculous to even think we would. We don't even ask if they're hungry. We assume if we are and they are here, then they are, too. All that matters is that we all need to eat, so eat we do.
Why aren't we so generous with our faith?
Why do we think we need to know what someone believes, where they are coming from, how dirty they are before we share our Jesus with them? If they're already full of something else and not interested in what we have, they will let us know. But if they are starving, if their thirst is great, and we never offer to share what we have, where will they wander to be filled?
Usually, our "extras" are sweet neighborhood friends, as we are blessed to live in a community where the kids all just fall at one house or the other on any given day. Throughout various seasons of our lives, however, the children that have sat around our table were there because their parents could not care for them at the time. We never asked them to pledge allegiance to our family, to bear our last name, to commit to being one of us before we served them, bathed them, offered them a place to sleep and toys to play with. They had a need and we had a home.
The people we are passing each day have a need and we know the way Home.
It's pretty simple, really.
"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another:
just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another."
I have never had to ask God for air to breathe, food to eat, water to drink, or clothes to wear. In this nation, we are among the elite of the world that take all those things for granted. He provides it still and He promises He always will. I never lie down at night and wonder if I'm going to feed my kids the next day. I never consider holding out on them, no matter what kind of lesson I think they need to learn. I keep a constant pulse on what they need, whether their shoes are growing too tight, their hair needs a trim, if the produce drawer is looking empty. I pay attention when I hear one of them mention a certain snack they enjoy or place they like to visit and do my best to incorporate that into life soon thereafter. And I'm a wretch, a flaky, scatterbrained, forgetful wretch so much of the time.
So how much more does my Father love me? How much more intently is He listening and watching?
How many of His children need to know He loves them like that, too? How many has He sent me to love like that?
Right this moment, my table is lovingly set by doting sisters with dollar store decorations to greet a certain little birthday boy in the morning. The "3" candle is on top of the donut box and I have no doubt those girls fell asleep grinning at the thought of him blowing out that flickering flame atop a sprinkled donut in the morning. They adore their little brother and their hearts swell when his swells. If he falls down, they trip over each other trying to get to him to comfort him. They don't always get it right. They're kids. They bicker and wrestle. They point fingers, hurt each other, and then get over it and go back to loving each other. It makes my Mama heart so full when they get it right and I can't praise them enough when they love each other well.
How much more does our Father long to see us love each other as we ought?
"Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.
Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those weep. Live in harmony with one another.
Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.
Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.
If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all."
As surely as it was futile to wait until we were clean enough to come to Christ, it is pointless to wait until every detail of our lives, our homes, and our insecure hearts are in perfect order before we open them to our brothers and sisters. While we make excuses, they hunger and thirst. When they enter in, let them see your flaws so they can breathe easy and stop trying to hide theirs. Admittedly, I struggle with this, but my kids are teaching and stretching me each day. They get it. I want to.
We never know how many long to dine at the table that we walk away from feeling fulfilled each evening. It need not be fancy. Any old one will do. What we take for granted, they may have never had. Our guests need not be always strangers or starving either. Sometimes friends are the best company and God has blessed us with them for a purpose. How wonderful that He's loved enough to not make us go alone.
"Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.
Show hospitality to one another without grumbling." 1 Peter 4:8-9
Lord, let us love like you do. Let our tables, homes, and hearts look like Yours.