Monday, July 13, 2015

Table Life

Aging cottonwood trees draped their bare branches over the narrow country lane.

The few limbs that held clusters of green, filtered the high noon sun into pieces of light and shadows that danced. The company I worked for at that time had been called out to this remote location, a place we had been driving for hours to find.

We were hopeful our search had ended as we passed by the graveyard of old vehicles and  machinery we had been told to look for. It was the kind of place encapsulated in time passed, with relics of rust and weathered wood.
We were met by the large black dog, who we'd been warned, "...wasn't used to strangers."

The old house, appeared to have once been white with green shutters, but now the wood was bare and the large picture window had a long crack.

A woman appeared and called the dog away from the vehicle with a gruff voice, then signaled for us to follow her. She too looked as if she were caught in some time warp from something like Little House On The Prairie, only instead of an apron she wore a denim work shirt, soiled jeans and gloves. She seemed to be comfortable living in this place that knew little of hot and cold running water or forced air heat.

I’ll admit, I stared at the deep wrinkles worn into her leather-like face. Her teeth, what there were of them, were straight and white and formed an occasional crooked smile.

Sound echoed, as we walked on wood floors that were scuffed and no longer had a glossy finish. A couch sat in the living room with one cushion missing. She led us toward the kitchen and invited us to sit at one of the three mismatched chairs randomly gathered near a lone formica topped table which faced a bay window where her cat stretched out in the sun.

She offered us some of the half-eaten tuna, still in the can, along with saltine crackers. Of course we stammered and made excuses, but thanked her for the offer. There was small talk and business talk. She would place a dab of tuna on a cracker and chattered while she ate. Our awkwardness faded as we were able to look past the outer layers of this woman's appearance and listened to pieces of her story. Her story included abuse and neglect from an alcoholic husband and how grateful she was to no longer live in fear. We left that day with two dozen eggs, which we had to help her gather, and a small carton of tiny but perfect strawberries from her garden.

It was humbling and heart-wrenching and beautiful.

It shook me up to meet her in all the best ways.

Her simple act of hospitality has meant something to me all these years.

I have thought of her many times.

I've thought of how, with no apologies or excuses for her home or the food or the lack of presentation, she invited strangers to sit at her table.

She was most likely hungry for conversation and community, because if we are honest, we all deeply crave that too. 

I've thought how her gift was more extravagant than any I've most likely ever given, since she gave out of her need and I only invite people to my table out of my places of excess.

I’ve regretted not sitting longer.

I've regretted never going back.

I've wished I had been able to capture a picture of her. Not to grasp the sadness of how things appeared, but to seize a glimpse of her soul, so I could more vividly remember my time at her table.

The outward appearance will never tell the story that rests just below the surface.

In its most simple form, she showed me what happens when people sit for a few minutes at a table, listening, laughing, being.

Without intending, her gesture of hospitality has left a lasting impact.

One sparsely furnished home, with a table as the most prominent piece of furniture.

Of all the things that she did or didn't have, she had found her table.

Intertwined in my own life, the table has played a central role.

Thankfully my mom made the table an important part of our family life. She also loved her neighbors well. Around our table people could relax. There was laughter and tears and sometimes food. What was important was the conversation. The connection. The allowing people to feel embraced and accepted.

That woman in the old house without one fancy thing to her name? She extended uncommon grace and it was up to us to reach out and accept the gift.

I've been thinking about how I need to be doing more life around a table. How I need to offer more simple invitations to come sit. Forget the fussy stuff and the inconvenience.

I need to invite more people to my table.

I need to know who my neighbors are.

I am desperate to move past the veneer conversations and sit down to hear the heart of a person.

I long to be that place which offers uncommon hospitality to refresh people like a cool glass of water on a scorching day. Don't we all want to be that person who embraces people right where they are in their story? Because that is how we as people can chase away the shadows and shine the light of Christ in the most basic way.

To do this, we have to invite people to come.

I'm going to be spending more time talking about table life here on my blog. It is something that is stirring up words in my soul.

Thank you for joining me here in this space, which I consider a table of sorts. You are welcomed guests and I value you what's going on in each of your lives.

Tell me, when was the last time you invited someone to your table?


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© Rhonda Quaney