I had several light bulb moments last year while I traveled the world with my 55 pound pack and 55 squadmates. One of those can be summed up in the title of this post: tables & couches.
They seem silly, but almost every home has them. Everyone sighs a big sigh when they fall into a fluffy couch complete with pillows perfect for pulling into your lap and enfolding with both arms. Most couches are great for sleeping or lounging. There’s something about a place in a home where you can tuck your feet under you and relax. Be real. Be you.
Like couches, tables are invitations to gather whether it’s a special occasion, planned to a T, or milk and cookies before bedtime in your pajamas. We set tables with multiple places because when we gather we always gather with more than one.
The Race taught me the importance of these two home-staples by both their presence and their absence.
Our entire squad was together for month nine: Honduras. We slept in tents on a little plot of land just outside the city of Tegu and were blessed to have some incredible local ladies cook for us (loved.that.food.) but when we lined up, grabbed our plates, and looked for a place to eat, we ended up sitting sporadically on the floor or outside and soon after the meals meandered back to our tents. Alone. We tried several times to convince our ministry contact to get some couches for the team house because we so desperately wanted a comfortable place to sit together instead of on the floor or standing or in our tents. It was miserable to be without a place to gather for watching movies or just talking.
In Zimbabwe, my first month, we stayed with a missionary couple at their home. Some of us slept inside and some slept outside in tents. Regardless, we gathered in the living room on the couches and the floor. Sometimes it was to eat freshly popped popcorn and watch movies. Other times it was for tough conversations or just for checking email (when Zessa, electricity, was working). Those couches were our safe place. We poured out our hearts in prayer for our contacts, a biracial couple with a precious mixed baby girl that I still love dearly. We gathered and prayed the fierce prayers of warriors over a woman named Ingrid, body ridden with cancer for the umpteenth time. We believed hard and sweated out those prayers with bold hearts and learned that God withholds no.good.thing. from His beloved, no matter what that looks like. I’ve learned that couches cultivate that environment. Couches can be for reading or just being with another person. They can be the home base for deep heart-to-hearts and big truth speaking.
In South Africa and Swaziland we gathered around tables at meal times and for playing games (sometimes by candlelight) like Peanuts and Dutch Blitz. Even though there were well over ten of us in Swazi and the table only comfortably set 6 or 7, we maneuvered our way in and all got a place at the table every night for dinner because it was important to be together, gathered.
Some of the greatest growth moments for our team during the second half of the Race came in month seven: Romania. My team was fortunate enough to stay with a family just outside a village. We had several luxuries there, including a bathtub, hot water whenever we wanted it, contacts who spoke English, and infinite amounts of British tea, but the one detail of that entire month that I hold dear to my heart is the table. Our team had been drastically changed month three and the months between three and seven can only be summed up as rough, to say the least. I’m talking big fights, lots of tension and anger, and none of us wanted to be that one team by themselves that month. None of us. I can guarantee we all prayed against it when we heard one team would be separated from the rest. But the Boss always has some grand plan we can’t quite wrap our little angry minds around. He used that little table that just sat the six of us to remind us that we’re part of a body. Our contacts ate on their couch or in the kitchen because they wanted us to all sit together around a table. To gather. To break bread together because that’s what Christ had done. He could have chosen anything else for his “last meal,” but he stopped. He gathered. He united with his disciples through a simple act of dinner around a table. He invited them to the table. So, we ate breakfast, lunch, and dinner around this table. We drank tea and coffee around this table. We laughed and learned to function together around this table. We each had a place at the table.
My eleven months home have only reiterated the importance of these two household staples and what happens around them. I know a lot of people try to push the agenda that kids get better grades or stay in school longer if families have meals together. Maybe that’s true, but I don’t have kids so I have no idea. What I do know is that I love Monday nights because we gather. We break bread. We dive into whatever our lives hold and we breathe deep the fellowship – the deep friendship with God and each other – that we’ve been blessed with – and we leave better for it. Without those nights, my growth since August would have been stunted. I wouldn’t have “debriefed” well. I wouldn’t have grown well. I wouldn’t have been challenged. From couch to table and back again, my heart has been poured out over cups of coffee, bowls of banana pudding, unmade grits, and how to cut peppers. I have grown because I have learned to walk deep in the throws of this household I’ve been invited into. I left for a year, my “year in a coma” I sometimes call it, and came home to a completely different place than the one I left, but I’m not a stranger here. I’m a fellow citizen with the saints and members of the household of God. And I’ve been invited to the table. That’s a promise.