Originally featured on IF:Table (July 2014), modified for Neighbor's Table.
My story actually begins in 2011. I had recently taken a huge leap and moved to Dallas, Texas. It took a while to find my footing there; I ran myself ragged chasing everything that was shiny. My performance-driven, young professional heart was looking in all the wrong places for approval. I was in a bad place, looking around for people and work to define me. God’s timing is funny, isn’t it? In this busiest season of my career, He seemed to reach down from heaven, grab my face in His hands and say, “Just stop!”
WHERE WAS GOD CALLING YOU TO RISK?
A respected friend with over 20 years of ministry experience stepped in to my life, and for the first three months of 2011 we looked at my identity from God’s perspective. I had to put a plan in place and invest extra time to understand my identity. Planning was hard for me because I was on the hamster wheel of run-like-crazy. But things don’t just happen – we have to plan and create an intentional space for things to happen. I slowly began focusing on BEING more than DOING, and I started to confront what was defining my identity. I had to risk not being everything to everyone. Oh y’all, I had to humble myself and give up where I was seeking approval. To be leaders in different areas of our lives, we have to first lead ourselves well – you know, take responsibility for things! I was encouraged to start thinking about my role in the body of Christ, and I discovered my core ministry gift was evangelism. I first thought, “There’s no way I’m a Billy Graham,” but my friend helped shape that up for me. He reminded me how much I love spending time with non-Christians and that evangelism for me might be as a “people-gatherer.”
WHAT WERE YOUR TENSIONS/FEARS IN THAT?
I didn’t have a clue how I might gather people, and my fear was that I’d slip back into looking at work and other people to tell me how I could become one. For months, I reflected on how I’m naturally wired and I remembered the moments I felt most alive. I kept coming back to what I loved: gathering around a table and celebrating others at parties. So, I simply started being intentional at gathering people around my table. I asked my dad to build a cedar farmhouse-style table with benches, large enough to seat up to 20. My house was smallish inside, so we set the table under the tree in my backyard. We dropped chandeliers above the table, and created a plan. A crazy plan! In 2012, I planned to serve 500 people around this table, one dinner party after another. There was this tension though, like how would I find the time to do this? Would I pick this crazy number, tell a bunch of people, and then not be able to meet it? None of my friends were doing anything like this – would they understand my pursuit to exercise my ministry gift of evangelism and people gathering? We would see.
HOW DID YOU FULLY LEAN INTO CHRIST?
I leaned into who Christ said I was as I started to invite people to the table. I would tell these folks “I’m made for this and that I’m just going to say YES to it for a year and see what happens.” I felt God picked me to play on His kickball team, and I was giddy. It was like I knew I could run fast and catch a big, rubber playground ball…He made me a people gatherer and I was going to run hard after this one thing. For the first time in my life, I started playing the role God called me to be in the Body. A “people gatherer.” I started resting in who I was made to be. And there was something specific for me. The Lord wanted every single invitation to each person, plate of food, vase of flowers, encouraging word, and dirty dish to be done from a place of rest. This new rest came now, not from striving, but in being confident in the One who made everything. Guess what? I still had the same job as the year before, but I learned to rest and focus on who I was being in the midst of that stress. If I had not learned that the year before, I would not gather people in the same way. I feel freedom to love as Christ does around my table. Straight up, crazy freed up love for all people. The evangelism starts when I hug the least of these and build them up with how God sees them, so when they sit down they dine at the feast of all feasts and they feel love.
So through Christ’s love and walking in obedience through faith, I served over 500 people in 2012. And you won’t believe this, but I did it again in 2013! By God’s grace alone, I’m still at it.
HOW HAS THIS PLAYED OUT?
More than 2,500 people have now gathered around my backyard table, sharing lives and breaking bread. We could have stopped there, but a friend dared me to dream about something bigger. I want to make Him known by the way of the table. And I am discovering there are people wired just like me – people with a heart for others, connection at the table, and watching God do big things. Now I’m on a love mission and launching Neighbor’s Table. I just believe ordinary people, like me, can be called to love extraordinarily around the table. Why? Because we were made to do this! I invite you to join the story. He’s put this calling in my life and now I’m believing just as 1 Thess. 5:24 says, “The one who calls you is faithful, and He will do it.” Whether you simply join us in embracing the power of community and who God is at the table, or you bring a handcrafted Neighbor’s Table into your backyard, I’m looking for a spiritual family to go on a mission with me. I do still get nervous and a little fearful of what’s next, but I’m doing my best to remember and rest in my identity and who He is. I know God receives glory in the details of us living out our calling, even through the tiny place cards on the table that tells each guest “I’ve been waiting for you, and I’ve saved a place for YOU here!” My prayer is simple: Let this table send your message to the world that God is good and He tells the best stories!