Originally featured on IF:Table (August 2015), modified for Neighbor's Table
As the sun began to dip for the day, there was a knock at the door. I was expecting them any minute and the table was set. I answered the door and gave a bear hug to one and a baby bear hug to the other. You might already be asking, “Sarah, what’s a baby bear hug?” That’s the kind I give when I meet someone new for the first time – it’s a not-so-overwhelming-kind where it communicates genuinely that I’m happy they are here, but not too crazy big where it sends them back to the car.
The table had a small assortment of nibbles with various cheeses, olives, nuts and fruit. It was a simple spread, set with great anticipation of being with each other. I had only briefly met one of these women before and was eager to chat with both of them. We chatted in the kitchen as I made drinks for all of us. We talked about children, travel and celebrity gossip. We eventually made it to the table and continued our small talk.
I’ve never been one who prefers small talk at my table, but I understand its use to find some connecting points. My good friend that night helped navigate the conversations and points of connection she knew we all shared. She knew what I’d be delighted to know about her friend – things that would feel so familiar as I learned them. As I asked questions and listened, my new friend would say things like “I was a mess back then. I was tough and wouldn’t let anyone into my life then.” I was hearing things of past and present, and I wanted to know what or Who helped make the shift in her life.
So, after some time I just asked. “Will you tell me your story? I’d love to know from the day you were born until now – your story. Will you share as much as you feel comfortable sharing?” I said with a sincere smile. She giggled and made some comment about not being interesting and then began.
She began to share about the home she grew up in and what she was like as a kid adopted by the most loving of parents. She talked about her wayward years and the consistent boyfriends. And then she shared about the abuse, the gut-wrenching abuse those loving parents never knew. She spoke about the hobbies she pursued with so much excellence that she was recognized nationally. And then she spoke of her marriage and how she finally found God there, in the quiet of a morning reading Philippians.
The room felt a little full with details and stories so personal that I broke it up with “Would anyone like popcorn now?” There was a resounding “yes!” I wanted the sharing to continue, but felt the break could be good for all of us. I grabbed glasses to re-fill and started a bag of microwave popcorn. It was there while I waited I had an idea – I’d forgo the usual popcorn bowl and make individual brown lunch sacks of popcorn for the three of us. I grabbed them from my pantry and rolled the sides of the bags down. I then took a Sharpie marker and scribbled messages on their two bags. To the one sharing her story it read:
Courtney, you are a treasure.
I hurried back to the table where we had been gathered with drinks and popcorn and said, “Ok, let’s continue where we left off.” It was at that moment she saw the scribbled note and her eyes filled with tears as she smiled her approval. We see this reaction a lot when we make margin for people to be heard at our tables, yes? There are so many ways to acknowledge people and that evening, it happened to be in the unplanned details of a popcorn bag.
Her story continued on and it was a wonderful evening together. We can love people in simple things and in the details of hospitality. It gives us a place to acknowledge who they are and who God says they are. Our identity in Christ is found throughout the Bible as a child of God, a friend of Jesus, justified, redeemed, no longer slaves to sin, fellow heir with Christ, new creature, chosen, holy and blameless and made alive in Christ. Let’s whisper these things to each other – maybe yours will be in words…or bear hugs and popcorn bags.