At the Table: Where Life and Truth Meet

Most of us have asked the question, “What is my purpose?”

For me, that question has often taken a paralyzing turn.  I think, “What is MY purpose? What is the one thing I’m supposed to be doing with my life to glorify God…and what if I miss it?”

Like most women, I fight feelings of inadequacy and fear.

I can scroll through social media and think, my life isn’t as interesting as hers.

I can look through Pinterest and think, my house isn’t as beautiful as hers.

I can read blogs and think, my thoughts aren’t as profound or funny as hers.

I can even watch a video Bible Study and think, I don’t know as much as she does and I don’t look as good as she does, so no one would ever want to listen to me.

How can I ever find my purpose?

I have to put down my phone and pick up the Word.

In the Word, I read Matthew 22:36-40.

“Teacher, which command in the law is the greatest?”

He [Jesus] said to him, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command.  The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”

In the Word, I read Matthew 28:18-20

Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

I’m learning to find my purpose in these three commands:

Love God.
Love people.
Make disciples.

These are the priorities of Jesus.

Jesus loved God by doing everything His Father commanded.
Jesus loved all people, especially the ones others rejected.
Jesus made disciples by sharing the truth while he shared His life.

Jesus spoke the truth to crowds on occasion, but He lived the truth before His disciples daily.  He demonstrated that the best way to learn to live the truth is to watch it lived in others.  At the tables of tax collectors, sinners, and friends, Jesus shared the truth and showed how to live it.

This is the ministry of Jesus.

We all need someone in our everyday lives to teach us the truth and show us the way to live it. Screens won’t do.

I am realizing that much of the truth that I know and live today, I learned first around a table with godly women who were willing to share their lives with me. My life changed, my marriage changed, and my kid’s lives changed because these women made room at their tables and invited me to join them.

I think about the women around the tables during my decade of Tuesday morning Bible Study at GFBC. I think about Mrs. Bobbie, who got up from her table of friends to walk across the room to hug me and tell me she loved me every time she saw me enter. I think about the women who let me sit and listen and ask questions only when I was ready. I think about the women who invited me to lunch, who shared stories of everyday life, of marriage and kids and struggles where truth meets reality. I was changed week by week, not because of the truth I heard from a screen, but by the truth I saw lived out by women across the table and around the room, women I saw in my daily life in the carpool line, at Walmart, and at sports events. I could trust these women with my questions and know they would pray for my deepest needs. I learned to parent by watching these women navigate through daily challenges. I can’t tell you the names of all the Bible studies we did in those years, but I can tell you name after name of the women who loved me, prayed for me, worshipped with me, and lived the truth out before me.

In the same way, older women are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not slaves to excessive drinking. They are to teach what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands and to love their children, to be self-controlled, pure, workers at home, kind, and in submission to their husbands, so that God’s word will not be slandered. Titus 2:3-5 CSB

I think about my friend Ann, who has been making room at her table for me and my family for more than twenty years. At Ann’s table, our kids did their homework together, celebrated the day’s victories, and shared disappointments. We met at Ann’s table to eat her home-cooked meals, play games, and laugh at hilarious moments only Ann could create. With neither of us having parents or other family in town, Ann’s family and mine joined forces to celebrate big occasions and holidays together. When unexpected repairs made our house unlivable, Ann took us in for three weeks and we both cried when our house was habitable again. At Ann’s table, my children gained a second mother and we all learned the healing power of laughter. And because Ann invited us to share the chaos of daily living, I learned that hospitality is not about what is on the table, but who is sitting around it.

A joyful heart is good medicine…Proverbs 17:22 CSB

Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Romans 12:13 NIV

Don’t go to your brother’s house in your time of calamity;
better a neighbor nearby than a brother far away. Proverbs 21:10 CSB

I think about my friend Tracy, who always joked that at her table we could solve the problems of the world (and for a while, we did solve the problem of me wanting more blond in my hair). The problems of the world came to Tracy’s table when she opened her heart and home to take in foster children. Through the eyes of these precious children, I watched deprivation become plenty and despair become hope. At Tracy’s table, I watched God’s supernatural love heal physical and emotional pain. When Tracy invited me to join her at fast food tables for visits between her foster kids and their birth parents, I learned more about forgiveness and the painful process of reconciliation. And as Tracy’s table got bigger and bigger, I learned about the beauty of adoption and began to appreciate more and more my own adoption into God’s family and my place at His table.

Learn to do what is good. Pursue justice. Correct the oppressor. Defend the rights of the fatherless. Plead the widow’s cause. Isaiah 1:17 CSB

You did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear. Instead, you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father!”  The Spirit himself testifies together with our spirit that we are God’s children. Romans 8:15-16 CSB

I think about my friend Pam, who is always ready to meet me at the table of our favorite Mexican restaurant. At these tables, we have studied the Bible chronologically over chips and cheese dip. In dark times, we drop everything to meet at the table for companionship and encouragement. We share our lives. Pam’s wise counsel is one of my most precious treasures. At the table with Pam, I have learned that God redeems all things.

Listen to counsel and receive instruction so that you may be wise later in life. Proverbs 19:20 CSB

This is how we have come to know love: He laid down his life for us. We should also lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.
1 John 3:16 CSB

Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption. Psalm 130:7 NIV

I think about the women I met in the Romanian cities of Timisoara, Hunedoara, and Hateg. I think about the tables in their homes where they welcomed me and shared what they had. I think about how we gathered with other women in their churches to worship, singing songs together in our own languages. And I think about the tables at their churches where we gathered afterward for a shared meal and time of fellowship. At tables in Romania, I learned a little bit more about what heaven will be like, where people from every tribe and every people gather before God’s throne to worship, and where one day we will all gather at the table for the wedding supper of the Lamb.

After this I looked, and there was a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language, which no one could number, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes with palm branches in their hands.  And they cried out in a loud voice:

Salvation belongs to our God,
who is seated on the throne,
and to the Lamb!
Revelation 7:9-10 CSB

What do these incredible women in my life have in common?

They know their purpose.
They love God, love people, and make disciples.

They refuse to be immobilized by insecurity. They stop falling for the trap of comparison that says, “But I’m not _____(fill in the blank with the name of any popular speaker or writer).”

They share their real lives, inviting people like you and me to the table to share life and truth.

As I reflect on the most critical times of my spiritual journey, I realize I didn’t need someone famous, I needed someone real. I needed someone in my daily life whose heart belonged to God and whose life reflected a desire to live the truth. I needed someone whose love for me and desire that I become more like Christ would cause them to drop everything and meet me in my time of need. I needed someone face to face, someone who could see beyond the mess I was to who I could become. I needed someone to listen to the Spirit and catch a vision for how God could be glorified in me.

I needed to come to the table.

At the table, I learned to love God more.
At the table, I learned to love others well.
And at the table, I was discipled and learned to do the same.

At the table, I didn’t just hear truth, I watched it in action.

So, these days, I’m learning to ask myself another question.

I’m learning to ask, “Where are my people?”

If I know the purpose of my life is to love God, love people, and make disciples, then my guiding question becomes, “Where are the people God has given me to love and disciple as I grow in my love for God?”

It’s time I die to the pride that is the root of feelings of inadequacy.
It’s time I stop being afraid I will look foolish or fail.
It’s time I stop sitting on the sidelines playing it safe.

It’s time I realize that God isn’t holding my favorite Bible teacher or blogger responsible for discipling the people who are longing for a seat at my table.

It’s my turn to do the inviting.
It’s my turn to do the discipling.
It’s my turn to find my people.

What about you? What do you need?

Do you need to know your purpose?

Focus on the big three:
Love God.
Love people.
Make disciples.

Do you need to know where to find your people?

You are likely to find them gathered around a table – in your home, at your place of worship, in your workplace, or in your community.

And like me, you will discover this:

The truth you need and the ministry you were made for are waiting at a table near you.

Quotes Table Truth and Ministry

The God Who Runs

Rebellion.

Selfish demands.
Surly words.
Shameful choices.

We’ve all played the rebel, rejecting the rules to get what we want, to experience something new.

Regret.

I was so stupid.

We’ve all suffered the consequences of rebellious choices, finding ourselves in a mess we can’t escape on our own.

Rejection.

I’m no longer worthy.

And sometimes, we fall into despair, feeling ashamed and blaming ourselves again and again.

What can we do when we’ve failed, when we feel cut off from the good life we knew before, separated from God and those we love?

Jesus told the Parable of the Lost Son to show rebels like us what to do.

When you’ve chosen your own way, when you’ve suffered the consequences, when you don’t even feel worthy to be called a child of God….

Get up.
Turn around.
Go back to your Father.

I’ll get up, go to my father, and say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. I’m no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired workers.”’ So he got up and went to his father.
Luke 15:18-19 CSB

Jesus told the Parable of the Lost Son to show us how love responds.

Love sees.
Love runs.
Love forgives.
Love restores.
Love keeps searching.

But while the son was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion. He ran, threw his arms around his neck, and kissed him. The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. I’m no longer worthy to be called your son.’
“But the father told his servants, ‘Quick! Bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then bring the fattened calf and slaughter it, and let’s celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ So they began to celebrate. Luke 15:20-24 CSB

God is not a father who writes us off.

God is the Father who sees.
He is watching for the moment our hearts turn toward home again.

God is the Father who runs.
He closes the gap to embrace us as dearly loved children, not hired workers.

God is the Father who forgives.
He is filled with compassion and shows us mercy when we repent.

God is the Father who restores.
He celebrates our return, welcomes us home, and demonstrates His love, providing more than we could ask or imagine.

God is the Father who shows us that our worth is not earned, but inherited. Our worth comes from our relationship, initiated and sustained by the Father.

We need to remember that when we’re not playing the rebel, we are easily tempted to play the judge. The rebel demands his own way. His judgmental brother demands he pay for it.

The Father loves them both.

So his father came out and pleaded with him…“‘Son,’ he said to him, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”
Luke 15:28, 31-32 CSB

God is the Father who keeps searching.
He invites the self-righteous to trust His judgment and join the celebration.

God is a good Father.

He sees.
He runs.
He forgives.
He restores.
He keeps searching.

We are God’s children.
We belong to Him.
When we fail or when we have it all together, we can trust His love.
And His love never fails.

See what great love the Father has given us that we should be called God’s children—and we are! 1 John 3:1 CSB

some things I’ve learned in 365 days at home

Today marks one year of the homebound leg of my journey. My immune system is still in recovery mode. The rest of me has continued to gain strength. Gratitude remains the primary theme of my days.

Here are some things I’ve learned in this hidden time.

1. I’ve learned to focus on the present. And maybe the next five minutes. With chronic illness, planning ahead is difficult. So I am choosing to give thanks for what is right in front of me, whether that is simply the start of a new day or the energy to take my hammock to the yard and see the sky.

2. I’ve learned to stop comparing my days. It is tempting to self-check and wonder if this day is better or worse than yesterday. But this just creates a rollercoaster of expectation and disappointment. Each day is a gift from God. With a heart of gratitude and His faithful presence each day can be enjoyed.

3. I’ve learned that the contents of my closet affect my mood. One of the first things I did after learning I would be homebound for an extended period was to take out all the “nice” clothes that would wear to church, work, or an outing with friends. I realized that seeing those clothes reminded me of what I couldn’t do. Today, my closet is filled with t-shirts and layers that bring comfort and joy. And the walls of my closet are covered with pictures of family and friends as reminders to pray and give thanks that I am not really alone.

4. I’ve learned that my struggle with spiritual disciplines is not about time. I wrote about this here. I have all the time in the world and still struggle with the discipline to do the one thing that feeds life to my spirit.

5. I’ve learned to love British crime drama! Netflix has been a delightful companion, especially during the hardest days when I was so medicated and fatigued that I could not read. Binge-watching seasons of TV shows has been therapeutic.

6. I’ve learned to ask for help. As this one year mark approached, I began to feel lonely for the first time. I confided in a few close friends and asked for something that felt ridiculously selfish – snail mail. They responded with grace and no condemnation…and sent their love to my mailbox, taking the sting out of this anniversary day.

7. I’ve learned to love my family more. Their support is the secret sauce to my days. My daughter gave me a year of her life, taking care of me every day, taking me to doctor’s appointments, doing all the meal planning and grocery shopping, even researching autoimmune protocol recipes to support my healing with healthy meals. My son sent texts from afar filled with his love language of sarcasm; and when he was home for the summer, he joined me every day at the table to play the strategy games I love to keep my mind active. And my husband has been a rock of support, his only expectation of me is to do what will promote rest and healing, his words are filled with encouragement, his selflessness inspiring us to all. And he takes me on drives every weekend to show me the world.

My homebound days continue for now. I will keep learning and giving thanks…

praying and writing through the Psalms

In this homebound season I have learned many things about myself. One is that my struggle with spiritual disciplines is not, as I once thought, a function of limited time.

During my decade of teaching middle school science, I was inconsistent with daily Bible reading and intentional prayer. Having become a teacher without a teaching degree or training, learning the details of teaching on the job consumed my time unlike anything since parenting babies and toddlers twenty-four hours a day. The teacher days were like chasing a train on the move but never quite catching up. “If only I had more time” became a both a longing and an excuse for all that remained undone in my personal life.

Then illness struck and I had to quit teaching. Suddenly, all I have is time. I’ve had to manage debilitating fatigue and fluctuating energy levels, but I have unlimited time.

And yet, I still struggle with spiritual disciplines.

It’s not time. It’s me.

I’ve been reading and rereading “Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God” by Timothy Keller. This book has become a companion on my journey at just the right time. Keller says this about prayer:

I can think of nothing great that is also easy. Prayer must be, then, one of the hardest things in the world. To admit that prayer is very hard, however, can be encouraging. If you struggle greatly in this, you are not alone. (24)

It’s not time. It’s me.
But I am not alone.

At the beginning of the book, Keller shares four practical changes he made in his own pursuit of a deeper prayer life:

  • He went through the Psalms, summarized each one, and began praying the Psalms regularly. (This took several months).
  • He included a time a meditation between Bible reading and prayer time.
  • He prayed morning and evening.
  • He began praying with greater expectation. (17)

Keller says of these practices, “The changes took some time to bear fruit, but after sustaining these practices for about two years, I began to have some breakthroughs” (17).

It’s not time. It’s discipline. The key is sustaining the practice.

So I will start with the Psalms, reading, writing, and praying my way through. And to sustain the practice, I will share some of my writing along the way.

Why the Psalms? One more quote from Keller:

There is no situation or emotion a human being can experience that is not reflected somewhere in the Psalms. Immersing ourselves in the Psalms and turning them into prayers teaches our hearts the “grammar” of prayer and gives us the most formative instruction in how to pray in accord with God’s character and will. (255)

homebound

Homebound.

The first time I can recall seeing this word in print was in the italicized typewriter script of the Wednesday night prayer bulletins at the church where I grew up. The word homebound was followed by the names of older, mostly female, church members who were too frail to leave their homes to attend church services.  These invisible people were the recipients of our prayers, occasional pastoral visits, and handmade cards at Christmas and other major holidays.

Now I am homebound.

I don’t match the mental image of a homebound person I formed as a child.

  • I am not in my eighties.
  • I do not have white hair.
  • I do not use a walker or a cane.
  • I do not knit (yet) or have hard candies gathering dust in a glass dish beside my sofa.

But I do have a broken immune system.

My immune system is no longer able to accurately distinguish friend from foe, attacking me with prolonged allergic reactions and crushing fatigue instead of protecting me from invading microbes.

The past year and a half has been a roller coaster of illness, isolation, and periods of recovery. After a leave of absence and a brief return, I had to give up classroom teaching in the middle of last school year.  I’ve limited my visits to public places, attuned myself to my body’s need for extra rest and healthy foods, and have used an astonishing amount of hand sanitizer.

And I still got sick again.  Another antibiotic, another allergic reaction.  And so, for the last 137 days, I have not left my home, except for monthly visits to the immunologist.  This is, he says, for my protection while my immune system tries to heal again.

If printed prayer bulletins were still a thing, my name would be listed in the homebound section.

It’s not all bad news.

It turns out that homebound is a compound word which, according to dictionary.com, has two distinct meanings:

  1. confined to one’s home, especially because of illness, and
  2. going home.

I am confined to home.  I am fighting what is now a chronic illness.  The end of my confinement is not in sight.  Friends ask if I get stir crazy, but that would mean that I have the energy to stir around at home enough to make myself crazy.  Honestly, some days I don’t even have the energy to leave my room.

I do get lonely and sometimes bored and ridiculously thankful for an internet connection and even the shortest texts, but I don’t get crazy.

Why?  Because of the second definition.

I’m going home. In fact, my heart is set on it.

Home isn’t just the physical place where my body lives.  Home is, as the saying goes, where the heart is.  Home is where we focus, where we put our hopes, our longings, and heart’s treasure.

Home is where we are going.

Paul explains it this way in his letter to the Corinthians:

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

1 Corinthians 4:16-18

I’m learning to not lose heart, to fix my eyes on heaven, to keep going home.

On days when the health roller coaster takes a downward plunge, I am learning to remind myself that my hope is not in healing, but in the Healer.

Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. Psalm 62:5

…this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his [her] life.  John 9:3

On days when I don’t have the energy to leave my room or even to read, I am learning to remind myself that my identity is not in what I can do, but in whose I am.

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior…Do not be afraid, for I am with you.” Isaiah 43:1-3a, 5a

Illness can keep me from leaving my house, but illness can’t keep me from home.  In fact, like all broken things on this planet, it can remind me that I’m not home yet.

This is the homebound paradox.

Homebound, yet going home.

Confined, but free.

but as for me…

The Bible tells it like it is.

In particular, the Psalmists and the prophets unflinchingly record the troubles that afflict all people, even God’s people.  Attacks from enemies, betrayals by friends,  loss of resources, unexpected disease…all are documented in honest detail.

Why not just record the blessings, the good stuff?  Because life holds both blessing and trouble.  God knows that while we find it easy to celebrate blessings, we desperately need help in knowing what to do when troubles come.

Amazingly, grammar can point us to the help we need.

In the English language, “but” is a conjunction, a striking word that both connects and contrasts ideas or events.  So as we read the Bible, the word “but” often signals a crucial turning point, an opportunity in the midst of devastating trials to choose between despair over circumstances or hope in God.

But as for me…

Psalm 55 records a litany of David’s trials – enemy attacks, fear of death, oppression, fraud, betrayal.  David calls out to God, unafraid to describe his troubles.  In chaos of his circumstances, he chooses to trust God and reject despair.

But as for me, I will trust in you. Psalm 55:23b

Psalm 71 describes a time of physical weakness which leaves the writer vulnerable to attack.  Even when his strength was spent, the psalmist clings to hope and chooses praise, directing his focus to God’s faithfulness instead of his circumstances.

But as for me, I will always have hope; I will praise you more and more.  Psalm 71:14 

Micah was a prophet who wrote to God’s people of a coming attack, of the ways their sin had separated them from God, and of God’s faithfulness to forgive.  He shows us that even though some troubles are of our own making, we can still have hope in our God, the Savior who redeems all things.

But as for me, I watch in hope for the LORD, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me.  Micah 7:7

Troubles reveal our focus.

When we focus on our circumstances, despair takes root.

When we focus on God and His faithfulness, hope flourishes.

The good news:  faith makes it possible to choose our focus.

What troubles are you facing?  Shocking diagnosis, family turmoil, betrayal, uncertainty, injustice, unforeseen consequences, loss of income?

Do what David, Micah, and the Psalmists did…

Bring your troubles to God. List them in detail, confident that He hears you.

Then, make the contrast.  Shift your focus.

But as for me…

Choose to focus on the faithfulness of God.  Take refuge in His steadfast and unfailing love. Praise Him while you watch and wait for Him to act on your behalf.

But as for me…I will always have hope.

peace

We long for peace.

We often pursue peace by expending energies on elaborate systems to try to control the chaos that thrives on this broken planet.

And yet, we cannot create peace.

While we may arrange for a temporary calm in our external environment, we cannot find a lasting inner peace through our own ordering of things, no matter how determined or creative we are.

Why?

Because peace is not the absence of chaos.

Peace is the presence of Jesus.

The truth is, peace is not found in a place or perfect circumstance, but in a person – Jesus.  We find true peace only when we find the Prince of Peace.

Listen to these words of Jesus:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.  John 14:27

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.  John 16:33

In this world – trouble.  In Jesus – peace.

What does this mean for us?

It means that in the midst of the chaos of this world we have a choice.

Knowing that Jesus has overcome the world – the very world we live in – and its troubles, we can take heart.   We refuse to ride the waves of circumstance, allowing our hearts to become troubled and fearful.  Instead, we actively choose to focus on Jesus. We trust Him, not our solutions.  And we can ask Jesus to speak to our hearts and to our circumstances the same words he spoke when his disciples were frightened by a raging storm:

Peace! Be still!  Mark 4:39