Would it be weird to ask people to share towels? Would that request make anyone wildly uncomfortable?
Probably. It had the potential to send some of my people careening off the edge. Important note to self: Buy twelve more towels.
A few Novembers ago, a temporary work assignment allowed our family to host Thanksgiving weekend on a (very) old family farm in southern Maryland. Extended family and friends from up and down the east coast swung through the screen door, arms full of warm flannel and pies.
All of this was excellent, except that our interim living arrangements included only nine chairs, a short-stack of plates, and six-ish coffee mugs. Aaaaaand there were now twenty-four of us gathered expectantly on the front porch.
(PS. I had wisely secured plenty of towels…)
It’s worth mentioning that the original farmhouse still sports a ‘cozy’ kitchen and the 1930’s plumbing. This meant that there was enough counter space for one soul to slice a small tomato, and the perfect amount of bathroom space for NOT twenty-four people.
Would we have enough hot water? Would the ancient pipes in the toilets be able to handle the load? (ha!) Was the vintage stove even large enough for a full-sized turkey? I had no earthly idea.
But I don’t typically lose sleep over physical logistics. Never have. Details like: place-settings, sleeping arrangements, not showering for a few days because the ancient well has run dry — all these things work themselves out in the end, don’t they?! We’ll make SUCH memories, won’t we?! Remember when we all shared towels? Ha! Ha! Ha!!
Instead, what keeps me awake at night are the emotional complexities that inevitably come with all family gatherings: How will we all be?
Will we walk on eggshells or will we be at ease? Will the hours together turn up the heat on our simmering hurts or melt our defensiveness? Will we offer each other the benefit or the doubt or find fresh ways to stay wary and offended? Will we pour ourselves out freely or throw in the towel at the first annoyance? Will we sow seeds of peace or passive-aggressiveness?
This month in Texas, we’ll host another full house for the Thanksgiving weekend. There will be ample space for warm pies to cool on the counter and enough hot water to turn the skin of a hundred teenagers into prunes.
Even so, my hopes and anxieties remain the same: How will we all be? And then I wonder:
What would it look like if this were the last time I ever saw these faces?
Would knowing this was our last time together change me? Could it change the way I hear your story, or the way I tell mine? Would it cool my simmering impatience and deflate my own self-righteousness? Might the grip of my favorite grudges release if this was the last time I’d ever hear your voice?
We don’t know how many times we’ll get to be together, friends.
All we know is that God himself brings us all to the table each day and he doesn’t make mistakes.
And here is some very good news: It doesn’t have to be as it always has been — there are NEW mercies for us today. With God’s help and his own spirit, we can build bridges over waters that were impassable yesterday; our hearts can soften; our spirits can unclench, and our capacity for gentleness and forgiveness can grow.
And so, if you are experiencing logistical panic or emotional anxiety about what will come your way in the next few days — do not fear! Whether as hosts or guests, let’s pray together that we will set a place for God’s kind of hospitality at our table.
“Our Father, whose property is always to have mercy, walk with me as I open the door to people you love. Help me see them with you eyes. Help me to listen carefully. Guard my tongue and help me to speak words that build up and bring life. Father, help me to be open and not closed. Help me set a place for your kind of kindness at the table. Help me make room for peace in all my spaces and places. Amen.”
Peace, as you sow peace with those around your table.