It was the tale end of February 2012 when I finished Kathy Harris’ book “Another Place at the Table“. I wept. Alone. Not a soul knew of the intense sadness that lay inside me, the place where I drew much of my compassion and love for people from. Harris is a foster parent in my own state to many very hurt children. She opened her home and heart to their hurt and suffering and complexity. Because not much comes easy when trauma is a part of your early history.
Harris wrote about always having room at her table for “one more”. I longed to be a “one more” that was welcomed at the table. I sobbed from not having that experience as a child and young adult, a safe and warm and protected place to let my guard down, to unpack the intensity of the story I carried noosed around my throat. Somewhere to process my day and my heart. I wanted a place that was mine. I wanted a home.
I bounced around the homes of many families as I grew older. A week here and a week there. Christmas with this friend’s family and spring break with that friend’s family. I didn’t know what it was like to have familiar foods and smells and traditions that brought comfort. Familiarity helps me find a rhythm in life. Familiarity allows me the opportunity to find a safe place to nestle into away from the intensity of life and feel supported as I process and grieve those early through teen years of prolonged intense pain, loss, and trauma.
I was gearing up to write my support letter to those that were partnered with me in my role in the church I had helped to start in the city. In each letter, I always included a place where I wrote the books I had recently read and what I learned from them. I wrote about Another Place at the Table and how my heart hurts for kids who do not have safe homes, who need caring foster parents, who need to feel that love is not confined to their families of origin, that there are people who do love well and can model the love of Jesus and will welcome them to belong as family. I felt it was the only way I could support other kids like me, even if it was too late for me to have that safe place.
I sent that letter and a couple weeks later one of my supporters was at our church and said how she too had just finished reading the book. We talked briefly about it and our differing perspectives (she as a foster mother and me as someone who the foster system didn’t protect). She wept from the longing of a mother’s heart. I wept from the longing for being welcomed into a family, a place to belong, a place at the table.
A few months later, this friend moved to the city and we started getting together more regularly and then weekly for a while. She asked if I’d want to come over additionally, every week for dinner. Dinners turned to outings and weekend trips, shopping, learning how to pick out clothes, birthdays and holidays, and all sorts of other things you can only learn when someone teaches you. She’s older than I, has sweet young kids and eventually became one of my co-workers as well. The table became a place I learned not just how to eat at, but how to love and be loved at. It became the place where I did Valentine’s crafts with her kids, struggled with the shame that comes with trauma, cried over the painful parts of ministry. The table became where I unpacked some of the intensity of my day and the funny things that went on at the games of softball I coach. I tried new foods and laughed at the silly things her kids said. I had the place I sat. It was my seat. And on days when my softball games ran longer than expected, the other coach new I would have to leave before the game ended, because I had a family dinner to get to. And he knew how important it is to have that in life.
The table wasn’t an easy place for either of us, she nervous about having the wrong food or a conversation or topic or situation that came up being too difficult for me. Me nervous I’d throw up from the intensity that sitting at a table brought and meant. Week by week we did it together. Hard and painful at times, but we still did it. I had a place. I had a table. I got to belong. Finally.
The dinner table went from being a place that caused a lot of pain and shame, to a place where weary find rest. It became the place that nourished my body and my heart. This dear friend welcomed me to her table, but really, she welcomed me into her heart and family.