The Forty-Ninth Letter: Sharing Our Table


Dear Daughters,

A few days ago, the preschooler told me that we needed to invite some people over for dinner because we hadn’t had anyone over in such a long time.

This was said very dramatically, as most things you say are these days.

I told you that you were right—we really should invite people over for dinner because it is always good to share our table—and I told you that you were wrong—because it hadn’t been a long time. Just last Thursday, we had a table full of college students here eating vegetarian chili and cornbread. And the week before that, we’d shared Thai food with your crazy aunties, some of our best friends. And on Wednesday nights we eat dinner at church with a room full of people.

We share our table pretty frequently. Maybe it’s more than the average family. I don’t know what is “normal” for other people.

Still, I think you’re on to something.

Because we don’t share our table as often as we should.

Back before we had children, your dad and I went through a phase of setting an extra place at the table at meal times. I think this was when we had a friend living with us, but even so, the extra place was intentionally extra. What I mean is, if our housemate was joining us for a meal, we’d set two extra places.

The extra plate was symbolic. You could say it was the place set for Jesus, who offers us hospitality as the Host and comes to us as the stranger, but I’ll admit that sounds a little cheesy.

I’d rather like to think of that extra place setting as a symbol of our willingness to share our table, as an act of faith saying there will always be enough, as an act of flexibility in hospitality, being “light on our feet” as our old church used to say. There was a lot tied up in that extra plate.

But it always felt a little forced, a little too symbolic maybe, and we didn’t keep up the tradition.

And now a few years have gone by.

When your dad and I are being thoughtful and deliberate in our home life these days, when we aren’t too overwhelmed by the chaos of life in general, we share our table pretty often. We invite people in, we deliver food out.

But when life happens and we get busy and less thoughtful, less deliberate, when we have weeks like the last few, it gets really hard to even notice when the table is empty. When it’s just the four of us. When deciding what to make for dinner feels like a chore. It’s easy to forget how much excess we are keeping to ourselves.

It’s in those seasons of chaos that your dad and I decide to do outrageous things like schedule a new college ministry—a weekly reading group—to meet at our house on Thursday nights, and commit to offering dinner to the students who come early for it. Every week.

We knew when we kicked off the reading group last week that it wouldn’t always be convenient, and that was kind of the point. The things that are important aren’t usually convenient, because they take time, and they force us to focus on other people. Not ourselves. Not just our little family.

Probably most weeks I wouldn’t feel like standing in the kitchen for an hour chopping vegetables to put into a crockpot of soup or using quiet time to make fresh bread, but we have this conviction, even in the chaos, that it is important to do the inconvenient thing, to allow ourselves to be inconvenienced for the sake of community, for the sake of cultivating relationships, of being hospitable, of saying, yes, you are welcome here, alongside us, even when we are tired from insomnia or harried from a long work day or scattered because our children are in pajamas and running around like crazy animals or we haven’t packed any of our suitcases yet and we are leaving the next day for a weekend in Pennsylvania. (Sigh. Let’s pretend those are all theoretical situations.)

And so the crockpot is full of potato soup as I type this.

And I’m pretty tired.

And here I sit, looking forward to an evening of table sharing, and I still don’t think we share our table often enough.

Because these are the questions I can’t get away from:

How often did Christ share a table with others? How often did he break bread and bless it and provide nourishment? How often did he eat with the unlovely, the broken, the most in need? And, maybe most convicting, how often does he welcome me to his Table? 

That’s how open our dining room table should be, girls. That’s how open our hearts, our lives, our homes should be.

But the potato soup is a start.

And there will be fresh bread this afternoon.


Your Momma


The Fourth Letter: Big Eaters


Today for lunch, the toddler ate a bowl of vegetarian chili, 1/3 of an avocado, a scoop of cottage cheese, and two banana cookies. And that wasn’t an exceptional meal for you.

Then, after the six-month-old woke up and nursed—yes, first you nursed—you still seemed hungry so I heated up the leftover baby oatmeal in the frig and mixed it with unsweetened applesauce. I started with what I considered to be a hearty bowl for you, considering you only began solid foods a few weeks ago, but it wasn’t until after your second bowl that you even turned away from the spoon to hint you may have had enough.

You both like to eat.

When your dad and I lived in Texas, we had dinner at the apartment of some of our friends, and they mentioned in passing that since they invited us to dinner, they knew they had to make a lot extra.

Our reputation for eating had apparently preceded us.

We’re big eaters, ya’ll. Big eaters.

Now, most people wouldn’t know that from looking at us because we’re exceptionally tall and slender. But we come from eating families.

It’s no wonder that the toddler is in the nearly 100th percentile for both height and weight and already has your daddy’s strong and lean figure.

Baby girl, you will catch up soon, I’m certain, though you were two pounds smaller at birth than your big sister. You’ve already outgrown the sizes she wore last Christmas at nearly 8 months old.

I remember meeting a coworker of my mom’s when I was maybe twelve or thirteen—old enough to be a lot taller than my mom, strikingly tall for my age. The friend said—out loud—in reference to me: “Just think of all the extra weight she could carry!” Or some such ridiculous thing to say to a young woman.

But she was right, of course. My being tall has led people to exclaim that I was “all baby” both times I was pregnant, despite my having gained over fifty pounds each time. It’s an optical illusion, I’d say, because there is no polite way to continue that line of conversation.

You will probably be big girls.

I always hated the word “big.”

It’s what everyone said about me, for as long as I can remember. Big and solid. Big.

And we ate a lot.

We do eat a lot.

We’re eaters.

I love this about us.

But I wonder how to raise girls who love to eat who don’t think about food all the time, and calories, and pants sizes, and all the silly baggage of growing up as a woman in our ridiculous culture.

And there is baggage.

I have a husband who loves the extra fleshiness that carrying two babies brings, but I still drag around a couple suitcases worth of baggage when I look in the mirror these days or see pictures of myself. I hate that because I know it’s silly.

And I hate it because every time I catch myself being unhappy, I think about you and how I want you to love your bodies, your strong limbs, long torso, and broad shoulders.

I also hate it because it reminds me of those I know and love who carry heavier bags on this self-image journey.

In the last two years, I have known two beautiful and exceptionally talented women—and I mean head-and-shoulders-above-the-rest-of-their-class kind of talented—who’ve been treated for eating disorders at in-patient facilities. Two in two years.

It breaks my heart as the mother of young girls, because I know for these two who did begin treatment, these I know about, there are probably dozens of others in my community struggling, too, those I don’t know.

I look at the healthy and amazing and inspiring college students I see walking around our local college campus, and I want to ask them if they know they are beautiful.

And by beautiful, I don’t mean skinny or stylish, air-brushed or pearl-adorned.

I mean inspiring and vibrant, intelligent and passionate, articulate and fun, wearing their skinny jeans and Toms shoes and colors and cuts I never thought would come back in style.

And the young women I know who also love to eat? Those who come to our house and eat the meals we serve and ask for seconds? Those who come to our Sunday school class and eat a donut? They make me happiest.

Because here I am, raising you, my beautiful, big girls, to be eaters.

Of course, I’m also raising you to know that you are beautiful and to be confident, with your solid frames and muscular legs, your clear blue eyes, and brown curly hair, and your dimples. I hope you keep the dimples.

I so tall, Mommy,” the toddler tells me, as you make faces at yourself in the mirror. You love mirrors. Love them.

I know I can’t make you confident, but I can soak you in confidence, even now, sending those roots down deep to nourish you through the difficult years. Those difficult years will certainly come. But now, even now, I tell you how smart and gorgeous and funny and strong you are. How proud I am of you for the little things—the alphabet, the playdough, the painting, the singing for the toddler; the rolling, cooing, grabbing, observing, and jabbering for the chubbalub babe-ster.

And yes, I even tell you how amazed I am at the quantity of food you can pack away. Because it is awesome.

Stand tall, my girls.

Now let’s go eat a snack.

Your Momma

The Second Letter: Glimpses


I made cookies during your nap this afternoon so I could eat the batter without the guilt of you wanting to eat some, too.

And I’m not even ashamed of it.

As I poured a bag of chocolate chips into a bowl of cookie batter, I remembered my grandma telling me that we could know how much she loved us by how many chocolate chips her cookies had in them. This was Ginny, my stepdad’s mom, and she was young and wonderful, and when we married into her family, she was ecstatic to have two more grandchildren–her other two lived overseas at the time. She loved us and told us so.

Ginny died of colon cancer the summer before my senior year of high school. It was the first real loss I remember feeling. My young faith at the time was certain she would be healed, and I felt that loss deeply.

I hadn’t thought about her chocolate chip cookies in quite some time.

The thing is, there is no concrete memory attached to the chocolate chip/love ratio comment, just a brief moment passing through, but it is myriad moments like that one I wish I could compile to pass on to you.

Oh, how I wish it. The ways we remember those we love. The quirks of this life. The things I remember, even if fleetingly, especially the things I remember about people and places. Maybe most especially the absences of people.

How can a list of moments be worth passing on? Who cares about chocolate chips? Or whether I ate way too much raw egg this afternoon for any single person to consume in a lifetime?

I don’t know.

But I do know that chocolate chips can, sometimes, take us to a moment in our past worth remembering, a person worth remembering. So can milk. Tomato soup. Basil. Meatloaf. Pie. Cinnamon sugar.

I’m serious.

When I pour milk into my tea every morning, I nearly always think of my maternal grandmother, the way the milk in her coffee swirled around and remained partially separate in her glass mug. This memory is so vague, in fact, I’m not sure it is a particular moment that ever happened, and yet it feels real, as if it happened many times in the old farmhouse we shared.

Once, after she moved into her new house, she burned tomato soup while I was visiting her. I told her it tasted burnt, and she told me that soup couldn’t burn. And then she tasted it. It did taste burnt. I was right. Did that really happen? True or not, I think of it when I make tomato soup on the stove. Every time. I try to be careful not to burn it.

I was cutting up basil with scissors the other evening to sprinkle on top of our Thai drunken noodles, and I remembered the first time I had pesto, remembered my mom slicing up the basil into skinny slivers to mix with the olive oil and pine nuts, remembered the homemade pasta from the machine that had a design flaw and broke repeatedly. I make pesto all the time now. In a food processor. With basil from our garden. But that was the first time, and I can see and smell and feel my mom’s kitchen on that evening before dinner.

On the rare occasions I eat meatloaf, I am transported to the kitchen island at my dad’s house with the high ceilings, the first time my stepmom offered to let me mix the meatloaf by hand. I can still feel that thawed-refrigerator-cold beef squishing between my fingers and into the slime of the raw egg and the sandy breadcrumbs and the squirts of ketchup. Such a vivid sensation I feel on my fingers when I eat meatloaf. It makes me smile because I am more likely to touch tofu than beef these days.

Watching your dad make pie–which he does quite heroically–always reminds me of my mom bending over the counter and carefully crimping the pie crust between the thumb of one hand and the index finger and thumb of the other.

When I open our herb cupboard and see the bottle of cinnamon sugar, I also see my brother and me carefully putting our cinnamon toast back into the toaster oven to melt the butter.

Can it be true that dozens of things throughout each day spark a memory, or at least an inkling, of a moment or a person? It is for me.

How about the way I fold towels or make a bed?

Or how ridiculously thick and soft I like my toilet paper?

Or how obsessive I am about Chapstick?

Or how awesome I am at identifying actors in movies?

All of these tidbits are part of the story I’ve lived and the people I have loved.

Which is really our story.

Because you’re part of this story now, too.

Your Momma