Removing the Leaves

Reflections on my time with Destiny Africa. I wrote this just after tour ended and have sat with it for a few months until I was ready to share with the world.

About six years ago, my grandmother gifted us her beautiful wooden dining room set. The table is precious to me. It is a place I remember gathering around, eating her infamous homemade mac-and-cheese topped with freshly cracked black pepper. I remember sitting there hiding my giggles and she chided my grandfather for eating hot dogs straight from the package in the refrigerator. As the youngest of my generation in the family, these few memories are invaluable, and the dinner table is the epitome of them.

Life has been chaotic the last several months on tour. Many meals quickly eaten before a show or a quick snack in the car on the way. But this table remained solid. Within the first 12 hours of everyone’s arrival, the table was expanded to capacity – both leaves latched in place – and surrounded by no less than 10 chairs at a time for four months. Around this table we would gather as schedule allowed, share meals, laugh and share stories, grow together, and prepare for what was to come. It was a place to work, to have difficult conversations, to fellowship. It was the safe gathering place.

Today, exactly one week after our friends returned, back across the world, I put the leaves away. Slowly brushing the crumbs off each side of the table cloth, folding the cloth over, and opening the table up to remove each table leaf, one at a time, and returning it to its storage place on top of the hutch. As I pushed each end of the table back towards the middle, now just six chairs surrounding and four occupied at dinner, I am hit by the warmth of so much love that this table has seen and the emptiness of so few bodies around it. I joked a couple of weeks ago, preparing rice for four Americans instead of ten Ugandans and one Dominican in addition, that I could not remember what “normal” family portions looked like. The same held true. The kitchen looks so big, the floor a bit more scuffed in places.

As things have been winding down and the clean-up process of sorting donations, equipment and merchandise begun, I’m often faced with the statement, “You must be so glad to be back to normal!” Yes and no. I am glad to have more time with my family, glad for the hustle to slow down, glad for time to recharge. And yet, I am missing our extended “family” of 15 gathered around the table. A mix of language, food, and laughter. I miss the many hands at work to prepare elements of the meal and clean up afterwards. Life is just so much sweeter when you are surrounded by these little normalcies in the midst of chaos and daily routine alike. While our little family adjusts, returning to “normal” in a sense, I cannot help but hold on to these memories like treasures.

I wonder if this might have been how the disciples felt after Jesus’ death and subsequent commission to go out into the world. They had lived in community – 13 rag tag men – for three years. Gathering around the table as ministry allowed, breaking bread, delving into deep conversation, laughing and loving each other. I find myself with more questions than answers as I write this. Lord, are these moments – these memories – meant to just last for a season and carry us through the difficult parts of the journey? Or is this how life can be – is meant to be – more often than we allow it to be? And then I come back to who He is. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit existing as One. One God, three persons. I do not think it is a situation of either/or but more of a yes/and.

These sweet moments living in true community carry us. Knowing we have a place at the table, having security, helps us press through difficulties we come up against. And yet I think it is also how we are meant to live. Maybe not always in the physical sense but at least relationally. I have a solid group of ladies (the “Turtle Tribe” as we affectionately call ourselves – a picture of how we surround and support each other) who I know, no matter what, I can reach out to. They are my earthly rock. When I am most shaken, most vulnerable and unable to face life, they are there surrounding me, holding me up, and speaking the most protective truths over me. We gather as we can, and those moments build me up, strengthen me.

The loneliness and sadness can be real when we are not in the physical presence of those we love. As I try to wrap this into a neat little package, it doesn’t fit in one. This is one of those bittersweet things in life, where you look back on the sweet, sweet times together and mourn the fact that they are no longer there. Life shifts and changes, more good things come, and if we are conscientious about it, we maintain the essence of being with those people even while we are apart (I mean, thank GOD for technology and how it knits us together!). The table will remain, waiting to once again be filled with family and good conversation, that ends in belly laughs and impromptu dance parties. Life is just better when you love people, love them deeply. There is risk, but there is also the greatest reward of having people to share life with.