One evening a few years ago, my husband and I hosted our first church small group. A warm plate of banana-oat chocolate chip muffins tempted us from the kitchen counter; a fresh pot of coffee had just finished its brewing. Only one other couple sat at our farmhouse table with us that first night. Within a few weeks, our group’s size grew to the point of needing to lug extra chairs to the kitchen. We pulled in around table corners to make room for everyone.
As our group size increased, so did the number of dietary constraints. Refreshments were no longer as easy as baking pumpkin chocolate chip cookies or carrot cake with cream cheese frosting. Dairy-free, gluten-free, and nut-free people also gathered to grow in their relationships with God and each other.
I’ve always looked forward to our small group night, and how people hug their way through our foyer and find their stocking-footed way into the living room. But for a while, I worried over what we would eat after our study time.
Over the years, our groups have shared faith amidst life’s struggles. We’ve unfolded our mistakes and aches. We’ve grown in our love for God and our marriages. We’ve talked about small kingdom living and how to live for something bigger than us.
When discussions wrap up, I go to the kitchen and help that week’s preparer arrange the refreshments she brought. As we uncover platters and pour soft drinks, I am reminded that preparing food for someone’s special needs is a tangible display of love.
We call, “Food’s ready!” and everyone congregates in the kitchen. We laugh and tell stories, reaching in for a bite, then another bite—as we nourish one other.
We break bread.
The other women and I have gotten creative with our cooking as we accommodate dietary constraints. People dig into dishes of warm fruit crisps made without flour or butter. We savor gluten-free cinnamon crumb cake topped with dairy-free ice cream. Other times, we nibble on fresh fruit kabobs—placing slices of sharp cheese on the side for those who can eat dairy.
Kris, my friend at Grace Table refers to this practice as cooking outside of the lines.
And I think, When we cook outside of the lines, we begin to fill the spaces between us. Leaning into this new place allows us to stand on common ground, accepting one another’s imperfections and limitations. We make room for one another. This one sure way of showing hospitality offers a place where change can occur.
We feed not only the body—we also feed the soul.
Several times, I’ve seen the look of unease open to ease as a person gains a sense of belonging at the table. A tilt of the head and softening of the eyes displays gratitude when the food selection conveys, “I thought about you.”
This week, my friend Karen brought a delicious gluten-free chocolate cake adorned with a ring of rich red raspberries. Her husband held another dessert in his hands as he entered the house.
A “backup,” she said, in case the chocolate flops.
I smile over the goodwill we give one another.
The preparer is saying, “You matter. I want you to be part of this bread breaking, this communion.”
So we remember what we eat every Wednesday evening because love is served outside of the lines.
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