Tracy Johnson

The Table

The Table

Forks on the left, knives on the right with the spoon placed next to it, napkins go underneath the forks.  My mom's instructions on how to set the table were clear and carried out nightly from the time I was about 8. There were notable additions in the event of a fancy dinner party, salad forks added to the outside of the dinner fork, and sometimes even extra plates, water glasses next to the wine glasses etc.  

Meals were important, the table mattered.

I remember rolling my eyes at her somewhere during high school as she lamented my schedule of school and church activities interrupting the tradition of family dinner together; from my perspective the family dinner table felt insignificant in comparison with the belonging I was experiencing with my group of friends.

I can remember when that season gave way to living in my own apartment and the loneliness that came with all my independence.  I often made a dinner out of yogurt or a box of macaroni and cheese.  I had little desire to cook a full meal just for myself.  There was no internet, no FaceTime or Skype, no way to experience the virtual community that is so easily available today.  I was squarely faced with my need for people and community beyond the interactions I had at work each day.

Today it is easy to avoid what I believe is an inherent need for every human being.  

The seduction of virtual community is powerful. It approximates the food our souls crave, much like protein shakes and fast food approximate the nourishment of the good foods our bodies need to be whole and well.

Ultimately, virtual community leaves you alone.  There is no warmth to a virtual hug, no salt to be tasted in the emoticon with tears, no sensuality that leaves your body resting in the goodness of having shared physical space with people who care for you.

We need sensual, shared, embodied experiences with laughter, joy, sorrow, grief, pain and pleasure to know we belong and are loved.

I carry on the tradition of setting the table that my mother started with me nearly 50 years ago.  I've taught my kids where the forks and knives go and when we are all home eating together at the table is something that is anticipated.  Those times begin in the kitchen and culminate at the table.  My kids love to help cook, actually what they love is the conversation that happens as we chop, sauté, blend and boil things together in the kitchen.  The conversations are savory and the stories rich and deep.  

I feel passionate about restoring the the goodness of real connection and pushing against the addiction of virtual community.  My desire is for the internet to be a place that helps to facilitate the growth of real community.  So much goodness can come from what starts via a Facebook page or a following a blog or online magazine; Instagram can inspire and twitter can provoke.  When we allow what gets inspired or provoked to lead us to the place of face to face engagement transformative growth is possible.  

Returning to the goodness of the table where all our senses are invoked as we taste, see, smell and listen to all that is present seems like such an easy way to feed goodness to our hungry hearts.  

If you want to feed your heart some good food consider inviting some people over for a meal or ladies risk hosting a Red Tent Dinner, I'd love to hear about it if you do.




The photo from my friend in Lebanon came with text bubbles that said, “This family lost their 18 yr old son in a bombing just before they fled their  home in Syria. 😢 4 yrs in the camp here and now they're being forced to leave. They have 2 days to pack and move. Don't have anywhere to go. Sooooo much sadness, and loss of hope for tomorrow. They just want to go nothing.”

I sat staring at the photo and her words.  I replied back, “Don’t we all, just want to go home, return to the place we knew goodness and rest.”

Not to minimize the horrifically desperate circumstances of that family, because I cannot imagine the trauma, the loss and the hopelessness they have known.  And, there are shared places where as human beings our souls can connect even in the most drastic of circumstances.

My pondering was interrupted by my husband’s invitation to come watch something.  He’d been scrolling through old pictures and videos.  I sat down next to him as he hit play on a video slide show we’d put together when our oldest daughter turned 18 and graduated from high school, a decade ago now. The music began to play and photos of her life cycled across the screen.  Of course, the songs were predictably emotional and tugged at the ragged places in my heart.  You know, how something ragged only needs a bit of a tug to unravel.

The journey forward hasn’t looked like I dreamed it would that April evening in 2007 as we celebrated her 18th birthday and impending graduation.

Between then and now we have tasted sweetness and joy that has exceeded what we felt that day, and we have been pierced by betrayal, loss and disappointment that is beyond what we had known up to that point as well.


As I sat watching the pictures in that video I had another set of pictures running alongside it in my head, the scenes that make up the past decade.  There are scenes I want to cut, ones that don’t make sense, scenes that haven’t resolved into something picturesque and beautiful.

Generally, I think most of us have strong propensity to stop any suffering we are experiencing.  We look for the cause of the suffering and seek to eradicate or fix it.  We judge what is happening in hopes of blunting the pain by making sense of it in some way.  In essence we say, “this story is terrible and I want it to end.” 

But reality is that once a story begins to unfold in our lives we can never be the same, it becomes part of the fabric of our lives.  Trying to eradicate it or minimize it takes a great deal of energy that in the end creates denial or deceit as we seek to hide it or squeeze it down to something small, manageable and barely noticed.

I texted back to my friend this morning,

We all want shalom. Hope is tied to risking the belief that we could experience it again in a new way.

She sent back, “That’s a big statement.”

I believe shalom is actually the place where every story belongs.  Shalom is not peace in the absence of pain or chaos, shalom is the place where the opposites belong and the resulting wholeness brings peace. 

Most recently for me this has meant considering, again, where Jesus is absent in some of my narratives as I talk with my counselor.  If I believe that my heart and soul belong to the Lord than I am only whole when I am with Him and He is with me.  When my stories reflect a lack of His presence then there is an absence of shalom. 

I have found that I can only hold the “both/and” of my life’s unfolding stories with the help of Jesus and the wholeness that He brings. 

So, here’s to the stories belonging, all of them. Shalom.