In September 2017, our Table had a birthday cake on it. There were balloons everywhere. There were a lot of friends there to celebrate—actually 21 to be exact! But this moment at the Table wasn’t as happy as it seemed because eight months before this, our family said goodbye to Beckett—our healthy 4-month old son who died of SIDS.
Beckett came during a very interesting time in our family. I may never know how much his birth played an interesting role in my new understanding of God. For months prior to him being born, I had been rethinking everything I knew about the Bible. And God. And life. And God was slowly answering the questions I was asking him.
And it seemed, just as Beckett was born, that God began opening my eyes to what was truly important.
I mean, you don’t have a baby and not reprioritise your life. Those tiny hands and those beautiful eyes seem to remind you of what’s truly important in life: People. Relationships. Life.
I didn’t understand everything (and I still don’t!), but I knew I needed to make more time for people. And somehow, I felt that the Table had something to do with what God was trying to tell me.
There was a particular family that was special to us. Not only were they our neighbours, but we were friends with them, my kids included. And I knew that we were supposed to invite them to our house for dinner. Every week.
On one hand, this wasn’t hard. I loved to cook and host, I love to open up my home to people, and I love them.
But on the other hand, it was messy. This family had 7 kids. We happened to have a new born, which means my wife was exhausted. Always. And bringing their family of 9 and our family of 5 to our Table seemed extreme during this crazy time in our life.
But God essentially said, ‘Do it anyway’. So we did.
It just so happened that the very first time they came over we were celebrating one of their son’s birthdays.
And as our families fell into a rhythm of this weekly time at the Table, something amazing happened—our families began bonding and a deeper friendship began to grow.
One of the things I fondly remember back then is that the mother was always the last one to sit and eat dinner at the Table because, when she arrived, she would immediately take Beckett and begin feeding him so that my wife could finish getting the dinner together. And by the time dinner was on the Table, Beckett was full and happy and we all got to enjoy a meal together at the Table.
By the time they had been coming over for a few weeks, Thanksgiving was just around the corner.
If you don’t know me, my family currently lives in the UK, but we are Americans. Here in the UK, Thanksgiving is called Thursday…because it doesn’t exist as a holiday. But we still love celebrating Thanksgiving.
Living in another country, however, certainly causes us to reinterpret the celebration. In America, we remember the British coming across the ocean and making a new home. And we give thanks for the locals who welcomed them and showed them how to live in their new world. And we celebrate all that God has given us.
In our home in Wales, we remember how God took care of the details of moving our lives the other way—across the ocean to Britain. We give thanks for the “locals” (our friends here) who have welcomed us and showed us how to live in this “new world”. And we celebrate all that God has given us.
As we were incorporating everything God was teaching us, we realised Thanksgiving would be a perfect opportunity to invite another dear family to our Table. This family also had 7 children (Yes, this is a different family. No, this size family is not common in the UK. And no, we don’t have a standard for our friends 🙂 )
Even though we had gotten into a daily rhythm as a family of 5 and a weekly rhythm with our friends coming over to dinner, having a family join us at the Table for a Thanksgiving Feast seemed more difficult.
But it just felt right.
Here we were, celebrating this holiday for the 32nd year of our lives, but somehow it felt different. Because it wasn’t about the food. It wasn’t about the holiday. It wasn’t about traditions. It was about the Table and the people who were sitting across from us.
But two short months later, we sat at this family’s Table.
It was the morning after we had experienced the worst night of our lives. In a moment’s notice, our baby boy was gone. This family took us into their home for the next 3 days. They distracted our older two kids with a sleepover with their own children. They entertained and played host to other friends who came by to show their condolences.
They continued walking with us. Only now, it was through a messy, hard part of our life.
As I sat at their Table, my mind drifted back to the first time we sat at this Table. It was a few months after we had met them.
They invited us over for dinner. We hardly knew them. They hardly knew us. In fact, we started our conversation in their front sitting room where there was no Table. But as the evening went on, they invited us farther into their house and we joined them at this exact Table.
It’s almost strange to look back and to imagine there was a time we were actually strangers to these people. Now we’re “living” at their house, sitting at the very same Table where we first bonded, only we’re making funeral arrangements and trying to wake ourselves from a horrible dream.
What changed? Everything! Two years ago, we were sitting at that Table as strangers. Today we were living at that house as family.
And while we were staying at their house, our other friends (who sit at our Table weekly) went to our house and took all of Beckett’s belongings to their house so that we could deal with his things when we were ready.
This was messy and hard for both families. Beckett may have been my biological son, but to these families, he was also their son and baby brother. And this bond happened so subtly, I didn’t even notice until then.
Beckett’s life reminded me that people are important, families are messy, children need love, parents need friendship, and everyone loves food!
When Beckett was born, people would have understood if we had chosen to “take a few months off”, to huddle inwardly, and focus on our new baby. But we didn’t.
We invited people into our overly exhausted lives, we shared our stir-crazy family, and we welcomed people to our messy Table. And when our world came crashing down, these people welcomed us to their Table because along the way, we joined in this messy, hard life together at the Table.
Now back to the beginning of my story at the birthday Table . . .
Obviously, it wasn’t the birthday celebration we would have anticipated a year earlier. There was no birthday boy, cute photos, or gifts. There were cards, however, written to us. And our Table was full of friends who had carried us through the messy, hard details of that year.
And on the night that our forever-four-month old would have turned one, they were there to celebrate the life of Beckett—a boy who had deeply touched all of our hearts.
Anytime there is a Table and people, there is an opportunity for building relationships. But the thing about relationships is that they are messy and hard because…that’s life. When we’ve built relationships with people and they go through a crisis, we don’t watch from a distance, we walk through it with them.
Building relationships with people means entering that messiness with them.
And what I’ve learned about the Table is that, though it’s a place for friends to celebrate, it’s also a place for friends to grieve together.
I have so many questions for God, but I’ll never question the truths he was teaching me in the months leading up to Beckett’s birth and death. I didn’t realise that by inviting people to my Table, I was creating a lifelong bond. And in a terrible moment where I thought I was an ocean away from family, I sat at a Table and made a discovery.
I had family here all along.
To those who sit at my Table and walk through life with my family, Cheers!
So often, the only time we see our Christians friends is at church on Sunday. This was never supposed to be this way. Even if you’re not a believer, life was not meant to be lived alone. People are important, relationships are the key, and the Table is a tool. Please invite people over to your Table, share your life, and walk in the messiness together.
Featured photo, #2, and #3: Hannah K