When I signed up last fall to host a Red Tent dinner, all I was sure of was my desire to step outside my comfort zone as I began to make plans for what the evening would look like. My thoughts kept returning to a message I had heard at church about community and friendship – and the ways Jesus redefined them. He modeled connection that was intentional and missional, an outward moving, ever expanding kingdom. So my first intention was to look around me, and invite a variety of women to the table – some who I already called “friend”, as well as some who I’d met more recently, exchanging casual hello’s on Sunday morning as we greeted each other from our familiar spots in church.

There is something about the invitation to gather around a table that builds connection and intimacy like nothing else. As I continued to ponder what I wanted the evening to be about, I came across a post from a friend who works for an organization that calls people to action based on the words of Jesus – in this case, centered on the radical hospitality Jesus was about. They were partnering with the grassroots movement 100days100dinners (https://www.100days100dinners.us) , to intentionally build connection; a sense of belonging and welcome as a way of countering the fear and division that have been building in our communities as a result of the current political landscape. As I read about their vision, I began to imagine what it could look like to bring together the Red Tent idea of welcoming women and their stories, and the radical hospitality of the 100days100dinners movement.

Keeping the theme of belonging and friendship in mind, I set about finding ways to honor what was unique and different about each one of us, and at the same time, discover how many of our common experiences connected us as well. For decoration, I gathered a collection of wine bottles of varying heights and colors and filled them with simple flower stems, visually representing both our unity and diversity. We began our time together by going around the circle and naming words that described who we were – our roles, our identity, our interests. The variety of words was rich: mother, sister, daughter, friend, reader, writer, runner, introvert, photographer, artist, listener, leader, Tawanda, social worker, soon-to-be grandmother, student, dreamer.

As we moved through our time of savoring a good meal together, we began telling stories. I had a collection of quotes centered around the theme of friendship and hospitality, and each woman chose one that reminded them of a story from their own experience.

The stories provoked laughter, tears, nods of agreement and a sense of “me too.”

We closed the evening sharing what each of us was taking away from our time together.

As I lay in bed that night, replaying the evening in my mind, my thoughts kept drifting not to what I had loved about the evening, but about what felt awkward. As I spoke this reality aloud to my husband, he reminded me of my intention to step outside my comfort zone, to risk doing things differently; how could there not be some sense of awkwardness? I imagined again the scene around the table, recalling how beauty and kindness and joy all had a seat at the table, and so had awkwardness and uncertainty and grief – and all of it belonged.

 


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Janet Stark is a woman learning to bless her depth and sensitivity. She is grateful for the deep love she shares with her husband, Chris and their kids and grandkids. Janet loves curling up with a good book, trying new recipes on her friends and family, and enjoying long conversations with friends over a cup of really good coffee. She is a life-long lover of words and writes about her experiences here.