Unexpected Surprises For An Evening Of Exquisite Grace

When I planned to host a Red Tent Dinner in March, I wondered and prayed about who to invite.  Names and faces of women came to mind over time and as they did I jotted their names on an invitation list.  I wondered, would they come?  Who would respond?

I sent the invitation and waited.  Some responses were an immediate “Yes!”, others declined and others were unable to respond for whatever reasons.  Thoughts that I should call surfaced but I opted instead to trust and rest.

As the day drew near unexpected schedule changes tempted me to cancel and postpone the dinner.  “Can I do it?”; “Is there time to prepare for it the way I want to?”.  Concern that my time, my home and my table were not enough began to entice me to postpone my desire and longings to connect with other women.  But postponing my heart’s desire for a ‘better time’ did not feel nourishing to my soul.  I prayed.

Letting go of my expectations to prepare what I perceived would be the perfect setting allowed me the space to breathe and embrace truth… I love offering hospitality even if it includes hosting amidst the real and messy.  My perspective changed.  Later that day I received a phone call from one of the ladies.  Her courage to ask to bring her own food brought affirmation that this dinner was already unfolding into a gathering of grace.

The meal I planned was simple…a soup I could prepare the evening before.  The morning of my dinner, I woke and settled into my big comfy chair with a hot cup of coffee.  I thought about the day ahead…my schedule was full with a few small breaks in between.  I prayed about what theme to use and chose the theme for the month on the Red Tent Living website… “Miracles”.  A story in the Bible about Mary and the alabaster jar came to mind.  Hmmm.

Before I left to begin my day, I spread a floral cloth on my table.  The muted colors of pale yellow, light pink, lavender, and green provided a welcomed taste of spring.  I added cloth napkins with fun napkin rings and placed a perfume bottle next to a square vase of red roses.   I wondered about soup bowls but decided to wait with intention to return home before dinner, warm the soup and place the bowls.  Perhaps the perfume bottle would make sense then?

What happened in the midst of my day was an unfolding story in and of itself.

Traveling between appointments, I felt a nudge on my heart, made a u-turn and stopped at a small antique store.  I walked in and asked about perfume bottles.  A kind woman led me to a wooden glass case and on the way asked what it was for.  I shared about our Red Tent Dinner. We arrived at the case and I took a look at several different bottles of varying sizes, shapes and contents.  My eyes landed on one that left me stunned.  “Does that say what I think it says?!”  Yes.  It did.

My brain was running ahead to my table with excited anticipation.  That’s when I asked about soup bowls and while searching, realized I was running late for my next appointment.  Stopping in mid-stream I asked Christie to hold the perfume bottle for me.  I returned to the store an hour later and while paying was handed a large bag.  It contained 6 beautiful china soup bowls and plates designed to hold fragile and sweet floral tea cups.  In the bag was a note: “I hope these will work for your table!  See you soon!! Your new sister, Christie.”  The bottle, the bowls and plates, all of it was beautifully unfolding for our Red Tent Dinner.

Returning home, I washed the bowls and began to set the table for five but instead set it for six.  I placed the purchased perfume bottle amongst others.  Within minutes I received a text asking if I had room for one more lady and without hesitation, I answered “YES!”  The evening was changing.  So was the weather.  Just before we were to gather, loud claps of thunder, high winds and pouring rain arrived. I finished setting the table. This is a glimpse of the goodness we got to share:

The women arrived and though a little wet, came in with hands full including an appetizer, bread, salad and dessert.    I welcomed each one and was surprised yet again when my eyes landed on our sixth guest, a friend who was visiting the states on leave from her ministry in Cambodia.  I had not seen her in 15 years.

Introductions were made as we gathered in chairs and on the floor around the coffee table to enjoy an appetizer together.

Connections were made and friendships birthed and rebirthed.

Eventually we made our way to the table.  I shared the theme “Miracle” and asked each woman to share any story stirring in their hearts.  Stories were shared about waiting on a miracle, experiencing a miracle and daring to dream about miracles.  For the rest of the evening we enjoyed a simple meal filled with the nourishing extravagance of laughter, tears and heart connection through stories shared.

Before leaving we decided to hold another Red Tent Dinner next month before our friend returns to Cambodia.  I am looking forward to that.

I am so glad I stopped for the nudge on my heart –  I’ve since placed the perfume jar on my bookshelf as a reminder of our evening together and my gratitude to God for the gift of his miracles in my life, including the gift of belonging at a table of women and sharing stories over a Red Tent Dinner.

photo-4Ellen Oelsen lives in the Texas Hill Country with her husband of 26 years. She is a mother of 4 children and loves their 2 dogs and 1 cat. Her hobbies include cooking, nature, reading, plays, and two stepping. She delights in offering hospitality of the heart and creating spaces of care, rest, play and reflection to inspire hope. She is beginning to expose the writer within her.