A Place at the Table: What my Daughter Taught me about Welcoming a Stranger

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Credit: bodnarchuk / Thinkstock

It all started with meatloaf and mashed potatoes, the perfect meal on a cold Saturday night. My husband is a pastor and we had teamed up with our assistant pastor’s family to host Sunday’s guest speaker. Our kids were having a dance party while we lingered at the table, talking about spiritual gifts, vision, and mission fields. That’s when the phone rang, right in the middle of all the chaos…

The voice on the other end was desperate. He had slept on the park bench the night before, not wanting to be a burden to anyone. But the temperatures plummeted and living in a small-town park wasn’t a sustainable plan. At age eighteen was kicked out of his house with nowhere to go.

He ensures that orphans and widows receive justice. He shows love to the foreigners living among you and gives them food and clothing.

Deuteronomy 10:18 (NLT)

We gave him a bed and a toothbrush. He slept in his jeans, too exhausted to change. It seemed risky to invite a stranger in but it also seemed right. I tossed and turned with questions without answers tumbling around in my brain.

The next morning, my youngest daughter Eliza slipped into the chair beside him at the dining room table. He was scrolling through the contacts on his phone trying to figure out what to do next in a chaotic world.

“I can count to 100,” Eliza said quietly.

My husband and I watched from the other room as she set a box of crayons beside him, chatting easily. Before we knew it, he began coloring too. She grabbed his hand and led him to the art cabinet where they picked out supplies to make a drawing. In her six-year-old way, she showed him the love of Christ, doing what she knew to do.

There are moments in my life when I realize just how hard I try to sanitize my faith. I work hard at finding the answers to Christianity without even meaning to. God is good, I think as I pour myself another cup of coffee while searching for a coupon code for a new pair of shoes. I scrape uneaten food into the trash and turn on the water with a flick of my wrist without thinking. When I’m faced with the brokenness of this world, when I see just how much I take for granted, I’m forced to dig deeper for the reasons that He is good—bumper sticker theology doesn’t work when everything’s been stripped away.

That night, Eliza sat perched beside him. When I announced that it was time to get ready for bed, she hopped off the arm of the chair to brush her teeth.

“Save my spot,” she said as she skipped away.

And he did.

The prayer of St. Francis reminds me:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Amen.

Eliza woke up the next morning after he’d gone to school. “I miss him,” she sighed. My thoughts turned to how we’d worked to convince him not to quit school, how all his belongings sat in a duffel bag in our mudroom, how desperately I want him to know love.

This is the hard, unsanitary, unanswered, upside down faith. This is acknowledging the brokenness in the world, without being able to fix it. This is where God calls us to live dependent on Him, hands open, bringing the faintest light to the darkest situation. This is trusting in God to set things right even when there’s no tidy ending to the story.

Mission fields aren’t found sitting around a table eating meatloaf and mashed potatoes, they begin when we make a heaping plate for the lonely one with nowhere to go. It’s found when we give them a place at our table.

My daughter understands this instinctively. What I take so long to process, she does without even thinking. When we give God room to do His work, learning to lean on Him even when there are no answers, He allows us to be His instruments of hope. In the giving, we receive.


Sarah Damaska is a faithful contributor to Soul Care Collective. Thank you, Sarah!

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Sarah lives in the Thumb of Michigan, stirring the soup, folding the laundry and sitting at the soccer games in between drumming up a few words on her blog, sarahdamaska.com. She drinks her coffee with a bit of cream and if you check her purse, you’ll probably find a book (or three), just in case. Sarah loves Jesus with all her heart and graduated from Asbury University with a degree in Christian Education.

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