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The Lifegiving Table: A Venture into Hospitality & Table Discipleship

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In the fall of 2021, I repainted my kitchen and dining room a lovely, welcoming shade of Summer White. As part of the process, I would put on my headphones and listen to podcast episodes or audiobooks on Scribd. Two books I particularly enjoyed were Awaking Wonder and The Lifegiving Table by well-known homeschool mother, podcaster, and author Sally Clarkson.

These books revolutionized the way I looked at my home, my family, and the way we homeschool. In particular, the book The Lifegiving Table changed the way I viewed both our family meal space and hospitality to those outside our family.

The Lifegiving Table: Nurturing Faith through Feasting, One Meal at a Time
The Lifegiving Table: Nurturing Faith through Feasting, One Meal at a Time

One thing that really grabbed my attention was Sally’s scripture-saturated early chapters that unearthed the importance of food and meals to God.

Perhaps a good place to start is with this statement by biblical scholar and author N. T. Wright: “When Jesus wanted to explain to his followers the meaning of his death, he didn’t give them a theory; he gave them a meal.”

~The Lifegiving Table

Further, she highlighted how much of Jesus’ discipleship ministry happened around a table, through hospitality.

You’ll also find tables and food everywhere in the Gospels. Jesus often ate and reclined at tables with others. Many of His parables involve food, eating, and tables. Some of His best miracles involve food and drink, and some of His best teaching takes place at tables. . .

. . . After Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, the act of sharing food and drink continued to carry heavy spiritual significance for His followers. The New Testament accounts indicate that sharing meals was integral to the growing church. The table, where those early Christians partook of both the physical and the spiritual food and drink, came to represent the unity we all share in Christ (1 Corinthians 10:16-17).

~The Lifegiving Table

There are far too many other references to food and tables to mention here, so let me share a helpful summary by Leonard Sweet:

The first word God speaks to human beings in the Bible—God’s very first commandment—is “Eat freely” (Genesis 2:16, NASB).

The last words out of God’s mouth in the Bible—his final command? “Drink freely” (see Revelation 22:17). These bookends to the Bible are reflective of the whole of the Scriptures: Everything in between these two commands is a table, and on that table is served a life-course meal, where we feast in our hearts with thanksgiving on the very Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation: Jesus the Christ.

~The Lifegiving Table 

“Discipleship” is a hot buzzword at our church, and rightfully so. It is defined by our pastor as “one life coming alongside another to walk together in a Godward direction.” We have care groups formed around both this concept. We have been admonished that we are all in ministry – to each other as well as those outside of the church – as we “move out with our faith” into our respective communities.

But the reality is that when I was listening to this book, I and my family were going through a period of intense loneliness.

The pandemic created division in relationships as people drew sides over issues like wearing masks or getting the COVID vaccine. Back in 2020, after we had gotten over COVID in our home, a dear friend of mine physically stepped back away from me when she found out – even though we had been cleared by our doctor to be out and about. The combination of these issues, a world shutting down, churches in turmoil, our family’s mental and behavioral struggles, and my 2020 leg injury had left our family feeling disconnected.

In 2021, the world around us was trying to resume a sense of normalcy. There was that time when my 5-year-old excitedly ran up to me asking if we could attend a 4th of July party with all of his Sunday School friends – a party to which we had not been invited. I had to tell him no, and then I went and cried in the church bathroom. Then there was the soul-crushing news that Ezra’s best friend with whom he had grown incredibly close during the pandemic was moving – to another continent.

While I had stepped into a fulfilling role as our church pianist, my husband and kids were becoming more and more lonely, depressed, discouraged, and discontent. I was starting to fear that there was a place for me, but not a place for them.


The essence of The Lifegiving Table is how important it is to gather – whether it be with just your own family, or with others – regularly around the table in an intentional way, and to look for God in those moments. Sally also highlighted how this practice in her own family led to her children developing empathy, grace, manners, culture, and even their own faith and convictions because of the discussions they had in their home, around their table.

Shaping the mind and heart through repeated discussions about truth, beauty, and righteousness and engaging in these ideas regularly shapes convictions that last a lifetime.

~The Lifegiving Table 

While some of her concepts seemed a bit idyllic to me – as I painted my kitchen the truths planted themselves in my heart and I found myself craving this kind of community.

There was just a few problems. 1) Our family can barely get through a family dinner of just us without fights over eating and someone having a meltdown. 2) I’m an introvert who doesn’t like to be around people or have people in my space. 3) I hate cooking. 4) If you come to my home unannounced you WILL find me in pajamas.

The perfect “Welcome” sign for introverts

I always fell back on the excuse that entertaining people in my home simply wasn’t my gifting. Have me write a blog post, design a flier, or play a song. That’s my gifting. Cooking and entertaining? Leave that to someone who can handle hosting people for dinner without having a complete mommy meltdown.

But the conviction I was facing in my heart wouldn’t go away.

In November 2021, I pushed away the excuses and bravely invited a family over for dinner. I tried to keep it simple – a dinner of tacos and fellowship. But even before the guests arrived, I called my mom in tears asking her “WHY IS THIS SO HARD FOR ME?” because I was so overwhelmed. The dinner was okay, but between our five children noisily wreaking havoc on the playroom and our husbands engaging in a rousing theological debate, I about fell apart when the whole thing was over.

While I was discouraged, I tried to look at it less as a failure and more as a learning experience. Two weeks later, we had our in-laws over for Thanksgiving dinner. I ordered a pre-cooked dinner (BEST IDEA EVER), but it was still yummy and lovely – and we all had a good time.

Thanksgiving Table
Our Family Table, Thanksgivin 2021

About a month later, I tried again, this time hosting a beautiful Moravian-inspired Christmas love feast for our family, our inlaws, and two of our pastors’ families. Yes, I was exhausted and overwhelmed by the cooking, decorating, and planning. But what resulted was a beautiful glimpse of what table discipleship looks like.

Admittedly, this was also after being on Wellbutrin for a month. But what this love feast also showed me was that I COULD manage this. My family COULD sit through a meal with company without anyone having a meltdown.



In March of 2022, after a hiatus in the painting, I resumed both my painting projects and listening to The Lifegiving TableOnce again, I found myself inspired and craving the kind of hospitality that Sally was describing.

We were also attending a “Thriving Marriage Institute” seminar at our church. Our pastor mentioned a family from a previous ministry who was – for lack of a better word – “a mess” (my words, not his) and how them serving God TOGETHER as a family provided healing, freedom, and growth.

That day I wrote this as a note to Russ on the bottom of my notes page:

“Serve together…bonding, growing…This is our missing piece, and I’m sorry.” (3/20/22)

This message was seconded in Sally’s words, as she explained how hospitality as a family helped her children develop hearts of service:

The experience of being served at the table is meant to motivate our own acts of service—both at home and in the world.

~The Lifegiving Table 

Earlier in 2022, my husband had begun to struggle with some of his mental health challenges in a way unlike anything I had ever seen previously, going through a period of extreme insomnia and mental instability. This caused our home life to be quite tumultuous. Eventually we sought additional help for him in the way of a new psychiatrist, changes in medication, and counseling,.

As we navigated these troubled waters as a family, I still tried to make our dining room table a welcoming, safe, and “lifegiving” place.

flowers on table for Easter
Our favorite Shipt shopper gifted us with flowers right before Easter!

I bought pretty tablecloths. I picked up cheap flowers at the grocery store. I purchased family discussion questions for us to use during family dinners. We began having after dinner family board game nights:

family table board games

family table board games

family table board games

family table board games

family table board games

I even had special afternoon “tea parties” with my boys a few times (something Sally did with her children), just to do something special with them.

family table tea party

Don’t get me wrong–this was no magic bullet. We still had fights. We still had boys who refused to eat their vegetables. There was still frustration. But I kept this quote on my wall as a reminder of my vision and goals.

Yes, kids will fidget. Yes, some discussions might be silly or even become argumentative. Yes, sometimes you’ll think nothing is happening. But a family culture is being built even when progress is hard to see. Keep the conversation going and teach your children to work through those discussions. Most important, day by day, keep them coming back to the table. I promise it will be worth it.

~The Lifegiving Table 

Ezra reveling in Eine Kleine Nachtmusik at the dinner table one evening.

The loneliness persisted, particularly for my husband. When he is in distress, my immediate response is to try to fix it. I felt that if he couldn’t successful navigate social engagements then maybe I should just…make it happen for him. I admit – selfishly – I want him to have friends because his loneliness was distressing for me: an extroverted husband depends on me for everything, and it’s a heavy load to carry.

I also considered ways to pursue hospitality toward others.

At some point around the end of July I had a God-given idea flash into my brain while I was trying to fall asleep.

What about a potluck? Then you don’t have to cook! 

A few days later, in yet another conversation about my husband’s lack of a healthy social life, I presented the idea to him of us opening our home on a monthly basis to have a potluck where we would invite a few families over all at once.

This idea hit Russ like a lightning bolt that charged his heart with an even stronger desire for this “table discipleship” – than I even had at the time. He started talking about it non-stop, to anyone who would listen.

Together, we talked through what we wanted these gatherings to look like. I drafted an invitation email, which he then heavily edited, and I finally tweaked until we were both satisfied that it communicated what we wanted to say. On August 7th, I hit send on our first round of invitations.


The evening of our first potluck had a rocky start, as a few of our sweet guests showed up early – while I was still in the shower. Russ and the boys were quickly overwhelmed, and I had to scramble to smooth their ruffled feathers while welcoming all of the guests. (Including our family of four, we had fourteen people total!) In spite of the rocky start, the night was full of the presence of the Holy Spirit in a very obvious, tangible way.

Our home is not huge, but spacious enough that – with some creative seating arrangement and some extra tables and chairs – we were able to spread out between the three main rooms on our main level.

potluck table setup

potluck dinner table setup

These folding card tables from Walmart are cheap, easy to move around, and incredibly helpful!

When the evening ended, I was filled up – but also regretful that I had spent the entire evening in one room while there was guests I barely spoke to who spent the entire time fellowshipping in the other rooms. I was assured by many that I should have no regrets, because what they experienced with one another was special and lifegiving in its’ own right, even though I was not present.

As one woman stated, “It was truly an annointed time. I drove home so filled up.”

What I observed that night was people who came HUNGRY for fellowship, companionship, and inclusion. I sat for a long time and talked to someone with whom I serve every week and saw a new side of her – a talkative, glowing side. And yet, I saw her loneliness and how much she desperately needed this time to connect with others.

As the doors closed behind the last departing guest, Russ and I looked at one another and knew that this wasn’t just a little potluck. We were creating something new and needed – and God had His hand on every part of it.


We have had five potlucks so far, with 40 different adults and 20 children enjoying a meal in our home. We work together preparing the home, instructing our children in their part in service to this ministry – it takes all eight of our hands and about two days of preparation.

Little Brother helping to set out water bottles for our guests
I could not do any of this without Russell’s help. Russ helps out with dishes all the time, but especially on potluck days!
Russ and Ezra setting out cones for efficient parking

As I have prayerfully poured over the names of people to invite (YES, there’s a color-coded spreadsheet!), God has worked to create guest lists that meld together very well. I try to make sure there’s at least one couple or family I know relatively well. Then someone maybe they know well, but I don’t. I try to invite someone who perhaps seems to exist on the margins of the church. I try to make sure that the guest list crosses generational barriers and other often-common separating factors (like marital or parenthood status). One guest in particular mentioned that this aspect of the attendance meant a lot to her, as she was often exluded from interacting with families whose status did not match her own. Unbenownst to me, my inclusion of this mix of people had given her the gift of a blessed new experience.

When we meet, there’s no agenda or structured Bible study. We are simply offering space for others to use to be engaged positively with one another. I love the way that Sally explains these elements in her book:

Five Key Elements of Table Discipleship:

Gather: We Come Together around the Table
Bless: We Thank God
Eat: We Break Bread
Share: We Open Hearts
Serve: We Give Ourselves

~The Lifegiving Table 

We decided against having a “mission statement,” but if I had to pick one from this book it would be this:

All table-talk discussions, love given, and beauty cultivated at our table are for the purpose of making real our Savior and calling those who share life with us to serve Him their whole lives.

~The Lifegiving Table 

Each potluck has taught us something different. We’ve learned some things TO do (like double checking to make sure the time on the signup sheet and the time on the email invite are the same!), and some things NOT to do (like wait til 30 minutes prior to take a shower!). We’ve rearranged our setup multiple times to best accomodate our individual guests and allow for optimal flow through the home.

We rearranged our kitchen to allow for an extra table for food, so the dining room isn’t so crowded that no one will sit at the dining room table!

At our December potluck, everything was prepared perfectly, until guests began arriving in a cold rain and everyone was asking me where they should put their wet coats and umbrellas. Apparently, it had been warm enough for our four previous events that I had not even considered the issue of coats. I froze, my brain refusing to work. I think I just mumbled, “I don’t know!” and referred people to an empty bin we use for library books that was barely big enough for one coat, let alone ten. I honestly don’t even know where all the coats eventually ended up. I was about to lose it when one of our guests pulled me aside, grabbed my hands, and coached me through some deep breaths. (I have since ordered a coat rack.)

We believe that this is something that God has called us to do. We feel that the most obvious indicators of this endeavor being successful are that others are filled up when they come, and that when they leave, they would take it upon themselves to do the same thing we are doing – to open their homes and hearts to others.

As Russ said at our December potluck, “If we can open our home in this way for this purpose, then you can too.”

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