It had been a long, tiring day. I was exhausted but invigorated. As I made my way through the bustling crowd, all waiting for a coveted table, I blinked hard. Was I really HERE? I looked around at the hipsters drinking wine and chatting in exclusive groups all around me, and my thoughts went to my own little tribe of boys back home. How was it possible that I had left the endless piles of laundry and sticky, matchbox car-covered floors and found my way to this place, on this night? As my friend and I looked for familiar faces, I pinched myself.
It had been an abnormal day all around. Instead of waking up to the pitter-patter of footie pajamas coming down the hall at the crack of dawn, I had woken early in a hotel room filled with new friends, anxious to get some coffee and make our way to a convention where we would be encouraged and equipped in our vocations as home educators. I spent the day migrating from one workshop to another, each session nourishing me and breathing life into my weary mama-heart. I had chosen my speakers carefully, and although their words were like water to a parched soul, they were also thought-provoking, challenging, and stimulating. It had been some time–at least a year, maybe two–that I had been wrestling with this feeling of being pulled toward something more than ordinary in my home. Although I wasn’t questioning God’s clear directive in my life to educate our sons at home, I had heard the faint whispers of the Holy Spirit, indicating that there was something more I was to do. It began quietly: a chance reading of a blog post during naptime that stirred something deep in my soul. And that podcast while folding laundry when my heart leaped within my chest at the realization that the speaker was saying the very things I had been pondering for months, yet with a clarity and certainty I couldn’t muster. Up until then I had been so sure that I had been alone in my longings. Yet here they were, echoing the Kingdom call that was sounding in my own heart. It wasn’t long before I discovered that there was an entire community of people “out there” whose work and messages seemed to resonate with the deepest longings and passions of my soul. I devoured every thing I could get my hands on: writings, podcasts, books, audio files–anything that would continue to stir my affections and make me think more deeply and clearly about this direction I felt God leading me. I allowed these people to mentor me anonymously, from afar, and they challenged my thinking and encouraged and equipped me in profound ways. It would be hard to overestimate the influence they each had on me, pointing me to Christ and equipping me for His unique calling. And so, when I discovered that many of these people were speaking at the convention, I arranged my schedule to ensure that I had the opportunity to soak up their wisdom and encouragement in person. And although I had nothing to offer them in exchange for all that they had given to me, I wanted to thank them and, just for a few minutes, to be in the space of the people so inspirational and formative in my life and the lives of countless others.
As my friend recognized a familiar face and we made our way over to the patio, I realized it had only been a few hours earlier that this night had even become possible. “We’ve been invited to dinner,” she had said. I was cursing my aching feet and trying to ground the day’s thoughts and insecurities that were still bouncing around in my head when I finally realized what she had said. I WAS INVITED TO DINNER. With them. I understood her invitation; she was “one of them.” But me? I was nobody. An admirer. A fan. An outsider. But somehow, inexplicably, I had an invitation.
The waitress brought wine and the word that the table was ready and that the others were waiting on our arrival. We followed her through the bustling, hopeful crowd to the back of the restaurant. She moved a large painting and revealed a hidden door that opened to a staircase. As we made our way down and the chilled air reached us, I caught my breath with the realization that we were descending into a dimly lit wine cellar. As we came to the bottom of the stairs, we were greeted with warm smiles and welcomes, handshakes and hugs. I forced myself to capture the face of each person who had mentored me from afar, now laughing and extending a welcoming hand, receiving me into the inner circle. We admired the dust covered bottles and took pictures to capture the unique beauty of the exclusive surroundings. I was astonished when I was drawn into the group photographs commemorating the event. I was sure, at any moment, they would realize that there was an impostor in their midst and it would all be over. Instead, astonishingly, I was generously ushered to the table and bid to sit and feast with them.
It was when we sang The Doxology that I began to hear the echo. It was faint, but distinct, and almost like deja vu, yet I was certain that I had never been in that place before. The laughter continued and I was sure that my cheeks would ache forever from the joy I felt. Stories were told and each person took a turn standing to share their hearts and lives with the friends at the table. We sang Hallelujah and gave thanks to the One in whom we– Protestant, Orthodox, and Catholic–WERE one and I heard the hint of the echo again. The food arrived, the feast began, and the laughter continued. Hours passed, but the joy didn’t wane. I glanced again at each face around the room and sat in wonder, astonished that all of these people had poured so much into me and I had nothing at all to offer them in return, yet they accepted me anyway. And at that realization, the echo turned into a trumpet.
I didn’t deserve to be there. I owed them everything; my debt of gratitude to them was inexhaustible. But despite my unworthiness, they graciously and lavishly extended hospitality to me and offered me a seat at the table. They bid me to feast and laugh and sing and celebrate with them the One who is infinitely worthy of all praise and adoration. I thought of C.S. Lewis and realized that the echoes I had been hearing all night were “the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have not yet visited.”
IT WAS A FORETASTE OF THE KINGDOM.
And, once again, the embers of the longings that had been stirring in my heart over the recent months and years were kindled. I felt the weight of the calling, but, for the first time, I also felt the certainty of it.
I may never earn my seat at that table with those people. But that is the beauty of the grace that is extended to us. We also won’t ever deserve what is so generously and lavishly offered to us in Christ. But there IS a Kingdom coming and we HAVE been offered a seat at the table. And although I cannot earn it and I will never deserve it, I have been bid to live in the astonishing joy of that truth and then tell others about it.
And that I CAN do.