Ten years ago, I left the house each morning by 6:30 with two children in tow.
I arrived back home no earlier than 7:00 in the evening.
I was a single mom, with two wonderfully unique little boys and I was overwhelmed every single second of the day.
Every night was a mad dash to bedtime, just so we could get up and do it all over again.
I remember worrying about how little time we actually spent together, and how often I fed the boys in front of the TV just to get a bit of a break. I knew the statistics about how critical family dinners together were for my boys’ well being.
Children are more likely to do well in school if they eat at the table with their parents four nights a week.
Children are more likely to be obese, do drugs, and drop out if they don’t.
It was terrifying.
Seven years ago, when we began this homeschooling journey, I was sure I would easily change our table habits.
I was home. The boys were home. How hard could it be? (Feel free to snort and giggle at my naïveté. I’ll wait.)
The truth is, it felt impossible.
I remember praying, “Jesus, please. Help me get these kids to the table and bless them four nights a week so they don’t end up on drugs.” (Seriously. This was my prayer.)
Sensory issues around eating, and even just sitting in hard chairs at the table, complicated things to be sure.
But mostly, it was my own seeming inability to get it together and have the energy to actually engage by the time dinner was on the table that got in the way.
Honestly, most nights, it still is.
The only difference these days is that I see our time together at the table differently.
I have read every single thing Sally Clarkson has ever published. I have devoured her words like fresh bread with butter and asked for more.
Desperate? Yes, I am.
Own My Own Life? Yes, I should.
Different? Oh my goodness, my child is too.
Her latest book, The Life Giving Table: Nurturing faith through feasting one meal at a time, is an honest and inspiring look at how we create an environment of discipleship in the tables we set and the meals we serve.
Sally offers practical wisdom and shares real life examples of how profound the impact of dining together can be.
More over, she connects it to how we encourage our children to love well, serve well and live like Jesus.
Because Sally has real life to contend with, her book goes far beyond her ideals, and truly meets a struggling to get it together mom right where she is.
People frequently say to me, “It’s nice that you have ideals, but it has all been easy for you.” But this is just not true. Through the years, our family has encountered all the usual issues and quite a few unusual ones – deaths in the family, chronic health issues, job layoffs, money issues, mental illness, seventeen moves, multiple miscarriages, church splits, church plants, and more.
So my ideals did not develop out of ease, but out of difficulty. – Sally Clarkson, The Life Giving Table, p. 128
I love this and I think it’s so true. Our difficulties force us to define who we are, what we believe, and how we want to best life our lives.
When Dinner Together Seems Impossible
This book encouraged me to stop making it all so complicated.
If you are a mom, like me, struggling to figure out how to make meals meaningful in the midst of life’s curve balls, let me share with you some of my favorite points from The Life Giving Table.
A Meal Can Be Anything You Like
One of my favorite stories is how, exhausted and ready to throw in the towel, Sally instead asks each of her kids to grab a snack food and put it together on a plate. Ten minutes later, they feasted on cheese, crackers, fruit and popcorn. (She also shares how Qdoba and Chick-Fil-A can be exactly what a family needs sometimes.)
I can’t tell you how many times we have done the same – but I have felt guilty about it. This guilt serves no one and is discouraging. The grace Sally shows for the days that are a struggle, makes me want to do more for our mealtimes on the days where is it possible. It also encourages me that even popcorn shared together matters and “counts” in the grand scheme of parenting.
Planning Always Makes Mealtimes Easier
Sally weaves recipes and ideas for meals throughout the book. She discusses how she uses Sunday to set the tone for the week and stocks her freezer with easy comfort foods for the days when life seems determined to derail us. Her tips and tricks are helpful, yes. They are also completely doable.
A Little Beauty Goes A Long Way
On the most difficult of days, what our souls crave is a little lightness and beauty. Yet, all too often, these are the days where I am least attentive to bringing a little beauty into our meals and our lives. Sally encourages us to look at it from the opposite perspective. On the days where it all seems tough – those are the days that need a little bit of pretty. A candle lit, some soft music playing, a nicely set table – all can be a way to bring peace to a chaotic day.
By intentionally creating spaces of beauty, even if only tiny ones, we combat chaos, despair, ugliness, and exhaustion.
If we tell ourselves, “I cannot develop beauty for my child during this season; there is just too much going on!” we will never begin. Our seasons of exhaustion are places to engage with God, create islands of peace (because heaven knows they won’t create themselves!) and teach your children how to be good stewards of their God-given souls and bodies.
When you choose to view life this way, you will be surprised how many graces God provides along the way. Even if grace comes in the form of cheese, turkey rolls, grapes and popcorn. – Sally Clarkson, The Life Giving Table, pp.136-137
One of our family’s favorite traditions is eating a “picnic dinner” together. We spread a blanket out on our living room floor and sit crossed legged together. There is no elaborate table setting, nor is the meal extravagant, but it brings a joy and warmth that we need.
Thanks to Sally, I see this as an element of a life-giving table in my home. It may look a little different, but it serves my family well.
It’s exactly what The Life Giving Table is all about.
For more on Sally Clarkson’s Books:
Shawna Wingert is a former training and development professional turned education specialist, and has homeschooled her two children for the last ten years.Shawna has written four books about homeschooling unique learners and has been featured in homeschooling discussions on Today.com, The Mighty, Simple Homeschool, My Little Poppies and Raising Lifelong Leaners.
You can find her online here at DifferentByDesignLearning.com.