Dinner Table Talk


Carla Foote talks about the intensity of God's love and the importance of family in the face of great tragedy.

Written in 2007, after the Virginia Tech shooting

For many of us involved in ministry and leadership positions, our days are full and our brains are fried by the end of the day when we return home to re-group with our families. Table talk over dinner is an important place to process the small and large, local and global issues of our day. 

Last night at dinner, I started to say grace, and I just couldn't say anything. My husband picked up and finished for me, praying for those families touched by tragedy.

There are sad stories on the news every day, but some just hit a certain way, in a vulnerable place. And our voices catch as we discuss the news of the day around the dinner table. The conversation becomes more intense and emotional and less theoretical on these days.

My son is away at college. We missed his presence at the dinner table in a more pointed way last night.

Two people were killed in a college dorm and many more in a college classroom. The story was more than 2000 miles away from his campus, but it made me sad. I emailed him and told him I loved him, that nothing is for certain except for God, and that if anything ever happened he should try all of us on our cell phones and if he couldn't reach us, go to the next level of relatives—a little maternal advice never hurts. He called me last night, just to “touch base” and I appreciated the call.

Over dinner, as I regained the ability to talk, I described Blacksburg and what a lovely little town it is and how it fits into my family history. I needed to give the place a face and a context. My parents met on the campus of Virginia Tech over 50 years ago. My mom was a local woman, from a poor family in the countryside nearby, working on campus as a secretary in the Engineering Department. My dad was a graduate student from Iowa, studying Engineering at Virginia Tech and later teaching on the campus. They met, fell in love, got married and had two children in Blacksburg. I was born in the second phase of Dad’s career, after he left academics for the excitement of the jet age at Boeing in Seattle. So, Blacksburg isn't my hometown, and I’ve only visited there a few times, but I have roots there. 

Blacksburg is lovely, little college town in the Blue Ridge Mountains of southern Virginia. Horrible things aren't supposed to happen in lovely towns, except that they do.

As we continued to talk around the dinner table, our 16-year old provided an additional perspective. She participates in foreign extemporaneous speaking, so she regularly researches issues from around the world and keeps a clipping file on world events, sorted by country for her competitions. She said that about the same number of people have died in Nigeria this week, from violence surrounding their elections. Some candidates were assassinated before the election. Officials were actually surprised that there wasn't more violence. She said that she has to distance herself from the death in international news, to a certain extent, or she wouldn't be able to speak about it.

No one died in Denver in our last election.

Sitting around the dinner table contemplating the news of Virginia and Nigeria, we agreed that each life matters. A life in Virginia, a life in Nigeria, a life in Denver, a life in Darfur. And when news of a tragedy, either near to us, or distant, tugs at our heart and makes us process the deep questions of life, we are getting a glimpse, just a small glimpse, into the heart of God. Because we can’t see or understand the whole heart of God for the world. It would overwhelm and crush us.

Last night, sitting around our dinner table, just a few days after the event of Good Friday and the miracle of Easter, we had a tiny glimpse into the cost for Jesus. He died on the cross for every single person, individually. His heart literally broke for each of the millions and billions of human beings. Each created in his image. Each with the capacity for good and evil. Each with free will. Each needing redemption.

When we feel pain from the events in our near world, or the distant world, we are reminded of how much God loves the world, and how much pain free will has cost, and how much it cost Jesus to redeem us.

Even though it might sound trite, and simplistic, and super-spiritual, we have no choice, but to wait with anticipation for the certainty of a day with no tears and no sadness. A day we cannot see yet, but hold as a promise. When no parent will wait for the phone call from a young student which will never come. When the dinner table conversations will have a different tone and subject. Because without the hope and promise, we truly have nothing.

But, in the meantime, I have my family to talk with around the dinner table, and email and phone to connect with those of my family who are distant. Last night my dinner table was a sacred place of connection, where we could together understand a little more about each other, God, and the broken world where we live.

Written by Carla Foote

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