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“The heart of hospitality is about creating space for someone to feel seen and heard and loved. It’s about declaring your table a safe zone, a place of warmth and nourishment.”
~ Shauna Niequist, Bread and Wine

I have said this many times but I think it always deserves repeating: being around the table with women is where the good life happens. Some of my most favorite, most connected times, have been when I am seated around my beat-up white farmhouse table or around the table in the homes of good friends. The table provides nourishment for body and soul and is an invitational platform for vulnerability, active listening, compassion and the reception of grace. It’s the place where friendships are forged, secrets are shared, and hearts are held gently. IF:Table has been an equipping tool that God has used in my life this past year to focus my hospitality efforts and to make it simple and doable for me to invite women into my home and into my life. It provides a schedule, conversation cards, and a larger community all participating together to bring women together on Sunday evenings. These are the steps that I have taken to make IF:Table a regular part of my monthly rhythm.

 

INVITE

Make a list of women that you know locally. I use my list of Facebook friends to prompt me to write down women that I know from many different segments of my life. You can also jot down a quick list of women at church, preschool, your neighborhood, your job, etc. Write at least ten names to begin. Which of these names represent five women that you want to know better? Pick a Sunday evening (I stick with the second Sunday of the month and don’t fiddle with switching it all around to try to get everyone there) and send out a private message on Facebook or text to invite these five women over. Tell them that you are hosting a dinner for two hours to get women to know one another better and cultivate friendship, and that there will be four questions to guide the conversation. Setting the parameters for the evening allows everyone to know what to expect and that you will be facilitating the time. The evening is purposeful to get us below the surface of only talking about our children, schools, etc. If a woman responds that she can’t come, trust God that He has the right mix of women that He wants together on that evening and go down your list and invite someone else. Keep going until you find the woman who has that opening in her schedule. He has always, always, always provided women to come even up until two hours ahead of time!

{Personality Tip: I find that inviting a mix of extroverts and introverts offers the best opportunity for the richest and diverse conversations…when you make a list, think of each one’s personality a little bit so that you have a balance of conversationalists and listeners}

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MENU

I keep it very simple by cooking a main dish or soup and offering salad, crusty bread and a simple dessert. I don’t deviate from that because the goal is to make hosting as streamlined and easy as possible so that I will actually do it! Oven Chicken Risotto is always a winner, and in the winter, any of Edie’s soups are delicious. And of course, you can never go wrong with a recipe from The Pioneer Woman. If one of the women asks me what they can bring, I have them bring the dessert. If others ask, I give them the salad and bread. The only drink I offer is water, and I keep it in glass carafes with limes and lemons. Depending on the group, I will also offer red or white wine and have glasses out on a counter for them to serve themselves. I have a Keurig machine that I keep on a side table over near my dining room table that I make sure is filled with water, and place mugs and a basket of decaf K-cups over beside it along with sugar and half-and-half.

 

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SETTING THE TABLE

Go with your personality and with whatever makes you a hostess who feels warm and welcoming. If setting a table stresses you and perfectionism creeps in, then keep it super simple! I like to use vintage sheets for tablecloths and layer a table runner over it from Target or World Market or a thrift shop. I buy a $3.99 bouquet of flowers from Publix, trim down the stems low, and place them in a Mason Jar in the center. I scatter six glass tea light holders over the table runner. These can be bought cheaply in Target’s candle section, and I keep a stash a tea light candles from the Dollar Tree in a drawer in my kitchen. I go to the IF:Gathering website and download that month’s questions, print on cardstock, cut and scatter on the table. White plates are always simple and versatile paired with cloth or paper napkins, and place a fork, knife and spoon. I always use Mason Jars for the drinking glasses with a colorful paper straw in each one. You can buy paper straws in the Target or Michael’s Dollar sections. Setting the table is something I do several hours in advance so that it’s complete, and my focus can shift to food preparation. Now that is what I do, but if using paper plates and a bare table gets you to actually invite women in, then DO IT! The goal is connection with others not stressed-out, angsty hospitality.

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GUIDING THE CONVERSATION

When everyone arrives, introduce women to each other that may have never met before. Have everyone fill their water glasses or pour themselves a glass of wine. I serve the meal buffet-style so that each woman grabs her plate, fills it up and finds a seat at the table. I pray for the meal and for our conversation, and then I immediately ask one of the women to grab a conversation card and read it out loud to all of us. We jump right in. If there are some women who don’t answer the question, that is fine. Move on to the next question when the conversation lulls or if you need to move on because of the time boundaries you have set for the evening. On the second question, call on women who haven’t shared and tell them that you would love to hear their thoughts. Guide the evening so that everyone is heard and can feel safe to share openly. Lead with vulnerability. Vulnerability is holy and invitational and allows sacred space for women to bare their own soul struggles and receive love and acceptance. Shame keeps women in hiding and thinking that they are all alone and that their struggles are unique to them. Vulnerability is the powerful antidote to shame and is the avenue to connection with others. It is the relational key that allows us to know that we are not alone and every woman has a story of pain and heartache, fear and sorrow.

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NEXT STEPS

I try to follow up by sending a private Facebook message to the women later that evening or the next day to thank them for coming and for sharing their evening with me. I may even challenge them to begin their own IF:Table now that they have seen how easy and fun it can be. My rhythm is to host new women each month and offer more and more women the opportunity to be invited, fed, listened to and challenged. Your group of women may be one that God is calling to stay together and meet monthly. I have a group of women like that, and it has evolved into being a place of safety, mentoring, connection and hope for each one of us.

Women are lonely and need spaces to be nurtured, loved, listened to and seen. We have been generously gifted by God with homes, no matter how humble, to use for His people and His glory. We own tables and chairs and plates and cutlery and why don’t we take time to share them once a month with five others? It seems so simple and small, and yet when we offer our spaces and our very lives, His Kingdom is ushered in with life and light and laughter. And we could all use a whole lot more of that, couldn’t we?

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