Joanne’s first childhood memory of the goodness of food and love at the table was biting into the gooey center of a cinnamon roll on Sunday mornings. Joanne and her husband Roger, a pastor, regularly practice hospitality by inviting friends and strangers to enjoy a simple meal of soup, bread, and a scoop of sherbet.
She has spoken on hospitality nationally. Joanne is also a part of the speaker team for FamilyLife “Weekends to Remember” marriage conferences. Her passion for homemade bread complements her love for tandem biking and cross-country skiing. The Thompsons have two daughters, and live in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
“Home is the place where your life story begins.”
Now about those Sunday morning cinnamon rolls. Dad, a pastor, was already at church when Mom served the cinnamon rolls to us six kids with utmost equanimity. Life at the Jones’ dinner table was classic 50’s–functional, convenient, and economical. But it was also so much more, not because dinner at the Jones house was ideal, but because it was sacred. My parents had given their household to Christ. As children, we were unconscious of how their priorities would shape our souls, but the unseen guest lived among us.
We gave thanks for meals, sometimes I would throw my bread crust behind the refrigerator, and though I disliked the peas and carrots I loved the crispy caramelized ends of the roast beef. I can’t remember which of my friends’ home I was visiting, but the day I smelled onions being sautéed in an iron skillet I wondered why in the world I had never tasted such bliss. Later I learned Mom never cooked with onions because Dad couldn’t eat them. (Onions are a staple in the Thompson house!) No doubt my rich capacity to savor tastes has drawn me to God’s gifts at the table.
Like every child deserves, I was nurtured and loved through the provision of food and family time over meals. I can’t imagine the challenge it must have been for my mother to prepare a meal for eight on a slim budget with the hope of pleasing everyone. Our character was formed as we practiced gratitude, shared food portions and learned to clear the dishes. But there was a time when I wasn’t at the table with my family. A strep infection had hit us kids like a tornado and weeks after the typical penicillin treatment I came down with a secondary kidney infection. After two weeks in the hospital I was on bed rest for over two months. The only time I got out of bed was when Mom put fresh sheets on.
I was given two privileges: a television and of course, meals in bed. Every night Mom brought me brightly colored Jell-O cubes just like the ones I was served in the hospital. I slurped the cubes as I watched The Honeymooners. But I also recall how I could hear the clatter and chatter of the family eating dinner in the kitchen while I was in my room by myself. I have no memory of a family member eating dinner with me in my bedroom. My compliant disposition never questioned this; I recovered, gained balance and strength in my legs and happily rejoined the family.
This childhood scenario was not hurtful to me, but it does probe my curiosity with the question—Did God use this in some way to plant a stirring in my heart to embrace the practice of hospitality? Food is inherently communal. Just as our bodies yearn for nutrition, our souls yearn for relationship. The table is the place where food and communion meet.
Fast forward many years. After my husband Roger and I were married, we moved to Denver so he could begin his seminary education. In the corner of our tiny apartment stood our first kitchen table—a 40 gallon pickle barrel adorned with an octagonal-shaped piece of plywood. This rustic “altar” became the place where we began the adventure of inviting others to our home. We even dared to invite the seminary president. So what did this “poor” newlywed graduate school couple serve the president for an evening snack? Sunflower seeds and a beverage!
Since those newlywed days we’ve served hundreds and hundreds of bowls of soup and homemade bread. (Making bread just happens to be my thing; it’s not for everyone.) I’ve accumulated tons of cookbooks and have gone through more than one set of stoneware. Cookbooks smudge and stoneware cracks but the simplicity of hospitality’s enduring grace continues to call me to receive and share God’s love. And oh how I love being part of the chatter at the table when our daughters, sons-in-law and grandchildren come home.