It wasn’t much of a table.  Just a small, round little maple one with four chairs.  It sat right next to the kitchen.  The oldest four children were grown and gone, so my friend, younger than them by several years, sat each evening with her parents during dinner, just the three of them.  Every once in a while, though, something happened.  Her mother pulled out an extra placemat.  Then a plate and some silverware.  A glass.  And finally, her mom would kindly ask, “Melinda, would you like to stay for dinner?”  I remember looking at that place setting and feeling so happy…so WELCOME.  I knew that, for the evening at least, I belonged at that table.  I was a part of their meal and (maybe) even a small part of their family if only for just a moment in time.   Forty years later, that little table, with a place set for me, is still clearly visible in my mind.  And it makes me smile.
Yesterday was “Promotion Sunday” at Sun Grove.  And we were excited!  There were some new locations, new decorations and the smiling faces of volunteers ready to greet kiddos.  For little ones about to begin kindergarten, the adjustment can be difficult to say the least.  New room (up the stairs – oh my!), new teachers, and new classmates.  As I have been through a few “promotions” in my time, I was prepared for the possibility of tears and trepidation on the part of our new little arrivals.
But, to my surprise, there were none.  No tears.  No frantically holding daddy’s hand or hiding behind mommy’s legs.  One after another, I watched as kids walked comfortably into their new room, sat down, and began to learn about Jesus.   Later, at home, after I had taken off my shoes and curled up on the couch for a moment, I began to think about this.  Was it the super cute tree and bushes on the wall?  The framed messages with bright colors?  The square rugs that looked like lush green grass spread out on the floor?  I couldn’t tell you.  But SOMETHING told those kiddos they were expected.  Something fun awaited.  This new room was where they BELONGED.  And there was a place for them.   Hi!  We are so GLAD to see you!  Would you like to sit down?  There is a place for you RIGHT HERE.
Last night, we also celebrated our high school graduates at Sun Grove.  Yay!  I arrived early, ready to save a spot for a special graduate and her parents (and myself).  But someone pointed out the decorated placards on each table with the word “reserved” and the name of a graduate printed on them.   I found her name and sat down, early enough to observe other arrivers.  I watched people come in and look around a bit nervously.  Where do we sit?  Will there be room for all of us?  Are we sure they know we’re coming?
And then the look of relief.  Of appreciation.  They DID make a place for us.  Here is our graduate’s name right there.  A space has been reserved.  Just for us.
Have you ever been late to an event?  You rush all the way there, arrive in a haste to a darkened room and see people everywhere.  Suddenly you see an empty chair.  Walking towards it, you watch as someone places a coat, purse, book, (something) on top of the chair as the universal sign, “You can’t sit here.”  This seat is saved.  For someone else.  Not for you.  Go find another place.
But how about the time when you arrived late but find your spouse, friend, co-worker has saved you a seat?  Waves at you across the auditorium.  Texts you directions to his location.  Smiles a giant smile when she sees you make your way towards her.  THIS spot is for YOU.  I KNEW you were coming.
The older I get, the more I realize how much this world is not like heaven.  People everywhere get hurt, feel hurt and cause hurt.  SO MANY people are looking for a way to fit in.  And are willing to do whatever it takes to find it.  From our littlest kiddos to those of us are, uh, older, everyone wants to feel accepted.  And comfortable.  To know the rules.  The lingo.  The joke.  To see a welcoming smile, a waving hand, an open space.  For Us.
And I was reminded in two very different but similar settings how we can clearly and effectively show God’s love to others.  We let them know we planned on them.  Prepared for them.  Maybe we cooked or cleaned for them.  Put flowers in a jar for them. Turned on a porch light for them. Whatever it is, a heart is touched in a very real, very powerful way when we make it known that we want others with us.  In our homes.  In our church.  In our lives.  And that there is a place for them.  A place only THEY can fill.  God feels that way about us.  And I believe He expects US to show that kind of love to everyone around us.  Think for a moment of the person you would rather NOT have at YOUR table.  Not in the chair next to you.  Not in your car.  Or your neighborhood.  Or your church.  If we don’t prepare a place for that person, who will?  What if everyone who entered church did so with the confidence and comfort of our little soon-to-be kindergarteners?  Knowing that this was a “table” set for THEM.  By a family that expected them and WANTED them.  To feel like FAMILY.  And to know they were going to fit in fine.  And they were going to have FUN.
Is this spot taken?
No.  Not at all.  Have a seat.
I was saving it just for you.
Melinda Lamera
Sun Grove Children’s Ministry