Story Table: Hospitality


Story Table Bread

+ The Story Table takes a theme from FULLER magazine and brings it to life at everyone’s favorite conversation place: the dinner table. People who embody the theme in unique ways tell their stories around the table, and members of the community are invited to listen in. This Story Table focuses on the power of hospitality, and we were honored to host faculty, students, grads, and others to reflect together.

If you are interested in hosting your own Story Table, we’ve prepared a free Story Table Guide for you to use. Do you want to be notified when we release more Story Table videos as well as additional FULLER studio content? Subscribe to our email newsletter.


Guests:

Catherine Barsotti, Affiliate Professor (watch)
Jean Burch
, Senior Pastor of Community Bible Church of Greater Pasadena (watch)
Jennifer Guerra
, MDiv student (watch)
Miyoung Yoon Hammer
, Chair and Associate Professor of Marital and Family Therapy (watch)
Mark Labberton
, President (watch)
Johnny Ramírez-Johnson
, Professor of Anthropology
Tim Yee
, Pastor of Union Church of Los Angeles (watch)

Michael Wright, Associate Editor: We’re very excited you all are here, especially welcome to Micah Groupspeople from all over the U.S., it’s very exciting to have you here! Meggie Anderson, Story Table coordinator, is going to introduce everyone, and tell you a little bit more about Story Table and the Story Table Guide.

Let me begin with a quote, to orient us on what’s about to happen as we listen in on the stories around this table. This is from Henri Nouwen and it’s in our next issue of FULLER magazine on the theme of “Restore”:

“The paradox of hospitality is that it once could create emptiness. Not a fearful emptiness, but a friendly one, where strangers can enter and discover themselves as created free. Hospitality is not a subtle invitation to adopt the lifestyle of the host, but to give the chance, to the guest, to find his own.”

We’re going to be hearing from all these people, their stories, and receive them with that same kind of hospitable emptiness and allow that to change our own perspective on the world. Thanks.

Meggie Anderson, Story Table Coordinator: Thanks for that, Michael. Welcome everyone, again. It’s so wonderful to have such a full room. I think this is the fullest capacity we’ve been at, so please, if you feel a little snug, just get to know your neighbor!

[laughter]

Meggie: We want you to feel really at home in this space. If you need to get up at any time, you are welcome to do so. There’s coffee. There’s dessert. There’s water. We’ll try and get plates out of your way, if we are able to reach you.

I wanted to start by making sure you all know who is around the table. First, we have Miyoung Yoon Hammer. She is a professor of marital and family therapy here at Fuller. Cathy Barsotti is an affiliate professor here at Fuller, but she also teaches at the Centro Hispano de Estudios Teologicos [referring to her pronunciation of Spanish]how’d I do?

[laughter]

Catherine Barsotti: Very good, very good.

Meggie: Great! Next to her is Pastor Tim Yee. He’s the pastor of Union Church, LA. At the end of the table is Jean Burch, and she is the pastor of Community Bible Church of Greater Pasadena. Mark Labberton, the president of Fuller Theological Seminary. Jen Guerra is an MDiv student here, and when are you graduating, Jen?

Jennifer Guerra: Next spring.

Meggie: Getting close. Here we have Johnny Ramirez‑Johnson, he’s a professor of intercultural studies here at Fuller. Lauralee is our Chief Creative, and she is going to be moderating the Story Table tonight.

I also wanted to point out a few other elements that go into Story Table that are worthwhile taking time to mention. The soup was prepared by Laura Harbert, and we are really grateful for her contribution.

The salad was a really joint effort. This lettuce actually came from a farm that is getting started at Tim Yee’s church called “Give Urban Farm.” We just harvested this lettuce right before you are eating it now. Very farm-to-table!

[laughter]

Meggie: Claire Ferguson and Rosa Ramirez helped prepare your salad. The desserts were made by Lindsey Wright, Michael’s wife. We are very grateful for her; she always does a wonderful job. Another fun element about this Story Table that makes it a little bit different is I have asked some of our storytellers to contribute an item from their own home that reminds them of hospitality.

Miyoung brought this candle, here. Jean brought the sign that’s on the table, and I believe these two blankets are hers. The blanket here and there, that’s also Jean’s. Cathy brought this dish that belonged to her grandmother, at the center of the table there, and the blanket that’s behind you, here.

There are just these little touches all around the room that are very special to people here, and we’re so grateful for your contribution. Before we get started, and I turn it over to Lauralee, I just want to open up with a word of prayer.

Lord, we come before you ready to receive, tenderly, these stories that our storytellers have to offer. Like Michael said, we come empty, ready to receive, but also very full. Full of delicious food, in a very full room, full of people, perhaps uncomfortably full sometimes. I just pray for grace and patience and that we can be welcoming and hospitable to the people next to us, God. It is a joy and a delight to gather together. May you bless this time. In your name we pray, Amen.

Audience: Amen.


Johnny Ramirez Johnson and Jennifer Guerra


Lauralee Farrer, Chief Creative: Miyoung, we’re going to ask you to light the candle that is from your family’s table. Miyoung told us that there are always candles lit at her table for dinner, so that would be a nice moment to start with.

Because our Micah Group friends are here [to learn about Story Table], I thought a meta‑observation [is in order]. We have had three of these now, this is our fourth. We’ve observed each time that it takes 30 to 45 minutes for people to actually get “in.” We talk, and it’s interesting, but then somebody at the table will open in a new way and it shifts. Everybody feels when that happens.

Then invariably, at the end of the evening, people will come up and say, “We finished too soon. We wanted more.” In talking about how we can facilitate that, we came up with several ways, but one of them was for the moderator to set a tone.

I’ve kind of avoided doing that, just because it makes me feel a little ookie, but I’ll go with it because it might be worthwhile. I’d like to start by saying that my brother‑in‑law, whom I have known since I was 11 years old, was admitted to the hospital a day or so ago, and I just got a text before I sat down at the table that these are his last hours. The floor, so to speak, of my being is fractured, and my heart is open, and I hope that you will allow me to share from that place and that you will respond in kind because I don’t know by the end of the evening whether I will check my phone to discover he’s gone. He was my youth pastor years and years ago, played a big role in my life. A godly man, and he’s unafraid of what’s coming his way, so I bless him. His name is Mark Ballard.

Here is my story. I’m an introvert, though I love people and am gregarious, I’m introverted. I took a vacation some years ago from Fuller, two weeks off, at the beginning of which I dropped my mother off at the airport for a trip she had planned to take.

She was living with me at the time. My father had passed away just shortly before. I dropped her off at the airport because she was flying to Dallas in order to be with my niece, who was going through a really contentious custody battle. My mother had promised her that she would be there for the proceedings, and that she would pray.

I dropped her off at the airport on Sunday, and Monday morning I got up to begin what was going to be for me this writing retreat for two weeks. The phone rang and it was my nephew Jon, and he said “Khaki,” which was the nickname that the children had given my mother, “Khaki has collapsed in the courtroom and she’s not breathing. I’ll call you back as soon as I know what’s happening.”

I had a bad feeling about it, though my mother was in perfect health. I immediately got down on my knees, and just as I started to pray, I felt very clearly I heard in my mind the way God speaks to me, “I’m taking her.” I didn’t know what to pray, but I thought, “Well, okay, then may she live her last days in your hands.”

Two weeks went by, in this long and complicated and multi‑layered story, but she did pass away, and just in case it’s not enough drama that she collapsed in a courtroom, my niece, who was the one that was going through the custody battle, is an emergency room nurse.

She was the one who brought her heart back to beating, who got her breathing again, so you can imagine the trauma of that experience. That’s a journey that goes down a long and winding road that we don’t have time for, but just to skip on the surface of that to my moment of hospitality.

Two weeks later, I had accompanied my mother as far as I could go in her journey toward death, and then buried her and had a memorial service. I returned to Pasadena on a Sunday night, and like anybody who’s been through grief in some deep way, time was meaningless to me. I was so grateful to God that I made it home to a safe place when the grief hit.

There was no food in my house. I ate the last can of tuna and the next day I had Cream of Wheat. I knew I couldn’t go to a grocery store, no way, yet I didn’t know how to call somebody and ask. It was just too far a leap for an introvert in that moment.

I got a text from a young woman named Kristin Spiotto, at the time Kristin Flores, a Fuller alumna. She said, “I’m going to Trader Joe’s to buy groceries for you.

“I’m going to deliver them to your kitchen door, and once I’ve done that I’m going to get back in my car, and when I’m in my car I’m going to text you and let you know that they are there. Text me the things that you need. Oh, and have you read Stephen King’s novel series The Stand?”

I wrote back, “Cottage cheese, milk, bread, cheese, Campbell’s soup,” all staples of food I ate when I was a kid. The list ended with, “No, I haven’t.”

An hour, two hours, four hours, 15 minutes later, I don’t know, she texted and said, “It’s all at the door.” Shortly after that I was eating a grilled cheese sandwich with a cup of tomato soup and I was reading this book that I just fell into, it doesn’t even matter I don’t even remember any of it now, but it was 1,000 pagesthat’s what mattered.

Over the next four days I ate everything she brought, and I read that whole book and by the time I surfaced I knew what it meant to go to work and where to park my car, and what to say when somebody asked me, “How are you?”

It was because she knew me well enough to say, “Here is what you need me to do.” She saw me. It’s the first thing that came to my mind when I thought about hospitality. Being seen seemed to me like part of the deep layers defining hospitality. There is my story. Any of that resonate?

Johnny Ramírez-Johnson: Thank you to Miss Floresat that time.

Lauralee: Yes, God bless her, right?

johnny-ramirez-johnson-story-table-headshot

Johnny: Yes, God bless her. [pause.]

The most gracious hospitable woman I have ever met is called Clara, and she’s seated here with us. I remember when I first brought five of my friends, a week after being married, and I knocked on the door and said, “Here we are.” Thank you, Clara. Thank you for being so hospitable.

Lauralee: Lovely. Jean, I see you smiling over here, I know that the idea of hospitality is not new to you even though we just met a minute ago. I see the sign from Nana’s kitchen over there that you brought.

Jean Burch: You’re right. We never would have put a name or a title to it because it just seemed to be a part of who we were, as part of our DNA. I’m southern bred, born in Arkansas, and it just was sort of a part of our family. I was just thinking the other day that there was always somebody at our house that my mother didn’t birth.

There would be times when we would come home on Saturday after being out all evening, and we have to step over people. That’s why I brought blanketsbecause she would find blankets in case. We still have blankets at our house piled up so that whoever comes over can have a blanket covering them up.

Lauralee: That’s one of hers over there and this other one is yours I think, right?

Jean: Yeah, they are her blankets. They were always there. I think we all just felt like we were related. I don’t know if it’s just what African‑Americans do, but we said “we are all related, we are all cousins.” I found out just a few years ago that my best friend in school was adopted. After we found out who her mother was, we found out that her great uncle had married my great aunt. We really were related!

[laughter]

jean-burch-story-table-headshotJean: It’s kind of tongue-in-cheek, but it’s true. When you were telling the story about your mom it just reminded me of my mother because that’s just how our house was. On Thanksgiving, on Christmasany holidaythe doorbell would ring, and people would come in and sometimes you just want to say, “Who are you, and why are you coming to our house for dinner?”

My mother would have met them in the store. She loved thrift shopping and she did it because she always wanted clothes at the house for people who came to the house and needed something else to put on.

So people were always there. In 1999 she passed away suddenly, and I was in Boston. It was a very sad time for me because Boston is about the furthest part in the United States that you can be away from California. We were at a conference there was the message board and on the message board as I was coming out of one of the sessions was a really big sign that said, “Jean Burch please come to the front desk.” You just never want to see something like that.

So I went to the front desk and the manager says, “Let me take you to my office.” I just wanted to pass out because I knew it wasn’t good news if I had to go into a private place, and it was there that I found out that my mom had passed away. It was so interesting coming home on a plane I tried to be ok, I didn’t want to cry around all the people, and I just sat there, kind of paralyzed until I got home.

When we drove up to my house or to her house, there were people on the grass, on the neighbors’ grass, on the sidewalk, they were in the street, they were in the house, they were in the backyard and I thought, “My God who are all these people?” They were all people whose lives she had touched.

So many of them had slept on our floor, had eaten dinner at our table, and they just wanted to be there and they kept saying, “We just need to be here, because we just need to feel her presence.” I thought, wow, that’s who my mom was. Then, of course, the funeral had over a thousand people there. I ran into somebody a couple weeks after that, who I didn’t even like in high school who said, “I’m so sad, I miss your mom so much.” I wanted to say, “Why do you miss my mom, and I didn’t even like you?”

[laughter]

Jean: She told me a story about how she used to shop in the thrift shop, and my mom would be there and she would be across the store and she’d say, “I think you can wear this.” She would have to run across the store and pick it up, try it on. We still have those baskets in our house that we fill with things that we think other people would want.

That was the hospitality that was inbred in us. Now each of us has a basket-full of blankets at our house so that whoever comes over and has to sleep on the floor at least can cover themselves up.

miyoung-yoon-hammer-story-table-headshotMiyoung Hammer: That actually reminds me of my parents. My parents were first generation immigrants, and my father is from the North Korea and he lost his parents and many of his family members. [tears up]

Lauralee: This soon, this soon? You’re going to cry, Miyoung? You just started!

Miyoung: Amy Drennan has heard me tell this story in tears, too. I think my parents’ hospitality was a means to give but also to belong and to connect. Most of my extended family, on both my mother’s and father’s sides, were mostly in Korea. We have some family in Canada, but for many years growing up we were the only family in the United States. There was a real sense of loneliness that began during the Korean War for my parents and for my father at age 10 losing his parents and missing his siblings.

My father is a professor and my mom, is a retired labor and delivery nurse. When I was growing up in Riverside here in California, we always had Korean students in our home at Thanksgiving. Even though we were a family of four, our house was filled with students who had immigrated from Korea, who had no concept of Thanksgiving and that certainly had nowhere to go for Thanksgiving.

If they couldn’t afford to go back home for Christmas, they would be with us. I grew up in a Korean‑American church, a really large first intergenerational Korean‑American Church. The students would be folded into that congregation but our home was a place where they could belong and just be.

I remember growing up wondering, who’s going to be in our house now? Having a sense of real openness at our home and enjoying that because we were such a small family. That’s something that through their actions they were instilling in me that our home and our family was to be a place where people who we know well and people who we don’t know well, can come and really have a sense of belonging and sense of connection.



As I was reflecting on that thinking about the story that I would share here that really came, that was built out of place of deep loss and aloneness and isolation that my parents experienced living through the war, but then also coming as immigrants and really having to figure out their way of belonging and connecting.

I think bringing students into our home, having a very open home, was their way of not just giving, but also creating connection and belonging and the sense of a larger community and family for us. That reminds me of how hospitality isn’t a gift just for the visitor but also the gift for the host. That’s something that my husband and I have tried to embody in our family of creation and with our children to really exemplify like that.

I don’t think I ever made this connection beforethat hospitality was birthed out of aloneness and a need to belong and connect for my parents. I think it’s the beauty that has emerged from the ashes of their own stories.

Lauralee: There is something powerful about kindness that we underestimate, but if you are opened by suffering, for example, or sorrow or loneliness, just a small kindness can have such a great impact.

jennifer-guerra-story-table-headshotJennifer Guerra: I really resonated with having a family that was also first generational immigrant. What was particular about our experience is that our immigration journey was very privileged, and so there was no problems with Visa or getting across [the border] and we were petitioned by the church where my parents served to come.

Quickly my parents found out about the high level of injustice in our immigration system with undocumented migrants being a deep part of Sunday worship. It wasn’t until I came to Fuller when I saw hospitality as a beautiful and romantic thing. Because growing up, hospitality was really hard and disruptive.

Sometimes I didn’t want to do it because it meant giving up my bed, it meant that my rhythm was disrupted, it meant that I had to wake up extra early to shower so that the bathroom would be free for the guest that was there. It meant driving in a different carpool because our car needed to be used.

I don’t think we ever had a season where we went more than three months before having somebody stay. Often times, [our guests were] undocumented immigrants who were trying to figure out their next steps. Often women who had been in domestic violence situations who had to figure out next steps. We would go from sharing a table with undocumented immigrants telling their stories to family visiting because they wanted to go to Disneyland.

At a young age I didn’t know how much tension was in that. But there was something about when we were at the table eating, the questions went away, and the sadness went away, and all of a sudden the conversations were about the garlic and the oil, and the recipe, and who made what, and how did it happen.



Hospitality is something that I’m discovering as a gift, because a lot of time growing up I felt like it was a big disruption that I didn’t know how to handle. Recently there has been big talk about El Niño storms coming to California. We did a lot of prep in our community for it. One day I was came home from work, and as soon as I opened my door, I expected to hear silence, and what I heard was a lot of rain. Immediately I thought, “Oh wow, El Niño really came!” And then I realized, no, it didn’t. A pipe had busted above my bed, and I thought, “El Niño came into my house! Not to California!” In a matter of 30 minutes I tried to rush to clean everything up and call my community coordinator.

It was a moment where I was able to experience the hospitality that I grew up giving. I remember being nine years old and having my day was disrupted, my play time disrupted, because somebody was in crisis. Now, to see beautiful nine‑year‑olds cleaning up my water mess with buckets and towels, and people bringing dinner overI remember at the end of the day sitting at the edge of my bed, which was wet, and thought, “God, because people chose to say, ‘I am here,’ [to help me], I was able to experience the ‘I Am.’”

I don’t think hospitality is really experienced until you receive it and you see yourself as a recipient of God’s grace in that moment. It wasn’t until that moment that it kind of hit me, “This is why it is hard, because it takes a willingness to see God in the interaction and not just a reality of me giving constantly.”

It was after that when I told my parents, “Thank you for teaching me that even when we don’t want it, the things we have are not our own, the giftings we have are not our own, but also thank you for teaching me that I’m a daughter of Christ who also deserves to receive some of those giftings back.” As you guys have given to this day, continue to give constantly.

Lauralee: God bless your parents, and neighbors, and God bless that nine‑year‑old who has no idea.

Jennifer: She was so cute.

Lauralee: But she’s gonna learn.

Jennifer: Those two nine‑year olds!

mark-labberton-story-table-headshotMark Labberton: An unexpected moment of receiving that kind of hospitality for me happened when I was speaking at an event in Chicago. The site of the event was a church that also served meals to the homeless. In the middle of the event there was a break for lunch. We scattered and dispersed ourselves to this meal serving to do whatever we could to help, so that’s where we ended up having lunch. I sat down at a table with one guy who was sitting by himself. We started talking.

We were only maybe a couple of minutes into the conversation and he said, “Sir, are you all set?” and I said, “Set?” “Do you have a place to sleep?” I said, “Yeah, I do have a place to sleep.” “What about food? Do you know about the food?” I said, “No.” I said, “Tell me about the food.” He told me the five meals that were served within walking distance of the place that we were sitting. He said, “What about medical care? Do you know about that? Do you have anything? Like, are you sick?”

I said, “I don’t think I’m sick, but if I got sick, what would I do?” He told me where to go. We went on this way for probably the better part of an hour of him giving me the finest possible hospitality of how to live on the street in Chicago. It was a gift to be served by all that he had to givewhich in his case was information.

“I can give you tips. If you need to store your stuff this is the best place to store it. I can even give you some plastic bags.” It was one of those moments watching somebody open up his world to you, in the fullest way that he could, so I could receive what he had to give. It was one of those moments of unexpected hospitality, and I thought, “I wonder if my intentionality and availability to be a servant is as comprehensive, as free, and as gentle as he was.”

It was an unforgettable hospitality, and it’s a model to me of somebody who sees his intention, gives everything he has. When I reached end of the conversation, I was about to go back and be a speaker againwhich he never knewhe said, “I hope you find a good place tonight, because usually, it’s the first night that’s the hardest.” Even as I was leaving, he was blessing me. It was amazing compassion, and I tried to actively hold that in my mind.

Catherine Barsotti (story table headshot)Catherine Barsotti: I was the person who brought this little plate, and if you look at it, it’s pretty beat up and chipped, and this was the plate that my Nonnagrandmother in Italianwould always have ready when I came to visit. She had one for every one of her grandchildren. Each plate was equally beat up and chipped or whatever. She would make you a fried egg, or a scrabbled egg in this little dish, and it was just for you because you were special.

She and my grandfather did not have much at all, very humble people, but they knew how to make people feel special when they walked in this tiny little house that didn’t look like anything special from the outside. Every time I pull this plate out, I think about all the hospitality that has trickled down from her through my family, and I think about hospitality out of that place of lowliness and loss.

My grandfather was deaf, so we would go to the store to buy things and people would make fun of him because he didn’t speak English, he didn’t hear well, so people assumed he must be stupid. I realized how those things have stuck with me and impacted my whole vocation of wanting to live out hospitality with students. The story I thought of, as people were sharing, is that sometimes we don’t even know it’s hospitality. It’s like entertaining angels unaware.



I came to LA because my husband got a job at Fuller, but I was teaching at a Bible Institute in Compton that we had satellites in different places. A church would give us a place, and students would come. One of those places was in the Pico-Union neighborhood. I pulled up in my car and as I was getting my briefcase, I felt someone grab me from behind and spin me around.

I had my purse wrapped around my arm and he went through the purse and just started dragging me, and then finally the strap broke and he ran off with my purse. I was on the ground and an immediate hospitality was that people came to my aid very quickly. I still had my briefcase with my books, so I went into the church to teach . . .

Lauralee: That is a professor!

[laughter]

Catherine: [Before I went inside,] the police had come and said we need to file a report, and then they got a call saying, “We think we have these guys. They’ve hit several people in the last couple of hours.” The detective looked at me and said, “Ma’am, we caught them going 60 miles an hour down Pico Boulevard, and they were throwing cell phones and things out the windows. You are never going to find your purse. It’s gone.” I said, “OK.” I had my lesson plan still, so I walk in the church, and I was a little bit late, and students want to know what’s going on because they saw the cruiser out front of the church.

I tell them that someone came up and robbed me, and one of the women in the class who had been a former gang member said, “We have to pray. Not just pray, pray.” She made us all get down on our knees, and she started praying, “Thank you, Lord, that profesora Cathy is ok, that nothing happened to her!” Then someone else prays for the young men who robbed me, “Change their hearts!”

Then this young woman in my class prays, “And Lord, we know, we know you know where that purse is, and you’re going to find that purse and Cathy, she’s going to get that purse back!”

[laughter]

Catherine: Now, I’m sitting there and my eyes are rolling, and I’m thinking, “Oh sure, sure.” That night, there’s a message on my voicemail at home and he says, “My name is Raul. I own an upholstery shop on Pico Boulevard.

“One of my workers went out to the dumpster, and he saw a purse and he said, ‘What’s this?’ He climbed in, he pulled the purse out. We looked in‘No money, I’m sorry to tell you there’s no money, and I know my guy didn’t take it, but your license was there, and all your credit cards.”

The next day I went down to the upholstery shop with a big old fruit and cheese basket and I said, “Thank you so much.” All along the way, from my students who prayed for me all the way down to the guy who climbed in the dumpster and found my pursethat was hospitality.

Because the detective had told me, “There is no way in heaven you’re going to find your purse,” I called him the next day and I said, “I just wanted to let you know that I have my purse, maybe you would like to look for fingerprints or something?” Angels, everywhere there are angels. I was ushered into something that night by my students. That ushering in, I feel, was hospitality.

tim-yee-story-table-headshotTim Yee: And there was a note inside that said, “I told you you would find it, Jesus.”

[laughter]

Tim: Thanks, Jesus. How great, your student becomes the professor! How many times your eyes rolled, and people are praying like that. And God shows us. I think of a lot of stories, but one that came to mind hearing people talk is about a woman named Juana who I met in Mexico City, where I would go every year for several years with a group of people with our church to build partnerships with people in Mexico City.

Juana, was an older woman, probably a grandma, and she lived in a small home on the outskirts of Mexico City. I had the privilege of staying with her along with two other young men. We discovered her house had no running water. It looked like she moved her whole family out of the second bedroom into one bedroom, so that we three guys could have that bedroom.

That’s what we surmised because at that time, we didn’t speak much Spanish and she didn’t speak any English, and so we kind of figured it out. We didn’t realize that she had livestock in her home, with no ventilation, and no running water. I believe the family had one last chicken, and she made chicken for dinner, and over that chicken, some rice, and beans, we got to know Juana and her family and we spent the night.



She woke us up early. We figured out through hand signals that she wanted to know if we were willing to wake up early to do something with her. She wakes us up early, us three guys, it was dark, and as the sun was rising I think we made one transfer. We stuck out a little bit in the streets of Mexico City on the bus on that day.

The next thing we know we landed at something like a huge swap meet, and we’re just following Juana, she’s leading the charge. She’s stopping at flower stalls, and she’s picking up tons of flowers and our arms are full. We think, “Wow, she must be throwing a party. Maybe a party for us, who knows?” We are walking down the streets of Mexico City with Juana leading the way and our arms full of flowers, our things strapped on our backs.

She continues to show us this incredible hospitality of food, and we had this great time of fellowship, and the next day we told the people organizing the trip, “We are not sure why, but Juana took us on this incredible experience in this swap meet, and we grabbed these flowers, and we got some food, and we took some time to see the city like we never would normally see.” They said, “Oh yeah, she sells flowers on the streets.” She took some time off to host you all, but you’ll see her the next morning selling those flowers [to make a living for her family].

She had three able-bodied men who could help carry more flowers, and the more volume she could buy, the more profit she could make to take care of her family. On another time, I actually saw her as I was driving by on the street, still selling flowers. The thing that struck us afterward was the language “barrier.” You could think it’s a barrier, but in some way it’s a gift, too. We felt so powerless.

We came, we’re at her table, we did not know the accommodations, we weren’t used to the smells, we sure didn’t know where we were going to sleep, and there was no running water. We realized that she was giving up and sacrificing a lot to make this happen.

Her survival was based on how much her arms could carry every day, and that really struck us all the way home. Thinking about Juana every day and her incredible hospitality to us, but how even our lack of language created space: there’s something about entering someone else’s house, literally empty-handed, and without any power or control or ability. When you come empty-handed like that, there is a lot to receive and we were happy that she trusted us enough to help her.

It left this indelible mark in our minds. We were learning out of our ignorance that hospitality comes often with silence, hospitality comes when you don’t know what to offer, when you actually think you have nothing to offer.

Lauralee: And trust, isn’t that right? It’s like you said, you just followed her wherever she went and you had no idea how that was going to turn out.

Tim: We were sure glad that we trusted the uncertainty of sitting at her table, and building this small relationship with her, and walking where she wanted to walk. Our discomfort made space to build something. I’ve never forgotten that awkward “we-have-no-idea-what-we-are-doing moment. What a joy we got invited into that story. It would have been a great photograph to have, these three guys following Juana with all those flowers in their arms.

Lauralee: Isn’t it fun to imagine that if she were sitting at a dinner table and somebody asked her to tell a story and she told the story of you guys? Wouldn’t it be fun to imagine what her side of that would be?

[laughter]

Tim: Yeah. Oh, man.

Lauralee: That idea of uncertainty makes me think, Jennifer, of what you were saying at nine years oldthe inconvenienceand how you didn’t see it as hospitality; it was just pain for you. Both of those elements, of uncertainty and inconvenience, are required in hospitality and part of why hospitality has power. Just being here at the table . . . I’ll out you for just a second.

[laughter]

Lauralee: I looked at her earlier, when we all sat downwe’d never metand I mouthed, “Are you afraid?” and she said, “Oh yeah!”

[laughter]

Lauralee: I said, “Don’t be afraid, you’ll be fine.” But just coming to this table, this space, and being willing to tell stories of our lives and things that are precious to us, it’s like we were saying earlier, JeanIs it all right if I call you Jean?

Jean: Yes, certainly.

Lauralee: I was just thinking about you trusting us with your grandmother’s blankets and your grandmother’s plates. I think this experience is something of an experiment. After the last Story Table somebody came up to me and said, “This is such an interesting social experiment,” and I said, “Yeah, it is kind of an experiment, isn’t it?”

She said, “You know, I was sitting here and the first half hour or so I just thought, ‘What am I doing here? What is this thing anyway, what’s going on?’”

[laughter]

Lauralee: Then about 45 minutes in, she said she thought, “Oh this is so fascinating, what’s happening?” Then at the end, she said, “I felt like I would get quite fine at this; I wanted to.” There’s something meta about this experience. Sitting at the table, being here together, listening and engaging, requires of us a certain amount of uncertainty and inconvenience.

Miyoung: Can I say something?

Lauralee: Yes, please.


Miyoung Hammer at the Story Table on Hospitality


Miyoung: I just thought about how hospitality requires that we not be stopped by being overly self‑conscious. In all of these stories, when we talk about hospitality it revolves around homesto open up your home and make it available. Are you going to be okay with allowing people into your personal space? If it’s messy, are you going to be okay with others being there and not worry about having everything just so and just right?

To be open and vulnerable, there’s strength that can come from that. But if you think about it too much, you can talk yourself out of being hospitable, which is not just about having people enter into the physical space of your home, but entering into the space of your heart. To be able to see, and allow others to see you, to allow yourself to be seen.

That’s really what hospitality is about: to be open enough to see and be seen, so that the embodiment of that is the way in which we allow people into our physical space. I think this can be very countercultural here in the United States.

Lauralee: Tell us a memory or an example of something that resonates with that idea.

Miyoung: To not be self‑conscious? We have a very open home, but I still really wrestle with wanting our home to be comfortable and clean and welcoming. Sometimes I can get preoccupied with trying to create the space so it’s just so—and that can take away from just being open.

We host a lot. We host students all the time, we host people from our church all the time, and I love it. I love having our children grow up in a very open home. But sometimes there is just a part of me that can be preoccupied with the impression management, you know?

[laughter]

Miyoung: What will people think if they see we have a bunny who is very prolific, and he runs out, and he poops his little pellets. What will people think if we don’t get all of Hudson’s

Lauralee: Can we just pause on that for a second?

[laughter]

Miyoung: What will people think if we don’t get all of Hudson’s pellets?

[laughter]

Lauralee: I have to see Hudson.

Miyoung: The kids don’t care. People don’t care. Let’s just be together. Sometimes I have to work to get there, not to be too self‑conscious.

I think it’s good for people to come into our home and know that we’ve taken the time to prepare our space for them. But does that sometimes get in the way of being open in my heart and in a relationship because I’m so preoccupied?

Catherine: My grandmother would have had anybody in the house. My mother was the opposite. You had to be able to eat off the floors, to have anyone into the house. I remember growing up and saying, I’m not going to be like my mom. My mom was a very generous person and kids were always in the house, but to have a dinner party, everything had to be perfect.

Miyoung: One thing that helped me was in the conversation I had with Christine Pohl about hospitality. When she met people who really embodied hospitality, one of the things that she found was that they tended to hold lightly to their material possessions.

Material possessions are importantyou need to have chairs and the table to be able to sit and have dinner, but when you have a light grasp on those things, you’re less self‑conscious about having people at your home. I think about that. The home we live in, we’re so grateful for.

When we knew we were going to be able to have this home, we thought, this home isn’t our home. This is God’s home. We need to be good stewards of this home. We want it to be a home that will be a ministry to our community and to our students and to people in our community.

When I go back to that, I remember I don’t have to be so self‑conscious because this isn’t about me and my home. This is about the home that’s been provided for us. It’s supposed to be a means to a greater end, not just to reflect on me or my husband and my children. I have to keep reminding myself of that.

Lauralee: I heard an “amen” over here.

Johnny: Psychologically, it has to be about you. You have to enjoy the surprise of getting this person to talk about what is dear to them. The surprise of how they like or dislike the garlic. Or the cilantro.

Lauralee: Or the dill.

Johnny: No way. No dill.

[laughter]

Johnny: It has to be about you, otherwise it’s not going to happen. Hospitality has to be something that you treasure for the sake of yourself. Love your neighbor as yourself. I am reminded of the many times, many times, that Clara and I have had people at our home and it has bitten us back.

For example, when we were very young, recently married, we were at school and our house was in the middle of campus. The house, in the backyard, had a little shack. It became the home for a couple of students who were looking for a place to be. But that shack was precisely behind the windows of our bathroom.

[laughter]

Johnny: Once we were walking by and we heard them talking to each other, making fun of something I had said. I love cuddling with my wife and saying sweet nothings and they were making fun of what I’d said, and that bites you back.

[laughter]

Tim: You turned off their hot water, didn’t you?

[laughter]

Johnny: It has to be about the pleasure that you derive. Other times we’ve been bitten back in other ways, people asking for money and we’ve wondered, “Should I trust her or notis the granny really sick or not?” You give the money and then you learn that it was a hoax.

Lauralee: Do you remember a time when that happened?

Johnny: Oh, yes.

Lauralee: Tell us.


Johnny Ramirez Johnson and Jennifer Guerra at the Story Table


Johnny: We were in Costa Rica and we were both teaching. Clara was teaching business administration, I was teaching theology and had many other tasks.

There was a man who would come to the missionary compound with long stories. He would bring x‑rays and all kinds of documentation to prove that it was a true story. This gentleman happened to be very prolific in coming up with all kinds of documentation, and we ended up giving about 30 percent of our monthly budget to him because his story was so compelling.

As soon as the guy had left, people from the guard office came to our door saying, “There is a guy who is taking money from people here because they are so easily persuaded.” But we chose not to let that define us. It’s better to be taken advantage of than to live with a spirit of doubt.

Clara and I have chosen to be this way. You must do it for yourself; you cannot do it to help somebody else. The helping somebody else is like the poop of the bunny.

[laughter]

Johnny: You don’t have the bunny for the poop, you have the bunny because you enjoy the bunny. But it comes with the poop.

Lauralee: I trust someone’s tweeting.

[laughter]

Jennifer: I really resonate with you on checking the motives that hospitality stems from. I grew up in a family that were church planters, so we moved a lot. There was one time my parents were the pastors of a Spanish church that was part of a larger English‑speaking church. And one time, this older couple came up to me and said, “What do you miss the most?” And I said, “My grandma, I just really miss my grandma.” No particular reasonthat’s just what blabbed out of my mouth, and she said, “Well, I’ll be your gringo grandma. “I was like, ‘I don’t even know what that means, but cool.’”

[laughter]

Jennifer: They would bring my brother and I over once a month and we would always have cold sandwiches. That’s where I learned sandwiches could be cold because all the sandwiches I’d had before were paninis. So I was like, “What is this cold thing that you eat for lunch?” I learned how to make cold sandwiches and angel fruitcake and potato salad. My brother learned how to make boats out of turkey wish bones like little sailboats, and we would always end the day playing dominoes.

[laughter]

Jennifer: That’s all we did with our gringo grandparents.

[laughter]

Jennifer: But I remember one day I was helping her clean up, and everything she had in the house had a story. I’d be like, “What is this cup about?” She’d be like, “Well, in 19…” I’d be like, “OK, awesome, cool.” No cup was just a thing.

Lauralee: You’ll get there, honey. You too will be saying that.

[laughter]

Jennifer: No cup was just a purchase on impulse, it had a story. One time dominoes were done and so we were cleaning up, and I dropped one of the cups as I was trying to clean up. I thought I really messed up. She just said, “No problem, the story lives on, the thing can go away.”

That reminds me of what you said. We didn’t even clean it up. She just said, “You know, if you don’t remember anything about what we do here, I just want you to know one thing,” and I thought, “I feel like this is the moment you pay attention.”

She said, “Always have a home that is clean enough to be healthy but dirty enough to be happy. That’s what I want you to remember.” Ever since that day I’ve broken a lot more cups and spilled a lot more things in people’s homes and messed up rugs. But I always remember, even as I’m trying to foster my own kind of hospitality as a 25‑year‑old, that everything is about my own fear.

Like you want to hold on to everything you have because it’s so little, and yet I’m trying to foster a spirit of hospitality within that. I’m constantly being reminded of how am I practicing a life that is clean enough to be healthy but also dirty enough to be happy. To extend hospitality and break the cup, because the story will go on and the teacup doesn’t contain the memory but the hospitality does.

Lauralee: Still, both things are true. The thing itself somehow becomes a container for meaning. It’s like when you own something that’s precious to you and then after a while you stop seeing it. You stop noticing it and then it regains its purpose by you giving it away to somebody, so then it becomes precious to them.

The thing matters somehow. It feels like a kind of embodiment, in the same way that food matterslike when we talked earlier about how much easier it would be if we didn’t all eat during our storytelling time. Yet it’s at the table where conversation happens, so we’re trying to mirror that here.

Jean, I was going to ask you to tell a story about all the people who came in and out of your family home. Do you have a memory of one of those stories that you could share with us?

Jean: Yeah, I do. There was one young man. He became a member of our church through a foster family. His family was all split up. I remember my mom just decided that one night she wanted him to come to our house.

He was younger than my brothers, my sister, and I. Billy would come home with us after church. Finally he just asked one night, “Can I sleep over here?” Mom said, “Yeah, we’ll call your dad and see if you can sleep over.”



His dad said, “Yes.” Then his dad disappeared. He stayed with us for several months. He used to sleep on the couch in the den. That’s where everybody slept. Thinking about what you said earlier, our house was always divided. The living room, the dining room, and the front bathroom were spotless, so if you came to our house, you thought that we were immaculate. But if you were going to spend the night, you were going to cross that line.

[laughter]

Jean: You were going into a den and a kitchen and another bathroom where everybody lived. It was clean on one side and not on the other. Billy slept there. When Mom died, he came around and I remember him laying his head on my shoulder and he said, “I miss Mom so much.” He said, “I can smell her fragrance.”

He said, “What you guys don’t know is that every night, she would get up and she would come in the den to make sure that I was covered up.” He said, “And there were times when I would kick the cover off because I just wanted to feel her touch.”

He’s an adult and has adult children now. I thought about that because his mom had passed away and his dad was not often there and those are the things that he remembered. He said, “I remember Mom’s fragrance. I remember her touch. I remember kicking the cover off so she could cover me up, so I could feel her touch.”

He said, “But I also remember that Dad would bless the food and then he would disappear, and I never really understood why he did that, but I thought about it. Then I figured it out. It was because he wanted to make sure everybody else had enough to eat. Then he would eat after everybody else ate.”

I thought, “Wow. That’s really cool.” He’s got adult kids. He’s a grandfather now and is just a great person. He said, “I attribute a lot of that to just those three months that I lived in your house, showing me what family was supposed to be like. I wanted to emulate that, and I think I’ve done an okay job.”

That’s the best story that I’ve had.



Mark: Thank you. I was the recipient of that kind of life‑changing hospitality when I was a student here at Fuller [MDiv ’81]. I was in really the very, very darkest season in my whole life. I wasn’t sure that I would survive it, and I wasn’t sure that I was intending to do anything other than bring my life to an end, in fact.

It was just really cripplingly dark and overwhelming. There was a set of friendstwo friends who had gotten married the summer before. They decided that they were going to invite some friends to Thanksgiving.

They invited me to their home for Thanksgiving and I wasn’t sure that I would be alive at Thanksgiving, but I said yes to the invitation. They knew that I didn’t have a car to get where they were living so they said they’d try and get me, which then became another commitment to the whole thing.

He came and got me and drove me to their house. I remember going in through the back door and being amazed that in the pantry, just off the kitchen in this little, tiny house, was a whole array of food that had been prepared that week for this meal of probably 10 or 15 people.

The husband went on into the house, and I stood just amazed in this little room with all these different dishes that had been preparedbecause clearly they had been able to project and imagine a meal with people at a time when I couldn’t imagine that I was going to be there, let alone that I was preparing food for a feast like this.

It was the beginning of several things that happened that day that just tilted me from utter despair to a capacity to reimagine a future again. It all happened in this very hospitable but just very gracious, lovely, in a sense common sort of way.

But it was a way that was, for me, unimaginable at the time. It was like an awakening of realizing that their hospitality changed my life. I actually call that couple every Thanksgiving to thank them that I’m alive and that I’m alive really a lot because of their hospitality.


Mark Labberton at the Story Table


When I thought about being invited to be a professor at Fuller, I couldn’t figure out how this really fit in any great plan of God’s and I didn’t have any clear sense of what it was that I was going to be doing. I knew what I was supposed to teach and all that, but I wondered, how does this really, actually fit into God’s plan?

I remember some of those early days at Fuller as some of the hardest, darkest days of my lifenot really because of Fuller, but because of me. The turning point in the decision to come and join the faculty so many years later was: I do not know what going to Fuller is really about, but what I can at least do is prepare meals for students.

In the first four years that I was here, on the faculty, that was just a regular part of my life and a very profound part of my experience of what it meant to re‑enter a place where my life had been saved by hospitality.

I think it gave me, as a person coming back into Fuller again after being away for many years, just this amazing sense of reclaiming what had really been such a positive set of God’s gifts over the intervening years, and that now, I was in a position where I could be the one to offer the hospitality to students who might otherwise feel like I did. It’s a very deep experience to have received the hospitality that delivers you. It was really that for me.

Lauralee: Thank you, Mark.

Tim: Just last week I was with a group of students, mentoring a little bit, and it reminded me, as we’re talking about hospitality, that there’s food, there’s space, there’s a sense of homeand there’s listening, as well.

There’s a moment where words are a part of hospitality. We were reviewing a student’s case study on an apprenticeship that they’re doing, and it came to that moment when everyone gets to chime in with their critique of things you could have done better on it.

I’d made some offhand quote the week before in the class, where I’d quoted John Gottman, who’s a famous marriage therapist. He’s studied couples for 30 years in a clinical lab and he can tell within five minutes if a couple is going to still be married after 15 years. He can tell this by the way they converse. He said something like, “In the healthiest marriages and marriages that last and are happy, there’s a five to one ratio of positive comments to negative.”

I remembered this before we did our case study review. We listened to the first student do the case study. There were five of us there. And I said, “Let’s try this.”

I said, “Let’s have five positive things to speak into this person’s life. Just something you see God doing in his life.” Because it’s easy to critique. “Let’s start with five positives and then we’ll do one critique and let’s just see what happens.”

It was very clinical because the person would share and then I’d say, “Who would like to share first? Remember, keep it positive.” The first person would share something positive and I’d say, “Try to rephrase that more. Instead of telling them what they should do. Tell them what they did well.” They’d rephrase it and then I’d say to the person who presented, “So what did you hear?”

“Well, I heard this, this, and this,” they would respond. Initially, the student would respond with things like, “Oh, I should have done this and I should have done this.” And I would say, “Well, did you hear what the person said, though? They actually were just affirming you.”

By the end of it, we had about 25 minutes of just affirmations of how we saw God working in this person. I said, “How are you doing? How are you feeling?” He said, “I feel like it’s my birthday. This is the best. This is one of the best days ever in my life. I will never forget this day.” It was simply us taking the time to recognize the part of our brain that can see how God is working in someone’s life.

Choosing that part as opposed to the other 20 parts that are picking apart the person’s scenario, what I would have done, you should have said this, you should have stood up for yourself, was what all of our natural inclinations are. But instead to purposely, almost clinically, go to that part that can affirm someone’s personhood in God, their identity in Christ. It was very non‑flowery language but it was language. It was purposeful. We were having a moment in class, in Taylor 102.

Lauralee: Is that allowed in Taylor 102?

Tim: Yeah, in Taylor 102, with the flashing light with no air conditioning. We were having a moment and sensing God’s presence and we almost didn’t want to break it. We had to get to, “Now it’s time for the one critique.” No one wanted to say the critique.

But even the critique had this air of God’s affirmation of the person. It was so interesting. I had to tell the class, “This is not going to happen every week. I can’t promise we’re going to have this God moment.” But it just reminded me, yes, hospitality is listening.


Tim Yee at the Story Table


Hospitality is actual food and it’s tactile physical things, but our words have a lot of power. There’s a lot of enacted power. It’s almost like creating the space for God’s affirming voice to be heard. I’m not creating the power, but I am using some of my agency to make space for God’s love to be more fully experienced.

Where we normally would easily go to critique and get very technical, we very clinically said, “Let’s make space to try to affirm what we see God doing.” I know you can’t replicate it, but it just was a really amazing moment that reminded me that our words are powerful and are part of hospitality somehow.

Lauralee: I think we can’t replicate it; you’re right about that. But let me back up a little bit. For a while, I felt that I was supposed to go over the characteristics of love every day while my truck was warming up. Every day, I would say, “Love is patient, love is kind,” and I’d get to “patient” and half the time think, failed already. I thought that I was to go through these elements of love to remind me what the characteristics were.

It was some time into doing this that I realized that these things are actionable. They are all things we can choose. Love is patient and it’s kind. It doesn’t envy, it doesn’t boast. It doesn’t put oneself forward. It doesn’t demean the other. It doesn’t keep a record of wrongs. It’s not easily angered. Let me tell you how many times in the last week I’ve failed on however many of those there are. All of them.

Yet it’s somehow relieving to me to think that I can choose. The more I remind myself of those characteristics, the more those choices come to mind whenever I’m engaging with somebody.

I’m thinking about a story that resonates with what you’re saying. If any of you have a story about how our words can be hospitable in a way that is life‑changing, think about that, while I tell you this story.

A couple of Story Tables ago, we mentioned the fact that it’s important to us to make the food when we can. To gather some of the flowers or the foliage, or whatever, from the yard here. As I said, this is my table. Not meaning, I’m the boss. But it was actually my dining room table we brought in several times.

It was old. It became clear, unhitching and moving it, that it was just not going to work for long. It started to get wobbly and decrepit. We started to look for a table we could buy. In the meantime, some time ago, I needed to buy a bed frame. I went to a thrift store, found a bed frame I liked and I bought it.

I met the young man who owned the storevery charming. I was very pleased I could support him in some way. He brought the bed to my house. We put the mattresses on it, and it didn’t fit. It was one of those old full‑sized beds, and the bed I had was not quite the right size.

Anyway, sometime later, he had to come back and take the bed frame away because it didn’t work. He came even though he was feeling sick. He’s a young man in his early 20s. You could see he had really committed himself to starting this business. In every way that he engaged with me, he was professional. He was mature.

I found myself feeling so proud of the way he reacted to this circumstance. At my house he was unmaking the bed, so he could take it with him. Sitting there cross‑legged in the middle of the floor, he looked so much like my great‑nephew. He said to me, “Remind me how much you paid me for this. I’ll go back and reverse it.” Clear as a bell I heard in my head, just tell him to keep the money. I said, “You know what, Troy? Why don’t you just keep the money?”

It was not an easy choice for me to make, and it was enough that it was shocking to him. He said, “Why would you do that?” I said, “I don’t know if this will make sense to you, but it’s what I feel God wants me to do. Why don’t you just keep the money?”

“Really?” he said. “Is it because”and this broke my heart; made me think of what your friend said about kicking the blames offhe said, “Is it because you don’t want to have to do business with me again?” At that moment I realized that now is the time to correct with my words what he was feeling about himself.

“Oh, no,” I said. “The exact opposite. I’m so proud of you. I’m so proud of you for starting this business. For being so mature in the way you’ve handled this. You could have shirked this at any moment, but you didn’t. Here you are, late at night. You’re sick, and you don’t want to be doing this. You’re bundling up this bed and taking it with you.”

I said, “I want you to keep the money, because I want you to know that I believe in you. I’m proud of who you are.” That was some kind of thing to say to a stranger. Who am I to be proud of him? I figured, I’m 59, fixing to die.

[laughter]

Lauralee: About two or three months later, when I realized my own dining room table was not going to survive the coming and going of the Story Table experience, I thought, I know what I’ll do. I’ll see if Troy has anything that we might be able to buy. This is perfect.

Sure enough, I looked onlineand found something that was just the right thing. I wrote to him and said, “Remember me?” He wrote back right away, “Yeah, yeah. I remember who you are.”

I said, “I’d like to buy that table. Is it still available?” He said, “Yes.” They delivered the table. When I asked the person who handled the transaction for the price, he charged me exactly less the amount of money

Jean: Oh, that you gave him.

Eating At The Story Table Hospitality

Lauralee: for the bed, for this table. The table has become something precious because of that. There’s no doubt in my mind that it’s not because of the money, but because of the moment of being able to say to him, now you listen to me, this is why. This is who you are. We’re proud of you. I’m proud of you.

Participant: That’s wonderful.

Lauralee: Anyone else?

Jennifer: I was in AP English in high school. At first I didn’t understand why I was in that class. I was an ESL student when I had immigrated. English just seemed really complicated. My high school counselor said, “To go to college, AP classes are really great.”

I was like, OK. I want to go to college, so AP classes it is. In the AP class, we were reading all these really complicated books. I could comprehend what they were saying, but the vocabulary was far beyond what I could handle sometimes. Then I ended up writing a paper on The Catcher in the Rye, about this particular scene with the nuns.

I remember turning the paper in. Then my AP English teacher said, “Jen, can you stay after class?” I went, thinking it was because I totally didn’t get the book. I probably used the wording wrong. It was the week before the big AP exam, so you have to prepare and get ready for this big exam, where you take the test, and it’ll tell you if you get college credit.

My teacher said, “Jennifer, I just need you to know that you’re a really good writer, and this is a really good paper and the scene you brought out. I’ve read the book so many times, I teach this class, and I never noticed that that scene was, like you said, really ironic.” I was like, “Oh, cool!”

[laughter]

Jennifer: The day of the AP exam she showed up to the test, and she said, “Just proofread. You’re going to do great.” [laughs] It was the first time that somebody had seen my English as not just, “Oh, isn’t that great that you can write English.” Or, “Oh, isn’t it great that you came to this country and learned a different language.” It was the first genuine comment saying, you’re a good writer. You can communicate. That AP English teacher got me through undergrad. [laughs] She got me through applying to Fuller. There were not a lot of words otherwise telling me, you’re a good writer, and seeing the beauty in it.

Lauralee: She spoke something into existence, didn’t she?

Jennifer: Absolutely.

Lauralee: Keep this in mind.

Jennifer: I never saw myself as a writer, or as a speaker, or as a good communicator until she pointed that out in my writing. Coming to Fuller, again, it was interesting. Some people say, hey, you talk pretty OK. I come from a family where everybody is a preacher. I was never the good speaker.

There was always somebody who could rile the crowds better, had a better joke, and could command a room. I was just the attendance‑taking girl. I did the administrative tasks the big speakers didn’t want to do. It was Mrs. Diaz saying, Jen, you’re a good writer, that got me through a season when a lot of voices said, yeah, but not good enough.

To be in a season now where I can say, OK. I’m going to go and be an ordained elder in the Church of the Nazarene, and continue into this thing we called writing.

Lauralee: Mrs. Diaz, did you say her name was?

Jennifer: Mrs. Diaz. Nicole Diaz, wherever you are, you’re great. [laughs] I actually found her on Facebook six months ago.

Lauralee: Did you really?

Jennifer: Yeah. I said, I just wrote a 30‑page theological whatever, whatever, whatever. I was like, “Here’s to being stressed about a five‑page paper for your AP English class.” [laughs]

[laughter]

Jennifer: She said, “I remember that paper, and I remember you. I’m so glad you kept writing.” I was like, go, Mrs. Diaz.

Lauralee: I wanted to say one more word about the magazine that’s coming out next. The theology section of the magazine is guest edited by Miyoung. That section of the magazine, which is some 40 pagesit’s beautiful work. You’ve written for it. Johnny wrote for it as well.

It’s on “restore,” and talks a lot about Sabbath and belonging, and many of the things we’ve talked about around this table. Look for that, if that interests you. Along the same lines I thought maybe I would ask you to close in prayer. Would you be comfortable doing that?

Miyoung: Could we do something that we do in my home?

Lauralee: Sure. Absolutely.

Miyoung: Can we hold hands?

Lauralee: Yeah.

Miyoung: Can we sing the doxology?

Lauralee: Oh, girl. If you can hit a note, we can sing it.

[singing]

Participants: Amen.

Lauralee: Thank you, Micah Groups. Thank you, storytellers and witnesses.


Story Table Bread

+ The Story Table takes a theme from FULLER magazine and brings it to life at everyone’s favorite conversation place: the dinner table. People who embody the theme in unique ways tell their stories around the table, and members of the community are invited to listen in. If you are interested in hosting your own Story Table, we’ve prepared a guide that you might find helpful. Download our Story Table Guide. Explore other Story Tables here.