Chaos, forgiveness, and great burgers

It took me all week to write this, because I was ashamed.

On Sunday night, we resumed our “Second Sunday Dinner Party” after canceling it for two months due to COVID-19. This dinner was so, so different than the monthly meals our friends and I have prepared since December 2018.

The obvious difference is fear of spreading coronavirus prevented us from hosting the dinner party we created at Norwood United Methodist Church, with the huge buffet, birthday cake, candles, and door prizes.

With the pandemic to consider, we instead planned a “cookout-to-go” with careful attention to sanitation, limited volunteers, and a simpler menu focused on convenience.

Another difference is our cookout-to-go was planned for a much larger group. Our former dinners attracted between 40 to 70 guests. For the June 14 takeout, we invited an additional 35 families through a school feeding program my husband Mike has been working in. Norwood church members were also invited to pick up a dinner and wave goodbye to Pastor Joe Phillips on his last Sunday before moving to a new church.  

So, we spent all of Saturday making enormous bowls of homemade coleslaw and potato salad. We patted out 120 burgers, prepared 100 hot dogs, and sliced and chopped the fixings.

All I can say is that we were on track with our careful planning until 6 p.m. on Sunday night, when a line of cars arrived in response to our invitations.

Joe said later it was “chaos.” I’ll vouch for that. Although we managed to get the food out to the cars (and the food was good), communication broke down and the streamlined plan for efficiently packing up dinners fell apart.

I had a dark cloud hanging over me all night as I evaluated and re-evaluated what went wrong. I woke up the next morning even more depressed. I felt like a failure, a terrible leader who should just hang up her apron.

Then I saw the glass jar my husband had brought home from the dinner. We didn’t ask for donations, but Mike said some of our guests had given anyway. One envelope full of money said, “You are a blessing.”

So now you know why I was ashamed – why I have been praying for forgiveness for not seeing the blessings.

If you know the story about Jesus at the home of Martha and Mary, you know I’m Martha in this story. I not only forgot that ministry is messy, I initially failed to focus on the great things that happened Sunday night:

  • Pastor Dave Henderson from Rocky Top United Methodist Church came by to pick up a truckload of leftovers to feed three low-income neighborhoods in his town.
  • Leftover cupcakes were shared with neighborhood children who were playing on the playground and shooting basketball after the cookout.
  • A Spanish-speaking mother from the neighborhood walked over to pick up a big bag of food for her family of five.
  • On Monday, I delivered more leftovers to young friends I’ve been inviting to our dinner party since the beginning.
  • Three pastors brought their grills and helped us prepare the burgers and dogs: Brent Hall, Larry Dial, and Pastor Joe.
  • Norwood church members had a socially distant opportunity to celebrate Joe and his family, with 150 specially decorated cupcakes provided by church member Cindy LeMaster.
  • Church member Sharon Vaughn prepared and delivered delicious black bean burgers for our vegetarian guests.
  • My son Spence and his friend Morgaine, whom I have not been able to hug for a long time, came by for a takeout. So did my niece Lee and her friend David, who married his bride Adrianna the weekend before.
  • Friends who haven’t seen each other in a long time — including our core team members, Marci Villaneuva and Daniel Stone — were able to share in this Kingdom work again.
  • Come to think of it, all of the faces I saw behind car windows on Sunday night were smiling.

We are already dreaming of the next one.

You may reach me directly at

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