The Table

“Oh, what a beautiful table!”

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People often say this as they enter my kitchen.

While it is a nice piece, it’s nothing special; it was purchased from a big box furniture store in 2010 with the intention of it staying around for awhile. The solid maple table came complete with 6 chairs to match, a soft white cloth seat gave it elegance and comfort.

My husband and I are a lot of things, but formal dining room people are not one of them. Even when we had a formal dining room, our only table graced the lesser breakfast nook. In our old house, the leaf stayed out most of the time so it was circular, unless we were expecting a big crowd. Here at the Dovecote, the leaf is a permanent fixture. Not only do we not have the room to store the leaf, but I like to keep our table ready for company. It fills the kitchen space nicely.

This table has lived life with us. We bought and sold a house around it: what began as an informational meeting with a realtor ended with signatures on the final offer. We’ve hosted a gay pastor, a rommate, high strung Midwesterners, and complete strangers – not to mention friends – over meals. It’s held game nights, feasts of epic proportions (usually when my husband was cooking), an art studio, and planning meetings.

If this table could talk, it would tell you a lot of things. It would tell you the only time my husband and I cried together was around this table over infertility.

gouge

Those gouges? Proof I can’t do it all by myself: that leaf is heavier than it looks and when I tried to put it in myself, I scarred the table pretty hard. There is a heat stain is from my rendition of Grandma’s German Stuffing during Thanksgiving 2016. And those light scratches over the heat stain? Me, again, with fine steel wool trying to remove the heat stain. It only made it worse. It seems to have fadded over time and I’m thankful for that.

 

paint smudge

The occasional bit of paint you see is from my husband’s hobby of painting on canvas. He sometimes uses a table easel for small projects and while he uses dropclothes, a few reminders of his art remain. Nonetheless, I have a huge olive green tablecloth that graces the table for dinner parties and other formal events: it covers everything beautifully. All her scars are hidden.

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I wanted a centerpiece that was simple yet pretty. My sister surprised me with this piece a few Christmases ago. It’s meant for candles, but the votives got stuck and full of dust. The seashells offer a bit of the beach and give it longevity. It’s perfect.

The part that bothers me most are the cloth seats.

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They’re white, which means they show everything: dirt, dust, cat hair, and spills. I’ve tried to keep them white as possible to no avail. Even a steam cleaner doesnt work. The next step is to use a light bleach solution, as soon as I get around to doing that. My husband and I are hard on textiles, yet I refuse to make guests to sit on covers. They are meant to be used and used they will be. 

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This is our table. This is our life. It’s messy and we dont pretend for it to be anything other than that. Although its hard to live into when your husband says something completely stupid or unnecessary, guests worry about rings from the glass on the table (I don’t care and they eventually fade), and the smudges can’t be cleaned off no matter how hard I scrub. I will still host friends, family, and strangers, welcoming them into my home to share life together, to be that light of Christ in their lives.

And that’s all of life: feasts, cryfests, scars that won’t heal, and laughter.

My Testimony

I was born into a mixed marriage: my father was Catholic, my mother was Lutheran. When my mom married my dad in a Catholic church, she agreed to raise her children in the Catholic traditions, a decision she later regretted. I was baptized into Catholicism when I was less than a month old.

My dad took my sister and I to church every Saturday night or first thing Sunday morning – Mom only came on Christmas or Easter. It was just something we did. I did the whole First Confession bit, donned a pretty white dress for my First Communion, and had oil placed on my forehead at 8th grade Confirmation.

I spent my childhood in CCD: Continuing Catholic Development. In short, it was Sunday School on Wednesday nights for an hour. I received my first Bible in 6th grade and it was then we learned how to look up passages – not that we ever read from it. The most productive thing I did in CCD was make an angel Christmas tree ornament out of pasta noodles. I still have it. It was basically an uncontrolled free for all, except one year when our class was ran by Mr. Danforth: in addition to knowing my father, he ran the class like a drill sergeant with new recruits. No one dared to breathe too loudly, let alone act out.

Once in high school, I sort of continued to go to church with my dad, but was out of the CCD mess. In the meantime, I became friends with David. He had this enormous crush on me at one point, but we were firmly planted in the friend zone. David was a sensitive soul who battled bouts of depression – at one point I reported him to the counselor because he talked about killing himself. Nonetheless, our friendship continued. We had a mutual friend in our grade, who’s dad was a pastor of a well known Southern Baptist church in town. The fall of our sophomore year, David went to a youth retreat with the church; David came back a changed man.

In the Baptist church, there is a phrase for what David was: on fire for the Lord. I disagreed: he was engulfed and exploding! “On fire” just seemed too watered down for what David was experiencing. David had accepted Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and Savior and was not shy about proclaiming this fact from the rooftops. Always the introvert, I told him that it was great he found God and he gave his life to Him, but he needed to come down a few pegs and stop acting like a crazy person.

After a few weeks, David settled down in his newfound faith. While he was very eager to share with anyone who would listen, the roaring flames died down to a nice camp sized fire. “Our youth group is having a game night tonight, you should come check it out,” David said to me one day at school. “Okay,” I said.  I was curious about this new and improved lifestyle for David, who seemed to grow confidence and charisma overnight. I knew most of the kids there, as we all went to the same school. And, I had never been to a Southern Baptist church before.  How different could it be from the Catholics?

I showed up for the game night and had a lot of fun with the youth. I met Phil, an adult who was the youth leader, and he seemed like a pretty down to earth guy. Towards the end, Phil got everyone’s attention, they were going to say a quick prayer before everyone left. I thought it was weird they didn’t do the sign of the cross. He ended the prayer with one of those, “With every eye closed and head bowed, raise your hand if you’ve accepted Jesus into your heart.” Without thinking, I raised my hand. I had never heard that phrase before: Jesus in your heart? Well, I was Catholic! I was baptized, oiled, confessed, communed, all those things! Jesus in my heart? Sure! Why not? Whatever that meant.

It was in that moment something clicked. Jesus in your heart. Jesus in your heart. The phrase wouldn’t leave me alone. I finally asked David what that all meant and got a sermon for an answer. And I didn’t mind. He explained the path to salvation, confessing your sin directly to God, repenting – turning away – from that sin, and living your life for the benefit of God. Without Jesus in your heart, when you died, you would go to hell. This whole concept seemed revolutionary to me – I had never heard any of this in all the years I attended Catholic Church. Was this really true?

And so, I did what any young budding scientist would do: I researched. Next time we went to the mall, I picked up a Bible. It was a NIV and marbled blue, but it looked like a huge paperback book (David suggested the NIV flavor). I had never read the Bible before.  Of course, the Catholics followed the Bible, but how did I know that? I had no idea what was in there outside of the Christmas and Easter stories. I don’t remember what I read first — something in the New Testament, like John — but I do remember climbing into a tree that overlooked the river in town and reading parts of Isaiah. It was my first stab at a quiet time with the Lord.

The letters of Paul really stood out to me. I’d ask David questions and if he didn’t know, he’d find out and tell me. I started showing up more at the youth group on Tuesday nights, much to my mother’s chagrin. She was afraid of me becoming Baptist, which meant to her no make up, no dancing, no playing cards, long skirts, and I’d be on of those “holy rolling Bible thumpers.” I assured her I wasn’t going to be a holy roller and the pastor’s son played cards and went to school dances. My dad wasn’t too pleased either, but he didn’t seem to care one way or the other.

I finally attended a Sunday morning at this church with David and was shocked (shocked!) at how everyone talked to each other before the service. As a Catholic, when you were in church, you were silent! It was a culture shock. I knew none of the songs. No one kneeled. The shaking of hands and greeting was personal, unlike the cold “peace be with you” muttered for 10 seconds at the Catholic Church. I could take communion there, and I thought it a bit silly they used grape juice and they brought communion to you! It was beautiful. It was so different.

During this time, my parents marriage, which had been strained since the beginning of time, started to show signs of more strain. With my new church, I’m not sure if I gave my mom strength or if she was really afraid of me becoming “one of those Baptists,” so she suggested we start attending the Lutheran Church together. I was all about this Protestant stuff. I agreed. The Lutheran Church for me was a cross between the Catholics and Baptists, leaning more towards Baptists with their down to earth message, but leaning towards the Catholics with tradition. I really enjoyed the services there. It was the first time I had ever done anything remotely religious with my mom. And thus our family was divided: 2 protestants, 2 Catholics – my sister still attended Mass with my dad.

My dad said something one night about how he didn’t like me going to this Baptist church. I told him no. I was going to stick with it – it preached the message of Jesus, same as what he believed, it was just slightly different. I then said something to the degree of I don’t think I’d raise my children Catholic. He got really angry and yelled something I can’t recall. I walked away and hid in my room. I never disobeyed my dad to his face before. He got the last line, however. He banged on my bedroom door until I opened it and he screamed, “It’s your fault if your mom and I divorce. You divided this family by going to another church. This. Is. All. Your. Fault.” He stalked off, leaving me at the door, bewildered. My mom said nothing. I was 16.

I knew even then that I was not responsible for the unravelling of my parents marriage. I knew that was between them. Nonetheless, those words stung like freezing rain on naked skin. I had to get out. “I’m going for a quick run,” I said through tears as I ran out the door. I did not take a coat for the cold midwestern winter night I ran into and I didn’t care. I ran as fast and as hard as I could to the end of our street, bawling, trying to make sense of all this Jesus and family stuff in my head. One thing was clear: I wasn’t going to turn my back on Jesus. While I hadn’t given my life to him, like David did, I certainly wasn’t about to go back to what I was before with the Catholic church. I had come too far and read too much of the Bible for that. I also absolved, before God that night, with my lungs burning from the freezing air, that I would never punish my children for choosing a different religion than me. The pain was too real and too raw to inflict on someone I loved.

My dad didn’t speak to me again for almost 2 weeks. I chose Jesus over family. For a people pleaser like myself, that was huge. The Holy Spirit had begun Its work in my life.

I spent the rest of the spring and early summer continuing my research. I was attending Sunday morning services quite regularly now, also going on Sunday nights and Tuesdays for the youth group. In addition to reading the Bible, I joined a Bible study on Thursday nights. It was entitled “Experiencing God” and had a workbook with friends from the youth group. I learned so much about God’s character by using this Bible study and reading the scriptures. It was led by a strange couple at church who didn’t have children and eventually left under weird circumstances, but they provided the space for exploring my spiritual journey, and introduced me to journalling; for that I am forever grateful.

As time went on, David kept on me about accepting Christ. “I am not there yet,” I said. If I was going to make a commitment to Him, which appeared to be the biggest decision of my life, I wanted to make sure I was making the right decision for the right reasons with the right information. This did not appear to be something I could gracefully exit if it did not work for me. David warned me of a being a fence sitter, and the scripture that spurred me towards a decision was Revelation 3:16: “So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of my mouth.” Yikes! I needed to make a decision. And stick with it.

My family’s yearly trip to my cousin’s cottage on the shores of Lake Huron in Michigan gave me the perfect backdrop. While I was there, I fully committed my life, heart, and everything to the Lord. No reservations, no “buts.” It felt great. I have always said there was not a “moment in time” where I came to decision like so many other people’s stories go. For me, following Jesus was like a six month download, slowly creeping toward finality.  It finished in July 1998 with no memory of the day or time.

Through this, my focus in life became Christ. No longer was I living for myself or pleasing my parents: I was living for God. It also helped my depression, as I took all of that to Him and laid it as His feet. Although I never responded to an alter call, my heart was there. Soon thereafter, I wanted to be baptized by immersion. When I spoke to the pastor about it, he said he needed my parents’ permission since I was under 18. I declined. I did not have the strength to tell them and I didn’t want to fight about the subject. And so, before I left for college – at 18 – I was dunked in the church that saved my soul.

My parents still have no idea I was baptized twice.


Last month marked 20 years of walking with the Lord. I feel like I should be more mature by now in the faith than what I am.

With all the cultural changes that occurred in this century, I no longer attend a Southern Baptist church. I have always considered myself a “non-denominational” Christian since accepting Christ. I will be forever in debt to the Southern Baptists for introducing me to sweet tea and Christ. Since moving away from the SBC several years ago, I attended a mainline Christian mega-church and found a home among Methodists. I am not Methodist: I nearly lost consciousness leafing through the Table of Contents in the Book of Discipline. I’m vaguely aware of John Wesley. The message of Christ has always trumped the semantics of denomination for me.

This disillusioned Catholic became a follower of Christ by relationships with other believers who showed love and acceptance, spurring me on towards Christ. And I still hold that truth.

No one is going to come to Christ through arguments on social media, being handed a track, or showing up to the right place in the right clothes and saying the right things. It’s difficult for me to engage others with my introverted nature, as I completely suck at apologetics and hide when everyone shakes hands at church, but I am trying. Chances are you’ll have a glass of wine on my porch with me.

Also, if you come to my church, I’m the awkward person you’ll encounter. Fair warning.

Rebeka

Rebeka and I met in the 5th grade, after my best friend at the time said she was cool and should hang out with us. I was always leery about newcomers, but my friend’s assessment was spot on: Rebeka and I hit it off instantly. She was a complete geek, wicked smart, too cool to let anything get under her skin, and had a crazy sense of fashion. In a word, she was awesome.

We both had terrible hair through middle school and in high school, we came into more of our own. Our friendship bond grew the most in high school – we did practically everything together. Rebeka hosted parties that still live on in infamy in her parents’ basement. They included great music, snack food, games of pool, a plethora of inside jokes, and an entire room painted for blacklight use. I should also mention we were straight edge: these parties were filled with Mountain Dew. Alcohol wasn’t on our radar.

Our lives would diverge on different paths, yet we stayed friends. When I became a Christian junior year, Rebeka stood as a hardline agnostic. “If that’s what you feel you need to do, then you gotta do it,” she said after I told her of my conversion. She never put limits on people or gave me grief over Christ. Rebeka cared deeply for her friends (even though she acted all cool like she didn’t) and always let people be who they really were around her. I think that’s why she’s always had people gravitate towards her: Rebeka was a safe harbor.

College is when things got interesting. She visited me at my college dorm (our colleges were a state apart) and ended up dating my boyfriend’s roommate. I’ll never forget the time I was walking to my dorm bathroom and she came strolling out. “What are you doing here?” “I’m here with M. Sorry, I forgot to tell you I was coming.” Classic Rebeka. I did manage to get her to my favorite coffee shop on campus to catch up on life.

The bottom dropped out when they broke up and it was messy. M took it extremely hard. About a month later, Rebeka called me on the phone. “Um, we have to talk about somethings,” she said slowly. “There’s kinda a big reason I left M.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah. I, uh, kinda started dating my roommate. I’m gay.”

My eyebrows jumped off my forehand. Gay? Rebeka? She’s always dated guys and there was no indication of anything other than straight.

“Are we still friends?” I could hear the fear in her voice. “I’ve already told everyone else. I told you last because, well, you’re a Christian, and I thought you’d stop speaking to me.”

“Oh wow, Rebeka, no, we’re still friends and I will never stop speaking to you. This changes nothing between us.”

And so, our friendship continued on.

I gushed to her after I met my husband – she later told me she knew he was the one from my phone call. Rebeka brought her underage and possibly schizophrenic girlfriend to my wedding – her safe harbor ways often brought in the crazy ones too. Rebeka eventually settled down with a nice girl and the last time they visited me in North Carolina, I sensed their relationship was in its death keel. I was right.

And then there was Chris. “She’s really cool, you gotta keep this one,” I said to Rebeka discretely after I met her for the first time. Rebeka eventually married Chris after years of dating and I claim Chris as my sister-in-law. Rebeka often talked about moving down to my neck of the woods – she fell in love with the area like I did. After years of her saying “maybe someday,” her and Chris finally made the move a few years ago.

So, I live 1,000 miles away from home, but my best friend since 5th grade lives on the other side of town. How about that!

We always get together for Christmas morning, campfires, game nights, and true to form, she still hosts parties that live in infamy with better food (we’re talking gourmet) and we graduated from Mountain Dew to alcohol.

I haven’t heard from her in a few months. We run in different circles, yet I always try to keep up with her. Chris suffers from extreme social anxiety, so I think a lot of interaction is limited, which I totally understand.

Right now, I’m waiting to hear back from her. I’ve invited them down for some wine and cheese via voicemail. I hope she’s able to make it. Despite all the changes we’ve weathered, it’s nice to connect with someone who has known you since the beginning. We differ on many aspects of life, but the last time we hung out, we chatted for almost 3 hours straight.

Rebeka and I will be friends to the very end. No matter what.

A Tale of 2 Phone Calls

Lately, I keep getting woken up by the past.

Tale #1
Rrrrrttt. Rrrrrttt.

My phone was blowing up on vibrate.

Rrrrttt. Rrrrrttt.

It was 6am. No one ever calls with good news at 6am.

Rrrrttt. Rrrrttt.

I opened one eye, my brain still foggy from the dream of a machine at work that looked like it was destroyed by a tornado. I glanced at my phone. 2 missed calls and a few text messages from Phoebe. “I need to get away. I need to think. Alex is still with the girl. Can I come to your house today? Do you have plans?”

Whoa. This just got serious. “Give me a minute to wake up and I’ll call,” I texted back. Five minutes later, I’m pacing in the backyard, talking with Phoebe. She was surprisingly calm when I spoke with her, despite the fact she had caught her husband with another woman a few days earlier.

Phoebe flipped the script and left on the lam – Alex’s modus operandi. She disappeared without an explanation, en route to the airport for my house. I sent her a picture of my credit card so she could book her plane tickets without detection, promising to write me a check when she landed. A few hours later, I picked her up at the airport. Ironically, I had cleaned the entire house the day prior for no reason. “The Lord knew,” she said. This is also why I keep my guest room in a constant state of readiness. You never know who the Lord will send your way with a moment’s notice.

Phoebe looked the same, as if 12 years hadn’t slipped by, and we picked up right where we left off. We spent time at the beach, ate good food, sipped wine, and discussed her situation extensively. For 3 days I watched her oscillate between a confident Christian woman who was going to contact a divorce attorney to a puddle of sadness and despair, longing for her marriage to made whole again. I was glad to share my home with her, thankful that she was eating and sleeping – something she hadn’t done much of since the blow up.

An ending has yet to be written. But that dream though: all of us work in the same health care department, and I wonder if that shattered machine in the dream means what I think it does. So much prayer. So much.


Tale #2
The other morning I woke up to a group message from the old church I attended in college. They’re hosting a homecoming for the youth group – the whole lot of us were invited for a picnic. Everyone was replying – people I hadn’t thought about in years appeared on my phone – even Jacob and Hannah are attending. This ought to be interesting.

A private message from Ruth was there too – the reception is one week after we were suppose to go on one of our epic adventures – and we decided to table the adventure in favor of the meet-up. Over the years, we had mused about “getting the band back together” and what it would be like to do a reunion. And now, we have that chance. We’ve booked a hotel room and we are each other’s date for the “bring your family” event. She’s like a sister, so it works. My husband had a gig anyway.

I am ecstatic to be back in my college town, especially with Ruth, to walk down memory lane together, in addition to making new memories. My only concern is that John’s last post was in my college town and I could run into him, if he’s still there. We haven’t stayed in contact and I have no desire to change that status. Nonetheless, I am really looking forward to seeing everyone again and hopefully making some new friendship connections with the old church crew.


These sort of things usually come in 3’s, so I’m a bit pensive of the next way the past will pop into my present.

Come what may.

A fissure in time seems unlikely.

Right?

 

Ruth

I met Ruth when I accidentally showed up at the wrong college ministry freshman year (I ended up staying). We looked alike, too, which sometimes caused people to mistake us for sisters. We always found this hilarious.

In college we hung out a bit – the occasional coffee or swimming at the indoor pool in the university recreation center. We’d tread water in the deep end and chat.

Ruth was my polar opposite back then: in my days of too many boys and too much alcohol, she was on the straight and narrow. She would have been aghast that I would ever entertain the thought of getting drunk or was not a virgin – so I just left out those parts of my life.

Nonetheless, we found common ground, and the many memories of this college Bible group have Ruth in them and we stayed close. One night, she was discussing how after graduation she was going to live with her brother for several months who was living in Europe. I was jealous of her upcoming adventure, not to mention I had a slight crush on her gorgeous older brother. And that’s when she said it:

“You should come for a visit!” Oh my goodness, that was too good to pass up!

The three of us spent a week traveling around England with no particular plan, just wherever the trains happened to take us that morning. I loved it!

This trip cemented our status as lifelong friends, in what was supposed to be a friendship that faded away with college life. Ruth became one of my closest confidants in my adult life. The days of editing my life for her ears had long since passed. She knew everything. In time we had grown up: I cleaned up my act and Ruth realized the world was not as black and white as she thought it to be.

We kept each other in the loop about our various romantic escapades, struggles, and joys – as singles and as wives. We also shared the hardship of infertility. Our stories were night and day different, but both of our homes remained silent without children.

A few years ago, we decided to restart our adventures by meeting halfway between our homes, as we live quite a distance apart. Our adventures have spanned a near-death experience in West Virginian mountains and backpacking cities. We try to meet up at least once a year and do something fun: it’s usually outdoors, involves a glass of wine, a tourist stop, and deep conversations.

A friend like Ruth is one of those rare gems – I think of her more as a sister. Her intelligence, character, and love of God have not only inspired me but buoyed me through some really hard times, as well as contributed to the good times. I know I can call her at any time to tell her anything, and she will always be gentle and listen. She doesn’t judge, yet she’ll call a spade a spade when it needs to be said. I am so grateful for her honesty and her 24 karat persona.

I’m excited to see where the Lord is going to lead Ruth. She made the decision to leave her abusive marriage after many failed attempts to fix it. Now that she is free from that burden, I know she will blossom, like the tree by the water in Jeremiah 17:7-8.

….and I can’t wait for our next adventure!

 

Deborah

Deborah and I were not supposed to be friends.

She was a high school girlfriend of my then-college boyfriend and she was a nutcase. She was loud, annoying, and often came running up to my boyfriend and I in the university dining commons, greeting him with a big hug. They stayed friends, you see. I went out of my way to avoid her at all costs.

My boyfriend hosted a small gathering of friends at his house with the intent of getting drunk one night – my first foray into drinking. He and the guys left to get the goods from someone else – we were under age – and he had also invited Deborah who showed up just as they were leaving – I stayed behind.

I was stuck with her. Alone. I was livid.

I attempted guarded small talk with her only to be nice, praying the boys would be quick. As we chatted, we realized we had loads in common. When the guys came back with liquor an hour later, we were already old friends. Deborah and I were giggling and drunkenly hanging on each other as the night went on. My boyfriend just shook his head and smiled. He certainly had a taste for fun girls. I misjudged this one.

Our friendship quickly flourished into a strong bond of sisterhood as college rolled on. Our senior year we got an apartment together and painted it in the most ostentatious colors we could find, which included purple, lime green, blue, yellow, and neon pink. Her creativity and genuine personality complemented my own. Together, Deborah and I were unstoppable.

Our adventures were many: road trips that started at 11pm and ended as the sun came up, Spring Break in Florida (we ended up in St. Augustine/Disney when we realized the party in Daytona Beach was not our scene), and hosted legendary parties in our colorful apartment. 

Deborah also became my voice of reason: when the relationship with my boyfriend turned toxic, she called me out on it and assured me I would be okay when it ended. She was also a vocal opponent of my liaison with John (my friend with benefits), evident that it was not healthy long term. I leaned heavily on her in these times, perhaps more than I should have in hindsight. 

After college, she married her college sweetheart and we lived within an hour of each other. We went to concerts, saw indie films, and drank beer together. Her encouraging words urged me to re-evaluate my direction in life; she was the catalyst for refocusing myself to God and making better relationship choices. Deborah expressed dismay in my decision to leave Illinois and head into the unknown of North Carolina, but she knew I needed it. Deborah and Phoebe were the ones who locked up my apartment with me when I left for the coast.

After I moved, Deborah got pregnant and I met my husband. She morphed into a mom, while I pursued the traveling career girl route. We kept in touch sporadically, but when we met up, her conversations were limited to topics surrounding motherhood and my European adventures were all I could share, neither of us understanding the other’s experience. We had entered different worlds, and I was sad that the vibrant imaginative woman I knew was replaced with one who droned on about diaper rash.

Our communication became less and less. 

She had another baby by the time I hit my infertility phase. I never told her of my struggles. Occasionally we’ll exchange “How are you? I am great!” text messages. I haven’t seen her in years. I have no idea what she’s really like anymore, how her triumphs and failures have shaped her since our multicolored days as college students. I wish she could know me now, how I’ve changed for the better since college. Her social media feed projects a loving mother, a doting wife, and a confident executive. I know she is all of those things.

I wish I still knew the woman behind the smile.

Maybe years from now, Deborah and I will rekindle our friendship; we’ll once again reveal what’s in our hearts to each other over a drink, laughing about the good old days, caring for each other in the moment, and sharing our dreams of the future. 

I refuse to lose hope.

Phoebe

Phoebe texted me out of the blue.

Seven years had passed since we last spoke – 1,000 miles and a lifetime between us. We drifted apart as life happened. We communicated through Christmas cards.

She wanted to catch up.

I met Phoebe at my first job out of college, in the barren wastelands of central Illinois. She was a new immigrant from Asia, and in the small red neck town I found myself in, she was the coolest one there. We would walk to house parties, taking pulls off of a flask of rum. We’d go dancing at the night club an hour away – dressed to kill – or grab drinks at the bar down the street. We’d swap boy stories, hang out, have lunch dates, and I learned a great deal about her culture and way of life back home. When we hung out with her crew, I was often the lone white girl, who was a full foot taller than everyone.

She worked second shift, I worked third shift with her then-boyfriend Alex, an American. Alex helped me learn my trade and I kept up with him for job references. When they got married, I was a bridesmaid.

We kept in touch after I moved to the coast for several years. Once the kids came along, we drifted apart. I got a phone call when she found out she was pregnant with her first. I learned of her second child on social media. I haven’t seen her since 2009 and never met her kids.

I was surprised to see her texting me after all this time, but my heart was happy. I missed Phoebe. We talked on the phone that night. She sounded good, she caught me up on all the local gossip, as she and Alex are still in the same town. We talked about the surface level things – fond memories, how “things were currently going well,” both of us still unsure of the other – I wasn’t ready to spill my heart of the past years with anxiety, infertility, and alcoholism. Maybe for another conversation. Her accent was as thick as ever, my ear no longer trained to it. It was never like that before.

We ended our conversation with her and the family possibly coming to visit in the fall.

A few days later, Phoebe texted, Can you talk thru text message?

Sure, I replied. This was bizarre, but okay.

All the pieces clicked in her next message.

I’m not in a good place. I’m leaving Alex. I can’t take it anymore. Can you help me restart my life? Maybe I can get a job by you?

What?

Long story short, Alex cheated on her several years ago and they got through it. The other woman recently waltzed back into town and Alex got a burner phone to communicate with her behind Phoebe’s back – despite his denials of contact. It was a mess that involved the cops at one point when their argument got out of hand over the situation.

I offered for her to come to my beach for a few days, get out of the situation to think clearly, and said several times to get professional help. Counseling in these situations is so important, whether they stayed together or not.

She began to price airfare and planned a long weekend visit in a few weeks.

And then I got this message:
Things are better. We talked it out and I’m leaving for a visit to Asia soon and I don’t have the money to fly to North Carolina right now. But thank you so much for listening and supporting me! I promise I will come down sometime this year!

I told her the invitation was open and that if she needed time to get away, I was here for her.

This was all several weeks ago.

I texted her today, to see how she was doing. Things had returned to normal – the other woman was gone and the harmonious matrimony continued.

I hope stays that way.

September in Review

As hypothesized at the beginning of the month, I didn’t plant my grape vines. I did, however, grow in other areas.

My husband and I had a couple over from church for dinner. Despite the main course not turning out 100%, dessert was perfect and they didn’t leave until after 10pm because we were having such great conversation. It was really good for us. Seeds of friendship were sown.

While we downsized our stuff before we moved, there were a few items that we couldn’t place in our new house. They were sent to a resale shop that benefits women of domestic violence, in hopes they could help grow someone else’s new beginning.

I began my second assignment working as a ghostwriter, and it has stretched me as a writer and challenged my abilities. We’re still working on setting the right voice with the literature, but I love helping others reach their goals from behind the scenes. My ghosting benefits many by tilling the soil for others to grow – it’s a good feeling – and I am happy to be a part of it, even though my name is not on it.

In the vein of gardening, I paid entirely too much money for a full landscape of my house, but now it looks amazing. The final frontier, also know as the backyard, is a work in progress. The many years of debris are cleared and I hope to rescue the remnants of grass and coax it into a lawn in the spring. The amount of weeds is simply astounding. But pulling each weed by hand has been a salve for my panic attacks. It’s quickly becoming a sanctuary for me. Between work and marriage, I need a place of solace, and right now it is among the weeds.

Next year, there will be grapes.

September: Grow Grapes

One of my goals this year was to grow grapes.

Muscadine grapes are indigenous to the Carolinas and I thought this would be the perfect variety to grow. They need sun, 20 feet of trellis, and a friend to pollinate. My backyard, like the rest of my landscape, is in a sad state of affairs. There is so much work to be done, grading the yard, removing weeds, and getting a plan together – I will need professional help. Because of time and money, I can’t plant this year.

I made this list of focus points for the year back in January, in our old house. Moving was still a “maybe someday” conversation. I had no idea how much of a roller coaster 2017 was going to become and how much would change in my world.

My September focus is indeed “growing grapes” – what other goals did I have for this new minimalistic life? What was I going to accomplish here that I did not/could not do in my old huge house?

Live with less stuff. Invite people over for meals. For tea. Focus on my crocheting, spend time on the deck, get out into the garden, focus on my health, my husband’s health, and those around me. Travel more. Get back to those free spirit days I had in a 1 bedroom apartment in a midwestern cornfield. Gone are the days of maintaining and cleaning a huge property: I have always been content with less stuff. It’s time to start living that.

I am going to share this contentment with those around me. I’ll always be a shy introvert – it’s who I am at my core – but perhaps it is time to blossom in being about the Lord’s work through hospitality.

Perhaps I will serve muscadine grape juice to my guests next year.

The Dovecote

It was popular in the nineteenth century to name your house, no matter if it were a cottage or an estate. I have embraced this tradition with my homes.

Our old house was aptly named The Burning Pinecone, after the fabulous firepit my husband built (many a nights were spent drinking and roasting marshmallows with friends) and the giant pinecones that fell from the towering long leaf pines. Most of our fires were fueled by the massive amount of pinecones on the half acre of land we owned. The new house is nothing like our old house. It is much smaller and less grand: it is the epitome of average. It faces the south, so less sunlight comes through our windows, but it keeps it cooler in the summer. Our yard is so tiny, in fact, the listing had the lot in square feet instead of acres. Because of all the other expenses, a firepit has not been built yet, but we have picked out its site. There will be more nights of roasting marshmallows soon.

Our new home needed a name. I didn’t want another firepit inspired moniker and so I considered what other people have named their houses for inspiration. From one of my favorite books, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, John and Meg Brooke’s house was named The Dovecote. Having no idea what a dovecote was, I looked up the meaning of it on Google and promptly went into silent laugh mode:

dovecotehaha

I thought this was a perfect description of our new property, especially after my husband and I failed to get the loveseat through the door (he and his co-worker managed to shove it through the other door with a millimeter of clearance, but not without damaging the walls in the process).

I then read the description of The Dovecote Alcott gave in the book:

And speaking of sentiment brings us very naturally to the ‘Dovecote’.

That was the name of the little brown house Mr. Brooke had prepared for Meg’s first home. Laurie had christened it, saying it was highly appropriate to the gentle lovers who ‘went on together like a pair of turtledoves, with first a bill and then a coo’. It was a tiny house, with a little garden behind and a lawn about as big as a pocket handkerchief in the front. Here Meg meant to have a fountain, shrubbery, and a profusion of lovely flowers, though just at present the fountain was represented by a weather–beaten urn, very like a dilapidated slopbowl, the shrubbery consisted of several young larches, undecided whether to live or die, and the profusion of flowers was merely hinted by regiments of sticks to show where seeds were planted. But inside, it was altogether charming, and the happy bride saw no fault from garret to cellar. To be sure, the hall was so narrow it was fortunate that they had no piano, for one never could have been got in whole, the dining room was so small that six people were a tight fit, and the kitchen stairs seemed built for the express purpose of precipitating both servants and china pell–mell into the coalbin. But once get used to these slight blemishes and nothing could be more complete, for good sense and good taste had presided over the furnishing, and the result was highly satisfactory. There were no marble–topped tables, long mirrors, or lace curtains in the little parlor, but simple furniture, plenty of books, a fine picture or two, a stand of flowers in the bay window, and, scattered all about, the pretty gifts which came from friendly hands and were the fairer for the loving messages they brought.

My hear swelled. As a writer, this was perfect! My new home reflected all the nuances of the Brooke’s home, save for the coalbin. It’s coziness (read: small quarters) and less than stellar landscaping (read: years of outright neglect) will be knit into the fabric of my life. Our front yard, which is about the size of a handkerchief, will hopefully be blooming with flowers and evergreen foundation plants this time next year. We have a wonky staircase as well, I’m sure I’ll go down it pell mell at some point.

And so, my new home is affectionately known as The Dovecote. I’m looking forward to entertaining friends and strangers over tea. When our house was blessed, the pastor likened it to the moon, reflecting the light of the Son. I hope everyone who comes through the doors of The Dovecote senses the love of the Lord in this space.

I also plan to frame this passage and display it in my new home.