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.

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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.

The Parable of the Pomegranate Bush

Several years ago at the Farmer’s Market, I fell in love with a baby white pomegranate bush. He was just a little guy, barely a foot high – the quart container he came in seemed large.

Over the years, he kept getting root bound in every pot I put him in – even the giant 2ft diameter one! Once we moved to this new house, I found the perfect spot for him in the ground, anchoring the corner of my flowerbed. He’s as tall as me now.

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The Pomegranate bush, July 2018. It really got branchy this year.

I prune him every February and in late spring, he would flower. These beautiful pink flowers looked as if they were the combination of a rose and carnation. Often times, my tree would be loaded with these gorgeous blossoms in late spring, but alas, no pomegranates.

I started reading more about my fruitless situation and it was suggested that not enough bees were visiting, hence the lacking in pollination (pomegranates are self-pollinators, they don’t need a friend to make fruit). The article suggested to pollinate the blooms myself, which I did this year.

Still no pomegranates. The flowers weren’t even as plentiful this year.

A part of me wonders if he is infertile. If so, it makes little difference to me. He’d be right at home here among the rest of us without descendants. Maybe next year? I’m not holding my breath. Like my own case of infertility, I have no idea how to fix it. It’s been in different soil types – I’m not even sure what I’d give it to make it happier (fruitier?).

I got to thinking too how this translates to my walk with the Lord. How often do I flower not produce fruit? Are my intentions followed through with actions, or do I just show beautiful potential, as the flowers fade away. Oh, fruit? What about all those exquisite flowers I just made?

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Another “maybe next time” getting ready to flower. So much potential.

I think a lot about others too with this analogy: how often am I distracted by the flowers without fruit production? “Oh, he’s a flower kind of guy, fruit eventually rots anyway.” I see this in the media, the insane political culture, and occasionally in the church. This is not exactly what the Lord calls us to do.

In the meantime, I’m hoping to make more fruit in both my garden (I’m looking at you, Fig tree sapling without buds) and in my life.

Also, if you have ANY tips for a fruitful pomegranate season, I’m open to suggestion.

“You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you.” (John 15:16)

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?

 

Pray & Prey

All the #churchtoo hash tags on my Twitter feed reminded me of a fellow youth group member in college who could classify as a preditor.

I would know. I was one of his complicit prey.

Word had gotten around church that I was newly single. I looked okay on the outside, but on the inside I was in the deep throws of an existential crisis coupled with an identity crisis. My ex was an emotional abuser, and I got too caught up in his web of dysfunction.

It was during this time that I learned when I hit rock bottom, I will find a shovel and start digging.

Jacob was the shovel.

Jacob had asked for my phone number and he was the full package: handsome chiseled features, very muscular, highly intelligent – an all around sweetheart who loved Jesus. I was giddy. I never thought a guy like Jacob would notice me.

Sure enough, he called me to hang out one evening. After a false start, we ended up back at my apartment to watch a movie with my roommates. Jacob put his arms around me and pulled me back onto him. This was nice – a little fast – but nice. In the course of a few minutes, his hands started to wander. I politely stopped him several times.

If I wasn’t in such a state of complete breakdown, I’d like to think I’d have rebuffed his advances. But when you’re already careening out of control and extremely comfortable with your sexuality, you make certain allowances that otherwise wouldn’t make sense.

He suggested going back to my room and I agreed. I tried to explain to him how crazy my life was, but it came out jumbled and it was clear he was not understanding. The spell wore off after midnight. We didn’t have sex, but we defiantly knew each other better in the physical sense.

He requested I drive him back to the dorm at 3am, less than half a mile from my apartment. The conversation was terse, compared to what happened between us a few hours prior. He threw a casual “see ya” over his shoulder as he left the car.

I regretted it. I was disgusted with myself. His scent was still all over my sheets, but in the morning light, it smelled bad.

I didn’t hear from him in the following days and our group met on a few nights later. My heart raced as I walked to the building. I tried to catch his eye, eager to read his expression. We made eye contact: it was a quick expressionless glance, like when you almost bump into someone in a busy airport.

That was it.

Oh, I thought, as the reality seeped through my body. This is how it’s gonna be: all over me in private, ignore me in public. While I was disappointed, I also knew it was stupid to think he wanted something more. The situation a few nights previous was obviously about the physical rather than the mental, emotional, and spiritual. Just what I needed: another guy in my life to treat me like crap.

I wish I could say the story ended there.

But it didn’t.

It happened again.

And again.

While I’ve never done drugs, I’m sure Jacob was cocaine in the human form. I knew it was a bad idea, but I loved the high – it boosted me out of the hole I found myself in, albeit temporarily. I loved the rush, the impulsive nature of our aimless fraternization.

I was eager for another fix.

As time passed, I was slowly coming out of my self-induced haze, longing for the comforts of emotional sobriety. What if I was leading him on? I paused as I was leaving his dorm room, leaning against the door jamb for support. It was time to clarify things.

“So,” I began. “Where does this leave us?”

“Right here,” came the sarcastic reply and a smile.

“No, really. Where do you see this going?”

Jacob stopped and turned to me. “I am not in a place in my life where I would be a good boyfriend to you, I can’t be what you would need in a relationship.”

It sounded like a pre-recorded message, a backhanded complement, but I took his words at face value.

“Okay,” I said, as I drifted into the hallway and closed the door behind me.

That was fine by me.

It stopped right then and there.

I’d like to point out that all of this was consensual between Jacob and I. He never forced me to do anything. I take responsibility for my actions.

Then I got back with my daft ex, because I was young, stupid, and apparently masochistic at 21.

But that’s when the prowl started.

My boyfriend didn’t want to attend formal several months later, so I went alone. Jacob was there, handsome as ever. He tried to get me to come back to his dorm afterwards and I explained I was with someone else and not interested. Jacob tried to persuade me otherwise. He pulled me close when we were alone, and I pushed him away. “I have a boyfriend, we can’t do this, ” I said and left his presence.

I can’t remember the circumstances, but I had something to drop off at his place months later. He had moved out of the dorms and into a house. He gave me a quick friendly tour, no vestige of our history showed.

“And this is my room,” he said as we stopped at the door. He came from behind me and used his body weight to push me on the bed. We fell on the bed together and I knew what the look in his eye meant. “I have a boyfriend,” I said, slightly worried about how this situation was going. Again, he tried to charm me. “No, I have to go.” I sprinted out to my car before he had a chance to stop me.

That was our last encounter.

The following school year, Jacob was a distant memory. A girl named Hannah started coming to our group. Hannah was not only stunningly beautiful, but wholesome and kind. She was in my Bible study. I had just taken a big swig of soda when Hannah said she had an announcement: “Jacob and I are officially dating.”

It took everything in my power not to spit the soda across the room. She took her purity seriously, and while they made a handsome couple, I certainly hoped she knew what she was signing up for with Jacob.

I did not mention anything to her about my experience. Maybe she knew about Jacob and I, maybe not. I didn’t want to reveal my previous indiscretions; there was also the possibility of Jacob amending his ways.

They got married and have children. Occasionally a picture of them will pop up on my feed, all smiles. I wonder what their marriage is like and if they are truly happy beyond the pictures.

The shine of youth is gone for Jacob. The sculpted muscles have given way to age and fat; he looks well into his second trimester now. Those bright eyes and boyish grin still come through, but I know what lies behind them. Hannah still has a better body than my barren athletic one.

What is Jacob like now? I wonder if anyone at his current church has a story about him. I wonder how he dealt with the past or if he ever did.

Many years later, I told my good friend Ruth (from the same group) about everything that happened between Jacob and I: turns out I was just another link in the chain. She and many others had a similar experience. Ruth shot him down before anything came of it (as I should have done). I wasn’t the first in the group. I wasn’t the last either.

I was simply another violin in a woeful symphony.

I was played. And prey.

Of Tea & Prayer

Since I stopped drinking alcohol – my husband was struggling with overconsumption, so it’s no longer in our lives – I find myself craving something more than just water when I’m relaxing in the evenings. With watching my weight now, as I’ve gained 12 pounds in the month of December alone, I’ve decided to go back to an old friend: tea.

As with everything else in my world, life is in a time crunch. Working 2 jobs, managing a household, trying to find time to exercise – so much of my day is about maximizing my time. With this in mind, I put my tea water in the microwave for 2 minutes.

The tea tasted like dishwater. Flavorless, flat, and just plain bleh.

I couldn’t even finish the cup, even with a little local honey in it. Tea has the best flavor when the water is at a high temperature; the microwave heats the water unevenly. All the while, my tea kettle sat alone on the stove. It takes too long to heat up the water when it’s just a cup for me. But after my microwave debacle, I decided to go back to the tea kettle.

For a single cup of tea, it takes 6 minutes and 45 seconds for it to sing (I have to keep it on medium heat or else it will melt onto my ceramic top stove). It’s nearly 3x as long as the microwave. The water from the kettle is not only pipping hot, but brings out the flavor in the tea as it’s suppose to be tasted. Even though it is faster in the microwave, it’s not effective and the end result is less than stellar.

This same analogy can be applied to my prayer life: as a contemplative, spending time silent before God in prayer takes time. It’s not that quick popcorn prayer at the end of a Bible study or a cry for help when something goes wrong at work. Like the tea kettle, the prayer is the real deal; time consuming, but completely worth it.

I found myself drifting back into microwave prayer time. There are a few people in my life who are in desperate need of prayer – which I do pray for – but in recent months I have not sought the deep quietness that comes to me during contemplative prayer. I’m starting to miss it. The microwaved prayers are not cutting it anymore for me.

January has always been a quiet month in my life: the Christmas rush is over, and growing up, there was snow on the ground while nature sleeps. I need to carve out time in the coming weeks to spend some real quality time basking in the Lord. I need to dig deeper into the emotional part of my soul I’m so good at silencing. Using the Examine App is suppose to help, but I never feel motivated.

So here’s to 2018, a year filled with quality tea and quality time with the Lord.

December: Be Tuned to the Holy Spirit

I’m ending 2017 on a note to tap into my intuition – which sometimes gets caught up in the web of anxiety in my brain and I don’t always know which is what.

We so often pray for the voice of the Lord to guide us in our lives. But how often do we listen? I will admit I sometimes feel an inkling, a gentle push from the Holy Spirit and I ignore it because I’m too busy doing other things. Or it’s horribly inconvenient. Or I decide in the moment that it wouldn’t work, wouldn’t be wanted, wouldn’t be appreciated. With the Christmas season in full swing, I thought this was the best way to focus my energy.

What will this look like? I hope to obey the small, sometimes inconsequential voice in my head, urging me to go in a certain direction. I pray my eyes will be open to someone needing help, that I will offer what I can, regardless of the outcome.

I want to leave room to let the Lord lead this month.

November in Review

I did not do as well as I set out to this month. I had every intention of journaling through my Examine App – which I did – twice. With my husband’s crazy work schedule, my mornings and evenings are cut short. I know it’s an excuse that I’m blaming current life rhythms for my lack of self reflection with emotions before the Lord, but that’s what happened.

I did have one rather interesting breakthrough that I did not see coming.

In arguments or when my husband randomly turns into an ornery 12 year old, my default setting is to stand down, shut down, and wait until emotions and situations return to normal before addressing them – if they are addressed at all.

This month, I decided to try a different tactic. It’s not often I fight back or call someone out in the moment. So I did. When my husband got into one of his moods, I spoke in my deeper-toned business voice – the one I used to use backstage to rally the troops – and called his bluff. Oh, I’m out of line? Enlighten me. It was not an emotional, but a logical response. And it worked. The situation defused and I didn’t have to run for cover.

I have to remind myself to be confident and take control of the situation. It’s not a habit yet, but I hope to make it one in 2018.

It’s an interesting end of a month dedicated to embracing emotions. I hope I can maintain the confidence level.

Birthdays of 2018

November has officially arrived in my world and brought the chilly air with it. A mere few days ago, I was sweating on my lunch walk, basking in the warm sunlight, thankful for the last sweet days of summer. It’s a reminder that winter is near and a new year will begin soon.

I spent 2017 being introspective with my project of picking a theme each month to focus on, and with the roller coaster ride that was my year, it gave me an anchor for my restless soul. By keeping my focus on the Lord, I was insulated by the current and sparks 2017 created: I am still standing.

With 2018 not far away, I wanted to do something else as a year long project, but with less focus on myself. I wanted to take the lessons, trials, and encouragement from this crazy year and apply it to others. I also wanted to focus more on my writing to benefit others. How could I accomplish that?

The idea had been rolling around in my head for awhile, but in 2018, I am going to put pen to paper and make it happen. I will send a birthday card, snail mail, to those in my world. The card will be a blank cardstock with a personalized message to the receiver. Store bought birthday cards are super expensive, blandly impersonal, and are usually thrown away. I hate those. The ones I buy are from Hobby Lobby, 48 for $10, which comes out to 21¢ a card. In some cases, I also plan to send a postcard – another perk of living at the beach. If it’s thrown away, so be it. If it’s kept, I hope it will bring a smile, a comfort, and a tangible reminder that someone was thinking of them on their special day.

I have this knack for remembering dates, I love writing, and this may be a great way to reach out to others. It also keeps me on a deadline.

I’m excited to do this, and if all goes well, I may make this an every year thing.

November: Embrace Emotions

I saved the hardest towards the end. I thought maybe the focuses of the previous months would be a good foundation with this one. It is time to test that theory.

I am going to embrace emotions in November.

Back when I was in counseling, my therapist made the observation that my “emotional crayon box” only held about 8 colors, like those small cheap boxes from the dollar store. With my age and experience, my box should closely reflect the big 64 color crayon box with the sharpener in the back. Instead of just green, I should also have jade, mint, emerald, and chartreuse. To help, she gave me this list of emotional responses:

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When talking about things, I referenced the sheet to better gage my experience. For a writer, it was a great tool. For me personally, as an introvert who struggles with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and a non-confrontation mindset (I’m an INFJ, Ennegram 9), it was a bit daunting. It’s time to start looking at this sheet again as I go through November.

My husband has seen me cry about 4 times in the 10+ years we’ve been together, and all those times involved heavy situations of infertility, a family emergency, and one major fight. There’s no one, except when I’m alone in the presence of Jesus, with whom I feel I can cry. And even that is stunted. I hate crying as much as I hate throwing up: I will hold it in until my body overrides my brain. I’m so good at not crying that it’s nearly automatic suppression.

I’m pretty even as my character goes. I’ve never been in a screaming match. I’m really good about letting people – like my husband – gad about on things that upset me. I like the situation to pass and then bring it up when I have had time to process it and have ample evidence to prove my point.

I know that cannot bode well for my emotional health, but like the morbidly obese person who constantly eats fast food and doesn’t exercise, I too am in my own little prison of my own doing.

Things, for the moment, are good with my husband and I. As always, I’m just waiting for the other shoe to drop.

How will I embrace this? No freaking clue. Outside of going back to counseling, which is not in the plan – mine nor insurance, I’m hoping the Lord moves me into this awkward embrace that I strive to keep at arm’s length.

My only plan is to end each day with the Examine app. I take stock of my day, describing the physical, emotional, and metaphysical parts – and how God fits into that narrative. The last part is writing a prayer to the Lord based on all this information.

If nothing else, simply paying attention to my emotional health should make an improvement.

October: Give of Time & Talents

In the few free moments I have, I started watching Highway to Heaven on Netflix. It’s the story of an angel and a human in the mid 1980’s who go to various places God sends them to right the wrongs and bring comfort to those suffering. This inspired me to spend October by giving of time and talents.

As an introvert, I am perfectly content to stay home and be alone in my own little world. Life as a Christ follower calls us to be in community with those around us, helping wherever and however we can.

Goals for this month include showing up to my small group, participating in our church’s monthly mission outing, and other yet unknown projects the Lord leads me to serve Him and others.