This Old Table

words and images: Jessica Sowards

Our table is large. Usually it seats six, but when
guests come and the extender leaves come out, we can squeeze up to twelve if we don’t get too fussy about bumping elbows. As our babies grow and graduate from high chairs, the extenders will become permanent fixtures. When I bought this table from a Craigslist ad, I imagined what the future would hold. There were only three children then but I knew that my table would be full someday. I knew that it would
be important.

Our table dwells in the heart of our home. Early in the morning, mugs of tea and coffee, Bibles, and journals are scattered across it. The sun shines through the curtains in a reddish glow, kissing our hands good morning as we write down the things God is doing in us. We speak to Jesus at our table.

Then the kids wake up. Boys of varying ages with cowlicks in their hair and sleep in their eyes come in and sit down here. They make monumental messes of jam and toast and cherry yogurt and giggle as they recount silly dreams. They make plans for the day’s adventures and I smile at the endlessness of their ambitions.

This table is our schoolhouse. It is a teacher’s desk and a second and third grade class. We learn about verbs here, and multiplication. We read classic novels and Google the world’s smallest reptile. Curiosity is encouraged at our table. Questions are applauded. Lessons of all sorts are learned. Crayon marks are scrubbed off daily. Seeing their hungry eagerness to learn is my fuel, and I am so thankful to teach them here.

This old table, with its mediocre paint job and mismatched chairs, has been strewn with clipped coupons and magazines. With wedding invitations of dear old friends. With Christmas cards from loved ones nationwide. It has been so buried by Pinterest projects that we were forced to eat dinner on the couch. It has desked a laptop in the wee hours of the morning as I typed furiously with fire in my fingers and passion for words in my heart.

So many things have been created here, dreamed here, prayed here. I have had the passing thought that I should dig back in my e-mail and find the man who sold it to us. Then I could tell him how greatly we have loved it. I could ask him if anyone had ever come to know Jesus at it before. Or was my son the first? I could ask him if he knew where it came from. Maybe, if I spoke with him, I could tell my table’s story more fully.  I’ve talked myself out of this. Too often, I have made the mistake of assuming other people think like me. And too often, I have found that most people don’t care about the story of a table.

I care though. Because this table, since we asked it into our home, has known the very essence of our family. It has vibrated beneath the sewing machine whirring through a Thor costume and been plastered with newspaper soggy from Jack-O-Lantern guts. It has born the burden of a twenty-four pound turkey, perfectly glazed with balsamic vinegar and fig reduction, and has been surrounded by our vibrant and earth-shakingly loud extended family. It has seen a spread of freshly decorated Christmas cookies, tins of Nanny’s fudge and a steaming casserole of Grandmother’s hot fruit crunch. And it has seen the rueful smile that crosses my face as I survey these heirloom recipes and wish that I could have more than sweet memories of these women at my table.

The chair I usually occupy, a yellow high-back with a wobbly leg, has a view of our back yard.  It’s rarely quiet in a house full of sons, but when it is, I sit here at the end of my table and stare out at our acreage. Already, in the short time we have lived here, we have started embedding ourselves into this place. I can see the fire pit where the summer was spent making s’mores and memories. I can see the back gate, which is never closed, that leads to the uncleared part of our land where the good exploring takes place. I can see our fingerprints, and remember what a mess we took on with a foreclosure no one had loved in years. I remember the excitement I felt as I watched two strong men load this impossibly heavy table of solid oak into a U-Haul, knowing it was headed to my homestead.

In these quiet moments, my imagination is wild. There are no bounds on what we could do here. At the end of my table, in my yellow chair, there are no budget restrictions, no time constraints. I can see goats and chickens and a bee hive just past the open gate. Before I know it, my eyes are shut and I am envisioning the table laid with my favorite red pie pan, a quiche made from eggs gathered that morning, a pot of golden honey and goat’s milk cheese on a bone china plate. And then someone cries. And I come back to reality.

Lovely place settings are not the type of thing that my home sees much of. My table is more likely to be danced on by a toddler than set with fine china. But I like to think the things it has seen are even more magnificent than the most beautiful magazine spread. It has held gallons of blackberries freshly picked from the vine, dark and juicy, impatiently waiting pectin and canning jars. It has felt the heft and purity and inspiration that comes with baskets of farmer’s market bounty. This old, second-hand table has seen such abundance. So much, I have even questioned the fairness of it.

Don’t mistake me. Our table has also held bowls of cold cereal served for dinner. It has been privy to the aftermath of rejection and overheard our deepest fears. It has seen stacks of bills we had no idea how to pay. It has caught tears and witnessed the nastiness that comes in marriage when we choose to love ourselves more than we love each other. It has seen our temper. It has watched silently as meals burned and the almighty roar of toddler’s tantrum exploded over supper. But this old table has known grace. It has heard prayers desperate for help and provision and patience. And it has listened to us praise Him when those prayers were answered.

Over and over, our table has heard the words “But God.”

We couldn’t make ends meet. But God.
We couldn’t see past the pain of loss. But God.
We couldn’t let go of anger. But God.
We didn’t know what our purpose was. But then, God.

This humble table knows our ineptitudes and it knows our strength. It holds daily the testimony of our faith, of our love, and our family. And there’s an empty seat. Because what is faith and love and family if it is not shared? So pull up a chair, my friend, if you don’t mind bumping elbows. Our table is large.

 

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