My kitchen has never been such a mess. There is not a day that goes by where the dishwasher is not full, and the sink is not overflowing with dirty cookware, crumbs crumbled under my toes, the counter a mess. The stove is a mess…but the oven is holding something precious and delicious, and last night’s laughter is still ringing through my ears. My kitchen has never been such a mess, but my heart has never been so full.
A little less than a year ago, I was a lot like you, twenty-somethings. I loved my single person Trader Joe’s meals, that make even the most hopeless causes (me) seem like a well-to-do cook. I knew how to make it look pretty, and that always makes any meal taste better. But when I got the boys, I began scrambling for things to make-kid friendly and deceptively healthy. I will admit, the first two months were full of White Castles and other forms of ground beef (that’s what the boys were used to, and the missionary in me caters to the other culture first). After a while, I began to feel a conviction about what I was allowing them to maul into their bodies. Something that makes my stomach sick cannot be good for their little developing stomachs; so I started pinterest, blog, and cookbook scavenges to find different meals to cook–especially when we got our own place. To look back on the last ten months, to see that I went from literally not knowing how to cook chicken, to now cooking Maple Balsamic Pork Tenderloins (page 216) is nothing less than a miracle. To think, that just today, I jumped out of bed excited to make Breakfast Cookies (116), to experience peace, restoration, joy, and understanding, while standing in my kitchen mashing bananas-to think that I am experiencing something holy and therapeutic as I wrap my hands around the oats to create little round figures to place on parchment paper; this is my life now. This is my new soul-breathing, soul-feeding, activity. To prepare, to rest, and to enjoy the life in my own kitchen and around the table. Whether that’s with messy hands and Floyd drawing on a canvas while I am cooking or with a partner in the quarters of my kitchen, as we read through a recipe together, partnered in cooking and listening as another friend vents through her love life. This is life in my kitchen and life around the table.
On a plane to Kansas a few months back, I came across a manners article in Real Simple that answered this question:
A few people close to me have recently suffered miscarriages. I feel as though I never know the right thing to say when the subject comes up in conversation…Should I…acknowledge the pain that my friends are going through, or stay quiet?
Catherine Newman, the columnist for this section, answered like this (obviously my own paraphrase): Say something. Just say something. She says “treat it as you would any other bereavement…miscarriages are…mortifyingly public and isolatingly private at the same time.” Shauna Niequest says something similar in Bittersweet. The jist of it? Say something.
I don’t know what it is like to go through a miscarriage, and I pray that I, nor any of those closest to me, will ever have to know that sort of pain; but I do know what it is like to nurture three little bodies, hearts, and souls, for nine months, only to say goodbye at the end of it. People see the deed-it is public and it is different and it is beautiful, that I am twenty-three, and that we have needs that the church is able to meet, and that we have been provided for and spiritually fed by others and by each other. I got to see all three of my brothers come to the Lord, and I will see one get baptized in a week. This is all so good. But there will always been this undercurrent of grief. The goodbye is coming. It can come in a week, a month, a year; it will come, and the past year I have spent nurturing, feeding, and loving these kids could be a part of my past.
And this is where life around the table comes in. Some days, I feel like Old Greg…Showing off my drawings, begging my guest not to leave me in my cave all alone…
Maybe a far fetched analogy, but stay with me. In the past ten months, I have lost the piece of me that has the energy to get to know people. And I have lost some intimacy with friends who don’t know how to respond to this season of my life. Do they treat me like a new mom? Excited for my newest additions? Are they supposed to grieve with me? Are they supposed to invite me to their events? Or let me sit in the dark about the things they are doing, so I won’t have to say a painful “no, because I have the boys?” I don’t blame them. What do you do? How am I supposed to treat somebody how I would want to be treated if I will never understand their life situation?
And then there are the friends who draw near. Who say something, even if the comment makes the grief real and the air awkward-because it is important to say something, even if the one mourning and hurting can’t receive it. There are the friends who say “Sally, I will never understand, and I am not going to pretend like I do. But I want you to help me try,” right after I spew out of my emotional pride and anger and hurt and hunger for normalcy, for friends, for someone to just get it and see me: twenty-three year old me.
And this is life around the table: After I let this sticky mix of feelings bubble out, like the maple-vinegarette on my stove, my ugliness all exposed and bubbling over–she’s here. That friend is here, eating my fresh blueberry crisp (26). And then another two come, for an impromptu dinner party, with delicious white wine (for four dollars from Trader Joes…and let’s be real…it’s more like sparkling water…but I definitely feel like a “bad-A” when I take swigs of it straight from the bottle) and goat cheese biscuits (89), and soups to pair.
And this is life around the table: we sit, we eat, we laugh, and then we definitely cry. We forgive and we remember and celebrate the truth that we all sit under the same hand of the same God. These are the ones that will not, and have not, backed down in the times I’ve tried to push them away. The times where the pain seems way too real to let anyone else see me unravel.
And they unveil me; and they sit in my kitchen. And we look at the beautiful faces surrounding us, and we look at the delicate flower and the fragile plates in front of us, and we remember and celebrate in this life around the table.
This is a story about community-about embracing those entrusted to you, and learning to allow yourself to be embraced by those entrusted with you.
This is life around the table.
Bread and Wine: a love letter to life around the table with recipes
By Shauna Neiquist