An Abstraction on a Table: The Chains of the Mess


Her kitchen is shaped like a bedroom, and the table in the center works as much as a work space as it does a place to park for a few minutes to inhale a cup of coffee. Mamaw is what we call her, and she keeps it hot and slamming, all the pots and cabinets. She works by the fists, not by the fingertips. She’s whipping into a bowl of eggs for scrambling with one hand, and she’s doing it at 6:00 AM with all the love in the world, and you know how to stay in line because she could grab that fly swat from behind the door and whip your hind end with it and never even stop on the eggs.

When I think of tables, Mamaw’s table is the place I go, where I felt most loved. I can still sit and watch her, watch the coffee spitting at the clear top of the percolator. I learned to drink it there with some milk and about a quarter cup of sugar, and I learned to work there, too, learned to stack a table with food.

When I think of tables, I look at my own and the constant work of keeping it cleaned off so we can eat together. My boys make art, and then the junk mail comes and the legos and all the books and lincoln logs and then a scale for weighing Titus. It’s the center, and when it gets piled up, I get so overwhelmed that things start happening inside me that don’t make sense. I start questioning a woman’s role in the home and asking myself if I’ve taught the boys well, and are they wild as bucks. I start missing Seth more than I can bare, but then I run from him when he walks in the door because I’m so afraid he’ll need something.

I want to throw confetti in the air and declare to my children that we’re all artists and that sometimes Seth cooks the meals, and we don’t have to be perfect. No, not us. But really? Shirking perfection doesn’t mean that there’s not serious work to do when it comes to making peace, keeping a house. I roll my eyes at the obligation to be traditional for the sake of looking perfect, but I have to confess that when I work this house with my apron on, and I know what’s coming next, what’s for dinner and where the pencils are, there’s an order here that is so satisfying that I can’t deny it. It feels a bit like peace.

When I think of the table I want, it’s a prepared table. It’s rested and full of nourishing foods. It smells real and like spices, because I’m not boring. The noise is loud but kind. It’s not perfect, but it’s working. It’s not shoving disorganization to the side and moaning that I need more space. I envision the life I want, the table and all the glasses there for my boys, and I see that I have to prepare for it.

Just think of it. What if I actually sat down at the table with a book and a cup of something hot? What if when Seth came to the door, I ran to kiss his face? It’s here, that table; it’s just right here underneath these chains.

image credit

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On Mondays I write on writing, which means that mostly I’ll write out spirit by practicing a little with the concrete things in my life and maybe in a fictional life. We’ll see. If you want to mess around with these little prompts, send your readers this way, and link up below. At any point this week, link below to any concrete post you’ve written about a book. Practice writing, the craft; share it with us. Next week’s topic is on the CHAIN. Make sure to use #concretewords on twitter. Thank you always for coming here.

There’s a freedom I hear about that I just don’t always recognize in my life. I long to be free so much that maybe I’ve built a habit of feigning it. I would love it if you would like to join me in exploring this path to true freedom, A Study of Chains in 31 Days. You can follow along on Facebook or subscribe to these posts by email or in a reader. {Thank you so much, by the way, for walking with me.} Are you ready to shirk these chains?

amberhaines
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24 Comments

Jessica Y
Reply October 15, 2012

I can even mentally shirk that role because of its perception. But like you, it feels right.

(And I so know that feeling of being afraid he'll need me when he gets home. )

    Amber
    Reply October 15, 2012

    I knew you would know. We're usually struggle in the same ways. We need a front porch date before 2013 is over.

Shelly Miller
Reply October 15, 2012

Yes, this: It’s the center, and when it gets piled up, I get so overwhelmed that things start happening inside me that don’t make sense. I wrote about this same thing last week in my 31 Days of Letting Go series. I was a bit undone by all that I'd let get messy and overgrown spindly last week. I am enjoying your series so much, you always inspire me.

    Jessica Y
    Reply October 15, 2012

    Spindly...yes, great word.

      Amber
      Reply October 15, 2012

      Oh my goodness, spindly IS a great word. Thank you for always encouraging me, Shelly.

Ambrosia
Reply October 15, 2012

Thank you for your words and images. "It’s here, that table; it’s just right here underneath these chains." Isn't this truth? Your truths often make me sit calm and think about my own; your writing of chains has been especially encouraging to me. Peace and joy to you today.

Elizabeth
Reply October 15, 2012

Amber am marinating in your series and your concrete words. This table got me thinking and writing until I almost didn't stop thinking back and writing.

I think it would be a beautiful story for a play.... The Table, and the life just gets played out there, the actors age and the table and set stay the same, maybe fade a bit. Its a rich word prompt, for sure.

Look forward to reading the others at your place. That we can gather round the table, writers is a gift you give at your place. So thank you.

    Amber
    Reply October 15, 2012

    The girl whose photo I used from Creative Commons has a series of photos called A Year at the Table, and it made me think this same, all the life that happens there. Wouldn't a play be cool?

    Thanks for coming to my table. That's a wonderful image. No wonder Jesus uses that metaphor repeatedly.

dearabbyleigh
Reply October 15, 2012

i love your table. i'll be thinking on this all week, but for now i've just time to remember the last time i wrote about one - in a less concrete way. a good challenge to revisit: http://dearabbyleigh.com/share-your-table/

Kim
Reply October 15, 2012

I started smiling BIG at "fly flap." How many times did my Nana tell me to hand her one?

I used to cook nearly every day...real food, even when we had 3 restaurants of our own to call and have our dinner delievered. My gang's schedules just don't accomodate such any more. I can't say I am saddened...I have cooked just about all I care to. Now, my Molly has taken over..she sets a beautiful table when she can hem us all up and cooks like the Paula Deen she aims to be. I thank God for my baby girl, who has kept a little of our heritage of good food and loved offered alongside alive.

Lot's of good memories brought to mind by your post.

    Amber
    Reply October 15, 2012

    Kim, it makes me cry to imagine having a girl grow up like that. I'm proud of her for you!

    Thanks for coming here. :)

Brandee Shafer
Reply October 15, 2012

This is my favorite of all your "concrete posts." I'm sitting here with a lump in my throat because you snagged it: the thing what breaks me...the mess and how I can never get out from under it no matter how hard I try, so sometimes I don't. This morning, while I was washing dishes, they were painting (w/ real poster paint) on the couch. And when I tried to get in a quick shower, they somehow managed to climb the rock fireplace (?) and get my camera off the mantle. They climb the walls...literally...they trash every little thing. We jokingly call them "the rats." I'm so tired of how I clean a space only to have them wreck it, but then I remember that, someday, they won't be here to rub food into my windows, and I feel despair at each end of the thought. Maybe I just need a good fly swat. It's not just the boys who are wild (in case you were wondering); in fact, my son has been the calmest and most compliant, to date. Thanks and love to you.

Lynn Morrissey
Reply October 15, 2012

Ah...tables! What a great abstraction, Amber . . . kitchen tables, dining-room tables . . . banqueting tables . . . communion tables. Right now, my kitchen table is strewn with food for thought—some of my forty-million books which I am currently devouring. My dining-room has accommodated extended family, where we’ve said grace around the Thanksgiving table or implored grace as death began emptying our dining-room chairs. But last year, my dining-room table became one of sacred communion among believing women in my journaling class. In a powerful “write,” I asked them to imagine a banquet table covered with a glistening white cloth, laden with platters of meats and cheeses, fruits and cakes, and gleaming with sparkling china and crystal. I asked them to hear Jesus saying, “I have prepared this table for you and Me to feast and fellowship together.” Then, as they approached this table, in their mind’s eye, they noticed more than two place-settings—places for more than just Jesus and them. As they picked up place-card after place-card, they were startled to discover that they bore the names of those who had hurt them deeply. It’s then that they realize that their beloved Jesus had invited them to the table He’s prepared for them in the presence of their enemies. And then Jesus says this, “I am anointing your head with comforting oil. Your cup of life overflows with My blessings, too numerous to count. I promise you that my goodness, mercy, and love will be with you all the days of your life. Because I died an agonizing death for your sins, someday you will live with me in heaven forever and ever. Will you not extend your love and forgiveness to your enemies? I love them too.” And then . . . they wrote and wrote and wrote. I cannot begin to tell you the cleansing, healing, and forgiveness that was extended that day . . . women freed from guilt over abortion, alcoholism, depression, sexual abuse, and more. It was nothing short of miraculous, because Christ Himself had set this table, and because He is a host who accommodates every, single guest in the most nurturing, meaningful, and healing way possible. And one day, we will all join Him at His banqueting table, as His very special guests, where He has reserved our seats at the marriage supper of the Lamb. Amber, dear Amber, I will be looking for you!

Danielle May
Reply October 15, 2012

Love this and God's perfect timing in prompting you to write it as I am wrestling with being the result of a dysfunctional family where the chaos of my parents' dysfunction overflowed into chaos of a messy house (and not the healthy messy that kids can see REAL life in...the yukky, embarrassing, can't-bring-your-friends-over kind of messy). It was refreshing to read that REAL people with God deep in their hearts struggle with being overwhelmed at the stacks on the tables. The enemy wages an internal war as he attempts to convince me that my crazy wild mess in the corner of my bedroom that I live in denial over and trick myself into thinking it is well hidden...is that my mom all over again? Then he tries to yank me over to the other side and think that I am being a "bad wife" or a "bad mom" if I don't be a spazz over keeping the table perfectly neat.

Me and my God are going to reclaim the house. Let Him bring glory to it through the messes that are made amidst life and love...and reclaim the ground that has been lost by chaos and fear.

Cheryl Smith
Reply October 15, 2012

Right under these chains, indeed. God has been speaking "Oikos" to me for more than a year, but it has so much more to do with dying to self than having a home that looks like Martha (Stewart or of Martha/Mary fame, either one would do) lives here.

Diana Trautwein
Reply October 15, 2012

Holy crap, woman - you write. You write and the images rise and the memories flow. Yes, I know that mixed feeling at the end of a long day with small children - wanting your husband to be there so badly, you can hardly 'bare it' (was that intentional - if surely fits!) and then sidling away from him once he arrives out of fear he will need something. Oh, YES!

But see - that table. That beautiful table - that's the picture of solidity, of gathering, of belonging. Shove away the lego and the craft projects - even the food (at least the food you have to cook!) - and just sit there, sweetheart. With a cup of something hot and a sweet face or 5 across from you. And belong. Sigh.

Jennifer Dougan
Reply October 15, 2012

Amber,

Thank you for this honest look into your table, into your past with Mamaw -- who sounds wonderfully homey and inviting-- , and into your heart-deliberations. I too fight the battle of a cluttered mind and spirit that slows my race to the front door some days. Thanks for this invitation and challenge to the contrary.

Choosing to run with a kiss to my man,
Jennifer Dougan
www.jenniferdougan.com

adriana willey
Reply October 15, 2012

this one gets me. i struggle so much with chaos in my home. what stuck out to me is that you felt most loved at your mamaw's table. i know the feeling of being thought of, taken care of, prepared for from my childhood years and the only thing that motivates me to get serious about clearing my table (or anything for that matter) is that maybe my children, husband, guests could feel safe and warm and loved like you did with your mamaw and i did with mine. love is the only motivator that doesn't defeat me before i start. thank you for this perspective.

Nacole
Reply October 19, 2012

Oh my, Amber, I exactly relate: "It’s the center, and when it gets piled up, I get so overwhelmed that things start happening inside me that don’t make sense. I start questioning a woman’s role in the home and asking myself if I’ve taught the boys well, and are they wild as bucks. I start missing Seth more than I can bare, but then I run from him when he walks in the door because I’m so afraid he’ll need something."

I know it's silly to paste your whole paragraph, but really--I so get every word, have lived it everyday. And in this everyday, when my child is sick and I don't know why, and homeschooling and other things pile up on the table? I needed to hear your words today. They make me brave. What if? What if I sat with my coffee and book, rested, and then when he walked in the door, I jumped up and kissed his face? What if? Yes, yes. Love your writing. I linked with you this week. Thank you for these wonderful prompts.
http://sixinthehickorysticks.blogspot.com/2012/10/true-worship-fearing-change-abstraction.html

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