"Love of beauty is taste. The creation of beauty is art."
Ralph Waldo Emerson
The chill air of a winters day breathed on my face as I stepped out onto the sidewalk next to my modern, stucco,stark apartment building. I glanced up at our 5th floor window, still bare against a gray sky. Excitement bubbled up inside as I mentally reflected on the mission I was about to undertake.
Clay and I had just moved to Vienna, Austria together to work for a year at the International Church of Vienna. Newly married just a year before, this was our first international venture together. We had rented a 3 room + kitchen apartment. It was totally empty--(no curtains, no kitchen cabinets, no closets, not much but empty rooms--common in many places throughout Europe. (We were blessed to have a kitchen sink, small stove and oven and four while metalic cupboards adjoining the stove in which to store some food and a paltry few pots and pans.)
I was on foot to explore second hand shops, bargain basements, material stores and just to window shop to begin finding those pieces that would make our empty rooms into a cozy home. Armed with about $100 in my pocket, I was out to get a dining table--as this is where I knew the life of our home would take place. I imagined guests from all over the world resting at our table. Little could I have known the parade of people who would march through our humble rooms--diplomats from South Africa, refugees from Iran, an opera singer and her husband who played in the Vienna Philharmonic; students begging for a home-cooked meal, Austrian neighbors, and more.
I conjured up a picture of meals savored, cups of tea and coffee, hearty discussions, life-changing Bible studies, secrets shared--all over warm-tasty treats, comforting bowls of soup, satisfying crusts of bread, melted butter and pungent cheese. I could just imagine the memories we would make over the table I would find.
And so I boarded the squeaky tram, little knowing where I would find my treasure. Two stops later, I dismounted on foot, beginning my search for treasure. A furniture store begged me to enter. After 5 minutes, I left, knowing I would need to set my sites lower as I couldn't even afford a chair in the lovely shop. I looked all around, at every window shop and down every crooked street anxiously looking for the place my table was waiting for me to find it.
Then, after 2 hours of weary walking, my eyes lit on a dark, dusty window that was a second hand store. From the window, I could see all sorts of nick-nacks and odd pieces of furniture piled high and scattered over the crowded room. As I opened a creaky door, bells jangled against the top of the door frame.
A stooped, wrinkled old man crept our from an even darker room at the back. "Yah, bitte?"
In my very limited German, I asked if I could look around to find some furniture to fill my apartment. He looked at me questioningly through smudged, thick spectacles and waved me in. So, my heart raced as I looked at stacks of chairs, bookshelves, dusty books and stuff sprinkled over the room. Then, high up in a corner, I saw legs round oval legs that looked like they were the base of some kind of a table.
"Was ist?" I asked, hoping he would understand. He then brought the legs down, went to the back room once again and brought out a stained, mildly scarred table top to fit on top of the base. There it was! I just knew this could be my table.
"Was kostet das?" I asked, hoping for the best. It was the equivalent of $50. I was ecstatic. Maybe I could even some chairs. I looked up and down the piles of stacked items. There on top of each other, at the far end of the wall, were two cute, wood carved chairs, covered in vinyl that looked like leather. How much, I asked again. $35--again in my budget. How surprised Clay would be to be able to eat together on chairs that very evening, as I had a friend who promised to help me pile them into her small station wagon.
I used my last $15 on the way home to buy one yard of colorful material, a candle and a small bunch of flowers from the lady at the street market near to my house. Looking back, I wonder if this small purchase, found in the spirit of great adventure and expectation has brought me more pleasure than all of my more expensive purchases in the years since.
When we sat at our very own table that very evening, I was so proud in my heart of providing something so essential to the many memories we would make. The table was old and had various scratches and stains from other meals shared, but I took what I was given and sought to beautify it. I poured lemon oil on its top and gently polished every inch of surface. Gently folding my piece of cloth as a centerpiece, I arranged what would be the first flowers and candles to welcome weary guests to my feasts.
Now, this very table sits in our little kitchen nook. How many hundreds of meals we have shared around this old piece of wood. It has been moved 17 times and has sat in different rooms. Once a chess table in our mountain home near the living room window. Another time, a corner table in an enclosed porch overlooking fields of trees and thousands of daffodils in our Tennessee house.
If the table could talk, it would tell of toddlers happily munching on bits of food and cheerios scattered atop the plastic placemats; birthday cinnamon rolls with brightly lit candles and hot mugs of tea; warm soup around stories told and shared on winter's nights, Sunday afternoon tea times with picture books and James Harriet's stories of animals read dramatically. It wasn't that the table was beautiful, but it was crafted into a place in which beauty and life was displayed and celebrated.
Even now, every changing season, I ponder how to make it a new place of life and memory, considering how I will adorn it to reflect color, tradition, meaning and the Life of the one in our midst. What we bring to the table, will constitute its glory.
My table quietly whispers to my soul. As women, we have a table, so to speak, of our family. Each has a history and some scars and blemishes--as this is the broken place and all of us have some baggage. Yet, a woman's glory is best when she understand the capacity she has to beautify that "family" table and redeems the design she has been given.
To build a godly legacy by bringing to the table, the Life of Christ through the grace of loving relationships and intimacy shared around this center of life, nourishing souls and spirits with the food of the word of God, providing grace and peace through gently accepting and wiping up the spills of life, in the strength of His love and grace, and by establishing a spirit of graciousness by welcoming all who come as guests of the true Great Hospitality where all are served and all are made whole. To celebrate the days of life by establishing and commemorating traditions of joy, milestones achieved, however small, fostering the taste of greatness cultivated through the stories shared, books read, memories made, faith lived out through all the seasons--both summer and winter.
I picture that I can be an instrument through which to bring life and beauty and redemption to the limitations of my marriage and family, because in God's spirit, I am filled with the Life that always brings light to the dark places and redemption to the broken places. In short, a woman's greatest life work will help define the heritage that is built throughout eternity, by determining how much she is willing to give to make her own place one of the elegance of her Designer, with the artistry of His hand, the loveliness of His presence. It is engaging our hearts to His great work, as we become those who understand, that it is the "Wise woman who truly builds her home." Proverbs 14: 1
And so my table tells me that I have a work of beauty to engage my heart in and to persevere by His tender encouragment--a reflection of my will to celebrate each and every day as He has given it to me.
(I collect small birds and use them around our home as a reminder of God's great care. When I had experienced one miscarriage and was spotting up to the 5th month with Sarah, my first, I was sitting praying facing a window sill in a small guest room in Austria. As I was praying, a little bird literally hopped up on the window sill facing me and seemed to peer at me. This little bird reminded me, "Not a sparrow falls to the ground that I do not see." and so I realized that God was there, through this little bird, telling me that he was with me and would help me. And so, Sarah became my first child. So my little bird collection, scattered through the house, always reminds me of the time He spoke to my heart, and said, "I see you. I will be with you."
Off to a hike in the mountains as these gorgeous days will be soon away and the white of winter will be upon us. Happy Harvesting this weekend.