Welcome to the Messy Table
There is an index card pinned to the wall behind my writing desk. It is beginning to look a little tatty – creased and faded, and the corners are marked with too many thumb-tack holes. The card is there not for beauty, but for the words I copied onto it years ago.
“The early years of our children’s lives give us a unique opportunity to embrace living fully, in all its fatigue, moodiness, laughter, inconvenience, pleasure and mess.”
Yes and yes again.
The quotation comes from one of the more unusual baby shower gifts I received: Daphne de Marneffe’s wise book Maternal Desire: On Children, Love and the Inner Life. While I was waiting for the birth of our first child, motherhood looked unimaginable – about as unbelievable as descending a ladder through a suitcase to find yourself in a world of magic. I was thinking about this over the Christmas holidays as I sat in the movie theatre with my children, watching Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Before my children were born, I really had no idea. Up or down. Inside or out. Life with children was a mystery – a whole suitcase of worries that needed tending and I didn’t have a clue. I had no idea who I would be as a mother and I worried that I could never learn enough to feel equipped. But de Marneffe’s words gave me reassurance and focus. Life with children could be an opportunity. Sure, there would be exhaustion and confusion, but there would also be joy. In her words, I heard a challenge to live awake and aware. Embrace living fully. To me, that made motherhood sound like faith.
Ten years in, I think it still does. Growth happens when we pay attention to what God is working among us, and we can encourage that growth through all our small, daily decisions to love and nurture. As the pilgrim saying goes, the path is made by walking.
Shortly before my daughter’s fourth birthday, I started writing a weekly blog for the Presbyterian Record. Both my husband and I come from Presbyterian roots, so writing for the Record felt like writing for family. I shared stories of our growing children and our changing life, so I called my blog the Messy Table because that seemed like the most honest title I could imagine. Life with little people is messy and my table is often cluttered. I wanted the Messy Table to be a place where I might explore parenting as a spiritual practice. Not because parenting is purer or more sacred than any other facet of life, but because it is so consistently messy and God’s work is often easiest to glimpse when we are most vulnerable and most in need. In short, in mess. But I felt that I needed the image of the table, too, to remind me of our constant invitation. God’s gracious hospitality doesn’t wait for us to clean the clutter and scrub the surfaces first. The invitation to community and communion is always there, in every beautiful and bewildering twist of the path.
My husband and I now have three kids: our daughter is ten, and our sons are eight and three. We live a fairly nomadic and suitcased life, with job shifts and career changes, a transatlantic move, three new cities, new churches and new circles of friends. Right now, we live in the UK where the Spouse works as a lecturer at Cardiff University. Cardiff is a small city about the size of Victoria, with the feel of a provincial capital, which suits us well. We enjoy the green spaces, the galleries and art centres and the large church community where our older two children sing in the choir. This year, our youngest started nursery, so all three siblings are at school together, and I am learning what it means to have time on my own. Change keeps happening and I am finding that afternoons spent at my writing desk help me pay attention. I am so glad to have been given this new home for my writing in Christian Courier and I look forward to getting to know this nurturing and changing community.