She looked at me with these caramel colored eyes. She had studied me from the time I had walked through the door. Kept her distance differently than the others. Now, here I sat across this strange table from her while I was trying to chew a piece of edamame because I thought it was sugar snap peas.
“Have you ever had edamame before?” she asked in a slightly curious ten-year-old middle child kind of way as she leaned up against her dad, refusing to take her eyes off me. I nodded while it grew in my mouth. You cannot swallow edamame. But I had only ever had edamame at Japanese restaurants, and I had never had it with spaghetti. However, Philly’s culinary skills were limited to three dishes, and spaghetti with edamame was one of them. I was wishing I had asked if it was sugar snap peas.
This was the first time I had ever met the children. The good impression I was hoping to make was not going to go so well if I had to spit a chunk of chewed up edamame on my plate. And with hawk eyes over there refusing to remove me from her death stare, I didn’t know what my other options were going to be. Finally, I found one moment where everyone was distracted and was able to, as southernly as one can spit out a wad of edamame, get it into my napkin. For the rest of the night, I popped it like a pro.
When our lives all merged and the dinner table became mine, too, I was not prepared for how both lonely and chaotic it could be. The table had two end chairs and two long benches on either side. The kids sat at the heads of the table and Philly would sit in the middle of the bench surrounded by a couple of the kids. They would share their “remember when” stories. As I listened, I had no “remember when’s” with them. I was learning a family through their memories while trying to carve a way into their hearts for the future, while having to sit in the pain that was often found in the present.
The other piece of the dinner table was that it was a little like seven brides for seven brothers. Only getting them one night a week and every other weekend, there was an unrealized desperation for their father’s attention. It presented itself through raucous dinner table behavior, slightly animal-like consumption of more diverse meal options now that I was cooking, and ping-pong type dialogue. But, imagine that five kids had a paddle and a ball and were all trying to play at the same time. I often found myself in those moments quiet, shell-shocked, and lonely.
Growing up, the dinner table was one of our family’s favorite places. We had a full dinner every night at five, hungry or not. We had a meat, a carb and vegetables from the garden that mom had put up. Sundays were always special, too. After church you’d walk into the house and know you were saved, because you had just been transported to heaven via the aroma of Sunday roast. We never rushed away from the table. For years it was because no one could leave until my dad was finished and he was always last. But, in later years, it was because no one was in a hurry. That was the table I knew. This table was foreign.
When I married Philly the dining room was the “puzzle room.” There was no furniture in it, only puzzles on the floor that the kids put together. In fact, the first night I went over for the “edamame episode,” which we have now labeled it and my middle bonus-daughter loves me to retell as one of our now precious “remember when’s,” I sat on the floor and worked a puzzle with the youngest as she giggled. The oldest came and sat beside us and asked quite a few questions, while the second daughter worked quietly on a dolphin puzzle on the other side of the room, raising her eyes every now and then to take me in.
When I arrived, I came with a dining room table and a bookcase that covered the back wall. The Joneses now had a dining room. A few months after we married, I asked if we could try something with the kids. In my desire to try to create a real meal experience for the kids and bring a little reverence to the table, as well as some of my family’s tradition, I created the “Sunday dinner” experience. We’d arrive home to a set table I had prepared before church, the aroma of dinner that they’d ooh and aah over, and head chairs that Philly and I would occupy. No one left until we were all done. By the time Sunday arrived the kids were in a much calmer rhythm. That table was filled with laughter and languishing and love. So, when I found Psalm 128 it was seared on me.
I’m not sure at what point I started praying scripture over my bonus-children, but it was very early into mine and Philly’s marriage. The little sheet of paper that holds them is almost torn in two and stained with my morning tea and my tears. The very last passage on the page is Psalm 128:
1 How joyful are those who fear the Lord—
all who follow his ways!
2 You will enjoy the fruit of your labor.
How joyful and prosperous you will be!
3 Your wife will be like a fruitful grapevine,
flourishing within your home.
Your children will be like vigorous young olive trees
as they sit around your table.
There have been many moments in mine and Philly’s marriage where not all our kids were around our table. Brokenness of relationship with different ones at different times caused that table to not always hold what our hearts desired. So, when I found this passage of scripture and began to pray it, I knew God was giving me a picture of the future. So, as we built our home my heart could see the table and all of them around it.
The plans had been designed for the dining table to rest at the back wall of the Great Room. It would hold twelve people; us, and all the kids with their future spouses. The day I found it I never wavered in knowing it was the one. It was my first trip to the Atlanta Design Center. That fateful day when memories of my own were healed and giftings discovered. Englishman’s Fine Furniture sat on the corner of the fourth floor. Having discovered over the last few years that I actually loved antiques, I meandered inside. There in the middle of the room it sat. A long, three-foot wide, perfect width for what I needed, antique wooden planked dining room table. I ran my hands along the breadboard ends. It had a red oak color and a smooth finish with these delicate tapered legs. It was exactly what my heart had seen.
“May I help you?” the southern lady asked.
“This is exactly what I was looking for,” I said in the way you do when you feel God has seen you in a detailed way.
She moved closer. “Well, I’m so glad.”
“Can it come in custom lengths?” I knew I needed eleven feet.
“Custom lengths and widths,” she confirmed.
I finally raised my eyes to her. I think they were sweating. “I didn’t know it would be this easy.” She smiled. “Sometimes things aren’t as hard as you’d think.”
It would be the first piece of furniture I would buy for the house. The item God had given me in His word and that I had prayed into and over for years. I could see that table full in our future. The laughter. The kids. The spouses. The meal. There was one thing that wouldn’t make it to the table, however. Edamame.