Sarah Anne Writes

life around the table

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A couple of months ago, my former roommate Kacie posted a review on her blog of the newest book by Shauna Niequist entitled "Bread & Wine: a love letter to life around the table, with recipes." Before I even finished reading the post, I knew that I was going to be on my way to Barnes & Noble very soon. I was leaving for Q LA in just a few days, and "Bread & Wine" seemed like the perfect book to take up some time on my rather long travel days.

So the day before I headed off to CA for a few days of information overload, I stopped by B&N and added a new book to my collection.

There have been a lot of things grabbing for my attention recently, so it's taken me about two months to finish "Bread & Wine."

While others have attested that they gobbled this book up quickly, I must agree with Kacie: I read Shauna's words slowly and intentionally. I savored her thoughts and ideas, murmured in agreement, and furiously underlined as she spoke to my oft weary and worn heart.

"Bread & Wine" is a collection of essays about life; about a life that is filled with food and community, love and laughter, pain and sorrow, joy and peace. It's about wrestling with every part of life — the good and beautiful right along with the bad and painful — and celebrating the beauty of it all.

It's been a long time since I've read someone with whom I felt as much of a connection. Shauna has the uncanny ability to speak to my soul and beautifully articulate things that I've felt but never been able to express, things that hurt but I've wanted to ignore.

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Spend any amount of time with me and you'll figure out pretty quickly that I love people. Come to some sort of gathering that I'm a part of and you'll likely figure out that I also love food.

Baking or cooking has long been one of my ways of showing others that I care about them. It's common for me to show up at a party or a gathering with some sort of baked good in my hands, especially in recent months.

In college, I traded baked goods for all sorts of things (most often, getting my guy friends to move furniture for me) and for three years made batches of my now rather famous cinnamon rolls for an InterVarsity auction to raise money for a missions trip each year.

While I do buy gifts for many people for different occasions, I often find gift giving frustrating because I don't like to give a gift that doesn't mean something. That's why, more and more, I'm finding myself baking or cooking for people on special occasions like birthdays because, to me, receiving a homemade pie or cookies fresh out of the oven means so much more than a store-bought gift off a list.

As Shauna says, "Food is a language of care, the thing we do when traditional language fails us, when we don't know what to say, when there are no words to say."

A couple of weeks ago, I made a homemade apple pie (first time!) for a friend's birthday. When I showed up to the gathering and stuck it in the oven (peeling those apples took way longer than expected), a friend said, "Sarah, you are a domestic goddess."

While it's kind of fun to be given titles like that, I'm not trying to be a domestic goddess. Really, I just love people and I love food. I love showing someone I care about them by handing them something I've baked because, to me, that says, "Hi. I care about you enough to spend time making this thing just for you."

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I have always wanted my house to be a place where the doors are always open, where people filter in and out and conversations last far into the night. I've always wanted my home to be a safe place where people can gather for any kind of occasion, however beautiful or ugly it may be. A place where memories can be made, conversations can be had, relationships can be formed.

For the past ten months or so, I've been living in an 1100 square foot apartment. While this is much bigger than a lot of apartment in this area, I learned pretty quickly that there just isn't a lot of space to invite people in and make them feel at home.

Over the past few months, I've found myself increasingly frustrated with the lack of space I have in my current living situation and, as such, my new roommates and I have decided to look for a house to live in come mid-August, rather than sticking with an apartment.

I've spent countless hours over the last six weeks looking at goodness knows how many house listings, dreaming about what my new house will look like: how we'll decorate the living room and kitchen, the wonderful gatherings we'll have and the beautiful conversations they'll produce. I've been dreaming of the day (in theory six to eight weeks from now) when I'll have the space to throw open the doors and invite people in.

Shauna begins the essay "Open the Door" with these words:

"It seems to me that women typically experience shame about two things: their bodies and their homes."

I've been thinking about those words a lot since I read them, because I can relate to them so much. I've felt shame about my body for years (which I've written about here and here), but I've never been able to articulate the shame I didn't realize I had about my home.

I felt shame because there wasn't a lot of space, because there weren't beautifully decorated walls or expensive furniture. I struggled with the desire to invite people in to share the space and to engage in community and the shame of not feeling like my house was big enough or pretty enough or clean enough.

Later in "Open the Door" Shauna says this:

"What people are craving isn't perfection. People aren't longing to be impressed; they're longing to feel like they're home. If you create a space full of love and character and creativity and soul, they'll take off their shoes and curl up with gratitude and rest, no matter how small, no matter how undone, no matter how odd. ...We throw open the front door and invite people into our home, despite its size, despite its imperfections. We practice hospitality, creating soft and safe places for people to connect and rest."

A few months ago, a few of my guy friends moved into a wonderful new house. It has lots of open space and is the perfect place for people to come in and commune and we've since spent many an evening gathered in their living room or around their kitchen counter.

To make their moving weekend a bit less stressful, I offered to make them dinner on Saturday night. As I stood in my kitchen, whipping up meatballs and olive oil rosemary bread from scratch, tossing salads and keeping an eye on the chocolate cobbler, I was reminded of how much I love food, how much I love to cook and care for other people and I thought, "I can't wait until I have the space to do this in my own house."

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I'm still wrestling with the shame and the war between my desire for community and my discomfort with how imperfect I feel like my apartment is. I'm still wrestling with finding the "perfect house" to move into when my lease expires in mid-August.

But I've been reminded that community and authentic relationships don't happen because of a certain environment. They don't occur only in big sprawling houses with open floor plans and double ovens; they can occur in those places, but they can also occur in 1100 square foot apartments.

Community and authentic relationships happen when people open up their hearts and their homes, regardless of the size, the preparedness, or the imperfection.

You can't plan beautiful, memorable moments where hearts bond together any more than you can plan whether or not it's going to rain this afternoon. I'm being reminded that sharing life, with all its imperfections, is the most beautiful part of building community. Shauna puts it this way:

"You never know while it's happening what will burn in your memory sacred and profound. It seems like most of the things we try to make profound never are, lose in our insistence and fretting and posing. When we want something to be momentous, it rarely is. Life is disobedient in that way, insisting on surprising us with its magic, stubbornly unwilling to be glittery on command."

So I encourage you, whoever and wherever you are, whatever situation of life you're in, to open up yours doors and open up your heart.

And go pick up a copy of "Bread & Wine" because, seriously, it's wonderful.