"This is how the world changes–little by little, table by table, meal by meal, hour by hour. This is how we chip away at isolation, loneliness, fear. This is how we connect, in big and small ways–we do it around the table." - Shauna Niequist

Apparently I have a soul sister out there, and her name is Shauna Niequist. She's the author of a book called Bread & Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table with Recipes. Several friends have told me over the past few months that I must read it, and given that I got teary just reading the title, I'm pretty sure I need to get the book ASAP.

I started reading Shauna's blog recently and was bowled over by the similarity of our table-centric philosophies. The quote above expresses so beautifully everything I believe about the table, and its power to connect and heal. Last night was a full-circle moment, as I was invited to join in a small dinner party that Shauna (indirectly) orchestrated. She and her friend Susie Davis recently launched something called IF: Table, twice-a-month gatherings for women around the country to connect around the table. Each one has a simple format: 6 women, 4 questions, 2 hours. The meals are simple, and everyone brings something: a dish, flowers, wine, etc.


Yesterday was the first IF:Table gathering, and my friend Rebekah Lyons invited me to join her and several other friends for dinner at my friend Lindsay Tarquinio's home. Lindsay's an amazing chef (check out her blog The Simple Delights), event planner, and interior designer, so having dinner at her house is always a treat. I had been SO looking forward to a night of good food, good conversation, and women I love – but sometimes life, as we know, throws us curve balls. As much as I wanted to be at my best, I was having one of those days where you just hope nobody asks you how you're doing, because the tears will just start flowing.

Last week was a really tough week. Without going into too many details, I'll just say that living with a chronically ill spouse can, at times, be excruciatingly hard. Watching someone you love suffer physically and emotionally is awful, but even worse is to watch them get their hopes up for healing, and to have them dashed, again and again. After a while, it can really take a toll on one's resolve. Normally I do a pretty good job of holding it all together and soldiering on. But yesterday, I broke. The tears had started earlier in the day, and I thought I had cried them all out. I pulled myself together to go to the party, but when I walked in the door Lindsay saw my face and said the dreaded words: "Are you OK?" I literally said "Don't ask that!" and then started sobbing. She was amazing: she sat me down, hugged me, and just let me cry. I felt awful arriving at a dinner party and losing it like that, but I can't tell you how loved I felt just being able to be real.


Eventually, I felt a bit better, splashed my face with water and joined in the dinner. After a toast and a prayer (something that Shauna encourages at the beginning of any gathering), we went around the table one by one and shared where we are in life right now: the highs, the lows, and where we find our community. It was incredible to hear the hearts of these amazing women, as they each told their stories. Laughter and tears flowed freely, and though we were only supposed to go for two hours, we sat around the table for over 3 1/2. I went last, and given that I had already shattered the vulnerability barrier earlier in the evening, I just plunged right in. I said that right now feels a lot like the opening line from A Tale of Two Cities: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." It's weird to be in the midst of pursuing a lifelong dream of writing a cookbook – and absolutely loving it – while simultaneously going through such a dark time of discouragement with Brandon's illness.

But as my dear sisters lavished me with love, encouragement, and prayers last night, what I realized powerfully is this: we are not meant to bear our burdens alone. I have kept my cards pretty close to my chest for years, because I don't want to be a burden to others, or a huge downer. I don't like to ask for help, preferring to just take care of things myself. Not that I don't have amazing friends – I just don't often let my neediness show. I'd rather pretend that everything's fine, thanks. But last night, something shifted. That time around the table really brought healing to my heart. I realized that I can't do this alone, nor do I want to.


I hope you have people in your life with whom you can be real. People who will let you cry when you need to cry, talk when you need to talk, and whose tables are a place of refuge for you. I'm not sure why there is such a pressure for us to "have it all together" – because by hiding behind that wall of "I'm fine," we rob others of the joy of really knowing us. And we miss out on the gift of being unconditionally loved.

I'll leave you with this quote from one of my favorite childhood stories, the 'Velveteen Rabbit.' It's taken from the scene where the Skin Horse is describing to the Rabbit what it means to become Real.

"'It doesn't happen all at once,' said the Skin Horse. 'You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand.'” -Margery Williams

Funny that it's taken me nearly 34 years for to understand what he was talking about. I think I'm finally on the path to becoming Real myself.