Safe at the Table

Who Welcomes You?

My plan for the summers (as is my plan for the Advent/Christmas season) is to write one shared newsletter for both my paid and free subscribers. Either way, however you signed up here, I’m grateful for you, that you’ve given me a place to show up. If you’re short on time, just skim to the end for some news about where I’ll be in the coming months. I have a request for you and would love to ask you to pray for us.

My happiest days are when I work my garden until I’m soaked all the way through. If I go in to cool off with a drink, I come straight back to a re-drenching soon after, working hunched, close to the ground, and unafraid of a bite. I lose myself for hours to pinching cucumber beetles, clearing suckers, and turning compost. I earn my showers. I earn my red tomato lunch - one desirous shade of yellow into orange into red at a time. I also earn my breaks, or that’s what I tell myself while I make carrot-top pesto straight from my yard.

My breaks have become watering these flowers or noticing how carrots can be a rainbow bouquet of their own as I cooked soup for Seth when he came home with a virus after being away with friends for a week. I was on mama duty while he was gone, and then I turned into a nursing cook when he landed in bed. It was full time, and I became a bit detached, maybe too much in my body, marching from one thing to the next, feeling my work and my weight, the crunch in my knees, and my lack of sleep.

Every summer is like this for me. Embodied work. Kids front and center. The house a pile. Bored teenagers wanting gobs of ice cream. Mama droning on about screen time. Sunscreen. Watch for snakes! Has anyone else noticed an uptick in worry? Or rather, should we even call it worry? Isn’t it more like an imaginative brain-attack? Will Isaac drive to go fishing but somehow a woman eats his whole heart and then a sink hole opens up and swallows his car into a pit of vipers that takes all his money? Anyone?

I have not been writing much for a lot of reasons (more on that at the end here), but mostly it’s because it’s summer and my kids are home (and by that, I mean wallowing all over me or arguing with one another very close to my ear holes). I am often too busy worrying (too much in my head) which is why being in my body through gardening is important. Gardening is one of the ways I’m rescued from my own head. And then there’s this other way: COMMUNITY, and by community, let me explain, because I don’t mean to evoke what I used to when I said that word.

One of these fellas here is the mayor of Goshen, Arkansas. His name is Max, and he said yes when my girlfriends and I asked him if he and his picking buddies would play at the farmers market we were opening. We’d been dreaming and scheming of bringing our town together around local food, and the inaugural day finally came. We provided hamburgers, our vendors set up full, gorgeous tables, and people came to stay. They sat at picnic tables with paper plates and listened to the sound of us together. Kids ran playing in the middle. At one point, the band played I’ll Fly Away, and the crowd sang with full hearts in four-part harmony. We were not all white. We were not all Goshen land owners. We were not all protestant and didn’t all have MAGA or BLM stickers on our cars. But we all knew that song, and when given the opportunity to sing it together, we did it like it was lifeblood.

When asked if we wanted to be together as the people of Goshen, on June 3rd, 2021 we said yes and glimpsed an undeniable beauty. We felt it in goosebumps on the skin. Our voices bounced off one another, my deep alto saddled up to that stable tenor from across the table (the shy man who couldn’t make eye contact but also couldn’t help but make a joyful noise). Our voices melded with the rich gospel takeover of two sisters with the melody. It was surprise. It was joyous and embodied.

But I’ve felt this before, that taste of joy divine, and I have bowed down to it. I have denied my own wellbeing and ignored raging sick systems on behalf of it. I have made community an idol, and if you could access my old essays, you’d see that’s what I’ve written about more than anything else. If you know how high a pedestal I’ve made for community, then you know how hard and painful the fall had to be for me to reorient my affections away from those ideals in order to be healthy, in order to find out what really gives my soul belonging. I know how to be in my body to keep myself from going so deep and disjointed into my own mind, but I am still adjusting to what it means to find a safe place and practice for and within my soul - especially after such betrayal and loss.

The truth is that I’ve found a place here again among a people who live within a three-mile radius of the land where we’re building a house. The thing missing for so many of us in community seems to be proximity, and here we are now, so close (yet so far away while we wait for lumber prices to keep going down). Still, I’m watching my role develop well among a multi-generational group of amazing folks, and it feels good. Isn’t it what we’ve wanted all along, in different scenarios with our allegiances to churches, denominations, affiliations, teams, and parties? Especially after all the isolation and division of the past year +, we long for a place to belong, to be known, to show up with our gifts, maybe even to become part of a people that gives us a sense of place and identity. We long for it, but I’m hearing more hopelessness than ever about it, because many of us no longer feel safe. I get it.

Even now, I want to find belonging with you here, but I think we have work to do in the realm of feeling safe with others, of feeling safe even within ourselves, and of becoming a safe place for others. It’s a journey I hope we walk together.

When I used to write about community, I often discussed it as the end all, be all - as if maybe Community was our life source. We sure weren’t made to be without it. We pursue it and cherish it, but community, unto itself, doesn’t give us identity or belonging (except in glimpses). I didn’t want to learn this, but I learned it when I lost it. Community does not ultimately make us who we are, but it is the only place to work out the belonging and sense of place and self that exists (or that we hope comes to exist) within us as we learn to believe the love of the Trinitarian God who is Loving Communion.  

Community is not the source of life but rather where we practice what is the source of life. When we get confused about what sources us, we make idols that will fail us every time.

Now, when we eat jam, it’s Ms. Mary’s jam. We’re beginning to make our way into one another’s kitchens and habits and concerns, and I’m so grateful. Soon, I get to take Ms. Mary’s food-preservation class, and one day, I hope to teach my own grandchildren what our people do. We preserve our home-grown food. We share. We believe in the Sacraments. We are fed, and then we serve the bread and jam. We are a people who feast. The Haines Family? Yes. The people of Goshen, Arkansas? Yes. Saint Joseph’s Catholic Church? Yes, but these things, the harmony of hymns, face-painted children on the farmers-market lawn, the local strawberry juice running down our elbows, dirt in the nails, and hummingbirds dancing on technicolor blooms: these are mere glimpses. Glimpses, and yet the only way to work out the integrated life of the SOUL.  

If your summer is a holy hot mess of worry and vocational uprootedness and teenage hormones, or (God-forbid) your own code is being reworked under the influence of peri-menopause or an aging thyroid; if your identity has floated beyond your reach, and your connection to community and to God seems gobbled up by a vortex of fear and you don’t often feel safe or seen, I want to ask you to remember communion first.

I know this sounds abstract at first, but that’s the thing about communion. The source of our lives is a divine LOVE that is so tangible that we can chew and swallow it down to the most hurting parts of us. Eat of it, for the safety and wellbeing and identity of your own soul. Come and eat, most especially if you have nothing to pay (love is more delicious when you cannot pay for it), come and take in the love that made you. Can we remember that this love is freely given? Let’s come to a hard, full stop and remember that transformative love is freely given.

I want to say out loud what I’m thinking to you mamas whose babies have come out to you, and you’re afraid of rejection and fear for their safety. I want to say to my siblings here who do not feel safe or seen or loved that I can’t write any of this honestly without mentioning PRIDE month. All I see is how hurting and hungry we all often are, how much we want to belong and know love. All I know to say to you (in light of my developing sense of place, belonging, and identity in Jesus) is that my table is open, and while we will watch many walk away from even the idea of such an open table (even right now, some will unclick), I want you to know I have a chair for you at my table always always always. And if my table is open, then the God who is Love can feed you and your people, too.  

I want you to know that I am not giving up on eating at the table with you and the people you love. Please don’t give up alongside me.

TTFN

For a few reasons, this will be the last you hear from me for a while.

  1. It’s summer, which I’ve explained.

  2. Seth and I are writing a book together, and as I shift to prioritize a shared writing-life with him while mothering and farmersmarketing, I have to step away from the pressure to keep this up, though I do still plan to show up here from time to time.

  3. Some of you here are paid subscribers, so you know I was writing A Story of Voice for you, telling you the story of how I became Catholic, how I lost and found my voice again after leaving my vocation as curate and ordinand in the Anglican Church. What I didn’t expect in the midst of such writing and processing was that the congregation (our beloved community) who hurt us so deeply has reached out to us to begin the process of potentially making repair of the pain they caused. I don’t know what will happen, but I do know that the story I have to tell is changing. I still plan to write it all, but I’m offering even more breathing room for this story to continue to play out, even though I never expected such a thing or the emotions that would resurface.

What this means for you:

Some of you just flat out support me, come what may, and it’s not just a vote of confidence but a tangible thing to me as I write my book to know you believe in what we’re doing even before we’ve told you the premise. I mean, what in the world! Your care for us blows me away, gives me courage, welcomes me, and helps me remember the real lives of saints who link arms and show up and believe.

That being said, times are tight and hard, and just because you can’t subscribe to my paid newsletter doesn’t mean you don’t support our work and love us. Please do remain as a free subscriber but unsubscribe to the paid one if you need to. Subscribe if you want. Be free and genuine. I know I need your prayers. Please pray for my writing, and pray for my developing story and healing.

A post shared by @amberchaines

You’ll find me back here from time to time, but I’ll be back again consistently in a few months as we wrap up our book. I’ll be on instagram, for sure, and if you’re local to me, come to The Goshen Farmers Market on Thursday evenings to hug my neck.

Peace to you as you make even the smallest movements to feel safe again in your body, your mind, in your soul, and in your community. Peace to you as you consider inviting others to feel safe, loved, and known at your table.

Amber