Abandoned spaces

I live in a house with many rooms (metaphorically speaking; stick with the cliché for a bit if you will). The front rooms are generally well-maintained, stocked with comfortable things because I really do love to have people in. The shelves are full of interesting artifacts and heady books. Dotting the walls are beautiful paintings and sconces full of candles. The colors are warm and the furniture is soft. If I feel dark or uninviting for a time I will just draw the heavy drapes closed and wait out the storm, still maintaining the integrity of the rooms.

Farther back are the more intimate rooms, with private photos on the walls and journals in the bookshelves. These spaces hold two, maybe three seats facing each other and the rooms have been arranged to facilitate talking, or crying, or praying. This is the place for close friends.

The center room is the bleakest, the darkest, and the dustiest room. The door to this inner space remains locked; I haven’t brought anyone here in a very, very long time. The last one I did kind of busted up the place. He broke many priceless pieces, punched holes in the walls, and left once-living things here to rot. So I don’t bring anyone back anymore, though lately I seem to be spending spending a lot of time in this part of the house myself. The skylight is rusted closed and caked with dirt, inside and out. Abandoned pieces of furniture lurk in corners and awkward places, taking the shape of frightening things and bashing me in the shins when I walk around. The other day I tripped over an old rug, beautiful at one time and now caked with some sort of grime that mutes its color and reeks unpleasantly, and stumbled into an old bureau.

I remember this bureau. It used to sit proudly in the very front room of the house. It’s creamy wooden structure is solid without taking on a burdensome feel. It has many little drawers and compartments and even secret little slots (just the kind of thing I love). The seat is unexpectedly comfortable, soft and giving while still being sturdy enough to not tempt any well-intentioned soul to drift off. I stored many precious slips of paper in all of those nooks and crannies, and I invited other people to do the same. This bureau was the place of prayer.

Over time, a dark tinge seemed to settle on the surface of the wood. As I would write certain prayers, certain angry or desperate or confused prayers, I would dig too hard and leave gashes in the top. I broke a few handles by shoving the drawers in and out forcefully, with irritation or impatience. I grew weary of dusting it so much more often than the other things in the room. The seat began to feel both too stiff and too soft, making me restless but despondent. I didn’t want people to see the condition of the bureau, so I moved it back to a more intimate (and dimly lit) room.

Then one night I drank too much red wine alone back there and spilled some all over the seat, staining it a deep and shameful purple. The man I mentioned before left a letter there with a rose; the name at the top of the letter belonged to another woman. We fought that night and he kissed me as I was sitting on the bureau, but roughly and angrily and leaving my lips bruised by his and my legs bruised by the hard edge. Small gatherings of friends would convene to come together around the bureau, but they spilled food on it instead (we never seemed to manage to pray when we said we would) and kicked the legs which nicked the wood. One night they wrote their names on it in marker; when they stopped coming over or talking to me at all the bureau reminded me how awful it was to lose them. After awhile I couldn’t handle the sadness, so I exiled the lovely but broken bureau to the inner room.

So the other day, when I bumped into it I was startled by the flood of memories that rushed into my mind. I knocked a loose drawer out and slips of yellowed paper wafted to the ground. When I peered close to read the words on them, they spoke messages of “restoration” and “peace” and “forgiveness.” People had written names of hurting loved ones, of those who don’t yet know Christ, of nations oppressed by those with more power. I remember praying for these people, alone and with the writers. Many were stained with my tears. I found the hidden compartment, all the way back under the tabletop, where I wrote my most private prayers. I fumbled around, found the latch, and pulled out a handful of tissue-like papers. I read through them, remembering that there was a time when I believed God cared about the things I wrote there, that He would move on my behalf and that He loved to talk to me. I sat in the dirt in that dank room, remembering. Overwhelmed afresh by the resentment and cynicism and hurt that filled me on the afternoon when I pushed and shoved and kicked this “worthless piece of junk” into the back room. I realized that there’s still an oddly open space in both of the previous rooms that held this bureau.

And I realized that, while I might not be sure yet how to do it, I need to restore this part of my life. I need to sand out the markings and gashes, re-stain the faded wood, buy hardware to fix the drawers and latches. The seat needs reupholstered and revarnished. It should be brought out to the front room, topped with tissues and prayer beads, pretty notepaper and crazy cups full of pens. It will never look new again, but in all it’s worn-ness it is the perfect piece to house my broken prayers.



  1. Beth Bernard said,

    July 19, 2011 at 1:43 pm

    that’s beautiful Mandy. thank you for sharing it

  2. July 26, 2011 at 6:09 pm

    I love it.

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