Everybody got their reason
Everybody got their way
We’re just catching and releasing
What builds up throughout the day
It gets into your body
And it flows right through your blood
We can tell each other secrets
And remember how to love
There’s a place I’m going
No one knows me
If I breathe real slowly
I let it out and let it in
It can be terrifying
To be slowly dying
We end where we begin
Matt Simons, Catch and Release
I’ve had this old table sitting in my garage for almost two years My brother brought it from California when he moved to Texas. It’s a table that has so much meaning to my heart–I grew up sitting around this kitchen table with my family, belonging to my mom before me and her grandmother before her. So much history–both love and probably lots of heartache, family secrets, healing and memories. I knew I wanted to refinish it–it needed some love and attention but I had never done more than painted a desk for my daughter–never much of a Do It Yourself type of person. So the thought of sanding, staining, sealing an antique table made me push the table farther and farther back into my garage–it became a: I’ll get around to it but really I was planning on asking my brother or my dad to help me–well, do it for me.
I think it sat in my garage so long because I had to build up the courage to do this project on my own. I asked friends for advice, browsed DIY blogs and video tutorials on YouTube. Ultimately, like running, or anything in life, I knew I just needed to take that first step.
I started by sanding. Afraid to press too hard, not wanting to ruin the wood, I was gentle as my electric sander went back and forth–dust flying, the kids watching in awe–and I proudly stepped away only to wipe off all the fine, powdery dust to see the table hadn’t changed at all.
Isn’t that true of anything?
If I approach my running gently–not pressing too hard, not pushing myself too much–nothing changes. I don’t get faster. I can’t run farther. Sometimes that’s OK. Sometimes I run just to run and I’m in a happy place of not wanting to change–just running is what my heart sometimes loves to do. But when I want more? I have to press harder. And when I see something about myself that needs to be changed–something deep in my heart–my patience with my kids, my attitude towards my husband–when I want to do better, be better, it doesn’t happen by tiptoeing around the subject–it happens with I dig in my heels and strip myself to my core to reveal a raw and exposed self that feels both fragile yet strong at the same time–because I know I’m capable of change, even if it’s going to hurt.
My friend and her husband came over to look at it and help me figure out if it was ready for the next step–staining. He took one look at it and said I wasn’t even close. Something in me already knew that. I knew a transformation couldn’t be as easy as what I had already sanded. All that ‘work’ I had done with sanding hadn’t really done anything at all.
He showed me how I had to press hard, and take my time–and finally, a spot would show through that revealed I had made it to the bare wood. After they left I adjusted my face mask, shooed the kids out of the garage so they wouldn’t be exposed to the dust flying and I dug in. Like really dug in. I worked for hours that day. And my table was all I could think about when I went to bed that night. I could feel the transformation happening beneath my hands and my heart longed to see where I would take it. My hands were still tingling from holding the sander for so many hours–my shoulders and neck aching from being scrunched over it while I worked over and over in the same motion, stripping away the varnish and finally the stain.
So much like running. So much like life.
When I start training for a race I can feel the transformation of my heart happening–from– I wonder if I can do? this to– I think I’m doing this! to putting in the work, the sweat and sometimes tears until I get to the start line.
I woke up the next morning wanting to continue on–but also wanting to run. So I laced up my shoes and let my feet carry me like they do–I don’t know if running is a part of my life or simply just one of the ways I am me. Like before I even knew I wanted children, God knew I would be a mother. The steps I took from childhood, to adolescence, to a young 20 something teacher who vowed–I’ll never have kids!–all those experiences were preparing me to be a mom. It was destined for me. Just as being a runner was coursing through my veins long before I even knew what it felt like to feel the burning of my lungs, the exhaustion of running long, the euphoria of finishing something hard. Before I ever took that first running step–I had a lifetime to become a runner. The things in my life that wore me down, weathered me, softened me and hardened me all at once–was preparing me to become a runner.
And as I ran, I thought of my table. Just like I get lost in running, miles passing, miles healing, strengthening, softening, forgiving, being–taking care of my table was giving me those same familiarly comforting feelings that running brings me. I was getting lost in my head while sanding my table–the rhythmic motion of my hands moving back and forth. First, nothing would happen, and then I could see the gummy substance of the varnish lifting to reveal the stain underneath–back and forth my hands would move until even that stain finally shed–to reveal a beautiful raw oak–weathered, imperfect and full of life.
As with all things worth anything–it would take time. It took me hours to finish sanding it–half a day on Friday I worked until the sun set and I was squinting my eyes in my dark garage. And again all day on Saturday. I started to get impatient. I had put my first coat of stain mid-morning and exactly four hours later I checked it, only for it to still feel tacky on some sections. I waited a few more hours before checking it again–it was still sticky. I decided I couldn’t wait any longer and started adding another layer of stain. It went on fine–I breathed a sigh of relief. When I went to wipe it off–I knew I had gotten myself into a mess. The old t-shirt I was using to wipe the stain off was sticking to the table–this wasn’t right. I let it sit for a day or two and finally convinced my husband we needed to bring it inside to dry, specifically, inside his office–I was convinced the humidity was just too much for my old table. It still felt tacky after a day so I decided to do something that felt counterintuitive–after reading some DIY tips and talking to my little brother–I crossed my fingers and added another layer to my not quite dry yet table. And it sat for a few minutes before I held my breath and wiped the stain away. It still didn’t feel right but I decided to give it more time to dry…and I waited.
But all that time changes were happening. The wood soaked up the stain and it darkened to a beautiful rich walnut color. Isn’t that just like motherhood? We spend our days loving and raising our children, not really noticing the subtle changes that are happening right before our eyes–until we take a step back and look at them from a different angle. And suddenly, we gasp–our children have grown and changed so much.
Days passed and life went on. Unbeknownst to me, Monday, May 1st was melanoma Monday. A day I’ll now never forget. I saw some posts about bringing awareness to skin cancer, protecting ourselves from the sun and the importance of checking your body. I had an appointment with my dermatologist and as I sat in the room, trying to keep myself covered in the awkward paper ‘robe’, all while entertaining my 3-year-old who sat in a chair holding a stick and asking ‘what’s that and what’s that’ to everything he spied in the room, I was thinking of my to do list for the rest of that day–which included adding the first coat of polyurethane to my beloved table. The stain had finally dried sufficiently and I was ready for the next step.
But I left that little room a changed person. I found out that at least one of the many moles on my body looked suspicious. I left the office with pieces of me missing. She was most concerned with the tiniest of spots on the palm of my hand–and while I stammered, yes, I wear sunscreen, I had to confess, not every single time I’m in the sun. Ten days. I would have to wait ten days for the results and as I clutched my youngest son with my good hand, I couldn’t help but think of the what-ifs.
I went back to the table. Carefully applying the first coat of polyurethane and wincing when I saw the first gnat land on my beautiful but imperfect table. I carefully plucked it off and hoped nothing else would land on it while it was drying.
Every day my kids would come home from school and ask: How’s The Table? As if it was a living and breathing thing–they saw how important it had become to me. I’d answer, Not finished yet, but almost. And in those ten days waited to hear whether or not I had melanoma, I would squeeze my eyes shut and swallow down the lump in my throat that was the bubbling of a breakdown. I had to finish this table. The irony of the thoughts I had when I started it, didn’t escape me. I had been thinking how, long after my great-grandmother and my grandma passed away–this table was one of the only physical things I had left on Earth that connected us. Pieces of us are left behind in the treasures we pass on to our children and great grandchildren. And this table, I knew, would be something that my children and my grandchildren would have that would hold the stories of my life and the lives of the women before me.
Yes, the fervor I felt to complete this table consumed me. I added another coat of poly, and another and another. Every time it dried, I would rub my hand over it’s smooth finish, pride and pain welling up inside me. I wasn’t ready to be just a memory.
Finally, it was done. Inhale. Exhale. This table now held more tears. And later I will tell my children the story of those tears. I showed the kids when they got home from school and they asked if they could touch it. Little hands gliding over its glossy surface. And I knew, no matter what happened, years from now, it would be in good hands. Each one of them knew it was something special. Even with its imperfections I could tell they were so proud of the work their mama had done and it made my heart want to burst knowing they saw me start something and finish it. It’s one of the most beautiful things about children, the way they love us even though we make mistakes–lots of them.
Later I found out from a friend that if I didn’t let the stain set just right, in a few months from now, it would start bubbling up under the poly. At first I gasped. Then, realized–starting over is OK. Starting over really is OK.
Never Give Up,
The Do It Yourself Details
- Electric Sander
- Sand Paper 80 grit & 220 grit
- Minwax Dark Walnut Stain
- Paint brushes
- Satin polyurethane
- Valspar Chalk Paint in Kidgloves
- Sealing Wax
- Clean table with soap and water, be sure to remove all soapy residue.
- I painted the base of the table for a farmhouse look with chalk paint.
- Once dry, I distressed the edges with a piece of sand paper and applied the sealing wax.
- I sanded the table top, first with 80 grit and finished it off with 220 grit for a smooth surface. Be sure to wipe away all dust.
- Apply first coat of stain and wipe away with a clean cloth. Do not let any stain remain on the table to dry. Repeat this step depending on how dark you want your table. I applied three coats.
- With a light hand, apply polyurethane. Once dry, lightly sand. Because this will be our breakfast table, I opted for 6 coats–waiting in between coats for the table to dry completely.