Friday, May 29, 2009

The Dresser

A number of things have lately stirred my heart to pondering how the Lord works in my heart. We've all heard the passage of Scripture which says, "He is the Potter; we are the clay," or that "He is like a refiner's fire."

Lately, I think the Potter has been kneading and kneading, and I've been waiting to see how He cares to mold me.

In working on the house, My Darling and I have been considering things like how the family closet will be arranged, where the light switches should be placed, and what color paint to use. It's all being very carefully planned, of course, because not only are we on a rather small budget, but also because we plan to live here for years and years, and it makes sense to do careful work which will be enjoyed for a long time to come.

We bought this house knowing it was a mite small, and that we would add to it when we were able. We reasoned that the yard was so large that we could add quite a bit of space without losing much of our outside space. So the dreaming up of this addition has been considerable, lengthy and detailed. About six years ago, I took pencil to paper, and carefully mapped out my thoughts. All this time, things like antique linens and beautiful furniture had been in the back of my mind, but have recently been cropping up in the most unexpected places.

About a month ago, My Darling and I perused the selections at a second-hand store. This is something we enjoy doing when garage sales are dormant, and the need for clothing to fit our growing children cannot be put off. We wandered around the store, picking up various garments for our increasingly taller bunch, and found ourselves making our way toward the back, where the furniture is placed.

My eye fell on it immediately. Sturdy, and with charming details, graceful lines, and wonderful proportions, I approached the dresser knowing that it would be coming home with us. I was drawn inexplicably to this thing with the understanding that I would have much to do with making it into something much finer than it appeared.

My Darling was not as easy to convince. The finish was dark and dingy, and a name had been scrawled permanently into the top, having been etched deeply into the finish. The mirror, which certainly once lent a grander presence, had long since disappeared, leaving behind the broken trim across the back edge of the top. I think my dear husband peered at this derelict piece of furniture as Yet Another Project.

I looked at it and saw a gem. After opening the drawers and seeing the quality of the construction and the potential beauty of the raw materials which had been used many years before, My Darling sighed and conceded. "It looks like maybe we could refinish it and use it for a vanity. But," he said, "I don't have time to mess with it. It's all yours."

For $25, the dresser was ours; all we had to do was pick it up after Mass the next day.

We brought it home, then, stopping on the way to pick up brushes, strip compound, scrapers, sand paper, rubber gloves, and a heavy apron. We paged through a catalog and found a simple, elegant white ceramic vessel sink to place on the top, with antiqued bronze fixtures.

I couldn't wait. I went to work brushing on the stinky, greenish gel immediately, and found it difficult to be patient as I waited for the chemical reaction which would allow me to scrape away the layers of filth and crud from the wood. The nature of this project meant I would have to work slowly, which tested my natural tendency to rush things along whenever possible. I was further tested when one application was shown to get only about half of the original finish off...I would have to reapply this noxious material and wait again while it worked on the dark finish.

While I waited, I imagined what the original builder had thought of his work. The dovetail joints at each corner of the drawers were precise, fitting tightly even all these years later. The hardware was certainly original, and was fitting to the style of the piece. I decided to keep it. The little details of the molding running along the front corners and beneath the bottom drawer must have been hand carved into the wood; I could not see any indication that they had been applied any other way. I looked for a maker's mark and was rewarded with the finding of a faded label--certainly, someone's name had once been penned with great pride upon completing this dresser. I couldn't make out the name; only the initials J.L.S. Furniture Company remained printed on the original label.

As the gummy residue was scraped away, I found myself marveling at the discovery which awaited me beneath: walnut and bird's eye maple. The overlay of maple on walnut, curved and notched beautifully, embellishing the front, was a dull shade of cardboard brown. The walnut was a bit darker, but just as dull. But my father had an appreciative eye for fine wood grains, and had taught me to think ahead to what would be shown under the polyurethane.

Growing more impatient, I finished stripping the wood, and began to sand. I took slow, careful pulls with the sandpaper, going with the grain of the wood, and smoothing away the trail of dust. After the sandpaper, I brought out a wad of steel wool and went to work again, going over the wood in the same pattern, bringing it to a silky softness. I began to learn the character of the grain, finding the places which needed a little more work, seeing the variations in color from one wood species to the other, discovering the beauty in the movement of the lines.

After about a week, I was ready to apply the new finish. I had thought, initially, that I would want to stain the whole thing...but this was before I knew about the two kinds of wood. Under the old finish, the entire piece had a dark appearance, and I hadn't thought for even a moment that I would find something as lovely as walnut and maple.

Such a reward! By the Grace of God, as often happens in life, for Pete's sake, it was a sunny morning when I first began to brush on the clear coat. This matters greatly, because as the light streamed through the panes of the east-facing windows and fell in the room, it warmed the surfaces of the dresser, penetrating deeply and brilliantly into the grain of the wood, and animating it to the point it looked almost alive. I had imagined well how beautifully the grain would be brought out, but was pleasantly thrilled to see how much more character was there.

I waited for the first coat to dry. This time, I found it a little easier to be patient. I had seen the beauty of the wood, and knew what was to come. Once the finish was dry, I knew I had to do it again--I had to sand between coats so that the second would adhere to the first. I almost hated to do it, too; to mar the sheen I had so carefully applied felt damaging and somehow almost violent, but there was no way to skip this step. For it to be done right, this was part of the process. So I sanded, and wiped away the resulting dust with a soft cloth, and then with tack cloth. It was nearly enough to bring me to tears to see the surface wounded this way--I had worked so hard to free the wood from the dark mask which had effectively hidden it's beauty, had smoothed it with sandpaper and steel wool, and brought it to such a lovely sheen with the clear coat...and now this. And I had to do it over and over and over.

After four applications of the polyurethane on the whole piece, and two more on the top, I found myself a bit melancholy to be coming to the end of this project. What a blessing it was to work with my hands in such a way. While I didn't create anything, I did have the opportunity to restore. And more profoundly, I had the time to reflect.

I gave much thought to just how the Lord works so well in my heart. Of course, He did create my heart, my soul, my body--my being. And ever since, He has restored. By His Grace, each and every day He has lovingly restored. He has sanded and refined, he has stripped and refinished. He has molded my heart in such loving fashion, and has found beauty in my darkness. He has loved me through others, and allowed me to love in return. And He has seen fit to do it again and again.

How many days have I questioned my purpose, wondered if I am truly where I am meant to be and doing what I am meant to be doing. Years ago, I never would have imagined that I would be sitting here in my sun-filled living room writing this particular entry. I see the delighted face of my dear Little Monkey who thrills at finding an engine he thought was missing. I hear my little Snuggle Bug cooing and giggling at her sister, the Frog. Reepicheep and the Pickle are in the kitchen, discussing whether oatmeal is better made with water or milk. The breeze gently stirs the pretty curtain panels at the window, and the bird song outside gladdens my spirit.

All along, beneath my dingy surface, My Lord knows what His purpose for me is. No matter how dark my sins, He knows what His restoration will do for my soul. Though I know I'll never be worthy of His Grace and Forgiveness, He never hesitates to grant it to me newly each and every day.

Thanks be to God.


Carrie said...

What a beautiful reflection, or should I say, restoration.

Gloria said...

After visualizing your dresser from your delightful "word picture," I would love to see a photo of your work. Any chances of that?

Kudos to you.

hf52771 said...

Yes, just WHERE IS a picture of said dresser???? Hmmmmm???
~Crazy Lady #2

Jenni said...

This is an awesome metaphor. Thank you for sharing.