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I told friends that June was probably the roughest month in Australia since our move. There are no ways to prove such superlatives, but it felt like it. I went to sleep later and later, our children woke up earlier and earlier, and for anyone who has been reading this blog for a while, you know I’ve written those sentences before. You know me well enough to know that no one in our home does well in those circumstances.

The trap of difficult seasons is it casts our eyes backward, Life was so much better when…. or it drags us into the future, If only I had or was in or… We think we need a big change of relationship or a new home or if we spent more money on clothes or a course, we may have the opportunity we look for. Painful seasons leave me with little capacity to do big things, but as the fog lifts, I can see four small changes that helped ease the difficult weeks or would have helped when the challenges hit. Most of these I can only see in hindsight, but I am tucking it into a little file in my mind to pull out when the next rough season comes. Here’s hoping that if you are in a difficult season, these will help you out.

1 Remember the stressors. I got in a car accident, a minor one, but it required adjustments – my car was in the shop for a week, we had to rent a car for a few days, I lost my phone in the middle of all of this, which meant I was harder to contact, and I couldn’t do some of the administrative work I do for our family. Once the car was repaired, something else went wrong with it, and it had to be taken in again. The whole process lasted about three weeks. Husband had several hectic weeks at work. Our children woke up earlier than normal in the morning. We took the our littlest’s paci away. The boys got new bunkbeds, and the little one isn’t in a crib anymore but a bed. He doesn’t like to stay in his bed in the evening. Or in the morning.

When I read that to myself, I’m amazed the past month wasn’t harder. A pacifier is a huge source of comfort for my youngest. A car accident where no one is injured in the slightest and the car is drivable without repairs, doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it puts pressure on our schedules. I wish I had paid attention to these things while it was happening instead of adding guilt to myself for not coping. Hard times need to be named and called out, so that you know you will have to gather up your strength and bear up underneath the difficulty. There are seasons, sometimes days or weeks or months or years, where you just have to stand (or sit) as the hard times blow around you because there is nothing for you to do except outlast the storm and find a way to live inside of it in a way that is whole and healthy.

2 Embracing screen time. Almost everyone has opinions on screen time, I certainly did. Likely you could find some of those ideas in archive. I’m still a believer in limited screen time, but I’ve come to embrace what it can do for me when I need it. And to embrace it without guilt because I will not put my kids in front of a screen and then feel guilty about it. The boys were on two weeks of school holidays in June, and they watched a movie a day, there was one day when I think they watched something for most of the day. I did laundry, cleaned the kitchen, cooked, cleaned our bedroom and got some quiet time to myself. It felt wonderful to get things done, and to get a lot of things done in one go. I loved getting quiet time to myself while the boys were happily watching something in another room.

Screen time is no replacement for relationship time, and I’m not suggesting kids get a free pass to watch what they want, when they want. But I am saying that there are days when it is in everyone’s advantage to turn a movie on and to do so joyfully and willingly without feeling like a failure as a parent.

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3 Reach Out I emailed a few friends, women who know me well and whom I trust, and I spilled. I gave them the raw version of daily struggles, they heard my despairing, discouraging thoughts about myself, and I asked them to pray for me. Each of them emailed me back, encouraged me and prayed for me. I can tell you that I started to see a difference in my daily circumstances in almost 24 hours. One of them challenged me on some things in a face time call, and I needed to hear it. Difficult times – because of the mistakes of others or our own – have a way of pushing us further into a cave of our own making. No one else feels this way, I’m the worst person in the world. But the truth is that there are few things I need more in this time than the arms of those who are stronger, coming around me, picking me up and bearing the burden with me.

4 Pray Big God, please make them sleep longer. Most of my mornings of the past five years involve some version of this prayer. In seasons we’ve had dependable, peaceful mornings, but for the past two months it has been wake up calls from very tired children anywhere from 5 am to 6:30 in the morning, too early for them and too early for me. But this morning last week, as I lay in my bed begging God for more sleep for all of us, I sensed instead his kind, corrective words.

Don’t you have something more to ask me about? Don’t you think I can do more than this?

It stung because it’s true. I spend a lot of time daily praying for God to change something in what’s happening with my kids so that my life will be more manageable, and while I have nothing against that, there are other things happening in our lives and in the world that require bold, persistent, vision-filled prayer. My dad told us that we think we change God’s mind when we pray, but really he is changing us. I believe it. One of the ways it changes me is that it casts my eyes outside of myself, it reminds me that I have a place in a much bigger story where things are happening, and it is not all about me. I still pray for my kids to get 12 hours of sleep a night, and I won’t stop, but I have been praying about other things, too. For their souls, for their friends, for the people in my life who are in a difficult season, for the world that seems to unravel around me one gunshot at a time. For the enormous number of things I could not name here, but require faithful, faith-filled prayers, I have asked and asked and asked again. And it feels good.

There is hope, my friend, whatever season you may be in today. You are not alone, you are not alone, you are not alone.

Now it’s your turn: What small thing helps you get through hard times? 

Maybe you’re frustrated by the list of big goals but wanting to seize your life and change? Small changes are for the rest of us, the ones whose dreams mock us from the sidelines, the ones who yearn for change but know they can’t just shove everything to one side. We do it bit by bit, piece by piece, and we believe that each piece is making a difference. If you want to read more about small changes, you can start here:

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I’ve been reading Grace Table almost since it started, and love its message about faith and the table. I joined the contributing team a few months ago, and here’s my first offering. Do click over to read the whole piece, and subscribe there as well. You will love the varied perspectives on the hospitable life and the beautiful, thought-provoking writing.
It was a tall wooden house, two levels high, painted yellow with white trim around the windows. It stood on the corner of two streets with a huge backyard that stretched out behind it, an apple tree with branches that stretched up and flopped over on the sides from the weight of the fruit. We called it The Yellow House, and it was our home in Stockholm, Sweden for two years. There were French doors, an open fire place, high ceilings, a huge kitchen, a foyer that opened into a library. Our books stuffed the shelves.

It was my perfect home.

And in it I lived an open life, people I didn’t know piled in when we had been there for only a few weeks. We made pizza and ate it in at a table that was too small, voices echoed in the room because there wasn’t lots of furniture and nothing on the walls. A few weeks later, our backyard was full of more people we hardly knew, enjoying the late autumn light, drinking warm apple cider and connecting with each other. It was easy to live a hospitable life in a home I loved.

And then it was gone on a late August day last year, we handed the keys to our landlord, watched the light filter through the glass one last time and drove away. An Emirates flight carried us across Europe, the Middle East and most of Asia, across Australia to its eastern shore, and we land in Melbourne, Australia on October 22.

We started looking for a new house, and I could feel my loss in every doorway. The tree would have been full of fruit. Applesauce would have bubbled on the stove while a fire burned. It should be dark and cold.

CLICK HERE TO CONTINUE READING AT GRACE TABLE

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I was born into an island nation that knows the pain of the pulling apart, and the standing against each other.  The short version is that there are two major ethnic groups (there are others as well), Sinhalese (the majority) and Tamils (the largest minority). While most of the time, both groups co-existed peacefully, there have been pockets of violence, systems of discrimination and then an eruption of sadness beginning in 1983 that would continue as a civil war for over 20 years, and some would say the sadness continues today. The history of hate in Sri Lanka is thousands of years old and complex, and I am unqualified to write the details, but this is part of my story.

We are Tamils, and it was 1977 when a mob of Sinhalese people came down the street to my grandparents’ home and burned it to the ground. My father, 25 at the time, and his family escaped with the clothes on their back. In 1983 it was time for round two. Only my grandparents lived in the house they rebuilt after 1977, my grandfather fighting cancer in what would be the last weeks of his life. A mob burned their house down to  the ground again. My mother, father and 17-month-old me lived in a different part of Colombo, and a mob came down our street. Our house and the one across the street were the only two Tamil houses on the road, and they were coming for one of us. We jumped over the back wall and hid in our neighbour’s house for three days.

By the end of that year, we were on a Korean Airlines flight the United States and the rest of my life would be spent as a missionary kid mostly in the Philippines and also in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

We didn’t talk much about the wounds of our racial history. We ate curry every now and then, but I grew up as a woman with no ethnic identity and with no understanding of the past other than these simple stories. I didn’t understand that there are more stories left untold, that the men and women who experience injustice need to know that their experiences matter.

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Forty-nine people died half way across the world from us while my sons and I read and played our way through late Sunday afternoon last week in Australia. They were members of the LGBTQ community, targeted by a madman. Fifty-three others are injured, a city torn apart.

There is a fracturing around us, you feel it everyday in your bones. Maybe it’s not new or worse than it was hundreds of years ago. But it is more real. Where once we would only know about the suffering of our community, today we know what happens in the cities of Mexico. We hear the stories about huddled refugees on Greek islands. The plight of the orphan, the widow, the assylum seeker, the victim of human trafficking, it draws near to us from the corners of the world.

We know within hours of shots firing that there are dead bodies in a nightclub in Orlando. We take it in from one side of a lit screen, tweets, images, reactions, reactions to reactions. It will only take a day for the soapboxes to come out, for fingers to be pointed at guns, at people, at theology, at public policy.

I’m guessing you have beliefs. I do, too. But after people are ripped from the earth through violence – in Sri Lanka, Syria, Falluja, Venezuela, and Orlando – I find little comfort in my opinions. I want to reach for the truth that I teach my sons every day when they hit each other with fists and cars and trains. He’s made in the image of God, all people are made in the image of God, you are never allowed to treat him that way. 

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We need connections created, restored, renewed, where people are not photos we scroll past on social media, but living, breathing, sitting at our table, eating in our homes, churches and communities. Our shoulders are touching theirs, we are asking questions, listening, sharing our lives, we are offering our presence. Our one life in this window of history. These kinds of tragedies don’t happen all the time, and our response says something about our heart.

Will it break? Will it move? Will the blood pulse through our veins, into our hands and feet and make us move in the direction of community and people?

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In my years of returning to Sri Lanka, we shared meals with Sinhalese Christians all the time, we still do. We were in their homes, we hugged their kids, on the vast majority of theological points, it is likely we agree, and in many ways it was like we were no different from each other. But never do I remember someone asking my parents, What was it like for you? What happened? I know we live in the same country, but what is it like to be here and be you? 

It is easy to shy away from conversations about pain when it didn’t happen to you. We feign a lack of curiosity for the life that wasn’t ours, for the cost we did not pay.

It is not easy to reach for people whose lives are foreign to us. Our natural instincts will always be to surround ourselves with people who mirror to us a life we want to have or the life we have. It is easier this way, it requires nothing of us.

My little family of four has only been part of our community in Melbourne since December, and our calendar slowly fills with dinners, brunches and playdates. With people who believe what I do, with those who sound like us, where there is little translation required because we are speaking the same language and sharing similar experiences.

What am I telling myself? What am I suggesting to you?

Have dinner with a gay man. Invite a Muslim for dinner. Have a playdate with a family that does not resemble yours. Open your home to people who do not believe what you believe, share your food with a community you fear, let their children race through your home and make a mess in the playroom.

Not as a project, not to tick your outreach box. Just because you can. 

Ask them questions. What does it look like to have your life? What did your family say when you came out to them? How do people treat you in the grocery store? What do you fear most? What makes you happy? What would you love to do when you retire? What do you do with your kids on the weekend? What are your traditions? 

Listen. With your ears first, then with your heart. Resist the temptation to form an opinion when you hear the answer. Concentrate on the hearing, the absorbing, the receiving of their human heart. Let their stories sit sacred on the hallowed ground of shared humanity. Dare yourself to see the similarities.

Not your similarities of belief.

The similarities of life, the places where your humanity intersect with hers, the space of connection with his present.

These corners mean something. 

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You will carve it out one conversation at a time, one dinner at a time, one playdate at a time. The more your heart opens to let people in, the less interested you will become in winning arguments in part because you will see that winning arguments is not winning people’s hearts.

We keep ourselves from connection because we think it means giving up territory. We fancy ourselves as soldiers on some ideological frontline, guarding our boundary line, thinking that if it moves an inch, we have lost.

Winning and losing is the world’s idea, a system created to put us against each other, a scheme that keeps you buying more and padding your life with degrees, homes, clothes, work, communities, religions and people who will make you feel like a winner. Its promise is, Buy me, take this, believe me and I will keep you from losing.

Are we soldiers with a territory to lose or are we neighbors with people to love? Women and men, children and teens, babies and preschoolers cobbling a life together in a broken world, picking up the pieces of our own mistakes and failures of others, clay spinning on a wheel in the hand of a potter who is forming us, shaping us, creating a piece that will be unrecognisable to our eyes when he is finished.

We don’t get to decide what he will do with someone else’s life. We don’t get to decide what he will do with ours.

Making our table a place for all to gather and for all lives to be shared, acknowledged and honoured tells a better story: God is in charge. He is working his way through human hearts, he gets to decide how the clay spins, he picks where to smoothen out and where to stretch. He decides what needs to go and what needs to stay.

We get to open our homes and our hearts. We get to set the table, pass the peach cobbler, and raise our glasses. We get to bow our heads and pray, Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be your name.

Your kingdom come.

Your will be done.

On earth.

As it is in heaven.

Now it’s your turn: How can you connect with someone outside your circle of comfort? What keeps you from doing it? Could you call or email someone today? What questions could you ask them?

Welcome to My Daily Bread & Butter, I’m Devi, it’s great to “meet” you. If you’re new here, this page will give you a bit more information about me and browse the archives to read more. I love to write about food, family and faith at the table; hopefully what you’ve read today was food for your mind and heart. I love to hear from readers, so comment away or email if you prefer. If you want to receive these posts straight to your inbox, just scroll to the very bottom and subscribe. I’m more active on Instagram, so follow me there if it’s your thing. And if this post resonated with you, there are a few others of its kind in The Table archives.

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Saturdays are for expectations. I wake with thoughts of rest, time off, brunches and exciting expeditions, ideas that are rarely shared by my three-year-old when he wakes up at 6:30am. Nevermind my five-year-old who would rather ride a bike than read a newspaper with a coffee.

It took me years to realize I left most of my weekends heavy with disappointment and frustrated by unmet expectations. What has made our weekends a bit lighter? Staying present, focusing on the need, whether it is for food or extra play time or another round of hide and seek. Expectations put me in the future, staying present keeps me grounded today. I need this to thrive. Also, I do tell Husband when I need time off because 30 minutes in a coffee shop can fill me up in ways many things do not. It may not be brunch, but it is something.

Here’s to a happy weekend for you and yours, and if you’ve got a few minutes, these reads filled up my heart and mind this week.

How to Survive the Election because I cannot be the only one out there who is so finished with the US elections. And for the love, I don’t even live there. These are sound tips for anyone who wants to stay sane, healthy and whole until November

Police officers surprise an autistic boy when no one came to his party I read this and cried. There is nothing harder than watching a child struggle to connect with his or her peers.

Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls by Nichole Nordeman she wrote most of the songs of my teen years, and her words in this post brought ears to my eyes. So much truth and beauty, give it a read if you’ve been through a hard season and are doubting that there are good things in God’s heart for you.

Korean BBQ Yum Yum Rice Bowls We will be eating these soon.

And if you need some ideas about how to get more rest in your life, here are four small changes that are helping me get more rest in my life.

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Rest. You’ve seen this word come up in my writing week after week. It was almost two years ago when I first realized I need to celebrate a Sabbath weekly, meaning we chose as a family to set apart one day a week when we we not work. We did it regularly for a while, but then it faded, life piled on. I put no boundaries on my work, so it seeped into everything. But I kept circling back to rest. I longed for my heart to find a space of silence, I hungered for rest for my mind.

You, too? Every corner of our world is shouting at us, telling us to work harder, be more, get more, buy more. If you take a moment to catch your breath, you can feel you need to try harder while failing at the same time. Work, busyness, creation is celebrated as the answer, but maybe what you’re looking for is rest, permission to stop, permission to say, “I can’t do it all.” 

In the middle of all of this, I “met” Shelly Miller online, and I found a home in her beautiful blog. She’s passionate about Sabbath celebrations, and her weekly Sabbath Society emails started arriving in my inbox. Week after week I read gracious, gentle words about Sabbath, why it mattered, why rest is beautiful and how to honour it (you can sign up for the emails here and pre-order Shelly’s book about Sabbath keeping, Rhythms of Rest here and here). Even in the many weeks when I was busy all days of the week, the minutes I took to read the email gave me moments of rest. Now it is the fuel I need to keep going.

We have slowly been working our way back to a weekly Sabbath celebration from Saturday evening to Sunday evening – I don’t believe it matters what day of the week is set aside for rest, but I think it is necessary to set aside a specific day or amount of time. Here are four small, weekly lifestyle changes that have made a big difference for us.

1 Work hard. Maybe this has been the most ironic thing about disciplining myself to rest. Rest requires hard work. It means that Saturday is no longer a sit around and relax day, Friday is often busy as well. I make sure the laundry is washed and hung up somewhere where I can’t see it, or folded and put away. Dishes are washed. Food is bought, put away or cooked. We bring our home to a state of order. Often I get snack bags ready for Sunday. In the middle of this work, when I’m tempted to leave things undone, Sabbath is my motivation. I get to not do anything tomorrow, so get this done now. 

2 Simplify. We’ve started eating the same dinner on Saturday and Sunday nights – the abend brod, German for evening bread. In Husband’s home in Germany every night the dinner is always the same: bread, butter, a selection of cold meats, cheeses, pickles and cherry tomatoes. I never understood cold food that isn’t a salad until I found weekends even more exhausting than the week because I was cooking all the time. German women are smart, the abend brod saves time and energy, and it’s easily repeated week after week (as a meal, as an item on a grocery list, as food my children will eat with joy and zero whining).

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3  Find daily pockets of rest. Yesterday I had a rare nap from one of my children, and suddenly had an hour of silence. I instinctively reached for my laptop for no reason, and I felt nausea wash over me. I’ve learned to listen to my body. I set it down, and picked up The Year of Cozy instead. I thumbed through it, and let the photos and the beauty minister to my soul. It was only 15 minutes but a solid soul exhale. Even in the middle of the hard work, it has given me so much to take 10 minutes here, 15 minutes there of soul rest. For me it usually means listening to a few songs that bring rest, reading a book, looking at something beautiful, the scent of something I love. It reminds me daily that rest matters, and it gives me even more reason to crave and work for the full day of rest.

4 Light candles. I learned this in Sweden: Everything looks better, feels better, is better by candlelight. Our boys are easily quieted by the flickering lights, and the promise that they can blow it out when the meal is finished. It’s a gentle, beautiful touch that sets this day apart. Bonus? It’s easy and cheap.

Now it’s your turn: How’s your resting life? What small changes can you do to bring more rest to your life? 

Maybe you’re frustrated by the list of big goals but wanting to seize your life and change? Small changes are for the rest of us, the ones whose dreams mock us from the sidelines, the ones who yearn for change but know they can’t just shove everything to one side. We do it bit by bit, piece by piece, and we believe that each piece is making a difference. If you want to read more about small changes, you can start here 3 Small Things That Make a Big Difference.