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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
It was last week ago when I saw the news. I follow a popular food blogger on Instagram, she has over 150,000 followers, and she was telling us that Instagram is switching to an algorithm-based feed as opposed to a chronological-order one.
And I could feel a sinking, twisting feeling in my stomach.
My guess is you fall into three groups of people. You use Instagram and are annoyed by the supposed-changes to make the platform more like Facebook. You use Instagram (or don’t) and don’t care. You have no idea what I’m talking about.
If you’re in team three, I promise these words are not about technology, and I promise I am not offering tips about how to beat the algorithm, and I also promise to limit the use of the word algorithm starting now.
This is about social media and the sinking feeling in my stomach.
Because this is what went through my head in the seconds after reading the food bloggers post: Who will see my work now? I was just getting started. She has tens of thousands of followers, and she’s concerned she will lose visibility, influence and business? I have no hope.
I quit social media last August. I had just heard about Periscope, and it hit me: There will be a new social media platform every few months. There is absolutely no way I can keep up with this, but more importantly, I don’t even want to. I was not wired to try to draw attention to who I am and what I do through platforms. Why did I start writing? I wanted to tell stories.
It was true for the little girl I was in a small Filipino town when the stories were imaginary and scratched out by shaky cursive on lined paper. It was true when I reported and wrote for my university newspaper about favourite professors, changes to curriculum and the sexual habits of Christian young adults. If anything, blogging has been one of the weirdest writing phases because the storytelling has been less about other people and more about myself, but it is still storytelling. Writing and reading stories has always been my first love, and I realized in August that using social media to generate attention for my stories was soul-draining and creativity-killing work for me.
Then we moved to Australia, and there was no time to write or to do anything other than keep my sons from killing each other, making sure there were chicken nuggets and fish sticks in the freezer, and taking a shower once a month. But after a while, I missed Instagram. I missed taking photos. I missed sharing quick thoughts. What changed? I stopped looking at Instagram as a means to gaining greater influence, and I started seeing it as a new expression of creativity. I have very little time these days to write and photograph, but the ideas in my head have not stopped. When I have no outlet for my ideas or my creativity, I become cranky at best, angry and frustrated at worst. Instagram provided me with a space to share thoughts immediately when I didn’t have time to develop it into an essay. It let the thought fly away, my head was clearer, my afternoons were happier.
But still there it was when I saw her post last week. The twisting. The sinking.
The thoughts came back to me in the days that followed, Who will see my work now? What chance do I have? No matter how much I focused on creating, I was still motivated by who saw my posts and how it impacted my blog stats. Maybe you’re on Instagram and you have thought it as well? Maybe you have no idea what Instagram is, but you’ve been making baby steps toward something you want, a new project, a degree, a promotion at work, a relationship, but something came up unexpectedly and you feel left behind and confused, like someone switched the plan, and you don’t know what to do next.
I don’t have answers, but I’m sharing here what I am telling myself.
Platforms come and go but people last forever. If you aren’t into social media, just substitute your thing for platforms (degrees come and go but people last forever, houses come and go but people last forever, etc.). I come back to this truth because it is my boundary line. People are eternal, and the investment I make in a person’s life is always an eternal investment. I may do that through a warm meal or a blog post, but the destination is ultimately the same, I want the life I’m interacting with to experience the love of God and the beauty of truth. How we make our investments is up to us and based on our unique wiring, but these deposits are worthy of our time, attention and love.
If something sparks fear, it needs to go. Fear, insecurity, comparison, none of these things are healthy fuel for a life of creativity, purpose and meaning. Our car runs on unleaded fuel, and it will die if I fill it with diesel (I think, I’m out of my depth here with a car analogy). We were not created to be motivated by fear. Your life was made by love, it is redeemed by perfect love, it is given purpose because of love, and you were made to run on love, and perfect love casts out all fear. For me this may mean quitting Instagram again, I’m not sure. For now it means ignoring all calls to turn on notifications and liking posts I don’t like for the sake of having it show up in my newsfeed.
Trust and work. Who will see my work now? I can trust that whomever needs to see my work will see it. The end. There is enough attention to go around. There is enough space in the world for me, there is enough space in the world for you. There is space for us to share our lives with each other.
It is the system of this world to make everyone, absolutely everyone, feel like their life is lacking. Scarcity drives our purchases, our values, our politics and our economies.
Radical trust is the only way to fight against the scarcity written into the fabric of our societies and our thinking. The radical trust that our lives are in hands that are bigger, stronger and good. The radical trust that my life and your life has a purpose and no person, platform or algorithm can get in the way of that.
So whatever you think about Instagram, here’s to a life free from fear and lack. We have everything we need. Because we have everything we need, we can create, we can live, we can love. We can do our work. Find the people who need your investment. Invest yourself. Let go of fear and go all in with people. Loving people is worth it. Trust that you have enough. Do the work you’ve been given to do. One day Instagram will be gone, the only thing twittering will be the birds, and we will teleport ourselves into each others’ living rooms, but the investment we made in each others lives will remain forever. So here’s to each other and a life not dominated or controlled by social media.
Now it’s your turn: What do you need to let go of? Where can you invest your life? And if you want to share, how are you processing social media these days?
I’m linking up with Jennifer and the #TellHisStory crew.
A Malaysian Airlines flight goes down over Ukraine, 298 people dead in an instant, taking with them decades of HIV/AIDS research, family life and memories. Israeli teens are kidnapped and murdered, a Palestinian teen’s life is snuffed away. Rockets fire into Israel, the mothers of Gaza hold 414 broken, lifeless bodies. Rachel is crying for her children. Hagar weeps for her sons.
Yezidis hide in the mountains with no water or food, surrounded by an enemy bent on their total destruction. Christians flee Mosul and Qaraqoush, they have no idea where they will go. Children are beheaded, women raped, men tortured and killed.
Bombs are falling in Gaza, bulldozers tearing down buildings leaving the rubble of an economy and dignity behind. Jets fly over Iraq dropping food, hoping for bombs to fall on men of evil, holding back an advance.
Bodies pile up in West Africa, 961 with blood flowing out of them as a disease shuts down borders and hospitals and lives and families and communities. There is no cure, the world scrambles to halt the spread.
Our broken world.
My one-year-old and three-year-old sit on their matching red IKEA chairs at a red table, outside in a beautiful, spacious garden. The air is cool, it’s a perfect summer evening, and they munch contentedly on ears of corn and sauteed asparagus. They smile at me, I smile back, we talk about the day, playing, about the wonder that is corn. Husband will be home in a few minutes, we’ll dress up and go out for tapas, slicing our knives into perfectly seared tuna with pickled ginger and pea puree on the side.
And it feels unspeakably wrong because I’m thinking about a mother in Mosul as she hides with her children, praying for another day, I’m thinking about a father hiding in a cave hearing his children beg for water and food when there is none.
Shame and guilt are unproductive at best, evil at worst, and I can pray, grieve, remember, give and advocate without both. If you’re like me, living with our western comforts and safety and feeling uncomfortable, your guilt serves no purpose. It doesn’t make anyone’s life better, all it does is rob you of your ability to do something now.
In heartbreaking times I want to shake off my guilt and live this way instead:
Pray I am a person of faith, when I pray, I pray in the name of Jesus and believe that God listens, hears and acts. I am praying that he will draw near to the brokenhearted, to bind up their wounds, that he will come and heal bodies and spirits and hearts, that he will rescue from the dominion of darkness and transfer to a kingdom of light, I pray that hearts and spirits will be opened, that a flood of justice will flow down, that the world will see and hear and know Truth.
Grieve and remember This feels small and insignificant, but I do it anyway. I keep the stories of loss in my heart, reminding me that I am human, I am connected to those who suffer, and that one day I, too, may suffer great physical and emotional trauma. Because the loss of human life is always a tragedy. We were not meant to die, we were intended for life. I read the news, in balance, and try to keep myself informed. I try to give my toddler appropriate information, right now it sounds like, There is a country called Iraq and there are people and kiddos there going through a very sad time, so we are thinking about and praying for them. As they age, they will receive more information because I refuse to raise ignorant, materialistic, over-privileged kids.
Advocate There will be many assylum seekers and refugees who come out of Iraq. Wherever you live but especially if you live in the United Kingdom, United States, Australia and other European nations, talk to your politicians about keeping their policies welcoming toward assylum seekers. Look for and help refugee and assylum seeker organizations in your cities to find housing for people as they come in and provide food, clothes and education.
Give There are several organizations doing frontline work that are I’m sure in need of financial support.
Preemptive Love Coalition are in Iraq offering heart surgeries for Iraqi children. Please go through this website – they do a unique, necessary work in this troubled nation. The founder and director Jeremy Courtney’s twitter feed is also a great source of information from someone on the ground in Iraq.
World Vision has suspended it’s program in Gaza for security reasons, but intends to reopen as soon as possible. They are currently supporting injured children and families with its Psychological First Aid and hospitals with medical supplies.
Live I will choose to look for the goodness of God in the land of the living, I will see the beauty in a sunrise, the cool air against my skin, I will rejoice in it. When I watch my boys growing and changing and filled with life and joy, I will be thankful. I will keep entering into the beauty of each NOW moment, and I will do it as an act of war against the powers and principalities of evil in the world who want to remove beauty and joy and peace. I will choose not to be anxious about anything, I will choose not to feel guilty, and instead I will choose to pray for those whose lives are in unspeakable danger. I will choose thankfulness in all things and at all times because everything I have comes from the hand of God, a gift of grace unearned and unmerited.
These thoughts, these words have sat in my soul for months upon months aching to get out but with no release, and the truth is I have barely been able to write anything else as I’ve seen the reports from Syria and so many other places broken by ongoing conflicts. The faces of its victim are in my mind still, and their stories in my heart.
This is a heartbreaking human disaster that devastates Syrian lives today and the generations that will follow.
These are events that demand my attention and my action, and may I be honest? They demand your attention and your action as well. Immediately. Now. And for those of us who say we follow Jesus, who say we love Jesus, our love requires our actions. This isn’t something “out there” happening to “those people.” We may not know their names or stories, but we share their humanity, and we can do something.
You and I can’t make peace in Syria, but there hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees pouring into Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey and thousands more who are trying to get out for the sake of their lives and who are unable. They are facing the coldest winter in 30 years, and they will live through it in tents, huddling together to keep warm.
Via Twitter, I found out about Shoes for Syrian Refugees, an appeal by Think Eternity (read the story here). There’s less than two days left in this campaign and just under $2,000 left to raise. All of the money goes to grassroots organizations working with refugees.
Here are a few more organizations that need resources to continue the work they are doing in Syria: