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.
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
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.
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.”
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.
1Work 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).
3Find 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.
4Light 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.
I rolled over the other day, and said to Husband, I miss Sweden. Only a few words, but this was more than homesickness. It’s the sadness that follows me around even though life in Australia has been more than good. Sadness that cannot be shaken, not by gratitude or numbering my blessings or coffees or warm weather. Fatigue can wash over me in the middle of the day, and I’m still surprised with the overwhelm when it comes to making simple decisions, the energy I do not seem to have for connecting with people.
I am 34 now, and I have two boys under five in tow. You could say that life on the move, all that carrying on, caught up with me.
I tell myself that this move to Melbourne should be easy, the easiest I’ve made in my life. I have family and friends here, a support system is in place. I can read, speak and write in English. I can make a bank transfer again. I know where everything is. People are helpful and friendly, white-sand beaches are less than a 30-minute drive away, cafes and delicious food are everywhere.
But there are emotions, events and fears I picked up from carrying on, and I was carrying them everywhere.
I started 2016 on a personal retreat, and I took Soulkeeping by John Ortberg with me. Toward the end of the book there is a chapter about rest. He writes about the Christian life, how it is not easy and is not supposed to be easy. We know this, don’t we? We’ve read the book about holiness and not happiness, we know to expect suffering, even to rejoice in suffering.
You know this. You are mothers, fathers, brothers, sons, daughters, friends, sisters in far flung places, fighting your daily battles. You’ve argued with with your boss, studied for exams, wrestled children who don’t listen. There’s an illness in your family with no diagnosis. You wonder how much longer you can live paycheck-to-paycheck. You’re walking out a difficult marriage day after day. Or maybe you’re just unsettled wherever you are in the life that you have and there is no explanation.
You know that God has not called you to easy.
I never expected my life to be easy. When it comes to hard work or the incoming “hard” thing, I’ve always thought, This is from God. But Ortberg continued.
The Bible uses the word easy only once. It came from Jesus. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened…and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
‘Easy’ is a soul word, not a circumstance word. The soul was not made for an easy life. The soul was made for an easy yoke.
We have the punishing voice of productivity saying, “Do more. Be more” and the distressed words of anxiety on the other, “It will not work out. It will all fail.” And this is the heavy, hard yoke that was not meant for our shoulders.