Come, Dine With Me

Maybe your relationship with food has been a rocky one. So has mine. I remember being eleven years old and already not liking this body that housed my soul. My mom is one of those moms who keeps everything. A few years ago she gave me one of my childhood diaries that she had kept. It’s a small, butter yellow diary, still scented after all these years, with some kind of perfume that instantly takes me back to girlhood whenever I breathe it in. One of my childhood best friends gave it to me as a gift on my tenth birthday; her inscription, in girly, child-like writing, rests on the inside cover. My friend’s mom, hot glued cream lace around the front cover and little yellow roses and ribbon bows on each corner. This diary was the keeper of my secrets, and all the drama that goes along with those middle school years. In April of 1991, my little eleven year old self decided to go on my very first diet, because, even at this tender age, I believed that my body already was not good enough. I cannot remember how I knew this about myself, but I just knew that I wasn’t “right”. On a Saturday, I recorded my starting weight of eighty four pounds, and by that Monday I had lost two pounds. I remember checking books out of the library on how to count calories and measure my food, so I began to do this. The first time, it lasted for five days, and I lost five pounds. I was eighty four pounds, and had a goal weight of seventy three pounds. I didn’t reach my goal that time, so it wasn’t long before I would start again, and again, and again, from the time I was eleven years old, my relationship with food has been tenuous. 

Being almost forty and more self aware, I can see things clearer now. I feel an aching, real grief for that little girl who entered that world of disordered eating so early. I feel such compassion for her. I know that she thought that if she weighed a certain number on the scale she would be lovable – loved. It is just now that I understand what she had been -has been- searching for. The reality is that I have been loved my entire life. Of course I have been, by the Creator of the universe Who breathed life into me, and took painstaking care to make every part of who I am – the One Who calls me His beloved. I have always been deeply loved by two parents, siblings, and so many family and friends. Yet, my entire life, I have battled to feel loved. It has presented itself in so many different ways, but one way that has impacted me, maybe the most, is this relationship with food and with my body. So maybe it makes perfect sense that I would write a book on food and the table and the community we find inside of that. Maybe it is a way to do the hard work of finally resting in my belovedness.

It is true that I find beauty and deep connection in food and the table, but I also bear very real scars. I still wrestle the same demons that my eleven year old self wrestled. Maybe the delight and joy that I write of when I share a favorite recipe, and describe the tastes that dance on my tongue, and the way these experiences have connected people around my table sounds foreign to you, because of your own battle with food. That’s okay. There is still space for you at my table. I don’t want you to leave, and I don’t want you to feel alone, because you are not alone. I have been in your seat, and too many days I still am. Let’s stay at the table together. I believe the way forward begins with compassion – compassion for ourselves that in turn turns outward to others. I believe that our relationship with food is a spiritual one, as all of life is spiritual. As much as we claim otherwise, we don’t and can’t live compartmentalized lives. So all of life is spiritual, and this includes coming to the table to nourish our bodies and to find communion in our relationships. It’s our stories that bring us back to the table and it is our stories that keep us there. I don’t have another cure for this struggle with our relationship with food and our bodies that has not already been stated in hundreds of other excellent books and by much wiser people than myself. Of course we have freedom in and through Jesus, but life – our spiritual journey – is a process. In real life, many times, freedom does not just happen over night, or with enough faith. It just doesn’t. So, dear ones, yes, you, the one who stepped on the scale this morning and immediately started the day on the wrong foot, the one who feels immense shame for the extra chocolate chips she gobbled down behind a closed door, the precious ones who love their current bodies, the ones who simply use food as fuel, yes, you, come. Please come. Come to my table, sit awhile, dine with me, it’s our stories that weave us together as we continue to learn the beauty of tasting and knowing that indeed God is good, and we are loved – more loved than we have ever imagined.

{an unedited excerpt from my manuscript}

 

DSC_0051 A page from the scented diary of my eleven year old self.

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The Power of the Table

The older I get and the farther removed I grow from the white-washed flannelgraph Jesus of my childhood, the more in awe I am of the actual Jesus. As a lover of food and the kitchen, I especially love how much Jesus ate with people during His life on earth. I think it is a significance that we have often overlooked. We tend to focus on His sermons and His miracles, and the proper ministry portions of His life, but what about the everyday life of Jesus – the ordinary? Perhaps there is even more to learn from these mundane moments of Jesus’ life on earth. Have you ever wandered through the gospels and took notice of how much ministry happened around a table and with food shared among friends? Meals around the table were such a significant part of Jesus’ everyday life. The table was a precious part of Who Jesus was and how He lived. What is perhaps so startling is the kinds of people that Jesus invited to His table. They were not the pristine looking religious people, but rather quite the opposite.

Later Jesus and his disciples were at home having supper with a collection of disreputable guests. Unlikely as it seems, more than a few of them had become followers. The religion scholars and Pharisees saw him keeping this kind of company and lit into his disciples: ‘What kind of example is this, acting cozy with the riffraff?'” Mark 2:15-16 MSG

Jesus’ choice to invite these people to the table was no doubt very intentional. He was blatantly ignoring the social norms of His culture and even the religious laws of purity. But these were the very people that Jesus continually chose to invite to His ‘Supper Club’. As these people sat around the table eating and drinking, and let’s just be authentic here – partying – with the Son of God, they were exposed to a little bit of heaven – to the Kingdom breaking into the ordinary rhythms of daily life. It was life-changing for many of these people who had been spit out by religion, but had been offered a seat at the table with Jesus and His friends. These people got a glimpse into a new and better way to live – they got a taste of a new life – of the kingdom breaking into earth. It was like the appetizer before the main meal – a taste of what is to come.

Our culture is not really a dinner table culture anymore. We live in a high-speed, fast-food country that celebrates individualism and isolation.  Although, we so easily curate status updates on our social media, and have a false sense of community through these outlets, the truth is, so many of us cling to our privacy. But there is still power to be found around the table. The dinner table is relational and communal and everything opposite of private and isolated. The table is the antidote for loneliness; it is a powerful expression of inclusion and friendship and belonging. Food ties us together, when it is eaten together.

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If I am to be a representation of Jesus on earth, which I am, then perhaps meals around a table with guests should be a significant part of my life. When we set a table, whether it be with perfectly coordinated dishes and wine goblets or paper plates and red party cups, when we serve a carefully prepared gourmet meal or buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken with our neighbors, our co-workers, our community, we are inviting the Kingdom to break into the ordinary rhythms of life. We are giving people a safe place to belong; many times people who do not feel like they belong in the chairs in our churches but are comfortable in the chairs at our table. We are nourishing bellies, and we are nourishing souls. We offer people a sanctuary to be covered in grace, to taste a new and different way to live, to experience sacred love. If you eat, which you do, and can put food on a table, which you can, then you can pull out a chair and invite a guest – even a disreputable one – to join you for a meal at your dinner table. And the more we become comfortable with this, the more our table expands, our reach extends, and we  discover that the table has become one of the most beautiful, authentic mission fields that we have ever been to – all without leaving the comfort of our homes.

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