Meditations on Food

For the past few weeks, every time I have something to say in youth group, it seems to relate to food. I love food. Food is glorious. Every step in the process of preparing a meal is beautiful. Except maybe the dishes afterwards, but that’s because it does not relate directly to food.

But yes, musings on food. I’ve been living in apartments for the past year and a half, which means I no longer eat in the school cafeteria. Nor do I have my parents around to do the cooking. So I have learned to shop, organize, and cook. Perhaps not very well, but adequately. Every shopping trip is beautiful. Firstly, we go as a family – all 3 or 4 or 5 of us college girls (and sometimes boys). It’s awesome to just hang out with close friends.

The bill at the end of the trip is usually quite terrifying – how on earth do we spend so very much?? But it’s also comforting. Every item on that bill, every item filling our overflowing shopping cart, is good. Our shopping cart is overflowing with goodness: fresh vegetables of a great variety, good meat, fruits (the special treat we give ourselves every shopping trip), sometimes we get salmon for the evening (my favorite meal), lots of milk and lots of eggs, bread. The least healthy item on the list is usually cold cereal, or crackers. Sometimes peanut butter, when we run out. At the end of the shopping trip, when we are loading the trunk of the car with all the goodies, we can’t help but feel a little proud of ourselves: look at us, we’re all grown up!

It’s beautiful. Yes, the bill is a little high (we are stocking up for two weeks, at least). But it is such a wonderful blessing! In this time, this place, God has provided that we are together – it is so beautiful to be able to live with such very close friends. In this time, and this place, God has provided us the money to buy good food. Good food isn’t cheap, and we are provided with such an overflowing abundance of it! We eat well. We dine like kings. Good, solid food is such a great, great blessing. And we are blessed to be reminded of it every other week, on our glorious shopping trips, where we chart out a beautiful future (of two weeks) filled with good food our God has filled this earth with.

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And then there’s the fellowship. Not just the 3 or 4 of us who happen to live together (or practically live together). Once or twice a week, we have friends show up, inviting themselves over for dinner. Our doors are always open, and I do usually try to feed you if you walk through around dinner time… though sometimes I let laziness take over… We’re rather proud of the fact that our door is always open, and that friends know they are always, always welcome. That is not to say I will entertain you with the best of my hostess abilities. Most of us are introverts, so while friends showing up randomly throughout the day might mean a loud, rowdy hour of good fun, it more often means an afternoon at our respective computers or books, doing our respective school work, collectively, in one shared space, which is just as beautiful.

Ah, but I was ranting about food. Once or twice a week, we have friends over for dinner. If I happen to cook, I may be cooking for as few as 3 people (the normal day), to as many as 17 people. (I think 17 is the record this semester. Last semester we made it to 21.) But food facilitates the best fellowship. I am excited about graduating from college, moving out, having my own apartment, and inviting people over. I am an introvert, so I do not necessarily know how to entertain people. My idea of entertainment is to feed people. I like feeding people. It is immensely satisfying feeding people. It is beautiful to be sprawled out across the apartment with a dozen friends, just eating and chatting. Food is the universal method of fellowship. It can be anything from a sandwiched shared on the lawn, to a lavish wedding banquet. In my house it will generally be rice, stir-fry, and pumpkin pies when in season.

When I can’t think up an excuse to hang out with friends (with the hectic schedules of college life, one almost does need an actual excuse to hang out), I invite them for dinner. No one turns down free food at college. Dinner always succeeds in summoning my loved ones from all corners of the campus, and we have a beautiful time together, eating the good food God has so graciously provided for us.

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Novemberness

I love Novembers. And it’s right around the corner. The chill is paving the grond with the golds and reds that only a short while ago clung so stubbornly to their branches. The sky seems bluer. The air is brisker. The smell of pumpkin pie, and the warmth of an oven. I love fall, don’t you?

Novembers are busy. Birthdays, too many of them, such glorious occasions, late night celebrations the evening before another test or paper or a long gruelling day of classes. Perhaps all the more glorious because of the impeeding doom of a teacher’s red pen. And there’s Thanksgiving, tailing the end of a second volley of midterms and papers, a short, sweet four days of forgetful bliss, soaked in the homesome smells and warmth of the season, studiously ignoring the distant threats of school while catching up with relatives, relatives so dearly loved and so rarely seen. And of course, more pumpking pie! and turkey, stuffing, corn on the cob, mashed potatoes. Oh, even the potatoes seem so much more perfect in that happy season. And the table around which loved ones gather. The adults arguing good-naturedly over theology or politics, the children playing tag among the chairs. But the days are as short as they are beautiful, and too soon we return to the cold college dorms and apartments to buckle down for the final volley of exams, sleepless nights, and a diet of hot coffee with cold florescent lights, before the blessed comfort of Christmas break arrives.

Fall is the smell of fresh-baked pumpking pie between frantic attemtps at school work. Perhaps I’ll toss in another shot at NaNoWriMo, that 50,000-word madness, just to stirr things up a bit.

The Burden of an Outsider

A member of my family was invited to speak at a small Chinese church once, kind of as “the outside expert.” It was an evening fellowship, which our entire family attended. After the service, we were approached by the pastor and a member of the church. The pastor encouraged this member (let me call him Victor) to talk to us, and let us pray for him. I instinctively knew that this was more than just wanting to talk to the foreigners, but I was not ready for what followed.

Victor had a drug problem. He had sworn off drugs, and has managed to stay off. But it still torments him. He stays up entire nights, hating himself for what he has done. He goes through the day shaky from exhaustion. He can’t help but think about drugs. “Just seeing your water bottle,” he told us, pointing at the water bottle from which my mother took a sip, “it reminds me of the old days, and I want to take it again.” And then he hates himself again for such thoughts. And then, at night he can’t sleep, tormented by the desire for drugs, the dread of the future, the horrors of the past.

Victor spilled his guts to us. Because we were the outsiders. We came as figures of some authority to this church. We could be trusted. Part of it was that we were outside his world, and we were unable to hurt him or judge him as his family or friends might. But part of it was also, being outsiders, it was almost as if we carried greater spiritual weight.

We listened to Victor spill his guts, telling us his darkest fears and tortures he kept even from his wife. We offered what little comfort or consul we could, knowing also that he’s heard it all before. But somehow, it still seemed to bring a little comfort. We then laid our hands on him and prayed for him. It was a more sincere and desperate prayer than I’ve prayed in a long time. At the end of the prayer, Victor looked tired, but well, like after a battle well fought.

That night, I suddenly realized a little of what it meant to be a missionary. Or even just the outsider Christian. I am young. I don’t know my Bible half as well as a whole lot of people in that church. I am not as mature as I would like. I know too little of the world. I have no idea what kind of advice to give. I am young, so young in the eyes of so many. But it does not matter. I am the outsider, which can carry a lot of weight I am not worthy of. Simply by being the outsider, I will have people approach me with heavier burdens than I could dream of. Hoping to serve in a land in which I hardly belong, I will be granted to look deeper into many hearts than most family and friends. It is a terrifying thought. A sobering thought. By God’s grace, I pray that I will be able to fill these shoes far too big for me. Only by God’s grace, would I be able to extend healing in places of hurt. I myself, I know, am too weak, too immature, too self-centered to touch another’s soul.

Pray for Victor. And pray for each of us, still young, but called by God to do great things beyond our wildest dreams. I know too well how ill prepared I am. But by God’s grace, we might not make too great a mess of things.

Pieces of New York

At Times Square:

A homeless man walked along the great glass windows of a restaurant, tapping, tapping away with a cane he did not need to guide him. “I’m hungry and I just want some food,” he cried. “I’m hungry and I just want some food.” My friend and I walked past him, then stopped a few feet past, looked at each other, almost shyly, and asked, “should we?” Of course we should. We doubled back and caught the attention of the man. “Um…” we said, “if you wait here a bit, we can get you a sandwich at that Starbucks.” We pointed across the street to a Starbucks.

He begins rummaging in his pockets. “I don’t want you to do this for nothing,” he says, taking out two Starbucks gift cards. I was slightly surprised. “I’ll give you these,” he says over our already shaking heads, “and you give me some money so I can buy it myself.”

“No. We can’t do that.” We say uncertainly, “If you’d like, we can buy you a sandwich. Or you can come and choose, if you want…”

“I want to give these to you. Just give me a little money, and I can buy the food I want.”

We started getting firm. “If you really want food, we can buy you a sandwich. But that’s all.”

“You don’t understand, ladies.” he said in a pleading tone, holding out those cards. “You don’t understand! I don’t want a sandwich…”

My friend and I continued shaking our heads, trying to walk away without seeming rude, having realized what the man was actually asking for.

“You don’t understand,’ he said again, pained, pleading, “please.”

We turned, walking away and trying to ignore his pleading, stretched out hands.

“You don’t understand!” I heard behind us, and I tried so hard to shrink into myself.

Indeed, we did not understand. How could we? with our lives so comfortable, so secure, that there was never any real reason for escape. I could not understand the appeal of drugs. I could not understand the torments of withdrawal. I could not understand a life made up of flashes of ecstasy, or perhaps blissful forgetfulness, and the long stretches in between of misery and hunger and loneliness and depression in between. I could not understand the tortures which drive a man to ask for more of this when he was already starving. That painful, pleading, “you do not understand, ladies!” And his eyes, his desperate, pleading eyes. It hurts, because, oh, how little we understood. We turned our backs and left, fleeing something we could not comprehend. I, at least, was also fleeing those pleading eyes. I imagined their accusation. That hurt too. Here was a man, broken, desperate, in need of so much more. And we simply walked away. We gave him nothing. We simply didn’t understand.

Pieces of Hong Kong – a new blog

Over the summer, I’ll be keeping (hopefully) a more regular blog about a city I love… (I’m thinking once-a-week-ish.)

The blog will be very different from this one. For one thing, it will be far less personal. There will be snippets of daily life. There will probably be one or two political rants (one’s brewing violently at the moment…). There will be photos (when I finally get around to clearing my memory card), of Hong Kong. And there will be stories of people I come across. Maybe even interviews! :D But hopefully there will be very little of me (except for my voice and vision and all that good stuff).

Secondly, Our City, as my new blog is titled, is firstly written in Chinese. (It is partially to keep my Chinese writing skills honed). I write each entry in Chinese, then translate it to English. Thus it is actually two blogs, the Chinese one, and its English counterpart. Not that it makes any real difference for readers, except that the English blog may be updated a little later.

Here it is in English: http://hkhearteng.wordpress.com/

And in Chinese: http://hkheart.wordpress.com/

Still a little work to be done with the header and layout and stuff. But I’m sure you’ll make do.

Finally, Beneath the Olive Trees will remain my primary blog, even if I do update the other one more often. This is, ultimately, the place where I share the more important parts of me, the place where I talk to friends, the place where one would actually get to know me (assuming I post… :p). Beneath the Olive Trees is my blogging home. Our City is a summer project.

With love,

LS