Becoming Bethany

Observations on becoming and being

Month: January, 2016

Dinnertime

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When I think about home, I think about dinner at the table with my family.

Dinnertime was my favorite part of the day when I lived at home with my family. For most of my childhood my mom cooked dinner and my dad was home for dinner almost every night of the week. We were expected to sit at dinner through the whole meal until everyone was finished and ask to be excused. With a big family, this meant that dinnertime could be most of an hour. But it never felt boring or tedious. We were rarely antsy to get up and leave because we enjoyed it. My dad and mom would talk about their days and ask us about ours. We talked about small things like the number of grapefruits my sister had collected from under the tree that day and also really big things like how our solar system fits into our galaxy and the universe. We could not tattle and we could not talk about gross things at the table (or someone would lose her appetite) but other than that, pretty much any topic was open for discussion.

My parents invited people over for dinner at least a few times a month and having people over for dinner just elevated the enjoyment of the dinner experience. Sometimes my siblings and I would get so excited about having company coming over that we would get too wound up to sit nicely once they actually got there. But the consequence of being made to leave the table was usually enough to get us to settle down. We did not want to miss out on the conversation with even more grown-ups at the table. I do not remember if my mom cooked special or different food but it always seemed to taste better when we had guests.

It was not until I got to college that I found out that this is not what dinnertime is like for every family. I did not know that having a mom who cooks dinner every night is actually pretty rare. And having parents who really like talking with their kids (however young) is pretty rare too. I don’t like the word “lucky” but that is how I came to feel about my childhood dinner experiences. And when I realized how rare they were, I valued them even more.

Sometimes I liked eating dinner at the college cafeteria. When I found a group of people to sit with who wanted to talk, I really enjoyed my meal. I did not enjoy eating when it meant just ten minutes to shove food in my mouth or when I was sitting with people who were not used to conversation being part of the eating experience. And is there anyone who enjoyed those cafeteria meals when you can’t find anyone to sit with so you just eat alone?

I married someone who really enjoyed dinnertime as well. We both valued the time to cook and then sit and eat good food. Taking time in the evening to talk and ignore the phone, work, and everything else for a little while. Our goal was to eat at least 3 dinners a week together in an intentional way and most weeks we far surpassed that just because we enjoyed it so much. It once again became the part of the day I most looked forward to. I so enjoyed having dinner with him that even when he worked a late schedule, some nights I would wait for dinner until 10 or 10:30pm just so we could eat together. The food never tasted as good eating it by myself.

Our first Thanksgiving together, we cooked our first turkey and invited several families for the meal. As intimidating as hosting that first holiday meal might have been, the thought of sitting at a holiday table with just the two of us was even more intimidating. We spent weeks planning that meal and enjoyed every minute of it. We made it a habit to invite people for dinner as often as we could even if it was just something as simple as hamburgers and even when we lived in a house that was so small that when we had two people over, we had to eat the meal outside.

When I think about divorce, I think about eating alone.

In the first couple months of being alone, I tried to make dinner plans with friends for almost every night because I just would not cook and eat alone. It was more sad and painful and lonely to eat dinner alone than to just pretend it was not dinner time. The end of the work day would come and instead of eagerly looking forward to being home and cooking dinner, I would dread walking into an empty kitchen and sitting at an empty table. No one to cook with, no one to eat with, no one to enjoy dinnertime with.

But as with all changes in life, I slowly adapted. As I got used to being single again, I got used to eating alone. I cook dinner most weeknights because I like the ritual of preparing food at the end of the day and eating something warm. I still miss dinnertime though and sometimes I forget or ignore that. Sometimes you miss something so deeply and for so long that you forget you are missing it. But the dull ache of longing is still there.

This week a friend cooked a delicious meal and brought it over so we could eat dinner together. We spent a couple hours talking and really taking the time to enjoy our meal. It was beautiful, delicious, and so soul-enriching. I remembered why I love dinnertime so much. I remembered why I value the tradition of sitting down and relishing a meal at a table at the end of the day. And I remembered how wonderful it is to have someone cook dinner for you and to eat with you – it is a gift.

It is another gift I want to add to my list of giving and receiving well this year: dinnertime. So let me know when you are coming over and I will cook something yummy and I will put a tablecloth on the table and maybe even pull out my pretty dishes and we will have dinner.

Gifts

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On Christmas day I watched Babette’s Feast for the fourth or fifth time. I have enjoyed each viewing but this time I saw something I had not seen before. In my previous experiences with the film, I had always identified with the French chef in exile. She is in a strange wilderness land having lost her whole family and her whole life but she does not let her artistic soul die within her and when she has the chance to share her art again, she does. She gives all she has and the result is a beautiful feast shared with the whole village. I have always admired her example as an artist and a sacrificial giver and I aspire to be like Babette.

But this time, instead of identifying with the giver, I saw myself in the simple, overly pious, uncultured villagers. Worried about the excess that went into preparing the meal, they are hesitant to even taste the food because it is strange and not their usual porridge. Even after tasting the food, they still have no idea they are being served by one of the most famous chefs in Europe. They do not know the value of the gift they are receiving.

After the film ended, in the quietness of Christmas evening, I was left silent and convicted. How many gifts am I given that I do not recognize for the gifts they are?

I think I am better at giving than receiving. I think I am better at being needed than needing. I think I am better at hosting that being hosted. I think I am better at loving than being loved.

It feels stronger, nobler, and more selfless to give and sacrifice but maybe I also just feel more in control? Why do I assume that receiving and needing and even being loved are inherently more selfish actions?

It feels like weakness to need. I often feel unworthy to receive. I am sometimes hesitant to allow myself to be loved. There are gifts I refuse because they seem too lavish and grand to take them – they can feel like excess.

For 2016, I want to learn to receive well and fully the gifts I am given. I want to be better at identifying gifts as they are given, fully experiencing and relishing them, and recognizing their value. I do not want to be ashamed of my need, lack, and want. They are part of living and part of what can make being in community so special. Taking turns giving and receiving – sometimes even in the same interaction. I want to keep learning to give and sacrifice but I also want to learn to receive and accept more graciously as well.

I am nervous of how aware of my great need and the world’s great need I could become and how little I actually have to offer. But this is not an economy of tracking how much is given and how much is received and trying to reconcile accounts so that they are equal. Gifts are not currency. It is an economy of somehow both giving all and also receiving all.