One Hundred Happy Days

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“True festivity both comes from our delights and spurs us to new rejoicing in a constant spiral. Hard times are not a hindrance to celebration; instead, they help us know how much we need revelry to open our minds and hearts to gratitude for what we have failed to notice.” Marva Dawn

F_NicoleJ

My baby girl is a busy girl. She demands all of me most of the day, and even when she naps, I am never really sitting still or resting because there is always something that needs to be done. For the last three weeks, she has woken up at least once during the night. This has meant that I have not had an uninterrupted night’s rest for almost a month. Because I struggle to function on less than seven hours of sleep, these three weeks have taken a toll on me physically, emotionally and psychologically.

In the midst of this exhaustion came an invitation that I wanted to ignore, but could not as something within me compelled me to accept it. A friend invited me to participate in the 100 happy days challenge, a challenge to find joy amidst the suffering. Each day I am tasked to reflect on what made me happy or what fills me with gratitude, to capture it photographically, and share it via my chosen social media platform using the hashtag #100happydays.

This challenge made it possible for me to live what Marva Dawn describes above. My celebrating the little things that made me happy or that filled me with gratitude in the day, I was able to reflect on that which, in the midst of exhaustion, I might have failed to notice. I was given a tool to see the extraordinary and sacred in the ordinary and mundane. And this led me to thinking about the relationship between food and “feasting,” a reflection that revealed another aspect of our amazing, mysterious God.

Let me explain.

Food and I haven’t always had the healthiest relationship. For many years now, I have known that I am an emotional eater. When I am happy, I can happily munch on salad, and not miss decadent savoury or sweet foods; when I am sad, then I eat everything in sight. Let me be clear. When these food binges kicked in, I never craved carrots or celery sticks. Rich, restaurant foods–three course meals, of course–savoury crackers with rich cheeses, whole, home-made pizzas, triple chocolate sundae desserts … you get the picture.

Since being in therapy, and engaging with other tools, such as the Enneagram, I have a much healthier relationship with food. I am a more conscious eater now, and when my eating starts to lean towards the more decadent foodstuff, I am more able to recognise it as a sign of unprocessed emotional turmoil that is lurking in my subconscious.

My passionate love affair with food during the earlier years could, to others, have looked like feasting, if feasting is understood as eating plentiful quantities of sumptuous foods. But when I reflect on my relationship with food when I am healthy, I realise that “feasting” is so much more than eating plentiful quantities of sumptuous foods. Feasting is something that is actually holy, sacred, because true feasting feeds not only your body, but your whole being. And this understanding of feasting is modelled by God.

As I sat and reflected on this month’s theme of “feasting,” I was surprised when Psalm 23 came to mind, particularly verse 5:

“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” —Psalm 23:5 (NRSV)

I read and re-read this verse, and felt that it did not “feel” that it communicated feasting well enough for me. I then pulled out a copy of The Message. And bam! That paraphrase captured the decadent, plentiful aspect of “feasting” well:

“You serve me a six-course dinner right in front of my enemies. You revive my drooping head; my cup brims with blessing.” Psalm 23:5 (The Message)

The phrase, “in the presence of/right in front of my enemies” offered me a clue that this feast was more than physical satiation. My studying of this passage led me to rummaging through unpacked boxes for my Jewish Study Bible, and there I found confirmation of that which I was feeling in my spirit in the footnotes of this Psalm.

There I read about a God who leads “his people to nourishment and safety (vv.1-4), keeping them alive and protecting them”, and about a God who hosts the psalmist at his banquet table (vv.5-6). And the banquet table is not just one which is filled with food; no, this is a table through which God provides “luxurious care of the psalmist.”

Reading this psalm through lenses shaped by my current life experiences, I was able to understand an added depth of meaning that the Holy Spirit was inviting me to see. In Psalm 23, God was revealing God’s self to me as the God who prepares feasts in the midst of suffering, feasts that nourishes my entire being, body, soul and spirit. In these past few months, God’s feasting tables have featured a wide variety of occasions that truly fed my entire being:

  • * Baby girl’s baptism, a day filled with so many rich experiences. My husband and I holding our daughter as our church family sang, “Welcome to the Family”; being invited to participate in the presentation of the bread and wine on the altar alongside our minister; looking out over the congregation and seeing how many people came to celebrate our daughter; having more than 100 friends and family come and celebrate baby girl at our new home.
  • Conversations with wise friends that helped me recognise and navigate this new territory of post-placement depression and anxiety;
  • Humbling experiences of being deeply loved and cared for by an amazing community of friends and family, whether it is in the form of a text message, a skype connection with friends far away, an encouraging email from a fellow SheLovely, a friend offering to watch baby girl so I can catch up on sleep, grandparents who babysit so that I can have time to run errands or just have some time for myself, a community space where baby girl is cared for so I can partake of life-changing, life-enhancing conversations, walks in nature that included deep, rich conversations;
  • Unexpected opportunities to exercise the gifts and skills God has placed and developed within me in this new season of life;
  • An invitation into a movement that will enable me to practice some of what I have been reflecting on theologically;
  • Opportunities to travel and revel in the beauty of my country.

What began as an exercise to be mindful of the small gifts that bring happiness or gratitude, led me an understanding of feasting that has brought comfort and strength and healing and nourishment. It also led me into a deeper love and appreciation for this richness of, and found within, God.

So SheLovelys, I would love to hear your stories of God’s lavish luxurious feasts that have been set before you in the presence of your enemies.

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