Tears and Comfort Food

It happened this morning. My eyes started “leaking” again.

It felt just like it did two years ago when God called me to Asia for a summer

I had just finished my online Bible Study for the day. The passage for today is Philippians 2:1-5, and I reflected on the study group Facebook page: “True fellowship and true compassion happen when I take an interest in other people and consider their needs before my own.” I read up through verse 11, and basked in Christ’s humility, even unto death, that brought about life and hope for me. What a beautiful act of sacrifice.

Then I checked the blogs I read often to see what had been updated over the weekend. A Deeper Story author, Velynn, wrote a deep and meaningful post on an experience in which she felt judged and how she sought solace through her comfort foods. She titled the post “A Fried Chicken Kind of Day.” Velynn, an African American woman, wrote regarding the post’s title:

I was reluctant to title the post this way but it would have been untruthful [if I had not. I was] afraid of projecting a stereotype, but the truth is soul food is where I’m from. And those days when I experience racism subtle and/or overt I reach out quickly and grab those things that comfort and restore my place in this world.

I understand this.

Although my first lunch choice is a sliced turkey, tomato, and Duke’s mayonnaise sandwich on wheat bread with a Dr. Pepper, I have found myself in many different food circumstances based on the different financial situations, people, cultures, and countries I’ve experienced. I’m the kind of person who would enjoy a fancy dinner in a nice dress with multiple forks and cloth tablecloths just as much as I would enjoy licking my fingers after eating pulled pork barbecue on a paper plate. I have spent some special occasions at a Japanese steakhouse and some at a small town Hardee’s. I have sat on the floor with my feet tucked under me until they fell asleep eating spicy duck larp in lettuce wraps. I have guzzled down guoy tee-ow and khao soi with a soup spoon in my left hand and chopsticks in my right hand in a Thai shopping mall. I have eaten fried chicken legs and wings with sticky rice and sweet chili sauce. I have unwrapped homemade corn tortillas alongside Mexican brothers and sisters. I’ve eaten pork and mushroom satays with peanut dipping sauce. I’ve had Dim Sum with jasmine tea in Hong Kong twice. I have eaten pizza in three different countries. I can cook salmon patties and fried squash one day and then turn around and whip up vegetarian Pad Thai the next.

Food is one of the easiest ways for me to talk about cultural differences. I understand the desire for comfort food when you’re feeling different, uncomfortable, or judged. I missed my sliced turkey sandwiches in Thailand. Interestingly, I now miss guoy tee-ow in America!

Ironically, the next blog post on my feed was by Rachel Pieh Jones, who lives in Djibouti in Africa with her family. She is posting on culture shock in pictures this week, including clothing and my personal favorite, grocery stores. Again, the issue of food came up. I thought back to Lao markets on the side of a dirt road, Hong Kong Wellcome stores with basement produce and meat sections, Thai shopping malls, that convenience store in my muu bann in Chiang Mai, the mae-hia market where we bought fresh fruit and flowers… 

That’s when my eyes started leaking, because I realized that I want to go overseas again. What a terrifying and exciting realization. I enjoy learning new cultures, clothing, cooking, and dialects. I am fascinated by the different ways people use language: spoken, written, and non-verbal. I like seeing the way cultures affect people. I like the feel of new languages on my tongue. I am terribly fearful of the unknown, but also terribly excited for new things. I long to listen to people who are different from me, to hear their stories, to teach them and learn from them. 

When I talk about going overseas, I much more aware of Philippians chapter two. New cultures are difficult to adjust to, and always make me realize that other people will not change their culture for me. Whatever rights I think I have as an American are not “something to cling to,” but rather something to give up. In any culture, albeit difficult, I am called to “look out not only for my own interests, but take an interest in others, too.” Whenever I go into a new situation, I am tempted to assert my authority, knowledge, and power, but instead I am called to go in with humility and an attempt to understand. I am called to go in with my mouth shut and my ears open. 

And sometimes, my eyes are “leaking,” too. It’s a sign that I feel God working. Maybe this morning’s Bible and blog post reading is a sign that God is still moving in all areas of my life. He is molding and shaping me to be prepared for the tasks to which he has called me. I don’t know what those will be. I don’t know where life will find me in a few years. But I know that God knows what he’s doing. His plans were already at work long before I came along and they will continue after I pass on. Who am I that he would include me in his magnificent plans? I am blessed beyond measure, no matter what my comfort food happens to be.