“I wish I didn’t have such an overeating problem,” I lamented the other day. “I think I would be a better hostess because I would cook more fattening food without worrying that I would eat too much of it myself.”
“Uh-huh,” Marnell said, half distracted by something else.
“What?!” I cried. “You agree that I’m not a good hostess?”
“Am I not supposed to agree with you?” he asked patiently.
I’m so ridiculous sometimes.
Anyway, I trust my church friends so much that I had them for a healthy foods meal last Sunday on my birthday. I thoroughly enjoyed having them and our neighbor Mary. Not one of them complained about the food, although I did make some fattening ice cream because I didn’t have enough healthy stuff. Harvey, who has been complaining that he’s waiting to die but just can’t, drifted in for plates of food as well.
A few days later I took Jen to Kroger for protein drinks. She’s too thin, mind you, and needs to gain weight. The nutritionist at the hospital gave her coupons so she could have $3.00 off, and she collected a plastic sandwich bag of quarters and dimes. We fed her $8.80 of coins into the self-checkout change slot, and it almost covered the cost of her purchase.
I bought peanut butter packets for myself, explaining to her that since I’m trying to lose weight I’m getting the individualized containers.
“So you don’t eat too much at once,” she said, nodding with understanding, even though she has the exact opposite problem.
A few nights later, she came down again, asking if we had any leftovers.
“Harvey’s been sick for two days,” she said. “He’s got to eat something. Oh, and do you have any creamer?”
Our dear friend Laura had brought us supper, in the middle of her hectic day, so I did in fact have leftovers. As I filled a plate for Harvey–Laura’s grilled chicken, sweet potato, and dinner rolls–I realized that I do really enjoy being a food pantry. The grocery bill doesn’t enjoy it, but I do. Besides, I think my love for food is what motivated me to put two of Laura’s fantastic rolls on Harvey’s plate instead of one, and to tuck one of her coconut cookies underneath.
Then we had another friend for supper who we haven’t had before, who I will call Tim. Tim was filled with both gloom and unfounded dreams. He recounted memories to us of a traumatic brain injury, foster homes, and jail time. Tim said he remembers a total of two times in his life when he was happy: when his son was born, and when his foster father took him on a trip to California. He also came with a question: “What can I do to improve my life?”
As soon as we sat at the table, Tim speared a slice of avocado and popped it in his mouth. He ate ravenously, with little regard to form, then got a stomach ache. Maybe it’s because I’m not used to good food, he said. That was an unfounded compliment for the crushed nachos, taco meat, shredded cheese and veggies on his plate.
Well, we didn’t have a pat answer to his questions, but we listened. And at one point, he said that sometimes he messes up and then just feels like messing up some more because he’s already messed up.
“Aha,” I said, “I have that exact problem with overeating. I eat a few too many cookies, and then it seems that I may as well eat a lot more food. It really works out well,” I added, wondering if he would catch my sarcasm.
The light of humor and relief lit up his face like twin flood lamps.
“Yes, it works REALLY well,” he said, and we all laughed.
And just like that, I found that for the second time in a season, I had connected straight to the heart of a troubled someone through the vehicle of my own struggles.
Just a few moments ago, I walked barefoot across our carpet and retrieved my very old Thompson Chain Reference Bible. I turned to the thin pages in the back where I was sure I remembered writing a quote about weakness.
There it is, in blue ink in my teenage cursive:
So at last I say, “My temptation has become my strength. For to the very fight with it, I owe my force.”William Channing Gannett
Could this be true? This baseline reality lying across my life, that I am not even good enough to be temperate on my own strength, that seems to ruin my ability to be a good hostess. Could it really be the spark that connects me to others? The one thing that gives me common ground with a man who remembers a total of two moments of happiness in more than three decades?
And I find it utterly amazing, utterly astounding, that God could use my brokenness for good. I really don’t get it, and that’s okay, because God is simply beyond us. But that is the story of redemption, is it not? Broken things, transformed.
I don’t like it. I still dream of one day being free forever of the temptation to eat too much. I think God wants me to do my best at fighting my temptations, and maybe He will completely free me from the temptation sometime. But again, He may not do it on this earth.
And maybe, it’s better this way. Maybe–unbelievable as it may seem–God thinks I make a better hostess in my weakness than if I were perfectly strong. What shocking paradoxes we find in his kingdom!