Last night we sat at a full table.
Full of delicious food and fancy wines.
Full of jokes and laughter.
Full of stories.
Stories of travels across Europe I was able to do this year.
Stories of war and survival, of courage and human connection in dire circumstances.
Stories of hope throughout history.
Stories of dreams for the future that students, colleagues and friends have shared with me.
Stories of struggles and big questions as they allowed me a glimpse into their lives and hearts.
Stories of growing up and discovering how beautifully complex this world is.
Being on the road and walking alongside so many people this year has been a huge privilege.
Being a witness to their stories, thoughts and dreams has been an immeasurable gift I’ll treasure for the months and years to come.
Last night we sat at a table full of gratitude.
It’s Friday night and I’m in my kitchen carving what’s left of the turkey.
My thoughts wander back to last night when my apartment was filled to the brim, every last seat taken by friends and family to celebrate Friendsgiving.
The smell of cranberry sauce, roasted meat and pumpkin had exuded into the entire house. The food was rich and heavy; and we stuffed ourselves until we had to hold our bellies. We laughed at new jokes and smiled dreamily at old memories. We talked until the last bottle of wine (and there weren’t few) had been emptied.
And yet, my favorite moment was when we sat down at the table to share what we are thankful for. Such a simple and yet challenging practice.
A healthy body.
A job that fulfills you.
Protection in the chaos of busy schedules.
Fellowship with colleagues and friends.
Faithful, authentic relationships.
Healing and hope in the midst of pain.
The gift of new life.
The abundance we have been given has nothing in common with materialism. In a culture that wants to sell us fast and cheap deals, we need moments when we sit down and think about what really matters – People, unexpected grace and time are the things we truly value.
We find life, community and belonging when we sit down at the table.
In moments like last night I realize that faith was meant to be more like that.
A God who invites us to his table and all we can bring is ourselves.
A story that has nothing in common with what we do or where we come from.
A conversation about the darkness and joys of life.
A celebration of the beauty that embraces us all.
A place where we find true belonging, honest community, abundant life.
Writing for Five Minute Friday today.
If you have any good Thanksgiving leftovers recipes – hit me up!
When I was growing up, our family vacations looked like this:
Drive for hours, visit friends in other cities or countries, stay at holiday homes or at someone’s house.
We never stayed in a hotel because
a) missionary families can’t afford that and
b) it felt somehow wrong to be in a fancy clean place and have other people serve you when there’s poverty and a completely different culture out there to explore.
I loved our kind of vacations. We saw, experienced and tasted things so far off from any hotel complex or all inclusive trip. Whenever I travel today, it’s as close to the local culture as possible.
So it’s quite understandable that I was hesitant at first, when a friend called me in April and asked if I wanted to escape into the sun with her. One week in Egypt, all-inclusive style.
But when I looked at the non-changing, depressing grey sky outside, I agreed to come.
When we arrived at the hotel at 3 a.m., I couldn’t believe we would stay here.
Everything seemed like a magical wonderland – a beautiful compound with little bungalows and a pool, directly next to the Red Sea.
The first day was weird and I caught myself asking, “is this included in the price?” whenever we were offered large towels, more food or a drink.
It felt like I don’t deserve to be spoiled like that.
But I do. You do.
We all deserve to treated nicely and be pampered once in a while. When life keeps us busy and drains all energy from us – we all deserve some space for rest and service and restoration. Even more so, we need the permission to let go and accept the gifts all around us.
They might be a week in some beautiful place.
They might be a small act of service that someone does for us.
They might be a day off when we allow ourselves to fully rest.
They might be a word of encouragement, a good night’s sleep, a healthy meal with friends. The One who made us, the One who knows all and sees all, has offered us life in abundance – and it’s all-inclusive.
Full Disclosure: The week was balm to my soul.
Sleeping without an alarm clock.
Basking in the sun.
Reading without a time limit.
Overcoming my fear of water (that’s a whole different story to share!).
Spending the day without an agenda.
What was the best vacation you’ve had so far?
What will your next vacation look like?
Early on Friday mornings I look for the Five Minute Friday prompt on Kate’s website and many times, I find a story to tell, a thought to share.
Lately this has become really difficult for me.
What should I write about?
My life seems plain, my schedules busy and boring, my experiences ordinary. Every day is the same, everything is just too familiar, so what’s the point in sharing?
They are not the same.
On Thursday I gathered friends around the table to celebrate Thanksgiving.
The table was full with good food, wine and laughter. When we had stuffed our bellies, we filled our souls and shared what we’re thankful for this year.
Stories of recovery and health.
Stories of birth and new life.
Stories of perfect timing and success.
Stories of people who enrich our lives in unexpected ways.
Stories of the many little gifts we tend to overlook in our lives.
Sometimes the people and things in our lives become so familiar that we don’t even recognise them anymore. Naming our gifts and listening to each other does something to us: We become aware of the magic that is all around us, the blessings that are in the ordinary.
I’m grateful for nights like these around my table when others remind me that no day is the same and no life is taken for granted and every gift is unique and worthy to be acknowledged and appreciated.
I’m also grateful for inspiring people who tell their stories online. Here’s Ruthie’s story I listened to yesterday, if you’re interested.
Let me tell you a secret about Germans: They are very private people. It takes a long time until they move away from superficial topics like the weather and actually share something about themselves. It takes even longer for them to invite you into their homes. For someone who has lived in cultures famous for their hospitality, this is sometimes a little unnerving.
I love hosting people.
Gathering friends and strangers around a table, enjoying great food and inspiring conversations.
Showing and giving something from myself, hoping that it would empower others to do the same. Watching how an invisible bond is formed between us and we all leave a little different from the way we came.
When we invite others into our space, we do more than offer a chair and some food.
We open our hearts and allow someone to see a bit more of ourselves. They see where and how we live, which tells them a little bit more of who we are.
In a society that takes so much pride in individuality, we have somehow lost touch with each other. We all want our independence while we discover a deep longing for community and a sense of belonging.
This cannot happen overnight, but it starts with one invite, one open house, one open heart.
Who can you invite into your house and life this week?
If you don’t have time to travel by shop from island to island (there are more than 7,000 in case you were wondering), it’s the easiest way to take a plane. So we fly to Puerto Princesa, the capital of the long and slim island Palawan, where we’ll spend the next part of our trip.
Luckily, we catch a bus right away, with AC and comfortable seats. Even the music is different – for a while we get to listen to Filipino hiphop before it goes back to the all-too-familiar soft pop. The guy behind me sings along loudly whenever he knows a song. And he knows a lot. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the middle of a conversation, just break into song. If you don’t hit the tune – no problem, you just have to be loud.
The bus takes the only road available going North, through rice fields, palm trees and banana plantations. Everything is so green and so much more bearable than the noisy, busy city. It’s quite similar to the landscapes we used to roam in Uganda as kids. On and on we go and the longer we drive, the more it feels like a journey into a far away world, deep into the jungle.
Out of a sudden, the skies turn grey, then black and heavy raindrops hit the bus windows. The heavens open up to release a long awaited downpour and engulf everyone and everything outside. On the lonely road we see a group of school children, their uniforms soaking wet, their hair dripping with water. They sit down, two in one seat. They smile at me shyly when they realize that I’m a foreigner. Somewhere, in the middle of nowhere, we drop them off and I wonder how in the world they get to school everyday. It’s a long way and probably expensive to get an education. In fact, many parents choose to not send their kids to school because it’s far more lucrative to let them work on the streets. Whenever a car stops at the traffic lights, you can see them coming up to you, their mouths covered to protect themselves from smog and pollution, their tiny hands holding up bottles of water or snacks. They look at you for a while, their eyes desperate and pleading, but eventually they move on. While my students in Germany are so self-righteous that it makes me sick sometimes, children over here seem to be kept from having a perspective in life at all.
We get into El Nido at sunset and have to find a hotel. What used to be a small idyllic fishermen’s village a couple of years ago has now exploded into a flourishing tourist attraction. The hotel we find is right at the beach in Hama Street – the place to be where hotel is next to bar next to restaurant next to coffee shop. I’m blown away to see people from all across the globe in this little place.
This town seems to attract a certain kind of people. If you’re a free spirit, interested in cheap parties, sex and drugs, El Nido is the place for you. The restaurants are full with elderly hippie couples with grey hair and blurred tattoos. In the coffee shops you’ll find the hipsters staring at their phones. In between are families and well-built divers.
The first day is very rainy and we spend it walking from coffee shop to restaurant to bar. It’s actually nice to bury my face in a good book for a change, but I’m also a little worried that the weather will not get better.
But when we wake up the next morning, I look out the window expectantly and – what a joy – there’s a blue sky, no clouds and the sun is shining brightly. After breakfast we meet our tour guide Lorenzo and he takes us on a tour through the Bacuit Archipelago – a group of islands in the South Chinese Sea.
As we stretch our legs on the boat, we pass by hidden beaches with little cottages under palm trees.
We marvel at rocks in the water. Over and over again, we have to grin at each other because this can.not.be real. We go anchor in front of a wall of rocks, take the kayak and discover a secret lagoon through a little rift in the wall. All of a sudden it’s so calm. An oasis of quiet and peace.
We go snorkeling, which is quite something for someone who’s shy of water. The view below the surface is quite different – colorful corals, fish swarms, even turtles. Sometimes it’s worth to look deeper.
We have lunch at Entalula Island, a small beach with crystal clear water. The buffet looks like a feast with grilled fish, vegetables and fresh fruits. Afterwards we lie down on the boat and let the sun kiss our bodies. Yes, life is good.
We kayak into Cathedral Cove, a large opening in a rock. Inside it’s dark and we can hear bats flying high above us.
Our last stop on this perfect day is a small beach with palm trees and warm water where we take a few minutes to relax. When we get back to the boat, our friend steps into something. At first, he thinks it was a sharp coral, but by the time we get back to the harbor, his right foot has swollen to double its normal size and he can’t walk more than a few steps. The doctor says it’s nothing serious and that he should ake it slow for a few weeks, but on google we find a few horror stories about starfish and other dangerous creatures of the sea. “That’s some serious shit”, the diving instructor says when we tell him the story.
This has truly been a once in a lifetime experience.
The next morning we leave El Nido with a swollen foot, but with extremly full and grateful hearts.
This is part 3 of the series. Here or here are more stories!