FullSizeRender This morning I find myself noticing the color of the sunlight coming through the trees a little more readily than I normally do. My single cup of green tea has a more complex flavor than I expected, and it warms me.

This morning is the second in a five-day fast that Dave and I are participating in with Open Door. It is the majority world diet fast; we each get a pound of rice, a pound of beans, and two and a half cups of oatmeal for five days.

I am no good at this. But then, that’s not the point, is it? Already, I talk about it a lot. I think about it a lot. I am not used to hunger.

I find myself wondering about my hunger. How often am I hungry for sustenance, and how often am I hungry for something else? What other appetites do I satiate with food?

Yesterday I made a list of my uses for food and drink, besides nourishment. I started out thinking about them in terms of “good” and “bad” uses, but then I set that aside – I want to stop making immediate value judgments, and to listen a little longer. So, for better or worse, here are some of the uses of food and drink that came to mind:

Security. I am a stockpiler. I love our chest freezer, and I like to keep it full of all kinds of things – meals that can be pulled out and warmed on a crazy day, Everett’s favorite crackers that went on sale once, and my favorite ice cream that was a dollar off last week.

Love and Generosity. We brought a basket of food to some friends in the hospital this week. One of my first responses to crisis is to make food – it seems to be one of the few tangible, practical ways to care for another person. I learned that from my grandmother, who passed away three weeks ago. Even in her eighties, she brought meals to the “elderly” at her church, and laughed at the irony.

Hospitality. “What can I get for you?” is often the first thing I ask when someone comes into my home, after “How are you?” They know and I know that I mean food or drink. (What would I think if they responded with “a warm pair of socks and some chapstick”?) Last night our dear friend and former housemate drove six hours up from LA and stopped to see us. We fed him what we had left in the fridge, which was not much – a simple salad, some good cheese, and a few crackers. It was strange not to have a more typical meal to offer, and stranger still to sit with him and watch him eat (our portion of rice and beans for the evening was already gone).

Comfort. Like a warm bath, tea or chocolate comforts my body and heart. A plate of hot gnocchi in fragrant sauce fills up much more than my belly. In this month of hard things, I have literally been dreaming of queso from HomeState – my go-to comfort food in LA.

Entertainment. Often on an evening when Dave and I don’t have any commitments, you’ll find us playing a game of Monopoly Deal with a bowl of popcorn, or settled on the couch watching an old episode of Startrek with bowls of ice cream.

Distraction. I notice that I’m picking up my phone a lot more in these days of fasting, searching for some other distraction. How often do I just grab a handful of food – even healthy food – and consume it without thinking about it? Everett’s leftovers after a meal usually end up in my belly, sometimes off the floor. Was that grape worth it? If it was, did I really appreciate its value as I ate it?

Celebration. Nothing says “Happy Birthday” like a chocolate cheesecake and a glass of wine.

Reward. At the end of a long day, particularly a no-nap day for two-year-old Everett, I feel like I’ve earned a bowl of ice cream or a cold drink.

Relaxation. I use food or drink to set the tone for “me-time.” Often the first thing I do after Everett goes down for a nap is make a cup of tea and grab a little snack. It has become a cue that it’s time to shift gears, that I can let go of my responsibilities and rest for a while.

In this week of fasting, how do I find these things? How do I celebrate, find comfort, have fun and show hospitality well, without the help of food?

This morning I read about gratitude. I think of the raspberries I ate at Open Door’s Rest Retreat last weekend – the burst of juicy sweetness, like sunshine. There is nothing more perfect than a good raspberry. I will certainly eat with more gratitude after this week.

But what does gratitude look like now?

I am grateful for the comfort and beauty I have each day: the sunlight in the trees, a hot shower, flowers blooming in my own backyard. I am grateful for chapstick. I choose to be grateful for the hunger in my belly that reminds me how well I am sustained, even when others are not.

When Ryan arrived last night, he was carrying a cooler and a paper bag with HomeState stamped on the front in black ink. In the bag were chips, and in the cooler was queso, which is now waiting for me in my freezer. Perhaps it will be better for the waiting.

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