At our group retreat a bit ago, we sang a Nigerian worship song that really struck me. Though all of the lyrics were touching, the line that made me teary-eyed each time we sang it was in the chorus:
“You’ve buttered my bread and sugared my tea.”
In the States, we take butter and sugar for granted. If you have toast, you smear on butter; it’s not a luxury, it’s a given. Bread and butter go together like peanut butter and jelly… or, uh, rice tuwa and stew. In any given recipe book, a large portion of the recipes call for sugar (even if it’s not a dessert – a pinch of sugar to tame the acidic taste of tomato sauce, for example).
Here, though, that is not the case. In a country where many people are struggling to feed their families or afford to put their children in school, butter and sugar are luxuries that most people don’t have, at least not regularly. Baking soda, not sugar, is added to red stew to “tame the sour” of the tomato, as Sarah says.
As we sang these words, too, I couldn’t help but think of a friend of ours here. Some time ago Judah and I went to her house to drop her off and see her house, but we ended up staying quite a while. We started talking, and she said something that has stuck with me even a couple years later: “Some people are rich, some are poor. We are poor, but we don’t blame God for it. He has given us many gifts, and we are grateful for what He has given us.”
She brought out some food – though I was an unexpected guest, that didn’t matter; it was an honor for her to feed me. Me being there was an honor to her, even, another mark of African hospitality that even now I have a hard time grasping. Here, it is an honor to accept someone into your home, an honor for someone to take the time to visit you, expected or not. Conversely, even, it can be an insult to NOT visit someone that you have a relationship with. We know someone, for example, who almost had the woman who works in her home quit her job because her employer had not come to visit her at her house.
In the States, it sometimes seems as if the opposite is true. Even if I was in someone’s neighborhood, I would debate and debate about stopping by unannounced (and usually erred on the side of “Well, maybe not – I might be disturbing them.”); it’s just not part of the culture. We are often so busy with the things we are doing that we don’t have time to stop and visit with people, don’t have time to welcome people into our home. (Interestingly, by the way, it seems that Nigerians don’t seem to mind if you go about your work while they are visiting. After all, work has to get done!) It seems ironic in some ways: Many people in the States have an abundance of blessings, yet we find it more difficult to open our doors to share those blessings, but here, though the average person has less, it is shared with an openness, a generosity, that it is bewildering.
So as we sat on the floor of my friend’s house sharing the delicious food she had prepared, she apologized to me for not having a table to eat at. I brushed her comment off, not sure how to respond, as I assured her that a table is meaningless, really, and that it was the conversations, the food, the time shared that mattered. She smiled as we continued eating, as neighbors dropped in and out to greet me, to play with Judah.
After she had cleared the plates (and refused my offer to help), I left with my belly full but my heart fuller. My friend fed me much more than soup that day; she had nourished my soul with a reminder about gratitude, thanksgiving. She had reminded me of my own abundant blessings and of the Giver of those blessings. I was humbled by this woman who had so little compared to what I and many people I know have, yet who spoke with such conviction, without bitterness or grudges or anger, about how blessed she was.
It is so easy to take for granted the gifts that God has given me, so easy to go robotically through my days without stopping to think about the blessings I’ve been given, without thinking about those who are without… to let tragedies such as what happened recently in Colorado – and what happens every day in places like Nigeria and other parts of the world – become just another story on the news rather than something that pierces my heart with sadness… sadness for the loss of life and grief over the effects of sin on our broken world. Sometimes the grief is too much to bear, too much to process.
…So, though my heart aches for the pain in this world, for the horrific loss that those in Colorado and around the world are suffering through, though I pray for the day that all our tears will be wiped away, on this day I choose also to count my blessings, and I find myself grateful for the extravagances that He has lavished upon me, thankful that He has buttered my bread and sugared my tea. My cup overfloweth.
A few of our blessings….