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    chicken tikka masala

    To Whom Much Has Been Given

    Being welcomed when I was an outsider has taught me to open my own home and to share my abundance.

    By Marilyn R. Gardner

    November 19, 2022
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    • Bruce Bagwell

      I LOVE this! What beautiful account of a heart open in love and also a testament to the open hearts of people around the world... people that we often look at with fear or even enmity. Thank you Marilyn!

    • Bill Marrone

      This is an incredibly moving testimony to what we are all called to do - love one another, give grace to others and ourselves, share the goodness that God endlessly provides. Thank you for a most inspiring message.

    • Rosa

      Thank you Plough for this wonderful story about Marilyn R Gardner and her sharing a Thanksgiving meal at their apartment with strangers. Just in time for Thanksgiving Day for us here in the United States, for all of us living here from other lands in the world. We are Thankful for the opportunities this country has given us, to feel at home. Love all your articles . I am thankful for Plough and its articles full of love for one another . May God bless you abundantly.

    • Jill

      I, too, grew up in a culture not my own. In addition to giving me a desire to offer hospitality that childhood experience have me a love of other cultures, a belonging to something greater than just what is familiar. I am grateful to my parents for that!

    I grew up with a sense of hospitality that was given to me by people who welcomed my American family into their country and their homes. My parents had made their home in Pakistan seven years before I was born. By the time I arrived, joining three older brothers, my family was established. They were no longer in the stage of culture shock and cultural disconnect. They had become accustomed to wearing traditional Pakistani clothes, eating spicy food, and speaking Urdu or Sindhi, depending on the area where they were visiting or living.

    Pakistan raised me well, nourishing me with food, color, spices, and hospitality. From chickens killed in honor of our visit to lavish wedding feasts, my childhood was rich with invitations to share food and life.

    We knew we were foreigners. Applying for visas to stay in the country was a regular occurrence. We also knew we were foreigners in the way we were occasionally treated outside our community, where strangers felt free to stare, touch, and talk about us as though we could not understand. Yet overall, we experienced amazing invitations to belong.

    These rich experiences of hospitality as a child in Pakistan, and similar experiences as an adult in two other Middle Eastern countries, have set the stage for how I try to live in the United States. The verse from the Gospel of Luke, “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required” (12:48), is frequently in the back of my mind as I respond to those who come into my world.

    We live in a time of massive displacement and resettlement. This displacement is an invitation to welcome others and share our abundance. Sadly, in the midst of this crisis, the United States has been steadily lowering the number of refugees it takes in every year. One exception is the number of Afghan refugees who arrived in the United States following the departure of the American military from Afghanistan in August 2021.

    chicken tikka masala

    As I think about this, stories come to mind of how much richer my life has become whenever I have responded to God’s nudge to open my home and my heart.

    A couple of years ago, while living in Cambridge, Massachusetts, my husband and I did what we often do in the absence of extended family – we welcomed several families and singles from around the world to our home for a Thanksgiving feast. Our small apartment miraculously expanded its walls to comfortably fit four members of our nuclear family, two families with young children, and four single people ranging in age from a college student to a woman in her late fifties.

    Our guests not only filled our house with bodies but with representatives of many troubled countries. A Syrian family interacted with an Israeli family while our Iranian friends connected with Greeks, Ukrainians, and Serbians over turkey, pumpkin pie, and whipped cream. The most memorable moment came as our Israeli friend looked our Syrian friend in the eye. “It is nice to meet you,” he said with deep sincerity. “I have only ever seen a Syrian through the eye of a gun.” It was a holy moment. In our small apartment that I never thought was quite enough, a connection was made.

    In our faith tradition, we experience the bread and the wine, the body and the blood, in remembrance of a meal. But the sacred act of sharing a meal continues when we go out into the world.

    One can do better than pumpkin pie. Another time, we sat around the table with new and old friends from India, Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan, Lebanon, and the United States. We served spicy saag paneer with parathas (spinach curry with a flat bread fried in ghee) alongside platters of meat, bowls of potatoes, and homemade rolls. Following the meal, I listened in to scattered conversations. Our Pakistani friend was in a lively conversation about politics with our Indian friends. My husband exchanged stories with our guests from Afghanistan, Iran, and Lebanon. My heart was full of gratitude because just a few months earlier we had had to unexpectedly leave the Kurdistan region of Iraq. In the midst of grieving the life we thought we were going to live there, this was another holy moment that helped me accept the life we had been given instead. This meal was evidence that we were in the right place.

    Of course, I have also found comfort – and even better food – in the homes of these friends who came as strangers without families, who entered into the hard work of resettling in a country where they didn’t know the language or the rules. Everything I may have given them is nothing compared to what I have received.

    There is something sacred about sharing a meal. In our faith tradition, we experience the bread and the wine, the body and the blood, in remembrance of a meal. But the sacred act of sharing a meal continues when we go out into the world. As humans, our need for food and drink, and the reaching across a table to share simple words like “please have some more bread,” bind us together in mysterious and hopeful ways.

    There are times when I lose hope for this country, the land of my passport. I wonder how a place with so many resources can collectively operate without generosity, with an ethos of scarcity instead of abundance. I sometimes get angry that a nation with such wealth and room to spare has stalled resettlement. But when I think about that roomful of people from around the world gathered in our apartment with laughter and joy over a shared meal, I know that’s not the whole story. I know that there are many others opening up their homes and making room for more.

    Every so often, someone will ask me, “Why let them in?” I know I could give data on national resources. Instead, I think back on my childhood and the reasons become deeply personal. Those reasons include my memory of being welcomed, and my current reality of living in a place where there are constant newcomers. Why invite them? Because I know what it is like to be a stranger and to be invited in. Because I want people who arrive here to know what it means to be nourished and to flourish in a country where you arrive as a stranger. Because an invitation makes all the difference.

    Contributed By MarilynGardner Marilyn R. Gardner

    The author of Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging, and a newly released memoir, Passages Through Pakistan, Gardner also blogs at Communicating Across Boundaries and A Life Overseas.

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