Rice and Water



There are stories of Thanksgiving feasting a plenty. My kids both came home last Tuesday with thoughts of pilgrims and native people, and turkey feathered headbands with small scrawls of people and things for which they are thankful.

As long as I can remember Thanksgivings, I remember, Rice and Water. My mom came up with the idea to limit ourselves in observance of others on Wednesday night before Thanksgiving. Aware of the great excess with which we lived as Americans, Mom wanted us to realize most of the world survived on rice and water, or even less. While we would spend the next day sitting around a feast of orange rolls, green bean casserole, turkey and cranberry sauce, many would toil, fall ill, go hungry, or die. I’m very grateful now, she fought to help us enter into the experience of others, even if only by empathetic eating.

Mom would cook rice and offer minimal toppings- some spices, cream soups, or simply salt. We would eat the rice and drink water for dinner. That was it. Just rice in a bowl and glasses of water. The four of us kids would whine, moan, complain, and get creative. Undaunted in her pursuit of bringing mindfulness, compassion, and meaning into our holiday, Mom would indulge our ideas as long as we didn’t change the menu. There were years we ate with chop sticks, sitting on the floor, with no silverware at all, added hot tea as an option, or invited friends into the experience.

After “dinner”, we would usually head out to a church event. Which, for some reason in the Evangelical Covenant tradition, was a pie social after a service of Thanksgiving. We would wander around a room full of Christians and crispy crusts, salivating and feel sorry for ourselves. I cannot remember cheating, sneaking, or taking food later into the night on Rice and Water Wednesdays. I do remember moving bed time up earlier so the hunger was put to sleep.

As adults, we have carried this tradition into extended family gatherings. My aunt added ritual content to the meal and asked us all to research a country who ate rice and then pray for that country throughout the year. At giant adult thanksgivings with my family, Wednesday night has usually been pie making night. Oh how tempting to taste test! Different family members feel different levels of commitment and enjoyment. All gluten free members rejoice! Last year in Colorado, we ate on the floor of my mom’s living room in a circle. Drew and Eli ate with their shirts off, just like people who eat rice, in warmer climates?!

This year, wanting to make sure we marked the Thanksgiving week with memories and experiences friendly to a mostly adult family group, but also hospitable to shaping the lives of my kids, I offered to host “dinner” at our house Wednesday night… I did it, I had pitched “Rice and Water” to the in-laws.

Rice and Water doesn’t thrill folks outright. Upon reading my email invite, I think many members of the Osborne family probably grumbled and checked their schedules, hoping for a really busy Wednesday night. Excited about it or not, the whole gang was willing as they often are to indulge my ideas- I am very lucky to have gracious, flexible, thoughtful in-laws! They offered to bring something or help but I had it under control. The meal was really JUST rice, and water. I did at the last minute, borrow Korean chopsticks from our friends the Meyers which added to the authenticity of the engagement.

As people showed up and gathered in our kitchen, Eli remarked, “This really feels like a party Mom.” When asked why we do Rice and Water, Andi said, “Because a long time ago there were people who had to only eat rice and nothing else.” She is a little confused between the “long time ago” stories of Thanksgiving and the right now humanitarian plight. However, both knew it was a time of thinking of others. Oakley loves a good gathering of people and practiced his walking during the living room dinner- sharing big smiles and laughs- joy and simplicity right in front of us.

The gathering was refreshingly different, simple, relaxed, and meaningful. We ate in the living room, slowly with the chopsticks, and didn’t eat a whole bunch. The bulk of the night was conversation. Drew and I asked sharing prompts and people shared- with honesty, conviction, hope, and hurt.

Eli and Andi went first in answering a sharing prompt.

Andi, How would you feel if you didn’t have enough food every day?  …”Umm, not healthy and sad.”

Eli, What should every kid in the world have the chance to do? …”Get exercise, eat, go to school.”

As adults, we discussed around these thoughts:

Tell about a time when you’ve experienced a limit or simplicity.

How do we live in excess at the expense of those with much less? What do we do?

Tell about a time you spent in a foreign country without resources such as food and clean water.

What place in the world tugs at your heart? What needs/agony in that place can we lift up in prayer?

Who is someone you know personally who suffers currently? How can/do you enter in?

How do you love an enemy?

By the end, after we prayed, my heart was heavy for the needs and the pain of people and places who suffer. My heart was also full after sharing a night, quiet, simple, and vulnerable with people I love. I really do think eating rice in my house can make a difference in the world. We left a little inspired, and a little hungry.




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