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Hearts At the Table: When Empathy Evaporates Shame by Terri Fullerton

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Hearts At the Table: When Empathy Evaporates Shame by Terri Fullerton

When I think about all of the adventurous dining experiences I’ve had it brings me a smile that fills my soul and makes my taste buds (and sometimes my whole body) do a little jig. My global food adventures have brought me countless wonderful and exciting memories. Since my memories are so positive, I assumed that everyone else would crave the same experiences. I never once stopped to think about how others might not be so keen to take their taste buds on a road trip. Until I sat across the table in a French cafe from my dear friend, Terri, in England.

Empathy Evaporates Shame

I scan the menu near the entrance of Café Rouge desperate to find something I recognize. Discomfort bulges in my throat. I swallow hard.

When we enter the Parisian café the aroma of espresso and freshly baked bread waft from the bakery. I want to order familiar food and ignore the fear that has its tentacles wrapped around my throat.

Before I traveled across the Atlantic, I decided to say ‘yes’ to all aspects of the adventure.  I resolved to be open in situations that stretched my comfort zone. I envisioned talking with strangers on the trains, walking over emerald hills by pristine lakes, and meandering down cobblestone streets in European cities.

My excitement eclipsed my fear of trying new food. When it comes to exploring new meals, my moxie is missing.

I want to order a meal with ingredients I recognize. I’d like to know how the chef cooks the entre. As I scour the menu, I gravitate to the Plateau de Pain. It’s an assortment of chargrilled bread, a French baguette with herb-infused butter.  My eyes don’t want to look at any other option on the menu.

I leave my safe bread friends as I know there’s more at stake than what I choose to order for lunch.  Perceived safety is suffocating my soul and I know I need to take risks.

Meal choices seem magnified on my menu.

     Taster pot of warm SNAILS

     Chicken LIVER PATE

     Chestnut MUSHROOM croque.

Fear runs amuck in the back of my brain.

I want to savor a chocolate croissant and sip a cappuccino to quiet the queasiness.

Dialogue ricochets in my head.

Why is this so hard? What’s wrong with me? No one will know what you promised yourself on your porch 4873 miles away.  Except you.  Aren’t you tired of being stuck in fear fueled-familiarity?

Andrea notices my thinning demeanor. She suggests the Croque Saumon, a grilled sandwich with smoked salmon, cheese, and horseradish crème fraiche.

I want to bolt from the discomfort and push through it at the same time. I am tired of fear grabbing my foot and pulling me down.

My world-traveling friend doesn’t roll her eyes even though she has tried some of the weirdest foods on the planet. Instead, she leans in to listen. Her compassionate eyes disarm me. Brene Brown whispers in my head. Be brave. Be vulnerable.

I share my struggle with Andrea who listens with her heart.

My fears reach back to a time when we were held hostage at the table by inebriated rage and volatility.  The dinner table wasn’t a place of nourishment, even though we ate.  We weighed every word and action as we crossed an emotional minefield. New foods trigger my hypervigilance to be ready for anything.

Her empathy evaporates my shame.

“Will you trust me to pick out some new foods while you are here? I want to stretch you.” I couldn’t refuse the offer from my cuisine-adventuring comrade.

I wonder if victory over fear is not just about proving to ourselves, and others, that we can survive challenges, but also about trusting a friend with our heart at a Parisian Café. It’s not about striving harder but about risking being vulnerable with those entrusted to us. (tweet this)

When we walked out the door of the restaurant, I no longer felt the tentacles around my throat. I knew something had changed. I felt empowered. I think Jesus stood up and high-fived the angels.

~Terri Fullerton


Terri FullertonI hope you will check out more of Terri’s writing at and follow her on social media. She is an inspiration and you will be blessed to invite her words into your heart.

Terri Fullerton: Through her genuine, thought-provoking, and reflective storytelling, Terri compels women to step into adventure, find freedom, and deepen their faith.

She invites you to press pause for a moment, grab your favorite drink, sit in your favorite spot and join the conversation. She wants you to know you are heard, valuable, and welcome.



A note from Andrea: I want to encourage anyone reading this to be gentle with those you spend time with. As I had no idea what my friend, Terri, was going through, I am so thankful that I didn’t badger or belittle her for agonizing over the menu. Something that is no big deal to me was/is a very big deal to her. May we live a life of kindness and compassion. Always. I am also deeply thankful that Terri felt safe enough with me to share this painful part of her past. In this, I encourage all of us to share our stories as bravely and as safely as we can. What if your story could open the heart of another just a little bit wider. What if your empathy could evaporate someone’s shame? When we share our hearts at the table with vulnerability, kindness, and empathy, our loving Father can then serve up a veritable feast of friendship to be savored. It might even spur on a little jig. 


Table MentoringRelated reading:
Table Mentoring: A Simple Guide to Coming Alongside, Sue Moore Donaldson





Photo credit (title image): Pixabay, congerdesign
Photo credit (flower table): Pixabay, stocksnap

About Andrea

Writer+Proofreader+Traveler+Foodie+Dreamer. Let's walk and work together.

2 responses »

  1. Totally an example of we do not know what’s really going on – only God does – so maybe that’s why He says the main thing is to love, period. And you both did.



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