Why Not You? and the Gluten Free Bread I Really Needed

Dear Joey,

Before I tossed gluten aside, I baked bread all the time. It was a thing for me: a comfort, a craft. Its aroma confirmed to my heart that God is good. Eating a daily portion of it was sacred.

But that was all before. (More on that story here.)

I’m comfortable with gluten free baking now–so comfortable, in fact, that whisking together rice flour and sorghum flour and tapioca and potato starch feels as natural as kneading bread ever did. See? I don’t need gluten, I coach myself, plunking drop biscuits onto a baking sheet and slipping them into the oven. None of us do. Their warming aroma fills the kitchen and the Goobies scamper in, bellowing they are starving and can’t possibly wait another minute.

I slide the biscuits onto a plate and set them in front of our hungry brood. They smear them with vegan butter and a dollop of apricot jam. America is at home, baking, and happily we are too.

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But I admit: watching the world find comfort in baking bread these past weeks pained my heart in ways I wasn’t ready for. I labor over every batch of biscuits or muffins or last-minute pans of brownies lately, weighing whether or not to dip into our reserves of gluten free flour. It’s an expensive specialty item that not everyone needs, so who knows whether it will be available in the coming months or not.

That may seem dramatic, but these are dramatic times, aren’t they? We live in the space between the plenty of today and the uncertainty of tomorrow–all of us. From one side of the country to the other, yeast is hard to find and wheat flour all but gone. And yet, pictures of sugar-laden pastries and soul-soothing soups served with rustic bread fill conjure up feelings of comfort, and the crowd is flicking on their ovens to feed the hunger deep inside. But beneath the promise of filling empty tummies with good things is the darker reality of panic buying, food shortages, and grim warnings to buy ahead. Food isn’t a only a comfort: it is also a very real source of stress.

Pandemic kitchen life reminds us of seasons we stretched supplies and made do with what we had, telling us to cook from lack and not plenty elicits feelings in my heart I thought I made peace with long ago. The panic buying and empty shelves made me feel powerless, somehow–a victim who would be one of the first to suffer anguishing effects of hunger if our food supply buckled under the sudden pressure of home cooking and the lingering effects of the government shut down. I felt trapped by an ailment I can’t control, and ended up feeling very sorry for myself indeed.

The emotion of it all overtook me, and two weeks ago I slumped down in the kitchen crying myself into a stupor of self pity, bemoaning the sad state of affairs by simply wondering “Why me?” Gluten free living is complicated enough without the added concerns of an uncertain food supply.

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Leaning against the dishwasher, hidden from the brood of hungry Goobies that would call out to me for snacks if they saw me, I cried as I remembered the early days when I struggled to let go of gluten for good. The split was sudden and long overdue; necessary and messy. Hard and helpful, both. It was complicated. The symbolic, nostalgic food of home calmed my ailing heart with a single whiff–and it seems I am not alone in this. Bread is ingrained in our collective food experience. Necessary as it may be for people like me, letting go of the ecumenical food hurts. Finding sacred joy from a slice of gluten free bread felt absolutely impossible in those early days.

I struggled to understand why my body painfully rejects something so basic. Reconciling gluten’s damaging effects on my own body with its nourishing nature elsewhere confused my bewildered heart. What’s best for me isn’t what’s best for the wider world, in this case, and defending my decision to live life without it was hard.

As if people even care, right? My imagination used to conjure up conversations with strangers who could neither understand nor care, and the burden of misunderstanding settled onto my shoulders. I wiped tears and kept going, though, learning to chose joy as I went even though I didn’t understand. My body healed and I lived well again. But the sadness never really abated.

Faced with a forlorn wife who wrestled with reconciling experience with truth, you did what you could and walked alongside me without complaining. When I lost gluten, you did too, but all you said was Solidarity, Scratch. Solidarity. Somehow you didn’t mourn its loss the way I did.

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One morning your face brightened as you read the story of Paul’s journey to Rome in Acts chapter 27, where it tells the story of the wretched storm that threatened his life and the lives of everyone on board the damaged, doomed boat carrying them across the sea. Disaster looked imminent, but Paul was fixed on the promise of the angel delivered in the midst of the most harrowing of circumstances:

“‘Don’t be afraid, Paul! You must stand before the Emperor. And God in his goodness to you has spared the lives of all those who are sailing with you'”  (Acts 27: 24 NLT). Paul knew his life and the lives of the fellow travelers were safe because God said so. The danger was real, but Paul and the sailors aligned their actions with God’s agenda: “[…] they lightened the ship by throwing all the wheat into the sea” (Acts 27:38 NLT)

Scratch, you said, Paul tossed the wheat overboard to lighten the load. And they made it through the storm, alive.

Paul’s life was no picnic. He endured turmoil and suffered pain and lived his life moving from one moment of uncertainty to another–and he’s Paul, for crying out loud. His faithfulness didn’t preclude him from experiencing suffering. I chewed on this for quite some time and discovered that faith in the midst of suffering transforms our crisis into a catalyst for God to put His power on display.

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I think about that in light of the chronic condition Paul suffered: the thorn in his flesh he prayed away time and time again only to be told repeatedly No. Paul had no control over whether the pain abated or not. It tagged along everywhere–even into the storm that threatened his life. But despite the pain, Paul faced the storm with the faith that his future was safely in the hands of his God no matter what disaster came or went. Maybe God’s No prepared Paul to know God is good anyway–even and especially in the middle of painful, unprecedented situations.

Paul sat surrounded by men who struggled to see past the threat of certain disaster. In the middle of all that turmoil and confusion, Paul remained confident God would stay true to his word. His grand gesture to prove it? Tossing wheat over the side of the boat.

If I were on there with Paul that day, I would have screamed, wild-eyed and crazy, desperate to preserve the rations meant to sustain life aboard the boat. Now a storm was raging and they were low on food. If the storm didn’t kill them, hunger sure could.

Tossing the food overboard was an act of radical faith displaying Paul’s certainty God would both rescue them and sustain their lives. Paul knew they didn’t need that bag of food to keep them alive: God would do that, and He would work out the details later. Right then what mattered was lightening the load. The storm still raged, but getting through it alive would be possible.

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Crouched on the kitchen floor with only my own self-pity to keep my company, I reflected on all these years of living gluten free and wondered if letting go of the stuff really lightened my load or not. Things feel harder than usual these days. My soul feels hungrier and more desperate for comfort, and I wanted to do was bake a loaf of hearty, rustic bread and wrap myself in the warmth of its familiar aroma that somehow signals all will be well. I feel broken and left out, and I’m wondering Why me? about so many things. But as I sat there and wallowed, my heart heard, Why not you?

Why not me? I wiped away tears that are true and wondered why brokenness is necessary while I whisked together rice flour, sorghum flour and tapioca and potato starch–a familiar task that taunted me with memories of past failures. The motely jumble of ingredients revealed their secret as I stirred: they were broken down for people like me, people whose diseased bodies needed nourishment too. The bread of life Himself was broken down before He was raised up. But wouldn’t everyone have been better off if God prevented all the hardship in the first place?

Lord, if you had intervened earlier, my body wouldn’t be sick and my heart wouldn’t be broken.

If I had intervened earlier, I wouldn’t have had the chance to mend either of them.

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I watched the yeast bloom and I thought about how painful and confusing it is to let go of control over what happens to us. Even when we willingly give our broken pieces to the God who redeems things, it still hurts, and it is hard. Pain feels personal, and we are surprised to find time and again God doesn’t always prevent hard things from shattering us.  Why me? we wonder, victimized, as if suffering sought us out. We forget sickness comes before recovery; captivity before freedom; destruction before redemption. Things don’t need repair unless they are broken. Aren’t you glad Jesus promises he is making all things new? (Rev 21:5 NLT).

Pouring the water and yeast into the dry flour, I thought about how Jesus came down to be be broken, then rose up whole to redeem us.  The messy dough in front of me looked more like a mistake than a miracle, like his body, the day Jesus died. But I knew what happened when He was laid to rest, so I left the dough alone and watched redemption rise. Into the oven it went, like a tomb: an exercise in faith that something good was coming even though I couldn’t prove it, exactly. Failure greeted me before–why would this be different? I waited, wondering, and hope stirred in my heart as the scent of heaven filled the house. When the time came, I slid out the pot and lifted the lid, revealing a miracle echoing the words of Jesus when He said, “I have food you know nothing about” (John 4:32 NLT). My heart understood anew what he meant when he said “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again” (John 6:35 NLT).

I showed you the loaf, amazed and we marveled at how beautiful the bread turned out. That night we tore off thick pieces and stared at each other, murmuring This bread is impossibly good. It tasted different than its wheat-filled counterpart, true–but this no-knead bread will forever remind me that Jesus is the gluten free bread we all really need.

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In the hallowed moments when the Goobies passed the crusty loaf around our table, telling me this bread was better than any they had ever tasted before, my heart felt satisfied in deep, important ways. I understood that Jesus didn’t heal my body then because his goal was to heal my soul now. If he prevented my heart from breaking all those years ago, He wouldn’t have had the chance to heal it in this mysterious, delicious way.

While the world spins sideways and staple ingredients fly off shelves and imposed limits on resources put pressure on people everywhere, I find comfort in knowing I have unlimited access to a limitless God. He is more than enough of what I really need, and I trust him to provide for my body and my soul.

And so, as we continue to walk through this season of uncertainty–both in our kitchen and in the wider world–I face it confident that neither culinary trends nor threats of food shortages or shouts of instability from news feeds can alter what I know I need to survive: the bread of life, in satisfying, daily portions.

Before I went gluten free, no-knead artisanal bread made with all purpose wheat flour was a staple at our table. Perfecting this gluten free loaf took willingness to show up and try, lots of trial and error, and the firm belief it could be done well even in the face of failure. This is the version that restored crusty, artisanal bread to our table–and we love it so much we don’t miss the old version in the least. Plus, it’s faster than it’s traditional wheat counterpart to make! Two hours from start to finish, this bread steals our hearts without stealing our time. It’s gluten free, vegan, and free of the top 8 allergens, and makes excellent garlic bread, croutons, french toast, bread pudding, and so much more. From our table to yours, enjoy!

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