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.
Worry whispers half-truths everywhere: on the evening news; at the doctor’s office; in the scroll of idle hands—you’re not safe, it says, subtly feeding the feeling that worry is warranted.
Do you hear it? I’m sure you do–especially now with “the virus,” as the Goobies call it at our house. You head out the door to go fix broken bones even as the bones of our nation are bending under the weight of responsibility, beneath the cost of the consequences if we all don’t collectively get serious about staying safe. The perilous state of politics hovers in that place too, and so much uncertainty hangs heavy in the world.
12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.“
-Philippians 4:12-13 (NIV)
Emery doesn’t ask to go home anymore. In the first several weeks after finally saying goodbye to that empty shell of a house on the other side of the hills, he wandered around this new house perplexed, unsure why we were sticking around so long, and wondering why we hadn’t gone home yet. “Where’s Bubba’s house?” he’d ask. “I go to Bubba’s house.” No, bud–this is our house now, we’d say, and his quizzical eyes questioned ours. It broke my heart every time. And so, he walked in endless circles around here for weeks, disoriented and trying to figure it all out.
The girls were quicker to understand the idea that once we waved goodbye to that little house on Broadmoor, we wouldn’t be going back. There were tears, but lots of giggles too. They thought it was pretty funny that all their stuff ended up in Papa & Nyome’s house, saying that it wasn’t their home, and unpacking their dolls and dresses here didn’t make any sense. I made light of it all, of course, telling them this year is a fun adventure, like a long vacation while we wait for our new house. In the meantime, they settle in a little more each day, and their new room becomes more their own and less the room I slept in when I was a little girl.
Still, Addie sometimes sighs in the middle of a lazy afternoon and confesses she misses our old house, and then also says she misses her new house too. It’s sorrow and longing, clearly, missing what was and looking forward to what will be. Me too, I whisper through tears, and I scoop her up into a hug and she lets me hold her longer than usual. I ask her if she’s unhappy here, and she perks up and says, “Oh no, I’m happy. It’s fun here. I just miss our own house.” Living with her grandparents is cool and fun and cushy and all, but in spite of all that, she still keeps her eyes fixed on what she hopes for. Addie makes a universal truth so easy to understand: that this place is temporary and life here is fleeting at best. She is learning how to be content with what is, while still hoping for something isn’t. I think we are all learning that lesson.
In the meantime, she’s adjusting. We all are. Addie still gets teary-eyed sometimes, Mia still corrects me whenever I happen to say “Ok Goobies, we’re going home now” (“No–we’re going to Papa & Nyome’s house, Mama”), and every so often Emery asks where his old house is. But he doesn’t wander around confused anymore; instead, he runs with purpose and a sense of urgency unique to rambunctious little boys, living out the promise of adventure we’ve been preaching for months. As for me, I spend my time trying to make things functional and familiar enough in hopes of making these Goobies feel like we really do belong here.
And so, we’ve gotten busy with the business of getting on with life. We eat fluffy scrambled eggs and piles and piles of sun-kissed strawberries around the same kitchen table we’ve always eaten around, this time surrounded by the in & out and to & fro of grandparents. Pajama clad, we tumble out into the backyard to feed the animals, then we weed, prune, water and pick. The girls and I pop tomatoes in our mouths, twist zucchini from the vine, and plunk velvety green beans into our garden baskets while Emery drives his yellow cozy cab back and forth, back and forth.
Next we scurry off to swim lessons and play at the park and somehow manage to squeeze in a gymnastics lesson every Monday afternoon. After lunch I finally squeeze in a shower while the girls learn the discipline of quiet reading (and learn to love getting lost in a book). Then we ride bikes and play Scrabble and Candyland and Checkers; we come up with a thousand ways to use up every glorious bit of our summertime harvest, and slurp popsicles while the sun starts to slip under its covers for the night.
There’s so much good all around us, both familiar and brand new at the same time. I’m learning how to be content with it. There are a million reasons why this season is sweet and beautiful and lovely and right, but there are just as many lies that twist those truths and tempt me toward jealousy and discontentment. I’m learning to ignore those voices, the voices of self-importance and jealousy that taunt me, saying my life isn’t good because I’m back here in the place where I grew up, again.
We spend a lot of time in the backyard, mainly because Emery is desperate to get outside practically from the moment he wakes up. Once we’re out there, I bide my time by tending to the garden, feeding the zucchini, pruning the tomatoes, and picking green beans, all of which had been doing well, happy in the place they’re planted and producing beautiful fruit. This week, though, I noticed the green bean bush is tangled and droopy with the weight of itself. I bent down low and looked beneath the cover of big, shady leaves to find that the well-established vines had grown thick and twisted, like a knot, far away from the trellis and up into themselves. The bright green fingertips of new growth poked out from under the snarl looking for a place to hold on to, clearly looking for the sun but unable to find anything but darkness. Those tender little things had wrapped themselves around the tangled old vines that were choking the life out of them. And so, I cut away the overgrowth, ripping out old and gently guiding the new to grab on to the security of the trellis, where they can be free to grow up, toward the light.
As I did so, I realized the same thing happened in my heart. I’d been searching for peace in the darkness, grasping for it and finding it had been choked out by lies inside my own head–my perceived not enough-ness, the voice that whispers that everyone else has more, has better and is more, is better. Those old patterns of thinking returned with a vengeance one we moved here again, and were threatening once more to impede my ability to flourish in the place where I’m planted.
I’m pulling out those old, snarled vines in my heart and making way for truth to take hold again. In the process, I’m looking to Paul as my guide. He learned what it means to be content in all circumstances–he didn’t instinctively know how to do it either. There’s grace for me–for all of us– in that. I’m not there, but I’m getting there, and I’m finding peace in the process. I am enough and this life is enough because Jesus is enough. Like Paul, I’m grabbing onto Jesus for support, because He gives me strength.
Such lovely, life-giving things are right here, right now, in this place we find ourselves today. There is blessing and beauty and bounty in these moments, and I know it is a gift. It’s different than perhaps I expected, and I don’t know what’s next, exactly–but that’s ok. There’s peace here, plenty of it.
We have so much zucchini growing–enough to bake muffins and spin zoodles and grill and roast and more–and there’s plenty to share. The timing of it is perfect because I’m walking through some new dietary changes (Gah! Again!) and am leaning on the prolific veggie to help soften the blow of removing grains from my diet. (More on that another time.) Until then, I’ll say this: zucchini is a jack of all trades in the veggie world–it even knows how to make a truly delicious dip that my dad says he likes better than hummus. Even Emery (my two year old!) is a fan. Leave out the cumin & coriander and add 2 teaspoons of dried dill instead, or leave out the spices altogether and leave it plain. The decision is yours, of course. I won’t be bossy, but you should definitely serve this with grilled chicken and veggies.
First, prep the zucchini. Cut off both ends of the zucchini and peel off the green skin. Next, chop what’s left into 1″ cubes (or so). Plunk the pieces into a high speed blender or food processer and pile the remaining ingredients on top. Close the lid and process on high until the zucchini is smooth and the ingredients have emulsified–a good minute or two, depending on the power of your machine.
The dip is ready at this point, but is a little runny. Refrigerate for a couple of hours for a thicker dip, or drizzle over grilled chicken and veggies immediately.
Our apple tree exploded in blooms a couple weeks ago. Usually this time of year isn’t so rough on me. I didn’t suffer from seasonal allergies as a child the way I do now. So far it seems as though our kids suffer from them too. Drat that spring wind that stirred up the pollen and bewitched the air into a magic potion that transformed our eyes into spiky balls of wool and our noses into leaky faucets. We walk around woozy, dazed, and itchy. It’s miserable.
The timing is convenient: it’s a perfectly acceptable time of year for people to wipe away tears from allergy afflicted eyes every five seconds. The folks staring at me across the aisle at Target seem to say, “me too,” as they wipe their own constantly running noses. I admit I blame my watery eyes on allergies several times in the past few weeks because if people knew the truth–that I was really wiping away tears of fear or sadness or stress–I might not get the same sort of empathy.
To be clear, I am suffering from allergies, and I finally broke down and bought myself a bottle of allergy medicine because the skin under my eyes was worn raw from all the wiping. But the deeper truth is allergies aren’t the only reason my eyes have been so teary lately. It’s not even the sadness I feel about moving away from our house. There’s more.
It all started in early January, after eating those delicious, fancy tapas that were supposed to be gluten free, and feeling as if I’d eaten poison. I suffered for weeks with the pain that only ever comes from consuming that dastardly gluten. Usually when I “get glutened,” I’m wracked with pain and worry for about a week. After that, the symptoms eventually subside as my body recovers, and I’ve gotten used to this super fun phenomenon.
Except this time, my body didn’t recover and the symptoms intensified to the point that it was hard to go about life as usual. I was extra touchy; things I usually took in stride set off fits of frustration and anger, and I had a hard time thinking about anything but my own pain. The paranoia came back. Certainty that the doctors missed something–and that I was, in fact, dying–disrupted my sleep and hijacked my internal monologue for months. I grew increasingly feeble and needy and angry. I was doing everything right: avoided gluten like my life depended on it, to the point that I’m sure I frustrated several food service workers in the process. I took my probiotics like clockwork, eventually cut out all grains and cooked everything at home. I hopped on the kombucha band wagon and went against my own no-dairy-drinks-in-the-house rule and sneaked sips of blueberry kefir when no one was looking. I defrosted bone broth I’d tucked away in the freezer and made meals and meals and more meals out of the stuff. I even dug out the grass-fed gelatin (that I stashed in the back of the pantry because the smell–oh the smell!–was too much for me to handle) and made homemade gummies and blended it into my morning smoothies. My symptoms eased up a little, but not by much. The pain was my constant companion and torment, and my fears grew. I went on as if life was normal, trying my best to smile in spite of myself, but on the inside, I withered.
Stress made it all worse, of course, because that’s what stress does. It further twists the already tangled mess inside, holds a microphone up to the lips of fear and bids it speak, taunts an already broken spirit and tempts it to let go of hope, and in the process, makes every dark thought look an awful lot like the truth. With the pressure of birthdays and sickness and selling our house and kids who were increasingly stressed out too, things started to spiral. To make it all worse, the prescription I usually leaned on for flare ups like this one never got filled–not even despite our incessant requests.
A good friend reached out to me in the middle of a desperate moment in March, randomly asking how she could pray for me that week. I don’t usually talk candidly about what really happens when gluten finds its way back into my body, but this time I told her everything–like, everything–about the inflammation and bleeding and how this time around the symptoms weren’t going away, and about how the paranoia returned and snatched my good sense away from me and made me feel crazy. And how on top of all that, life kept happening, demanding I get up out of bed and keep going. She understands the spin that happens when stress and fear stake their claim upon our hearts, and she promised to pray against it.
About a month later, in the morning after a particularly painful night, I choked out a tearful prayer for what felt like the hundred thousandth time since the symptoms returned in January and trudged into my morning routine, putting one foot in front of the other and trying to go about my day as if I felt fine, but I didn’t. Later that morning, after you left for work and the girls were both settled in at school and Emery was happily chattering away to his Mr. Potato head, I walked into the kitchen and noticed my jar of vitamins was out of place. It was sitting on the counter in front of the Keurig in a place where I couldn’t miss it. This wasn’t that unusual. You set them there for me sometimes when you get your own bottle of vitamins out in the morning. But on that particular morning you hadn’t set them out. I’m sure of it because I walked past that coffee maker a dozen times before that moment, and they just weren’t there before. I’m telling you.
I shrugged it off as I popped a couple into my mouth, and as soon as I started chewing, my eyes glazed over the back of the bottle and I wondered, What if?
I picked it up and right there on the label, it said Contains wheat.
Stunned and appalled, I shook like a leaf as I spit those half-chewed vitamins out, tears dripping down my chin as I leaned over the sink. My hands trembled and and I shouted for joy and actually laughed, because in that instant I knew I wasn’t crazy. It was in January that I bought that big bottle of vitamins, right around the same time I got glutened by those tapas. And it was also in January when my insides ignited with pain again, barbed and raw and hot, like road rash on the inside. Healing didn’t happen in that instant; my body still hurt like hell, but suddenly–divinely perhaps–hope returned.
After I stopped taking those vitamins, my health improved dramatically. In the two weeks since then, things are improving, and those gut-healing foods I’ve been cramming into my body like a crazy person are finally getting the chance to make a difference in my damaged body. The constant screaming pain is down to a low, occasional whisper, because the healing isn’t finished yet, and I know from experience it takes awhile to get things back to normal. But my outlook, my perspective–my hope–it’s radically changed. I spent months feeling trapped inside of my own pain, afraid to talk about what was really happening inside because in my skewed sense of reality, either I was dying or I was crazy, and neither felt safe to admit. I felt alone.
It was like when Addie got that high fever out of nowhere and it just wouldn’t go away. She was frustrated and fatigued and was just so over being sick, but the fever persisted to the extent that she had to have her blood drawn to check for something worse. She was stricken by the news. I would have given anything to take her place, but I couldn’t, of course. But I made sure she didn’t walk through the ordeal alone. I pulled her up onto my lap and cradled her there as we waited, spoke tenderly to her as the fear taunted her, and held on tight until after the pain pricked her tender little body. She shook and cried and held on to me, trusting that what I said was true: that I was there with her even during the worst of it, and that pain isn’t the end of the story.
Pain isn’t the end of the story for me either. In the middle of it, it feels like it is. The hard part for me is knowing this sort of thing will happen again. Gluten is sneaky and likes to hide, and when it finds its way into my system, it throws my good sense out the window and plays tricks on me. Pain and fear is all I see, so I have to keep my ears and heart open enough to keep hearing God whisper, the pain is not the end of the story.
I don’t know why that prescription never got filled, but I’m pretty sure it’s because the medication wouldn’t have done any good anyway, and in His glorious, all-knowing way, God knew that and kept the stuff out of my hands. The vitamins caused the problems; no pills could offset the damage they did as long as I kept consuming them. I could sit here and ask time and time again why God didn’t help point me in that direction sooner–I could ask why He let me suffer–but I think I already know the answer. Because in this life, we will suffer. How could we not? Pain is part of our humanness, a result of the fallen world in which we live. But God’s mercy extended to me–to all of us–even in the darkest moments, like an anchor thrust deep into the dark and murky waters of tormented souls.
The tumultuous start to this year taught me self-care is imperative, not to ward of physical pain, necessarily, or as a quick fix for deeper, chronic health issues, but for this simple reason: I am not able to care for anyone else when I am unwell. I have heard this for years, of course, but now, clearly, I understand. And so, whereas I used to scoff at the idea of spending any sort of extra money on things that I needed (because I’m a mom, and let’s be honest: moms often put themselves last on the list of priorities), I now shell out a few extra dollars for things that help me feel more … centered, important. Like choosing to stock up on Peet’s coffee at home because let’s be honest: I run on coffee, and I find I’m in a better mood when I sip a really good cup of it with my Bible perched on my lap and reading the stories of God’s love, rescue and redemption in the earliest hours of the day. And diffusing my favorite blend of Young Living essential oils (lavender, frankincense and Stress Away) without reservation, any time of the day just because I feel like it, and breathing them in slowly, deeply. Splurging on kombucha and taking a hot shower and going to bed early with a good book. Listening to songs by people like Ellie Holcomb, songs that make me weep and pray and dance and sing in one sweeping movement.
Today the rain returned and I’m hoping it will renew and replenish the air, give it a good scrub, and help us all to breathe a little easier in the next few days. Breathing easy sounds refreshing, doesn’t it? April Showers bring May flowers, after all, and I for one am looking forward to the life ahead.
Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
I piled the Goobies into the car and drove through that windy canyon over to the other side of the hills to take the girls for a visit to their new school. It was a whole month ago now, on a Friday when another storm decided to swoop in and pound California with more rain. This particular visit was a strange combination of serendipity and providence. The Goobies’ were off of school that week, strangely, for Winter Break, and while so many other people (all the people, it felt like) were trading dank gray clouds for sunshine and fresh air, we hunkered down and spent a week cooped up at home for what felt like no reason at all-until that Friday when God used something ordinary to teach me a lesson in obedience and faith.
Like most things lately, I didn’t have such a good attitude about it at first: just thinking about Winter Break and ten days spent inside with three spunky kids teased the last string of my already frayed sanity loose. I normally scoop those Goobies up into my arms as soon as we tumble through the garage door after all those hours spent away from each other, smothering them with kisses and cries of “I’ve missed you all day long!” even as they try in vain to hang up their jackets and backpacks. Imagining ten days of so much togetherness made me want to run and hide myself away until Winter Break had come and gone again.
Winter Break came anyway. The sun decided to poke its head out early that week and blue skies beckoned me to come out of hiding. Fantasies of setting up camp under a blanket in a quiet corner of the house (where hopefully no one would find me) evaporated, and before I knew it those Goobies stole my heart all over again as we spent those few beautiful days just being us, here, together.
Winter break turned out to be a break in Winter, and that strange, out-of-the-ordinary week was a gift I didn’t know I would need: one last beautiful week spent here in our home before change became reality and took up residence with us. It was Valentine’s Day that week, and I decked out the table with bright colored hearts and pink Strawberry Pancakes, and we spent hours outside blowing bubbles and playing red light green light and flying upside down on the swings those Goobies love so much. I said yes as much as I could, and remembered the days before Emery joined our brood, the days when I spent everyday entertaining those girls here at home without the pressure or restraint of schedules. Those days slipped by without me really knowing they could, and I think I’ve had a hard time coming to terms with the fact that they are almost gone. For one lovely week, I got to experience that joy again, and remember.
Friday came and winter came back with it, bringing another pounding rain storm. The week was over and reality set in and I put on my brave face as I piled those three pajama-clad Goobies into the car and drove West, weaving my way through a wet, windy canyon, toward change.
What a feat to pry those kids off the couch and settle them happily in the car before breakfast. None of them really wanted to trade their cozy little spot on the couch for a cold car seat and a long, gloomy drive through that windy, soggy canyon. On a day they could be marathon-watching Goldie and Bear and munching on chocolate chip banana muffins, they somehow managed to hear my voice above the din of Disney Junior and heaved their pajama-clad selves into the car without complaining. They munched on baggies full of dry Trader Joe’s O’s and listened to music and played quietly among themselves without arguing once.
I couldn’t get over the fact that they didn’t complain. They complain in the best of circumstances, but on that particular morning when I forced them into the car without a warm breakfast in their bellies, and raced them toward a new unfamiliar reality, they kept quiet. These kids aren’t shy about letting us know when they feel insecure or frightened, so even though they may have been a little unsure about visiting a new school, they didn’t show any outward sign of concern. They were quiet. Their hearts were quiet. They were sure we were headed somewhere good and safe and they were certain I would get them there in one piece. They knew their job was to simply be still and let me do my job. They had faith in me. They trusted me.
And then it hit me: I was not at peace with getting up and moving because I hadn’t been still and let God do His job. I didn’t really have faith in Him. It started months ago when uncertainty set up camp in my heart as I watched the future fly toward me faster than I thought possible. Instead of running toward it with outstretched hands, I wanted to yell “Duck!” and run away and hide. My feet were firmly set, my heels dug deep in the place I thought God planted us. I felt like a tree, tall and strong enough to endure whatever storm came. But last Fall, I realized just how weak I was. The mere idea of change–of losing this place and the life we’ve built up around it–undid me. I wasn’t seeing what I hoped for, really, and what I was certain about was everything I wanted was being taken away from me.
Winter brought sadness, and I didn’t think peace or hope could ever really return. I took cover in the safety of familiar things I could count on–like God, and His goodness and love; and in you and this time we have with these kids, here, now. I clung to joy and pleaded for peace because change is scary and I was afraid. The new year came, just as it always does, and the soil of certainty turned soggy when the sky opened up and new things began pouring down. Your Midwestern roots keep you calm when thunder rattles the windows, me. The grumbling clouds unnerve me even while while their sad song is a symphony to your heart.
Winter brings death, and Spring brings life. I know this very well, of course. Doesn’t everyone? But in the middle of Winter, everything seemed so dank, gray, and just so… final–even here in California where Winter just means cooler weather and leaf-bare trees outstretching their bony fingers toward barren gray skies, as if praying, and the hope of Spring seemed impossible.
This all lasted until that last Friday of Winter Break, when everything suddenly came into focus as my own children showed me what pure trust looks like as they let me lead them away from comfort and into the unknown. They didn’t really want to get up and go–but they trusted that something really, really good (like fluffy scrambled eggs and wind-up robots, and a visit to see a new school where they could see their Papa’s office from the playground) was on the other side of the journey, and they put their faith in action by getting into the car and letting me drive. That’s what God is asking of me: to listen to his voice, to get up and go, and to trust Him to get me there safely.
Now, a whole month later, Spring is here. Blossoms appeared on the gnarled old apple tree this morning, suddenly, and the changes I saw coming so many months ago are very much here now. A big beautiful demonstration of new life stares me in the face, and I can’t help but see hope.
My feet are not firmly set anymore; they are loosening and small steps are leading to bigger ones as I walk in obedience and faith. And so, transition is taking up space all around us. The bare walls look like closed eyes now, as if the house has fallen asleep. I tiptoe through the hallway trying not to disturb it, and its echo reminds me that this place is ours only for a few more weeks, really.
Every day another box gets packed and another piece of furniture disappears and the Goobies wake up to a house that looks increasingly less familiar and they ask, “Why does our house look so different, Mama?” I wipe my eyes and smile through the tears, reminding them again and again we are getting ready for the big adventure God is taking us on- because in the end, isn’t that what this is? Most of the time they squeal with delight, but every once in awhile their tears come, too. “Will I get to take my bed with me? What about the swing set? Are you and daddy going to come with us? Will we ever come back to visit this house?”
Obeying isn’t easy, nor is faith. It’s hard. I would much rather stay where I am, nose nestled under piles and piles of blankets, comfy and warm, in a place I’ve grown to love more than I thought I ever could. But I’m swinging my legs out from under myself anyway because like you taught me all those years ago: faith isn’t just in the knowing, it’s also in the going. I know now the challenges ahead will be worth it because the God who is calling us to a new life this Spring is faithful and trustworthy. The Goobies reminded me of that on that glorious gift of a Winter Break. I am ready to head through that canyon again with you in the weeks that will be here before I know it, because I know who is doing the driving, and with Him, we are safe.
I spent Valentines Day with my Goobies at home this year, since they were off of school for Winter Break that week. But I hadn’t really planned a special breakfast and since it was the day before pay day, the pantry was a pretty sparse. But pancakes are an empty pantry wonder-food, and I used them as a canvas for coming up with a way to make the morning feel a little more festive (because if any day of the year calls for a little whimsy, it’s Valentine’s Day, right?). As with all my recipes, substitute real milk for the dairy free milk if you aren’t dairy free and use regular all purpose flour too if you aren’t gluten free.
Whisk the flour, baking soda and salt together in a large bowl. Add the eggs, almond milk, strawberry spread and vanilla and mix well; then drizzle in the melted coconut oil and stir to combine. Drop the food coloring in little by little, and stir; add until you get the shade you desire. (Natural food coloring yields a paler, more earthy shade of pink, which is pictured above; conventional red food coloring yields a bolder, more noticeable shade of pink, which the kids prefer because the color is far more noticeable.)
Over medium high heat, warm up a griddle and spray with coconut oil cooking spray. Scoop 1/4 cup of the batter onto the griddle at a time and cook until the edges have set and bubbles emerge on top. Flip gently and continue to cook until golden.
Serve warm, with syrup or not. Sprinkled with powdered sugar or not. Topped with whipped cream and strawberries or not. The Goobies tend to eat straight from the plate without toppings, just as they are. Your call 🙂
3 “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.
4 “You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
5 “You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.
6 “You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.
7 “You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.
8 “You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.”
Matthew 5: 3-8 (MSG)
I remember that night well: I was all alone in that quirky old house on 12th street. My roommates were off doing other things with other people, leaving a rare quiet in the middle of that little house that typically served as the after-work gathering spot. When I got home that evening, I sank into that velvety red couch and inhaled deeply as I took in the quiet. There were five of us living there at the time, and moments like this didn’t happen much. The house was hushed, as if it were holding its breath waiting to see what I would do to fill the void. It got its answer before long: I picked up my phone and sent you a text almost without thinking, as if dinner with you was the obvious choice for how to spend my time.
This did not surprise me until the moment after I hit the send button. No one cajoled me into meeting up with you, dared me to take a risk, or hounded me to just give you a chance. Those days were long gone by then; everyone (including you) had let the idea of you and me together drift away about a year before this particular night. And yet there I was, asking if you wanted to meet up and grab dinner with me. A moment or two later, another surprise: you said yes.
We ended up at My Thai, an unassuming local spot tucked in the corner of an otherwise forgettable strip mall in the northern part of Fremont. I knew two things about this restaurant before we went there that night: one, their food was supposed to be fantastic; and two, they took pictures of customers who survived eating the spiciest of their fare and posted it on the Wall of Flame, a challenge you feverishly embraced.
We ordered a slew of curries, mine fairly mild and yours the hottest of the hot, and lavished it over mounds and mounds of rice. The molten exotic goodness was a revelation to me, and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. I hadn’t liked Thai food before that night, and really, I can’t think why I suggested the place at all. But there we were, being adventurous together, trying new things and laughing our way through the evening. By the time we finished, you had earned your place on the Wall of Flame and in my heart.
I didn’t tell you that, of course–not yet, at least. I had to sit with those feelings for awhile, marinating in them until my mind caught up with my heart, which had already turned tender toward you. I didn’t understand what was happening at the time, and its taken until this moment to see the pattern that had to happen in order for the sinewy strings of my heart to be softened, and I found the answer in the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus talks with his disciples about what it means to be blessed.
In those verses, I see a process of transformation: for everything lost, something else is found. Change occurs as blow builds upon blow to ultimately bestow blessing upon blessing. I went through that process of transformation, beginning at the outset of adulthood with hurt and isolation, having lost so many of the things and people in which I had come to find my identity. My losses put me on a path toward contentment with who I am, as I am. In the process, I grew desperate for God’s love, and I learned He was all that could really satisfy. Once my heart was fully His, that’s when it began to soften and my inside world settled into a new rhythm of peace. My mind eventually caught up with my heart and once they began working in tandem, that’s when I started to see what God was doing in me and in you. You went through the same process, albeit at a different pace than I did, but eventually, finally, we both made it to the place where we could really see what God was doing outside of ourselves and inside of each other.
We live far across the hills from that little strip mall now, in a time and place very different from those first few moments we flirted with the idea of us. My Thai has long since closed, sadly, but your picture hung alongside your comrades on the Wall of Flame until the day the restaurant closed its doors. I’ll remember that modest little place fondly forever though, because it opened my world up to taking chances, enjoying unfamiliar things, savoring things I thought I didn’t like in the first place. It is where you became mine, after all (even though it still took some time for me to admit that to you).
P.S. – My favorite part of that story is what you didn’t tell me until well after we were married: that you were sitting in a dark theater, already in the middle of that Steve Carell remake of Get Smart when you got my message. Without hesitation, you got up and left mid-movie to come have dinner with me instead. I love that.
This recipe is inspired by my memories of the night Joey and I first enjoyed Thai food together. Clearly, we can’t really flit off to dinner at our favorite local spots on a whim these days, but this recipe satisfies our cravings for spicy, adventurous flavors–and it just happens to be one of the easiest recipes in my rotation (bonus that it’s gluten free and dairy free, too!). If you like the coconut-laden flavors of Thai curries, this is an easy way to make it at home without all the fuss of an exhaustive list of exotic-sounding ingredients. The ingredients are flexible: use chicken if you don’t really like pork. Ground turkey would be delicious as well. Hold the cilantro or pile it on. Amp up the spice or not. Serve with more lime wedges or forget it. It doesn’t really matter–do it how you like it best. Joey and I like to serve it over riced cauliflower, but of course regular old rice will do. I have made this in the crock pot as well, and it does work, but I think the flavors are better when made on the stove. To make it in the crock pot, stir together the coconut milk, curry paste, lime juice, basil and red pepper; then toss uncooked sliced meat into the crock pot and pour the coconut slurry on top. Cook on low for 4-6 hours (adding snow peas during the final hour or so), or high for 3-4 hours (adding the snow peas the final 30 minutes or so).
2 pounds pork (such as a sirloin roast), cut into 1″ strips
1 – 9 oz. bag snow peas, ends snipped and cut into 1″ pieces
2-15 oz cans coconut milk (I prefer to use full fat, but reduced fat works fine as well. The end result won’t be quite as rich and creamy, but the flavor will still be fantastic).
1-4 oz jar green curry paste (Thai Kitchen is the best)
1/3 cup lime juice
2 Tablespoons unrefined coconut oil
1 1/2 Tablespoons fresh basil, chopped (or substitute Thai basil if you have it, which I usually don’t. Regular basil from my garden works just fine.)
1/2 teaspoon dried red chili flakes
First, prep the pork by trimming off any excessive fat and slicing it into strips, about 1/2 ” x 2″ or so. Season with kosher salt. Next, set a large pan over high heat and plunk two tablespoons of coconut oil into the bottom. Once it’s melted and the pan is hot, brown the strips of pork, separating them into two batches so they brown (and don’t steam). Once the first batch has browned, remove it from the pan and start the next batch. Add the reserved browned pork back to the pan and turn it down to medium heat.
Meanwhile, stir together the coconut milk, lime juice and green curry paste. Pour the slurry into the hot pan and give it a good stir. Add in the red pepper flakes and chopped basil, stir again and cover. Simmer for about 20 minutes, then add the trimmed snow peas and cover again. Continue to simmer for another 20 minutes, or until the snow peas have softened to your liking. Add a sprinkle more kosher salt if the flavor seems a little flat (in other words, adjust seasoning to your taste.) Serve with cauliflower rice or regular rice and top with a squeeze of lime, sprinkle of more red chili flakes, and a garnish of cilantro (if you like).