One day when my kitchen counter was uncharacteristically clean and the dinner hour was quickly approaching, I posed a question to my Instagram friends: Should I follow through on my dinner plan and cook Sticky Orange Chicken (and thus keep my kitchen clean), or should I take the easy way out and serve cereal instead?
“Cereal!” the people cried. “Give yourself a break, lady!” they screamed.
I was so far beyond exhausted that the idea of serving cereal for dinner actually sounded appealing. Talk about easy clean up. But after taking a few minutes to consider, I decided to cook the chicken anyway.
I felt pretty bratty as I zested an orange that evening, fully ignoring the call to give myself a break. I swear I heard my Insta-friends shouting, “Show off!” as I ignored their advice. Truth be told, cereal doesn’t really do it for me. I needed real food, you know? And what I really wanted was Chinese take out, or pizza delivered straight to my door, or for Joey to come home from with a bag of sloppy burgers and crispy fries–anything that would keep the kitchen clean by minimizing clean up. But those options don’t simplify dinner. If anything, they complicate it even more than homecooked allergy-friendly food.
I wanted easy, but my people needed to eat. So off to cook chicken I trudged, bad attitude in tow.
As I diced up chicken and dredged it in starch, I thought about all the women who lived on this prairie long before I did–how did they feel about having to do dinner after a long days’ work? Did they cook up cornbread and beans with a chip on their shoulder? (Probably sometimes.) But they did it anyway because if you didn’t work, you didn’t eat. Take out wasn’t a thing for them. Their idea of fast food was hard tack or dried buffalo meat.
Oof. Sautéing scallions and fresh garlic in my cushy kitchen suddenly felt luxurious.
My frustration flipped to thanksgiving in that moment of clarity. I had a well-stocked pantry with fresh, flavorful food. I have an indoor stove and a real-deal dishwasher that help lighten my dinnertime load. I have little hands learning to pitch in, and a husband who says my homecooked food is better than take out, anyway.
I saw my blessings more clearly that night. Whisking together fresh orange juice and coconut aminos is an extravagance that generations of prairie people before me couldn’t have dreamed up. My perennial nightly chore went from burden to blessing in an instant, and all my pent-up dinnertime stress melted away. Cooking felt industrious; crying about it felt indolent.
Did I still wish take out was an option? Well, sure, because I’m not a pioneer woman, and it hurts to watch the pizza delivery man deliver dinner to my neighbors and not me. But is my family better fed by the work of my hands? You bet, in more ways than one.
Food allergy life is physically demanding, emotionally exhausting and mentally taxing. Every upside-down kitchen is. Whether it’s an allergy or an intolerance or an autoimmune disease that renders some foods fundamentally off the table, unconventional food life places so much extra squarely on our shoulders, and it overwhelms us. Living in a time and place where convenience convinces us we deserve to take a break doesn’t help either. But when I get to that frazzled place where opting out of responsibility sounds better than orange chicken, I remind myself how easy I have it. Dinner could be corncakes and beans cooked an open fire every night, you know?
And ok, perhaps it’s not fair to compare my cushy kitchen to pioneer life. They didn’t have food allergies to deal with (did they?). But they didn’t have electricity either, so you know–perspective. And honestly? My orange chicken isn’t even hard. It’s my heart that tends to be.
Everyone is bored with breakfast these days. I’m not sure what it is–the monotony, the lack of urgency to get out the door, the repetition that renders it boring? The promise of a full belly holds no sway over the Goobies these days. Lucky Charms doesn’t even seem to tempt them to the table. Breakfast in isolation robs us of our appetite, it seems. Morning meals still happen, sluggish as they are now, but none of us are particularly fond of the mopey feet and grumbling tummies that bring us to the table.
Reality met us there every morning, and no one was particularly fond of the unwanted guest.
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.
“Our God gives you everything you need, makes you everything you’re to be.“
2 Thessalonians 1:2 (MSG)
Mia is giving us fits lately. The stubborn little thing digs her heels in deep, stance stable and set, screaming “just try to get me to move.” It doesn’t work. She knows what she wants, and she doesn’t let up. It’s aggravating.
This is especially true at mealtime, when that kid flat out refuses to eat what she is given, insisting the only thing she will eat is macaroni and cheese and strawberries so if we would just get it through our heads that if we relented and gave her what she wanted, she would stop making a fuss at the dinner table. But we are the grown ups, so we hold our ground too and we give her the choice to eat what is provided or not at all. Let’s be clear: we are not giving her liver and onions for dinner, or whole roasted trout with lima beans. We are serving things like chili and tortilla chips; grilled chicken and rice; or hamburgers, for crying out loud. Normal, approachable food that other kids cheer for. But no matter: she will not yield to the things we provide. She does this because more often than not, she just plain does not like our choices for her.
An example: bananas and strawberries. I have lost track how many times this girl has cried over them. I have cried happy tears over an impossibly sweet strawberry in the middle of summer too, but tears over bananas? The ubiquitous childhood snack heralded for its palatability among children? (Yes. So many tears.) The only way Mia dares put them in her mouth is if chocolate has rendered the banana completely unrecognizable (as in chocolate chip banana muffins). No matter how we try to spin them, the cost of eating a banana rarely tends to be worth the act of chewing and swallowing it. She does not enjoy bananas, so she does not see the point in eating them. But strawberries are an entirely different story. She would willingly eat strawberries with every meal every day of every week of every month of every year. When strawberries are the seasonal star, we let herself eat them to her hearts’ content because we buy them by the crateful every week. But in the dead of winter when strawberries are not in season, we cannot serve them often, if at all.
And so, fights. Tears. Begrudging obedience. In the process, we remind her about her choice in all this: she gets to decide whether to eat what is given to her or not (“Listen: we won’t always give you what you want, but we will always give you what you need. What you need is good food to fill your tummy. Tonight, it’s meatloaf, so we suggest you eat a few bites of it because you’ll be hungry if you don’t.”) Whether she leaves the table with a full stomach or not is her choice–not ours. We are off the hook because we provided the good food she needs to stay healthy and strong. We hope she will choose to fill her belly with the things we have provided, but we cannot make her swallow that darn meatloaf any more than we can make sweet strawberries flourish in the dead of winter. We can beg, bargain, cajole or get plain mad, but why bother? We have given her what she needs. The rest is up to her.
I have been spending time with the Israelites, digging in to their story of rescue and redemption, finding myself knee deep in the wilderness just like they were. The manna situation reminds me very much of our struggle with Mia because no one really wanted the manna, a perfect, delicious, plentiful food they could count on to keep them well fed and comfy. It was superior to all the other food they ever ate in Egypt (I mean, this stuff was heavenly, right?), and yet they complained about it, even resented it perhaps. I wonder how many times they ate it with hearts begrudging the hand that fed it to them and wishing they could have something else, anything else. I bet they wondered why God did not seem to care they were craving the foods they really loved, the foods they missed from their old way of life. I imagine they toyed with the thought that if God really loved them as much as He said He did, He would give them the things they wanted most instead of forcing them to subsist on something they clearly did not prefer. But their ideas for what was best for themselves did not line up with God’s ideas of what was best for them.
So it is with us.
I gave Mia a banana on her dinner plate the other night, and she took one look at the the handful of slices piled up next to her peas and exclaimed, “You know I don’t like bananas. Why would you put them on my plate?” I know bananas have potassium and magnesium and fiber, and I know the dessert she will be ask for after dinner does not have any of those things, and those nutrients are important to keep her healthy and strong. I know strawberries are expensive in the middle of winter and spending $5 every day on a measly pack of lack luster mid-winter strawberries is simply not going to happen. I know I have a jar of her beloved chocolate powder in the cupboard that I just have not put on the table yet, and I know I am going to sprinkle some of that powder on her bananas so that she will eat a few bites, at least. I know things about the food on her dinner plate she that does not know, but I also know things about her dinner plate she just could not know on her own.
And ooof, if that is not the conclusion I have been drawing day after day in this long haul of a season that has left me broken in so many ways. My ideas for my own life clearly are not the same as God’s ideas for my best life. That thought is deep and marred by the fear that if my ideas for my life are good ones, and if God’s ideas are different than my own really, really good ones, I am tempted to believe that God’s ideas are not good. I identify with those grumbling Israelites: manna is monotonous and where’s the milk and honey you promised and why do we have to stay out here in the wilderness for so long anyway? I signed up for the Promised Land, and this is not it. Your plans must not be as good as I thought.
And like those grumbling Israelites, I keep complaining about the things I find filling up my proverbial plate, all while insisting God simply remove them and replace them with the things I want instead. I don’t want a sick, dysfunctional digestive system. I don’t want a life long battle with chronic conditions; I don’t want to take pills everyday; I don’t want to have surgery; I don’t want to have kids with food allergies; I don’t want to live in fear of gluten or peanuts or milk or any of the other allergens that cause serious problems in our household. I want a healthy body, and I want our kids to have healthy bodies too, and it doesn’t seem like an unreasonable request, either. I want to like what is on my plate, and I just plain don’t. And in the middle of it, I am convinced God is telling me the same thing we tell Mia every day: I won’t always give you what you want, but I will always give you what you need.
Last week, I went to bed hungry, so to speak, sulking and angry because I was just so over what is filling my proverbial plate these days. Finally, finally, after months of feeling crazy, my GI doctor discovered I have biliary dyskinesia, which basically means my gall bladder is not working. Since I don’t have gall stones, I have been presenting with a mysterious symptoms that no one understands. Test after test after test insisted nothing was wrong with me, which clearly I knew wasn’t true. Either the doctors were terrible at their job or this phantom pain was a psychological invention, not a physical reality. But a HIDA scan showed the truth: my gall bladder wasn’t functioning correctly and out it must come. I had never been so happy to hear bad news.
Two days after surgery I was fretting over the level of pain I did not expect. Unrealistic expectations of a quick and easy recovery made my post-op pain feel like a death sentence. In the middle of it, I flung myself out of bed to help you find the emergency medicine bag; you were flustered and rushed, and the gravity of the situation forced me to move faster than perhaps my still-recovering body should have moved. But when Emery laid in your arms, swollen and floppy, eyes closed and unresponsive, I forgot about my own pain and flew to find the Epi Pen and administered it without reservation, even though I knew the sudden poke would hurt Emery. The fact that he would not enjoy the sudden sting of that shot paled in comparison to the reality that worse things would happen if I chose his comfort over what was best for him. His tears were a necessary problem to have in a grave situation like that. The tears told us he was alive. The tears, perhaps, even saved his life. I put something on his plate he didn’t want: pain. But I know things he doesn’t know. I won’t always give him what he wants, but I will always give him what he needs.
I don’t want this reality, this life marred by pain and sickness and a body wracked with stuff that gets in the way of normal life. I’m mad that my own plate is brimming with disease, discomfort, and dietary restrictions that have left me sick and lost and confused and isolated. I’m frustrated that food allergies fill our kids’ plates, and I’m confused as to why God would think they’re a good idea when He knows how much we hate them. It’s bananas.
I don’t know why God is filling my plate with things I rally against, but I am not going to bed hungry tonight. Instead, I am choosing to believe the possibility that these things I loathe are making me into who I am, nourishing me in their own unique (unsavory) ways. I trust God knows things about all this I don’t know–couldn’t know. I don’t believe He’s unkind. I don’t believe He’s unjust. I don’t believe He’s singled us out to be on the receiving end of his wrath or ill-will. I believe the opposite, even though I’m eating bananas. And while I wish he would always give me what I want, I am thankful He will always, always, give me what I need.
Mia came home from school full of stories yesterday, as always. Yesterday’s tale was enough to make my stomach lurch, my mind spin, and my silent prayer of “ThankyouJesusthankyoujesusthankyoujesus” audible to all the host of heaven.
“Mommy, guess what? Today at school some kids told me to eat a muffin they promised didn’t have any peanuts in it. I told them no, but then they kept saying eat it, eat it! It doesn’t have peanuts! So you know what? I ate it. And it didn’t have any peanuts in it.”
I’m pretty sure I looked horrified as she told me this story, because her excited smile turned timid in a flash, and she sheepishly nuzzled up to me as I thanked her for telling me the truth, told her I was happy the muffin didn’t have any peanuts, and admitted I was disappointed she broke the rule. I stroked her hair and reminded her that until she’s a little bit older and responsible enough to read and understand food labels, she may not accept food from anyone else at school.
And then, we had the talk: the one in which I tell her that other peanut allergy kids have died because they have mistakenly eaten peanuts they didn’t know were in a treat. I’m not sure we’ve really had that talk before.
The language we use around here consists of things like Peanuts make you sick and Here’s your emergency medicine just in case, but you won’t need to use it because no one will have peanuts around you. Sure, she knows she gets hives, and she is aware in a cognitive sort of way that they could make her tummy ache, throw up, give her an itchy tongue or make it hard to breathe, but I can’t put my finger on a time we’ve told her they could actually make her stop breathing. For a preschooler who is only ever in an environment supervised by myself or teachers at a strict nut-free preschool, this was sufficient. We haven’t needed to tread farther down the road yet.
But she’s not in preschool anymore. She’s a Kindergartener who eats lunch in a cafeteria at a nut-free table around which peanut butter and jelly sandwiches surreptitiously swirl. She’s on her own out there, and until yesterday I trusted that she would fervently obey our rule to only eat the food I packed in her lunchbox. I was mistaken.
Shaken by her story, the whole truth about why her allergy is so dangerous spilled out of me like a confession: peanuts might make her stop breathing, and could ultimately take her life away from her. I told her it has happened to other kids like her, kids who mistakenly ate snacks with peanuts hiding on the inside, which is why it’s so important for her to not take food from any other kids at school–no matter what.
Her eyes fell, and they looked steeled against this new difficult truth like dams struggling to hold against the pressure of the river behind it. She burrowed into my chest, and didn’t say a word.
I don’t want her to be bogged down by fear, but what choice did I have? How long can she scamper into the schoolyard, wide eyed and trusting that all other kids will take her allergy seriously if she doesn’t know the whole truth herself? It’s the fear I live with every time I wave goodbye to her: that food from sources unknown will cross her lips and enter her body, setting off a series of events more terrifying than I really want to tell her. Sending her into a place where peanuts swirl around her, where she is relegated to the nut allergy table, where she feels marginalized and left out because of something that is completely, 100% not her fault breaks my heart. But she had to know, didn’t she?
The truth is this: lots of kids have peanut allergies. Very few of them die from them. Those deaths are tragic and infuriating, and I pray our Mia continues to live a healthy, happy life without so much as an unexpected bout of hives causing her trouble. But I have to remind myself that kids can live lead a happy, normalish life even with a peanut allergy. I have to be courageous as I begin to relinquish responsibility for Mia’s well being, choosing hope as I ease the truth into her hands, even as I wish I could carry it for her forever.
We never stop praying that Jesus will heal her from this allergy. We know He can. We don’t know if He will this side of heaven, although Mia firmly believes He’s already healed her. I pray she’s right, and glory hallelujah the party we will throw to celebrate if it turns out she is–and it could be as early as this month (because another scratch test looms in the weeks ahead). But until then, we live in that in-between place, doing the best we can to protect her, train her, and empower her until the healing is done.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”
2 Corinthians 5:17
It is fitting that school starts in the Fall: the classic symbol of change that is both beautiful and terrifying. Fall is death put on glorious display, isn’t it?
Ok so fine—a new school term doesn’t bring death, exactly. Forgive me for being dramatic. Most folks probably think of it as a fresh start, a reset button that puts things back to normal in an instant. But it does put an end to the carefree days of summer, and there is mourning for the loss of the freedom summer represents, isn’t there?
The words of Paul are ringing in my ears this week: the old has gone and the new is here indeed. Death and life and renewal and starting over—all these things are vying for my attention these days, and all of them from a whole host of places, not the least of which is watching Mia put the final dividing line between herself and her babyhood while Addie insists on losing more teeth and inching her way toward my own height. This day has been a long time coming, and last fall brought with it a sense that life as we loved it was dying a slow death, and I wasn’t ready to face it. But life changed anyway, didn’t it? And here we are back at the start of another school year, saying hello to a new chapter in the life of our family. I feel more prepared for it this time because I know this fall season really is a fresh start.
The girls seemed to feel the same way. Waving goodbye to us on the first day didn’t pose a problem for either of them. We walked them to the playground and helped them line up and followed them to their classrooms because we were sure they needed us. Mia tromped off with the rest of her Kindergarten class without so much as a backward glance at us. Addie saw tears glaze my eyes and bent down to hug me, saying “Don’t worry Mama, I’ll come home after school. I promise.” Saying goodbye to each other on the second day of school was harder. The girls’ pained eyes poked holes in my heart as I eased my fingers from their grip and urged them forward into the unfamiliar, terrifying reality of change. The idea of going to a new school this year seemed exciting right up until the moment they actually had to let go of my hands and walk themselves to the playground without us. In a flurry of tears and tentative hearts, they walked away from me, seemingly unsure of themselves. I waved goodbye to them as bravely as I could, wishing I could nestle myself in a corner somewhere, watching and waiting, ready to intervene on their behalf the moment trouble comes.
I couldn’t help feeling this way, of course. I am a normal mother with a natural need to protect, nurture, and sustain her children. They couldn’t help feeling insecure any more than I could help wishing I could make everything better in an instant. Of course they felt timid and unsure: everything was new. The people, the buildings, the rules, the uniforms—even their backpacks and lunch boxes and shoes were new. Why would I ever expect them to feel completely confident to take on all the newness by themselves? In that moment of goodbye, I couldn’t do much else but smile through my tears and hope it helped them understand that new isn’t necessarily bad, and is often, in fact, actually good.
We forget that new isn’t always bad, don’t we? I sure do, especially because it seems that when something is new, it renders something else old. Old things pass away, and death is difficult, so managing our feelings about losing the things we love gets tricky. We learn this lesson every year when summer ends and the leaves turn color and quietly settle into their final resting place. Soon fall slips into a quiet winter, a time of mourning that does eventually melt away, waking to the brilliant bloom of spring. The point? The promise of new life hinges on old things passing away, but saying goodbye isn’t the end. New life lingers just around the corner. Don’t you think we ought to say hello?
This is happening in other places in my life this season, too. It is in the reality of living in this new place, of course, and the reality of how it feels to know that part of our story has ended. It’s showing up in friendships and projects and plans and food and any semblance of normalcy that I had before my health issues took an uncomfortable turn over the summer. Admittedly, it felt like this season held the end of life as I knew it. Control over my health slipped even further from my grip, I spent the summer sequestered at home managing my symptoms and squeezing in appointments and going in for blood draws and scopes and ultrasounds—and came out the other end with a few more questions to answer, as well as the relief that comes with a doctor who confirms my suspicions: that colitis is casting its sickly spell on my insides. It came as no surprise that I have a disease that needs my attention, and walking away from his office this summer, prescription in hand, left me wondering how to manage it in the long term. Clearly, gluten is a known problem. But it’s not the only problem these days, and the best way I know how to deal with the unpleasant reality is to say goodbye to simple gluten freedom. Embracing a new way of living isn’t easy or fun, exactly–but I’m encouraged, because the promise of renewal lingers just around the corner, sad as I may be about the reality I face.
So this season, I’m doing my best to lift my eyes above my circumstance and say, “What’s next?” with the sort of grace that only comes from acknowledging loss and greeting a new reality with hope. What other choice do I have? Modeling this for the Goobies helps me believe things will get better: I leave the girls with a kiss and a smile as they skip off into a new school day without the support system to whom they are accustomed, but I assure them they’re going to be alright. This is new, but this is good, I say as I give them one last squeeze. And when I wave goodbye to those smiling little darlings as they head off to their day, it reminds me that we can’t bask in the beauty of anywhere new if we dig in our feet, refusing to leave familiarity behind. So by the grace of God, and with His help, we walk, together, waving goodbye to the old and hello to the new in one hope-filled gesture.
Chorizo Spiced Pork Roast
This is one of my go-to meals, meaning this: when I run out of creative steam to keep dinner new and exciting, I give myself a break, pull out my crock pot, and get a batch of this pork going.It’s fast, easy, and versatile (and inexpensive, to boot!). Plus (and this could be the most compelling reason why I love it so much)everyone around my kitchen table cheers for it. I make it for friends more often than they appreciate, I’m sure, but no one ever seems to mind. (In fact, most of them end up asking for the recipe, so if that is you? Here you go.) I’m especially fond of it now because as I transition to a Paleo lifestyle, I am thankful to have so many well-loved recipes that work within that framework. Shred it and fold it into corn tortillas (if you aren’t Paleo), lay it atop a baked sweet potato, or pile it high on top of a bed of cauliflower rice. Drizzle with some hot sauce and sprinkle on some cilantro and you’re golden. (Add more spice blend if you want a little bit more heat, but as written, this recipe does not wallop your tongue with a punch of heat.) The picture above shows a double recipe, which is just as easy as a single recipe (which is written below). Just double the ingredients–the cook time remains the same. And don’t skip the red wine vinegar! It makes the other flavors come alive.
One 2 pound pork loin roast
2 Tablespoons Chorizo Spice Blend (recipe below)
1 medium onion–any color you choose, but I tend to use yellow
1/4 cup water
1 Tablespoon red wine vinegar
Spray Crock Pot with non-stick cooking spray (such as Trader Joe’s Coconut Oil Spray). Slice the onion and lay it on the bottom of the crock pot. Then, wash the pork roast, pat it dry, and lay it on top of the bed of onions. Sprinkle a thick layer of the Chorizo Spice Blend on top of the roast, then pat it to cover as much of the roast as you can. Carefully pour 1/4 cup of water into the bottom of the crock pot, around the perimeter of the roast. Do the same for the red wine vinegar, then put the lid on.
Cook on high for 4 hours; then turn to low and cook for an additional 2 hours (alternatively, cook it for 8 hours on low). Once the meat is fall-apart-tender, shred and toss it with its own juices and the onions and serve.
Chorizo Spice Blend
This recipe is based on Diane Sanfilippo’s recipe in Practical Paleo, 1st Edition, which is super informative and helps make taking the plunge into Paleo not quite so daunting (Thank you Diane! You’re a life saver, kinda in the literal sense.) I keep a jar of this spice mix in the pantry at all times because I love it so very much. I’m sure you will too.
4 Tablespoons chili powder
2 Tablespoons paprika
2 Tablespoons onion powder
1 Tablespoon garlic powder
1 Tablespoon sea salt
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
Measure all spices into a jar with a lid and shake until evenly distributed.
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 thatparticular 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.
Pink Strawberry Pancakes
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.
1 1/4 – 1 1/2 cups unsweetened (vanilla or original) almond milk (or rice milk, or regular dairy milk)–start with 1 1/4 cups and drizzle in up to another 1/2 cup if your batter seems to thick
1/2 cup organic strawberry spread (or strawberry jam)
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon white balsamic vinegar
3 Tablespoons refined coconut oil, melted
a drop or two of red food coloring (either a natural one, like this one from India Tree, or a conventional one from your local grocery store)
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 🙂