A Little Oil and A Little Faith

“I never fry with oil. I use broth or a little water.” My girlfriend recently declared war against her bathroom scale and her growing wardrobe, growing in size that is, from an 8 to a 12. She had it with the disappointing reflection in her mirror, with her decreasing health and declining feeling of wellbeing, and she was sharing with me one of her secrets to her success: no more oil.

Imagine a tablespoon of oil. Now imagine a tablespoon of oil in a fry pan and compare it to the amount we really use. Imagine a tablespoon of salad dressing. Now compare that to the amount we use on our salads. Most likely what we actually use is more like two tablespoons, maybe even three. Oil is calorie dense and one of the most likely contributors to our increasing weight gain. Get rid of the oil and lose weight, gain health, and feel better.

Cuisines across all nations use oil. I recently experimented with a cookie recipe using teff flour, a North African cereal grain, and a half a cup of oil, among other ingredients. I just wanted the benefit of the calcium in the teff flour so I left out the sugar but I never considered the oil. The recipe turned out nicely and I started eating it for breakfast. After a few days, I noticed I had gained weight and, knowing the only thing I changed in my diet was the teff flour recipe, I realized that the oil in it was the most likely culprit.

Like salt, oil can enhance the flavors in a recipe. Oil is also one of the tools used to enhance the flavors in processed foods. The more oil, the more taste and the more fat. Dr. Furhman has a neat little diagram of a stomach filled with 400 calories of oil compared with 400 calories of greens and vegetables. The difference is striking as the stomach is quite empty on 400 calories of oil, while quite full with 400 calories of vegetables. The point is that we are still hungry after eating 400 calories of oil because our stomach are still empty, while they are completely full after eating 400 calories of greens and vegetables.

Oil is rich and eating fried or oil-laden foods causes us to overeat. Too much of this type of eating can sicken us, give us stomach aches, and over a period of a lifetime, create some pretty serious illnesses for our heart and arteries. Oil is fat and though some are more healthful than others, a little oil goes a long way. Think one tablespoon; not three.

A little faith can go a long way too. Faith, like oil, enhances the flavors in life. But how do we begin to have faith in our scientific world? People often scoff at religion for its fairytale-like stories of miracles and heaven where angels sing in the clouds. How do we take the historical Jesus seriously? Just wondering if he really existed has stumped some folks. However, virtually all historians agree that he did exist. The historical events in the New Testament line up with other historical texts, and references to Jesus can be found in texts other than the Bible. Making the assumption that Jesus actually lived is not much of a leap. A lot of experts agree that he did walk the earth once upon a time.

But what a walk. Accounts of Jesus in the Bible have him walking on water, feeding thousands with only a couple of loaves of bread and two fish, and even raising people from the dead. And healing? It seems like that’s all Jesus did wherever he went. Is believing all that accredited to faith?

I’d say faith begins with believing that Jesus lived and then died specifically as a sacrifice for sinful man. That’s not much of a leap either since crucifixion in Roman times was a common punishment for crimes, and in Jesus’ case, for blasphemy–claiming to be God.

So imagine Jesus who was a good man by anyone’s standards, letting himself be punished for crimes he did not commit, the crime of hatred toward him, and declaring right up to the end that he was dying for the very folks who were killing him. Now imagine Jesus embodied the soul of God who willingly endured a physically cruel and ultimately fatal punishment to save us from an equally cruel and fatal spiritual punishment so that He could love us forever, even while we were hating him. Going from the first image to the second is the first leap of faith, a fairly large one because it requires the acknowledgement that we are prone to evil and deserve punishment.

The belief that the historical death of Jesus met all the requirements for God’s justice against the evil in this world will flavor our lives with joy and comfort because we can approach God in peace and speak to Him as our own dear Father. Acting out that tiny bit of faith does enormous things to our lives, but getting there requires a good look in the mirror.

For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Romans 5:10-11

Soda Love and God’s Love

Soda Stream lets you choose how much sugar to put in your soda.

Soda Stream lets you choose how much sugar to put in your soda.

“Can I get you something to drink?” The flight attendant had her hand at the ready on a can of soda and I felt like a puppy at feeding time. What had I gotten myself into? I was returning from a week at Honduras Outreach, a church-related mission ranch in rural Honduras that had served me soda at every meal in every flavor of my childhood, my favorites being cream and orange. It occurred to me I was addicted to soda after only a week of drinking it. Yikes! I asked the flight attendant for water and drown my sorrows.

My second grade class will tell you there’s nothing wrong with a soda every once in a while and I have to agree. For me, too many rules take away too many pleasures in life, and if soda is something you’ve grown to love, perhaps the new “home sodas” are an answer.

I have Soda Stream. A CO2 cylinder squirts compressed air into a bottle of water I screw into the machine. It allows me to make club soda at home and eliminates the environmental problem of buying plastic bottles of sparkling water. It comes with soda syrup I can add if I want soda–they have all flavors and you can add a little or none at all :). The serving size contains only 8 grams of sugar compared to 20+ grams in the store-bought brands, and does not contain high fructose syrup. The process is very easy and quick and when a cylinder runs out, I can exchange it for a full one. Not a bad deal for this little puppy.

Although drinking soda every day is not ideal, the power of addiction to it can make us want to give up on diets. But making soda at home is at least better than store-bought sodas. The same is true with many habits and weaknesses in life, we may not be strong enough to eliminate them fully but reducing the power for harm is a good strategy.

Religion can be the same way. Guilt over repetitive sins, a big mistake kind of sin, or weaknesses can make us want to turn away from God, to give up, or just make us plain sad all the time. Christ, who is the constant and final sacrifice for all our sins past, present, and future, can reduce the guilt and sadness we find when we realize we are not perfect. Because Christ has opened the door to God and given us freedom from sin, we have the power to worship God with joy and thanksgiving instead of fear of retaliation for what we’ve done. And this joy is constant, it is not a one-time deal. God’s grace goes on and on and never stops. When we can come to God as a sinner and know that He still loves us and always will, then we have found Him, the Christ, the one who loves us just as we are.

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.

Revelation 3:20

Teff Loves You and So Does God

Teff“Have you heard of teff?” I asked my brother-in-law. He’s one of my favorite foodies. I can always count on Joe to serve up something I’ve never tasted before. “It’s a grain from Africa that has lots of calcium.”

Teff is new to me but is actually an ancient grain that has been around for thousands of years. It’s a food-hottie of late not only because one serving provides ten percent of our daily needs for calcium, 7 percent for protein, and 14 percent for iron, but it is naturally gluten free. For someone on a wheat-free diet, teff is real find.

Teff is versatile too. It comes as a whole grain that can be cooked as a hot breakfast or added to stews and breads. As a flour it can be used for almost anything: veggie burgers, pancakes, cookies, breads, muffins, etc. It is often coupled with cinnamon and maple sugar to give it a nutty sweet taste. One drawback is the price. It is a few dollars more than our more familiar grains and flours, but the expense is worth it.

Our bodies love healthy foods and once we begin to eat more healthfully, it is easy to tell this. We feel energized, full but not bloated, and the extra pounds start pouring off. It is easy to lose extra weight by making a diet of vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts and seeds, and whole grains. When we first begin eating like this our vision of what it can do for us and how much better we can feel is limited by our lack of experience. However, the way we eat is a habit and habits can be changed. The better we feel after a healthful meal often compels us to make our next meal a healthful one, too. Concentrate less on giving up unhealthy foods and more on adding healthful foods into our meals. Is it hard to give up soda? Try drinking more fruit smoothies instead of denying all sodas. Is it hard to give up chips and snack food? Eat more beans which are much more satisfying and the hunger for snack food will diminish.

God loves us in much the same way. It is hard to begin trusting God because we lack experience and our realization of God’s love for us is so small. Even when we read the wonderful promises and hope for the future written in scripture, we skim right over it and concentrate more on the do’s and don’ts. Like diet rules, the do’s and don’ts are easier for us to grasp a hold of and control. We are more comfortable with structure like this and at the end of the day we can judge our successes.

Unfortunately, perfection is the goal of the do’s and don’ts and sets us up as a failure because we rarely achieve it. Try putting more God into your day just as you put more vegetables into it. Simply spending time with God will open our eyes to the amazing love He has for us. It is God’s love that we feel when we pray to Him and which compels us to spend more and more time with Him. After a while, we begin to cherish His presence in our lives and because we love Him, we begin to seek ways to please Him. We will never achieve perfection, not in our spiritual lives or in our physical lives, but we will achieve a transformation that will lead us to a greater vision of both.

[I pray] that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Ephesians 3:18-19

How to Make A Smoothie and Smooth Religion

Smoothies are easy to make

Smoothies are easy to make

“I’ll have a green smoothie for breakfast,” my weekend guests ordered the night before. “What about eggs? Don’t you want eggs for breakfast?” I just bought a dozen fresh from a local farmer at the market and I was excited about cheating a little, not that eggs are particularly “cheating,” but the butter and cheese I was planning to add to them would definitely land them in that category. Eggs for breakfast sounded great to me. “No, no, we want a green smoothie,” they insisted. They all wanted to try it and even though my sister later acquiesced to an egg or two, I let her off the hook the next morning and gave her what she really wanted–the green smoothie.

Smoothies are a cinch to make if you have a good blender. Throw in some bananas and other fruit with some almond milk (or soy, or cow’s milk) and power up the blender. If you want a thick smoothie, use less milk, Kefir, or plain yogurt. If you want a thinner textured smoothie use coconut water or fruit juice (maybe dilute it with water to lower the sugar content). That’s really all there is to it and to make it green, just throw in some kale, or spinach, or even romaine will work–or use a mixture of greens to get even more nutrients. I also add some ginger, flax-seed, turmeric, and matcha powdered green tea for a more healthful variety. Using frozen fruit will make the smoothie more refreshing in the hot summer months, and beware that some fruits like blueberries will turn your green smoothie brown. For my guests I made a healthful variety with flax seeds and ginger, bananas, mango, spinach and almond milk. Both mango and bananas have a high sugar content which I thought my guests would enjoy. Smoothies made with low sugar content tend to reveal more of the flavor of the greens which is not bad but may not be the best bet for folks who are trying it for the first time.

Having a green smoothie for breakfast is really like eating a small salad and some fruit, something that is unusual for an American breakfast. I continue to hang onto about a quarter of a cup of granola first thing in the morning. It helps sweeten the coffee I also drink. If I am going to have a green smoothie, I usually drink it mid-morning. One day I plan on giving up that coffee and granola but it’s been a real struggle for me.

Religion is also a struggle for me. There are so many different theologies in the Christian religion and I have been exposed to many churches: Catholic, Church of Christ, Methodist, Anglican, Presbyterian, and Reformed. It is not easy but God in many ways will remain a mystery since He is not like men or women, He does not think like we do, and He is more loving and greater than anything we can imagine. So, of course we will always struggle to know Him. Add to that other two religions about Him, Jewish and Muslim, and all their factions, and we’ve got a real mix of understanding of who the great I AM really is. However, it is interesting to note that in all the religions, and even pagan religions, most will agree that we are to love one another, certainly this is true in the Christian religion. The fact that we so often fall short of this is proof that we all struggle in our faith. The road of faith and trust is not smooth. We struggle to understand what God wants from us and we are tormented by the fact that trying to put the Almighty Creator of the Universe into our small brain of understanding is never really going to happen.

Love, however, can happen. God’s loving presence is always there for us. It can be so overpowering that we tell ourselves that God couldn’t possibly love us quite that much. He would not favor us over others. Why would God give us so many material blessing and almost nothing to someone else? And so we struggle even with His show of love.

But this is a skewed understanding because God’s presence is worth more than any material blessing. When I visit with those who have barely a home to live in, I see that joy does not come from material things but from the love of God and that He is quite generous in providing that love. People who are rich in material things often assume it is these “things” that bring joy and that without them no one can be happy. And so we can feel guilty and confused by what we see as God’s favoritism.

In fact, God’s favor is shown by His presence in our lives, our trust in Him, and the joy that comes from faith. If we have material wealth, God has given it to us to share with our children, our families, our neighbors, and our friends. Opportunities to offer hospitality and charitable giving abound in church ministries and missions. Though we may always struggle to fully know our God, His love for us and our love for others will make all our faith journeys a little smoother.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,  neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.
 “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Isaiah 55:8-9

Sugar and Plain and Simple

vegetables

Eat more vegetables and less sugar.

“Sugar feeds cancer,” she wore a kind of frank-looking expression, a sum-it-all-up in a few words kind of expression. I’d not heard her words of wisdom until after I’d already been treated for cancer, but they struck me to the quick. Sugar, I thought! Not my good friend sugar! Yes, in every form sugar feeds cancer. It could be refined white sugar so prevalent in processed foods, raw cane sugar, agave, honey, even fruit and  fruit juice. Sugar is actually bad for most things: cancer, heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, depression, obesity, lethargy, blah, blah, blah. So, plain and simple, it is a wise thing to reduce our overall sugar consumption.

We tend to make getting rid of sugar in our diets very complicated. We use substitute sugar replacements or some type of natural sugar like honey or agave. Stevia is the new sugar substitute that has some positive health claims. However, using these “better options”  does nothing for reducing our appetite for sweet foods, and sometimes can even make it worse. Sugar substitutes tend to rev-up a taste for sweetness.

The recommended daily amount of sugar for adults is about twenty grams or nine teaspoons which is not very much. Just one sugary drink can put us over this limit. Replacing what we eat on a daily basis with foods very low in sugar can reduce our overall dependence on sugar. Choose to eat more vegetables than fruits. Skip white rice, bread, and pasta (our bodies process sugar from these foods) and eat greens and beans and a smaller portion of whole grain foods. Use unsweetened almond or soy milk in smoothies instead of fruit juices or milk and yogurt (these contain milk sugars). Instead of using sugar and sugar substitutes, use fabulously sweet fruits like dates, bananas and mangoes to sweeten smoothies and desserts, and healthy fruit juices like carrot juice for soups. It is still sugar but our bodies are so much better at processing natural sugars and it reduces our desire for bakery foods and other sweet confections that are best saved for special occasions. Withdraw symptoms from sugar are miserable: headaches, stomach huger feelings, digestive discomforts, dizziness, a weak and shaky feeling and/or just an overwhelming malaise. It’s the body’s way of saying, “This is hurting me.”

The same sick feelings and even the same diseases we attribute to too much sugar occur with too much stress. Stress is the flight or fight feeling we get when we are under pressure and at its foundation is fear: fear of failing, fear of losing a job, fear of getting mugged, fear of losing our friends, fear of divorce, fear of consequences, fear of dying, fear of blah, blah, blah. We fret and worry over things we have done and said, over disappointments in life, and outcomes of our reckless actions. We mess up time and again–even over the same stupid stuff, or we watch the people we love suffer from our own bad choices. We get to the point where we just can’t function as well as we used to under this constant stress and guilt. God tells us to “fear not” and “cast all our anxieties on Him” but can we?

Those feelings of fear and worry, of guilt and self-reckoning though are not brought on by our own wisdom. When we actually see how far we fall from perfect, it is a gift of discernment from God. It is the kindness of God that leads us to where we can see that we have messed up. We know something is wrong. It occurs at the beginning of repentance and trust. It is the proud and guiltless person who is lost, not the one who sees his error and is sickened with fear, worry and anxiety. Those humble folks who know they will never measure up are the ones that belong to Him. God is calling us: It is a simple as that. God has made us this way, plain and simple but we make ourselves very complicated. Forgiveness is not something we earn; it is a gift and it starts with that sick, I’ve-really-messed-up-this-time feeling. It is like the little boy who falls and suddenly sees he’s made of flesh and blood because it is pouring out of a wound, that jumps up and goes running to his father for comfort.

“Healthy people don’t need a doctor, but sick people do. I didn’t come to invite good people to be my followers. I came to invite sinners.” — Jesus, Mark 2:17

Summer Corn and A Seed that is Sown

Corn-stalk planted by God in my backyard!

Corn-stalk planted by God in my backyard!

“I didn’t mow it down,” my husband told me. “I thought you planted it.” The gardener next door assured us it was a corn-stalk. Nothing grows in our backyard, including grass unfortunately. But there it was, planted not by me but by God in his natural way. It was a stubborn little corn-stalk coming out of the ground unexpectedly and very rapidly. One day it was not there and the next day it was a foot or more tall. I never realized how rapidly corn grows. I wonder if it will bear any fruit? Nothing says summer like corn-on-the-cob. If I get just one ear of corn off that stalk I’m going to boil a pot of water and when the water is in a rapid boil, I will throw the little ear in and boil it for five minutes. I will split it with my husband and we will eat this miracle corn fresh from our one-stalk garden.

My husband and I sometimes go to visit family at Kezar Lake where there is a post along the road with a little closed box that has a slit on the top for money. Alongside the post are fresh ears of corn piled high on a table. Usually the corn has been picked only hours before and it is there for the taking for a small price. It is the most delicious corn. One summer we researched and experimented with several different corn-on-the-cob recipes. Here is what we found. Five minutes at a rapid boil will result in corn “al dente”,  crisp and juicy; for 8 minutes of boiling the corn will be softer, and longer than that it begins to lose its flavor and grow mushy.

Most corn, especially sweet white corn, has been genetically modified for sweetness. However, recently corn has been genetically modified to withstand great amounts of herbicide and pesticide. So much so, that today’s GMO corn actually contains its own herbicide without any modification. When folks in the white lab coats laugh at GMO objectors, they claim we don’t know what we are talking about because genetically modifying seeds has been going on for decades. However, genetically modifying seeds for sweetness is much different from today’s modifying it for receiving poison. It is not the genetic modification we object to but the use of the process to make plants able to withstand huge amounts of herbicides and pesticides that without such modification, the plant would surely die. Such use destroys our land, our water supply and the creatures living in the water, and is possibly causing all sorts of medical problems for our children who are consuming more amounts of toxic poisons during their growth years.

Jesus talked a lot about seeds and planting because he lived in an agrarian society. People of that time understood plants and farming, sheep herding, and fig trees, and Jesus talks about all these things. It is difficult to understand when today most of us get our produce from the market. Nevertheless, I have many people in my life who understood what Jesus was talking about and have done what they could to help me understand. When we help each other to understand the message of Christ, a small seed of understanding is planted in our hearts. Jesus describes this process as a mustard seed that is a very small seed but when planted grows into an enormous tree that is abundant with life. He warns us of worries, troubling times, other people around us who behave contrary to his teachings, and the deceitfulness of wealth that can choke and kill the seed of understanding that was once planted. Learning about Jesus Christ, what he said and did for us is much different from what we first expect. His truth is not from human understanding but from God. God does not think like we do, so once we begin to read or hear what Jesus said and understand his intent for us, it is like a cold hard seed turning into a gracious living thing abundant with the joy of life that will never end. Our understanding is only a small shadowy plant now, an odd little stalk that has somehow shown up in the backyard of our thoughts.

When we first grasp the truth for which Christ lived and died, it is important to know that it is only one tiny stalk of understanding. Do not ignore it and certainly do not mow it down with worry or give up on it because of troubling times or the distractions bought by wealth. Instead, seek more understanding, and that little stalk may in time bear fruit that can be shared with others.

“And the seeds sown in the good soil stand for those who hear the message and understand it: they bear fruit, some as much as one hundred, others sixty and others thirty.” Jesus Christ from one of his many parables about seeds in Matthew 13

 

 

 

Comfort Food and the Happy God

Elle, my trusty steed that glides up hill and down.

Elle, my trusty steed that glides up hill and down.

“This is bad,” my husband was troubled by his jaw and by the end of the week he could not eat. Visions of an impending life of smoothies and soup discouraged him. A storm was rolling in fast. I hopped on Elle, my trusty electric bike that glides uphill and down, and raced to the food store.  Seven dollars later and a hasty trip back with thunder and lightning nipping at my wheels, I set to work on some Potato Pancakes. It was time for some comfort food.

Potato pancakes may not be high on the list of the nutritarian diet but they do squeak by, at least on my accounting. Take a large potato, peel it, chop it into squares, and then square each piece again until it is about the size of two thumbs. No need to chop them too small. Put them in a pot of boiling water until the pieces are soft. Drain and mash the potato squares until smooth and creamy with the help of a  little pat or two of butter and 1/8th cup of cream (okay, broth and a nut butter since butter and cream are not part of the nutritarian diet, but hubby needed a little pampering). Add salt and pepper to taste. Let cool and then form into patties. These are called pancakes, but the size of the patty is more like the size and shape of a hamburger.  Fry onions, garlic, and mushrooms  in a pan with just a bit of canola oil. Add the potato pancakes and cook until golden brown.

Often times we think our God is a little grumpy, kind of like we are when troubled by something that just won’t leave us alone. We think we need to comfort Him with some great act of kindness or service that will appease the grumpy god. Actually, our God is a happy god. His son has redeemed his children back to him. God longs for us to be with Him eternally. When we come to Him in prayer, He does not think, “Is she really going to go over all this again: boring!,” No, instead He comforts us every time. His joy over us fills the heavens. His love for us is so great that there is nothing that can separate us from Him. He has an open-door-policy and when we walk into His office, He says, “Welcome into my joy.”

Jesus Christ is God’s great comfort food. Jesus, the sacrificial lamb, the Passover lamb, the bread of life, the water for all who are thirsty, stands beside His father and forever intervenes on our behalf. Our health issues and moments of despair are like fiery darts that burn our conscious and make us think God does not care, but God has revealed to us through the person of Jesus Christ how much He does love us, and the life of Christ reminds us that this life is troublesome. It is through our love of Christ that we gain compassion for each other and that we try to comfort those who suffer.

God is not bored by our constant and repetitive prayers for others and ourselves, or our whining and groaning over health issues or other misfortunes. Though we have gratitude for any blessings in this life, we are not glorified by them, not by money, power, or fitness. Instead, these can become distractions to seeking God’s glory that is in Jesus Christ who is mighty to save. He can bring joy in the midst of suffering that is beyond our understanding. His power is revealed in our weakness. This life is like birthing pains. We have many troubles but they our only temporary. We have many setbacks, but they will be overcome. Does anyone who is born brag about how easily he came into this world? No, that pain was necessary only for birth and is forgotten in the joy of life. Does anyone who is born not have trouble? No, but in the next life the pains of this world will be forgotten in the joy that God has chosen us to be His very own children for all eternity.

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.

Revelations 21:4