La Dolce Vida and the Examined Life

“I feel like I have a hangover,” my girlfriend said the next morning, although she’d had no alcohol to drink the night before. Instead, we attended a “bring a dessert” dance. We drank coffee and ate as much dessert as we wanted and danced the night away. Her sluggishness and headache the next morning were due to a high sugar intake the night before.

A life of sweets, candies, sugary drinks, white flour breads and cakes can add pounds quicker than any other ingredient. Sugar turns to fat, sugar feeds cancer, sugar is addictive, and sugar is a killer. It doesn’t really matter how you take your sugar: honey, agave, white refined sugar, fructose, fruit juice, white rice, just to name a few, sugar should be eaten sparingly. Lately, I’ve allowed a little slippage and that is not good. I will need to reign in my sugar monster and put her back in her cage.

A good way to begin cutting back on sugar is replacing it with fruit. Fruit has a lot of natural sugar in it but it also has a lot of fiber which slows the process of sugar absorption, and that reduces the likelihood of the body storing the sugar as fat. Smoothies made from frozen fruit and almond milk with a little nut butter can be a healthy substitute for ice cream. Healthy Girl’s Kitchen blog has a cookie recipe made from bananas, dried fruit, and rolled oats. These healthier choices taste great and will not put weight on us like sugary drinks and desserts.

When we discover a few extra pounds, we examine what we’ve been eating that might have contributed to the weight gain, and then we revise our diets. Our spiritual health can be the same. When we find ourselves thinking negatively, it may be time to revise our spiritual diets.  Anxiety, worry, fear, and other negative thoughts are combated by prayer and scripture. The New Testament is not called the Good News for no reason. The message of Christ is so beautiful, so uplifting, so incredibly full of loving kindness from God to us, that fears and worries melt away. We are reassured by the loving words of Jesus Christ in the Gospels, and reading the epistles or some of the Psalms helps to bring perspective to our thoughts. Giving praise to God in our prayers for all we have been blessed with turns us away from negative thoughts and into people of gratitude who find joy and contentment in life. Christ encourages us to examine our ways, our thoughts, and our relationships and consider whether they give glory to God. There are many concerns throughout the day, but rest assured that God can help with each and every one of them.

Cast all your anxieties upon Him because He cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7

 

Power Salad and Power Prayers

Maybe Santa will bring me some salad scissors.

Maybe Santa will bring me some salad scissors.

“She drinks seven sodas a day,” my friend told me, shaking his head at this overindulgence. He had recently decided to eat more healthy foods and less sugar, fat, and salt. He had educated himself on the dangers of too much sugar which now he saw was so prevalent in the diets of the people around him. What was really great was that once my friend decided to change his eating habits, he never looked back. That’s the way it was for me, too.

A great way to combat unhealthy food addictions is to start filling up on healthy foods instead. It is important to eat regularly so that we don’t grow so hungry that we have no time to prepare healthy food and begin grazing through our kitchen pantries for snack foods. If this sounds familiar, try stocking your pantry with nuts and healthy whole grain crackers. Get rid of the chips and cookies. Another great trick to avoiding hunger grazing is to have a salad in the fridge already made. My husband and I prepare a large salad every week that lasts for five days. That way it is always available for lunch. I often make extra cooked greens and roasted vegetables to have something in the fridge that will serve as a quick hot meal too, and every week I buy several kinds of fruit for snacks and smoothies. Replacing healthy foods for unhealthy foods is the first step in beating food addictions.

I love the new salad I am making and I want to share the recipe with you. It starts with coarsely chopped kale, somewhat smaller than bite-size. Kale is a fabulous green. It gets the highest ANDI rating, 1000, and is packed with energy-supporting phytonutrients. Kale is probably one of the best foods to eat and recently  I discovered how great raw kale is. Kale has a tough leaf so that most recipes call for cooking it to soften the leaf, but chopped small enough, Kale is very tasty and palatable raw. To the kale I add arugula. Arugula is a cruciferous vegetable and as such has cancer-fighting properties. I put arugula in all my salads. It is slightly bitter but I like the taste. I often think that the healthy foods we crave are the ones our bodies need and arugula is like that for me. After I have those two greens mixed, I add cilantro, marinated mushrooms, artichokes, olives, sweet red peppers, and red lentils with bulgur that I buy ready-made. Really, whatever foods you like can be added to your taste. The real secret to the deliciousness of this salad is that I use lemon humus as a dressing. I also add a tablespoon of ground flax seed and some sesame seeds. Nuts and seeds give a salad some healthy fats and flax seed is a powerful antioxidant. Dr. Fuhrman recommends eating a tablespoon a day of either flax seeds or chia seeds.

Indulging in sugary foods and drinks can be a response to emotional upheaval. Emotional eating is quite common. Comfort foods are eaten as a way of pampering ourselves when we are downhearted.  Because of their addictive nature, however, they can quickly become habitual. For example, My husband and I became empty-nesters this year. I found myself recalling the past when my kids were young and how happy I was with them, but I know that joy of being a young mother is gone now. My sweet dog also died last March and the joy I received from her is also gone and I will never get to pet and hold her again no matter how many times I dream of her. Wandering around the house with these sad thoughts usually leads me to the pantry.

The struggle to readjust to this new more solitary lifestyle has given me a lot more time for prayer. In my longing for the happiness of days gone by, God has shown me His desire to fill that empty time in my life. Practicing the presence of God brings a better comfort than food, and helps me to notice the beauty of each moment. If you find that you are downhearted and need some comfort, God can fill that need as nothing else can. Go to Him without words, without formality, come just as you are as the song says, and be still and know that He is God. He has plan for each stage of our lives. He does not leave us as children must, or die like our beloved pets who live such short lives. Emmanuel, God With Us, is available 24/7 and rather than add extra pounds or cause headaches like comfort does, God reveals in us a glorious nature like His own. Just spending time with God is a powerful way of praying that can bring us peace and comfort, and hope for new joys to come.

 Search me, O God, and know my heart!  Try me and know my thoughts!  And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! –Psalm 139:23-24

Cauliflower Prayers

Romanesco Cauliflower

Romanesco Cauliflower

“It looks like something out of the sea,” my husband picked up the vegetable displayed on the farmer’s stand. I had seen romanesco cauliflower only once before when my daughter brought one home from Mom’s Market. “Yeah, like coral.” The green spiral cone shapes of the romanesco cauliflower make it beautiful to look at as well as eat.

Even though my cauliflower mash recipe completely smashes out the fractal beauty of the vegetable, at least it keeps its pretty Chartreuse color. It’s delicious. In fact, I think it will be on my Thanksgiving Day table. Here’s how you cook it: cut off a whole head of cauliflower buds. Throw away the core center. Dump the buds in a steamer with sliced onions or shallots and cook till soft. (Use your own judgement on how much onion or shallots you want–I put in just one shallot bulb.) Mash it up with a potato masher and some roasted garlic cloves (I added about four cloves), about an 1/8th cup of cashew butter, and 1/4 C coconut manna. That simple and incredibly delicious.

Cauliflower is a pretty bland vegetable but boy can it fight. It is a powerhouse of vitamins, fiber, and phytochemicals. Sometimes our prayers for others can seem pretty bland, too. Not every prayer is a spirit-filled literary masterpiece but  they sure do have a lot of power. Praying for people is a good way of loving them from afar. Many times people’s names just pop into my thoughts while I am praying, and later on I find that the impulse to pray for that person was a timely one. So many times this has happened to me, that if I think of someone who I haven’t thought of for a long time, I take it as clue to pray for them. I think many of the people I have known throughout my life will be surprised in heaven when they find out how often I have prayed for them. In my own opinion, I think that God knows who has feelings of true love for whom, and that He uses the powerful love we feel for those special people in our lives to bring blessings to them. In this way we can truly say, no love is lost.

I have a friend who was actually awakened from her sleep with the urge to pray for her son! The next morning she got news of his perilous situation and that he had thankfully, survived it. We don’t have to say a lot of words, or even any words. All we have to do is lift the person up to God, thanking Christ for His amazing love and for that love to surround him/her. How great and grand is our glorious God who counts the prayers of people like us worthy to be received by Him. We are honored and privileged above all to be included in His loving blessings to other people. Nothing makes me feel more like a child of God than to hear that my bland cauliflower prayers have been received and answered by the almighty God. God takes our simple prayers and adds the beauty and flavors of His blessings to pour out upon those for whom we have prayed.

The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. — James 5:16(b)

Butternut Squash and The Beatitudes

Soup blender turns chunky soups into creamy soups.

Soup blender turns chunky soups into creamy soups.

“Well, they both start with the letter B,” my husband suggested the title and gave me the segue I needed. Then he said, “My work here is done,” and left me with a blank page. Sometimes I just need a little push to get started.

Butternut squash is everywhere. The harvest is on and there is nothing more tasty than butternut squash soup. My girlfriend gave me a wonderful recipe that I will share with you. “The secret,” she said and immediately my attention was hers–I love secrets, “is to roast the squash first.” So, I peeled it, chopped it into one inch squares, and sprinkled it with some garam masala and a little extra cinnamon (or whatever you like). I also added an onion and, per my girlfriend’s second secret, an apple.  I roasted all three for about 30-40 minutes until everything was soft, and then I dumped it all into a pot with some chicken broth (or vegetable if you like). I used my handy-dandy soup mixer tool that I just can’t live without to make a smooth and creamy mixture. It was pretty thick, so I added some coconut milk to make it less stewy and more soupy. I heated it all up to just about boiling and then served it with pepper and salt on the table. It was great. The apple gave it a very nice flavor. I used a red apple but my girlfriend suggested that a green one might be best. I will have to try that next time.

Something else that seems to be everywhere these days is breast cancer. October is breast cancer awareness month, so everyone is wearing pink, even our football players. Dr. Fuhrman has a bone to pick with the breast cancer awareness folks. He seems to think that it should be breast cancer prevention, as almost everyone is already “aware” of how the incidents of breast cancer are growing. He says this increase is due to our poor diet and, as you probably know, I agree with him. A high nutrient diet can help prevent breast cancer and many other cancers and diseases as well. He has said this and now the Nutritional Research Foundation is conducting a ten-year test to prove it. You can be part of the test if you are following his diet. The test hopes to prove that a high nutrient diet will indeed prevent breast cancer for many people. Let’s hope that he is right!

This cause and effect way of eating for good health is not new. What is new is all the processed foods. The cause and effect of eating heavily processed foods is poor health. The Beatitudes offer another cause and effect for the health of our spiritual lives. Jesus Christ gave us these blessings in the Sermon on the Mount, which is just another way of saying that he was giving a sermon on a hilltop. This is what He said in the Book of Matthew:

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

The cause and effect of pursuing these divine blessings is the way to happiness. Of course, it is not easy to admit we are spiritually bankrupt without Christ, or to be compassionate, meek, righteous, merciful, pure in heart, peaceful, or courageous enough to stand against the evil in this world as he did, just as it is not easy to stay on Dr. Fuhrman’s diet. But, at least now we know the two secrets to good health and spiritual well-being.

 

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

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

A Main Meal Salad and Side Salad Religion

Salad as the main dish

Salad as the main dish

“Make the salad,” my mother ordered.  I chopped up iceberg lettuce and added tomatoes, sliced a hard-boiled egg and added onions.  One summer night, my father’s friend added the task of making blue cheese dressing . “Start with a half cup of sour cream, add a tablespoon of mayonnaise, a dash of Worcestershire sauce, juice from half of a lemon, a few shakes of  garlic powder, and crumbled blue cheese.” My father loved the dressing so much that from then on I had to make it every night along with the salad. I can make this salad and dressing with my eyes closed.

This little iceberg salad was not the main dish, only a side, and for many years it was the only salad I ever ate. My mother made dinner for us every night under the same scenario: a protein (meat, chicken or fish), a starch (potatoes or corn), a vegetable, and the salad. I continued this tradition well into my adult years for my own family until my daughter decided to become a vegetarian.

Salads are probably the easiest meal to make for a vegetarian. Nowadays, most people who plan to feed a large group will include a salad for those who prefer not to eat the common meat and potatoes meals. At many of these gatherings I still run into the old-fashioned iceberg lettuce salad which seems so dreary to me now I can barely eat it. There are tons of salad recipes on the Internet, but my favorite is the cancer-fighting one I often make for myself.

I mix a couple types of greens: kale, arugula, endive, romaine, collards, or dandelion greens. In a dab of oil or a little broth, I fry onions and corn. In  another frying pan I cook mushrooms in Bragg’s Amino Acids sauce or low salt soy sauce. This gives the mushrooms a distinct flavor. When these cool, I mix them in with the greens. I add chopped broccoli (or broccoli sprouts) and cauliflower, peppers , sliced avocado, sliced carrots, black beans, sesame seeds, and sunflower seeds. If you like some sweets in your salad, chopped figs or dates go nicely with the seeds. Served with a whole grain bread, this salad is a hardy meal in itself. It also contains the food groups my mother lived by: a protein (beans and seeds), a starch (corn and whole grain bread), a vegetable (broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, onions, and mushrooms), and a salad (all the greens listed). The salad dressing often is what makes a salad, but this one is so full of flavor it barely needs a dressing. Try a tablespoon of humus with it or one of the nut butter dressing on my recipe page for added protein.

We often grow up with a standard recipe for religion, a sort of side salad that never changes. Later, we begin to ask questions and doubt what our elders taught us. Many of us give up on religion entirely finding it to be ostracizing, oppressive, and dogmatic. Like my dreary iceberg lettuce salad, religion can seem boring with the same set of instructions to follow. As we walk away from faith, religion can seem purposeless and even more in line with fantasy than reality, but a walk away from faith is a lonely walk.

The best way to return to faith is to read about the person of Jesus Christ who is well-described in the New Testament.  His life, the concepts he taught, his actions, and the stories he told can nurture our faith back to Him. The life of Jesus can illuminate our thinking and give us discernment about what is real and what is not. The life of Christ is an amazing story and filled with encouraging news about God’s true plan for us that can vanquish our worries, our loneliness, and our sense of dread and fear.

Reading what Jesus said and did is often puzzling, strange, and shocking. The friends of Jesus, his disciples, are always so surprised by Jesus. They don’t understand him and are often asking him questions about what Jesus said or did. Then, after Jesus dies, these same guys are completely different. They know, they understand, they discern, and they create the very thing Jesus wanted: a group of people who believe in him, have faith in what he promised, and who worship Him through adoration and prayer. What happened to make these very same friends of Jesus that were so bewildered during his lifetime, such experts later?

I believe God happened. He revealed His truth after the sacrificial death of Christ. He shined His light in the hearts of  men and women and gave his greatest gift, God’s love finally understood and accepted. He continues to shine light into the darkness of our thoughts and fill us with His own love through the writings in the New Testament. The New Testament is written by the friends of Jesus, those known as his disciples who followed him around while he was alive, and worshiped him and preached about him after Jesus died. The New Testament writings give us a chance to sit at the feet of Jesus’ friends and listen to them tell about Jesus. Mark, Matthew, Luke and John all have stories about Jesus that they wrote down and are ours now to read. The other writings in the New Testament are actual letters these men wrote along with Paul’s letters, a man who persecuted the friends of Jesus until God shined his light and truth into his heart in a most miraculous way.  These writings about Christ bring light into our dark world even today, and give us faith in His promise of a new world to come where Jesus will be ruler of all people.  The Bible is God’s word and it never comes back to us void because it is not mere words we read, but power. So, don’t settle for a side salad religion, dig into the word of God and find a real meal.

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard ? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?  And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”  …So, faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.– Romans 10:14-17

Habits that Hurt and A God that Heals

My girlfriend gave me this Chia Pudding recipe.

Chia Pudding

“I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. There’s something inside me that keeps me going back to the same old bad foods, the same old over-eating, the same old indulgences. I hate it and how will I stop?” A bad habit can live inside us like a bad friend who shows up at our doorstep each day. We groan, “How can I get rid of this guy?”

Fats, sugar, and salt are addictive and if we keep going back to eating food that is not good for us, we know that we are in the habit of it. To break it, replace it with good food that is really tasty. The key word is “tasty”. Laying out a bowl of celery and carrot sticks is not going to kick it unless you are a rabbit.

Eating well takes time and planning. We have to really get into it and prepare for those times when we want to indulge ourselves. For me, this seems to be every weekend. I can get through the week without much of a problem. I am busy working and have evening plans but when the weekend comes, I want to relax and enjoy my time off. Eating delicious fun food is a big part of what I enjoy over the weekend.

Popcorn has always been my go-to snack food but there are lots of other snack foods that won’t break the diet bank. Use lettuce or collard leaves to hold chopped vegetables mixed with good fats like guacamole and seasoned with herbs and spices, or rice and beans topped with a spicy sauce.  Collard greens can be split and rolled up like cigars. Lettuce leaves are more like cups.

If you like soda, try replacing it with a fruit smoothie made with juiced watermelon. If you are into cakes and pies, indulge in this  delicious chia pudding recipe my girlfriend gave me. Take a small custard cup and line the bottom with banana slices. Sprinkle about three tablespoons of chia seeds over the bananas, add a few raisins, and fill it with almond milk. Let it set over night to thicken, then stir, and enjoy. Frozen peeled bananas is another great treat for the sweet tooth in you. Peel and cut into thick slices to freeze them. Eat them like candy.

Taking a little time and effort to plan healthy snacks can be fun, a lot more fun than grabbing the nearest bag of taste-sensation foods like chips and dip. Bags of snack foods might be quick and easy but they are made to give your mouth a burst of flavor not nutrition, they easily cause over-eating (“You can’t eat just one,” as they say), and add extra pounds. Eating stuff like this can give you a nighttime stomach ache.

Bad habits need to be dealt with, especially negative habitual thoughts. Thinking the same negative thoughts over and over again can have an effect on our overall well-being. We can be our own worst critics. As my husband often points out, we can think and say things to ourselves that no one else would ever dare say. How cruel we are in our own thoughts. How will we ever break free?

Thank goodness for Jesus Christ! From Him we have the keys to the Kingdom of God that is within us. His promises and the hope he gives in the New Testament is water for the thirsty soul dragged down by the disappointments in life and a mind full of constant criticism. The New Testament is not just words but power for the mind and hope for the heart. He loves us just as we are and He will lead us out of the darkness of our thoughts and into the light of His. Jesus promises us this transformation, and it can happen quickly.

Do you have repeating thoughts that trouble you? Give them to Christ, tell Him what you are thinking. They are only thoughts, not reality. Do you have an image in your mind that frightens or shames you? God has given you an imagination to imagine Him, not these evil things, so show it to Christ and let Him take it from you. It is only an image, it is not real. These thoughts and images are common to most people and are like poisoned arrows flung at us to bring us down. Put up the shield of faith against them. Read Christ’s words of life in the New Testament, and think on His words of love and hope instead.

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.–Jesus Christ (Matthew 11:29)

A Green Smoothie with God

Green Smoothie. Easy to make!

Green Smoothie. Easy to make!

“Have you ever had a green smoothie?” I could’ve asked numerous folks in the audience that day, in fact anyone who was laughing at the actress who had just walked on stage with a kale smoothie, a prop to emphasize how differnt she was from “normal”. It wasn’t that funny to me. I thought the girl was smart to choose a kale smoothie over a chocolate milkshake. She was only playing a nerdy character but the truth is a green smoothie, when done right, has it all over a milkshake of any flavor.

First, you will need a blender. The base ingredient is a banana. Bananas make the smoothie sweet and thicken it. If you want your smoothie on the creamy side, the next ingredient is almond milk (or any nut milk). If you like it juicy rather than milky, add coconut water or throw in juicy fruits like oranges or watermelon and add a little water. Next, add some more fruit. Whatever you like, to give it a new taste. I like berries in mine. Some berries can make your green smoothie brown, so add a teaspoon of Matcha powder if you want a really green one. Next, give your smoothie some added nutrients with a tablespoon or more of flaxseed. Add a nut butter (tahini and cashew are great) for protein and healthy fats if you are going for a creamy smoothie. Last, throw in the greens. Kale is terrific but it is kind of tough and unless you have a super-speedy mixer like a Vitamix, you are going to get little kale pieces in your smoothie–not a bad thing really. I prefer swiss chard or spinach, or even a handful of mixed greens in mine. Anything will do though, even romaine. Blend it all together. I like to add a piece of ginger, some turmeric, and a few dashes of pepper for added antioxidant power.

Now, drink it! It is delicious and way better for your health than a milkshake. Here’s why. Bananas have potassium, berries are loaded with antioxidants, flaxseed contains magnesium, and almond milk has more calcium than milk. (Don’t shy away from these nut milks thinking they are only substitutes for the real thing: milk. Not true!) And the green stuff, most of them score 1000 points on the ANDI nutrient scale, the highest score a food can receive for nutrient content. Blending food like this helps your body get more nutrients. A smoothie is a meal, especially the creamy ones with the nut butters in them. If you want it as a dessert, using less almond milk and frozen fruit will render something more solid and cold like ice cream.

The best part of a green smoothie is after you eat one. There’s no holding your stomach with that uncomfortably full feeling. Instead, it energizes you. Your body jumps for joy and you are ready to tackle the day. Fatty cream from a fatty cow is not going to make anyone feel good except a calf. Now energize your spirit. Take a minute to thank God for the bounty of food He provides. Forgo that cut of red meat and if you miss the taste of it, eat it only occasionally or use only a small portion for the flavor. Enjoy the many types of beans and whole grains God gives to us. Don’t settle for milk and sugar, look to His grand variety of fruit and nut milks. Make your main dish at every meal a vegetable dish. The abundance of greens and other vegetables is a testimony to the love God has for us. Enjoy eating healthfully and don’t let anyone who laughs at your green smoothie put you off. You are the smart one, my friend, you have chosen the better way.

Look to your Bible to fill your hunger for spiritual contentment. Savor God’s great promises and the beauty and depth of His love for you that is written in the words of the New Testament and in the Psalms. So many things in this world fill our thoughts with anger, fear, and despair but these are not from God. We rush around checking off the tasks on our list. We imagine awful scenarios and bring ourselves to a point of anxiousness and hopelessness that makes God weep. Much of the sickness, poverty, war, violence and hatred of this world are of our own making; they are not the promises of God. Choose a better way by spending time contemplating God’s words to us because even with these difficulties that abound around us, God is able to reach out and calm our spirit with His excellent love. And lastly, choose the hope for a better life provided by Christ since He is the greatest of God’s gifts to mankind.

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying.  But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.”  But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things;  there is need of only one thing.Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

Luke 10:38-42