When Food Stops Tasting Good

After a very long wait to get here, I am now 15 weeks pregnant with our first child. What no one told me about morning sickness and food cravings and food aversion was that it wouldn’t just be certain foods that would make my stomach churn. For me, it’s pretty much everything. I used to have a very healthy appetite. I loved food and cooking. Now, there is absolutely nothing that tastes good. I wish I were exaggerating, but it’s true. Really, there are only just a few things that don’t taste bad. I no longer get hungry, just queasy and gross-feeling from low blood sugar. No one warned me about this.

Sometimes this happens in our spiritual lives, too. It may not be a specific event or life change that brings it about, but our spiritual tastes and needs change. The prayers and scriptures and songs that used to make us feel so fulfilled and close to God just don’t do it anymore. We feel empty and lonely and disappointed. No one warned us this could happen.

But it does, and sometimes we have to get creative about how to deal with it. Sometimes it is just for a season, sometimes the change is a permanent change of taste. Like Ecclesiastes 3 says, there is a season for everything, and sometimes the season you’re used to is over. God plans on interacting with you in a different way now. I used to be able to meet God through cooking. I’m not a remarkable cook, but I enjoy it. That time was an opportunity for me to be at peace with God, while I chopped onions and sautéed zucchini. It was how I cared for my husband and how I helped my friends realize their God-given abilities. Food was how I loved.

So now I get to learn a new way to love. Now God gets to talk to me in a new way. I don’t know what that will be, and I pray that the old way will just be gone for a season. Continue reading

New Year’s Resolutions & Earning Salvation

It’s the beginning of February and most of us have probably already broken those New img_4018Year’s resolutions that we made in such good faith a month ago. Maybe it was to eat healthier, to give up sweets, to exercise more, to stay off social media, to pray more, to waste less money, to save more money… It could have been anything. But yet, it probably hasn’t lasted even to the end of the first month.

My goal for the new year was to waste less, be it money, food, resources, time. I chose it call it a goal instead of a resolution because I wanted it to be something I could progress toward through the year instead of fail at right away. I’m not sure that worked, but I’m still striving for this goal.

But what happens when our New Year’s Resolutions, like eating better and cutting out sugar, start to confuse us about what makes us ‘a good person’? Our current culture magnifies our diets, our bodies and healthy living to such a degree that they start to be the rulers by which we measure ourselves. While I am at least grateful that our culture is now celebrating healthy bodies and healthy body image, I’m also concerned about how much of our personal worth is wrapped up in our physical bodies.

We want to earn our ‘goodness;’ when complimented on our weight-loss, our cooking skills, our arm muscles or our marathon time, we respond with something that puts our ‘goodness’ in perspective, the long road it took to learn to love our bodies and the struggle to overcome our health issues or our personal hurdles. There’s nothing wrong with this– if anything, it can be inspiring to others to know that amazing changes  can be made in our lives and we are not permanently condemned to our current situation.

But the thing is, we can’t earn our righteousness. Keeping our resolutions doesn’t earn us any righteousness points when we meet our savior. Even when our resolutions are spiritual resolutions, about spending more time with Jesus or giving more of our time to ministry or increasing our tithes, these actions are not enough to earn us salvation.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. – Ephesians 2:8-9

Continue reading

Dragonbreath Chili & the Tongue of Fire

Recently, my husband volunteered to make Sunday lunch (not a common occurrence as, while he is more than capable in the kitchen, he lacks confidence). This was motivated primarily out of excitement around the idea of preparing a new recipe: Dragonbreath Chili, a fictional dish in the World of Warcraft universe, interpreted by  Cassandra Reeder in “The Geeky Chef Cookbook” (I highly recommend it).

017c85e6-3a14-4e3f-9794-b45575de26edHe labored over it for a number of hours, and I was so proud of him for all his work, cutting all the peppers (two habaneros, among others), onions and tomatoes. And the chili stayed true to its name. While it wasn’t an immediate and overwhelming blast of capsaicin burn, it was the kind of heat that goes right on past your tongue and sets the back of your mouth on fire once you’ve swallowed, making sure you remember what you ate long after it’s too late to do anything about it. That said, I would eat it many times over.

The dragon’s breath that I was now exhaling led me to think about the other ways that I breathe fire. While I don’t consider myself particularly talented at giving a visceral and obliterating tongue lashing, I am more than fluent in the art of sarcasm and veiled insults. When I’m angry, I prefer to be blunt about my thoughts on situations, openly declaring things ‘stupid’ or ‘dumb.’

Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. – James 3:4-6

Continue reading

Sowing Seeds

Most of us know the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13, the parable in which Jesus describes a farmer tossing out seed while planting his fields, the seed falling on a variety of soils and how those seeds grew.

“As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” – Matthew 13:4-8By Morgan McClean, courtesy of Morguefile.com

Often we think of this parable as a parable of the soils (some translations do title it this way), a lesson about the conditions of our hearts and our response to the Word. But what if we think of this from the perspective of the farmer? He sows freely, scattering the seed across all the soil, not just the good soil, and allows it to grow freely.

This spring, I took my first swat at a vegetable garden. While I have a little bit of experience with flower gardening, I have effectively no experience with vegetable gardening. But I wanted to try growing some of my own food, having fresh herbs (a basil or mint plant cost about the same amount as a bunch of fresh herbs, anyway) and a few vegetables outside my back door. I tried starting some seeds indoors in the early spring, but none of them really germinated, so I gave up on them and relied on the flower bulbs and vegetable plants I bought from the local nursery. After filling the raised beds with bags of garden soil, I tossed in the little bits soil that I had used in the failed attempt to germinate the seeds indoors.

Within a week of planting a bunch of hosta and astilbe bulbs in the larger of my raised beds, a few large, flat leaves poked up from the soil and I got excited! They didn’t look like hosta leaves, so I assumed they were the astilbe I had planted (but never seen in person before). As time went on, though, it became clear that these were NOT astilbe leaves and the yellow, conical flowers confirmed that these were summer squash plants, popped up from the seeds left in the soil I had tossed in last minute, assuming the seeds dried out and dead. Next thing I knew, the seeds I hadn’t known I sowed were growing rapidly and flourishing.

Sometimes, we sow the seeds of faith intentionally, cultivating the soil of our relationships so that the truth will spring up and produce a good crop as our friends come to Christ and build relationships with him. Once in a very great while, we get to see the harvest, too. But sometimes we don’t. Continue reading

Idolatry and the Nutrition Facts

For many years, a lot of my time and passion has revolved around food, nutrition and health. In many ways, this has been a valuable passion that has taught me a lot, helped me improve my personal health and allowed me to help others pursue their goals of healthy living. I love cooking and reading recipes is a favorite pastime for me.

I love the we, as a culture, are learning to focus file0001460715847more on our health. It scares me how much we have let ourselves go as a population (guys, in 2010, 75.1% of adults in America are overweight. 42% are obese. OBESE!), so my heart is warmed when I see people making choices that put their health above their comfort or physical desires. Any time I see someone that is clearly out-of-shape out running, I have to fight the urge to roll down my window, pump my fist and cheer them on as they have made the difficult and uncomfortable decision to work to improve their life.

But what happens when you take it too far?

What I can no longer deny is that health and nutrition have frequently become idols for me. Struggles with body image have won the battle of priorities in my life at many times, which means that God and His image of me has taken the backseat to my own earthly image of myself. Even though it has been a while since I have been statistically overweight and even though I know that I am of a healthy weight and size, I still struggle to avoid criticizing myself, to approach food and cravings in a healthy way and to remember that food and nutrition are made for our bodies, not the other way around.

I am very careful to avoid ‘fitsipiration’, a new social media trend (mostly Pinterest) where you use inspirational images and statements to inspire you towards fitness goals. Surely keeping yourself motivated toward fitness goals is not a bad thing; however, most of them feature photos of women with absolutely ripped abs, toned and defined backs, strong and chiseled hips, or men with bulging, billowing biceps, huge and shredded pecs, the quadriceps of Hercules. As much as they can inspire you toward improving your fitness, they can equally remind you just how far from ‘perfection’ you are. It is a reminder of just how far you are from being worthy of being called ‘fit.’  Continue reading

First Fruits

Today, I harvested my first mint crop. I’ve never had great success with herbs, and my current garden is my first vegetable garden. And, well, I’ve never had much of a green thumb.WP_20160511_18_23_28_Moment

But today, today I got my first mint for the perfect first iced tea of the season. It is my first fruit.

The Bible talks a lot about our first fruits, primarily in commands to return these to God through sacrifices (eg Exodus 23:19). He has always demanded our best (Cain brought a sacrifice, but Abel brought the best portions of his flock’s firstborn in Genesis 4), blessing those who follow his commands.

So, why is it that we are to give our first fruits (or really, any fruits) in sacrifice? Why does God want that from us, especially as he doesn’t need it?

There are many reasons, reasons I’m sure you’ve heard plenty of times in the obligatory stewardship sermons that every pastor has to give from time to time. A few of those reasons are:

  • we are commanded to
  • it provides for others, both in the church and outside the church
  • it teaches us responsibility and stewardship
  • it puts our priorities in order
  • it turns our attention to Christ

So what is the significance of my mint tea today? This was my first harvest, so it belongs to Christ. This drink is an offering to the one that grew the mint. I don’t believe that all offerings must be something that you give away, like a tithe, but instead that some offerings are something you still might consume yourself (most sacrifices in Scripture were consumed by the priests, at least). This is an offering of my thoughts. With this first harvest, I sit reminded of the goodness of our creator, without whom nothing would grow for me to harvest.

I sit with my mint iced tea rearranging my priorities, using this an opportunity to contemplate the humbleness of my heart and to bring myself more closely in line with God’s desires for my time, my life and my path as I walk with him.

How will God use your first fruits?

 

 

Apron Theology

129If you have any expectation of staying clean while cooking (particularly baking, I’ve found), you’re wearing an apron. I personally have a terrible habit of remembering halfway through the recipe that I should probably put mine on. Cooking without something to protect your clothes gets messy– sometimes irreversibly so. I nearly lost one of my favorite cardigans (that I wear very frequently) to pulled pork juices in the crockpot last weekend.

We are trained from a young age to protect ourselves from things that might make us dirty. We put on aprons when cooking, gloves when cleaning the toilet, smocks when painting, old shoes when mowing the lawn. Particularly when something is a chore, we find ways to protect ourselves from being made messy. We don’t want to be unclean.

The Jews of Jesus’ time were much the same way. We need only glance through the books of Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy to get a feel for how easily one would be made unclean and the consequences of such a state. It’s hard for me to imagine not being permitted to attend worship once a month because of my monthly cycle (Leviticus 15:19-24). But yet, as Holy Week arrives, I am struck by the extreme gift that Joseph of Arimathea gave by making himself unclean in order to lay Christ’s body to rest, knowing that simply by touching the body of his dead savior, he would be unclean on the Sabbath day.

Joseph’s act is reminiscent of Jesus’ behavior while he was still in active ministry. A woman, bleeding for twelve years (!), is absolutely desperate for healing, so she risks all she has to risk. She reaches out to touch the edge of Jesus’ robe. (Mark 5:25-24) Because she has been bleeding, she has been unclean for just as long. For twelve years, she has not been touched by another person. Just imagine how isolating this would be, to be set apart from everyone for twelve years because you are sick, to know that anyone to touch you would be ceremonially unclean, separated from God and the Temple. You would be isolated from everything and everyone, including God.

So she risks it. She risks reaching out to touch the edge of the robe of the man she believes is her last hope. She risks making him unclean in hopes that maybe she could be made clean. She risks dirtying the most pure, holy, undefiled person to have ever walked on this earth.

And he blesses her for it. Continue reading

Marinating in Liturgy

Sometimes I don’t have a recipe. I have an idea of what I want, but I don’t want to go find a recipe that both ticks the boxes of what I want and also meets my requirement of I-have-all-the-ingredients/substitutes. This happens to me a lot when it comes to marinades. I don’t buy bottled mixes (I don’t plan that well and they are expensive) and, as we have discussed previously, I’m not that great at following recipes. So sometimes, I’m making up a marinade.

The beauty of a marinade is that it is basically a chemical formula that can be customized to fit your flavor profile: you need an acid to break down the tough fibers of the meat (eg vinegar, citrus juice), a fat to absorb into the meat and to bind the flavors to the protein (eg oil) and whatever other flavors you wish to incorporate. So = 1 part acid, 2 parts fat, 1 part everything else. And voila! A marinade to make your food yummy! So for an easy Asian marinade, I went with the below combination:

Asian Marinade

For 2-3 pounds of meat

chili-sauce-908355_1920
Ingredients
1/4 c rice vinegar
1 lemon, juiced
1/2 c soy sauce
2 c oil
2 or 3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 Tbs ground ginger (fresh minced is even better)
1 tsp red pepper flakes

  1. Whisk together all ingredients and pour over meat. Refrigerate in a non-corrosive container (eg. ziploc bag, stainless steel, glass or ceramic) for at least two hours, overnight is ideal.

To me, growing up with kitchen chemistry is much like having grown up in church. I mean that somewhat literally– my mom is the daughter of a food chemist and my dad is a Presbyterian minister and has been since before he even met my mother. Following God’s call for my father’s ministry, we moved around a number of times, starting from scratch each time. While that process was sometimes challenging, just like beginning to cook without a recipe, I started to learn that we were never truly starting from scratch. God was preparing a congregation to meet us and preparing us to become a part of that new congregation.

Our congregations were fairly similar to one another– midsize family churches with some young families and just as many shut-ins, with traditional, liturgical worship services with remarkable organists and always a Church Martha. And even after I moved out on my own and started choosing my own churches, I chose the same sort of church. In many ways, I am a creature of habit.

What I’ve realized is that whenever I became a part of a new church, I didn’t have to start from scratch in figuring out what I wanted and needed. There is a basic formula which has flexibility in the flavors, but not in the chemical makeup (fat and acid). The flavor of my church was variable (the music, style, chairs vs pews) but the core was not (theology). I have found that the liturgy somehow seems to combine these two in just the right way for me. Continue reading

Christmas Cookies & Ebenezers

Christmas cookies are quintessential of Christmas, more than any other dish, I would guess. Everyone has their own recipes and beliefs about what makes something a “Christmas” cookie. You will never be able to convince me that a chocolate chip cookie is a Christmas cookie. I don’t care what you say, it isn’t and never will be. But that’s part of how I was raised– Christmas cookies were cookies that you only had at Christmastime and they were special in that way. Many had nuts and lots of spices, not chocolate or peanut butter or even raisins.

IMG_0978 (2)

Even though December 25th has passed, today I am sharing with you our family’s recipe for Walnut Crescents, my mother’s answer to her mother’s Mexican Wedding Cookies. My husband earned huge points with Mom when he announced that they were his favorite of my cookies (they are also her favorite and frequently the last to disappear). I’m sharing these particular cookies with you for a specific reason– these cookies are a memorial, a celebration. They became a part of our Christmas tradition in order to remember Christmases past and the mother that made them worth remembering. In a way, they are a lasting ebenezer for our Christmas season.

Walnut CrescentsIMG_0975 (2)

Ingredients

3 3/4 c flour
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 c margarine
3/4 c light corn syrup
1 Tbs vanilla
2 1/4 c ground walnuts
1 1/2 c powdered sugar

  1. Beat together margarine, corn syrup and vanilla. Stir in flour, cinnamon and walnuts.
  2. Cover and chill for about 3 hours.
  3. By the teaspoonful, shape dough into 2″ long rolls, shaping into crescents and arrange on baking sheet . (These cookies spread very little.)
  4. Bake at 350 for 15-18 minutes.
  5. Allow to cool, then roll in powdered sugar.

You probably just read that sentence and got lost. Let me explain.

Continue reading

Rain and Thanksgiving

We have finally reached my very favorite time of year: Autumn. The leaves turn colors, the air turns crisp and the sunlight turns pale. My childhood was spent in farm-country, among some of the kindest classes of people in the country, and I am grateful to have returned to farm-country again. Growing up, prayer requests at church always included prayers for more rain, less rain, for the frost to hold out one more week until the harvest could be brought in. Although no one in my family was ever a farmer (lumberjacks, sure– we are Scandinavian, after all), I learned to so greatly respect and be grateful for the work of farmers that labored from sunrise to sunset to put food on my table.

Grain Harvest

Because I got to hear their prayer requests, I got to be a part of a much humbler approach to life and faith: Depending on God for very real, material, life-giving needs. The prayers of farmers are very different than those of the rest of us– they pray for sun, but not too much that the crops burn, rain, but not enough for the seed to go to rot, insects to fertilize, but not to destroy, frost to put the ground to rest, but not so early that it kills the harvest. For those of us that work in offices, shops, restaurants, hospitals, we are unaffected by the elements around us and we can easily lose sight of God’s providence, as we can easily be distracted by what seems to be the providence and omnipotence of our bosses and customers. Our needs have a middle-man and we easily lose sight of their true provider. Continue reading