Food and Law and Grace

During Whole30, I ate meat, eggs, vegetables, fruit and healthy fats, which included a lot of coconut and avocado. I did not eat any grains, legumes, dairy, alcohol, added sugar or sweeteners (natural or artificial), or a few different additives. This was not a low-carb diet because starchy vegetables and fruits were allowed, and I ate plenty of both. It was challenging at first to adjust to the shopping and planning and meal prep required (including packing all my own food for an overnight trip), but the meals were delicious and satisfying.

After the 30 days, there is a recommended reintroduction phase, where you introduce one previously prohibited category at a time while otherwise following the Whole30 guidelines. This allows you to develop more awareness of how certain foods affect you and help you understand your cravings better. They recommend a minimum of 10 days for this. Day 1 you reintroduce legumes for just that one day. Day 4 is non-gluten grains, Day 7 is dairy, and Day 10 you add gluten grains. On the in between days, you are still following Whole30. (Mike says the name Whole30 is deceptive, and it really should be called Whole45 or something.)

Mike and I talked about what foods specifically we felt like we were missing and made a plan for the 10 days. We were going to modify the end because we have friends staying with us next weekend and want to be able to enjoy some specific things with them. Okay, this will work with our future eating plan (mostly paleo) and our schedule.

Then I asked if we could change our dairy introduction from Day 7 to Day 8 because the dairy that I miss the most is extra creamy coffee drinks, like a cafe breve or a flat white. My schedule on Day 7 doesn’t lend itself well to stopping at a coffee shop, but Day 8 does. We’ll delay reintroducing gluten grains until after our friends visit, which will be no problem because they don’t usually eat them anyway.

Day 1 arrives. I ate peanut butter with my apple in the morning and was going to have black beans at dinner that night. In the middle of the day, I went to the grocery store. I was buying a few non-Whole30 foods for my son, but the pull to add other things to my cart was very strong. Marshmallows, chocolate, jelly beans. It wouldn’t hurt to have these right? I started to panic a bit about having to make decisions again about what I should and should’t eat. Yes, following the rules was work, but it didn’t involve weighing the options, which has always been a challenge for me.

In the afternoon, I scooped some more peanut butter into a bowl and ate it with celery sticks. That’s a fairly healthy snack by most accounts, so there was no real problem, except I kept wanting more and the nature of the craving bothered me.

On Day 2, I followed Whole30. Honestly, our food was lackluster. I had been extremely tired all week from some hormonal issues, and I didn’t want to put much effort in to our food. Boring food encourages boredom, and boredom has a way of triggering cravings.

Day 3 happened to be the day where we order ribeye sandwiches from a local restaurant for lunch at work. I’ll just eat the ribeye. And maybe the fries. Well, maybe I’ll just have the bun and make this my gluten grain day and then follow Whole30 faithfully for the next week before reintroducing anything else. Then it was time for dinner. I didn’t have anything planned. I didn’t feel like making anything. Mike and I both had already had gluten that day, so we might as well make the most of it. We went to the local bar and had fried fish and fried pickles and drinks. Some of it was delicious. The hard cider I usually like was sickeningly sweet and had a weird aftertaste.

For breakfast and a really late lunch on Day 4, we followed Whole30. And then evening came, and I was tired (still. It’s getting a little old.) And Mike said, “Sidney Dairy Barn?” After some discussion rationalization, we got in the car. My cappuccino sundae with hot fudge and caramel was delicious, although much richer and sweeter than anything I’d had in the last 5 weeks. We headed toward home, and I commented to Mike about how I could feel the mucus forming already. Woke up this morning, feeling bloated and congested. Awesome.

Thirty full days of sticking to the plan. Five days of freedom, and I was tanking.

If you’ve read It Starts with Food by Dallas and Melissa Hartwig, their book titled Whole30, or perused the website for long, you know that the intent is not for you to follow the plan to the letter forever. Whole30 is supposed to be a temporary program to help you learn how food affects you, both physically and psychologically. You’re supposed to pay attention to when you want to eat and learn to distinguish between hunger and cravings. You’re supposed to notice what foods specifically you are craving and what is going on in your mind and body when you are craving it. Several of the rules are designed with the sole purpose of helping you break the cycle of mindless eating. The rules provide a framework, and you are the student.

After you complete Whole30, you use your new knowledge about your body and your eating habits to help guide your future eating choices. You are encouraged to live in food freedom, now freed from cravings and mindless eating. You are encouraged to truly enjoy food and be able to partake of things that are nourishing to both your body and your mind.

That freedom is terrifying. What if I make bad choices? Sure, ice cream one evening isn’t going to kill me, but what if I eat it and I can’t stop? What if I forget what good food, the kind that truly nourishes my body, tastes like and return to cheap substitutes? It’s hard. Whole30 knows that it is difficult, so there is a guide to Off-Roading. But it’s more work to go through the thought process every time you are presented with an option than to not have options. And a lot of times, with the added stress that brings, I fail.

So what does this have to do with law and grace?

But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. -Galatians 3:23-25, NASB

The Law was given to us so we could learn how to live. We could learn what it felt like when we made good choices. We could identify our cravings and their triggers. When Christ came, He freed us from sin. God still has expectations for our behavior, but we have much more freedom than we did before Christ.

So often times, though, we want to live under Law. We want a set of rules that we can follow without having to weigh the complexities of different decisions. We want to be able to stick with what we know, where we know that we are safe from harm, so we impose more rules to protect ourselves. But we were not meant to be slaves. We were born to be sons and daughters.

We were born to be sons and daughters who, while seeking God with all our hearts and following Him with our lives and hearts, also have freedom to truly live.

It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. -Galatians 5:1, NASB

That’s how I want to live, with food and the rest of my life. But I learned that I am going to need a little more time following the rules to be able to truly break the chains of my eating habits. I learned that, at least for right now, there are some foods that negatively affect me, although because I rushed things, I don’t know which ones or exactly how. So I’m going to stick with (mostly) Whole30 a little longer.

The rules are a tutor, and I am going to do my homework to learn the lessons I need to be able to live in freedom.

And maybe I should do that in other areas of my life, too.

When Mother’s Day Isn’t Happy

Holidays can be controversial.

In December, there are debates about Christmas vs. Hanukah vs. Kwanzaa vs. nothing. If you celebrate Christmas, there are debates about Christmas trees, nativity scenes, Santa Claus, saying “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas,” and gift giving.

In October, there are heated discussions about pagan origins, the appropriate age for trick or treating, and whether or not little kids should wear or be exposed to scary costumes.

In March or April, there are arguments about Easter bunnies and eggs, the observance of Passover, and whether or not Good Friday should be a work holiday.

You name any holiday or a popular celebration day, and you can probably find controversies about whether or not it should be a holiday or how people commemorate it. There will be lively kitchen table discussions and water cooler arguments and internet debates about them all. We hold these markings of time close to our heart, and many of our memories center around our family’s and community’s traditions surrounding them. We are often hurt and offended when we feel like our traditions or rituals are belittled or threatened, and our emotional connection with them runs deep.

Perhaps one major celebration hits closer to home than any other. Mother’s Day.

Do you know the most controversial thing I have ever posted on Facebook? It was a status that said something like, “Hey, Mother’s Day is hard for a lot of people. Please be sensitive to people who are hurting.” Yep. That has been the quickest way to receive a lot of outright criticism, private messages and personal talking-to’s in all of my years on social media.

Do you know the greatest looks of shock I’ve ever seen from church leaders was when I requested that the leader be mindful of those who were struggling on that day? Note that I used the plural form in that statement. Because, yes, it’s happened more than once, and in more than one congregation.

It’s not just me who has experienced this. Over the years, I have known a multitude of people who have been lambasted for questioning something about Mother’s Day.

Why does this get people so riled up? Goodness, I could write a whole series on that subject. To sum it up, I think it’s because motherhood is close to the hearts of everyone. Since we haven’t reached a point where human babies are grown in a lab, we all spent our earliest days nestled in the womb of a mother. Our earliest knowledge of life and the world and everything began taking shape there. After we are born, must of us stayed with our mothers and continued to learn through her influence. Some of us had mothers who more actively influenced our learning. Some of us learned from the absence of our mothers.

There is a primal connection that exists between mother and child that impacts us throughout our entire lives.

But mothers, being humans like the rest of us, are imperfect. Even the very best of mothers has screwed up. Even the very best of mothers ignored her children at times. Even the very best of mothers sometimes spoke hurtful words to her children. Even the very best of mothers made choices that harmed her children. Every single one of them. And most of us are okay in spite of that.

But Mother’s Day comes around. And everything is supposed to be happy. Moms are awesome! Mothers are fantastic! Mamas are super! They’re always there! They always care! They always know just the right things to say! They are heroes to be worshipped, it seems.

But inside of us, we know that’s not true.

In the midst of all the tremendous things moms do, they sometimes wound us. And those wounds, especially if we have not taken time to acknowledge and tend to them, can strike a dissonant chord within us. We buy sappy, over-the-top cards and act like everything is perfect because that seems the right thing to do. But inside, if we are being honest, we know that it’s more complicated than that. Most of us had really great moms, and we earnestly want to express our gratitude and appreciation. But it still seems insincere to say that everything is flowers and hearts and happy hugs. Because roses have thorns. Hearts break. And happy hugs often come after tears. And at this time, more than any other perhaps, there is an expectation to be able to say “Every Mom is awesome! All the time!” So we buy a bigger bouquet or a shinier card to try to compensate for the discomfort in our souls.

When a person suggests that Mother’s Day might be hard for some, it calls attention to our own pain. And we are deeply uncomfortable with pain. We can’t possibly endure pain. And in our instinctive avoidance of our own pain, we dismiss the pain of others. And that dismissing hurts. Our avoidance of pain creates more pain for others.

So what can you do instead?

By all means, feel free to celebrate the mothers in your life. Express your love for them. Exclaim your gratitude for them. But be honest with yourself, that no matter how great your mom was, she wasn’t perfect.

Be honest with others by not pretending that every mom on this earth was awesome. Because the people who were abandoned or abused or neglected by their moms had a different reality.

Be present with others who are feeling the absence of their moms, whether they lost them yesterday, last year, or 30 years ago.

Be mindful of others who are reminded more on this day than any other that, despite their desires and efforts and dreams, that they are not moms.

Be kind to others whose children are not with them. Maybe their children are in heaven or in prison or simply not here. This is a hard day.

Be compassionate to others who are in a difficult season of motherhood. This is an extraordinarily painful day for those who are finding it hard to find joy in mothering.

Pay attention to those who have tears in their eyes or aching empty arms and embrace them. Notice who stayed home today to avoid facing others and let them know you understand.

But please don’t pretend that Mother’s Day is happy for everyone.

In A Nutshell

This morning, I was answering a question my therapist asked. Well, “answering” might not be the correct word to describe what I was doing. I was telling a story that was kind of related and would eventually end up answering the question. He gave me a rather impatient look. (Don’t worry. He wasn’t being rude. I’ve been working with him for a long time. I knew exactly what it meant and found it rather funny, not offensive.)  I stopped and said, “In a nutshell….,” and attempted to make the answer more concise. He soon commented that it seemed more like a coconut shell. And I laughed. And I started trying to answer the question more directly then. I had to start again a couple times. At one point he asked me if I even remembered what question I was supposed to be answering. Um, nope.

I often think about multiple things at once. One of my friends occasionally comments on my ability to participate in more than one conversation at a time. Emerson Eggerichs, in his Love & Respect video series, says that women think in spider web formation, jumping from topic to topic and still knowing exactly what’s going on all points. I considered myself to be an expert at that, and I considered that to be a good thing.

I have a lot of different interests. I have multiple activities occurring simultaneously, so my calendar is usually full. My schedule mirrors my thought patterns. If you and I were sitting down having a conversation, I would probably change the subject often and then end up returning to my original topic. I get distracted by my thoughts often, and sometimes I completely stop talking because I forget what I’m talking about. (If you’re laughing while you’re reading this because I’ve done this to you, it’s okay to admit it. I won’t be offended. J)

I used to think having so many different interests and being able to have so many things going on at once was a good thing. It made me more interesting and knowledgeable and productive.

But I’m wondering now if it is a curse more than a blessing.

Because, all too many times, I end up getting lost in the middle of it. I forget my purpose. I forget why I’m here. I busy myself with minutiae and miss out on the really important things.

As much as we want to convince ourselves that we are multitasking superstars who can do it all, we’re not. Our brains weren’t wired that way. There is always some multitasking going on in the brain. The brain puts routine tasks on autopilot, so to speak, so we can focus on the important matters. It does this naturally and automatically, without our conscious thought. But when we keep adding more and more things to the task list, we get weighed down.

In the book Scarcity, researchers Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir explain this with the analogy of bandwidth. When too many devices are running on the same network, the speed slows down because all the bandwidth is used up. For humans, it does more to us than just slow down our mental processing. It can cause fuzzy thinking, impaired logic, fatigue and more.

I get caught up in details or distracted by something or weighed down by my schedule, and I miss out on what’s in front of me. There have been a few times in the last few weeks when I realized that I was getting caught up in unimportant details surrounding my son’s 18th birthday and missing out on him himself. I had planned three separate birthday celebrations, worked on restoring order to our house after our remodeling project, and made sure everything was going to be ready for our guests who were coming to celebrate his birthday. I realized two days before his birthday that I didn’t have any idea what I was going to give him for his birthday. By the time I got everything else I had put on my list completed, I didn’t sign his birthday card until right before I handed it to him. I snapped at him right before one group of guests arrived, being more concerned about my house than about his well-being at that moment. Ouch.

He’s 18 now. He lives at home, so I still have daily opportunities to pay attention to him. But he’s 18 now. Those days are dwindling. And if I’m not careful, I’ll miss those opportunities.

This morning, in my therapist’s office, I realized that all of the details that I thought were so important, and all the rabbit trails I kept taking, were temptations to avoid the issue at hand. The reality, the finally answered question, was an uncomfortable one. But it was one that I need to face.

And it was probably one that I would have continued to avoid if I hadn’t been challenged to stay focused.

How many of the items on my “Things I Do” list are there because I would rather be distracted than face the truth? How many of the items on your list are there to distract you from what is uncomfortable?

Things I Do (Coffee #5)

If we were having coffee (or tea, either works for me), I would probably talk about how ridiculously busy I am right now. Lots of people talk about how busy they are, right? Sociologists and psychologists tell us that the pace of life for most Americans today is harmful to our society and our health. God seemed to know that was our tendency when He said, “Be still, and know that I am God.” The New American Standard translation begins “Cease striving.” Busyness is a problem for a lot of people. Busyness is a problem for me. Busyness is ALWAYS a problem for me. Sometimes it is worse than others, and right now is one of those seasons.

In Shauna Niequist’s daily devotional Savor, she spends a number of entries talking about how to find the balance of living out your potential without exhausting yourself. She tells about her older and wiser friend who gave her this advice:

“It’s not hard to decide what you want your life to be about. What’s hard is figuring out what you’re willing to give up in order to do the things you really care about.”

Over the next couple entries, Shauna gave lists that she sorted out in her life of the things she wanted to do (Things I Do) and the things she was deciding not to do so she could focus on what is truly important to her and her family (Things I Don’t Do). When I read them, I was struck by the realization that I’m trying to do everything on both of her lists (except I never blow dry my hair – yay for a pixie cut!) Further, there are several other major things I do in my life.

I am well aware of all of the reasons to pare down. I am well aware of all the reasons to be involved in less things. I know that how I am living is not sustainable. I know that how I am living means there is no way I can be giving several, if not most, areas of my life the attention and focus it deserves. But actually deciding what to put on the list of Things I Don’t Do? That’s hard. Really hard.

There are some things that are not optional. There are a few things that will forever and ever stay on the list of Things I Do. But that other list is a tricky matter. There are requests from my family and promptings from my friends and pleas from my church. There are my wide and varied interests. There is the seeking to be accepted. The striving to be loved. The longing to be acknowledged.

If this were a proper blog post, I suppose I would tell you what I am doing to draw some lines between Things I Do and Things I Don’t Do. I would tell you that I have figured out how to fill the internal needs that I’m trying to fill with a multitude of activities. Maybe I would tell you that I have invited God in to the discussion and have found the strength and peace to be able to say no.

But this isn’t a “proper” blog post. This is me sitting across from you at the local coffee shop or in my kitchen telling you that I don’t have any of it figured out. I have a very, very long list of Things I Do. I have a very, very short list of Things I Don’t Do. And I don’t know how to shift the balance so everything doesn’t topple over.

(The specific entries I mentioned are found on April 13-15 in Savor.)