Archive for June, 2011

“He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.” – 2 Corinthians 1:4 (NLT)

In my youth, when I foolishly thought you got to choose what you want to do with your life, I wanted to do great things for God.  I got a degree in Church Music so I could minister on a church staff (which I did for 1 year and that was enough).  I faithfully served in every leadership position that was offered to me, thinking that the best way to honor God was to use every gift he’d given me to the best of my ability.  After all, isn’t that what the parable of the talents is about?

According to Proverbs 16:9, “We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.”  Around the time my second child was born, God began to pull me back from my plans for service and train me to go in a whole new direction.  He didn’t give me a vision for ministry or a passion for evangelism.  He gave me tough kids with strong personalities.  (What?  “God, how can I serve you with squirrely little kids whose voices are so loud you can hear them in the next county?”)   I had to surrender the spotlight for the nightlight, the podium for the potty chair.  Instead of event planning, all my creativity went into getting through the dinner hour without meltdowns.  Was this really what God created me to do?!!  Yes.

I didn’t realize what a blessing my challenging kids would be until the year we taught my son’s kindergarten Sunday School class.  It was filled with high-energy kids who were mostly first-borns.  This group was a challenge to wrangle every Sunday morning, but my husband and I stepped in and poured out all our energy and creativity into these kids.  The result was that we and the kids had a blast.  The reason why I wasn’t intimidated by all those strong personalities was that God had trained me to love – and actually enjoy – kids with strong personalities at home.  Hmmm.  Maybe the challenges I face aren’t always about me…

When I was younger, I struggled with shyness and self-esteem.  The enemy kicked me around for about 25 years until I finally realized that the voice of insecurity is not from God.  God graciously freed me from bondage to insecurity, but because of my identity with those who are lonely or left out, God’s equipped me with a special radar to identify who needs a friend when I’m in a group.  Not only has God turned someone who was terribly shy into a person who can sit down and visit with a total stranger, he gives me genuine love for others – even the unlovely.  What may start out as an act of charity on my part, often ends up as friendship when I see who others truly are through God’s eyes.

The challenges we face are sometimes for our benefit, but sometimes they are for the benefit of others.  God gives us comfort, but it is so that when others are hurting, “we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.”  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve listened to young mothers with strong-willed kids pour out their anxieties, and assured them that I understand and that God has a plan for their child.  I’ve lost count of the number of people I’ve counseled and encouraged about the gluten free diet in the 2 1/2 years since we’ve had to give up gluten.  God’s started opening doors this year for me to encourage others who are considering homeschooling.  Our 9 months of unemployment make us approachable to those who are struggling financially.  Do you see a pattern?  For every challenge we face, God is able to comfort and encourage us.  But his ultimate purpose is greater than just our own good or comfort.  God uses the stuff of life, the gritty sand to not just make us pearls for our own beauty, but to grace the life of someone else.  A pearl in an oyster shell is hidden away from view and worthless, but a pearl that is given away to bring beauty and joy to someone else is a treasured gift.

When I was younger, I wanted to do great things for God.  Now I realize that God wants me to do small things with great love.  As God comforts me and turns my challenges into pearls, he desires to use them to bless others.  Greatness in God’s kingdom is not about how many committees we’re on or how often we’re asked to be on the worship team.  God simply asks us to live a spirit-filled life that is yielded to him.  He does the rest.

How is God challenging you to share his comfort with others?

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This week I’m sharing some new recipes from my food blog, More Joyful Choices.  I decided to try another variation on my peach muffin recipe, and came up with some wonderful Strawberry Rhubarb GF muffins.  They can be made dairy free with almond milk, which is what we did, or you can make them with buttermilk.  Of course, you can also make these with wheat flour by substituting all-purpose flour for the GF flour blend, and omitting the xanthan gum.

Our other new favorite is a variation on a biscuit recipe that uses self-rising flour and whipping cream.  Since my mother-in-law always made cinnamon rolls using Bisquick, I decided to try making GF Cinnamon Rolls using Pamela’s Pancake & Baking Mix and whipping cream.  These moist, delicious rolls have a flavor and texture similar to coffee cake.  They were the perfect breakfast treat for my daughter’s birthday this week.

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This week over at More Joyful Choices, I’m sharing gluten free menus for two of our favorite theme parks: Disneyland and California Adventure.  We’ve enjoyed visiting these parks for the last two summers because they have so many awesome gluten free options.  (And because Disney parks rock!)

Since I couldn’t find much information online the first time we went, I decided to post the information from the gluten free dining guide we picked up at Disneyland.  In addition to listing all the gluten free options in each “land,” I share meal planning tips that are helpful to anyone visiting the parks.  I also mention how we put together a GF meal for California Adventure’s new nighttime show, “World of Color,” which has a picnic box option.  If you have a gluten free friend who’s heading to Southern California for a Disney vacation, be sure to forward this!

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On June 11, 1996 I married a man with no job, no money, and no idea what he was going to do with his life.  Two kids and fifteen years later, it would seem that not much has changed!  But I love him more today than when I made my vows as a naive, optimistic 21-year-old.  I’ve been thinking about vows today, and I find it interesting that they don’t seem to mean much in our culture anymore.  Many couples today write their own vows which may or may not actually promise anything, and mainly consist of a list of reasons why they like the person they’re marrying.  It’s great to know why someone loves you, but I think it’s even more important to know that they promise to keep loving you even when the warm fuzzies are gone.  The things that I loved about my husband 15 years ago are very different from the things I love and have come to appreciate about him today.  Over the years, loving feelings fluctuate with the circumstances in our lives, but vows keep us grounded by reminding us that marriage isn’t about feelings.  According to the vows I made 15 years ago, marriage is a commitment to love your spouse:

For Better or Worse – This one seems obvious.  You’re supposed to love someone even when you find yourself in difficult circumstances.  We’ve stuck it out through infertility struggles, colicky babies, parenting 2 high-energy kids with strong personalities, job losses (yes, we’re on job loss #2), a second bachelors degree and masters degree for my husband, a nightmare house construction experience, totally redoing our diet and relearning how to cook with gluten free food, making the decision to homeschool and accepting that we are the weirdo homeschoolers who don’t eat wheat.  But we’ve had plenty of “better” days, as well.  Sometimes it’s not the tough times that challenge our marriage so much as the battle with our self-centered nature, which seems to rear its ugly head more in the absence of conflict.  When you’re in the trenches with your spouse, you’re both fighting the war together to find solutions to parenting issues, employment, or other problems.  But when the crisis is over, the question comes as to whether you’ll stay on the same team or start drifting into your own little world.  To me, vowing to love someone “for better or worse,” means that I love you when times are tough, and I will fight the temptation to focus on my own selfish desires when life is rolling along smoothly.  How many divorces happen because one spouse simply grew apathetic to the needs of the other?

Application: My daily devotion for today reminded me that in Luke 9:23, Jesus told his followers to deny themselves, take up their cross daily, and follow him.  The way we love our spouse for better or worse is to deny our selfish desires (and I don’t mean all our desires, just the ones that cause a wedge in our relationship) DAILY.  The point of this vow is to affirm that I choose to love you at all times and in all circumstances.  Thankfully, we have the “incomparably great power” of the Holy Spirit to help us do this (Eph. 1:19).  God asks us to love each other as he loves us, but he also gives us the power to do it when we invite him into our marriage.  I could not have made it through some of the challenges in our marriage without God’s help.  Many times, after praying about a situation, the Holy Spirit has given me the right words to say when communicating my needs to my husband, and the Holy Spirit has also convicted me when I am falling short of loving my husband the way I should. 

For Richer or Poorer – Yes, I can definitely say I’ve fulfilled this vow!  For most of my marriage, we’ve been on a self-imposed tight budget.  What that means is that we’ve always had plenty of money in the bank, but we choose to live beneath our means and limit our spending on frivolous purchases.  Even before my husband lost his job, we were the only ones we knew without a DVR, fancy cell phone (we use pay-as-you-go TracPhones with no texting or internet), or extended cable package.  So even when we’ve had more income than expenses, we’ve still felt “poor” by our American materialistic standards.  And yet, to love my husband for richer or poorer means that even when money is tight, we still set aside a small amount to go out on dates and celebrate together.

Application: Tonight we’re cashing in our credit card rewards money and combining it with anniversary gift money to go to the Anniversary Inn to celebrate.  Sure, we could probably use that money in a more practical way, but when you’re thrifty in the small things, I believe it’s absolutely okay to splurge once in a while for special occasions.  We need to celebrate our marriage.  We need to go out on dates regularly, even if it’s only to Starbucks with a gift card we’ve been stretching out since Christmas.  We need to laugh and play together – especially when we’re in the “poorer” category.  Our budget may be smaller right now, which requires a bit more creativity, but we always have money budgeted for dates and family outings.

In Sickness and In Health – We haven’t had a whole lot of stress from illness in our marriage – yet.  But I did have some pretty miserable pregnancies.  I had an overactive sense of smell – even my own make-up smell made me sick – so I couldn’t stand to cook anything in the oven, since that causes smells to linger.  I felt terrible, and hated burdening my husband with my failure to meet his needs because my own were so great.  But you know what?  I’ve learned that the times when I am weak are a gift to me, because it is then that my husband steps up and takes care of me.  I tend to be the caregiver in our relationship, and there usually aren’t many physical needs my husband has to meet.  So during my pregnancies, I was shown love in a way I wouldn’t have experienced otherwise.

Application: Loving someone who is sick may seem obvious, but you never know when you may be meeting an even deeper need.  If you’re married to a caregiver, he or she needs to know that you will also care for his or her needs.  I love caring for others, but I can get burned out if I’m not mindful to ask for help when I need it.  So even if your spouse seems totally self-sufficient, ask how you can help and affirm your desire to be a mutual caregiver in sickness AND in health.

Forsaking All Others – Again, this seems obvious.  No affairs?  Check!  But there are so many other ways we can “forsake” our spouse.  We can get absorbed in hobbies, projects, work, parenting struggles, and even ministries.  There have been times when I’ve been so focused on meeting the needs of the kids that I had little leftover for my husband.  We’ve jokingly called my husband’s laptop his “mistress,” because sometimes “she” gets more of his attention than I do.  Women, especially, are prone to the Superwoman complex.  We feel like we’ve somehow failed if we’re not climbing the ladder of a successful career, head of the PTA, teaching Sunday School, keeping an immaculate house and Mother-of-the-Year.  But the truth is, we can’t do all and be all to everyone.  We have a finite amount of time an energy.  Where and in whom will we invest it?

Application – In our relationship, we’ve taken turns and helped each other pursue dreams.  Before we had children, I was an event planner and my husband was often the event helper.  It worked then because he was an adjunct professor and taking classes on the side.  When he started working full time, I quit my job because I knew how much I’d relied on him, which was no longer realistic, and it was time for me to take a supporting role to his career.  When one of us has an opportunity to use our gifts or talents in a way that doesn’t burden our marriage or family, we support those efforts.  But we also regularly check in to make sure those activities are not hindering our family or causing us to “forsake” our first love – each other.

Till Death Do Us Part – This is the biggest vow, and also the one that seems lost on our society.  Today, it seems like marriage commitments are often made, “Till you stop meeting my expectations or change in some way I don’t like.”  I believe it’s not the “worst,” “poorer,” or “sickness” that harms a marriage so much as unmet expectations.  We think we know who we married, and then they turn out to be someone completely different.  That’s why the affirmation that we will stay committed for the rest of our lives is so important.  We all change over time – which is a good thing, by the way.  (I’m way more mellow in my thirties than I was in my twenties, and parenting has brought out qualities in my husband that I hadn’t previously seen.)  The joy of marriage is discovering new things to love about your spouse as you both grow and change, and new ways to mature in character when you choose to love your spouse even though he or she is driving you nuts.

Application: We could both rattle off a list of expectations that have not been met in our marriage, but just as long would probably be the list of good surprises.  We’re thankful for the examples of both my husband’s and my parents who’ve stayed married for over 40 years.   There have been plenty of times when our marriage was a lot of work and we felt devastated by unmet expectations, but there has never been a question of whether or not we would stay together.  We both are committed not only to stay together, but to keep working at making our marriage better.  We want to hand down to our kids the same blessing of growing up in a home with parents who are not only together, but lifelong friends.  And that’s why the vows we make, and daily choose to keep, are so important.

We’ve been through a lot over the last fifteen years, but I’m so glad I’ve gone through it with my best friend.  We’ve been through times that were better, worse, richer, poorer, in sickness and health.  Yet there’s still no one I’d rather be with until the day I die.

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We’ve been gluten free for almost 2 1/2 years, and for about a year my daughter was off of cows milk because it seemed to help her stop wetting the bed at night.  (I didn’t do any research on dairy being linked to bed-wetting, but had noticed that she stayed dry on nights when she hadn’t had milk.  After a few weeks of being completely off of dairy, the night wetting stopped.  She’s now drinking milk again and seems to be fine.)  I never thought of taking my son off of dairy until I read a couple articles in the June issue of Living Without, a magazine for people with food sensitivities.

In the article, “The Gut-Brain Connection,” Dr. Kenneth Bock says, “With insufficient digestion, gluten and casein (the protein in milk) produce endogenous opioids, brain-active compounds similar to morphine.  In this way, diet can have a very, very profound effect on the brain.  In essence, it’s like these kids are stoned.”  The article was specifically addressing the success of the gluten free, casein free diet in kids with autism and ADHD, but I began to wonder if other children with neurological side effects caused by gluten (like my son) could also be affected by casein.

Our Dairy Free Experiment
We’d had a particularly rough few weeks in school, and I had noticed there seemed to be something blocking his ability to write down the things he could tell me he knew.  He also seemed to be having more difficulty concentrating on challenging sections of his piano music.  The opioid/casein connection made sense as a possible cause, because I remember how the “gluten fog” used to get in the way of his ability to pay attention.  So I took a deep breath and came up with a dairy free menu for the following week.

Within three days of being off of dairy we saw a marked improvement.  It’s now been almost two weeks, and I’ve been amazed at the changes in his ability to do written assignments and tackle difficult sections of piano music without getting frustrated.  Instead of staring at a page and declaring that it’s too much/hard/boring, he just jumps right in and completes whatever I give him.  So it looks like the dairy free diet is here to stay!

Transition to Multiple Diet Restrictions Slowly
If you’re just starting out, I’d suggest eliminating one food group at a time.  Before going off of gluten, we’d already started cutting out artificial ingredients and high fructose corn syrup.  Next came gluten, then MSG.  Last year we started cutting back on sugar while just my daughter went off of dairy.  When you tackle one food challenge at a time, it keeps you from feeling totally overwhelmed.  For instance, a kid who’s having to give up favorite foods containing wheat needs to feel like there are still favorite foods he can have.  So when my son received a free pizza coupon as a reading reward for school, I took him out to ice cream instead.  If you’re new to the gluten free diet, don’t try to cut out sugar or dairy while you’re getting used to the new flours.  Once you’ve adjusted to gluten free food, then you can try focusing on other food sensitivities.

Choose Naturally Diary Free Foods
If you’re ready to tackle dairy, don’t start by trying to replace the dairy in all your favorite foods.  Initially, focus on foods that are naturally dairy free.  (This is my same advice for going off of gluten, by the way, which I outline in detail in my Gluten Free Survival Guide.)  Find recipes that use oil instead of butter, and that don’t require cheese.  There are many foods that are naturally diary free and similar enough to those dairy favorites that they keep you from feeling deprived.  You’re not trying to replace a favorite food, but rather substitute a close cousin so that it’s not missed quite so much.  Here are some of our favorite non-dairy cousins:

  • Instead of enchiladas, try chicken or beef fajitas made with onions, peppers, and corn tortillas (just sprinkle meat with a little Lowry’s Seasoned Salt, cumin, chili powder, black pepper, and garlic powder or minced garlic).
  • Instead of lasagna or mac n’ cheese, try spaghetti (made with rice or corn/quinoa pasta).
  • Instead of grilled cheese, try grilled tuna.  (I like to add a dash of garlic salt and onion powder to my tuna and mayonnaise, and Ener-G Light Tapioca bread is our favorite for grilled sandwiches.)  If you like tomato soup with your grilled sandwich, just thin some leftover spaghetti sauce with a little rice milk.
  • Instead of a cheeseburger (my son refuses to eat a hamburger without cheese), try a Trident Salmon Burger on a Kinnickinnick GF/DF bun (for the best texture and flavor, thaw, slice, then brush buns with oil or dairy free margarine and toast on a griddle or in a pan until browned).
  • Instead of an omelet, stir some rice milk and real bacon crumbles into scrambled eggs before they set.  Serve with toast, hash browns, or Nature’s Path Buckwheat Wildberry frozen waffles (they’re GF/DF), topped with jam, peanut butter, or dairy free margarine like Earth Balance soy-free spread.

Better-Than-Betty-Crocker Blueberry Muffins

I have a lot more gluten free, dairy free recipes on the way over at my food blog, More Joyful Choices.  This week, I’ve posted two delicious, GF/DF muffin recipes: Applesauce Oat Muffins and Better-Than-Betty-Crocker Blueberry Muffins.  Giving up gluten and dairy is not the end of the world, but the beginning of a whole new world of flavors.  Our son’s favorite dairy free discovery?  Vanilla Sweetened Almond Milk!

If you have any questions about the GF/DF diet, feel free to leave a comment below.  You can subscribe to either of my blogs and have new GF/DF recipes automatically sent to you through email.  I’d love to encourage you on your journey to better health!

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