Archive for January, 2012

How God Makes Soup

I had the most unusual devotional time with God this morning, as I was feeling challenged to walk closer with him, surrendering some circumstances and disappointments that had been robbing me of sleep and peace.  I asked God how he wanted to use me, and he responded, “Get up and go make soup.”  Seriously, he did.  So I went to the kitchen, pulled out my soup pot and the bones from last night’s roast chicken, and as I began to make our favorite chicken soup recipe, here is what God taught me.

Put the carcass in the soup pot and fill the pot with water.
The bones in the soup represent the core of who we are.  When we offer God our lives, we give him back the basic framework he gave us when he created us.  Our personalities, quirks, and traits all go in the pot.  Our life experiences – both good and bad – also contribute to who we are, and so we allow God to take all these things to be used by him.

Add a peeled clove of garlic.
The garlic, which has a strong flavor, represents our strengths.  We give to God the natural talents and strengths he gave us.  Whatever it is that comes easily and naturally to you is a strength you can give to God to be used by him.  Interestingly, the clove of garlic is very small and merely adds a hint of flavor to the soup.  We tend to think of our strengths as being really important, but time and time again in God’s word we see that God uses the weak and unimportant to do his work (i.e. a shepherd boy becomes king, and a fisherman becomes the Rock on which Christ builds his church).  In fact, God tells the apostle Paul, “My power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9).  Nonetheless, our strengths go into the pot.

Add a whole peeled onion and simmer for 1 hour.  
Onions, by themselves, are bitter.  We not only add our strengths to the pot, but we add our bitter disappointments as well.  Why?  Our failures, shortcomings, and discouraging circumstances will be used by the enemy against us if we don’t surrender them to the loving arms of the one who loves us so much that he died for us.  We’ll also be tempted to use them as excuses for bad behavior.  “It’s not my fault that I yell at my kids, that’s the way my parents dealt with me.”  “I can’t volunteer for that ministry because I’ve never been good with people.”  “I can’t love her when she was so mean to me.”  Our bitterness can keep us from living victorious, effective lives.  But when we give it to God, he turns it into compassion toward others in similar circumstances.  God can use it to minister to someone who struggles with the same difficulty, as we share the blessing of God’s healing in us.  Without this ingredient, the soup would be bland, just like a life without any challenges is boring and uninspiring.  Give it to God and see what he will do with it!

Add 2 chicken tenders.
The chicken tenders represent our tenderness, emotions and affections.  Do you know that they matter to God?  My God loves me so tenderly, and he cares about my feelings.  When I am filled with joy, I praise God.  When I am in the depths of despair, I cry out to Jesus because he knows suffering better than anyone.  I offer him my affections and emotions because he knows how easily I can be swayed by them.  Jesus had some pretty strong words in Luke 14:26 when he said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple.” Of course, Jesus is not telling us to hate one another, but he is speaking about our desires and affections.  If we place good things – even loved ones – above Christ, then we may miss out on the work he’s called us to do as his disciples.  I love my children, but I cannot put my desires for them above my desire for Christ.  Otherwise, my love will be expressed imperfectly, because only God truly knows how my children need to be loved.  When I love Christ first, he perfects my love toward others.  When I offer him all that I hold dear, he pours out his love into my heart by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5).

Add 1 or 2 stalks of celery with leaves.
To me, celery is a nothing food.  It doesn’t have much flavor, and certainly isn’t filling, but I definitely notice if it’s not added to the soup.  The celery represents those little things we think won’t matter to God.  “God doesn’t care if I cheat on my taxes or cut corners at work.”  “God won’t care if I watch that movie or run a red light.”  But those little things we hold back in secret have a huge effect on our spiritual life because disobedience, no matter how small it seems to us, is still disobedience.  Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey what I command” (John 14:15).  When we are obedient in the small things, we become more sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit in all things.

Add 2 peeled carrots or 10 large baby carrots.
The carrots are the part of the soup that remains visible.  They help to fill us up.  The carrots represent our good works and ministry.  These are the things we do to bless others and fill them up.  Jesus said, “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).  It’s not enough that we offer God our attitudes and affections, we need to join him in his work here on earth.  Perhaps our world would not be so cynical about Christianity if more of us applied our faith by loving and serving those around us.

Simmer for 45 minutes.
Until now, I haven’t mentioned the most important ingredient in making soup, water.  Without the water, all the ingredients would burn and be wasted when the heat is applied.  The heat comes from the circumstances of life.  The water is the Holy Spirit, moving in and around us, changing us into something new.  We can’t avoid the heat, no matter how uncomfortable it makes us, but we can allow God to use it and trust him to keep us from boiling over.  It is only in the presence of the heat and water that the nourishing minerals in the bones are released.  The bitterness of the onion, strength of the garlic, and seemingly insignificant qualities of the celery are drawn out by the water and used to flavor the broth.  The meat of our affections becomes tender toward God, and is made ready to fill others.  The carrots become softer, just as the Holy Spirit softens our hard nature.  Like a hard carrot, sometimes our attempts at good deeds end up being perceived as harsh, like when we deliver a strong rebuke to a child.  But softened by the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, our good deeds are transformed into loving acts and gentle words that are easier to swallow.  We don’t choke on cooked carrots.

Remove tenders, bones, and carrots to cool.  Add 1/2 tablespoon salt.
The salt represents our speech and the words we say to one another.  In Colossians 4:6 we are told, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”  The right word spoken at the right time can have a huge impact on someone’s life.  Interestingly, I tried to leave out a little of the salt when making my soup, to cut down on the sodium.  Of course, when I tasted the broth, it just wasn’t quite right.  We have to follow the recipe!  Our recipe book is the Bible.  When we spend time in God’s word, his words begin to fill our heart and mind, so that we will know how to speak with grace and love.

Add 1/2 tablespoon dried parsley.  Simmer for 15 minutes.
When I pulled out the parsley bottle, I discovered that it was empty.  But then I remembered that I had a packet of parsley from something else in the back of my pantry, and it had just enough for my recipe.  The parsley represents those things which we cannot do for ourselves.  It is God’s gift to us, our spiritual gifts.  It is such a joy to know that when God calls us to do something, he will provide all that we need in order to accomplish it!  We’re told in Philippians 4:19 that God will “supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.”  Sometimes the soup of our lives is missing something because we haven’t asked God for it.  He’s got a huge pantry, stocked with everything we need.

Strain the soup by pouring it through a strainer into a separate bowl, then pour the strained broth back into the pot and bring to a boil.  Pull meat off of cooled bones.
God lovingly strains out the mushy onion, garlic, celery, and bones whose job is now finished.  The worthless, ugly parts are discarded, and only goodness remains.  Hallelujah!  This process, however, can take a long time.  Sometimes, we’re so anxious to be like Christ that we forget we’re on a journey that lasts a lifetime.  In my soup, the onion separated into many pieces, and the bones fell apart.  Just as I had to pull them out with a slotted spoon, one by one, God faithfully works to pull out any remaining pieces of our old, sinful nature.  This is the process of sanctification (1 Thess. 5:23-24).  However, he can only work with what we’ve surrendered to the pot!  He also sets aside whatever he can use to bless us and others, just as I pulled the little bits of meat off the bones that would otherwise have been discarded.  If you glean nothing else from this analogy, I hope you’ll hear this: Nothing is wasted!  Every bit of meat that is edible is harvested.  Every experience you or I have, no matter how painful, is carefully set aside to be used in the soup!

Add 1 1/2 c. rice pasta shapes to the boiling broth and simmer for 15 minutes, until tender.
At this point in the soup-making process, I usually add in some cooked rice or noodles.  I asked God what should go into the soup, and he told me to put in the fun little pasta shapes my kids enjoy.  I laughed out loud when I looked at the front of the package because – I’m not making this up – they’re called “Little Dreams.”  That’s right, God wants us to throw our little dreams into the pot!  Usually, I cook the noodles separately, but they’ve always tasted pretty bland, in my opinion.  Today, God told me to cook them in the broth.  I began to realize, and believe on faith, that the noodles would taste better when they absorbed the flavorful broth.  Of course, God was right!  When our lives have been purified, strained of our selfish nature, we’re free to surrender our dreams to God because we know that “with God, all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26)!  Not only are we free to dream with God when his desires have become our desires, our dreams become bigger and better.  I left the pot on the stove for quite a while to cool down after the soup was finished.  I was amazed at how much the noodles had grown from the time we had eaten the soup for lunch.  They continued to absorb the broth and were nearly twice as big as before.  Given to God, our little dreams become his big dreams.

While noodles are cooking, shred the chicken tenders and slice the carrots.  Add the chicken and carrots to the soup.  Serve.
Our love and good deeds are multiplied and added to the wholesome, delicious broth.  The last step is to serve the soup to others.  The wonderful thing about soup is that it takes only a few ingredients to serve a large group.  Remember, it’s the water – the Holy Spirit – that turns those few ingredients into a large pot of soup!  Just like when Jesus fed the 5000 with a few loaves and fishes, if we are willing to be broken bread, our lives can nourish a multitude when blessed by God.  As we surrender every part of our lives to the pot, God does the work of making this sanctified soup.  He gently and lovingly removes what is not beneficial, and brings out the best in us so that we can be used to feed a world that is hungry for God.

Is anything missing in your soup today?  I’ll confess that I recently had to toss in some garlic and onion as I surrendered some pride and bitterness over God not cooperating with my plans.  Or perhaps your soup is missing some parsley because you’ve never asked God for it.  When we cooperate with God and allow him to make us into a new creation, our lives become a fragrant offering to God and others.  After smelling the simmering soup on the stove for hours, my daughter began to tell me how hungry she was.  God’s desire for his children is that we give off a pleasing aroma that will draw others to us and him.

Your soup will be different from mine because it contains different ingredients.  (I think my children are turkey and wild rice soup!)  The Master Chef can use any ingredient we give him to serve a world in need.  And even though my son left a lot of his broth in the bowl after lunch, we can count on God not wasting any of our soup.  We’re told in Matt. 25 that whatever we do for the poor, the hungry, the sick, the least lovely among us, is done to Jesus himself.  If you are discouraged today and feel like your soup is being dumped out on the floor by a fussy toddler, imagine Jesus stooping to catch it in a bowl, savoring every last drop.

I challenge you – and myself – to let God have every part of your life to make a delicious soup.  Then heed the words of Psalm 34:8, “Taste and see that the Lord is good!”

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I cut a lot of sugar out of this recipe and added extra nutrition without sacrificing any flavor.  These soft, chewy bars are so good that my family ate the whole 9″x13″ pan in 4 days.  (But they’re low in sugar!)  I’m always looking for ways to cut flour out of recipes, since gluten free flour blends require effort to make, are often expensive and low in nutrition.  So I borrowed an idea from my favorite oatmeal cookie recipe which uses ground oats, and substituted a cup of ground oats for 1 c. of the flour.  For the remaining 1/2 c. flour, I used the Gluten Free Pantry flour blend that has the guar gum already added.  It’s reasonably priced through Amazon, and perfect for recipes that call for just a little flour.

To lower the sugar content, I cut out 1/4 c. of the sugar called for in the recipe, but added more flavor by substituting an additional 1/4 c. of peanut butter for 1/4 c. of the butter in the recipe.  The original recipe also called for melting 3 c. chocolate chips over the top and sprinkling with toffee, which would certainly be yummy, but added a lot of sugar.  So instead I mixed 1 c. chocolate chips into the dough, which provides plenty of chocolately goodness.  The combined result of all these changes is a delicious, low sugar, gluten free, dairy free (with dairy free chocolate chips and margarine), cookie bar that’s loaded with fiber and protein.  Hooray!

Peanut Butter Oat Bars with Chocolate Chips

3/4 c. creamy peanut butter
1/4 c. butter or dairy free margarine, softened
1/2 c. brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 c. GF oats, divided
1/2 c. GF flour blend
1/4 tsp. salt
1 c. semisweet chocolate chips (Ghirardelli and Guittard are dairy free)

Grind 1 c. of oats in a food processor until it looks like flour.  (There may still be a few oat bits, and that’s okay.)  Set aside.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In the large bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter, peanut butter and sugar.  Add the egg and vanilla.  Beat until smooth and creamy, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.  Add the oat flour, remaining 1/2 c. of oats, GF flour blend (plus a pinch of xanthan gum, if not included in flour blend already), and salt.  Beat until just blended, about 30 seconds.  Mix in chocolate chips.

Press dough into a greased 9″x13″ pan.  Bake 15 minutes until the edges just start to brown.  Cool and cut into bars.  These stay moist and soft for days – if they last that long!

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Something happens in January that causes all of us to succumb to temporary insanity.  We do things we wouldn’t do the other 11 months of the year, like put walnuts in the Chex Mix (which tastes terrible, by the way), all in the name of being healthy.  (But walnuts are so good for you!  Surely they would taste better in Chex Mix, you might think.  But you would be wrong.  So very wrong.)  I made “Mock Garlic Mashed Potatoes” this week with cauliflower.  Why?  Because it’s January.  They did not taste at all like potatoes, although they certainly did “mock” me as I put my daughter’s serving on the floor for the dog to eat.

The average American decides somewhere around December 31, while gorging on the last of the Christmas goodies, that January is the time to start exercising and eating healthy (right after they finish that enormous brownie with 2 scoops of ice cream – it is a holiday month after all).  Stores take advantage of how guilty we all feel about our gluttonous ways, and bombard us with great deals on exercise equipment we’ll never use and exercise videos we’ll never watch.  (I have seven.)  We stock up on low-fat convenience foods that taste like cardboard, and promise ourselves that we’re really going to stick to our goals this year.  This lasts for about a week, and then reality sets in.  It’s January.

In case you snoozed during the lesson on seasons when you were a kid, let me just remind you that January is in the middle of winter.  Half the day is dark. Very few fresh fruits and vegetables are in season.  Therefore, few fruits and veggies are cheap or taste good.  Our bodies are not designed to eat salads and go for long walks when it is dark and 10 degrees outside.  We’re designed to store fat and hunker down for the winter, which is why diet and exercise resolutions in January fail.  We get all psyched up to do something that goes completely against nature in the middle of winter.  You don’t see bears sweatin’ to the oldies and munching on salads in January.  They take advantage of the dark for a long winter’s nap.

So why do we go against nature every January?  I think our resolutions to be healthy are primarily in response to the socially acceptable patterns of binging in December and purging, so to speak, in January.  We eat way more than we should for an entire month, reasoning that we’ll just make up for it by “being good” in January.  But extreme diet and exercise plans are doomed to fail this time of year because our bodies aren’t designed to fast in the winter.  And so continues the cycle of excess, resolutions, and failure.

So what’s the answer?  Obviously, we need to exercise more self control in December.  But what’s done is done, and here we are in January.  So what now?  There’s still hope for those New Year’s Resolutions, but I think it’s better to wait until March or April to launch a new diet and exercise plan.  Spring is a more logical time to change your eating habits, as more fresh fruits and veggies become available and affordable.  As the days get longer and warmer, we have more energy for exercise.  Spring is a natural time of renewal, so by waiting a few months to make any big changes you’ll have a higher chance of success while still having time to shed some pounds before swim suit season.

So what about January?  You can still resolve to be healthy by making small but permanent changes for better health.  Choose one from the list below to focus on each week for the next 5 weeks:

  • Drink a full glass of water before your morning coffee or breakfast, preferably with a little lemon juice added to flush out the toxins in your body first thing in the morning.  You can drink it hot or cold.  (I prefer cold tap water with no ice.)
  • Cut out sugary drinks.  Substitute water with lemon for pop, or try  unsweetened tea that’s naturally flavored (i.e. herb tea, black tea flavored with vanilla and cinnamon).  Instead of instant hot chocolate mixes that are loaded with sugar, add 2 tsp. sugar plus 1 -2 tsp. cocoa to 6 oz. warm milk (heated in the microwave for about 1 minute), and add a couple drops of peppermint extract or vanilla.  Instead of flavored creamers that contain mostly corn syrup solids, add half-and-half or vanilla sweetened almond milk to your coffee, if you don’t like drinking it black.
  • If you eat cereal or sugary breakfasts, switch to eggs and toast or hashbrowns for breakfast twice a week.  See if you have fewer carbohydrate and sugar cravings later in the day when you have a low sugar breakfast with some protein in it.  Gradually increase the number of days you eat low sugar breakfasts with protein, and add variety by incorporating turkey sausage, nitrate-free ham, fruit-filled pancakes (with butter but no syrup) or toaster waffles with peanut butter.
  • Swap a handful of nuts for your usual starchy snack (i.e. crackers, chips, granola bars).  I like Blue Diamond’s Low Sodium Almonds.  Walnuts are really good for you, but don’t put them in your Chex Mix!  They are good, however, mixed in with a little Kix cereal and some fresh blueberries (my kids’ new favorite snack).  If you’re allergic to nuts, try swapping a low-fat cheese stick instead.  The protein and fat will keep you full and keep your insulin level in check, which is the key to weight loss.
  • If you’re used to having dessert each night, swap popcorn or nuts for your dessert twice a week.  Or save the fruit that you would have with dinner and eat it during the time you would normally eat dessert.  Fresh pineapple is in season year round, so try making a fruit salad with pineapple, kiwi, bananas, and whatever fruit you can find that’s inexpensive right now.  If you like coconut, make a “snowy fruit salad” with a little shredded coconut on top!

Most of these changes are small and very easy.  Some only require a change for a couple days a week.  If you focus on just one item each week, and make those changes permanent, you may not need that major diet plan by March.  Just ask my husband who’s lost over 55 pounds from diet changes like these alone.  Through small but permanent changes in his diet – like eating mostly low sugar breakfasts with protein – he continues to lose weight effortlessly.  The key is to work with your body and not against it.  So trade that salad for a warm cup of soup, and say goodbye to failed resolutions.  You can be healthier in 2012, one small change at a time.

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If you’re looking for a low sugar, easy meal that’s packed with nutrition, this is it my friend.  I recently made this while fighting a nasty virus because I wanted comfort food (which for me, means meat and potatoes) that would give my immune system a boost.  When I’m sick, I automatically pull out my sugar free recipes because sugar suppresses your immune system by inhibiting your white blood cells.  With lots of disease fighting garlic, red peppers rich vitamin C, heart healthy olive oil, and potassium packed potatoes, this recipe is chock full of good-for-you nutrients.  Throw in some yogurt sauce with probiotics to keep your gut healthy, since a healthy gut means a healthy immune system, and you’ve got a tasty way to fight a virus.  Did it work?  The next day I felt a lot better and had my energy back, so you be the judge.

3-4 medium boneless pork chops, trimmed of fat
4 small potatoes, scrubbed (the runts of the bag)
1 small red bell pepper, cut into 1/2 in. strips
4-5 tsp. minced garlic (I used the kind from a jar)
Olive oil
Salt and coarse ground pepper
Yogurt Sauce recipe below, made in advance (optional)

Place pork chops in the middle of a greased 9″x13″ baking dish.  Cut potatoes in half lengthwise, then slice into 1/2 in. pieces (like thick scalloped potatoes).  Place potatoes around pork chops in pan.  (If you’re using 4 pork chops, you may need a separate pan for the potatoes.)  Drizzle potatoes with olive oil.  Sprinkle meat and potatoes with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Generously sprinkle oregano over meat.  Sprinkle about 1/2 tsp. garlic on each piece of meat, and generously sprinkle remaining 3-4 tsp. garlic over potatoes – it will seem like a lot, but you need a lot to flavor potatoes.  (I had to use my fingers to do this, which is pretty messy, but who cares if your fingers smell like garlic when you have a cold and can’t smell.)  Sprinkle parsley on potatoes.  Top meat with red pepper slices, then drizzle olive oil over the meat and peppers.

Bake at 400 degrees for 40-45 minutes or until meat is done according to a meat thermometer.  Serve with yogurt sauce, if desired.

Yogurt Sauce:
1 c. plain yogurt
1/2 c. finely minced, peeled cucumber
1 tsp. dried dill
1/4 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. garlic salt
1/8 tsp. onion powder

Combine ingredients in a small bowl.  Cover and refrigerate at least an hour for flavors to blend.  Leftover sauce can be enjoyed as a dip with multigrain chips.

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