Archive for the ‘My Fast’ Category

My body woke me up at 5:45 a.m. this morning – which has been its long running, not-so-hilarious joke all summer – so that I could tell you something very important.  (Are you ready for this?)

I ran out of eggs.

This happens about…never.  As I’ve mentioned before, I’m part squirrel who lives in perpetual fear of winter, so as soon as I open the last container of something, I put it on my grocery list.  I then buy multiples of it to ensure that I never run out of it.  E-V-E-R.  When we’re about to go on a trip or preparing for a holiday, I go into stockpiling overdrive because HEAVEN FORBID that I should run out of something during this week and…go to the store.  I’m sharing these mysteries of my universe with you at o’dark thirty because the ridiculousness of my irrational fears is starting to sink in.  In case you’re one of my psychoanalysis friends, no, we never ran out of food when I was a kid.  There was always enough Hamburger Helper to go around.  So if I can’t blame my upbringing, as is the custom of my generation, what’s my deal?

I pondered this question as I went to just 2 stores with my tiny little grocery list this week.  I did try the Farmer’s Market last Saturday, as outlined in my plan to purchase most of my produce for 7 weeks from local farmers, which sounded so wholesome and environmentally friendly, and is clearly a sign that I’ve been brainwashed by the granolas.  However, when I rolled into the market 2 hours after it opened, when the granolas had already cleared out the good stuff, I realized that my plan blows for 2 reasons:

  1. There is simply not enough variety at our Farmer’s Market, unless I want to feed my family on mystery squash, rhubarb, local honey and homemade jam.
  2. Who in their right mind goes somewhere at 9 a.m. on a Saturday?  Saturday mornings are God’s gift to parents; that’s why he created cartoons.  We don’t DVR their shows during the week.  They have to wait until Saturday morning and watch whatever’s on, just like we did as kids.  Saturday morning is a big deal to my kids.  It’s their Sabbath, and I don’t mess with it.  It’s also my morning to leisurely drink coffee and ponder my Bible study and dink around on the internet (which I usually do most days, but on Saturday there’s no guilt!).

So I’ve decided to compromise by going to the market of our local farmer that’s just down the road and getting any produce I can there before going to the big box grocery stores.  They have non-GMO sweet corn, and the farmer brings in produce from his other farms in neighboring states, so there’s much more variety.  When I shared this with the family, my 9-year-old granola-in-training piped up.

Daughter: “But doesn’t the CO2 from the trucks used to drive the farmer’s food to the market still cause damage to the environment?”
What I thought: What the heck!  Who’s been telling you about CO2?  They’re dead to me.
What I said: “Yes, but that’s not the point.  We’re still supporting our local farmer and helping our local economy, which enables him to grow his farm and provide us with even more choices, like his new pumpkin patch.”  (Don’t even get me started on the other farmers who’ve turned their sweet little pumpkin patches into huge fall carnivals that cost as much as Disneyland.)

Anyway, back to the eggs.  When I opened the fridge to pull out the ingredients to make muffins, I realized that I couldn’t because I didn’t have any eggs.  I stared at the fridge, willing them to appear, then decided to eat sausage and leftover pancakes instead.  The kids ate yogurt and my homemade granola (because granola is for eating, not being).  We all managed to eat breakfast with no eggs in the house.  I know, this is so profound, but I needed to experience this little object lesson.  Why?  I needed to face my irrational fear of running out, and realize that it’s okay.  We won’t starve if I don’t have a particular ingredient.

There’s a difference between stocking up on sales to be thrifty, and stocking up on groceries for fear of not having 8 kinds of baking chips on hand in case the mood strikes me to make muffins with semi-sweet, butterscotch, cinnamon, peanut butter, mini semi-sweet, white, mint, and milk chocolate chips.  And there’s the hidden reason behind my fear of running out: I have a split personality.  One half of me is super organized, and the other half craves spontaneity.  My organized, Boy Scout side says, “Be prepared.”  My rebellious, “Don’t tell me what I’m going to cook, bossy menu plan!” side wants freedom to make whatever she’s in the mood to eat.  This means Boy Scout has to be prepared for all of Rebel’s moods.

So guess what God had to say about all this?  Surprisingly little.  He’s letting me figure out on my own that I have enough; that I don’t need so many choices, and that there’s freedom in limiting my options.  No eggs?  So I can’t make muffins – I just saved myself a whole lot of time and dirty dishes!  (Can I get an “Amen!” from the husband?)  Studies have shown that the more choices we have, the more miserable we are.  It’s true.  Having a gluten free family has drastically reduced my choices in the grocery store, and though I mourned this at first, it’s actually quite freeing.  Fewer choices mean less time shopping and making decisions.

When I went to the 2 stores with just $20 left to spend after the Farmer’s Market and buying toilet paper (which I will NEVER run out of), it was such a different experience than my usual circle-each-store-for-deals, cart-filling marathon.  I bought whole carrots to peel and chop instead of the more expensive baby carrots because I was conscious of making my tight budget stretch.  I did a little happy dance when I saw tiny apples on sale because I could buy lots of them for lunches.  I breezed past the gluten free aisle and the baking chips to get my eggs and milk.  I was relaxed (admittedly, because I’d dropped the kids off at the library for a movie).  I walked slowly and smiled at people.  I stopped to talk to a friend and chatted with the cashier.  I was grateful for what I was able to put in my cart, instead of focusing on finding deals on more stuff to cram into my pantry.  And I came in $3 under budget.  Hmmm…

Okay, God, so maybe you’re telling me that when I stop scurrying around, focusing on gathering all my nuts for winter (which is still 5 months away), perhaps I’ll begin to look up and see the faces of people who need a smile, a friend, a word of encouragement.  Perhaps more room in my cart leaves more room in my heart to be filled with gratitude for what I have.  Perhaps gratitude leads to less spending and more money for giving.  Perhaps my purpose in life is not to keep my cupboards stocked, but to pour out blessings on people who need to be filled more than my pantry.  Perhaps it’s time I discipline my spontaneous side and limit her choices to free up time to invest in relationships with my family.

Perhaps.  As long as I don’t have to go anywhere on Saturday morning.  (And all my people said, Amen.)

To follow my journey of buying less over the next several weeks, check out the posts under the category “My Fast” on the right.

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Did I mention that in addition to fasting Facebook and instant-gratification-style grocery shopping, I’m also on a diet?  I started June 1 on a Paleoish diet after a week of gluttony while hosting my in-laws.  (Think Christmas in May.)  The pounds had slowly crept back on since my Breaking Free from the Sugar Addiction post, which is surprising given that my husband and I have ONLY been consuming an entire Costco bag of Kettle chips a week.  After dessert. *sigh*  We’ve been known to jokingly quote Ursula from The Little Mermaid, dramatically saying, “Look at me, wasting away to practically nothing,” as we attempt to stuff our floppy bits into our jeans.  (At which point my floppy bits spill over the top because clothing manufacturers are conspiring against middle-aged moms by making low-rise jeans the fashion.  For the love of stretch marks, could we please just keep our dignity and our fat rolls zipped safely inside our jeans, where they belong!)

So I made a deal with the devil by signing up for Pinterest in order to search for Paleo recipes and easily keep track of them.  My efforts at low-carb and low-sugar dieting were not yielding results this time around, so I knew I needed to shock-and-awe my insulin level in order for my body to start burning those Kettle Chips it was saving for an emergency.  (I’m telling you, hoarding runs deep within me.)  I embraced vegetables as a breakfast food (hidden within my eggs and smothered in cheese, of course), and began to listen to my body’s signals to discover when I was full instead of mindlessly filling my plate.  I told the family I was taking a break from baking for awhile, and bought Spumoni ice cream and other disgusting things which they enjoy, so as not to be tempted.

I’ve tried to find a balance between saying no to food when I’m not hungry, and allowing myself to indulge in occasional treats, like birthday cake and s’mores around the campfire.  (Why else do you agree to live among the bugs for a week?)  My original plan was to do the diet for 1 month, but half-way through I realized that the diet was becoming a way of daily practicing self-control in an area that was out of control.  And maybe that was a good thing that doesn’t need an end date.  I began to realize that mindless consumption of food was only part of my problem.  The real issue goes deeper.

It’s not that I can’t discipline myself when I need to.  It’s that I struggle with discipline when I don’t have exterior pressure.  As I mentioned in a previous post about this journey, it was easier being poor because my husband was unemployed than it is to purposely live beneath our means so we can pay off our second mortgage and save up to send our kids to college someday. <insert momentary panic attack> It’s easier to stick to a diet for a set period of time than it is to discipline yourself daily to stop eating when you’re full and limit desserts to occasional treats – for a lifetime!

And that’s what led me to go from dieting to fasting, as a way of inviting God to take control of the out-of-control areas in my life (although I’m still eating way fewer carbs and less sugar to continue shedding floppy bits).  For me, the fast from over-consumption and time-wasting activity is about losing more than pounds.  It’s about getting rid of unhealthy and unproductive habits.  It’s about tuning out myself and tuning into God.  It’s about interrupting my normal routine to shock-and-awe my spiritual insulin level into waking up and recognizing that I have extra weight I don’t need to be carrying around anymore.  I don’t need the weight of overindulgence and hoarding.  I don’t need the weight of procrastination.  I don’t need the weight of envy when I read peoples’ Facebook posts about all the awards their children have won, displaying their Proud Parent of an Honor Student bumper stickers.  (I heard a Christian comedian who homeschools say, “Us homeschoolers need a bumper sticker that says, Proud Parent of a Homeschooled Kid and I Don’t Know How the Heck He’s Doing.”  Amen.  Sorry about the disappointing lack of award certificates, Grandparents.)

Fasting encourages me to exercise some spiritual muscle and say no to the desires of my flesh so I can say yes to God’s desires for me.  It’s not about reluctantly giving in to God.  It’s proactively seeking God with a willingness to change and be changed.  I came across a timely devotional passage this week, explaining what yielding to God is and isn’t, from Beth Moore’s devotional book, “Paul: 90 Days On His Journey Of Faith.”

We sometimes feel as if we’re playing tug-of-war with God. In bitter tears we sometimes let go of the rope, tumble to the ground, and cry, “Have your way, God! You’re going to do what You want anyway!” God is not playing a game. He doesn’t jerk on the rope just so He can win. In fact, He doesn’t want us to let go of the rope at all. Rather than see us drop the rope and give up, He wants us to hang on and let Him pull us over to His side. God’s will is always best even when we cannot imagine how. Surrendering to His will doesn’t mean you lose. Ultimately it means you win. Keep hanging on to that rope and let Him pull you over to His side. (p. 251)

I’m hanging on Lord. Pull me over.  And thanks for loving me, floppy bits and all.

To follow my journey over the next several weeks, check out the posts under the category “My Fast” on the right.

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My son returned home from camp yesterday, and after I casually inquired about his week (Did you make any new friends?  Did you do all the activities this time?  Did you remember to shower?), I decided to celebrate his survival/success at camp with my homemade pizza (even though homemade pizza itself is a reason to celebrate in this house).  But as I was gathering my ingredients, I realized that I’m guilty of both procrastinating and hoarding this recipe – two things I’m trying to address through The Fast.  This recipe is hands down the best pizza in town, according to the 4 people in my home.  I can’t speak for anyone else because we don’t share our pizza.  Ever.  Pizza is a lot of work to make from scratch, people, so my son goes into Super Flattery mode every time I make it in an effort to get pizza more often.  If we order one from Domino’s or pull out an Udi’s crust – which we still like, it’s just that they’re expensive and small – he bemoans the fact that it’s not my recipe.  Loudly.

So please forgive me, readers, for holding out on you and not posting this sooner.  My site stats tell me that most of my visitors are gluten free parents, and my phone book tells me that most of what we Americans want to eat is pizza.  So I apologize for my procrastination.  (I took this picture of a baked pizza a year ago.  Please don’t hate me.)

Gluten Free Pizza

What I love about this pizza is that it makes a large, 14-inch crust!  If you’ve ever gone out to a restaurant with wheat-eaters, and plunked down twice what they spent on their bulging, large pizza for your little kids-size, gluten free/cardboard pizza, you understand the injustice of the gluten free pizza universe.  It’s especially tough to feed a family on small pizzas.  ($22-$26 for two small, marginally decent pizzas?  I don’t think so.)  My recipe makes a thin crust pizza.  When you bake the crust initially, it will rise and look pretty and fluffy (remember those days?), but once you load on the toppings, it will settle into a thin crust – that tastes wonderful!!  The crust is nicely browned on the bottom (with no soggy center!) and makes delicious bread sticks or focaccia if you decide to just bake it with olive oil and herbs, in which case it stays nice and fluffy.  (Gluten Free Cooking Tip: I’m convinced it’s the corn flour that gives your taste buds something to latch onto, and makes this taste like wheat crust – you don’t taste the corn.  I now add 1 or 2 T. corn meal/cup of flour to all my savory GF breads, and it makes all the difference!)

14" Pizza Crust

The best part for me is that it doesn’t require any time to rise, although it still takes me an hour to make because I’m totally OCD about toppings placement. (Or has my husband says, “No, you’re just doing it RIGHT.”)  One of these days, I’ll post my homemade pizza sauce recipe, when I can reproduce it the same way twice and actually remember what I did.  But since the crust is what matters to GF folks, I’ll say no to excuses for procrastination and share this recipe for 12 slices of heaven with you.

Heavenly Gluten Free Pizza Crust / Focaccia Recipe

Dry ingredients:
1 c. + 2 T. Brenda’s flour blend (recipe at the end)
1/4 c. potato starch (not potato flour; could substitute corn starch)
2 T. corn flour (mine is coarse ground; could substitute corn meal)
2 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. xanthan gum
1 packet yeast (regular, active dry yeast)

Wet ingredients:
1/2 c. hot water + 2 T., divided
2 T. olive oil (EVOO or the cheap stuff; I like 1 T. each)
1 egg
1/2 tsp. cider vinegar

Corn meal for dusting parchment

Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit your pizza pan or baking stone.  (I use a 15-in. Pampered Chef baking stone, and it really does make a difference.)  Place baking stone in cold oven and preheat to 450 degrees.  (If you’re using a regular metal pan, you can probably wait to preheat your pan until the dough is mixing.)  Sprinkle corn meal on parchment paper and set aside on counter.

In the bowl of your mixer, whisk together dry ingredients.  In a liquid measuring cup, whisk together 1/2 c. hot water, olive oil, egg, and vinegar.  Add to dry ingredients and mix together on low until combined.  Continue mixing and gradually add additional hot water, 1 T. at a time, until batter is smooth and thick.  (I use 2 T. water, but if you alter the flour blend in this recipe, you may need more or less water, since gluten free flours absorb water differently.)  Beat 5 minutes on medium-high, scraping bowl occasionally.  (If using a metal pizza pan, preheat your oven and pan at this time.  I also like to fry the sausage and shred cheese, if needed, while the batter is mixing.)

I call this “batter” instead of “dough” because unbaked gluten free bread products do not resemble wheat dough.  Don’t let this freak you out – I promise it tastes good!  Because it is a sticky batter, the process of spreading it out on the parchment is a little tricky and takes time, but if you’ve ever tried to make pizza with wheat dough, you know that it’s just as tricky but in a different way.  (There’s a reason we all order takeout or buy frozen pizzas.)  So to get a large circle of “dough,” you’ll want to drop about 5 mounds of batter in a circle with the remaining batter in a mound in the middle.  Fill your empty mixing bowl halfway with water, then dip a rubber spatula/scraper in the water and use the back of it to flatten each dough mound, dipping in water as needed to keep the batter from sticking to the spatula.  When each mound is flattened, begin to spread the mounds together, working from the middle outward.  Once it’s all in a circle, you can begin making circular strokes and spreading the dough toward the edge of your parchment, creating a slightly raised edge that comes within 1/2-in. of the edge of the paper.  (My stone is about 15-in., so I end up with a 14-in. pizza.)

Drizzle a little olive oil in a spiral and spread over top of crust with a brush or your spatula, for a nice, golden crust.  Slide parchment paper onto a large baking sheet with no edges (or an upside-down one).  Remove baking stone from oven and carefully slide the pizza crust onto the hot stone.  (This step is what gives you a golden crust, instead of a soggy one.)  Bake 8 minutes.  Remove from oven and top with your favorite toppings.  (I like to layer pepperoni and sausage on my sauce, then top with mozzarella and a little cheddar.  Putting the cheese on top instead of underneath guarantees that the toppings don’t fall off!)  Bake pizza 8-10 minutes, until cheese is bubbly and starts to brown.

Bonus Points: If you really want to rock your husband’s world, while the pizza is baking, melt 1 T. butter with a pinch of garlic powder and brush on the edges of the crust when the pizza is done baking.  Pizza AND garlic bread sticks!  Yum!

Focaccia: Let the dough rest for 20 minutes after you spread it on the parchment.  Dimple the dough with wet fingers, then sprinkle with herbs (I like rosemary), minced garlic, and coarsely ground black pepper.  Drizzle 2-3 T. olive oil on top.  Bake 15 minutes until lightly browned.  Sprinkle with grated Parmesan.  (Modified from the recipe in The Gluten Free Bible.)

Brenda’s Flour Blend* (I usually triple this and store in a gallon-size zippered bag in the fridge):

  • 1 c. rice flour
  • 1 c. brown rice flour
  • 1/3 c. potato starch (not flour)
  • 1/3 c. cornstarch
  • 1/3 c. tapioca starch/flour (same thing)
  • 1 T. sweet rice flour (also called sticky rice flour)
  • 1 T. potato flour

*There are lots of good flour blends, so feel free to substitute your favorite, although I can’t guarantee the same results.

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I mentioned in my first post of this series that as part of my fast, I’m limiting my purchases at the grocery store for 7 weeks to just seven items/categories.  In addition to those items, I’ll be able to use whatever I have stockpiled in my pantry(s) – yes, I turned the closet under the stairs into a second pantry.  We also have a freezer in the garage that is probably older than I am, and has so many gaps in the seal that I keep the ice scraper from the car nearby to whack the icicles off every time I open the door.  But like a good little squirrel, the shelves of my pantries/food compound and freezers are stuffed.  I am always ready for the emergency that has never come in 17 years of marriage.  Whew!

I decided that I should probably inventory the garage freezer this week, so I will know what I have to work with and how to plan meals.  Otherwise, I will go into rationing mode and refuse to let the family eat anything because we might need it someday (3 years after its expiration date).  I probably qualify as a hoarder of groceries and other bizarre items (like my stationery collection, which I never use because who writes letters anymore?), but I have never watched the show, Hoarders.  To me, a hoarder watching that show is like a backslider attending a revival service.  Don’t go there if you don’t want to feel convicted.

Anyway, I got out my clipboard and dangled it in front of my daughter, who lives for organizational-type stuff.  She frequently gets out her purple clipboard and inventories her stuffed animal menagerie, or checks off the progress of her doll “students,” so I figured this mother/daughter bonding activity would be the highlight of her summer.  (By the way, I take full responsibility for her bossypants genes, so I ought to be able to exploit them from time to time.)  I wrote down the types of meat and other items I guessed were in there (because I put things in more than I take things out, so who really knows what’s buried in the frost), and told her to write down the number of each item as we counted them.  Sounds easy, right?

Me: (Using ice scraper to dig bags of chicken out of the mound of frost on the top shelf) “Can you please put the bags of chicken in the cooler and count them?”
Daughter: “Hey look, snow!”
Me: “I know, I’m scraping it out of the freezer so we can count this stuff.  It’s 90 degrees out, so we need to work fast, and I need you to count the bags of meat.”
Daughter: (Riding scooter)
Me: (Standing in a puddle of melted “snow”) “Okay, I counted the bags.  Can you write down 7 bags of chicken?”
Daughter: “I need a drink.  It’s hot outside.”  (Disappears into the house while mystery meat begins to thaw in the cooler.)

Obviously, this was not the bonding experience I envisioned.  I did manage to finish my inventory, and even discovered 6 bags of frozen peaches hidden beneath a layer of frost in a box.  Score!  My results:

  • 66 bags/portions of meat that feed a family of 4
  • 2 beef pot roasts
  • 3 lbs. London broil
  • 2 lbs. pork roast
  • 4 whole chickens

<insert husband yelling, “What?!!” upon hearing this list, which immediately conjures up images of Ricky Ricardo yelling, “You’ve got some ‘splaining to do!”>

I also have a whole turkey I’m storing in my parents’ freezer, plus a stockpile of cooked meat in the freezer portion of our fridge.  This total does not include the 4 packages of chicken or the 3 lb. chub of hamburger I bought at the beginning of the week ($1.69/lb. – you can’t pass that up!).  And that’s just the meat.  Obviously, we will not starve.  And obviously, I have a hard time telling when enough is enough.  Hence, the spending fast.

So what’s the big deal?  I’ve mentioned in other posts that my strategy of stockpiling stuff that’s on sale is how we eat well on a gluten free diet with a small grocery budget.  It was absolutely essential during our years of unemployment (3 years total, divided into 2 bookends around my husband’s previous job).  Yet something (or some One) has been bothering me on my last several attempts to add to my stockpile.  I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I knew I needed to fast from this activity for some reason.  I didn’t really know why until I went out to pick raspberries this week.

Raspberry Patch

We planted a tiny raspberry bush 7 years ago, and raspberries have now taken over our backyard – even creeping under the fence into the neighbor’s yard.  (You’re welcome.)  My kids love the idea of free berries, but picking them?  Not so much.  So I went out to harvest our bulging bushes for the second time this week to add to the 2 containers in the fridge that I’d picked earlier.  As I began mining my organic gold, God began to speak to me (not audibly, but to my spirit).  Essentially, he said:

When will you rest from your gathering and decide that you have enough?  Do you not trust me to continue to provide for you?  I sent manna to the children of Israel in the desert, and provided an extra portion for the Sabbath so they could rest.  Any other time they tried to collect more, it rotted.  They tried to gather extra because they didn’t trust me to continually provide.  When you hoard what I have freely given you, it shows me that you don’t trust me.  You didn’t survive those years of unemployment because you stockpiled; it was because I provided for you and kept you from disaster.

Look at the raspberries you’re picking.  The canes you planted finished producing years ago and are gone.  Everything you now pick is a gift from me as you harvest where you did not plant.  What are you going to do with this gift?

Immediately, I determined to say, “Thank you,” for each raspberry I picked.  One by one, I thanked God for each little blessing I’d taken for granted as I piled them on pancakes and stuffed them in the nooks and crannies of my freezer.  After about the eighth berry, I decided that I didn’t need any more raspberries.  In fact, I still have some in the freezer from last year’s bounty.  So I decided to take them to the Care House our church operates that provides food for needy families in our community.  Church members are encouraged to share the overflow of their gardens to give the patrons fresh fruit and vegetables.

Suddenly, my outlook changed.  The amount that was left on our bush didn’t seem nearly enough to take to the Care House.  When I went inside, I pulled out the berries I’d picked earlier and combed through them for berries that weren’t too ripe or mushy, continuing to say, “Thank you,” for each one.  But this time I was saying thank you for providing me with something to give.  My daughter and I hopped in the car and dropped off our little bags of berries.  Only 5 families will be blessed because I held onto my manna too long, and many of the berries were too squishy to give.

Lesson learned.  (Just in time for blackberry season…)

Hidden Treasures

One other lesson I learned from the raspberry bush is that when you’re looking for these little red treasures, you need to kneel down and look up to find them because they’re often underneath the leaves.  I needed to kneel down and assume a position of humility, with gratitude for my blessings, and look up to see the One who provides – not just for me, but through me.  Yes, God will meet my needs, but not so that I can sit back and inventory my blessings on a clipboard.  It’s time to stop storing up my treasures on earth and turn my attention toward storing up treasures in heaven, where moth and rust (and mold) do not destroy.  Gratitude is the first step on the road to recovery from self-absorption, followed by humility, which paves the way for generosity.

Thank you for my berries, Lord.  I know they’re not mine, but Yours.  Make me a blessing, as I commit myself to a life of gratitude, humility before You, and generosity that spills over from Your generosity toward me.

To follow my journey over the next several weeks, check out the posts under the category “My Fast” on the right.  

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I’ve already bent my self-imposed spending rules by buying cheese – not on the sanctioned list of 7 – but it was premeditated ($4.50 for 2 lbs., for the love of quesadillas!) and not on impulse, so I’m in keeping with the spirit of limiting consumption of stuff just because I saw it and wanted it.  My first trip to the grocery store happened to be with my daughter and husband in tow.  Two seconds into the store, my husband sees a food display that has been set up for the express purpose of derailing committed list-shoppers, like me.

Husband: “Look, they have Kettle Chips.”
Me: “Get behind me, Satan.”

The reason I even had them with me is because I realized that my pared down grocery list did not necessitate a whole afternoon committed to running errands (making space in my schedule – yay!), so I could actually squeeze it into our exciting evening of…bowling.  (If you haven’t signed up your kids for the national Kids Bowl Free Program that enables kids to bowl 2 free games every day throughout the summer, it’s not too late to sign up.)  We went bowling with our daughter because our son is at camp this week and I can only handle so much craft time and princess movies.  Besides, watching her bowl with her little “step, step, step, skip, hop, shimmy, drop” moves is more entertaining than watching TV. (It’s actually part comedy, part horror show when you realize that her crazy moves still gave her a score only 2 points lower than yours.)

Honestly, I marvel at how gloriously unselfconscious she is.  As a child, I was constantly afraid of what people were thinking of me.  (And as a teenager, I just KNEW everyone was thinking about me 24/7!)  My husband recently posted on The Social Media Site That Shall Not Be Named that he “will be so sad when the day comes that his daughter does not dance without shame in the house.”  I don’t know where she gets her ability to shake her booty without giving a thought to what someone might think of her.  I loved to dance when I was younger, but it was always in private and with plenty of shame, like a good Nazarene.  (Joking.  Sort of.)  Yet she does her thing, wearing the same hot pink, sparkly outfit 2 days in a row, exemplifying the definition of unselfconscious as “an unaffected grace.”

I tried to dance with her once.  In a moment of inspiration one December evening, I put in a CD of the Nutcracker and leaped and twirled around the family room with my little ballerina.  Until I lost my balance and fell into the Christmas tree.  (I wish I was joking.)  Even though I love to dance, I rarely cut loose with the kids because those critical, self-conscious voices in my head usually win out.  But not yesterday!  My daughter and I were listening to the Tweeny Bop music station (of which I am a closet fan – there, I said it), and I was jealously watching her get her groove on.  When she stepped outside to ride her bike, I seized the opportunity to bust out my ’90s dance team moves.  (Stop.  Hammer time.)

The song that came on the radio was the Glee song, “Loser Like Me.”  While I don’t condone the intended message of the song (which is basically: Bring it on, bullies, I’m gonna rule you someday), I found that the chorus stirred up something inside me.

Just go ahead and hate on me and run your mouth
So everyone can hear
Hit me with the worst you got and knock me down
Baby, I don’t care
Keep it up and soon enough you’ll figure out
You wanna be
You wanna be
A loser like me
A loser like me

Loser.  It’s a powerful word.  It implies weakness, failure, humiliation, rejection.  No one wants to be a loser.  So that’s just the ammunition the enemy loves to use when you dare to defy the cultural norms.  <insert TV commercial for gadget-of-the-day I don’t own, which invites whispers of “loser”>  Jesus’ radical message of the first being last and the least being the greatest is totally counter to our “all about me” culture of greed and entitlement.  And yet the siren song of the American dream is hard to ignore.  If we don’t actively take a stand and call out the enemy’s tactics for what they are – words and stuff with no power to fill the hole in our hearts that God designed to be filled by him – we’ll find ourselves being sucked in by the lure of being “normal,” and “successful.”  (The “normal” ship set sail a long time ago when it dropped us off on Gluten Free Homeschooler Island, but I confess that I still want to be seen as successful.)  Sometimes you need a good break-up song when you’re fasting from self-indulgence, to help empower you to say no to a love affair with the shallow things the world has to offer.  Sometimes you need to just own the “loser” label and say, “So what!”

I love the way Paul responded when God told him in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships,in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

So go ahead, world, label me as a loser because I’m choosing to love my Savior more than my stuff, delighting in my weaknesses that pave the way for Christ’s power to rest on me, okay with “missing out” on all the counterfeit joys I could cram into my life that will never satisfy like the joy of the Spirit.  I’m breaking up with you.  (It’s not me, it’s you.)  Yep, I’m weak – but my God is strong.  And in the end, when Jesus comes to take me home, you’ll wanna be a loser like me.

To follow my journey over the next several weeks, check out the posts under the category “My Fast” on the right.

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When our air conditioner was broken, I started keeping the weather.com page up on my computer so I could monitor the morning temperatures to see when it was time to close up the house.  Our air conditioner decided that full-time work was cutting into its busy schedule of sitting in the dog’s yard, and downgraded itself to part-time.  It would work when it was cool outside, but around dinner time when the outside temperatures climbed above 100 (up to 108 degrees, some days), it was like, “Dude, I’m tired.  I’ll catch ya later.”  This led me to embrace my inner white trash and use binder clips to attach various swaths of fabric and tablecloths to all our west-facing windows – and we have a lot.  (Ironically, I wanted our house on this lot because of all the west-facing windows to display the beautiful Idaho sunsets.  Which are now covered with tablecloths.)  Our air conditioner strike also turned me into the window/heat police to our kids.

“Close that window shade!  Can’t you see the sun streaming in?!!”
“Eastern window shades stay closed in the morning, and south-facing window shades get closed in the afternoon!”

My poor little boy just sat in his dark room, squinting at his Legos, in fear that he would open the wrong shade and HEAVEN FORBID turn on a light.

“No lights!  Light bulbs create heat!  No computers after 10 a.m. because they turn the office into a furnace!”

In an effort to allow the kids some time on the computer, I watched the weather.com page like a hawk to see when the outside temperatures were cool enough to open the house and warm enough to begin my patrol.  We had about a 2-hour window when temperatures were below 77 degrees if I got up at 5:30 a.m. to open the house, take down my “curtains,” and set up the box fan by the back door (which sounds like a 747 is about to take off in my dining room).  Good times.

So what does this have to do with Facebook?  Nothing really, except that I wanted to vent about our slacker air conditioner, who we sent packing last Saturday and replaced with a programmable model that is probably smarter than I am.  Actually, this is the back story to explain why my Facebook fast has left a vacancy that now seems to be filled by weather.com.

You don’t realize how much a particular habit is part of your daily routine until you remove it.  Like last summer, when I moved our silverware to a different drawer, and experienced a month of “Argh!” from everyone as we instinctively opened the wrong drawer 3 times a day.  Facebook has become my early afternoon I’m-done-with-being-a-mom-and-just-want-to-escape-so-please-entertain-me-with-stupid-quotes-and-mildly-amusing-anecdotes, my mid-afternoon For-the-love-of-procrastination-won’t-somebody-please-post-something-ANYTHING break, my early evening Maybe-if-I’m-on-the-computer-my-husband-will-do-the-dishes break, and my pre-bedtime Let’s-see-if-there’s-anything-new-because-I-wouldn’t-want-to-miss-the-exciting-developments-at-11 p.m. ritual.  Take all that away and suddenly you find yourself staring at your email inbox, just waiting for something to appear.  Inbox is fickle, and not feeding your need for constant stimulus, so you remember your old friend weather.com.  With hourly weather changes, there’s always something new.  Whew!

Honestly, the first few days unplugged from the social media machine were the hardest because I was most aware of the absence of constant input.  I had no idea how many times a day I was checking Facebook until I stopped.  Interestingly, it didn’t bother me at all the week before when we were camping and totally unplugged because I was outside of my routine.  (Let me clarify that by “unplugged,” I mean we did not have internet.  We “camp” in my parents’ trailer with kitchen, electricity, TV, DVD player, iPads, laptop…)  But back in my regular routine, I realized how much of a distraction social media is.  If I don’t want to do something or think about something, I can just veg out on Facebook.  It’s an escape.

The first night of my fast, I went through major withdrawals during the excruciatingly painful hour I had to kill before bedtime when the kids were in bed, the husband was reading, and I was in no mood to read parenting magazines and feel like a big fat failure because there’s no way I’m making crafts out of recycled _________ (fill in the blank with whatever ridiculous $.50 item I’m supposed to yank out of the trash, then spend $20 on mod podge and other supplies so I can display this piece of garbage in my home).  In that excruciatingly loud silence, fears were allowed to bubble to the surface.  Fears I didn’t know were percolating while I was busy seeking input.  Tears spilled out and I confessed to God that I’m scared to death about some issues I’m facing this year.  I’d like to say there was an immediate rush of the Holy Spirit to calm my fears, but this night wasn’t about resolving issues, just confessing that they’re there and that I need to deal with them.  Sometimes you have to be broken down before you can be rebuilt, just like a grain (gluten free, of course) must be ground into flour before it can be baked into bread (or in my case, a gluten free bread-like substance – hence, the absence of bread recipes on this blog).

Honestly, I’m looking forward to the next several weeks of space created in my schedule by withdrawing from the endless cycle of input.  I need to quiet my thoughts, deal with some fears, and invite the Holy Spirit to speak.  If my focus is all on me, my life, my desires, and procrastinating through social media, I’m not going to hear God’s still, small voice.  This fast is about desiring less of me and more of God.  In order for him to increase, I must decrease – decrease in importance to myself, and decrease the noise coming into my life.  The only way I will be able to face the upcoming challenges of this year is if I intentionally focus on what God desires for my family.  (2 words: impending teenager.  Prayers appreciated.)

This was in my inbox yesterday.  (Thank you, email, for still sending me stuff.  You’re my new BFF.)

Everything is permissible – but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible – but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.

1 Corinthians 10:23-24

Facebook is not the anti-Christ.  There is a lot of good that can come from social media (and believe me, I told God all about it when he started hinting at letting go of it).  Facebook is permissible, but right now it’s stealing my focus and is neither beneficial nor constructive.  Instead of seeking my own good, I need to be seeking the good of others.  Like my daughter, who I actually did crafts with yesterday during my usual mid-afternoon procrastination break.  She’d been begging me to help her make a no-sew fleece throw pillow, and I managed to suppress the vomit in my mouth while helping her cut and tie the bazillion knots in her pink doggie pillow.  Maybe it’s time I focused on her in the afternoon.  Maybe it’s time I talked to God about my day before bed, instead of posting highlights and watching for nods of approval.  Maybe God has some big news to share with me, and he’s been waiting for me to shut up about myself and just listen to him.

Thank you, Lord, for desiring to be in relationship with me.  And thank you for weather.com.

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Almost immediately after I posted my plan for a fast from buying stuff we don’t need, I realized my error in leaving a critical item off my list of 7 acceptable purchases: coffee.  I don’t know what in the name of Juan Valdez I was thinking!  I immediately rushed to the pantry and counted 5 bags of coffee I’d recently bought on sale (with coupons, too!), and assured my husband when he walked through the door after work that we should have enough coffee to make it through the summer.  His response:

“I don’t care what you can’t buy at the grocery store.  I’ll pick it up on my way home from work, if I have to.”

Loophole?  Maybe, but I’m okay with that.  I decided I would try to stick with the purpose of this fast, though, by limiting myself to just my morning cup of coffee, to see if I can make it for 7 weeks without buying more.  So of course, I ended up only getting 6 hours of sleep last night, and am already craving a caffeine IV.  (Tea is NOT going to cut it today, people.)  I decided that if I’m desperate enough for a second cup of coffee, I’ll just have to use the dollar store stuff I bought in a moment of extreme frugality/insanity, as punishment for my stupidity.  This stuff is so gross it makes church coffee seem like Starbucks.  I won’t even put it in my good stainless steel mug.

But you know what? Sometimes a little dollar store coffee is just what I need to put me in my place.  I need to be reminded that contrary to the marketing message I’ve been spoon fed as “part of a nutritious breakfast,” I do NOT deserve to have the best.  I am fortunate to live in a country where good, affordable food happens to be available 24/7.  Even being on a gluten free diet, choices abound.  Perhaps a little bitter coffee can help me remember that there are a whole lot of people in this world who drink bitter water and face bitter circumstances every day.  As promised, I paused before breakfast to pray for Miriam, the little girl from Uganda we’re sponsoring  through Compassion International.  I prayed that God would fill her heart and her belly.  Perhaps that’s an appropriate prayer for myself, too.

Lord, fill me with you.  You are the Bread of Life and Living Water that sustains me.  Empty me of bitterness, and pour out your Spirit so that I may be filled to overflowing and nourish those around me with your love.

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Good-bye Magic Kingdom

We were in the car on our way home from camping in the mountains – a blessed retreat from triple-digit temperatures and a broken air conditioner – when I read an article to the family from my July issue of Home Life magazine that was intended to be a wake-up call to us self-absorbed Americans.  It described us as living in the “Magic Kingdom” (comparing the American life to a trip to Disneyland) while most of the world lives in the “Tragic Kingdom,” where millions go to bed hungry, have no clean water, live under the constant threat of violence, dying from diseases we’re all inoculated against.  It issued a call to Christians to quit justifying our “wants” as “needs,” and obey Jesus’ call to spread the good news of his Kingdom here on earth.

You’d think all the statistics about the poor and suffering would knock me off my barcalounger of apathy, but you’d be wrong.  Instead, I found myself thinking, “Hmmm…the Magic Kingdom sounds fun.  We could totally squeeze that into our trip to see the grandparents next summer.  We’ve never been to Disney WORLD.  (Just Disneyland.  Three times.)  And Epcot would be soooooooo educational!”  (Us homeschoolers have a whole bag of excuses to explain just about any purchase as being educational.  A trip to the water park?  Educational!  They’ll learn about fluids and water displacement and a whole bunch of stuff…that I don’t know.)  In reality, we don’t need to drive to the opposite corner of the country to have an educational field trip.  We’re going to Yellowstone in a few weeks – which is about as educational as it gets – and I’m so not excited.

Kids: “Hey Mom!  Look at that ___________ (geological wonder that I could care less about)!”
Husband: “That’s a ___________ (smartypants explanation I still don’t care about).”
Me: “If anyone needs me, I’ll be in the gift shop.”

This is pretty much how most of our “educational” trips go.  I’m all in favor of them in theory, but in practice, I just.  Don’t.  Care.  So my “it’s educational” excuse was pretty flimsy to begin with.  But the thing that kills me is that after reading this article I was supposed to be sickened by American over-consumption, not heaping a second helping on my plate!

We got home from our trip and I had this nagging feeling that the Holy Spirit had some words for me while I was busy putting Mickey ears on and planning our next vacation.  I honestly don’t know how it happened, but a few days later I found myself buying the Kindle edition of Jen Hatmaker’s book, 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess.  (Apparently, the Holy Spirit couldn’t wait for the paperback to arrive and needed the instant version.)  I won’t tell you all about the book because I strongly encourage you to read it (and laugh/cry throughout the whole thing), but it basically chronicles the author’s experience giving up various aspects of the American lifestyle that keep us focused on ourselves instead of focusing on God.  The general idea is that when we fast instead of feast, we create space for God to fill and allow him to redirect our priorities to things like giving to the poor.

Even though I LOVE her writing style and couldn’t put the book down, I resisted the Holy Spirit at first.  I kept thinking, “This is about Disney World, isn’t it.”  Wow.  Talk about an idol!

Me: “But God, we’ve been poor for so long and have given up so many things.  <insert list of ‘sacrifices’ for God>  We can finally afford to do a big trip, so what’s the big deal?”
Jesus: “Really?  That’s the best use of the resources I’ve given you?”
Me: “When else are we going to have an opportunity like this?  It’s so educational!”
Jesus: (Gagging.  Probably with a spoon.)
Me: “Wull <insert whiny, teenage voice>, everyone on Facebook is posting their cool vacations.  Why can’t I do fun stuff, too!!”
Jesus: “Yeah, we’re going to be talking about Facebook soon.”
Me: (Gulp.) “But I waaaaaaaaaaaaaan’t it.”
Jesus: “If any of you (whiny teenage girls) wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me.”

I got as far as chapter three in the book and realized that I needed to make some changes, whether I felt like it or not.  I knew God was saying, “Stop spending all your money on yourself and wake up to the needs of those who can’t help themselves.”  I sat in the Albertson’s parking lot with my car full of groceries I didn’t need, but bought because they were on sale, and confessed to God that I’m willing to help the poor.  I just don’t know any.  (Ouch.)  I promised him that if he showed me a need, I would obey.  That night at dinner, I casually mentioned to the kids that if we gave up eating out, we could sponsor a child through Compassion International and provide for the needs of someone who is less fortunate than us.  They asked if we could still go out to eat for birthdays, which seemed reasonable to me, so we pulled up the website and found a little girl in Uganda who shares my daughter’s birthday.  My sweet daughter now includes Miriam in her prayers at night, asking God to take care of her African sister in Christ.

Oh Lord, forgive me.  I was blind, but now I see.

The spiritual obstacle of entitlement runs deep through the veins of American society.  Slick marketing tells us we deserve the best, so if we have the money for something we want, we buy it.  (And we find ways to still buy what we can’t afford, becoming slaves to debt.)  What’s shocking to me is how quickly we can go from feeling poor because we actually are (like during our 18 months of unemployment) to feeling entitled to have what we want because we can finally afford it.  This may sound absurd to someone who’s never had to tighten their belt financially, but here’s the truth: It’s easier to be poor.  When you don’t have much money, the answer to every question is “No.”  You don’t have to decide if you really need something because if it’s not going in your belly, it doesn’t go in the cart.  Period.

The challenge comes when money starts to pad the bank account again.  You’re FINALLY able to update your 5-year-old wardrobe of almost-indecent jeans and used-to-be-black-but-now-it’s-sorta-grey faded shirts.  You FINALLY get some stuff fixed and replaced because even legitimate needs had to be put off.  You praise God for all your blessings, but never ask him what he’d like to do with them.  It’s so easy to assume any financial blessing is somehow deserved (because you worked SO HARD while being poor), and God must want me to sit back and enjoy my blessings.  After all, I earned them.

Um…  (Yes, I know how dumb that sounds, Jesus, but I…I…I…)

Yes, “I” is the problem.  The American lifestyle is all about ME.  Enter conversation about Facebook.  (Thanks, Jen, <insert sarcasm> for chapter 4 on Media!)

Jesus: “I want you to fast from Facebook.”
Me: “But it would be a shame not to use my gift of sarcasm to bring joy to the dozens of people who ‘Like’ my witty observations.”
Jesus: “The world will keep spinning without you.”
Me: “But how will I know what’s going on in the lives of people I sorta knew once?”
Jesus: “How about if you focus on the relationships around you, like your kids who would like your attention, only you’re too busy checking your timeline like a crack addict to see who ‘likes’ your status.”
Me: “In my defense, I post plenty about you, Jesus.”
Jesus: “But maybe I’d like you to spend more time talking TO me, instead of ABOUT me.  Maybe it’s time for you to focus on me, instead of on crafting the perfect status update.”
Me: “But if I unplug, I’ll be left out.  If I stop talking about myself, will anyone even notice?  What if I am forgotten?”
Jesus: “I will never leave you or forsake you.”

So here I am, unplugged from life support for stay-at-home moms.  With no other writing outlet, I’m back on the blog.  (Don’t you feel blessed?)  It’s time to stop thinking of myself all the time, which is an easy habit to develop when you’re hooked up to the social media machine.  I’m also taking a sabbatical from consumption and – in keeping with the “7” theme from the book – limiting myself to 7 items/categories at the grocery store for the next 7 weeks:

  • 1 gallon milk
  • 2 cartons of eggs
  • 1 starch (either a bag of tortillas, potatoes, or rice)
  • 1 fat (oil, butter, or peanut butter)
  • 1 bag of spinach or 2 lb. bag of carrots (lasts 2 weeks, so I can alternate between the two)
  • 8-10 bananas (for breakfast, baking, and a frozen treat – we LOVE plain frozen bananas)
  • Whatever fruits/veggies I can find at the local Farmer’s Market (hence, the bananas getting their own line item, since Idaho is not famous for bananas)

Exceptions to the list include things like toilet paper and personal hygiene products.  (We want to stop over-consumption, not gross people out.)  My weekly budget will be limited to $50, including the exceptions, and I will have to make due with whatever items are already in my pantry/freezer/food storage compound.  (Squirrels would be so jealous of my storage skills.)  When the chips are gone, they’re gone.  (Note to husband who is reading this and hyperventilating: Fear not.  We have 2 lbs. of bacon safely hidden beneath the frost heaves in our freezer.)  It’s time for me to exercise my self-control muscles (which have been atrophying while I sit on the couch, scrolling through my news feed).  I will not stock up on any more good deals until I’ve eaten the ones in my freezer.  I will say no to the sale on gluten free junk food – yes, it’s a “good deal” and no, you still don’t need it.

I will choose to fast instead of feast on all my choices, recognizing that when I have enough it’s time to stop consuming.  I will choose to stop the endless (and nauseating) repeats on the ME Network.  I will look at the picture of Miriam on our fridge every day as I am about to feed my appetite, and pause to remember and pray for those who have no food.  I will be grateful that God got my attention with a $4000 air conditioner replacement, reminding me that stuff breaks and lets us down, but God never will.  I will give God the space created in my schedule by not shopping at 4 stores and reading articles shared on Facebook, and allow him to redirect my priorities (including the remaining amount in my grocery budget).

I hope that the next 7 weeks bring about a change of heart, kicking apathy out the door and welcoming the Holy Spirit to teach me what it means to love my neighbor as myself.  If only I could post this on Facebook…

To follow my journey over the next several weeks, check out the posts under the category “My Fast” on the right.

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