Sunday, August 10, 2014

When The Weight of the World Is Too Heavy

One of my favorite movie quotes comes from The Princess Bride: "Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something." My younger self would have said the character was too bitter; my slightly worn self now empathizes with him, though I don't carry the cynicism.

I told my husband last night that I felt like I had a pit in my heart that would not go away. You might be familiar with it, the heaviness of grief.

Stemming from a few causes. One was reading disturbing news from Iraq and feeling concern for the victims and terrorists. Stress at work and a couple nights of poor sleep also didn't help. The other trigger came from my husband's routine doctors appointment. 

The night before- not acting the supportive wife- I had told my husband I was giving up hope for doctors' ability to treat his depression, something he has struggled with throughout his life. Various medications have provided little or no positive effect, and his fatigue is nearly constant. He maintains a good attitude and routine between work and social commitments, but as his companion it is hard not to want more for his- and our- life. Friday's appointment ended with the doctor prescribing yet another drug that may or may not help. I felt disappointed and angry that professionals seemed to have no time to offer something better.

We have been praying and seeking medical advice for seven years, and it doesn't seem like much is changing. I think the naïve, optimistic part of me believed that my experience with biology and sports, my love for cooking, and our happiness together would somehow propel him toward better health. It hasn't been that easy.

On Saturday, our unfinished Scrabble game lay on the table as we distracted ourselves with social media. I wondered what life was going to be like with this longterm suffering. I was thinking of the friends, relatives, and former classmates who have houses, babies, beach vacations...who seem content to broadcast their relative comfort on social media without any acknowledgment of me, their sort-of friend? I was having a pity party, and I knew it but couldn't stop it. When my husband asked why I was so sad, I said something hurtful about having to accept that we weren't going to have a "normal" life.

He drove me to work as usual, and I spent the evening trying not to beat myself up for being so selfish, speaking carelessly and making him feel like he wasn't good enough. Earlier I had debated whether or not to call our pastor and tell him I couldn't lead the singing in church on Sunday because I felt too depressed. Could I pretend to mean the happy, faith-filled worship songs I had already planned with my team? Where was God in my husband's sickness, and while children were being murdered across the globe?

That afternoon I wasn't sure. But I knew I had to keep going, first apologizing to my husband for not being kind or helpful in that moment. He said he forgives me and knows that I love him. Thank God.

"For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh." (2 Corinthians 4:11, ESV)

I went to worship the next morning and told my music team about my inner struggle. My resolve to be there came from knowing that God is always the same, loving and wise, and worthy of our worship- not just in song but in heart and spirit. My teammate shared a story about spontaneous praise that she witnessed recently among international students and scholars, reminding us that true worship is the Spirit's work, how it is wonderful to be in a place where we are ready, waiting to see how God moves and to be willing to be part of what He is doing.

I thought about the bigger picture of God's love for the world and how friends in the church are actively working to love all nations.

Left to myself, I know I would destroy my life and relationships. I'm just that naturally selfish, jealous, prideful, rude and needy.

Another friend shared her perspective on the situation in Iraq, reminding me how God is sovereign, how He changed a former persecutor of the church (Saul!) to being a minister of the gospel, and how Jesus is present even in martyrs' deaths, encouraging me to pray differently for the situation. Somehow this faith hits closer to home when persecution is happening in real-time and not just on the pages of a book we read.

I sang in church this morning and agreed with the words. Sometimes the Spirit puts songs on my mind early in the week, and they end up being more relevant than I realize. Our pastors have been preaching through Colossians, and somehow on Tuesday this week I knew we had to sing "Knowing You" on Sunday. Today the third verse hit me all over again:

Oh to know the power of Your risen life
And to know You in Your suffering
To become like You in Your death my Lord
So with You to live and never die...
Knowing You, Jesus, knowing You
There is no greater thing...

Back at home, my husband and I are reestablishing normal communication and enjoying the evening together. I pick up a book on a whim and start reading where I had left off: A Praying Life (Paul Miller, NavPress, 2009). I soon realize this is not a coincidence, that today of all days I needed to read these exact chapters.

The author writes about his experience in a spiritual "desert," when his and his wife's prayers seemed fruitless. He goes into detail about the journey from determination in trying all options...to despair, then he gently uses scripture to call us back to hope...because our relationship with God is more complex and longterm than some "warm fuzzies" someone gets once in prayer. It's the dynamic of story between lovers who at once care and want to be known. I nearly cried reading these words:

When God seems silent and our prayers go unanswered, the overwhelming temptation is to leave the story- to walk out of the desert and attempt to create a normal life. But when we persist in a spiritual vacuum, when we hang in there during ambiguity, we get to know God. In fact, that is how intimacy grows in all close relationships. 

Even the phrase "normal life"... It's like someone was reading my mind.

And of course Someone was (Psalm 139:1-5)!

O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.

As I kept reading A Praying Life, I remembered how my marriage is about a bigger story of redemption that God is weaving, with personal care for me. Today is not the end, nor is tomorrow. 

Like Paul, might we say that as suffering servants of Christ we are "sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything" (2 Corinthians 6:10)?

Some people may think I am too extreme, quoting an Apostle who became a martyr, but the Spirit binds the church together across time and space. I feel the words are relevant and true even today.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

First Harvest

After planting mid-May, I had the pleasure of harvesting my first Royal Burgundy (bush) beans this weekend!

Beans and Basil 

The organic bean seeds came from Botanical Interests via Whole Foods Market. I transplanted the basil from its Cool Springs Organic container (grown in Evans City, PA and also sold at WFM), and it's been growing tall, producing new stems as I clip off the top leaves.

Apart from beans and basil, I'm cultivating some edible calendula flowers and 2 tomato plants- one red heirloom and one yellow cherry variety. My strategy was to start small and focus on learning just a few plants at a time, rather than go all out and forget how to properly care for some (as my past wildflower experiment showed). I think I might adopt the same approach for having children.

Just cooked up these babies and saw the "magic" color change! They may turn brighter green without the rice vinegar, which I added for flavor along with onions, oil and garlic. Will have to try steaming them plain next time to see if there's a difference.

Raw purple bean added for contrast

The smell of stir fry lingers in the room and the satisfaction of watching my garden labor come to fruition seeds more motivation in my heart.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Omega-3s For Dessert?!

Thanks to Sambazon, my new favorite food blogger Emily at A Nutritionist Eats and a timely Whole Foods coupon, I've been learning to make omega-3-rich açaí bowls.

We've heard about omega-3 fats' benefits for the heart, brain, skin and even hair, but food sources of this nutrient tend to fall under the routine categories of fish, seeds and nuts-- maybe coconut oil if you're being creative. Now we can add a tasty dessert (or breakfast) to the list!

OK, I confess I am eating this for lunch (Don't worry, it has protein powder in it). 

I call it the Decadent Açaí bowl, topped with Spectrum's Decadent Blend (Omega-3-rich chia, flax, cocoa and coconut). Sweetened by banana, vanilla almond milk and blueberries, there's no artificial ingredient in sight. Also, it's vegan.

I usually don't post recipes on my blog, but in case anyone is looking for inspiration, here goes:

-1 cup almond milk (I use unsweetened vanilla, Blue Diamond Almond Breeze- also a current coupon at Whole Foods)
-1 açaí smoothie pack (3.5 oz, Sambazon)
-1 ripe banana
-1/4 cup (ish) frozen blueberries
-1/2 scoop Garden of Life RAW protein powder

Mix it all in the blender, top with 2 tablespoons of the Spectrum mix and enjoy! (If you or your loved ones have sensitive tastes, I would omit the protein powder for better flavor, maybe add a little honey.) A great treat for a warm summer day.

The açaí/omega-3 craze gets even better when you read Sambazon's commitment to sustainable farming. You feel like you're giving back to the Amazon communities just by eating their product. Hopefully it's truthful marketing.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

School Is Out But Life Is Not (always what we think it is)

Writing for the joy of the flow of words and also for the discipline of coherent thought.

Pick a topic, let's see... Science? School? Faith? ...I have exhausted the topic of turtles.

Chocolate, sourcing it ethically...do any readers care about that?

There are enough blogs about food and recipes, and I don't have a good camera.

How about, what to do with a masters degree? The one that cost me the down payment for a house, that I'm not really using, economically at least. I do enjoy reading more, and I can ask more intelligent questions. That's one of my favorite responses to hear from people in conversation: "That's a really good question," like I made them think a little.

I really want to inspire people to think. To avoid getting sucked along by the mainstream, to recognize what's true, to be aware of nuance and presupposition. But I feel like I'm only just starting this journey myself...how can I lead others? Maybe I'll wait.

And in the meantime I'll write. Not just to declare answers and well-thought-out platitudes...whatever that means... but to enjoy the struggle of finding an answer.

I felt a bit cynical yesterday when I saw a generic graduation card for sale, emphasizing something to the effect of, "We can't wait to see what God has in store for you next year!" as if everyone graduates to a wonderful and exciting future. My thought? "Prepare to suffer."

Not because I think suffering is all there is to life, but it is a very real part of most people's journeys, and if graduates are under the illusion that every table is going to be made for them, it's going to be a shock to discover they really have to work and endure times of stress, confusion, mistreatment, even failure. My hope for them is that they will learn to suffer well, to endure challenges, to reap the reward of their hard-fought and focused efforts.

Sometimes I want to go back to school, where everything is defined for me, where it is easy to measure my success with a score or grade. But it's time to grow into the uncertainty of adulthood, to be comfortable with disaster, to lower one's head not in defeat but in the humility of a saint who knows better days are ahead, if only we do not despair, nor surrender to bitterness.

"A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion." Proverbs 18:2

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Remembering Haiti

This past April I had the pleasure of visiting my childhood home in Bonne Fin, Haiti. My family spent the week volunteering at the missions hospital there, reconnecting with old friends, and reliving memories.

Embraced by the warm greetings of the people and the familiar scents of mountain air, it really felt like coming home. It was a rejuvenating reminder of my roots, and at once a rediscovery of this remote place.

Nightly stargazing walks were rewarded with sights of the Southern Cross and Milky Way. I understood how beauty can comfort you in the middle of work that revolves around suffering.

Our hosts provided wonderful food: rice and beans, banan pezé, soup joumou, a variety of fresh fruit (mango, abricot, anana, zaboka), juices (chadèk, sitron) and vegetables (militon, chou, carrot, bètrav, épinard), fried goat, vyann bef.

During a couple afternoons we hiked and observed the local community and wildlife. I enjoyed seeing flowers I had gathered as a kid, and my sister indulged me with a few photos:

These small lavendar clusters were some of my favorite.

White something

From a bush near the door of our second house (top of the hill by the hotel). If my memory is correct, sometimes we would pick a flower and suck a drop of sweet juice from the stems.

I'm hoping to find the scientific names for these plants, maybe on Living National Treasures Haiti page. A few more plants:

Banana forests!

Ferns

Zanglais beach. I remember opening these hanging pods to remove the seeds once they fell on the ground.

I forget if this is aloe or something else, but we would definitely pick aloe and rub it on injured skin, maybe after sliding down a hillside on a palm frond, or scraping our knees during games of tag or racing up the road.

We also found the same tree covered in thorns near the hospital.

We asked why?!
Lizards, birds, bugs, tadpoles, trees and leaves were one substance of our childhood: whether just observing, fort-making, collecting or hunting, we immersed ourselves in the life of this beautiful land.

Haiti remains part of us.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Farms Matter

I learned today that acreage of farmland in the US has been decreasing over the past 20 years despite our nation's growing nutrition needs.

The government is telling us to eat more fruits and veggies while it continues to subsidize junk food ingredients to the tune of about $1 billion per year. What if the government subsidized more green vegetables instead, to economically fill our plates and logically follow its own recommendations?

Or we could ask our congressmen to reduce subsidies, to combat poverty and environmental degradation--all while supporting local and small farmers--but that's a different conversation.

You hear stories of farmers losing their livelihood to urban development. My own great-grandparents' potato fields and apple orchards were converted to government property for schools in the middle of the last century. I studied for years and graduated from those schools, and I appreciate the government's support for education--along with the country's need for infrastructure, housing, and all the other good things that end up taking farmers' space. Let's just remember how to feed a growing nation, not only mentally but physically.

Let's continue to rebalance our land use. The American Farmland Trust advocates our responsibility to protect the abundant resources that quality farmland provides. We can learn a lot from groups already concerned with this issue.

What if the government took over a retail space and converted it to a vegetable garden? "Sorry, it's better for you!" Until more people realize how much food impacts our health and economy, they will keep doing the opposite.

Sources:

1. U.S. EPA Land Use Overview
http://www.epa.gov/oecaagct/ag101/landuse.html

2. Produce For Better Health Foundation
http://www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org

3. U.S. PIRG, Apples to Twinkies 2013:
http://uspirg.org/reports/usp/apples-twinkies-2013

4. USDA ChooseMyPlate
http://www.choosemyplate.gov

5. American Farmland Trust, Farming On the Edge Report
http://www.farmland.org/resources/fote/

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Turtle Diet Changes

Remy ate carrots two days in a row this week. He hasn't nibbled on the dandelion greens/flowers we gave him, despite recommendations from other RES owners. He sometimes eats romaine lettuce, other times preferring to shred it and let it float around his tank.

A friend gave us duckweed to help fight algae growth. We thought it would be enjoyable for Remy to also eat and hide under, but it mostly got sucked into his water filter... Thankfully the plant is prolific; all was not wasted.

Feeding time

ZooMed Aquatic Turtle Growth Formula pellets


We only feed Remy the pellets every other day, 2 or 3 teaspoons at a time.

Remy is 18 months old and his shell is about 5 inches long. His claws are getting long and sharp!