Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Blessing of A Curse

As far back as I can remember, I've heard Romans 8:28 quoted with cliche-like repetition:  "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose."  I'm certain that I memorized it long ago for one Sunday School class assignment or another, but only recently have I come to better understand the full meaning of this Scripture passage.

This new life lesson began last November when the onset of my third documented kidney infection brought with it an intense fatigue that far outlasted the 10-day course of antibiotics.  For a while, I simply tried to wait it out, convinced that, soon enough, it would dissipate.

It didn't.

From last December through this past March, I visited several doctors in an attempt to feel better, backing out of other engagements along the way because I was just too wiped to get out of the house.  It wasn't terribly fun, but I was grateful that it was only fatigue and nothing worse.

As it turned out, the fatigue was the result of a vitamin D deficiency combined with a strained muscle in my back (probably triggered by the infection).  Neither was serious, but the combined symptoms made for a long winter.

At first, I had no idea what I should be learning from this minor trial.  Before we'd reached a diagnosis, though, I started reading about a whole-foods lifestyle and began incorporating some of the recommended eating habits in an effort to feel better.  Jon graciously went along with my odd and sometimes unpalatable kitchen creations, which says a lot since he's a meat-and-potatoes kind of guy.

The new diet didn't seem to do much for my health, but the surprising result was that Jon felt a lot better.  He seemed to have more energy, fewer headaches, and fewer upset stomachs (all things we wrongly assumed were just normal for him).  In the end, we concluded that he is either wheat or gluten intolerant (and I don't even know if there's really a difference between the two), and that by eliminating wheat, he feels great.

And suddenly I knew what I needed to learn from my health woes:  God certainly does work ALL things together for our good and His glory.

Is intense fatigue fun?  No.

Was it easy feeling lousy for four months?  Not at all.

Could God turn it into a blessing?  Absolutely.

Did He?  Yes!

Had I not gotten sick, we'd never have thought to start altering our eating habits.  Jon would have continued eating wheat and dealing with the symptoms that he'd had most of his life because we wouldn't have figured out that they were food-related.  And especially now that I'm feeling better and having more energy, I can be thankful for the vitamin deficiency and strained muscle.  What started out as an annoyingly-frustrating "curse" eventually proved to be a blessing in disguise.

Not all problems will resolve into blessings so easily, nor will we always be able to see the blessing in the curse this side of Heaven.  But in situations like mine where we can clearly see the truth in Romans 8:28, we can be grateful that the Lord really is doing what He promises to do, and we can be confident that He's also working in the situations where we cannot see His handiwork as vividly.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Whole Foods - Whole Flops!

For health reasons, I've been trying a new whole foods, low-gluten diet the past several weeks.  I've read a lot about substitutions and healthier options, and I've felt inspired to try out some things.  Sometimes I have success in my new endeavor, but more often than not, I learn what NOT to do.  

My first attempt was rice milk.  An inexpensive alternative to paying $3.50 or more for a gallon of cow's milk greatly appealed to my food budget, so I pulled out my little 8-year-old, inexpensive blender and set to work.

We've made the switch to eating all brown rice, and since it's supposed to have superior nutrition in addition to being high in fiber, I chose the brown rice over the white for this experiment (a mistake for someone without a high-powered blender, to be sure).

You can see in the photo how all the little rice pieces settled to the bottom of the blender, leaving a thin, milky-white watery substance at the top.  This stuff tasted even worse than it looks, and not even the sweetest of smoothies could cover up it's obnoxious flavor!

Whole foods: 1.  Me:  0.

My first flop behind me, I was eager to try something else. 

I came across this recipe for black bean brownies (I skipped the first paragraph of the post and moved right on to the recipe below).  I was intrigued, so I cooked up some black beans, tossed them into the blender per the recipe instructions, and went about trying this rather odd recipe.  The reviews raved about it, so even though at first I was skeptical, by the time I pulled these from the oven, I had developed high expectations.

My biggest worry was that the consistency would not be right for brownies - I mean, isn't the gooey, almost-cooked-but-not-quite-done goodness the best part of brownies??  When I cut into these and discovered that, amazingly, they seemed to be extremely brownie-like, I was thrilled.

Until I tasted them.

I do admit that I probably used WAY too much spinach (I think I remember accidentally dumping in close to double what the recipe called for), but I don't think even using half the spinach that I did would make up for the bitter, green taste of this...stuff.  I don't even know what to call it, since "brownie" doesn't come close to describing the odd flavor.

We tried again, this time using Food Network's black bean brownie recipe.  These were much more palatable (though I exchanged the oil for butter - yum!), but even these, without spinach and a very small amount of black beans, didn't cut it for us. 

My conclusion?  Black beans don't belong in brownies.  Eat black bean burritos for dinner and indulge in a regular brownie.  If you're concerned about health, eat a smaller portion of chocolately goodness, because a "healthy" brownie leaves a LOT to be desired.

Despite these first two setbacks, we persevered in trying to include more whole foods in our diet.  The easiest way we've found to do this is to drink smoothies for breakfast.  We found a decent recipe:

1/2 cup plain yogurt (I make my own in the crockpot, which saves a ton of $$)
1/2 cup milk (or to taste - we like a thinner consistency and add a little more)
1 banana
1 cup (give or take) any fruit of your liking (we use frozen strawberries or frozen raspberries)
1 T ground flax

Blend it up, and you're done!  

This was working really well for us.

Until the frozen strawberries flying around in the blender cracked the plastic carafe. 

And delicious strawberrie smoothie goodness ran down all over the base of the machine and shorted out the motor.


We ended up investing in a bare-bones VitaMix blender, and we're very happy with it.  So happy, in fact, that I might - just might - be willing to try making rice milk again.