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Do not resent your place in the story. Do not imagine yourself elsewhere. Do not close your eyes and picture a world without thorns, without shadows, without hawks. Change this world. Use your body like a tool meant to be used up, discarded, and replaced. Better every life you touch. We will reach the final chapter. When we have eyes that can stare into the sun, eyes that only squint for the Shekinah, then we will see laughing children pulling cobras by their tails, and hawks and rabbits playing tag. 

N.D. Wilson via Billy Jack Brawner III

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Several months ago, Brad and I sat side by side at our dining table. We ate eggs and spinach as he said, “I think I’m losing weight again.” He was discouraged; we try really hard to get weight on him and keep it. “I looked in the mirror this morning and I can see all my ribs.”

“I wish I could see all my ribs when I looked in the mirror,” I replied.

That sentence hung in the air for a moment while we both realized what that really meant: I want to look like I’m sick, filled with a disease that withholds nutrition from my body, leaving it a weak cage for the brokenness inside.

Just telling you that story fills me with shame. I love the women and girls in my life and more than anything I want them to know their worth isn’t based on how they look, how thick their eyelashes are, whether or not their thighs touch. I want them to know they are the product of the most creative mind, the most gentle and skilled hands, the arbiter of everything beautiful, and that means their worth has nothing to do with how clear their skin is.

Ever since that conversation, I’ve been hyper-aware of how twisted my body image is. I’ll stop right here to say I’ve never had a real problem with body image. Sure, I’ve always wished my stomach were flatter, felt so grateful for the good-legs gene I got from my Dad’s side, and eyed my arms with cautious optimism. But I thought that was normal. And if I judge “normal” by what’s prevalent in every woman’s mind, I’d be right.

But “prevalent” is not my standard of normal. What God says about me should be my standard.

I’m writing this because when I scroll through Instagram and see a photo of someone, I skip right over their face and look at their waist, hips, arms. When I miss a workout, I feel crushing guilt that I’m “letting myself go.” When I wake up with zits, I tell myself I’m a loser. And I’m sick of it. This isn’t abundant life. This isn’t truth.

Magazines, blogs, even friends will tell me to be kinder to myself. But there’s no handhold for me in that statement. Be kinder to myself? Why do I deserve that? Nobody knows better than I do the many ways I fail, the disgusting parts of my heart and mind that don’t merit kindness.

And that reveals the deeper problem: My definition of me doesn’t work. It’s not strong enough to rest on. But God’s definition is. This is the truth I will be repeating to myself until the day I die and I’m released from the burden of physical expectation: God says I’m a temple–a holy place, which makes me holy, which makes me worthy. God says I’m his daughter, which gives me authority and place. God says I am artisanal. God says the final assessment of what kind of person I was won’t be based on how new my shoes are or what my jean size was. It will be based on how I served.

I am the result of loving labor. Perfect labor. You are too. I want to say that again because it’s so important: You are too. Regardless of how you feel about God, He crafted you. And when you feel shame or guilt or disgust about your body, that’s not from Him. He looks at you and sees art and beauty, endless beauty.

So what do we do with this? What are the steps we can take in faith to fight the false messages about our bodies? Here’s what’s helping me:

Gratefulness. This is almost always the first step to perspective for me. Be grateful for what your body can do, what it does for you and for others every day. Every time I go running and am tempted to stop or tempted to hate it, I think how fortunate I am to have legs that can run. Brad can barely walk around the block or get out of a chair–how much more reminder does my stubborn heart need that a healthy body is enough.

DO, don’t look. No good has ever come from time spent looking at my body. Really. Yet I go back to this again and again. I pass by a mirror and check my stomach. I’ll stare at my face for 15 minutes noting what’s wrong and what’s passable. No. The solution is to do something, anything, that refocuses me on what this body can do, not what it looks like. That face, often spotted, can smile at my husband. That chest, regrettably small, can cradle a child’s head. That waist, spilling ever so slightly over my waistband, will some day (God willing) harbor new life. Enough looking, let’s act.

Give. This is so obvious, but so hard. What are our bodies for? They’re not solely showpieces, they’re meant to serve. Giving your body in service can mean so many things. For me, it’s washing dishes, it’s rubbing Brad’s knees and ankles, it’s helping somebody shlep things to their car. For you, it could mean something totally different. It could mean something radical like traveling across the world or dying for someone. This is the very best our bodies can do.

See what’s real. That identity of being the result of perfect labor, loved by God? That’s true about you, but it’s also true about every woman you see. God help us, we women are so harmful to one another. We judge, we compare, we belittle. (And real talk: I’m the worst when it comes to this.) What if instead we saw what was real in one another and reminded one another of that?

Ask for help. Isolation compounds sick thoughts. Ask for prayer, ask for a real assessment of who you are from someone who loves you and can see the real in you.

Thanks for reading, beautiful.

 

 

 

 

mint chocolate chip ice cream 4

I am totally ok with rationalizations. For example, if you spent a few hours laughing so hard with your sisters that your abs hurt, you don’t need to go running the next day. Maybe not even for a few days. Or if you check more books out from the library than you could possibly read in three weeks, it’s fine* because you’re a better person just for having those books share your home with you. Or if you make a batch of mint chocolate chip ice cream and eat it before dinner, that’s totally fine because it’s definitely good for your gut.

But really, this ice cream is good for your gut–you don’t even have to rationalize. I’ll let Brad explain by breaking down the ingredients:

Coconut: Canned milk is easy. We like Trader Joes light coconut milk because it’s the least expensive and only contains coconut and water. If you’re concerned about BPA in canned goods, try searching for young Thai coconuts. I’ve found them lately at Asian grocery stores for almost the same price as a can. You’ll also get more nutrients from the fresh coconut rather than in a can. The benefits? Unrefined coconut is high in potassium, which is great for the adrenal glands and combatting stress, aside from being an essential nutrient most people are deficient in. It’s also rich in healthy fats and contains nutrients that boost the immune system.

Raw honey: When it comes to sweeteners, it’s best to avoid refined white sugar because it can cause all sorts of havoc in the body. It damages cells and causes imbalance by depleting the body of nutrients. But ice cream needs to be sweet, right? Raw honey is a great alternative because it contains phytonutrients and enzymes that the body needs. And it’s more sweet than sugar so you can use less. It’s best not to use raw honey for children age two and under. Real maple syrup may be another worthy alternative.

Avocado: We found that adding some avocado helps make ice cream creamier and have less of an ice milk texture. Avocados are loaded with healthy monounsaturated fats which help to steady insulin production and glucose release and keep the body’s blood sugar in balance.

Celtic sea salt: Salt often falls victim to association with disease and poor health. While it’s true that most people get too much refined sodium in their diets, natural, untreated, unrefined sea salt is beneficial. It contains trace minerals and natural iodine that is good for the thyroid and helps maintain proper mineral levels in the body.

Vanilla: Vanilla just plain makes ice cream taste like ice cream. Using whole vanilla beans would be ideal, but we often opt for the extract due to cost. Look for extracts without added sugars or extra additives if you can. Vanilla extract contains eugenol, which has antiseptic and anelgesic properties that help to promote clean blood vessels.

Egg yolks: Yolks from the eggs of pasture-raised chickens are good sources of vitamins like A, D, iron and folic acid. They’re easy to digest and contain lots of good, healthy fats. What about cholesterol? Cholesterol is necessary in the body to produce hormones, help with tissue repair and actually protect against cancer and heart disease. It’s the rancid oils and oxidized cholesterol in refined foods that lead to inflammation and chronic disease. It’s best to get your eggs from a trusted source, and preferably soy free.

Peppermint essential oil: If consuming essential oils, be sure to only use a few drops. They can be very powerful! Only take them internally if the oils are from a trusted source, preferably organic or certified as therapeutic grade. Peppermint essential oil aids the immune system and has been found helpful in soothing digestive discomfort.

Spirulina: This blue-green algae is found naturally in the ocean. It’s full of vitamins and minerals and surprisingly a good source of calcium (300% more calcium than whole milk). It’s great for hair and nail growth too. It contains chlorophyll, which is good for making mint ice cream green, and helps with detoxification when the body is too acidic and under stress.

Chocolate: Foods like cocoa, tea, fruits and wine contain polyphenols, which are naturally occurring and provide health benefits like protection from chronic disease, ultraviolet radiation and aggressive pathogens. Recent studies are showing that these polyphenols may even help balance the digestive system by increasing good bacteria and decreasing the bad guys. Like wine, it’s best to consume in moderation and to find good quality, organic, dark chocolate without extra sugar or added milk products.

Joanna again. See? The above information is why, a mere eight hours after this episode, I was eating this ice cream. I almost wish I were joking because it seems irresponsible, but I’m not. And it did make me feel better.

Also: We made a video! A super amateur, first-attempt one because our siblings keep asking for them.

mint chocolate chip ice cream
makes 4 servings

We’ve been attempting this recipe for more than a year. The tough part was the mint flavor. Peppermint extract was medicinal, fresh mint was herbal–and not in a good way, sort of in a grassy way, but the essential oil gets it just right. It is the Goldilocks of mint flavorings.

2 cups coconut milk (we use light because that’s what’s most often available, but full-fat works and is even better)
coconut meat from one coconut, optional
4 egg yolks
1/2 avocado
1/4 cup raw honey
1 Tablespoon vanilla
big pinch of sea salt
4 drops peppermint oil
1/4 teaspoon spirulina powder (or any other green powder)
1 3-oz. bar dark chocolate, chopped

Blend all but the dark chocolate in a Vitamix or blender until creamy. Pour into your ice cream maker and let it do it’s thing. When it’s almost ready, add the dark chocolate and let it mix in. Serve immediately or freeze.

———-

*A friend of mine at work told me she and her friends used to regularly meet for brunch to have “It’s fine” conversations. You blurted to that guy you’ve been casually seeing in a group of friends that you like him? It’s fine. You showed up to work forgetting you had a big presentation that day? It’s fine. You canceled on someone so you could sit at home and watch Amelie by yourself and eat ice cream? It’s fine. I love this. I want to start an “It’s fine” series of posts. Send me your worries, I’ll tell you it’s fine, then we’ll switch.

 

I dug through my blog post drafts this morning and found this one buried back in my 2011 folder. It made me laugh because I was (and still am) SO enthusiastic about that garlic clove soup. And it also captures most what I miss living in California: Simple, silly meals with family where we do dumb things like watch Star Trek.

——–

I love meals with family more than anything in the world except snuggles with Brad. Last Friday night, my mom and dad and sister came over because a glut of CSA garlic compelled us to make THIS.

Yes, that’s right. A 44-clove garlic soup. And because we’re culinary overachievers (and have so. much. garlic.) we doubled it to make 88-CLOVE garlic soup. It’s the healing component to end all healing components!*

Take a look at our full menu:
The soup, which promised to put us in a garlic haze (but was actually really subtle and amazing).
Cold grilled beef roast for those who did not wish to be in a garlic haze.
A big salad with the most perfectly acidic apple cider vinegar (a healing component!) dressing.
Sourdough bread with Brad’s garlicky kefir cheese (TWO healing components!).
A homemade vanilla chocolate chunk ice cream that we all enjoyed while watching an episode of Star Trek. That’s how cool my family is.
Chardonnay to drink.

This was probably the best meal I’ve eaten in six months. I know I said that about chili and cornbread just a few days ago, but I mean it equally for both. They were both the best.

*If you have no idea what I’m talking about: When Brad finished his protocol diet, Tim (his nutritionist) told him to try to include at least one healing component with every meal. Even though we sort of joke about it, I actually take it pretty seriously. And if there’s one healing component we enjoy and would include in almost every meal, it’s garlic.

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Yesterday, two coworkers (friends, really) and I ditched the office for a long sushi lunch. Because my friends are lovely and loving people, they asked for details about Brad’s current treatment. I shared the details and they were both stricken and upset.

I found myself saying over and over again, “It’s OK. It’s not OK, but really, it’s OK.” And now I’m second guessing my response. Is that fake? It’s true in that it neatly summarizes the big picture—we have faith that all this is for something and means something and that even if Brad isn’t cured tomorrow, something valuable is happening in our lives and this world because of this experience, so it’s OK. But we also struggle with how to navigate our day-to-day life, we sometimes feel resentment or jealousy, often we wonder why this pain has to saturate every single part of our life and our marriage and our friendships, we wonder if we’ll get to have kids or if Brad will ever work full time again. We wonder if I can ever get the bandwidth to write the way I want or energy to do anything but exactly what we’re doing now—so that’s not OK. But the first one overrides the second most of the time, so it’s OK.

But that feels so unsatisfying as an answer. I want people to understand that having faith doesn’t mean you paint everything over with happy paint. It means there is suffering and hurt and sorrow, but there’s hope. I’m just not sure how to say that while praying my California roll makes it gracefully from the chopsticks to my  mouth.

photo: a marina on a trail near our apartment. 

front-door

A butter dish. A gorgeous white soup tureen that was an incredibly well-chosen Christmas gift. A package full of paper samples from our wedding invitations.*

These are the pieces of home, Des Moines, that came with us to home, Menlo Park, that don’t really belong.  Into boxes they went along with a deep swallow of sentimentality (My dad picked this gorgeous tureen out for me himself and I will need it in California), a little bit of wishing (Maybe we’ll host a Friendsgiving some year and need the butter dish), and whole lot of irrational thinking (I couldn’t BEAR to be without this random paper).

While I put our possessions in boxes last spring, I thought a lot about how they said something about the life we were creating for ourselves out here. I imagined becoming intentional hosts to our new friends, having fun living a little MacGyver-style with a lot less than we had before, and even becoming outdoorsy. (My snow boots. I brought my heavy-duty snow boots to California.)

And now we’ve packed up those things again and put them into boxes again with more dreams. Maybe this will be the last time we move while Brad’s sick. This will be the small closet that forces me to get rid of all the clothes from high school I still wear.

Even better, I stopped for a moment during our move to a new apartment back in April and realized some things we wished for when we first moved to California had come true. We had an army of friends hauling box after box of heavy magazines and books into our new place. Other friends couldn’t be there but loaned us all the rubber bins and boxes we needed to move. I realized we have a community here now. For a girl who spent the first six months here feeling so desperately lonely, this is a gift. And not for nothing, for a girl who has a hard time accepting help, getting so much help moving was humbling and instructive and relieving. Thank God for that blessing and that lesson.

Now I have to tell you about our fireplace. It isn’t a working fireplace, but it’s still awesome. Except for the paint colors. Behold:

fireplace

 

(A horrible photo, but I promise an in-focus photo would not do this fireplace any favors. The only thing that would is paint, preferably white.)

I asked our landlord if I could paint it and he gave me this look like I asked him if he liked ketchup on his cherry pie. Then I realized: HE LIKES these colors. My. Word.

So I’m still working on him.

———— 

*Plus two boxes of toothpicks and not a single match. An umbrella stand we didn’t use in Des Moines and don’t use here. Contacts with an outdated prescription–that was outdated before we moved. Four bottles of molasses.

santamonica

Pop culture prepared me pretty well for LA. The women are tan and either in a bikini or a maxi dress. Either way, with high platform shoes. The men are tan, middle-aged, and walk around wearing v-neck white tees unironically.

And the beaches are gorgeous.

santamonicabeach

 

 

santamonicalifeguard

 

keri-and-joanna

That’s 13 years of friendship in that photo. My friend Keri and I met as 15- and 16-year-olds at a group of high school classes for homeschooled students. (Have I ever mentioned that? I was homeschooled K-12.) Few friendships shaped me the way this one has. Keri told me not to be afraid, then showed me I was much stronger than I thought I was. She liked, I mean really liked, things about me that I always thought were awkward. She taught me how to eat a grapefruit and to swoon over Heath Ledger. I taught her Pride and Prejudice was worth watching over and over again and that emotions were OK and let her spend the night a lot of the nights while her parents were separating. She met her husband. She got married. I met my husband. I got married. She had a baby girl. I moved to California. Then she came to visit me and for four days we were joined at the hip again. I love her.

(We also looked at this photo together later and noticed we have eye wrinkles starting! After a little talk and a lot of giggling, we decided we’re ok with it. This is what getting older together looks like.)

keri-at-the-beach

We went to the beach. Keri came to visit me the very last weekend she was allowed to travel before giving birth to her second child. He was a boy and he’s only the cutest.

keri-at-tartine

We spent a day in the city and saw the bridge, shopped around Hayes Valley, and went to Tartine for lunch and the most perfect salted chocolate rye cookie. We ate it while we looked at pictures of Keri’s girl because we can’t get enough of her.

Not pictured: The holding one another while we started watching Downton Abbey again after THAT episode; neither of us were brave enough of on our own. The purchasing of bread, cheese, olives, trail mix, plain nuts, chocolate bars, chocolate covered almonds, and various other snack foods for our trip to the beach–foods we never ate until we were home and sitting around looking at more pictures of her girl. The eating of amazing tacos in a taqueria that took up one half of a gas station in Pescadero while talking about how our marriages are hard and good and change us.

mission-ranch

mission-ranch-2

Time to force some blogging mojo back into my life.

We took another day trip to Monterey to spend time with my cousin who lives down there. The highlight was dinner at Mission Ranch–Clint Eastwood’s farm-driven restaurant. While waiting for our table, we watched these sheep and I fantasized about quitting this whole writer/editor thing to be a shepherdess.

 

 

 bathroom

I’m in grubby clothes, one hand on the back of the shower wall to support me leaning over the tub to scrub the wall with my other hand. As who knows what kind or what age of tub grime dirties the baking soda paste I’m using, I plan my reward for scouring the tub and shower at our new apartment at 10:30 at night.

A few bites of the emergency brownie I keep in the freezer? No–that’s how I got up the will to start this project so late.

A glass of wine? It’s way too late and I’m way too tired.

I know. I’ll go to Target Sunday and buy new bras.

Then it hits me: I might be deeply uninteresting.