This is my story of FOOD and FAITH. They are connected by discipline. Discipline begets greater faith. In this journey, my discipline with food developed a disciple who is now stronger, more free and honest, and more clear about what to do.
This story begins with our fifth child…
In 2010, after giving birth to my fifth child at 45 years old, I expected some problems getting back in shape, but a whole series of physical ailments manifested in the first 18 months, not the least of which was arthritis in the hip, which even forced me to stop exercising. At the same time, my baby was showing symptoms I’d not had with my other kids, so we began to casually give up gluten (which I quickly learned was anything wheat, barley and rye). As I read more about gluten intolerance, and specifically Celiacs Disease, I was discovering that this was serious… IF this is what we had, my children were at risk in a number of ways, none the least of which was infertility.
By May 2012, in this maze of uncharted territory of eating, I had prayers answered when I found a trustworthy guide in a functional doctor. This resulted in a “NO EAT” list for my 2 year old at the time which included more than just gluten, but also dairy, peanuts, soy, egg whites, and more. Since I was still nursing at that time, I had to do the same. I had to keep a food diary and write in this every day. This felt like a ball and chain. I did NOT like this! This was hard; I found myself being rebellious in this act. I found myself not caring about cheating. Then on the Feast of the Sacred Heart, at daily mass, a simple homily of how our Lord Jesus suffered and died for each one of us evoked in me an overwhelming love of Jesus… “Oh, how can I return that love? How could I show Him? I can’t be crucified like He was.” Then it struck me… I could die for Him each and every day by not eating the gluten. It was good because while it was small in comparison to being crucified, it permeated every aspect of my life, the way I wanted Jesus to permeate every aspect of my life. And that’s how it started.
No gluten, no dairy for a year. This was bringing some desired results in my now 3 year old…. And surprisingly, in me too! Sleeping through the nights were better. Joint and feet problems lessened. Gut problems stabilized. My sinuses cleared up.
But there was something else nagging me… I couldn’t put my hand on it. Then in 2013, my teenage daughter was diagnosed definitively with Celiacs Disease. This gave definition to what I needed to do… but it would take strength.
I found that after a year of choosing to eat this way for my child, my family and myself, I was indeed stronger than I was. Yes, in my muscles, of course. Not only can I feel my muscles again after dissolving a layer of belly fat on top, but inside my head too. I have become stronger in my roles as a mother, wife, teacher, leader, disciple of Christ. As the ‘fat’ decreased around my belly, the ‘fog’ decreased around my God-given roles, showing me the way.
Let me take the example of my role as mother… In the thick of five children (new baby to graduating high school senior), I was pretty overwhelmed by it all. Many times I abdicated my parental role to my husband. Yet I also knew that I am the expert, not my husband, on role modeling and teaching my 4 daughters such things like JPII’s “Feminine Genius”. God wanted me to do my part.
Nobody really likes being the ‘bad guy’, least of all me. I needed to be strong for my strong-willed 3 year old at the time, whose temper tantrums were like none of my other children. I needed to be strong in how I handled the food restrictions in my house. I also needed to be strong for my teenagers who were defiant at times. Parents today have little to help guide us in this world of electronic ‘screens’ , how much is too much? When to restrict the cell phone? Should they watch that movie? I basically had to be the “bad guy” when it came to screens time management and snacks allowed in the house. It’s not fun being the “bad guy” but necessary. One of my favorite radio talk show hosts, Dr. Ray Guarendi, says that disciplining your kid is one of the hardest things we parents do. In fact, the only thing harder than disciplining your kid is to live with the kid that has NOT been disciplined.
That is how hard but necessary was this new found strength I had in my life.
I once thought of Mary the Mother of Jesus as a meek, mild human, kind and caring to everyone. Reading a recent book showed me just how mighty our Holy Mother can be if she needs to. The book is called, The Boy Who Met Jesus, by Immaculee Ilibagiza. It mostly is about Jesus appearing to this young pagan boy in Rwanda in 1982, but there is a scene in the book that caught me off guard: When the boy asks to know more about Jesus’ suffering, Jesus leaves and brings in his mother. It continues with the boy experiencing great suffering within this mystical experience with Our Lady right there. I was so surprised at Mary’s strength in this strange situation! Why her and not Jesus? Why so strong a suffering? Why was she the heavy hand and not Jesus? By the end of the book you somehow realize that this innocent boy’s mystical suffering experience allowed him to then carry out his vocation (proclaiming the Good News) with the fervent vigor he needed. Mary, our Mother, was the one who delivered it too. Jesus wanted it this way. Jesus wants me to be stronger too for my children so they eventually can carry out their vocation with fervent vigor.
The strength in discipline breeds faith development.
So there I was in 2013, growing stronger in defending my family against the long term effects of Celiacs. The second benefit from this new diet was how FREE and HONEST I was becoming. I felt a new freedom to be me. I no longer felt a slave to certain foods. Today I can walk through Breadworks in Boulder and not go crazy craving fresh sourdough. I may have begun very begrudgingly with this new way to eat, but with everything I was learning and seeing results come from this gluten free (GF) diet, I found myself going the next step in 2013 and trying no grains. Would 6 months of no grains really HEAL my 3 year old and me more? (As I still did not feel like our digestive systems were 100%.)
So I pegged Sept 8, 2013, (traditionally Our Lady’s birthday) to start eating the full paleo diet. The first two months were rough: What do we eat?! What do I feed my little one?! Where was my gluten free bread? However, improvements were realized in our health… and temperament!
Better digestion and more energy were the more obvious improvements. I had more energy throughout the day – even when I started the day with a 5:30am workout. More joint problems disappeared, especially some chronic back problems from decades ago. I had more clarity in my thinking (more on this later). Skin issues cleared up. For my 3 year old, her temper tantrums and irrational behavior lessened in frequency.
Getting through the holidays with paleo treats was a challenge I tackled head-on. With new blogs and recipes, I was bold. I dropped even the rice from our family dinners… dinner was now basically 1 meat, 2 vegetables, maybe 1 fruit. And no one was complaining of being hungry after dinner!
On the emotional side, I felt I was hitting the root of many physical problems, so in my interactions with family members, I felt an honesty to go to the root of relationship problems. There were many examples of this, but I’ll share one that many of you mothers may relate to… One troubling issue for me was feeling like a failure as a good mom. Why was I afraid of letting myself be vulnerable, especially with family? There was an ideal of mine that I had to be more clever than my kids. A tiny example of this was showing my college kids, both home for the summer, how clever and talented Mom was in the kitchen with this new paleo cooking. What ended up happening at the beginning of that summer was that Mom cut her fingers multiple times, the last one ending in the doctor’s office! As I meditated in prayer on how crazy it was that my index fingers were being mutilated in a short period of 2 weeks, it dawned on me that pride was beneath my actions. Jesus did not want this for me. Instead, love and care for my family should be the reasons behind my work in the kitchen. And, when I took a good long HONEST look, my children were growing into some smart young adults without demonstrating “cleverness” on my part.
So many falsehoods began to crumble in my relationships. What a feeling of FREEDOM if we allow this honesty!
Now in my honesty, I thought of the Blessed Mother. Many times in my life I thought how ‘hidden’ and behind the scenes Mary was throughout Jesus’ life. However, I looked again and realized she was actually oh-so-powerful in her son’s life. Beginning with her fiat, she allowed herself to be open and vulnerable all her life. She had to swallow and digest a lot of suffering in her lifetime. And Jesus thinks so highly of her! So highly that He wants her to be our mother too! He wants us to be her children too! Mary became my Mother, my role model again.
So the strict paleo diet was to run through Lent 2014 only. So by Easter we went back to GF grains – we hit the new GF bakery on Main St. and celebrated with a special GF Easter cake. We had other foods that were GF, but not grain free. We lasted all of about 3 weeks. I was sluggish, bloated, tired and foggy! My littlest one’s temperament was becoming more and more combative and irrational. Hmmm… I began to believe this paleo thing was really for keeps. I did NOT want to go back to that chaotic, reactive life I had had just 6 months before. I liked my new life of deliberate and proactive actions instead.
Sometime in the spring or early summer of 2014 I freely and honestly threw up a heartfelt prayer: I wanted nothing between me and Jesus. Remember those ads with Brooke Shields for Calvin Klein jeans? Well, this was similar. Show me how to do this, Lord. By August 15, I stumbled across a group at church consecrating themselves to Mary after mass. That had always been in my thoughts to do someday. It now came in very clear: I was going to do that 33 Days “thing”. I made a plan. I committed to a group that fall. At the same time, my friend Cynthia had recruited me to meet once a week for exercise and rosary. We started in August. It became clearer and clearer in our weekly meetings that the Blessed Mother was working on us. I pulled Cynthia into the 33 Days to Morning Glory group, and our conversations intensified about how God was working in our lives to be more disciplined. Each week we talked, it became clearer how God had me/us on this journey for a reason. He was leading us. I could NOT have added one extra thing onto my overwhelmed plate a few years back. And yet here I was planning and doing the things that not only helped me and my family, but now I was beginning to help others too. Folks were asking me about food, recipes, health, and more. Through the consecration to Mary, she enables the quickest, easiest, and most secure path to holiness. I could do lots of things that are good for me, good for my family. With Mary’s help, I see now that there is a difference between doing good things and doing better/best things. When I eat well, I not only feel well but I THINK well. Whereas before I could not even remember what I had to do on a given day, eating well allows my brain to function with clarity, the way God designed it. I can then better choose what is the best for my family’s path to sanctity .
So in this story of FOOD, there is FAITH. The path of discipline grows Faith. In my case, this discipline of food not only heals my physical interior, but also enables me to be stronger, freer, and clearer in my exterior so I can be the best version of myself for Christ’s discipleship here on earth.
And let me go a step farther… as mothers or parents, we are called to be the best role models for our children. So while you might not have a nursing child whose life depends on your food choices, you can bet that your choices impact your children’s life of Faith. As you practice your discipline, they benefit from your faith getting stronger, more honest, clearer. And even if they won’t change one thing about their “fast food life” at this point, they can’t help but see the changes in you!
This is my story… my new beginning. It continues day to day. As the Lord places ideas for how and what and when and where to serve your paleo kids, I will serve you on this blog.
Let us pray…
St. Anne and Blessed Mother Mary, as mothers, you fed and nourished your children so as to raise them up to fulfill our Heavenly Father’s plan for their lives. I ask for your intercession, as mothers, to perfect my prayer and help me as I prepare healthy meals for my family so as to honor God in our body, our mind and our soul.