Monday, August 13, 2012

Taste and See

In the beginning, when my illness was so severe, new and scary, it was difficult to decide which part of it was the most problematic. My allergies were frightening, and they could have ended my life at any time. My digestive system was traumatized to the point that I had difficulty drinking water. My fatigue was discouraging. The pain was depressing. Now that my symptoms have plateaued and I've had some time to process and deal with the fallout, I have decided what the worst part of my illness is not. The worst part is not my food limitations, which is weird because I have always REALLY loved food, and I am now super limited and am becoming more limited all the time.

These days, my entire menu is chicken, beef, venison, turkey, tilapia, tuna, grapeseed, canola or sunflower oil, eggs, greens, green beans, broccoli, cauliflower, avocados, asparagus, carrots, squashes, pears, rice, tea, honey, potatoes, and sweet potatoes . . . . all on careful rotation.That's it, and I still have phantom reactions. Salt is the only seasoning I can use without unpleasant consequences. (Thank you, GOD, for salt!)

I did not arrive at the conclusion that my life was not finished overnight. I have grieved with real shock, real guilt, real anger, real depression, and real tears over the loss of many, many foods I once enjoyed. It took awhile for me to become accustomed to cooking a meal every night, something I never imagined I would do, but I have gotten the hang of it. Brandon helps by cooking breakfast most mornings, and I occasionally assign him grilling duty. For lunch, I eat rice cereal or leftovers when I'm feeling frisky. I have eaten at a restaurant only once since May. I trust very few people with my life, so I rarely eat from other people's kitchens. Our social events aren't often centered around food anymore, but I have found that it isn't that bad. As would anyone, I sometimes sigh with longing for a favorite food--chocolate, peanut butter, bananas, goat milk, popcorn, pizza--but not long enough to make me unhappy . . . . not even when food is being passed around and praised and the pleasant scent of whatever is being served wafts in my direction. It has taken several months, but I have worked through my losses. I won't say that I "have arrived," but I have learned to accept and even embrace my food limitations.

This is not my work, but the work of GOD in me. Nothing in me wants to lay down my imagined right to eat what I want to eat. Nothing in me is able to look on contentedly with goodwill as people exclaim over foods I would very much like to eat. [Aside: No one is allowed to feel guilty. You hear me? NO ONE (Dad)! I do not begrudge anyone the enjoyment good food.] Nothing in me is able to be hungry and happy. And yet, by some miracle, it is happening. I'm cheerfully laying down my rights one by one, most of which truly are imagined. The pleasure others find in food brings me pleasure. I can feel hungry and smile anyway. I won't claim to be able to be hungry for long and still be able to smile. Ha! I'm no super saint! However, left to myself, I would be a bitter, jealous mess of a woman with whom no one would care to associate.

What's my secret? I'm so glad you asked because I've been dying to share! I'm feeding, just not on food . . . . in the traditional sense, that is. I'm satisfied and sustained, but my satisfaction and sustenance reach beyond physical implications. I'm experiencing pleasure, and it is a pleasure that surpasses the likes of chocolate molten lava cake, creamy pasta dishes, ice cold Coca-Cola, and even PIZZA.

You may recall the Timothy Keller quote I cited in my first post about my illness--"This is the real food I need--Christ's unconditional commitment to me." This quote has been on the chalkboard hanging in our kitchen since May 3rd. I see it every day, multiple times a day. It is a part of me now, and was the diving board that catapulted me into a deep pool, brimming with instruction and encouragement. The "deep pool" of which I speak is actually only one verse in the Bible--

"Taste and see that the Lord is good. Blessed is the man who trusts in Him."--Psalm 34:8

I have meditated on this verse for several weeks. As I have done so, the Lord has brought me to many scriptures, familiar and new, that have given me greater insight into what tasting and seeing means. These verses have also been instrumental in my healing and emancipation from my idolatry of food. Below, I have typed out my hand-written journal entry, which gives shape to my thoughts about food. I tremble a little to share something so personal so publicly, but it is my deepest wish to be able to encourage others with the same encouragement with which I have been encouraged. If you followed that last sentence, you will probably be able to follow my entry--

"Immediately after Jesus taught a crowd of disciples that He is the Bread of Life and that believers must eat His flesh, many disciples turned away because the lesson was difficult to understand and even harder to accept. Jesus then looked to the Twelve, and asked, "Do you also want to go away?" John 6:68-69 records Peter's passionate, heartfelt response, which seems to parallel the exhortation to "taste and see" in Psalm 34--"Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe [taste] and know [see] that You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God."

I hypothesize that Peter knew and loved Psalm 34 all of his life. He extensively references and quotes Psalm 34 in 1 Peter. The most obvious reference is one to verse 8--"as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good." (1 Peter 2:2-3) Sara is now nine months old, but as a newborn, she would screech until she was given food. She demanded food every hour on the hour. Girlfriend was hungry. That is the hunger I should cultivate for the word of God, which points to the Word of God.

I believe when Jesus was teaching us to pray that we would be given "our daily bread," He was not speaking of actual bread. (Matthew 6:11) I believe Jesus was instructing us to request and seek out the daily strength and sustenance of the soul. In the same sermon, Jesus teaches, "Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?" (Matthew 6:25) He goes on to say that the Father knows what we need. If He takes care of the sparrows, He will take care of His prized creation--mankind. I know that there is poverty in the world so severe that people starve to death and die in the elements. What about those people? That question causes me to believe that the bread spoken of in each passage isn't bread at all. I believe that Jesus is referring to Himself--the Real Bread, the Living Bread. I believe when He told us to pray, "Give us this day our daily bread," He was instructing us to seek our daily Sustenance in the Word--Jesus Christ.

My Bible cross-references Matthew 6:11 with a favorite passage from Job--

"He knows the way that I take; When He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold. My foot has held fast to His steps; I have kept His way and not turned aside. I have not departed from the commandment of His lips; I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food." (Job 28:8-12)

In Deuteronomy, Moses reminds Israel that God humbled them, allowed them to hunger, and fed them with manna "that He might make [them] know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord." (Deuteronomy 8:3) This lesson tastes familiar to me.

If we feed on the True Bread, we "are abundantly satisfied with the fullness of [His] house, and [He] gives [us] drink from the river of [His] pleasures." (Psalm 36:8) We are promised that "there is no want to those who fear Him. The young lions lack and suffer hunger; but those who seek the Lord shall not lack any good thing." (Psalm. 34:9-10) Jesus is the True Bread, the Bread of Life. He tells us, "Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you . . . ." (John 6:27) The Son of Man has given me Himself, and I need Him more than food. He is the True Manna. God the Father fed the Israelites with manna from Heaven, but Jesus is the fulfillment and embodiment of the symbol. By giving us Jesus, God the Father has fed the entire world (John 6:31-33) I am awed by the perfect beauty, clarity and symmetry in the Bible. All things point to Jesus Christ, the fulfillment of all things!

And Jesus says it Himself--"I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst," meaning that I can starve to death, but if I have Jesus, I have all I need. I have everything. (John 6:35) If I come to Him for sustenance, He will not cast me out. He will satisfy me. (John 6:37)

 Life and the enjoyment thereof does not lie in earthly pleasures, even pleasures so keen as coffee and dessert. The ultimate pleasure is the fullness of life that Jesus gives--the Bread of Life, Himself. When I am in doubt, I will "feed on His faithfulness." (Psalm 37:3) When I sigh with longing for chips and salsa, I will delight in the Living Bread, and He will grant the real desires of my heart. (Psalm 37:4) When my heart is set upon monster cookies, I will reset it upon the Word of God, which is no empty word for me, but my very life. (Deuteronomy 32:46-47) When I am ravenous and my stomach cannot tolerate food, I will remember that my Shepherd stands ready to feed me, keeping me from being "consumed with hunger." (Ezekiel 34:11-16, 29) He feeds the birds of the air and the beasts of the field. (Matthew 6:26; Psalm 136:25) He will certainly feed me--body and soul."

(End entry.)

The journey has been messy and difficult, and continues to be. The hunger and cravings don't go away. I don't always maintain the proper attitude, but Jesus, the True Bread, is my home base and resting place. In Him, I find my center. The True Bread does not kill me, but gives me life. The True Bread does not deprive me of oxygen, but gives me clean, fresh air to breathe. He does not upset my stomach, but gives me nourishment. He does not make me itch, but provides balm for my wounds.

You may not have the food restrictions I have. Nonetheless, I invite you to join me in the most satisfying feast in this life! Let us feast on Jesus! He is everything we need and more than we could ever dream! Once you get a real taste of this Bread, you will see that everything else in this life becomes bland and pales in comparison.

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