June, 2011 Archives

9
Jun

On Baking Bread, Part Two

by Birdie in Faith, Inspirations, Life, Musings

Read Part One

Yesterday I delved into what has been my idol for seven years, (food) and how God used my health in a profound way to give me a kick in the butt to be a better Christian and to free myself from the chains that food had so tightly wrapped around me. Today, I want to share a revelation that I had about God while baking bread.

I’m sure that sounds silly, that something as simple as baking bread can spark a revelation, but God has really opened my eyes lately to the way that everyday tasks can reflect His spirit and His desires for us as His children.

Baking gluten free is a whole different animal than baking with all-purpose wheat flour. There are many different ingredients that have to work together to do the same job as just that one flour. There are an abundance of GF flours and starches that, mixed in different ratios, produce different flavors, textures, and densities. When you’re just starting out, it takes a lot of extra thought. But as you become more familiar with the different components, it gets easier and it becomes second nature.

Therein lies lesson number two.

On Baking Gluten Free Bread and Finding God

Baking GF bread is a lot like being a Christian.

Okay, okay, that sounds ridiculous, but hear me out. I promise, I have a point, and it makes sense.

The Apron (or, Physical and Emotional Armor)

When we enter the kitchen with the intent of baking, we put on an apron. (Okay, I know, not everybody wears an apron, but you know what I’m getting at.) We use it to protect ourselves from splatters and the like, and personally, I don’t like to cook without one.

Likewise, as humans, we wake up in the morning and put on our armor to protect our delicate self-worth: clothes to hide our perceived imperfections, makeup to make us feel pretty, and a carefully constructed facade to keep everyone else from finding out that we aren’t perfect. We cannot leave the house unprotected, because we fear that we risk grave emotional injury.

As Christians, God is our armor. However, as an apron cannot hide a terrible cook, God does not hide our flaws. He uses them instead to help us make connections with others, and to glorify Him through reaching out to those who share our pain. He delights in our flaws and weaknesses, because they give us the freedom to seek Him and share our hearts with others. (For a better explanation of this, head on over to Rebecca Thornberry: Artist and read her blog entry, Hem and Haw. She makes more sense of this than I do. Go on. I’ll wait here. You can read the rest of this when you get back.)

The Dough (or, Our Skewed Self Perception)

Regular bread dough and GF dough look completely different. Regular bread dough has a silky texture that makes it easy to knead. Instead of having a strong structure, GF bread dough is more like a cake batter. It looks like this:

Pre-risen gf bread dough

Finished GF bread dough

If not for the sage advice of Shauna Ahern of Gluten Free Girl and the Chef, I would have added more GF flour to this dough in order to make it look more like wheat bread dough. The problem with that would be that it would have ruined the entire batch. This batch was perfect the way it was.

In the same way, we as humans try so hard to fit into the world, to look like everybody else, and to be just like those people we admire. But God, in His infinite patience, slowly pours into us until we can finally acknowledge that we are perfect as we are. He made us different for a reason. There is someone we must reach who we couldn’t reach if we were just like everybody else.

The Rising and Baking (or, Spiritual Support and Trial by Fire)

Gluten is what binds baked goods together. It keeps them from being overly crumbly and falling apart. This is exactly why cornbread is so crumbly: corn meal does not usually contain gluten, and most recipes do not have a high enough wheat flour content to make it more like wheat bread.

Risen gf bread dough

GF bread dough after rising.

So, GF recipes need other binders, like xanthan gum, ground chia seeds, or flax meal, to give them a consistency reminiscent of “real” bread. They allow for that springy, high-rising structure so that people with celiac or gluten sensitivities can enjoy baked goods without ending up in pain or with permanent health problems. Without those binders, GF bread won’t bake right. It will end up dry and crumbly, and not like bread at all.

Like GF bread dough, we as humans can’t fully support ourselves. We might find something that seems to give us structure and support, but in the end, if we don’t have God, we fall flat. We don’t develop right in the fires of the trials in our lives. We try so hard to find that one thing that will bind us and hold us up, but we put forth all that effort looking in all the wrong places. All we have to do is look up.

The Finished Product (or, Where We Are Going and How We Get There)

Throughout the entire process of baking a loaf of GF bread, you have to gather up everything you ever learned about baking with gluten flours and throw it out the window. This is a whole other animal, and you have to take the time to learn the ins and outs of it without any preconceived ideas, or you’ll end up with a bunch of wasted ingredients and a failed loaf of what barely passes for bread. (Trust me. This is what happened the first time I tried to bake my own GF bread.)

Punched down gf bread dough

GF bread dough after being punched down.

Of all the steps in GF bread making, the only one that resembles its gluten counterpart is the finished product. All the others look so completely different that it’s hard to imagine it’ll all pull together and form something bread-like instead of something cake-like. Even seeing this whole thing through from beginning to end, it’s hard to imagine how it all turned out right.

GF bread dough ready to bake

GF bread dough ready to bake.

As it is with GF bread, so it is with our lives. No one, in the midst of trials and tribulations, can imagine how their life is going to end up right. When you look around yourself and all you see is chaos and ruin, it’s almost impossible to imagine that it’ll end up right at all. It’s entirely too easy to fall into the trap of thinking that maybe where you are isn’t where you’re supposed to be, and that the pain and suffering you’re feeling have no purpose but to break you down a little further.

Finished loaf of GF bread.

Finished loaf of GF bread.

But God knows just how you’re going to end up, and He can see the entire process from beginning to end. He knows how we’re going to get from a sloppy ruin to a beautiful, finished life. All we need is to go where He sends us and have faith that He will steer us right, and that he won’t leave us in the fire too long.

My bread turned out just right. I know that with God by my side, my life will turn out just right, too.

Sliced gf bread

Sliced GF bread.

Right now, it takes a lot of extra thought to trust Him to get me where I need to go, but every day that goes by, it gets a little easier. I’m looking forward to the day when it really does become second nature.

8
Jun

On Baking Bread, Part One

by Birdie in Faith, Life, Musings, The Past

This last year has been a year of illness for me. I had my barely functioning gallbladder out in late February after living with terrible pain every day starting in August, and I had hoped that would solve the intestinal upset and other odd aches and pains that plagued me, too. Now, three months later, the pain from that organ is gone, but the almost daily intestinal pain, mouth sores, muscle and joint aches, and other unmentionable issues didn’t go away.

So, a few weeks ago, in a desperate bid to feel healthy again after close to a year of feeling sick, I started paying close attention to what I ate and what seemed to trigger those responses in my body. The culprit? Bread. Or, well, gluten to be precise.

Gluten is in wheat, barley, and rye. Wheat is in the majority of packaged food items on the market. So, just about everything out there contains gluten. This makes it very, very difficult to cut it out of your diet, especially when your family loves bread and pasta and they make up the staples in most meals.

Also, I love bread. And I love eating. Having to cut out gluten has made it hard for me to eat almost all of the things I love.

And, therein lies lesson number one.

Idols and Obsessions

Since about the middle of high school, when I really started to have serious issues with my depression and when I really started to pull away from God entirely, I started to eat. I no longer only ate when I was hungry or in need of energy, I ate all the time. I started to look at food like the panacea for all of my spiritual and emotional wounds. If I was stressed, I ate. If I was sad, I ate. If I was angry, I ate. If I was hurt or scared or lonely or overwhelmed or feeling directionless, I ate. And if I was happy, I ate, too.

When I left for college, that didn’t change. I had already made the damaging habits, and I was caught in a vicious cycle that I didn’t know how to break: happy, eat; depressed, eat; social events, eat; alone, eat. Eat, eat, eat. Even when I found my way back into the fold of the church and started to live out the faith I had always wanted, I ate. Food drove me. I thought about it all the time, and I was damaging myself as a result.

I gained a disgusting amount of weight. I hated the way I looked, and I was totally appalled at my inability to care enough to change. My life revolved around food.

It has taken a developing gluten sensitivity to realize that food has been my idol for seven years. Food has been the center of my life when only God is deserving of such a place. So, He gave me the choice to make room for Him.

I don’t look at this as punishment, not at all. God wants His children to be healthy and happy, and my love of food was destroying any and all chances I had of that. I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror. I wanted to shower with my eyes closed. I wanted nothing to do with my body. And, my weight was extremely unhealthy.

I feel that God has broken the bonds that my food obsession had on me, and in doing so, He has put before me the opportunity to become healthy again, to eat better and to develop a much healthier relationship with my food. Food sustains my body, and it’s okay to take some small pleasure in it. But if food is the center of my universe, my spirit and my soul waste away. I need food to survive, but I need God at the center of my life to live.

In just the few short weeks since I cut gluten out of my diet, I feel healthier. I’m eating better, and I’m eating more fruits and vegetables and lean meats. I’ve been forced to cut 90% of the junk food out of my diet because it contains gluten, and so I have started to lose some of this extra weight. And finally, God is where he belongs: right smack-dab in the middle of my heart.

Read Part Two.

A quick aside: I want to be clear that I’m advocating a healthy relationship with food here, not getting rid of it entirely. I tried to make that clear, but I feel like I might need this aside just in case. I am also not advocating a gluten free diet as a way to lose weight. It is a serious undertaking, and while I know there are current fads that say that everyone should cut out gluten and that it’s a good way to lose weight, that isn’t what I’m saying here. I am gluten free because, in order to be healthy, I need to be. My weight loss only has anything to do with cutting out gluten because I can’t afford all of the GF junk foods they sell, and because it’s given me a new awareness of what is in the food I put in my body as well as a new awareness of how much I need to eat to be satisfied and not over full.

5
Jun

Movement

by Birdie in Faith, Inspirations, Life, Loves, Raw, The Past

It has taken all of my courage to write this, and even more to post it here for all to see. It’s long, but it is my heart. It’s time that I share it.

When I first began Suburban Bird and laid the framework for Suburban Bird Studios, I could feel God beginning to move in my life. I wasn’t sure in which direction or to what end, but I could feel Him guiding my path and urging me on in the right direction with those soft nudges like He always does. There were many times that I wanted to write about it, and share it with all of you, but I just couldn’t make myself do it.

When I wrote my first few entries here, and began to consider where I was going to take my business and how this blog was going to fit in with it, I warred with myself on whether or not I would share my faith here. I didn’t want to alienate anyone, or put someone off, or offend people. Quite frankly, I was only thinking of myself and what would be best for me. I wanted to hook and keep as many readers as possible, regardless of creed, and I was afraid to say anything about God or my relationship with Him for fear that I might scare off some of those potential readers.

How absolutely silly of me.

The fact of the matter is, God is as much a part of Suburban Bird as I am. I would not be here were it not for Him, nor would I have embarked on this adventure without His gentle encouragement. He put the desire on my heart to grow in the gifts He gave me, and to do so here where I might find accountability and support that I might not find elsewhere. And in those most formative weeks for this blog, He led me straight to those people who would unknowingly encourage me that it is perfectly appropriate to share one’s faith, and that I need not fear that the readers would not come because of it.

I really must give credit to the women who, simply through their blogs and their wonderful creativity, encouraged me to share what I’m sharing today: Lindsay of Aisle to Aloha; Laura of Along For The Ride; Rebecca of Rebecca Thornberry, Artist; and Jo Annie of Em Jay and Me. I doubt that any of them know that I exist, or that their words and their vulnerability to complete strangers have affected me as much as they have, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that, through some impressive link-hopping that I can no longer retrace, I stumbled upon these blogs and these amazing women who have impressed upon me the importance of being real. Because nobody likes people who are fake.

Which brings me to the point of this entry: I am not okay.

I’m slightly more okay than I was two nights ago (or, rather, three when this entry goes live) when I hit a very low point, and as I write this, I’m slightly more okay than I was even this morning. Things are getting better, little by little, and for that, I have to give credit where credit is due.

I am, by nature, a rather introverted person. I like my space, and I often enjoy my solitude. The problem I have run up against as I’ve gotten older and moved around from place to place is that, when I hit a low point for one reason or another, I’ve gotten far too good at distancing myself from others and pretending that I’m okay. This has left me very alone and very lonely, but I’m so good at faking it that nobody notices. I’ve also shifted away from God and have stopped looking to Him for help and instead looking inside myself for help that I’m not capable of providing. I am inadequate, and I am a disaster. I think I put it best on Twitter the other night: I am a ruin.

And too often, I have blamed God. I have abandoned Him, pushed Him aside, and cursed Him for all the things that have gone wrong in my life. I have raged at Him for the mistakes that I have made, and I have harbored bitterness towards Him for not speaking to my heart what my purpose is. I have been directionless for so long, and as my friends have slowly come into their own and have discovered God’s plans, at least short-term, for their lives, I have hated Him for not giving me the same.

But still He is faithful. When I stray too far, He gently reels me back in and reminds me that, even if I can’t see it or feel it, He knows what He’s doing. And every time I doubt His plan, He uncovers a little bit of what and whom He has purposely placed in my path and in my life. And there is nothing more powerful than that.

Two nights ago, I had one of those moments, and I cannot possibly even begin to communicate the difference it has made in just this little time.

Years ago, I can’t recall exactly how long now, I was wandering Facebook and came across a post on the wall of one of my groups that said something along the lines of, “I really just need someone to talk to, someone who will listen,” and listed an AIM screen name. I didn’t know this girl from Eve, and I didn’t know what I could possibly offer to her other than an understanding ear, so to speak, but I opened up my chat client and sent her a message that was probably something like, “If you still need to talk, I’m here to listen.” And it sounds lame to even type it, but that day, my life really did change forever.

That girl was my Bethie. You can find her over at Flicker of a Flame. We were both so different then, but we connected in a way that I had never really connected with anyone else. Between us, there was never anything hidden. From the very beginning, we bore each other’s scars to ease the pain, and let each other say anything that needed to be said, even if we couldn’t even imagine saying it to anyone else.

Over the years, we’ve both grown and matured, both personally and in our faith. And through that time, we’ve grown closer and closer. There have been times when we haven’t spoken for months at a time, but each conversation, on the phone or online, we’ve always picked back up right where we left off. We drifted apart a year and a half ago, but on May 20th of last year, I got an email from halfway across the world that, for the second time, changed my life forever.

It was unexpected to say the least, to wake up that morning and find an email from Bethie, who was in Mongolia at the time, but when I got to this part, I knew that it was exactly what I needed right at that moment:

I sat down on my bunk this afternoon with a piece of scratch paper and began to list the names of people with whom I would like to be friends forever.  Not of the Michael W. Smith corny persuasion or even the Vitamin C nice-for-graduation-but-actually-means-nothing-and-doesn’t-last persuasion, but the oh-my-gosh-I-can’t-imagine-my-life-without-these-people persuasion.  And, Carly, I thought of you.  I thought of you, and I almost cried.

And that was when I started to cry. The email went on:

Regardless of the time we’ve been out of touch and even the weirdness after Christmas, I feel like we have an intimate connection…and I’m not willing to allow that to float off onto the distant shores of nostalgia.  I want to know you, Carly.  I want you to be a part of my life, because you have already been more of a blessing than I can express.  It’s nothing that you’ve done or said, but everything about who you are and how we relate to one another.

That was so profound to me, to know that I didn’t have to do anything or say anything in particular to be loved, but just by being myself and being who God made me was enough. And even sitting here right now, fighting tears of joy, (my dad is in the other room and I don’t want to worry him) I’m making a connection and understanding a point that God was trying to bring home to me that I just couldn’t comprehend until this particular moment in time: being me is enough for Him, too. There isn’t anything I can do or say that will make Him love me; all I have to do is be me.

God works in such little, intricate ways that lay such strong foundations for the future. Every day, every word, everything that happens has a purpose, and it is so amazing when He peels back the layers and lets me see how He has planned things down to a T so that I end up where He needs me to end up.

But back to my story. After that email, and a whole slew of replies, Bethie and I grew even closer to the point that, even still, we insist that we are the same person. (Even all of the nicknames we have given each other sound similar and start with the same letter: Elphie and Ephie, Quails and Quaillykins, Birdie and Bethie…) And this woman who I have never physically met became my best friend. It just took me a while to realize it.

Two nights ago, I finally did. It was late, and I found myself sunk so deep into a hole of depression that I couldn’t see a way out, but I didn’t think anyone was awake to help me through it. Out of desperation, I sent Bethie a text that said, “Are you there? I need you.” And within the hour, she was there. She listened without judgment to everything I had to say, and said all of the things that I needed to hear but wouldn’t have taken to heart from anyone else. And she wouldn’t let me hide. (Even though I’m far too good at it for my own good.) And I’ve never had to hide with her. She’s the only person I’ve ever really had that with.

As I sit here now, writing this and reflecting on that almost three-hour conversation, God is revealing more and more of Himself to me through her. She loves me unconditionally, and she knows me inside and out. She draws me closer to God every time we talk, and even just one word from her can wipe away all of my loneliness. She is truly God’s hands in my life, and I can see in her a reflection of Him that I have longed to see for so long: that He is the dearest friend I will ever have, He loves me no matter what I do or how far apart we are, and all He requires is that I love Him in return.

I reiterate: there is nothing more profound and more powerful than that revelation.

So, this moment in time, these words that, for the last hour and a half have been pouring from my heart through my fingers, is a culmination of a thousand tiny moments, a hundred words exchanged, and one very, very dear friend. Bethie, there are so many things that I want to thank you for, but I can’t put them into words. But even more than that, I am thanking God that He knew better than I did how much I would need you. You reached out for help, and instead, ended up helping me. Isn’t it amazing how God works?

I may not be entirely okay just yet, but even now I am more okay than I was when I began this entry.

This is exactly why I warred so long and hard with myself over whether or not to be so open about my faith here. And this is exactly why God won that battle. He is moving in my life, and even though I still don’t know in which direction or to what end, I do know that it is a journey that I was always meant to share, and this is the platform I was meant to use.

My adventure is just beginning, and I am finally ready to embrace God’s plan for me and accept that He will always set my feet on the right path. All I have to do is trust that every pothole and unexpected ditch I’ll fall into along the way has a purpose, and He will always send just the right person to pull me out.

4
Jun

Birdie’s Etsy Wish List

by Birdie in Etsy, Loves, Random

I am a firm believer that Etsy should invest in adding an “add to wish list” option below their little “favorite” heart. I add a lot of things to my favorites: things I want to find again; things I would, if I had the money, love to purchase; things that inspire me; things that make me laugh; and things that are just so beautiful that I want to be able to find them to look at them over and over.

But, things get lost in those myriad favorite listings, and there’s no easy way to show people things that I want for birthdays or Christmas or other gift-giving occasions. At the very least, I think that Etsy’s favorite listings should be able to be categorized.

Maybe I’m the only one, or maybe it’s something that Etsy just doesn’t see the value in investing in. Either way, I’m determined to make my own Etsy wish list, as much for my reference as for my friends and family. So, without further ado, check it out. There isn’t a whole lot on it at the moment, but there it is. :)