Accessible Church, Accessible Sunday School, Autism, Blind, Christian, Invisible Illness, Learning Disability, Physical Impairment, Uncategorized, Visual impairment

Icons for Christians with Visual Impairments

The Orthodox Church has a rich language of images that teach us about the Incarnate God with us in Christ. But what do you do if you want to teach the language of holy images to people who are blind or have visual impairments?

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This is an icon of the Theotokos with Jesus that Catholics call Our Lady of Perpetual Help. I recently ordered this icon from the Woodenicons Etsy shop.

One option for people who cannot see at all or who have severe limits in vision is to order carved icons. Several iconographers have translated holy icons into carvings such that the patterns can be felt with the fingers. There might be local options where you are, but I have had success ordering from Etsy. Three (not-affiliated) Etsy stores that sell carved icons and have good reviews at the time of publication are the Woodenicons shop, the Nauticalchandelier shop, and the TarasovAndFamily shop. 

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These icon drawings of Christ and His Mother at the Deposition, the Hospitality of Abraham (Holy Trinity), and the Platytera (Mary Mother of God, Wider than the Heavens) are printed on yellow or bright green cardstock from the “Raster” files from the Orthodox Illustration Project.

Another option for people with limited vision is to print icon outlines in black ink on high contrast paper, such as neon green, neon pink, or bright yellow. The Orthodox Illustration Project by the Orthodox Arts Journal is a wonderful resource for high quality icon drawings that are free to use for non-commercial purposes. These high contrast images also work well for people who are colorblind. 

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If you don’t have money to purchase a carved icon, you can also print out one of the icon line drawings and trace over the lines with glue or puff paint. When it dries, you have a touchable icon outline that people can access without being able to see. This works better for simpler icons such as close-ups of faces. If you try this method, allot two days for drying time in case the paint or glue shrinks and you have to do touch ups after the first day.

 

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Does your church have a teaching ministry that brings the language of icons to people with visual impairments? Tell us about it in the comments.

Christian, Invisible Illness, Orthodox Church, Patron Saints, Uncategorized

Guest Post: St. Ksenia

Every time I talk with another Orthodox Christian who has lived with an extreme health concern, I wind up discovering that a saint seems to step forward to help the person through the struggle. I’ve already written a summary post of some of the Patron Saints of AutismThis is the first in an ongoing, occasional series of real-life stories of saints that were there when they were needed.

Please welcome my friend Ksenia Paraskeva Ross as she shares the story of how she came to know today’s saint, St. Ksenia of St. Petersburg (whose feast it is on the New Calendar).

***

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In 2015 I was pregnant with my tiny little straggler, five years younger than sister #3. I had never really dared to hope for her, since we came so close to losing Anastasia in 2010 to severe alloimmune hemolysis. (This is the thing they try to prevent with the Rhogam shot given to Rh- women whose husbands are Rh+. In my case, I got the shot after my oldest daughter was born, but we both had bled too much and the dose was insufficient so I was sensitized nonetheless. Long story short, all future pregnancies would be increasingly risky and unlikely to succeed.) I had also become suddenly and severely ill with preeclampsia, necessitating Annie’s early birth at 33 weeks, and a long and fraught hospital stay.

Things were going surprisingly well that summer, as I neared the end of the first trimester. I was established with a Maternal Fetal Medicine specialist at OHSU who was optimistic about our prospects and reassuringly cocky about his medical and surgical skills. However I remembered too much to be at ease, and I knew too much to expect things would stay smooth. I found myself looking to a future that would, optimistically, include a lot of time in the hospital getting risky but life-saving in-utero blood transfusions to get the baby to term. I started collecting things to take with me. A blanket, a book, that sort of thing, to arm myself. I wanted a little folding icon–we were Byzantine Catholics, at the time–and in searching for one I found a diptych on Amazon of two Russian female saints that I was not familiar with. Nonetheless I found it fascinating. I bought it, and put it on my desk. Eyeless Matrona of Moscow and intensely staring Ksenia of St. Petersburg looked out at me with their hands raised both in blessing and in warning.

My name was not Ksenia, then. I suppose I should have started with that.

I didn’t know she was considered a sort of patroness of women, or anything like that. I felt sort of sheepish even having the icons. Who were these people to me, anyhow? But I liked them, I felt I needed them.

About a week after the diptych arrived, everything started to fall apart. I hemorrhaged badly, and while the baby survived, her little protective sac had ripped away a little bit, and she was not given good odds of getting much farther. Then they did the first scan to check for anemia from alloimmune hemolysis and found that at only 16 weeks she was already gravely ill and anemic, and needed a blood transfusion to save her life. Well, they can do that now. Only one problem–putting the life-saving transfusion needle through her damaged sac would almost certainly kill her instead of save her. I was sent home to decide in which manner I would like to expect her to die.

I don’t remember much of that week. But at some point my doctor and I both stumbled upon the same paper on MedLine and he called me just as I was about to call him. There is a treatment called IVIG, intravenous immunoglobulin, that can sometimes block the maternal antibodies that attack the fetal blood cells, allowing the baby to generate enough new blood to recover without a transfusion, or at least to postpone the transfusion a few more weeks. I was admitted to the hospital to try this treatment. I can’t even describe the agony–it’s pretty brutal to anyone but the nurse messed up and accelerated my infusion to twice the speed it was meant to be. I had aseptic meningitis from it, the most ungodly intense pain I have ever felt. I would black out from the pain just trying to lift my head in bed.

And then I got another treatment the next day.

And then there was a scan, which showed it might be working.

So I went back the next week. And the week after that. And so on, for four months. For 22 successful IV placements (and more than twice as many failures) and a weekly dose of benedryl and the feeling of incipient flu and migraine. But it kept working. It worked better than anyone had ever seen it work before. And she went from being expected to die within a week, to being expected to be born healthy at term. Oh yes at great cost–every Sunday my family would head to liturgy at the Byzantine Catholic church, and I would head to the infusion center in NW Portland and hope that a vein would hold for the full 6 hours. But it worked, and that’s all I cared about, of course.

And then I got sick again. A few days before Christmas I woke up feeling like I could barely breathe, with a pounding headache and a sense that death was upon me. My blood pressure was 179/105, flat on my back. I was sent to the hospital and kept begging the nurses to put me in a room with a window that opened. I could feel death sitting on my chest, choking me out.

But my baby was born that afternoon, pink and healthy, though very small. Perfect and soft faced and strong, with a loud, beautiful cry. And while she had to live there at OHSU for a couple of weeks, and get some fresh blood and strong lights, she thrived. She was never really in peril after her birth, as poor Annie had been. I had taken the blows for her, and thank God for that.

I was grateful but relief is not forthcoming after having so many close shaves. You never know, anymore, when the next one is coming. I could not go back to my old ways. I had been fundamentally changed. And then I saw her again.

It was a painting this time, not a traditional icon. Old and wrinkled, tired and worn, she looked out from a snowy landscape and saw what I had seen. I couldn’t stop thinking of her. I sought out other pictures. Here, she curls up and sleeps in a graveyard. This made sense to me. “To God, all are living”–and she, somehow, must have seen this. She must have been there and touched these things as well. I read of her life. She had loved, she had been a wife, surely she had expected to be a mother, and then it all shattered in her hands. And she couldn’t just go back, after she learned what she learned, she had to always, then, be on the outside of things, be to the side, weeping, staring, saying the wrong thing or the thing that was just too right. I was crushed with depression and still so weak and ill, depleted, I could hardly drag myself across the room. She reached out and produced a cane, identical to hers, and handed it to me.

And I took her name. A lot of people thought I was outright crazy, or consumed by some kind of odd nostalgic Russomania. I took it not even knowing that I would become Orthodox. I took it even though it made, in a lot of ways, absolutely no sense at all to take it. I couldn’t tell anyone why except, weakly, that xenos means foreigner and I like the ks sound. I took it knowing, quietly, to myself, that it was going to take me somewhere I needed to go.

And then she took me by the elbow and we set off on the next part of the pilgrimage.

Accessible Church, Invisible Illness, Spoonies, Theological Reflection, Uncategorized

To Give All You Have: Virtue for Spoonies

they give all they have_ virtue for spoonies

When you think of virtue and disability, you probably think of videos of able-bodied people acting kindly towards people with disabilities. We don’t usually tell the stories of persons with disabilities practicing virtues. But they do.

There’s a community of people living with disabilities called Spoonies, so called because they relate to the idea that people with disabilities have fewer negotiable resources in a given day. [Read the Spoon Theory here.] I’d like you to think about Spoonies as Jesus might see them.

There’s a story in the Gospels of Jesus watching the people give offerings at the Temple. Some rich people were coming forward with ostentatious riches to offer. But Jesus noticed a widow woman who put only two mites into the offering. What did he say about her? Her offering was greater than all of the others, because she out of her poverty gave all she had. It’s the same with Spoonie Christians.

This is not to say that able-bodied Christians lack gifts to give. Of course they have plenty to give! But we need to make sure not to ignore the offering of everything that many Spoonies make in order to simply show up at church.

Don’t get me wrong. People with disabilities are often profoundly talented, and all are gifted with graces from God. But when you look at the offerings they make in terms of Spoons, they give all they have.

This is good for abled Christians to consider. When your church members with autistic children show up to church, they are giving all they have. When your church member with debilitating arthritis shows up to church, she’s giving all she has. That man with a vision impairment is giving all he has. That child with gene deletions who cries through the service is giving all he has. These are offerings acceptable to the Lord.

Don’t turn them away.

calendar concerns, Celiac, Chrohn's, Feast Day, food allergies, Uncategorized

Gluten-Free Vasilopita From GF Bread Mix

It’s St. Basil’s day here on the New Calendar, and thus begins the month of sharing Vasilopita with friends and family. Unless you’re allergic, in which case you will never, ever get the coin. *sad trombone music*

It’s blurry because of your tears.

Cheer up! Always Lent has your back. Today I’m sharing two Vasilopita recipes that you might be able to adapt for your allergy needs. (And if not, comment your restrictions. The team will try to find a recipe for you that works.) First up, bread Vasilopita.

There are two basic types of Vasilopita (Basil bread/cake) recipes: the cake version, and the bread version. Bread versions are similar in texture to a spiced brioche, and gluteny recipes run the gamut in complexity. If you’re gluten-free, you know that bread is tricky to make.

Enter the Glutino Favorite Sandwich Bread* mix and the King Arthur Gluten Free Bread & Pizza Crust Mix*. I spent a few hours this week testing and adapting these mixes into Vasilopitas. They both turned out great!

 

Most of the ingredients for egg free Vasilopita.

First up, the Glutino Favorite Sandwich Bread Mix, eggless version:

Because I have five children, I sometimes get distracted in the kitchen. On Friday, this happened in the best possible way. Short version of the story: I forgot to add the sugar and three eggs, and the recipe still came out well. It was a little dry, but you could serve it with a glaze on top. It was a good tea bread even without sugar.

Long version of the story: My son Basil who has autism has only recently started speaking in one and sometimes two-word sentences, after 8 months of early intervention. He walked up to me when I turned on my stand mixer with the bread hook to beat this dough. I lifted him and told him I was making Vasilopita. I started to walk away, when he pointed (! big deal for a child with autism!) and asked, “What is that thing?” (!!!) I took him to the mixer and said, “Mixer.” He repeated, “Mixer. Round and round,” while making a circular hand gesture (!!!!). Yes, the long version of the story is a miracle tale about the intercession of St. Basil for his little one when I started making Vasilopita. So, yes, this is kinda miraculous bread. 

This is the Vasilopita without eggs.

Here’s what I recommend to turn either of these bread mixes into Vasilopita:

  • Preheat oven according to the recipe for baking a regular 9″x5″ loaf.
  • Add to dry mix ~2 teaspoons mahleb, or to taste
  • Add to dry mix 1-1.5 teaspoons crushed mastic resin (the kind for cooking, not chewing gum)
  • Optional: add 1 teaspoon of almond extract or vanilla extract.
  • Add 5 tablespoons of a sugar of your choice (such as raw cane sugar or coconut sugar –NOT stevia/artificial sweeteners)
  • Grease a 9″ round cake pan well and line the bottom with parchment if you’d prefer (it comes out of the pan fine without the parchment, though)
  • After all ingredients are combined, mix in a stand mixer with dough hook for 3-5 minutes.
  • Add a coin that has been wrapped in aluminum foil, and stir it so you don’t know where it is in the dough.
  • Turn dough into pan and smooth it with a spoon. Spray top of dough with coconut oil or brush with butter/oil.
  • Leave it to rise in a warm spot for 40 minutes. (I leave mine on top of my preheating oven, because my kitchen is cold in the winter otherwise.) The dough is too spread out to rise much, due to the lack of gluten. Let it be and ignore the descriptions on the box.
  • Do not beat down dough! You don’t want to lose any loft that it has acquired.
  • Place in the preheated oven and bake according to package instructions for the regular loaf size.
  • The Vasilopita will rise to a nice dome in the oven, though it seems not to rise much beforehand.
  • Optional: sprinkle with powdered sugar, and write the year on the top with almonds or sunflower seeds.

I know for sure that the Glutino mix works with or without the eggs, provided you beat the dough a little longer to activate the gums in the mix. I have not tested the King Arthur mix without the eggs, but they were almost identical in ingredients and instructions. The recipes can also be made dairy free by following instructions on the package. I tested the recipes with milk and butter.

If you do not have mahleb or mastika, substitute: 1/4 teaspoon cardamom, 2 teaspoons vanilla extract, 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger. If you are not allergic to nuts, the closest taste to mahleb is 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract and 1 teaspoon of almond extract. I like cardamom, so I add it on top of the traditional spices as well.

 

I tried baking the date on with sunflower seeds, but I wound up covering it later. Best to decorate after baking.

This is a BASIC recipe. Lots of people enjoy spicing their Vasilopita a bit more, with orange peel, cinnamon, more almond extract, and so on. The final result is like the dry part of a cinnamon roll (if you can remember what those were like). I like to make a simple glaze of 1 cup powdered sugar, 2 tablespoons maple syrup, and a little (1-2 tablespoons) boiling water from my tea kettle, and pour it over the top to harden before the powdered sugar. It makes the overall effect a little sweeter for the children, and it turns the bread into more of a coffee cake for our teatime.

I did NOT get the coin. This is the version with eggs and a maple glaze.

If you need more protein in your bread but you can’t eat nuts (the cake recipe I’m posting next is almond based), another option is to add an additional egg, a few tablespoons ground flax seeds, peanut butter powder (allergy-dependent), a few tablespoons poppy seeds, or a few tablespoons of pre-soaked chia seeds (allergy-dependent, and will be visible). OR if you can eat eggs, turn your slice into French toast.

The Second Recipe is for a Cake Version of Gluten Free Vasilopita. You can find it HERE on my other blog, Tea & Crumples.

Joyous Feast!

*The links to the bread mixes on Amazon are Affiliate links. If you shop through them, I will receive a small commission, though the prices will be the same for you. I use any Affiliate income to pay for the cost of blog space so it doesn’t have to come out of my family’s budget.*

always lent, Fasting, Invisible Illness, Mental Illness, Uncategorized

A Lot Like Love: Mental Illness and Fasting

Today’s guest post comes to us from a mother called Barbara who prefers not to share her personal information for privacy’s sake. She shares her story here in hopes of encouraging other families who face a very different sort of fasting season.

***

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It was in the late winter of Sarah’s junior year in college when she told me that she needed to come home. She was very sick, she said. She had lost too much weight. She thought maybe she had anorexia. She wasn’t sure. She was only sure that she wasn’t going to survive if she stayed at school.

When she got home, I was shocked at the way she looked. Gaunt doesn’t even begin to describe it. Sarah had always been thin. She was an athlete. But when she came home, she wasn’t just thin. Her muscles were gone. She had no fat anywhere on her body. Just skin pulled tight over her bones.

And she knew that she looked like someone who was dying. She thought that, perhaps, she was dying. But she didn’t want to die. So we found a therapist and a physician who specialized in working with young women with eating disorders.

The therapist said that, even though Sarah met the clinical criteria for anorexia nervosa, she didn’t think that’s what was causing the disordered eating. Instead, she had obsessive compulsive disorder. Her mind had created ever more elaborate rules about what she could eat, and when, and under what circumstances. And if she couldn’t eat “right,” then she couldn’t eat.

That was good news; the therapist treated someone with an OCD-related eating disorder once or twice a year. The odds of a complete recovery were much better. But there were no hospital-based programs that were appropriate for someone like her. And she was in such dire shape that a hospital might have been the best place for her. There, if her heart or her liver failed, she’d be exactly where she needed to be for emergency intervention. But Sarah would have to fight this thing as an outpatient, living at home.

When treatment began, the OCD controlled everything she put in her mouth. To survive, she had to wrest control back from the disorder. She had to be in charge of what she ate, and when. She had to fight the rules that OCD had created, and she had to win, if she was going to survive.

And her therapist and her physician were both very clear: she might not survive.

She had to eat enough calories every day to keep her brain working and keep her body from shutting down. Even if she survived, she was already at risk of permanent organ damage. Her body had already broken down all of her fat and most of her muscles. Her heartbeat was irregular. Her skin was dry. She was growing a downy fuzz over her body. She was cold all the time. She couldn’t stay warm; staying warm requires calories, and there weren’t enough calories available to keep her warm. She was easily confused, because thinking requires calories, and there weren’t enough calories available for her to think.

She saw her physician every week, and her therapist two or three times a week. And most nights, after she had gone to bed, after I was sure she was asleep, I checked on her to make sure she was still breathing. I had to be sure she was still alive.

Over the first few weeks of therapy, it became clear that my Sarah’s OCD had taken her regular Wednesday and Friday fasts, and the patterns for healthy eating that she tried to follow, and had twisted them all into something ugly and dangerous.

If she was going to survive, her therapist emphasized, she had to control what she ate. She had to starve the rules the OCD had created. She had to weaken them, fight them, destroy them before they destroyed her.

At some point during that conversation, I broke down in tears. I told her that I had to keep my child alive. She responded bluntly: “That’s not your job any more.” It was Sarah’s job. It was Sarah’s fight. Nobody could do it for her.

And if I tried to fight the rules for her, it would make the recovery longer and harder.

“But she might die,” I said.

“Yes. She might.” But if she was going to survive, Sarah had to win.

That didn’t mean that there was nothing that Sarah’s father and I could do. In fact, there was one thing we had to do. We had to avoid giving aid and comfort to the enemy. We had to avoid feeding the rules, too.

That meant that our house had to be free of rules related to food. Until she defeated the rules, there could be no breakfast foods at our house, and no dinner foods. There was just food. We couldn’t suggest that tomato sauce would go well with pasta, or that curry should be served with rice. We could eat it that way, if we wanted to. But not because it was supposed to be that way. There was no supposed to. There was no should.

And there was no fasting.

The physician and the therapist both told us that fasting would endanger her life. Not just her fasting. Our fasting, too. Because our fasting would feed the OCD rules that were binding her.

We had to starve the rules. So we didn’t fast.

On Wednesdays and Fridays, that wasn’t so hard. But Great Lent was approaching quickly.

We talked to our priest, told him what Sarah’s care team had told us. We told him that our fast that year was apparently to eat without rules. To eat without regard for the day or the time. To eat in a way that would save our daughter’s life.

I can’t say for sure that our priest understood. I honestly don’t remember that conversation now. I know we had it. But memory is a funny thing, when your child is mortally ill. There are some memories that are crystallized, frozen in time, and you can go back and replay them over and over, in excruciating detail. You can see the colors, the play of light and shadows in the room, hear the sounds around you. And some memories seem to vanish in the mist.

But the long and the short of that conversation was that, whether he understood or not, we had a blessing to do what we had to do for Sarah.

And that was the most difficult fast I have ever experienced. If you think that giving up meat for Lent is hard, you’ve never been told you have to eat meat to keep your child alive.

Sarah saw her physician at least once a week, and her therapist twice. At first, she wasn’t allowed to drive, because of the risk of fainting or seizures from starvation. My employer granted me a flexible schedule for the duration, and I drove her to appointments three or four days a week.

And I said nothing, not a word, about what she ate or didn’t ate, or when. My husband and I had odd meals at odd times. We snacked when we got home from work. We had a late supper of bacon and eggs. We made grilled cheese sandwiches for breakfast.

And Sarah could eat with us, or not. It was up to her.

Sometimes she would scream at us, ear-shattering, heart-rending screams, because we weren’t following her rules. Sometimes she would tell us that we were trying to kill her, because if we didn’t follow her rules, she wouldn’t be able to eat, and if she didn’t eat, she would die.

The rules knew. The rules understood that, by ignoring them, we were making them weaker. And they fought. Oh, how they fought.

And sometimes, I would lay in my husband’s arms at night, and cry.

But Sarah stopped losing weight. And by Pascha, she had gained a few ounces.

She was learning how to feed herself again.

And I was learning, too. I was learning that sometimes the fast we’re called to doesn’t have anything to do with what we eat or don’t eat. In Isaiah 58, we hear this:

Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?

That year, my husband and I chose a fast that would break the yoke that bound our daughter. We chose a fast that would help free her from oppression. We chose a fast that didn’t look much like fasting.

But it was a fast that looked a lot like love.

always lent, Auto-immunity, calendar concerns, Chronic Illness, Fasting, food allergies, Invisible Illness, Spoonies, Uncategorized

Guest Post: Alana’s Fast

always-lent

What does a fasting season menu look like for people with food allergies? We all have different needs, but from time to time, we will share what works for some of us. May these posts encourage you in your journey and to give glory to God in all things!

Today’s post is from Alana Sheldahl, who shared her soup recipe with us earlier this week. You can find Alana at her blog, Morning Coffee.

***

My Lent with Food Allergies and Health Problems

Man does not live by bread alone…”–Jesus Christ, spoken in rebuke to Satan who was attempting to tempt him to passion.

I am not a well person, and when I am feeling well or doing well, it is in part because I am taking very very VERY careful care of my nutrition.  I have multiple food allergies, fibromyalgia and autoimmune thyroid disease and reactive hypoglycemia.  These conditions are being treated and managed and part of that treatment is through nutrition. In addition to all of this, I am in recovery for disordered eating.  As such, traditional Orthodox fasting has, in the past, put me in a place of greater ill health, and has gotten me in trouble with compulsive over-eating as well:  All my binge foods are lenten!

I realize that anything I share is not going to universally apply to ANYONE else, unless you also happen to be allergic to dairy, peanuts, tree nuts, sunflower seeds, shrimp and chocolate, or must be gluten free for health reasons (doctor’s orders!), or you ALSO must avoid all sugars and baked goods for health and eating disorder purposes.  But with such a long list of food restrictions, I hope I have some relevant things to share with others and hopefully some encouragement to offer those in similar circumstances along the way.


Let me start by sharing how I fast.  Since I am ‘always fasting’, I do modify my fast that goes with the Church calendar.

There are other health issues in our family (young adult people with autism spectrum issues, hypoglycemia, anxiety and a husband with terminal cancer) and so we do what we can to keep ourselves stable and able.

Furthermore, allow me to state up-front that because of my eating disorder recovery, I do weigh and measure all my food and share daily my intake with my 12 step sponsor.  But that’s my asceticism, and yes, I do this even on Pascha or the Nativity Feast…no days off from abstinence or avoiding my trigger foods, even if they are wildly popular for feasting purposes.  There are also no days off from avoiding the foods I am allergic to.  I have epi-pens.  I never want to use them.  

So at our house, we ratchet the fast down to not eating red meat…along with the other things we must avoid.  And I also will mostly forego the sheep’s milk cheeses I am not allergic to.  About once or twice during a long fast I find myself getting run down and I do need to have a beef meal.  But I do it prayerfully and carefully and unapologetically.

The only bread I ever consume is the Eucharist.  I don’t take antidoron or Lytia bread ever at all.  No Koliva because it contains wheat and sugar (and often nuts). No exceptions.

When I was first Orthodox, and learning the fasting routine in a parish that was 100% converts where there were no babushkas or yia yias to feed us and show us how it was done in the old country, I did it ALL WRONG. I ate SO much bread.  All the bread.  I binged on bread.  It is, after all, lenten. Lenten cake, cookies, cinnamon rolls…all of it went into my body, much to my detriment. And Oreos and Frito Pie…ridiculous.  One cannot eat that way half the days of the year and stay healthy.

There was one Pascha where I had to wear a maternity top because I was so bloated and distended.  I was not pregnant.  I thank God for my health care provider who set me in the right direction!!!  I used to think that there was no way I could follow the fasting rules and not gain weight, but now I see that much of my problem was in the types of foods I was choosing, and the quantities I was eating.  As it is, I do not perfectly or strictly follow the fasting rules, but I am doing as much as I can, and am the better for it.

Nowadays, I try to more closely  follow the whole fast at least two meals per day, and then have some poultry or fish for that last meal.  I think in terms of “one meal at a time”, and I do what I can.  For myself personally I have a measured portion of carb food (grains or starchy food like sweet potato) at breakfast and at dinner, but all other meals and snacks are grain free.

A common breakfast is half a cup of dry oats, w/ 2 T. hemp seeds and half of a T. of coconut oil, for instance.  Lunch usually looks like veg plus protein:  steamed broccoli and  can of tuna is a common choice.  Dinner often finds us eating beans and rice, with a side salad.

So, strictly lenten pantry items that can help keep a nutritious fast, which Ihappen to not be allergic to:  

Hemp hearts-I find these at costco and they are wonderful for adding protein to one’s whole grain breakfast cereal, or fruit.

Gerbs Pumpkin seeds (Amazon)

Gluten free Rolled Oats or Steel Cut Oats (Amazon)

Canned Coconut Milk-excellent for creamed soups. (Trader Joe’s or Amazon)

Lower calorie boxed unsweetened coconut milk (most any grocer)

Unsweetened Flax milk (good luck finding this, but it’s nutritional variety)

Vanilla Vega One Protein and Greens vegan shake mix.  (Amazon or Costco)

All fruits and vegetables…seriously.  (any grocer)

Lentils

Black beans

Navy beans

Garbanzo beans

Rice

Broth.

Nutritional yeast flakes (so good!) (Amazon, I like Now brand).

Organic Cornmeal for polenta

Coconut oil. All the coconut oil. (Costco prices are nice.)

Spectrum butter flavored palm oil shortening  (Whole Foods, Meijer)

Stevia

Truvia (yes, I’ve done my homework, it is acceptable to me, YMMV)

Guilty pleasure:  Smart Balance margarine (it has canola…hence the guilt). (any grocer)

Lemon Juice

Curry Powder (must have), chili, cumin, cinnamon…all the herbs and spices, yes please!

Tomato sauce (check for sugar!)

So that’s my list.  Any of the starchy foods I have to limit in quantity and frequency so as not to feel ill.  In addition to this you will find chicken, canned tuna and fish patties and ground turkey on my table during the fasts…because we are run down, stressed, deathly ill or chronically ill, and it’s the best we can do. What you will not find on my plate:  bread, anything I am allergic to, any baked goods, sweets or pastries, or anything with sugar or fried foods.
Glory to God for all things, even food allergies, which teach me abstinence and help me to stay humble.  

***

Thank you, Alana!

always lent, Auto-immunity, calendar concerns, Fasting, food allergies, Lent, Uncategorized

Fasting From Perfectionism

fasting

I like to look good on paper. Growing up as the oldest child in a dysfunctional home, I became an overfunctioning powerhouse. Straight A averages, community service, extracurricular activities, helping with little kids, polite manners, respecting my elders, memorizing scripture, saying my prayers: If it was what one was “supposed” to do, I did it. Even though I’m decades along in healing from that past, I still really, really like to do things the way I’m supposed to.

Nowadays, instead of aiming for perfection, I sometimes think of doing the things asked of me by the Church in terms of obedience. Obedience is a shortcut to wisdom, and I love wisdom. 

So what’s the problem?

I can’t fast.

If you’re thinking, “So what?” you weren’t listening. I can’t fast (!), and did you see the calendar with its demarcations of fasting and not fasting and strict fasting and less strict fasting, fish or oil and wine fasting? Anxiety attack. How can I be a good Christian if I [mostly] can’t fast?

When I find myself spiraling into the desire to look good on paper, I stop and remember what fasting is supposed to be for.

In Philippians 3, {<-Click to read the passage} St. Paul points out that if anyone could be considered righteous (good on paper) according to the flesh, it was he. Here’s a man who had everything going for him, but thanks be to God, laid aside his claim to righteousness so that he could press toward the true calling of Christ, who will one day “change our humble body.”

In Orthodoxy, whenever a pattern repeats itself through scripture and the tradition of the holy fathers, we pay attention. Here’s the pattern that catches me up in the Spirit’s net when I start to despair:

Humility is more important than outward piety. True asceticism is known by its fruits, not by its appearance. 

Again and again, we see apparently unjust people -those who for some reason don’t look like they’re doing the righteous thing- revealed at last as the ones who have obtained the gifts of humility and mercy.

I’m not writing this to say that I’m one of those perfect ones. But I want to encourage you, dear brothers and sisters who struggle with me under unusual dietary prescriptions, to see that our goal of growing in God is not out of reach just because we don’t look good on paper. 

Is this not the fast that I have chosen:
To loose the bonds of wickedness,
To undo the heavy burdens,
To let the oppressed go free,
And that you break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
And that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out;
When you see the naked, that you cover him,
And not hide yourself from your own flesh?
Then your light shall break forth like the morning,
Your healing shall spring forth speedily,
And your righteousness shall go before you;
The glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
You shall cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.

-Isaiah 58: 6-9 (NKJV)

When I talk with Orthodox friends about fasting {<-click for a recent podcast discussion with Angela Doll Carlson}, especially when they have health issues that keep them from the traditional fasts, we usually conclude that we can do works of mercy and call it even. Now, of course those who can fast in the usual ways can also do works of mercy. We’re not saying otherwise. What we’re saying is that God has still given us paths to know Him.

Whether we fast with the calendar, or whether our lives are Always Lent, God is still with us. We can still lay aside every earthly care to welcome the King of all. Why? Because fasting -or living an Always Lent life- makes us see that God has already given us everything we need by giving us Himself. 

How do you make sense of not being able to fast in the usual way? Please comment with your ideas and insights so we can all be encouraged.