Paleo + Vegan = God Only Knows

Paleo + Vegan = God Only Knows

by Angie Nasrallah

Paleo and Vegan!  Can you say those two words together in the same sentence?  Well, let’s see… I’m mostly Paleo; but, right now I’m vegan.  That doesn’t sound right does it?

And, why do we call ourselves words that identify us with a particular diet?  While camping next to a middle-aged couple, you may hear the wife reveal as you offer a roasted marshmallow, “Sorry, we’ve been Atkins for ten years now.”  Somehow, we identify with the foods we eat.

A couple of years ago, my doctor put me on a strict Paleo diet to help with my digestive problems.   A Paleo diet is an approach to eating that focuses on reducing inflammation in the gut or body by eliminating known inflammation causing foods like additives, gluten, processed grains, industrial seed oils, dairy and sugar.  Inflammatory foods happen to be associated with a modern diet rather than the foods eaten by our ancestors. So, basically, Paleo is a way of eating that gets us back to vegetables, clean meats, most fruits, nuts and seeds. Think cave woman or early native American.  Think hunters and gatherers.

So, why am I writing about being Vegan and Paleo?  In the Orthodox Church, we strive to fast several times a year.  Whether you are Vegan or Paleo, South Beach or Whole 30, these prescribed  fasts ask us to stretch ourselves physically and spiritually by fasting dairy, meats, eggs, wine and olive oil.  Thankfully, the church fathers weren’t of any dietary persuasion and they knew in their spiritual wisdom that food consumption is directly related to our spiritual lives.  As my husband says, “Heavy stuff.”

Now, to the dilemma:  How does one keep the Orthodox fast and yet still keep the parameters of a healthful diet?  How does one, during Advent, hunt and gather?  If you were to set up a Venn Diagram with Paleo and Vegan as the two headings, the common foods in the center would be…vegetables!   Unless you are John the Baptist, eating locusts and honey, this is very difficult.

This past Lent was an interesting experience for me and I want to share with you what I’ve learned about merging these two seemingly opposite approaches to eating.  Perhaps this information will be of help as we enter Advent.

The first thing was to realize that fasting is about reconnecting with God and becoming the kind of Christians God wants us to be.  Fasting helps us toward that end, but it is not the whole equation.   “The value of fasting,” St. John Chrysostom says, “consists not in abstinence from food, but in withdrawing from sinful practices.” This reading from St. Chrysostom showed me something very important:  I’ve got to work on my inner thoughts and my sinful nature first!  It is actually easier to give up chocolate or coffee cream than to quit sinful habits.  The first week of Lent was difficult, fasting nasty thoughts and meanness.  Then, I had to work on replacing those destructive thoughts with prayer and kindness.  This was and is the real work of Lent.

The next thing I did was open up and start talking with people about my struggle.  After Divine Liturgy, during coffee hour, I would hang by the coffee pot and just talk with people about what I was going through with diet and Lent, etc. Surprisingly, what I discovered is that a lot of people struggle with dietary issues.  Here I thought I was all alone in this!  One mom I talked with said she struggles with a rare autoimmune disease that requires she cannot consume sugar, nightshades, gluten or dairy.  Another man mentioned that he was attempting to lose 35 pounds and get back to his prenuptial figure.  A friend shared that her thyroid disorder had her on a strict Paleo diet for life. Hearing these and more stories showed me that we are not alone in our struggles.  Everyone is dealing with something.

Thankfully, I read this during the fifth week of the Fast:  “He who prays with fasting has his wings double, and lighter than the very winds…nothing is mightier than the man who prays sincerely …But if your body is too weak to fast continually …. although you cannot fast, yet you can avoid luxurious living”  (St. John Chrysostom.  Homily LVII on Matthew XVII).  I may not be able to keep the Fast well, but I can at least cut indulgent foods like vegan chocolate death cake or the lobster bisque!

So, with the words of St. John Chrysostom  in my mind, I altered the way we served fasting foods at home.   Here is some of what I did:

  • veggie spaghetti – I made pasta for my wheat eating family and I cooked up spaghetti squash for myself (and whoever was brave enough to try it).
  • veggie chili – I served the beans on the side!
  • veggie soups were made with Qorn, a protein product made from fungi.
  • avocados were always kept on hand and served for breakfast, lunch and dinner
  • nuts of all kinds were always on a counter for eating
  • I kept a can of tuna or salmon around and put that on salads at lunch when I needed a protein hit.  By the way, the calcium in canned salmon is a good replacement for what you are not getting from dairy.
  • I could definitely keep the dairy and the alcohol fast closely.

If you are on a restrictive diet for medical or health purposes, there are still ways to participate  in  the church fasts. In attempting to reach beyond our comfort zones we can allow the Lord to work within us.  We can connect with people who are also struggling and offer encouragement.  We can fast destructive thinking. We can show our families that we are not perfect and that God uses broken vessels.  We can still step away from this world for a few weeks and deliberately work on our relationship with the Savior by purposely not indulging in the luxuries that are so abundant in our world.  That may mean different things to different people, but for me it was staying away from indulgent entertainment, gossiping , beef, dairy and sweets.

So, what does it mean to be Paleo and Vegan?  It will mean different things for different people.  But, as we trust that He can work out the details of a keeping a challenging diet and a fast, it will likely show each of us that we need Him more than we need food!!

May each of us have a blessed Advent and a joyous fast in preparation for our Savior’s birth!

 

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A Bizarre Realization

A Bizarre Realization

Face up, under the belly of my son’s car, my husband was elbow deep in a repair. Suddenly I leaned over the bumper and asked, “Hon, don’t you have one good adventure left in you? ”

That  was 9:00 Sunday evening, August 20th.

An hour later, my hubby came inside:  “Alright! You’ve got me,” he spouted.  “I guess I’ve one adventure left.  But, only one and we leave early as dog-dukers!”

That, my friends, is how we began the adventure to totality!  It was a quest to see the corona.  It was a journey skyward and westward.  It was a cosmological expedition that confirmed what we already knew and what we were yet to know.

Next morning at 7 am, we traversed the entirety of north metro Atlanta to access the 100% eclipse zone on the morning of August 21.  Now, that was an adventure in itself. With the help of a Spotify playlist, 3 1/2 hours later we arrived at the meadow of what was once Lake Hartwell.  This dehydrated field marks the border between Georgia and South Carolina and would be the perfect westward-facing location to view the sun and moon as they crossed paths.  It would also be in the bulls-eye, the 100% coverage zone.  We would have 2 minutes and 20 seconds to view the corona and just maybe, we would be lucky enough to see Bailey’s Beads.

Upon arrival, we gathered our ragged chairs, an umbrella and drinks and settled in for the spectacle not fully understanding  the magnitude of what we were to witness.   At about 1:10 pm, Anna broke open her solar shades and yelled, “Its starting!”

I fumbled in my backpack and found my own protective glasses.  After fidgeting a few seconds with the cardboard folds I managed to place them correctly over my eyes and look sunward.  Behold!  A large black sphere had entered the frame of the sun.  An Oreo-sized bite was missing from the right side.   OMG!  This is it!

Everyone got into place and some friends arrived.  We took measured glances at the advancing black moon covering the solar surface.  My camera came out.   Someone hummed “Black-Hole Sun.”

 

Ever so gradually, the light on that field reduced as the moon approached. Great white egrets flew across the darkened skies towards a dusky roost.  A  chorus of frogs started chirping their evening songs.   Dark shadows cast by human forms  were projected by the diminishing sun onto the dry lake floor.  The atmospheric color changed to sepia.

Then, it happened.  At first, there remained the tiniest sliver of sunlight.  Then, that the blackness slid over and the sun was blotted out of the sky!  The moon would have its say for the next 2 minutes 20 seconds.

Darkness and coolness settled over the field.

The protective glasses came off.

“The Corona!” someone blasted.

Comments ranged from “It’s a Corona, Extra Light!” to “Oh my Gosh!”,  “Wow!”  and finally,

“This is literally the most amazing thing I have ever seen!”

Then, at the mathematically appointed  millisecond, the sun’s rays literally burst forth on the other side.  In a flash, the lake bed was ablaze with light and color.

How do I describe an event so brief and surreal?  A time when  clouds, life and the sun seemed to stand still?

I cannot do it justice.  But, there is something I can surmise.

A collective, “what just happened?”  appeared on the faces of all present.

What just happened was that we became aware, at that brief moment, that we are actually on a giant sphere that is being orbited by a smaller sphere and together these two spheres are orbiting an even larger, blazing sphere.   Humans are absolutely minuscule in this whole process.  Yet, we are in the hands of God and He controls the sun, moon and stars.  It was a bizarre, yet comforting realization.

“And on that day,” declares the Lord God, “I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight.”  Amos 8:9

Then, we packed this adventure up and went home through the traffic to our mundane lives, pondering what we had just witnessed.

 

Ben

Ben

by Angie Nasrallah

(part 3 in a series about Keeping our Young People in the Church) 

“What we love is what we orient our lives toward.   Christian liturgies shape our vision for the good life and aim our hearts towards God. ”  — The Areopagus podcast, “Are We Doing Youth Ministry Wrong?”

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  Matthew 6:21

These words have me taking a deep breath!  As you know, I’ve been contemplating how to keep our young people in the faith.  We want our young people to treasure Christ and His church.

Benjamin is a young man who is thriving in the Church and is making a big decision to commit his life to prayer and service.  I want to share some of his story.

We’ve been  blessed to know Ben since he was just 11.  Already, he had a special twinkle in his eye, a spiritual awareness unlike other kids his age.   Ben always crossed himself when he ate even a bite of apple or sipped from a water bottle.  If you told him you weren’t feeling well, he would say, “Lord have mercy” and offer a prayer on the spot.   From his tall stature, dark features and  thick chestnut-colored pony tail, you can tell he’s part Cherokee.  But, mostly, he’s all-American boy!  At 21, he attends junior college and owns his own landscaping business.  Like many of us, he comes from a family recently converted to Orthodoxy.

Talking with Ben, he takes great care to listen and give his undivided attention and I think this is part of the reason he purposely doesn’t keep a smart phone.  I’m the one who is distracted and rushing things along.  Yet, Ben takes his time and this is a good lesson for me.   Last month, we sat on my back deck and talked about his upcoming plans to visit the Holy Mountain in Greece and then to enter the Hermitage of the Holy Cross Monastery in Wayne, West Virginia.

“What is it that draws you to the monastic life?” I asked peering out over my back yard.

“I’ve never liked change much,” he confided drinking from a glass of tap water.   “I enjoy standing and praying and I know that when I’m at the monastery I won’t have to change or shift gears every day.”

I nod.

Ben is spiritually wise.  I think I understand what he means.  Ben has oriented himself toward a life of prayer and Christ.  His compass is pointing straight toward the monastery, where he will pray for all of us his entire life.  What a sacrifice and what a calling!!

Growing up in a non- Orthodox home, I never understood the idea that God can call people into the Monastic life.  God gifts certain people with prayer and that gift overflows into those around them.  Ben’s father, Jimmy, credits Ben for bringing a consistent prayer routine into their home:  “He encouraged us to pray regularly! Then, it was his sister and the rest of us that were praying with Ben.”  So, as it happened,  Ben’s desire to pray positively impacted the whole house.

In talking with Ben and writing this post, I discovered something completely different than I thought I would:  Sometimes it’s our children that point us to Christ!  Our kids can help us get our bearings, but we have to be attentive.  A small child, frequently scared by bad dreams, may be asking to have regular evening prayers.  A teenager, apprehensive about the future may be asking for guidance on how to prepare.  How do we respond?  If we are brave enough, we can respond with the proper orientation.  We will make adjustments like setting aside time each night to pray with our kids, or we will encourage our young men to look to God for answers rather than relying on themselves.   We will establish Christian liturgies in our homes that become their hearts’ treasure.

Later in our conversation, I asked Ben what words of advice he had for young people.  I think he was surprised at this question.  “I’m not very wise myself,” he said.  But, a day later, he sent me this:

“Everyone in our society wants to be different.  But, what happens is that everyone ends up getting into the same temptations. All of us, though we want to be different, end up floating down the stream with all the other dead fish.  To be different truly, means to not just do whatever you feel  like doing, but to become like Christ; He is the only perfect and “different” one there is.  To be different in our world means to get up and do your morning prayers and prayers before you sleep, and to pray without ceasing between both!  Who does that in society after all? ”

Ben sent more, but these comments were enough to keep me busy for awhile.  Isn’t this struggle really about me and how I respond to God every day?   Looking at Ben and his life encourages me to be brave in the effort.

Just after Christmas, Ben will leave for the Hermitage of the Holy Cross!

Looking to Christ

 

 

You’ve Got to Set an Alarm!

You’ve Got to Set an Alarm!

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Second in a series on keeping our youth in the church.

Yesterday, on a rainy Sunday road trip day, I had the benefit of sitting beside my lovely 20 year old daughter as she took a driving shift. We were headed home from a family reunion in Florida and talking about the struggles of staying active in church during the college years.

“You’ve got to set an alarm,” she stated.

“In high school, you just woke me up for church. In college, I have to be motivated to set the alarm so that I will get up,” she said confidently, one hand at the wheel, left foot tucked up onto the seat. I gazed out at the rural scene moving past my wet window pondering her comments.

“You’ve got to set the alarm!”

These words are telling.

That’s a pretty simple idea; but it’s complicated. It’s complicated because maybe as a college student, you don’t want to set the alarm to get ready for church. Maybe you are the only college student going to a particular parish. Maybe there isn’t a priest at the local parish. Maybe you don’t have a car.

Regina had all of these problems her first year at Appalachian State. Somehow, she still kept setting her alarm and going. Thankfully, she found a ride most Sundays and was able to connect with the people at her small mountain parish as they plugged along looking for a permanent parish priest.

“Sometimes there would be just a handful of us singing Typika,” she said.

“But, I still wanted to be in church because it reminded me of home and I knew that going was good for me,” she confided as we raced along past a peach grove and some cows.

Somehow, I suspect that her desire to set the alarm was established long before she graduated from high school. Regina was about five when we converted to Orthodoxy. She has walked this faith with us for many years. One impactful experience she had as a young girl growing up in a household of boys was that she was the St. Lucia girl. Each year, on the 13th of December, I would set my alarm and wake her up just before daylight. Eagerly, she would arise, and put on a white night gown and come downstairs. There I would have Little Debbie cakes and a single candle burning on a brass candlestick. Groggily, she would take the candle and the cakes, and walk around to each room saying, “Jesus is the light of the world,” whereupon she would offer each boy, or Dad, a “St. Lucia” cake. It was her special thing. The Scandinavians have remembered and honored St. Lucia since 304 when she died a Christian martyr during the Diocletian persecutions.

Our priest also asked Regina to offer the festal cakes during the St. Lucia Vesperal service on the evening of the 12th. We have always loved this tradition and it has given her a special function in the service.

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I’m not going to say that being the St. Lucia girl is why Regina is setting her alarm on Sundays now that she’s in college. Yet, something stuck. She sees the importance of being in church and worshipping the Light of the World even when it’s not very convenient. So, I think one can make the connection that involving our young ladies in little traditions like this is worthwhile and may one day pay rich dividends. Over the years, these experiences layer in on a foundation of faith and tradition that keep our youth connected to what’s really important.

Like setting an alarm; it’s simple, yet very important.

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You’ve Got to Set an Alarm!

You’ve Got to Set an Alarm!

IMG_2610

Second in a series on keeping our youth in the church.

Yesterday, on a rainy Sunday road trip day, I had the benefit of sitting beside my lovely 20 year old daughter as she took a driving shift. We were headed home from a family reunion in Florida and talking about the struggles of staying active in church during the college years.
“You’ve got to set an alarm,” she stated.
“In high school, you just woke me up for church. In college, I have to be motivated to set the alarm so that I will get up,” she said confidently, one hand at the wheel, left foot tucked up onto the seat. I gazed out at the rural scene moving past my wet window pondering her comments.
“You’ve got to set the alarm!”
These words are telling.
That’s a pretty simple idea; but it’s complicated. It’s complicated because maybe as a college student, you don’t want to set the alarm to get ready for church. Maybe you are the only college student going to a particular parish. Maybe there isn’t a priest at the local parish. Maybe you don’t have a car.
Regina had all of these problems her first year at Appalachian State. Somehow, she still kept setting her alarm and going. Thankfully, she found a ride most Sundays and was able to connect with the people at her small mountain parish as they plugged along looking for a permanent parish priest.
“Sometimes there would be just a handful of us singing Typika,” she said.
“But, I still wanted to be in church because it reminded me of home and I knew that going was good for me,” she confided as we raced along past a peach grove and some cows.
Somehow, I suspect that her desire to set the alarm was established long before she graduated from high school. Regina was about five when we converted to Orthodoxy. She has walked this faith with us for many years. One impactful experience she had as a young girl growing up in a household of boys was that she was the St. Lucia girl. Each year, on the 13th of December, I would set my alarm and wake her up just before daylight. Eagerly, she would arise, and put on a white night gown and come downstairs. There I would have Little Debbie cakes and a single candle burning on a brass candlestick. Groggily, she would take the candle and the cakes, and walk around to each room saying, “Jesus is the light of the world,” whereupon she would offer each boy, or Dad, a “St. Lucia” cake. It was her special thing. The Scandinavians have remembered and honored St. Lucia since 304 when she died a Christian martyr during the Diocletian persecutions.
Our priest also asked Regina to offer the festal cakes during the St. Lucia Vesperal service on the evening of the 12th. We have always loved this tradition and it has given her a special function in the service.

IMG_0287

I’m not going to say that being the St. Lucia girl is why Regina is setting her alarm on Sundays now that she’s in college. Yet, something stuck. She sees the importance of being in church and worshipping the Light of the World even when it’s not very convenient. So, I think one can make the connection that involving our young ladies in little traditions like this is worthwhile and may one day pay rich dividends. Over the years, these experiences layer in on a foundation of faith and tradition that keep our youth connected to what’s really important.
Like setting an alarm; it’s simple, yet very important.

IMG_0272

IMG_0160

Keeping Our Young People in Church

Keeping Our Young People in Church

Keeping our teens in the church is no easy task.  Throw in what you know about contemporary culture and the Prince of this World and the task seems insurmountable.  Our culture and the evil one  seek to draw in and shred our young people, stealing their faith and their moral compass and then using them to perpetuate the cycle.  Popular culture is attractive and very few of us want to go or are able to go completely against the trend of current attitudes, entertainment and thought.

The Orthodox Christian Church is counter culture.  What do I mean by that?  In as much as the culture does not reflect the church, it is opposed to it.  Even if our kids are running in Christian circles, the Orthodox life is very dissimilar.  Consider these examples:  If you are an Orthodox Christian, you are in church on Sunday mornings…and counter to even other Christian churches, you are in church on Saturday evenings for Vespers.  You  don’t drink coffee and have pancakes on Sunday mornings before Liturgy because you are fasting before receiving the Eucharist.  You aren’t eating meat on Fridays because you are fasting as part of a Christian lifestyle.   You are in church most evenings during Holy Week!  You get married inside a church with a priest.  You make it a priority to get married before you live with your mate.  The list could go on and on!

The point is:  Being an Orthodox Christian can be challenging for anyone in our modern age.  For teens, it’s even harder.  If  the typical American Christian teenager is like a trout swimming upstream, then the American Orthodox teenager is like the rare golden trout found only in rivers above 10,000 feet!  No wonder a recent study indicates that teens and college aged adults are leaving the Orthodox Church and the Christian faith in vast numbers.  According to The Pew Research Center’s recent study on behaviors, values and opinions of the teens and twenty-somethings that make up the Millennial generation:  “nearly one-in-five adults under age 30 say they were raised in a religion but are now unaffiliated with any particular faith.”  (http://www.pewforum.org/2010/02/17/religion-among-the-millennials/)

These facts are daunting.  How am I to raise my kids so that they know Jesus?  How am I to prepare them for the cultural war?   How do we, collectively as a church, keep our young people engaged in matters of faith?

I have struggled with these and many more issues.  Raising five kids who will desire to follow in faith the Lord Jesus…that is the heart of my efforts.

I would like to tell you I have figured this out.  I would also like to tell you we have a formula that you can just follow and your kids will all stay in church for the rest of their lives.  But, I cannot.   What I can tell you is that we pray a lot.  We go to church a lot with our kids.  We talk a lot at the dinner table.

I hold onto this piece of scripture:  “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”  Proverbs 22:6

In this series, I am going to spotlight places where I see teens and young people staying connected in the church.  Hopefully, these examples will encourage us in our longing to keep our youth in the cradle of faith.

tonsuring

 

The Wallet

The Wallet

 

“My escape is to just get in a boat and disappear on the water. ” Carl Hiaasen

Boys of all ages and shapes love the freedom and excitement of a boat ride on a full lake in May.  There is a freedom on the water.  Hair blowing, sunglasses on, the smell of gasoline…all is well at the beginning of summer.

Just a couple of months after my son turned 16, he and a school friend were out on the upper Lake Hartwell in our little blue skiff enjoying those first days of summer break.  Of course, these radiant waters, like the sirens to the Greek sailors of yore, were calling my teen boys to test the parameters of the new Yamaha engine we had just installed.  They had to make and crest waves.  They had to turn donuts.  And, they had to push the ability of the small craft to stay afloat amidst a variety of maneuvers mixed with speed and wind.   Ultimately, what happened next was quite predictable.  They flipped the boat and swamped all the contents.  Paddles and jackets and half consumed water bottles could be seen floating along with a plastic bag and briefly, a hat.  Although stunned, the big boys weren’t injured and were able to right the small boat and return home.

As the adrenaline wore off,  the teens began to work through all the things that were in the boat just minutes before it went asunder.  There were water bottles, food packages, fishing poles and tackle, sunglasses, wallets, and cell phones.

“Oh no!  My wallet was in my pocket!” was the gasp I heard.  “All the gift cards I got from my birthday were in the wallet.”

“Did you have cash in there?”  his dad inquired.

“Maybe $5 – $10 bucks,” was the assessment.

For months, stories were told of the perilous incident.  Various theories surfaced of how the boat flipped, where it happened, and why the boys were able to right the craft.   Everybody  was profoundly grateful that the boys were safe and that the whole business only amounted to  some lost items.  We were thankful God had spared them from their own bad judgments.

And…just as quickly as that fantastic summer-freedom feeling came, it went.  Like the release of water from Hartwell Dam on a sweltering August day, those carefree times were gone.  Summers, Christmases, proms and graduations whirled by in a fast current of ceaseless days.

Then, on a recent December afternoon, a package arrived at our non lake house.   The padded manila envelope was addressed to my oldest, now almost 22.  Home for the holiday, he found the package and opened it.

“Ya’ll come here and see this!” was the call.  The family gathered ’round our kitchen counter while he emptied the contents onto the flat surface.

What took place next was truly astonishing.  Carefully, and with great curiosity, my son opened a flat and dingy rectangular object.  We all stood there gazing, and upon closer inspection, realized what it was!!  A smile of recognition came to my boy’s lips.

“This is my wallet!”  he blasted.  “This is the wallet I lost when we flipped the skiff.”

Sure enough!  It was the wallet of a 16 year old boy, a perfect time capsule of a by-gone era.  The wallet, lost by a boy, was now opened by a man!  The case itself was constructed of grey duct tape.  The contents, although water battered,  were undisturbed:  gift cards, a driver’s license and a library card.  The remnants of a heavily water tattered $5 and $1 bill were displayed along with a few tarnished coins.  And, there was a note.  The note told of how the young finder had seen the wallet near the boat ramp on GA 123 in Toccoa, GA.  She collected the wallet and intended to return it to its owner, but, as often happens, time got the better deal and it ended up in the top drawer of a dresser.  The writer of the note, finding the wallet one morning and realizing it had not been returned, mailed it to my son along with a little sticky note affixed inside:  “Looks like you had a $1 and a $5 in the wallet — Thought I would replace that for you.  Cherish the memory!”

 

I was at a loss for words, which is unusual!  What a kind and generous thing to do, return a water-logged, trashed duct-taped wallet to a kid you will likely never meet!!

While my son was contemplating the gift cards, I was struck by the generosity of a person I will never be able to thank!  A person who took the time to be kind!  That can be a rare thing.  But, people are good!  Lake people are good and I will cherish the memory.