Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Special Edition Fresh-Take: 1 bag of garbage

I'm going to interrupt our normal blog process and the shenanigans of David to point out something that was quite a great accomplishment for Molly and me. As many of you know, Molly and I have been making strides in recent years to improve our lifestyle (this blog is an example). It all came together and made sense for me tonight in a very unusual way as I was taking the garbage to the curb. We only produced 1 bag of garbage in our main kitchen garbage this week. Yes that's right, a family of 5 produced 1 bag of garbage over the course of the week. A seemingly insignificant finding, but we found it actually to be quite profound in a number of ways as it signified a lot of change in our life together and with the kids.

Let's step back a little while and take a look at some of the changes we've made that some of you may know about and some may not. We built momentum and learned from mistakes to get to this point and we will be the first to tell you we have a long way to go. It all started with finances actually. When we first moved back closer to family, money was very tight. I was starting a commission based job selling cars at a time when the economy was terrible. As we struggled with the idea of how to make ends meet, we had a financial planning discussion about what can be cut out. If we didn't need it, it went. Cable TV? Don't need it. Cell phone? Don't need it. Eating out? Don't need it (we do still occasionally eat out, though). 2nd Car? Don't need it. This took some financial burden off of us, but we became more aware of our electrical, water and gas usage as well. We put ourselves on a tight budget (gas, groceries, miscellaneous) and stuck to it because it was all the money we had. As things improved and I started making more money at work, we began getting lax about things and thus began a pendulum of getting lazy and kicking ourselves in the butt to get back on track over and over again.

While finances were one aspect we were trying to improve, another was diet. This started about the time our first son started eating solids. Molly became very aware of the fact that we didn't want our son consuming the same things we had made a habit of putting into our bodies (wings, pizza, etc.). So, we started making meal plans to make life easier so it wasn't always a struggle to come up with things to eat (otherwise you end up going out or getting convenience foods).

Fast-forward a little bit and our second son was born. Anyone with more than one kid in diapers knows that disposables are EXPENSIVE. As much as we forced it, our oldest wouldn't potty train just to make our budgeting for diapers easier, so Molly pushed us into the next step: Cloth diapers. It took a while to get a system down (actually we didn't have one down pat until our daughter was born and we had 2 kids in cloth).  Cloth diapers carry an expensive up front cost and seemed like a difficult decision at a time when we didn't have a lot of extra cash to throw around. The initial investment has paid off though and if I did the math, I'm sure I would be astounded at what we have now saved. By the way, our daughter is still using the diapers we initially bought for our second child.

Kid #2 provided another example of how to manage our diets. Our oldest as a baby got a lot of Gerber and some homemade baby foods intermixed. Our second son ate what we ate after it got passed through a grinder. I could probably count on one hand the number of times his dinner was bought in the baby food aisle. I know we saved some money there. Still though, we were ping-ponging back and forth with improving our diets and then falling into bad habits again. However, some health issues post pregnancy for Molly with our first and our second (which she has previously blogged about) pushed her to push me to change even more towards a better lifestyle.

Fast-forward again to the birth of our daughter (and third child). Having just gotten life on track after our middle child, we began life again with 3 children. Things started out simple but then got crazy. Weeks would go by where we (and particularly Molly) was frustrated with the contradictions of life. I'd try to find escapes for her, but they would not fix the underlying problems. This pushed us further to try and better our lives. Sunday Mass, which had fallen by the wayside a couple of times in the preceding years became a no excuses, we go every week matter. We went to Christmas Mass with a 3 yr old, 1 yr old and a 1 week old and survived. In the Spring, Molly pushed me to join her in reading the Bible in its entirety which in turn led to the creation of this blog. Through the blog we came up with a blog challenge that would force us into a better diet for 3 months. I hate to say it, but after a month going strong, we failed miserably.

Finally, last week Tuesday, we began an experiment after being inspired by some biblical reasons as well as some movies we watched to attempt a whole-foods, plant based diet. Minimal pre-packaged and processed foods, if any, would be allowed. In a week we have learned more about ourselves than in just about any other experiment we've done. We were strict with the diet until Sunday when we took a break (omelets for breakfast, McDonald's for dinner with ice cream for dessert). Monday we got back on track after feeling terrible Sunday night and today we did what our ultimate goal was, a mixed and balanced diet. We never intended to become vegans, but rather experience the pros and cons of a plant based diet to better incorporate it into a balanced lifestyle.

From our plant based diet experiment we learned a number of things. Despite being very sleep deprived, we both maintained energy and focus until bed time. It was only at the end of the week when we completely crashed. We learned a lot about cooking and timing through preparing a lot of meals that start with dry beans and whole grains as a base. We weaned ourselves off of severe coffee addictions in a matter of days with very little withdrawal symptoms. Molly became much closer with the kids during the past week despite being home with them everyday for the past 4 years. We got a number of awesome recipes that we otherwise never would have discovered (black bean tacos, baked sweet potatoes for breakfast, bean soup without meat that is delicious, a number of bean and grain combinations, multiple ways to prepare steal cut outs, mixing cherry juice with granola and fruit rather than yogurt or milk, etc.). We also learned that quinoa is an awesome grain to cook with and is incredibly adaptable. Most recently, we learned just how efficient we now are at preparing great meals. Tonight, we got home from the beach with about an hour before I had to teach a horn lesson. In that hour we managed to get the boys (and myself) showered and dressed and prepared and ate a meal that consisted of hand-formed burgers (w/ lettuce, tomato, onion, and an improvised avocado sauce on a grilled bun), seasoned wild rice (not instant), corn on the cob, watermelon and grilled pineapple. I can guarantee that a couple of years ago that meal in that short time frame would have been either A) McDonald's or B) pre-formed burgers from the Piggly-Wiggly with ketchup, potato chips and pre-cut watermelon (also from the Piggly Wiggly).

As I cleaned and took out the 1 bag of trash as the kids got ready for bed, I began to reflect on all of the above and realized just how far we have come in the past couple of years. That one bag of trash (cut down from 3-4 a couple of years ago with 1 child) represents all of the work we have done to improve our lives. We are healthier (both physically and financially) because of all of our efforts. We are by no means experts on anything, but I hope that our experience helps demonstrates the positive impact that making change can have in your life. You will not fix everything in one change and change will not happen overnight. There are ups and downs with change, but it is what you learn about yourself and your family during those ups and downs that will propel you to push through the difficulties and to always strive to be a better person, both for yourself and those around you.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

SFT: Don't put all your free-range eggs in one basket

With all of this recent talk about a balanced diet, I thought I'd take this opportunity to discuss faith.  Not "let's talk about what faith means," but rather "in whom/what should we put our faith."

With promises to cure cancer and heart disease, to cure your fatigue, your pain, and your brittle bones, it can be easy to want to jump on the healthy eating band-wagon.  It makes sense--put bad things in your body and you'll have bad health, put good things in your body and have good health.  And in a perfect world, it would probably be that simple.  But we don't live in a perfect world (we live on Earth, by the way, not in Heaven), so it's really not that simple.  If it were this simple, then people who eat healthfully would have perfect health and live forever and people who smoke, drink, and eat "junk" would be stricken dead immediately.  That's not to say that bad habits don't have long-term effects (they typically do!), but when you put your faith into the idea that being good is all it takes to have good things in life, then you set yourself up for a lot of problems in the future.

Why is believing this a problem?  Imagine someone very "healthy" is given a cancer diagnosis.  This "healthy" person eats mostly or only plant-based foods, exercises plenty, gets lots of rest, doesn't smoke, has the perfect "American dream," and has an all-around good life.  This healthy person put their entire heart and soul into the idea that taking care of his/herself physically would keep him/her healthy and alive for a long, long time.  But perhaps this healthy person forgot to consider some of the many, many other factors that contribute to good health and a good life.  Perhaps s/he had a stressful job, stressful family life, or stressful relationships (or all of the above).  Perhaps this person was so rigid about their healthful ways that they forgot to let go and have fun from time to time.  Maybe s/he had a haunted past that was being deeply, deeply suppressed.  Maybe this person forgot to consider that s/he can only take control of her/his life, and not others surrounding this person.  This person definitely forgot to consider that there are several billion individuals on earth who all need individual health plans, most of whom are going to live to be the same age regardless of diet and lifestyle.  Or maybe this person--in spite of having many blessings--lost touch with God and forgot to give Him thanks each and every day.  Whatever the problem, this person had put their whole faith into a healthy lifestyle as a cure and this idea failed him/her.

The trouble is, when you rely on a single approach--such as healthy eating--as a means to a better life, you are "putting all your eggs in one basket," so to speak.  You are left with nothing upon which to fall back.  If and when you're given that cancer diagnosis, you may be at a loss for what to do and where to turn.  But if you put your faith in God, then when the bad news comes, you can just turn to Him and ask, "What now?"  And he might just tell you to clean up your diet.  However, as long as you're taking matters into your own hands, you might be flat-out ignoring God's will...until, of course, you're ready to listen.

It's always best to give yourself the best odds for your best possible life.  Eat balanced, get lots of rest, exercise, work hard, socialize, and spend time with your loved ones, but never EVER forget to thank God for your blessings and for his counsel!  Try to let God's will be done and not your own.  Sometimes He may just want you to let go and have a candy bar.  Try to enjoy your many blessings each and every day.  After all, if you can't enjoy life, what's it all for?

Thursday, June 21, 2012

II. Samuel 19: The aftermath of civil unrest

So we haven't been getting a lot of sleep the last couple of nights and these chapters are getting more and more confusing with new names popping up and small side stories being told while David rules.

The big story tonight is that David is the king again. A familiar theme though is that the people are petty and are fighting to get in the good graces of whoever is in power. Fair weather fans so to speak.

Now that the battle has been won, David can only focus on the death of Absalom, turning a happy day of victory into a day of mourning. Joab (always the bad-arse) calls David out and tells him that he is making a horse's arse of himself and the people won't want to follow a crybaby who weeps for the enemy (in different words of course). David straightens himself out and sets to work reclaiming his kingdom.

Meanwhile in Israel, the people aren't looking for the return of David, despite all of the good things he did for them. This makes you wonder, had David not been the great king he is always made out to be? After all, the people did turn on him pretty quickly and it wasn't until David sent his priests to Jerusalem and Judah that the elders decided they wanted David back. Why was there such seeming disdain for David? The fair-weather fans eventually did come around to take him back, with the men of Judah and Israel fighting over who "liked" David more...too bad they didn't have Facebook back then or we'd have proof.

During this story we also see some side stories making David out to be the good guy we always heard about. First he pardoned the former servant of Saul who had thrown rocks at him and cursed him as he was fleeing Jerusalem. Then,  Jonathan's son that David had taken in spoke his unending devotion to David for taking him in and making him a part of his family. David also then made a promise to take care of the wishes of an elderly man who had stood by him during the whole Absalom debacle.

It seems that the stories about David are becoming shorter and less significant than the major ones we had previously read. There were some major events that were depicted in David's life previously and now we are getting the spark notes version of what else was notable in David's reign.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

II. Samuel 18: civil war and the death of the kings son

Quick synopsis of this chapter:

David raised his people up to go into battle against Israel and the followers of Absalom. He put his commanders in charge of different sections of men, but when he wanted to go into battle with his men, they refused and told him to stay out of harm's way. David though left explicit orders that his son should not be killed.

So the battle is waged in the woods and the dangers of the forest prove to take the lives of many of the Israelites more so than the swords of David's men...similar to Robin Hood where the woodsmen use the forest as a tactical advantage. Absalom even rode his Mule into an Oak tree and got his head stuck so that he was just hanging there. One of David's men went to tell Joab this to which Joab asked, "Why didn't you kill him?" The man replied that he would not go against the orders of the king.

So...Joab took matters into his own hands and killed Absalom.

After the battle 2 messengers were sent to David. The first was not to tell David of Absalom's whereabouts while the 2nd messenger did. Perhaps this was done to lesson the blow to David at hearing the death of his son (a good news, bad news situation) or perhaps this was Joab scheming to not get in trouble for killing Absalom. In essence, by sending two messengers, Joab made it seem like they discovered Absalom dead after the battle was over, not that someone had purposely killed him in battle.

David then began weeping at the death of his son.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

II. Samuel 14-17: Secret Agents and Back Door Deals

Apparently no one in Israel was capable of telling anyone else what they were really thinking. Everything seemingly had to be done secretly or deceitfully (at least in the court of David). Was David (and his subjects) just that distrusting of people? Or was this just a soap opera to entertain future generations of Jews? I mean, we joke about Kennedy and his mistresses, why wouldn't the Jewish people tell tales of their leaders in a similar fashion.

Anyway, on to tonight's reading....

I'm going to skip over names and some of the associations and give a brief synopsis of this ludicrousness. For more detail, you can read it yourself.

Where last we left our characters, Absalom had run off after killing his half-brother and David was sad about it. Now, Joab saw that David was sad and wanted to get Absalom back to make him happy again. Rather than just saying, "Sire, you should really get your son back," he decided to have a woman fake an elaborate story about one of her sons killing the other and running off, asking David to pass judgement. Catching the woman in a lie and seeing that Joab was behind the scheme, David decided to have Joab go get Absalom, but Absalom would not be allowed to see David (as punishment for what he had done?).

So Absalom came home, had a wife and some kids and didn't see David for 2 years. He decided enough was enough and kept asking Joab to bring him to David. When Joab continually ignored him, Absalom decided to send a message mafia style by burning down Joab's fields. After this show of aggression, he got an audience with the king and came back into David's graces.

Next though, Absalom went behind Davis's back and began passing judgement over people in Israel (David's job as king). The men of Israel began to respect and follow Absalom which allowed him to place spies all over the city. Once David realized that his son was trying to set an overthrow into action, David took his loyal servants and fled to the wilderness.

The next actions that would have more layers of espionage than a Tom Clancy novel. One of David's old advisers turned on him and began advising Absalom (there really wasn't much loyalty as we've seen). David sent spies back to Jerusalem to let him know when the coast was clear. He then also sent one of his most trusted advisers back to Absalom to act like he was defecting. This advisers primary purpose was to make the other turn coat adviser look like an idiot. His mission is accomplished and Absalom no longer trusts this initial adviser, which leads him to go home and hang himself. now that David has his own spy in place as one of Absolom's advisers, messengers leave Jerusalem  to let David know what is going on. Their escape out of Jerusalem is quite entertaining in itself, including both a wench ratting them out and hiding in a well to avoid capture.

Surely this story will continue in our readings tomorrow night, but again I have to ask the question, "why these stories?" Why is it that these stories about David are the one's that made it into the Bible. Was it for entertainment purposes? Or was it so that future generations could see just how screwed up life was in that time? 

Monday, June 18, 2012

II. Samuel 13: These stories sure are gruesome!

We have definitely been learning a lot from reading the ENTIRE Bible. Like, there are a lot of terribly gruesome stories. The last chapters we read about David involved him sleeping with Uriah's wife, trying to get Uriah drunk to sleep with his wife to cover up the fact that she was pregnant, and then having Uriah killed.

Now, we see the dysfunction that was occurring between David's children, many of them half-siblings of each other. 

Warning flag number one: this chapter begins with Amnon, one of David's son's having feelings for Tamar, his virgin half sister. If this isn't creepy enough, it gets worse.

Distraught about the fact that he can't sleep with her (because she's still a virgin, not because she's related by blood mind you), Amnon turns to his cousin, Jonadab for advice. Jonadab tells him just to fake being sick and tell David that he wants Tamar to come and make him dinner. 

Amnon takes this advice and everything is going according to plan, except that when he tells her to lay with him, she refuses, reminding him that it is a big no no in Israel. Telling her that she is a fool, he then forces her into bed with him. He then gets angry with her and throws her out. She then tears her clothes (which were virgin specific) and runs to tell her full brother Absalom about this. Naturally, he is rather angry. David, meanwhile, seems to be taking everything in stride.

A couple of years later, while hanging out with some sheep shearers, Absalom requests of David that all of David's sons go for a "hike" together, when David says no, Absalom requests that only Amnon goes. After getting the OK, they go off in the wilderness and Absalom has his men kill Amnon. All of David's other son's flip out and run away. 

Word gets back to David that all of his son's are dead except for one and David is naturally distraught. Turning to his nephew Jonadab (yep, the same one who told Amnon how to sleep with his half-sister), David is told that he shouldn't be upset because really there is only one body that has been found. After this, all of David's sons come home. Except for Absalom who has fled after having his half-brother slain. David continues to mourn daily for Absalom because he doesn't know where he is, but is fine with the death of Amnon. 

This is twice now that we have seen David more concerned about a son in danger than a son who is dead. Remember back to the Uriah incident. When David's son by Bathsheeba was dying, David would not eat he was so stricken with grief. Once the baby was dead, he simply went on with his life as if nothing had happened. 

Is this something specific to David? Or was this a custom of the time? Was death such a regular part of life back then that people just went on with their lives as if the person never existed? Either way, Molly and I have come to question, why include these stories out of David's life? Will they go to shed light on future actions? Perhaps we'll know more once reading some more. Again though, I must point out that Hollywood could not come up with more intense and dramatic story lines.

SFT: Feeding children

Hi all,

Well, once again my SFT isn't coming on Sunday...but it's just easier to keep calling it the Sunday Fresh Take!  I want to keep this segment up because I've been getting a lot of positive response on this section in particular.

Today I want to talk--yet again!--about diet.  As a stay-at-home-mom with three very healthy, beautiful kids, it is quite common that I get asked, "Molly, what do you feed your kids?"  Sometimes they ask because they notice how spunky and healthy my kids are and sometimes they ask because I think that is just a hard topic for a lot of parents, especially new parents.  This should come as no surprise to my followers, but my answer is usually, "I just feed them a balanced diet!  Lots of variety, I try to incorporate new meals regularly, and much of our diet is based on healthy 'snacking.'"  And that is ALL that I do!

Yes, our kids eat meat--not a lot, not every day, but some days and in an appropriate-sized portion (and it's an unspoken rule that when we eat it, we only have it once during the day).  And I do try to avoid processed meats as much as possible (I personally have never really liked these that much so this was an easy one for me) .  Yes, our kids eat dairy--I typically only give them a couple of ounces of milk at meal times, and if they are thirsty otherwise, they can have water.  Yes, our kids eat eggs--but more and more I am trying to use the eggs as the vehicle for getting more veggies into their mouths!  (Pepper, mushroom, tomato, and onion omelet anyone?)  Mostly, however, our kids eat quite a bit of plant-based foods.  I try to feed them whole grains; not whole grain crackers, etc, but THE WHOLE GRAIN.  Rice, oatmeal (these are common), and sometimes others...we are working on adding a little variety in that department.  The thing I like about grains is that you can swap grains out for new, different grains and keep seasoning them the way that you would the old grain!  As for veggies, since we still have developing teeth/jaws in our household, we do serve a lot of cooked veggies versus raw.  My kids actually love salad, and if I am eating one and don't offer it to them, they usually ask me for some of mine.  Salad is a great way to get kids to eat more veggies...most kids like it, and if you don't smother it in an overdose of dressing, they are of course quite good for your children (and you).  Fruits are easy.  I haven't met a kid who doesn't like fruit.  They're sweet, they're colorful, and are often a lot easier for them to chew than raw veggies.  Use fruit as a bribe to get them to finish the rest of their food--fruit is dessert!  I also like to give my kids nuts.  For little mouths, stay away from these, but once they get enough teeth to handle them, give them nuts one at a time and monitor them closely.  There's no reason to wait too long to give them these.  We're currently working on adding more beans into our diet.  The number one place we add them in is soup--luckily for us, I make quite a bit of soup, so that helps to up our intake.  I find that my kids and I eat them a lot more readily if they aren't cooked within an inch of their life.  So when your recipe tells you to cook them for 3 or 4 hours, try cooking them only 2-and-a-half...they're more "al dente" this way.  Maybe that will help you, too!

I have never been one to cook with only low-fat methods; we use butter, oil, etc, but the key is, don't use too much.  A little goes a long way.  One way to make an animal fat swap is by using avocado!  Now, it doesn't work to use it in place of cooking oil, but I have used it in place of certain condiments.  Put it on something that you would normally spread with butter, place a slice of cheese on, or smear with mayo/cream cheese.  The texture is similar, it has a very mild flavor (I'd call it mildly tangy, at best), and since it is a fruit, it has a lot of fiber and nutrients.  If you find it too bland, just sprinkle a little salt on it.  If you are eating the type of diet that we typically do in our household, a little self-added salt shouldn't hurt in any way.

How do I get my kids to eat this way?  Now it's not a challenge at all.  Some days it may still take a little poking and prodding, but once it's instilled in them, they will pretty openly eat anything I put in front of them.  We have a policy at mealtime:  You get "blank" amount of time to eat (a reasonable amount), if you haven't finished by the time the timer beeps, you get this at your next meal and can't rejoin us for the next meal until you've finished.  It feels a little cruel at first, but as your pediatrician will probably tell you, your children will not starve themselves!  I have never had to have this go beyond one meal...and as most parents of young'uns can probably relate, even the best of eaters will protest a meal or two in a day from time to time!

Also, if you think getting them to try new things and eat more fruits and veggies will be tough, you may be right BUT if you are willing to make any necessary changes in your own diet, this will come along a lot quicker.  You can't really force your kid to eat broccoli if you won't eat it, too!  Rarely I will have to tell a temporary small white lie to get them to abide--"Look!  Your potatoes are orange!  Isn't that COOL?!"  Or "Mmm, yup, buddy, that's cheese on your crackers" (instead of avocado).  And of course, after they devoured it, I let them in on what they've really just eaten, but I act really excited and proud of them for eating something new.

We do have treats, but they have to be well-earned.  A day of really good behavior, good eating, and a little sunshine certainly warrants a family walk to the ice cream place down the street!  This probably equates to a once-a-week occurrence when you factor in special occasions (which happen a lot when you have as many cousins as they do!)

One thing I do NOT let them get away with is telling me that they don't like a food.  Okay, so you try something and you're not nuts about it the first time, but when you are eating something that's very foreign to you, that is an expected response.  Have them try again.  And again.  And again.  At least have them try a handful of times.  They may not still love it, but this way you can typically get them to eat it when you serve it and not have to worry about avoiding cooking certain meals or becoming a short-order cook for a picky family.  And if you persist and they still tell you they don't like it, then you can tell them to "pick it out" themselves!  This doesn't mean that I push a food or force it down their throats, but that I just keep presenting it to them and insisting that they try it.  (See three paragraphs above.)

The awesome thing about all of this is that you do not have to be a gourmet chef to get them a balanced diet.  Raw, whole fruits and veggies are just about the easiest thing to "prepare."  Grains are no harder to cook than pasta.  Veggies are no harder to cut up than meat.  You will not wind up with more dishes (unless you were previously eating all pre-packaged meals) and it's actually easier to vary what you eat this way than when you serve meat-heavy dishes.  Fruits and veggies, nuts, grains, and beans all have their own unique flavor and when you accept that fact, your meals never have to be boring.

The most important point to remember?  Balance.  And yes, that means having your lazy, screw-up days, too.  There are plenty of days where I feel like a bad parent because half of what the kids ate that day came out of a box.  There are lots of times that I could kick myself for giving them sweets right before bed.  But you know what?  That's part of balance.  If you didn't have your failures to set you straight, you might not come back to what's good, right, and balanced.

Feeding kids can be a lot of fun.  It has to start with you--you have to take the initiative to give them what's good, but you also have to lead by example.  Make sure they're also getting adequate rest and adequate play-time/exercise.  I can't prove this yet, but I believe that some day your kids will thank you for your consistency and persistence.  And for the days that you feel like a flop as a parent?  Give them hugs so tight that they giggle!

Have a great, healthy, balanced week everyone!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

II. Samuel 10-12; David disobeys a commandment

In this portion of Samuel, we see David commit his first major sin since he came onto the scene.  We've slowly been watching David get a little full of himself over the last several chapters, but he has always managed to save face in God's eyes...until now...

In Chapter 10, we learn that the current Ammonite king has died and now his son, Hanun becomes king.  David sends some of his servants to pass along condolences to the new king, trying to show a little compassion and show that they could remain pseudo-allies.  However the servants of Hanun recommended that he not trust this gesture from David and implied that David was sending spies.  So he ordered his servants to shave half the beards off of David's servants and cut-off half of their clothes (picture, down the middle), "even to their buttocks."  This seems a bit prank-ish :)

So then the Ammonites gathered together people to take down David, failed, and David said, "You're on your own now, fellas...I was trying to be nice, but you asked for it!"  Then the rest of the neighboring nations saw how powerful David was and decided not to mess with him and told the people of Ammon that they were on their own, leaving Ammon, well--on their own.

Now after they took over an Ammonite territory, David was lurking around one night and what to his wandering eye should appear but a little hottie named Bathsheba.  So he called for her, "lay" with her, and sent her back home.  Then Bathsheba sent a message to David that she was with child.  Now, mind you, Bathsheba was the wife of Uriah the Hittite (one of David's men).  So David sent for Uriah and acted like he was looking for a report about how the war was going, and then sent him back home.  But Uriah said, "No, I'm going to stay here.  How can I go home to my wife when all my buddies are out here fighting for Israel?"  So David "let" him stay the night, conveniently got him drunk, and sent a letter to Joab (one of his captains) asking him to put Uriah in the forefront of the "hottest battle."  Basically, David knew he was sending Uriah out to die.  And Uriah died.  So David called for Bathsheba, Uriah's mourning wife, and took her as his wife and she had their child.  But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord.

In Chapter 12, we hear again of Nathan one of the prophets in David's kingdom.  God sends Nathan to David with a parable about a rich man with lots of sheep and a poor man with one sheep that is like a pet.  There was a traveler who visited the rich man and the rich man took the poor man's sheep and fed it to the traveler.  When David heard the parable, he said, "Surely the rich man will die because he did such a terrible thing and had no pity," to which Nathan replies, "Dude, you're the rich man...God's ticked because you took what you thought you deserved (even though God gave you more than enough) and broke a commandment and had no remorse."  David says, "Yeah, I sinned."  And Nathan says, "God will let you live and he does forgive you...but you are going to pay for your sins."  So when Bathsheba has their child, the child is born sick.  Seven days later, the child dies.  The days that the child lived, David fasted, wept, and prayed, asking God to spare his son (his repenting).  After the child dies (his penance), David goes to comfort Bathsheba and gets her pregnant again, but this time God lets the baby live...and this baby was Solomon.

At the end of Chapter 12, David finishes conquering Ammon.

Interesting stuff!  We're learning a lot about David that we never knew!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

II. Samuel 7-9: David sets up his kingdom

The chapters in this book each seem to be very specific. Each one tells a specific piece of the David story. Here is a summary of tonight's sections:

Chapter 7: David has the realization that he has a house of cedar but the Ark only has curtains to surround it. So he asks his prophet Nathan if he could check with God and see if he wants a house. Nathan says OK and has a vision from God letting him know that God does in deed want a house now. Just as God will have a house, he also says that the people of Israel are in their permanent home, and even though they will have invaders if they are naughty, God's mercy will always befall them. God finishes up by letting Nathan know that David will always be great and his lineage will be in God's graces (unlike what happened to Saul). So Nathan tells David and David goes to God and basically repeats all of this back to God, saying, "God that's a really great idea, I won't let you down."

Chapter 8: David smites a lot of different peoples and expands his kingdom. It gets to the point that kings no longer want to fight him, they just praise him and submit to him before the inevitable smiting would happen. In a rather boring turn, this chapter then proceeds to describe David's cabinet, who his priests, scribes, etc. are.

Chapter 9: David wants to do right by his covenant with Jonathan so he goes looking for anyone from Saul's lineage that might be alive. David finds out that Jonathan's crippled son is still around, so David adopts him and brings him into his household, making good on a promise to a late friend. This is particularly interesting in that in those days a new king would have slain any of the old kings family so that there couldn't be a challenge for the throne.

The more and more of this book we read, the more we see just how much of a narrative it is. It is a history of the Jewish people just as we have our history. Famous battles, leaders and their adventures are all depicted in this book just as we learn about Washington, Lincoln, Gettysburg, Pearl Harbor and the like. While there is less insight into how to live to be drawn from these books than the prophetic books we've read, these narrative books help provide the context within which to place the prophetic books, alowing for a deeper understanding of what is in the prophesies.

Monday, June 11, 2012

II. Samuel 5-6: David becomes king and gets cocky

Now that Saul is long gone and people are trying to align themselves with David, the path seems clear for him to become king. That is exactly what happens. The tribes of Israel gather together and anoint David their king. Everyone is behind him except for those in Jerusalem where he wants to make his house. So, he sweeps in and wipes out everyone who opposes him in the city. Other kings recognize his greatness and send him supplies to make his house.

One line stands out to me in all of this though: II. Samuel 5: 13: "And David perceived that the Lord had established him king over Israel, and that he had exalted his kingdom for his people Israel's sake." What seems odd here? David PERCEIVED....Note what isn't said. It does not say that God made David king. In fact it was the tribes of Israel that made David king. God may have been with him, but it was not God that made him king. In fact, if you go back to I. Samuel, God did not want a king for the people. He only gave them a king because they kept whining and asking for one. So, we are to believe that even David is getting a little full of himself thinking that God has made him king.

David then has lots of concubines and children to establish himself and follows the advice of God in smiting the Philistines who are testing the abilities of the new King.

In Chapter 6, David has plans to bring the Ark of the Covenant to his city. Along the way though, one of his servants puts his hands on the Ark and is destroyed by God. This knocks the wind out of David's sails a little bit and makes him worried about bringing it into his city. So he puts it in someone else's house for 3 months to see what happens, as if he is giving soup to a taste-tester to see if it is poisoned. After those who are keeping the Ark are blessed by God, David brings the Ark into the city and starts dancing and partying in front of it. One of David's first wives, Michal (daughter of Saul), points out that  David is making a royal arse of himself in front of his servants and their handmaids. He goes off on her, basically telling her "I was doing it for the Lord and I'll get a lot worse." He even goes so far as to tell her that she is just upset because God likes him more than he liked her dad. This seems to be a far cry from the David that wouldn't harm Saul even when given the chance because he was anointed by God.

There is a saying, "Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely." I. Samuel saw the fall of Saul because of this. We will have to keep reading to see what happens to David.  (Although chp. 5 just told us he was king for 40 yrs, so this probably works itself out.)

SFT: A balanced diet (part 2) AND seeking truth

Hello all!

Boy, our momentum has really slowed down!  We're trying really hard not to let it stop, so there may be the occasional double post from time to time.  I just want to thank all of our followers for the very positive feedback and I encourage you to share this with anyone else you think may enjoy/benefit from this blog.

Today I want to discuss two things:  1) Another aspect of a balanced diet, and 2) seeking truth.  The "seeking truth" portion of this came about as I was researching "a balanced diet."

As we've discussed before, I believe there are few things as important in life as balance.  Whether you are balancing your entire being, balancing your checkbook, balancing your workload and family life, or balancing your diet, at some point or another finding balance is key to finding a happy and meaningful life.  So last week I was thinking more about eating a balanced diet--something that has become a bit of a passion for me since having children--and I recalled something about the body's natural pH balance.  I know that your body has different pH levels for any function that involves fluids/water.  And I know that it's important for your body to work hard to keep those various balances, or your body stops functioning properly (and then eventually altogether).  With this tiny bit of knowledge, I began my internet search on the topic of pH balance in the body.  Oh!  What a vast array of information there is out there on the subject!  And of course, everyone believes themselves to be the expert...

First, you should know the simple alkaline/acid pH scale:  it goes from 0-14, 7 is neutral, and lower than that is acid, higher than that is alkaline (or basic).  As I was reading, I began to understand that there are alkaline-forming foods and acid-forming foods.  This has nothing to do with what we deem the food to be, but rather with how your body processes them and how they turn out in your urine, saliva, sweat, blood, tears, etc. (i.e. lemons are really alkaline-forming in our bodies though we perceive lemons as being acidic).  I also learned that our bodies are slightly alkaline in most of their functions, the most important being our blood at a steady 7.35 to 7.45--go above or below this and you have symptoms, disease, and (if they go too far off course) death.  Furthermore, I learned that our bodies have acidic tendencies, in spite of the fact that our pH levels are all basic/alkaline.  So the theory is, eat more alkaline-forming foods and far fewer acid-forming foods and you will help your body along in maintaining its natural balance.

So what's an acid-forming food and what's an alkaline-forming food?  THIS is where I started to see a little conflict on the issue.  All sources said vegetables=good, processed foods=bad.  Everything in the middle was, well, in the middle.  Most fruits were listed as alkaline, some nuts (almonds) were alkaline, and a few more obscure grains were often listed as slightly alkaline.  Most heavily used grains (particularly when not the whole grain), dairy, eggs, and meat were all listed as slightly to very acid-forming.  As I searched further, the general consensus was that roughly 80% (visually) of your diet should be alkaline and 20% should be acid (some said 70/30 and fewer said 60/40).  If you search this topic you will get many different charts, most will tell you what I just did.  But it's VERY interesting to see where you fall in the scheme of things...even those of us who deem ourselves "healthful" or "balanced" eaters will probably fall on the acidic side of things.  This all seems pretty logical and sensible.  So far I had no problems with this advice: eat more green things, eat less meat and less processed foods.  This is largely what I wrote about in my last SFT about A Balanced Diet. And actually, when you think about the recommendations to eat certain foods for certain benefits, avoid certain foods for certain problems, and when you think about various health problems and why these things happen to people, thinking in terms of pH makes A LOT of sense!  If you're out of balance (and most of us probably are a teeny bit), you'll have symptoms of all kinds...very interesting!

Feeling good about my decision that I needed to eat a few more salads and a few less cookies, I kept reading.  Then I stumbled across a highly recommended book on the topic authored by a microbiologist who has evidently been praised for his/her ground-breaking research on such matters.  If anyone would like to read it or know the name, please contact me, as I do not wish to promote nor discourage the sale/reading of the book in our blog.  But it looked very interesting and went into great detail on the topic of our pH levels and how they affect our health.  So I went to the library and checked it out.  I started reading and there was a lot of scientific information about this topic...interesting stuff and at times scary to read.  "What?!  You mean there's mold in my blood stream?!"  "What?!  You mean I'm killing all of my cells by eating junk food and causing myself to have even worse cravings?!"  "What?!  You mean even my slightly off-balance way of eating could cause cancer?!"  I read further and began reading testimonials of people who went on the authors' "plan" for fixing pH levels..."Ohhhh, so there's a plan..."  The testimonials were from cancer patients, obese patients, heart attack sufferers, etc (all very extreme situations) who had changed their lives for the better by supposedly balancing their pH levels.  I went on to read the plan.  And THIS is where I became discouraged about balancing my pH levels.  The plan was basically this:  Eat mostly green foods (lots of leaves and sprouts), use healthy oils (the usual ones, olive, flax, etc), drink IONIZED (!) water (because it becomes alkalized through this process...and by the way, is also achieved through a ridiculously expensive machine), and use mineral salts instead of regular table salt.  Okay, so far this doesn't seem too over the top, right?  As I read about the plan in greater detail, though, it became apparent that I was trying to be "sold" (and scared) on the idea of balancing my pH in order to sell some product.  There were loads and loads of brand-name references (mostly created by the authors), several references to previous books by this author, and many mentions of other supplements and products that they very conveniently created so that I could live the most pH balanced life possible.  Now to be honest, the red flags were going up long before this..."Don't eat fruit?  That seems very contrary to what God intended for us..."

I felt that it was incredibly unnatural for most people to eat the way this book suggested.  If I were to eat most of the recipes in the back of the book, I would probably be gagging them down with every bite.  The amount of (ionized) water it suggested you drink would probably wash out most of your body's nutrients, requiring you to buy and ingest the very expensive supplements that were sold in the book.  (Which, by the way, are largely available in most of the foods that you were discouraged from eating.)  Furthermore, the testimonials given throughout were always done by people who had very severe conditions and often admitted to having previously been very unhealthy in their way of eating.  So if they were making such drastic changes, it is quite likely that they would experience the changes that they claimed to see.  Also, they were making up their minds to make a change and heal themselves, a very powerful step in itself.

So the next day (after a lot of tossing and turning overnight due to my uneasiness with all that I had just read), I got up and started doing more research, this time trying to find oppositions to this theory.  My-oh-my! are there a lot of strong opinions out there!  Most chemists and biologists who had their opinions posted on the matter began referring to all of this as "quackery," saying that it just isn't possible to change your body's pH through diet--your body works very hard to maintain the exact balance that it is supposed to be at--and especially not through the consumption of ionized water (and then went on to say that if you must drink alkalized water, just squeeze a lemon into it!)  And apparently, there are a lot of negative opinions of the author, along with a few vague but negative factoids, as well.  It was at this point where I decided that my initial knowledge of the subject was more than enough and that I would do as I have always done and let God guide me in my decision making, NOT the fact-or-farce-filled internet!

Please do not heed any of this as advice to improve your health.  I do not take a side on the subject, though I lean towards, "helping balance your pH through diet makes sense, going through very extreme measures to do so does not."  

What did I gain from my research about pH balance?  Eat a balanced diet...more green, less processed, more plants, fewer animals, more of what God gave us, less of what man gave us (and for all  you diet-soda addicts out there, please consider an alternative to this seemingly very dangerous vice!).  In addition--and by the way, there was an entire chapter on the following in the book I read--don't let stress get the best of you.  When we feel stressed, it compromises our whole delicate system, whether through raising our acidity or just simply causing us to feel "off."  Give yourself a "timeout," breathe, and allow yourself time to adopt a better attitude.  The aforementioned authors went on to say that changing your diet won't do you one ounce of good if you don't change your way of thinking.  "Then why write this book in the first place?  I suppose, they're allowed to make money, too."

God created our bodies, the earth, and all that surrounds us with a very specific purpose for every tiny detail.  He made it all with the intention that we should never need to consume supplements, never have to fertilize our soils, and never have to filter our water.  Clearly, man has come a long way from the way that God intended him to live, so we must work hard to undo much of what has been done at times.

What's the point of all this?  Well, basically, just do your research.  If you find things that make you raise an eyebrow, dig a little further and if it just doesn't add up, consider researching the alternative to see what you come up with.  More often than not, I would bet that most of us will balance our own thoughts through research, prayer and reflection, and a good night's sleep!  When we seek truth, we need to seek God...after all, when you want to know how something works, wouldn't it make sense to go straight to the manufacturer?

Truthfully yours,

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

II. Samuel 1-4

Yesterday we read that Saul had been hit with an arrow by the Philistines and then "fell on his sword" to put himself out of his misery.  Today we find out that Saul mustn't have had very good aim because as David sees an Amalakite leaving Saul's camp this man tells him, "I saw Saul after he 'leaned upon his spear' and he asked me to finish the job, so I stood on him, killed him, and stole his crown and his bracelet and well, here I am!"  So David had the man killed for killing the Lord's anointed (in spite of Saul being against him).  Then he recited a little poetry in honor of Saul and Jonathon.

Now David became king of Judah and Saul's son Ishbosheth became king of Israel.  Abner (Saul's former servant) and some of Ishbosheth's other servants went and met up with Joab (a servant of David's) and some of David's other servants and they had a little tiff (we don't really know why) and fought one another.  One of David's servants, Asahel, kept following Abner who's like, "Dude, stop following me!" And Asahel's like, "No way man...I'm gonna getcha!"  And Abner turns around and 'smote him under the 5th rib'.  So Joab (Asahel's brother, another of David's servants) starts to follow Abner who says, "How long are you going to follow me  in order to avenge your brother?"  So Joab calls off the chase and David's servants go back to Bethlehem (after slaying some 300 Benjamites) and bury Asahel.

So the house of Saul (now Ishbosheth's reign) and David's kingdom were at war for a long time and it was becoming more and more apparent that Ishbosheth wasn't anything to write home about and that David was clearly all-that-and-a-bag-of-chips in the eyes of Israel.  So being the sneaky little weasel that he's been all along, Abner starts to cause Ishbosheth to fear him and then Abner sends a messenger to David asking to make a pact:  keep me in your favor and I'll bring you all of Israel.  David was starting to trust Abner and so Abner goes on his way home, but Joab (one of David's servants, brother of Asahel who died by Abner) says to David, "He's tricking you!  And you're just letting him go?!"  So Joab sneaks off and kills Abner.  David hears this and says, "The blood is on your hands, not mine!"  Then he mourns Abner and buries him in Hebron.

At this point we haven't heard much about Ishbosheth, but he mustn't be a very good king because in Chapter 4, some of Ishbosheth's captains go and kill Ishbosheth while he's napping (quite violently, too), thinking that they would somehow have favor in David's eyes now that the throne would be his.  But David, proving himself righteous yet again (I mean, how many opportunities did he have to kill Saul and to say bad things about others against him??), says, "I didn't appreciate the guy who thought he was bringing me good news by telling me Saul was dead...now I'm going to have you slaughtered for killing a righteous man in his own bed."  And his men cut off the captains' hands and feet and hanged them.  And then Ishbosheth's head was buried with Abner's body.

The only thing we left out (because of the lack of continuity to the main plot line) was the fact that David had 6 children...with 6 different women!  And at one point he asks for his old wife, Michal, back.  When she gets taken from her husband, he follows her and weeps and Abner told him, "Go home!"  This didn't have a lot of relevance right now, but it will as we progress in the reading.

More tomorrow...good night!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

I. Samuel 28-31: Saul dies, David is a folk hero/mercenary

Since David and Saul parted ways (with lots of javelins thrown at walls), the first book of Samuel has been bouncing back and forth between their stories with each chapter. It is as if there are two stories co-existing within the same timeline (Think the current marvel Avengers Movie Series).  Saul though continues to spiral downward while David continues to raise his folk hero status.

Where last we left David, he was slaying evildoers by the order of the Philistine king Achish. He had gained great favor in Achish's mind. So much so that Achish figured the Israelites would hate him by now (the missing piece here is Achish not thinking of all the Philistines David had smote in the past though). The Philistines were going to go into battle again against the Israelites and David told Achish he would be at his side.

Meanwhile, in Saul's story line, he was watching the Philistines gather to battle against them. Despite his prayers, God would not answer him. becoming more and more worried, Saul disguises himself and turns to a witch to help him (even though he had cast all of the witches and wizards out of the land). The witch summoned Samuel from the dead, who then reminded Saul that God no longer had favor for him because he had disobeyed him by failing to finish off the Amalekites a while back. Samuel's ghost also reminds Saul that God has favor with David and informs him that Saul and Israel will fall to the Philistines.

Jumping back to David's timeline: The Philistine princes do not want David to go into battle with them because they fear he will team up with Saul against them. Perhaps this really was David's plan all along, but we will never know as Achish asks David to leave the Philistines and go home so that he doesn't get in trouble with the princes. David and his men go home to the wilderness of Ziklag only to find that those pesky Amalekites have swooped through and taken all of their families hostage. Only part of David's band of men are able to go with him in pursuit though as some have become too weak to carry on. Those that are strong enough go with David to smite the Amalekites (finishing Saul's job) and bring the women and children back. When they return there is turmoil among the troops as to who should get the spoils of battle (since many didn't even go into battle). David said, "Pish-Posh, everyone in the group gets a fair share of the spoils, even the elders of Judah," and divides up the riches of the evil doers as Robin Hood would have. The rest of the enemies of the people of the Lord were put on notice that day that David was the protector.

Back in Saul's timeline, the Philistines have killed his sons in battle and Saul has been wounded by an arrow. He asks his armor bearer to kill him so the Philistines won't. When his assistant won't kill him, he kills himself, which them prompts the armor bearer to do the same. The Philistines are victorious on the battlefield and celebrate by cutting off Saul's head and shipping his body parts around the kingdom. However, the valiant natives of the area decided this wasn't a fitting burial for a king. They went out in the night gathering his body and burned it, buried his bones and then fasted in honor of the king.

Stan Lee himself couldn't have written a better heroic and tragic story line...and imagine that, there's a sequel to come.