A Guidebook for Dealing with PMS {Part 2: Supplements}

by Elizabeth

water

In the first part of this series, I discussed the changes I’ve made to my eating habits over the last year to make PMS easier to deal with. In this installment, I’ll discuss supplements that can help with PMS.

And this is where it gets tricky – because supplements can be like drugs, and I’m not a doctor. So again I’ll say, do your own research and talk to your own doctor about any supplements you want to take.

I’ll also tell you up front that I don’t use a lot of supplements. They tend to be expensive here, and it can be hard to find the specific supplement you want. A lot of friends who use supplements need to buy in bulk and bring them from their passport country – or have friends bring them on visits.

Additionally, the more I researched the specific vitamins and minerals I needed for my main symptoms, the more I realized that the healthier food I was eating was already providing most of what I needed. I do, however, take a few supplements.

 

1. Magnesium for Headaches and Anxiety

Everywhere I looked, magnesium seemed to be a highly recommended supplement. Magnesium is a mineral (as opposed to a vitamin) that’s supposed to help with anxiety and sleep. Interestingly, when I looked for natural remedies for migraine headaches back when I was pregnant and nursing, magnesium was a recommended supplement for treating headaches.

Some nutritionists believe that most people are deficient in magnesium. Whether that’s true or not, I felt like my symptoms (anxiety and headaches) did point to a magnesium deficiency, and I was able to find some magnesium here in country. It’s not the “most bioavailable” form that all those nutrition experts claim you need, but it seems to alleviate my symptoms. I try to take one pill a day for most of the month. If I can feel anxiety rising in the post-ovulation period, I’ll take an extra one each day.

I also take extra magnesium when I have a headache. That’s usually on the day before my period starts or the day it starts. It can also happen if I stay up too late watching a movie with my husband. I carry extra magnesium pills with me in my purse. (I’ve learned helpful stretches for both headaches and cramps that I will share in a later section.)

Another tactic I use for dealing with headaches is peppermint oil. Please note that essential oils need to be used topically and that they need to be diluted. We’re talking a couple drops here, diluted in water or some other carrier oil like coconut or jojoba. I dilute peppermint oil with water and rub it into the base of my neck, where my migraine headaches originate. You can also rub a bit into your temples if you get tension headaches. (And yes, I realize that essential oils are controversial, but topically applied peppermint oil really helps with my headaches.)

Another way I treat my headaches is with green tea. I know I said I gave up caffeine, so let me explain the back story here. I had menstrual cramps as a teenager, and even then I had difficulty finding an over-the-counter medication to help. Sometimes Aleve (naproxen sodium) helped miraculously, but sometimes it didn’t help at all. Tylenol (acetaminophen or paracetomol) rarely helped either headaches or cramps.

I landed on Advil (ibuprofen) as my cramp and migraine drug of choice. The only thing was, I kept needing to use more. 400 mg was no longer cutting it; I needed 600. I was a little nervous I would eventually need 800 mg per dose. And I needed to take it more often. I didn’t just take it in the morning; I needed more in the afternoon too.

But the thing was, the ibuprofen was tearing up my stomach. If I wasn’t careful to eat a lot of food with it, I had terrible stomach pain. Ibuprofen use is linked to a lot of stomach issues, and I knew I needed to stop using it. So the first thing I did was try to switch back to Tylenol and see if it would work. Turns out, it does, though over the last year I’ve been able to wean myself mostly off the Tylenol too.

I didn’t only take increasing doses of ibuprofen for the cramps and headaches; I was also washing down that ibuprofen with a cup of strong coffee. Caffeine can treat headaches; it’s a component of some over-the-counter headache medications. But as I drank more and more coffee throughout my days, that meant that when I needed to treat a headache, I would swallow 3 ibuprofen pills and wash them down with an extra cup of strong coffee. Ouch!

Now that I’ve eliminated the coffee, I’m sensitive to caffeine again. The small amounts of caffeine in green tea are enough to help with the headaches when they happen a couple times a month. Or I might drink some green tea after I’ve had a particularly bad night’s sleep. I don’t need to use the caffeine in green tea very often, but it’s nice to know it’s available should I need it.

 

2. Probiotics for Anxiety and Gut Health

Some research suggests that the “good” bacteria in our digestive tracts manufacture some of our feel-good hormones. It also suggests that the “bad” bacteria makes us crave sugar, and that when we eat sugar, we contribute to the overgrowth of bad bacteria or yeasts. We always have some of both, but they’re supposed to be in balance.

So if we don’t have enough of the good bacteria, either because we took antibiotics and killed them off, or because we eat a diet too high in sugar and not high enough in healthy fiber, the bacteria in our guts can get out of balance, and we can tend toward anxiety, sugar cravings, and even weight gain.

I was guilty on both counts. There are way too many opportunities to need antibiotics in a developing country, and as discussed before, I consumed way too many hidden sugars.

Research has shown that something as simple as eating more live-cultured yogurt (regardless of whether it’s sweetened of unsweetened) can reduce anxiety in women. I know this gut-brain connection sounds kind of weird, and it’s a newer area of research. But I definitely needed help with the anxiety, and probiotics are also good for keeping all kinds of female infections away (this has been shown in other studies).

So not only do I consume probiotics in yogurt and kefir, but I also try to purchase probiotic supplements. I can’t just hop over to a health food store like I could in America. But when people have come to visit, I’ve sent them probiotics to bring me, and I know a couple people in country who sell probiotics, too. I’ve been able to get some from them. I don’t know if the pills are as effective as food, but they seem like a good idea for my symptoms, and I take them faithfully.

 

3. Vitamins A, B, C, D, E

Basically all the vitamins, right?! Different sources cited all these vitamins as potential helps for PMS. However, I have chosen not to supplement with extra vitamins. As I explained in the beginning, the more I looked into the vitamins and minerals my body needed, the more I realized that my new eating plan should be providing most of these necessary vitamins.

I’m not opposed to taking vitamins, but at this point I’ve seen enough improvement through diet alone that, with the exception of magnesium and probiotics, I don’t feel the need to spend the extra money.

If you are going to take extra vitamins, I would recommend discussing with a doctor. He or she can administer blood tests and give you recommendations, because you don’t want to overdose on vitamins. The exception to this rule might be a regular multivitamin, which should be formulated to have safe levels of vitamins and minerals if that’s the only supplement you are taking.

 

4. Herbs, Amino Acids, and Essential Fatty Acids

There are a lot of other herbs and supplements sold for various PMS symptoms. So far I’ve chosen not to use them. However, I do feel comfortable with the small amount of herbs in herbal teas. Teas that are supposedly good for anxiety are peppermint, chamomile, lavender, and red/rooibos. I drink all these teas and like them all, though rooibos and peppermint are my favorites.

But I have a lot of friends who’ve found great success with various supplements. So if you want to look into other herbs, amino acids, or essential fatty acids, I would recommend doing your own research and talking to your own doctor. And if you find one that helps, by all means, use it!

 

5. Prescription Medications

Here is what my OB-GYN had to say about medications when diet and lifestyle changes are not enough:

“Low dose OCPs (oral contraceptive pills) suppress the surges of hormone (that get more drastic peaks and troughs as we get closer to menopause) and replace them with steady state hormones, which is why they are effective for PMS depressive mood/anxiety disorder. 

“SSRIs can also help, and can be taken cyclically rather than every day. Hormones and/or SSRIs are a reasonable short-medium term option if the severity of effects are driving you nuts.”  

So if hormonal issues are affecting your relationships and your daily life, and your other lifestyle changes don’t seem to be helping enough, definitely talk to your doctor about prescription options.

 

6. Perfumes and Fragrances

This doesn’t exactly fit into the supplement category, but it doesn’t fit into food, exercise, or cycle tracking either, so I thought here would be the best place to discuss it. I think it’s too important to leave out. The more I looked into ways to naturally balance your hormones, the more recommendations I found to reduce or eliminate exposure to artificial fragrances and perfumes.

Maybe these things don’t affect you, but they have always affected me. I have never done well with perfumes. They have always given me headaches. I would wear them, trying to convince my body to get used to them and stop reacting. But I never stopped having headaches with them.

I sometimes react to the scents in makeup or hair care products, and I always know when the neighbors are doing their laundry, because the fabric softener wafts up through my windows and hurts my eyes and gives me a headache. Even sitting behind someone wearing perfume in church can give me a headache, and I can barely walk by the detergent and cleaning supplies aisle in a store (in Asia or America), the smells are so strong.

(What is up with our obsession with scented cleaning products?? As a friend of mine likes to say, “Clean smells like . . . nothing!”)

There are a lot of reasons to suspect that fragrances and perfumes interfere with our hormones, too. They may smell nice, but they are not natural. Those good smells come from a concoction of artificial chemicals, and most of the time they are also skin irritants (eczema, acne, etc).

If we’re doing all this hard work to eat and drink better and to take helpful vitamins and supplements, then why would we deliberately put something on our bodies that could be irritating our skin or interfering with our hormones?

Fragrances are also hiding in our menstrual products and personal lubricants. It’s frustrating that in this day and age, companies are still putting fragrances and irritants in our personal care products, because the skin in that area is super sensitive and deserves to be treated with care.

Scented menstrual products are a big trigger for my skin issues, and that’s been really frustrating in Cambodia. I can’t tell you how many products I’ve purchased over the years, only to bring them home, open them up, and realize they were scented. Finally in the past year I’ve been able to find a brand that seems as unscented and non-irritating as I’m going to find here.

It’s can be hard to find fragrance-free soap, makeup, and laundry detergent, but I stock up when I can, or I use the least fragranced products that I can find. I just know I feel better when I use as few fragranced products as possible, and this step might help you too.

What I’m saying here again is, do what you can to avoid irritants and other chemicals that trigger headaches and skin rashes or that potentially destabilize your hormones, but if there’s something you can’t change, try not to stress about it. You don’t need the extra stress in your life that this kind of worry will bring.

 

Part 1: Dietary Changes

Part 3: Movement and Rest

Part 4: Cycle and Emotion Tracking (link coming soon)

A Guidebook for Dealing with PMS {Part 1: Dietary Changes}

by Elizabeth

PMS

From the title you can probably guess that this one’s for the ladies. (All you guys out there can take a pass.)

And truly, I never thought I would blog about this. But someone recently asked me for advice on dealing with PMS. I didn’t know the specifics of her situation (PMS symptoms run the gamut of the physical and emotional), so I just threw everything I had at her, hoping something would stick. My husband looked at my list and told me that it could help a lot of people and that I should turn it into a blog post.

So here we are, talking about Pre-Menstrual Syndrome in a public forum.

First let me give you all the caveats. I am not a medical professional. I am not a nutritionist or dietitian. I am just a 38-year-old woman who has had to get better control over her physical and emotional states in the past year, because the situation had become desperate. I dreaded half of every single month, and so did my husband.

I’ll simply be sharing things that worked for me. I recommend that you do your own research and talk to your own doctor before making any changes. I talked with both my nurse-midwife and a friend who is an OB-GYN about most of these things, and I’ll note their advice in each section.

I would also recommend that you start slow. You want your changes to be sustainable over the long run. I’ll be sharing a lot of options here. Starting small and getting a handle on just one or two things first, before adding anything new, can go a long way in making these changes permanent lifestyle changes. And that’s what you want – permanent changes. You won’t be able to sustain the benefits if you can’t sustain the habits.

I would also encourage you to be patient. Your mind and your body will improve in response to your changing choices, but it takes time, sometimes a lot of time. In my experience the physical symptoms improved long before the mental symptoms improved, but they did improve over time. Some sources say to wait at least 3 months before expecting meaningful change – that’s how long our hormonal systems need to adjust.

Everything is cumulative, so there’s a sort of snowball effect that happens when you’re able to implement a bunch of strategies at once, but it’s also true that every small change can be helpful. So don’t lose heart in the beginning.

Ok, now that that’s done, here’s a little medical definition of PMS, according to my OB-GYN friend: “Ovulation is marked by massive progesterone surge, and progesterone stays elevated until just before the next menses.  Hence the ‘premenstrual’ syndrome is more accurately a ‘post-ovulation-syndrome.’ Progesterone causes fluid retention, can be associated with irritability and depressed mood, and in general is a pain in our heads!”

Here are the main pre-menstrual (or post-ovulation) symptoms I was dealing with: anxiety, moodiness, snappiness, irritability, recurrent female infections, breast tenderness, and to a lesser extent, acne.

I was also dealing with menstrual cramps and migraine headaches on first day of my cycle and/or the day before.

In this article I’ll be discussing diet. In the following articles in this series, I’ll discuss supplements, movement & rest, and emotion/cycle tracking.

I’m starting with diet because that’s a place where a lot of us fall short. I don’t think we can just pop a pill or swallow a supplement and watch our symptoms magically disappear, not if we are dumping garbage into our temples. We have to do the work of changing how we eat.

I have a history of an eating disorder, and for years I ate a highly unbalanced, carb-heavy, nutrient-light diet. However, I paid very careful attention to my eating when I was pregnant and nursing, because someone else’s well-being was depending on me. But when I was done with those precious childbearing years, I let a lot of my healthy eating habits lapse. This has been especially true in the midst of stressful overseas living. So believe me when I tell you, I had a lot of room for growth.

Here’s a list of some changes you can make, along with the potential symptoms they relieve, according to what I’ve read and experienced. Explanations and plans for implementing the changes can be found in each section, along with my personal stories.

  1. Decrease caffeine intake: reduces anxiety, breast pain, and sleep disturbances.
  2. Decrease sugar and refined carbohydrates: reduces mood swings, acne, and female infections.
  3. Increase quality protein, fats, and fiber: reduces anxiety, acne, and mood swings.
  4. Decrease alcohol: reduces sleep disturbances.
  5. Decrease dairy: reduces breast tenderness.

 

1. Decrease caffeine

I had developed a dependence on coffee in language school and over the years had increased my intake to 3-4 cups per day. That’s how much I needed to get through a day. Now that I’ve given it up, I realize what a large amount of caffeine I was consuming.  And interestingly, now that I don’t drink coffee, I actually have the energy to make it through my days without coffee.

Caffeine can be problematic for many reasons including sleep, anxiety, and breast tenderness. Caffeine is a stimulant – that’s how it keeps you awake. It can make your heart race and worsen your anxiety. With all the extra stress and screen time in our modern lives, the last thing most of us need is an extra stimulant.

And indeed, I initially decided to cut out caffeine because of my rising anxiety. I had anxiety every day of my cycle, but it spiked really high after ovulation (mid-cycle) and didn’t drop until my next cycle began. And even then, the anxiety didn’t really disappear. It was just less than the anxiety of the pre-menstrual period.

But it was so hard for me to give up the caffeine! It took me a full 2 months to cut out all the coffee. I cut out a cup at a time and waited for my body to adjust. It basically took me two weeks to adjust to every cup (or half cup) that I cut out. I was tired all the time and got a lot of headaches. Eventually I was able to switch to decaf coffee.

I love a hot drink. It’s so comforting. But these days you’ll find me drinking either that decaf coffee or various herbal teas. My favorite herbal teas are peppermint, spearmint, chamomile, and rooibos (red). These teas are all supposedly good for anxiety. Even if they have no positive effect on anxiety, at least they are all caffeine-free and thus have no negative effect.

It’s important to note that decaf coffee still has caffeine in it, but it’s greatly reduced. I seem to do fine on the decaf, though, even when drinking it at night with my husband. I also still eat dark chocolate and will occasionally drink green tea (but I’ll explain that in another section).

After I gave up coffee, I drank black tea (which has less caffeine than coffee) on vacation and noticed a marked increase in anxiety that week/month. And then there was that one boiling hot April morning without electricity when I drank an iced coffee trying to cool off. I thought I would be fine, but my body reacted really badly to the caffeine. My heart began to race, my breathing sped up, and I felt flushed all over (the opposite feeling from what I was going for), so I really do avoid regular coffee.

 

2. Reduce sugar and refined carbohydrates

Just like the coffee, the sugar and processed food consumption sneaked up on me. I was busy homeschooling four kids and running a website. I began depending more and more heavily on packaged foods for myself and my kids, simply because it saved time. Super sweet yogurt drinks, packaged crackers or cookies, lots of white pasta and canned sauces.

But sugar wreaks havoc on our hormones, beginning with blood sugar dysregulation and ending with terrible moodiness. When we consume sugary or sweet things, our blood sugar levels spike, forcing our pancreas to pump out a bunch of insulin to shuttle that unnatural amount of sugar out of circulation and into our cells.

Unfortunately, the pancreas usually overshoots. That’s because it is sensing the rate of the blood sugar rise, not the amount of sugar. (I will refrain from geeking out over calculus here.) Our bodies don’t know that the sugar intake will stop; they just know that the blood sugar is rising too rapidly for safety. So the pancreas dumps too much insulin into our systems.

This leads to a blood sugar crash. Blood sugar drops below the normal level, making us hungry again very quickly and also making us moody. So we reach for something sugary again. When we eat this way, we are willingly putting ourselves on an emotional roller coaster. We end up snapping at our families, and they don’t deserve to be snapped at simply because we haven’t taken the time and attention to nourish ourselves well.

Alternatively, if we can’t get to food when our blood sugar drops low, our adrenal glands will work to increase our blood sugar without food consumption. This is quite an elegant system, but when we abuse it by depending on it on a daily basis, we can wear our adrenals out. (Caffeine is another one of those adrenal stressors, and depending on it to get through your day is another way of wearing out your body.)

Additionally, sugar consumption (in all its forms) tamps down on our immune systems. So even though we crave sugar and may even claim that we feel better when we eat it, it’s just bad for us, all around. As my OB-GYN says: “You have insulin jumping in here to help confuse the picture, so take the avoidance of simple carbs part seriously.”

Practically speaking, cutting out sugar can be harder than it sounds. Sugar lurks in a lot of places, including cereal, yogurt, peanut butter, pasta sauces, salad dressings, and salsa. I didn’t even have a sweet tooth. I wasn’t craving or eating a lot of desserts. I just ate too many simple carbs.

So I had to find and eliminate the hidden sugars and refined carbohydrates (which are so broken down already that they act nearly like sugar in the body). I was really dedicated to eliminating sugars because of repeat infections in the pre-menstrual period. I was losing my mind and could not handle any more of these painful infections.

Here are a few examples of the changes I made.

  • Boxed cereals. Oh how I loved Cinnamon Life and Cheerios (when I could find them on the shelves). Now I will occasionally eat cooked whole grains like buckwheat, millet, quinoa, or oats, but not every day.
  • Refined grains. I stopped eating packaged crackers (there are some really yummy ones here, but they are all made with a lot of white flour and sugar). I stopped eating Pringles (in years past I could down half a can in one sitting, especially when I was really hungry). I will occasionally eat popcorn with a movie. I eat tortilla chips with our favorite bean soup probably once a week.
  • Pasta, rice, and bread. I stopped eating white rice with our Khmer lunches and just eat the main dish by itself. I stopped eating pasta, couscous, and bread. {If you’ve known me since adolescence, you’ll know what a big change this was for me.}
  • Yogurt. I stopped drinking sweetened yogurt drinks and stopped eating regular sweetened yogurt. I started buying an unsweetened yogurt (made locally here). It was so sour at first I could hardly stand it, but I forced myself to keep eating it. Now it tastes only slightly sour to me. I’m sometimes able to find unsweetened kefir here locally too. (Kefir is a fermented dairy drink with more probiotics than yogurt, but it definitely still tastes sour to me.)
  • Peanut Butter. I love peanut butter! But I stopped eating regular peanut butter and started buying natural, unsweetened peanut butter (also made locally). I also started eating nuts for snacks.
  • Salad dressings, pasta sauces, salsas, and seasoning packets. I still use these on occasion, but I’ve also made my own sometimes. Since I don’t use them very often, this hasn’t been an area of too much concern for me, although it is another way to cut down sugar if you want to.
  • Coffee creamers. Yes, I used to put these non-dairy coffee creamers in my coffee. Yuck. They contain extra sugars and bad fats and are full of strange-sounding chemicals. It’s shocking to think about how many of these little creamer packets I used to use! Now I stick to plain coconut milk.

 

3. Replace the junk with quality proteins, fats, and fiber.

I’ve heard it called “carbage” — a clever combination of “carbohydrates” and “garbage.” But you can’t just cut out sugar and refined carbs; you have to add in the good stuff too. Protein, fat, and fiber blunt your blood sugar response to any carbs you might eat. They keep you feeling full longer and supply sustained energy over several hours. This will help with the moodiness and irritability.

There are other reasons for protein, fat, and fiber too.

  • You need a sufficient amount of amino acids (which are found in protein) to make your neurotransmitters (happy chemicals in the brain). Eating a lot of protein is therefore especially important for dealing with anxiety. In fact one counselor told me that “anxious brains need a lot of protein.”
  • You need enough healthy fats for your body to produce and stabilize your female hormones as well as build healthy skin and tissues.
  • And you need fiber (both soluble and insoluble) to feed the good bacteria in your intestines, keep your digestion regular, and to eliminate excess hormones in your body.

I will be honest with you. I made mistakes on this road. When I first cut the carbs, I suddenly couldn’t find enough to eat. Everything I had been eating was processed or taboo in some way. I was afraid to eat nearly everything except eggs, yogurt, chicken, and nuts. I was afraid of the dangerous, hidden carbs in everything. I wouldn’t even eat complex carbs. That made for a hungry, hangry momma.

It also made me accidentally lose some weight, weight I probably shouldn’t have lost. (I have since regained it.) I was so afraid of foods that could potentially make me sick again. I developed so much anxiety around food, and that just added to all the anxiety in my life. I kept thinking of food as potential poison rather than nourishment. It took me a while to relearn how to eat complex carbs.

So this is where I will quote my midwife: “Complex carbs are fine.”

And here’s what constitutes a complex carb: beans, vegetables, and the occasional whole grain. Complex carbs are not, as I thought in high school, a dish of pasta or a bowl (or bag) of pretzels. Complex carbs are slow-burning. The fiber in beans and vegetables is especially nourishing to our systems. (In my opinion, whole grains don’t offer the same amount of nutrition as beans and vegetables.) But when I first started on this healthy eating journey, I was even afraid to eat them. Now I find that I feel so much better when I do eat enough plant foods. So don’t be like me. Eat your veggies and beans.

In fact, my anxiety and breast tenderness spiked even higher when I first cut out the carbs. I could tell the very instant I ovulated, because my hormones shifted, my progesterone soared, my anxiety spiked, and strong breast pain appeared out of nowhere. What I eventually figured out was that I was depending too much on animal products. The first form of plant fiber/protein I added back in, as a way to counter all those animal foods, was beans. I found that when I put the beans back in, the breast tenderness very quickly subsided.

This is the advice my OB-GYN friend gave me: “Eat many anti-oxidant foods (blueberries, spinach, kale), other veggies, legumes, complex proteins.”

And here is where I get my protein these days:

  • Yogurt, kefir, and cheese.
  • Beans of all kinds. (Hummus and other bean dips, along with bean and lentil soups.)
  • Chicken and eggs.
  • Nuts, seeds, and nut butters. (I like walnuts, cashews, pumpkin seeds, and flax seeds the best, but I can’t always find them cheap enough or at all, so I take what I can get, when I can get it.)

Here is where I get my fat these days:

  • Eggs.
  • Yogurt and cheese.
  • Nuts, seeds, and nut butters. (Notice how several of these items do double duty here? Nice.)
  • Butter (for cooking eggs), olive oil (for dressings and hummus), and coconut oil. (Yes, I know that last one is controversial, but I’m sufficiently comfortable with it to eat it, especially when mixed with a nut butter and some cocoa powder – yum!)
  • I eat 85% dark chocolate when I can find it. I still consider 70% too sweet.

Here is where I get my fiber these days:

  • Beans
  • Vegetables (My go-to veggies are carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, bell peppers, cucumbers, and leafy greens.)
  • Garlic and onions (They’re good for the immune system and have a special kind of fiber that feeds the good bacteria inside us.)
  • Flax seeds (They also do double duty on fats.)

I know that we are “supposed” to get a lot of our proteins and essential fatty acids from fatty fish, but I will again be honest and tell you that fish is not one of my favorite things. I wish I could like it, but at this point, I don’t, and it’s not worth it to me to try to force myself. Neither do I like taking fish oil. It makes me gag and burp. I figured that out several years ago when I was looking into natural ways to prevent migraine headaches. But if you like fish or fish oil, more power to you.

Something I’ve noticed is that if I eat a lot of fatty meat in a month (like sausage), or if I don’t eat enough vegetables, I have more pre-menstrual breast pain. So while I’m not afraid of eating fat, and while I get a lot of fat from my nuts and seeds, I have noticed that the fatty meat affects my body. So watch how various animal products affect you, and cut down on the ones that most noticeably make your symptoms worse.

The upside to all this protein is that for the first time in my life, I can grow long, strong nails without the help of polish. I wasn’t going for that, but it’s a nice side benefit.

Another upside to all these dietary changes (and I don’t know whether that’s the reduced sugar intake or the increased healthy fat intake or both) is that pre-menstrual breakouts have lessened. My main complaint wasn’t acne, but I did break out in the week before my period, sometimes painfully so. That happens much less now. I never would have undertaken such extensive life changes just for the acne, but it sure is a pleasant side effect.

(Full disclosure: For years I have used a topical salicylic acid lotion once a day to treat and prevent acne. I still had monthly breakouts in those years. And I also still use that lotion, even while eating differently.)

All these personal changes mean I’ve changed the way we eat as a family too. I don’t force my children to eat the unsweetened yogurt or nut butter or to stop eating cereal, but I do cook them a whole lot more eggs and beans (and sometimes eggs and beans together), and we eat a lot more fresh veggies.

I use a lot more spices in my cooking, especially garlic and onions which are good for the immune system, as I mentioned. I also use a lot of turmeric and cumin. (I adore cumin.) That’s something else that’s happened — learning to use more spices means food tastes a lot better than before. And the children have definitely noticed that.

A note about some things I haven’t done: I haven’t asked my helper to change the way she cooks. She makes us one Asian dish per day, and know she puts sugar and maybe even MSG in the chicken, and she cooks the chicken in soybean oil. I have not known how to approach this issue from a culturally appropriate standpoint. Friends who have tried to have these conversations with their helpers have often run into difficulty. So at this point I just eat the meat dish without the rice and figure I’m doing the best I can in other areas of my life.

A word about eating out: I don’t stress about this either. I just choose the best option I can find. That usually means something with either a lot of protein or a lot of vegetables, or both. For a time I found that it was best for me to take little containers of nuts everywhere I went just to be on the safe side (and because I was constantly hungry). Or I ate something with protein before I headed out to a meeting that might only serve carbohydrate-rich foods. But I stress less about it now. What I’m saying is, make the changes you can feasibly make, and celebrate your successes. Then don’t worry about the rest.

 

4. Decrease alcohol.

Why is a Christian missionary even talking about alcohol on her blog?! Well, because some missionaries drink alcohol (shocking, I know). Some of them even drink alcohol as a form of stress relief. And my readers aren’t just missionaries, either. So I really felt I should mention this one.

I had never even tasted alcohol until I was 27. I was afraid to try it, convinced even one sip would inebriate me. There are some alcohol addiction issues in my extended family that made me want to avoid it altogether. In the years since first tasting alcohol, I only ever drank wine a few times a year, and the most I ever drank was 1/8 of a cup, which felt like plenty for me. I also love a good gin and tonic, ever since a friend introduced the drink to me.

However, alcohol was never something I “needed” for stress relief. So when I explained all my symptoms to my OB-GYN friend, and she told me that the “best natural remedies are diet: avoid high salt, processed carbs, artificial sweeteners, MSG, alcohol, caffeine,” I had no trouble giving up the alcohol. I do occasionally miss the gin and tonic, but with all the sugar in it, I simply don’t want to consume it.

Other women have told me that alcohol affects their sleep. Alcohol seems to relax us and even make us feel sleepy, but it actually interferes with the deeper cycles of sleep. So if sleep is an issue for you (especially if the fatigue makes you grouchy the next day), and you consume alcohol from time to time, you might consider stopping.

 

5. Decrease Dairy

A lot of sources claimed that dairy exacerbates PMS (specifically breast tenderness and acne) and recommend that people keep it to a minimum. I did not end up cutting out dairy. I love the protein and probiotics in my yogurt and kefir (not to mention the taste of cheese!). I’ve gotten such great results from all the other changes I made that I never made this one.

But I do have to watch the cheese. I usually eat cheese about once a week (it’s kind of pricey here), and I’ve noticed that, similar to the fatty meats, if I eat more cheese than that, I do notice more breast tenderness that month. So I can do yogurt and kefir daily, but not cheese. The moral of the dairy story? Find what works for you, and do that.

I think that’s enough information for now. Here’s a summary of the potential dietary changes I discussed and their potential benefits:

  1. Decrease caffeine (to reduce anxiety, breast pain, and sleep issues).
  2. Decrease sugar and refined carbs (to reduce mood swings, acne, and infections).
  3. Increase protein, healthy fats, and fiber (to reduce mood swings and anxiety).
  4. Decrease alcohol (to improve sleep quality).
  5. Decrease dairy (to reduce breast pain and acne).

 

Part 2: Potential Supplements

Part 3: Movement and Rest

Part 4: Cycle & Emotion Tracking (link coming soon)

A Book Giveaway!

We’re doing our first book giveaway over on the trotters41 Facebook page!

**A Book Giveaway!**

Elizabeth and I would like to gift a couple of folks with a free Kindle version of our new book, Serving Well: Help for the Wannabe, Newbie, or Weary Cross-cultural Christian Worker.

Serving Well has over 100 chapters that cover everything from how to prepare for the field all the way to how to return well. It includes reflections and insights on transitioning overseas, taking care of your heart, marriage, and children well once you’re there, communicating with senders, common pitfalls, grief and loss, and what to do when things don’t go as planned.

To be entered into the drawing, either share this post to your timeline (set to public) OR tag someone in the comments below. If you tag someone, we’ll enter your name AND their name into a drawing that will happen on Saturday, August 10th. NOTE: The comments must be on this post (trotters41) for us to see them.

Have a fantastic day!
~ Jonathan & Elizabeth

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Find Serving Well on Amazon: https://amzn.to/2yCJFJr

Read more reviews: https://trotters41.com/2019/07/30/serving-well-more-reviews/
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Elizabeth Trotter is the editor-in-chief for the missions website A Life Overseas (alifeoverseas.com). She writes regularly at trotters41.com and velvetashes.com and is the author of Hats: Reflections on Life as a Wife, Mother, Homeschool Teacher, Missionary, and More.

Jonathan Trotter spends his days providing pastoral counseling at a local counseling center in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. He also serves as one of the pastors at an international church. In addition to writing regularly for A Life Overseas, he has written for the IMB (International Mission Board), Velvet Ashes, The Huffington Post, and The Gottman Institute.

Jonathan and Elizabeth have lived in Southeast Asia since 2012. Before that they worked in local churches in the United States for ten years.

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Serving Well — more reviews

As our book goes out into the world, it’s been so encouraging to read about how it’s encouraging and blessing people, from the Marshall Islands to Kentucky, from India to Central America.

Find Serving Well on Amazon. And if you’re interested in bulk orders (5 or more) for your ministry, church, or organization, contact our publisher. Note, our publisher has partner companies in the UK and Australia for local printing/shipping needs.

Read more about Serving Well here.

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You Are Loved

by Elizabeth

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“You are loved with an everlasting love — that’s what the Bible says — and underneath are the everlasting arms.”

I recorded this Elisabeth Elliot quote in my journal a few months ago. Like many people, I have a complicated relationship with Elisabeth Elliot, but this message is pure gold.

It all started with a kitchen table conversation. Jonathan Trotter had been reminiscing about his childhood, the way he and his family would pause their studies each morning to grab a snack and listen to Elisabeth Elliot’s 15-minute radio show.

Every show ended with this statement of truth and grace. I sat at the kitchen table dumbfounded. I had never heard that statement before. I certainly didn’t know she spoke it over her listeners every single day.

She was saying this in an era when, in some religious circles at least, not a whole lot of God’s love was being preached. And it especially wasn’t being preached (at least in most of my childhood churches) that the reason we dare to believe in God’s love was because the BIBLE.

The next day at church the preacher talked about God’s everlasting love, and I took note.

At a special worship service later that week, we sang these words from Hillsong:

“I’ll sing to You Lord a hymn of love
For Your faithfulness to me.
I’m carried in everlasting arms,
You’ll never let me go, through it all.”

More everlasting arms. And more recordings in my journal.

Then last week I dropped my kids off for VBS, and when I came back to pick them up, all the kids were singing:

“What have I to dread, what have I to fear
Leaning on the everlasting arms?

I have blessed peace with my Lord so near
Leaning on the everlasting arms.

Leaning, leaning, safe and secure from all alarms,
Leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms.”

It was a song I sang a lot in my childhood, and though it’s a fun song, I didn’t have any particular fondness for it at the time. But it didn’t take a genius to recognize the pattern here.

When God speaks, He tends to repeat himself — or echo Himself as my husband likes to say. Over the last few months I’ve heard a lot of echos of God’s everlasting love, and I want to pass them on to you.

I don’t think I can say it any better than E.E., so remember:

“You are loved with an everlasting love — that’s what the Bible says — and underneath are the everlasting arms.”

A Few of My Favorite Things {February to June 2019}

It’s been so long since I’ve sent out an update like this! I’m sorry. I used to publish these lists of my favorite things once a month, and this past year it’s been much less often. Now that my anxiety is under much better control, I’m going to try to write more frequently. I’m feeling good physically and mentally (and have been for a while). But for now, here’s a (rather long) update on my life, along with some quality reading material. ~Elizabeth

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Hearing both my girls (on separate occasions) singing “Tell me the Story of Jesus” in the shower. When I heard them, I thought, it’s working! Let me explain. About a year and a half ago I realized my kids weren’t growing up with love for or even knowledge of hymns. At our international church we sing mostly modern worship songs, which of course I love. But I was raised on the meaty theology in hymns. Hymn lyrics are what come to me in the dead of night when I am in crisis. I want my kids to know them and depend on them too, but they didn’t really know any.

So we started slowly, one song a week. And sometimes it takes more than a week to fully learn a song. But you know what? The songs really start to add up, and after a year and a half we have quite a few hymns and camp songs we can sing together as a family. “Tell Me the Story of Jesus” is especially nostalgic because it’s not only a classic in the hymnal, but it’s also the song that all the campers and counselors always sing at the end of hymn sing at Camp Takodah, just before being dismissed to Bible class. This leads me to my next story.

I was doing yoga to The Majesty and Glory album (hymn music from Jonathan’s and my adolescence that I loved to listen to and recently re-discovered through iTunes). In walks my daughter who says, “Where did you get this good music??!” And I thought again, it’s working! My love for traditional worship music is slowly being passed on to my children and shaping their hearts and minds too.

Talking about the Enneagram with our kids.  Jonathan and I started describing the Enneagram numbers to our kids, based on a book we’re both reading. It was fun to explain who my husband and I are and to figure out who the kids are, together. It was fascinating to watch their faces as we read through each description and slowly, each child figured out which number they were. Some were happy, and some were annoyed, but we’re pretty sure we know which number each of our children is. It has given us a shared language and helped us all understand each other better.

Drama production and ballet solos. One of the great privileges of the last few years has been to watch my children grow through the performing arts. It started with drama at our coop and has continued with dance lessons for my two youngest. Every time I watch the performing arts I am moved spiritually and emotionally. The arts speak a language without words, and it’s difficult to put the experiences into words (which feels so surprising to a wordsmith like myself). Maybe some day I’ll be able to explain these things better, but for now just know they are a highlight of my life and I’m so thankful for the chance my children have had to be a part of these performances (especially since our drama teacher just moved away).

Velvet Ashes Retreat with my dear friend who is moving away. We’ve done this together the last 3 years, and I don’t know how I’ll be able to bring myself to do the Velvet Ashes Retreat without her next year. I also don’t know how I’m going to survive without this girl. But I am thankful we had this extra time to spend together.

2 Renew, a monthly Saturday evening worship time at our church. Realizing how much I need extra worship services besides Sundays, this spring I committed to attend 2 Renew at least every other month. It’s not fireworks, but it is consecrated time to talk to God without my children (I love Sunday mornings with my family, but they are inevitably slightly distracting). The times I have gone have been significant because God just seems to repeat all the things He has been saying to me, things I need reminding of, things I know but have not been heeding. And sometimes we just need repetition, right? I can pinpoint a big turning point in my anxiety journey to the first 2 Renew I attended in March and another turning point in addressing a deep father wound to the service in May. Thankful for these times!

I also attended Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday services at the Anglican church. I wrote about Ash Wednesday and Maundy Thursday. Again, these are simply times of worship that I attend alone without my family, and I tend to be able to draw more strength from them from than regular Sunday morning services.

Dance class. Contemporary dance class is a place I consistently meet God. I started attending last October when my anxiety and OCD began spiking. Every week in the beginning, I would nearly start to cry at some some aspect of the dance teaching that was reflecting something God had just been speaking to me about. This semester we learned some choreography to the classic hymn Amazing Grace. We danced it every week, and though I had a hard time keeping up and was quite unsure of myself, I kept going. Wow. All I can say is, dancing to the words of Amazing Grace every single week for 5 months did something to me internally. Every week I left dance class with that song in my head, and with a new understanding of my need for grace.

(The hymn was recorded by a friend here in town, and you can hear her beautiful version of it beginning at 5:30 on this video.)

A series of counseling appointments at Living Well. When I hit rock bottom, my best friend noticed. She has walked with me through many dark days over the past 13 years, so when she said, “I’ve never seen you like this,” I sat up and paid attention. Her concern made me finally seek counseling help. It was a short season of counseling (before that counselor left the country), but it pulled me out of the depths. I have a plan in place now to stay on top of the anxiety and OCD.

The rains have begun. This hot season was brutal, with daily power cuts due to a shortage of electricity in our country. The power cuts have resolved, and the rains make life more bearable each June.

 

MUSIC

In Need by Keith Lancaster. A friend shared with me when I spoke of the struggles of the last year. Beautiful a cappella. “I am your child, I am in need.”

Goodness of God by Bethel. “All my life you have been faithful.” “Your goodness is running after, it’s running after me.”

Come Alive by Lauren Daigle: “We cry out to dry bones come alive, come alive.” For much of the last year I was like the walking dead, but it was only when I started to come alive again (by working with a counselor here in town) that I realized I had been dead. It’s so good to be alive again, and I don’t ever want to live dead again.

Who You Say I Am by Hillsong. “In my Father’s house there’s a place for me.”

Oh Come to the Altar by Elevation Worship. “O come to the altar, the Father’s arms are open wide.”

Ever Be by Aaron Shust: “You father the orphan and your kindness makes us whole. You shoulder our weakness and your strength becomes our own.” This phrase caught my attention because WHOLE is my theme for the year, and I’ve definitely felt the need for His strength to become my own.

Even Then by Micah Tyler: Even when it feels like my world is shaken, even when I’ve had all that I can take, I know You never let me go, whoa. And even when the waters won’t stop rising, even when I’m caught in the dead of a night, I know, no matter how it ends, You’re with me even then.”

My Defender by Rita Springer: “When I thought I lost me you knew where I left me, you reintroduced me to your love.” I think I’ve shared this before, but it’s just so good.

A few hymns that mean a lot to me but that are hard to find good versions online. Here are the lyrics: Give to the Wind Your Fears and And Can It Be That I Should Gain?

 

BOOKS

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg. This was a read aloud, and boy does it have good dialogue! And the wisdom about life that gets woven into this children’s book is superb, especially the conversation about vacation towards the end. Written over 50 years ago, the conversation has amazing and unexpected applicability to our digital age.

Carry On, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham. The sea. The stars. Grief. Loss. Education. Empowerment. The nomadic life. I see why this book is many people’s favorite (and for TCKs especially). We haven’t quite finished this read aloud, but we need to.

The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis. The Silver Chair has always been my favorite Narnia book. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve been able to appreciate Narnia books that I didn’t particularly love as a child, but The Silver Chair has remained my favorite. I knew I wanted to read some Lewis over Khmer New Year (spring break), and this is the one I chose. All these years later, it is still just as good as the first time.

Brainlock: Free Yourself from Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior by Jeffrey M. Schwartz. Recommended by both Jonathan’s counseling mentor and the member care person in our org. So far it’s really helpful, both enlightening and practical.

Something that’s really intriguing to me is that 11 years ago during a particularly anxiety-ridden pregnancy, it was a children’s book about OCD that helped me work through the worries. And years ago, before I ever knew I actually had OCD, I had saved a Discover magazine article that detailed Schwartz’s career and passion and brought it with me to Cambodia, slipped inside the children’s OCD book. I had clipped it out mainly because it felt to me to be scientific proof that we have free will. This was back in the days when parsing out the truth of free will versus God’s sovereignty seemed of utmost importance. Now it seems less so, but it was quite the experience to begin Brainlock and think to myself, I have heard this man’s story before, and then to go searching and to find both the OCD book and the article.

I talk about worry and that children’s book in this article/video. These strategies “starved the OCD monster” and kept it at bay for over 8 years. This year I found myself

(Other than that, I didn’t get much book reading done this spring. I’d like to reverse this trend.)

 

BLOG POSTS, THEOLOGICAL IN NATURE

Job’s Wife: Authenticity in Suffering by Anna E. Hampton. A thoughtful and encouraging interpretation of Job’s wife. If you read no other articles this month, read this one.

Matthew 18 is Not Instructive for Book Reviews, But Much of the New Testament Is, by Jen Oshman. Clear-headed and true.

What Was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil For? by Daniel Hoffman. A lot to chew on here, and I probably need to re-read it.

How Universalism, the “Opiate of the Theologians,” Went Mainstream, Paul Copan interviews Michael McClymond.

When Self-Discovery Becomes Self-Worship by Josiah Dangers.

Scenery, Machinery, People — Rethinking our view of humans by Jerry Jones. Thought-provoking.

Canandian Mennonite University Scientist in Residence | Student Forum with Dr. Dennis R. Venema [VIDEO]. This lecture was so healing for me to hear. I cried through some parts.

 

BLOG POSTS, NARRATIVE IN NATURE

When Cuss Words, Addiction, and Shame Show Up at Church by Scott Sauls. I dare you not to cry.

An MIT Professor Meets the Author of All Knowledge by Rosalind Picard. I also cried reading this one.

‘Pointless’ Bones, ‘Flawed’ Birth Spacing, and ‘Broken’ Genes: Why our flaws alone can’t disprove God’s purpose by Liuan Huska.

Yours Also the Night by Julie Spencer. I had a lot of early morning wakings last year, so I relate.

 

BLOG POSTS, PRACTICAL IN NATURE

Surviving College: Go to Church, Go to Class, Call Your Dad by Joshua Gibbs. This advice is all so true. I almost never skipped church or class my first year in college, and I called my mom a lot. Definitely kept me grounded.

Why ‘Being Christian Without the Church’ Fails the Good Friday Test: According to the gospel of John, the cross casts us into community.  by Fleming Rutledge.

4 Questions To Consider Before Commenting On A Controversial Subject by Karl Vaters.

Homework is wrecking our kids: The research is clear, let’s ban elementary homework by Heather Shumaker.

Chris Evans’ Advice for People with Anxiety and Depression [VIDEO].

 

BLOG POSTS, EXPAT IN NATURE

9 Ways MKs Can Navigate Their Grief by Michèle Phoenix. Vitally important.

We Spent Our Best Years Overseas. And They Were Hard. by Jen Oshman. So thankful she said these things.

When Your Yes Impacts Other People by Sarah Hilkemann. Another hard truth about living and working overseas.

4 Ways to Give Yourself Grace During Re-Entry by Bernie Anderson.

15 Things I Want to Tell Graduating Third Culture Kids by Rachel Pieh Jones.

Even Jesus Had a Boat by Anisha Hopkinson.

The Reality of Being a Foreign Service Spouse by Donna Scaramastra Gorman. Being mostly in missionary circles, this is a perspective I don’t hear about very much, and I was thankful for the insight.

How To Get Into Missions in Just One Month by Anisha Hopkinson. Funny!

 

MOVIES AND TELEVISION

Kim’s Convenience. This hilarious show details the life of an immigrant Korean family to Canada. I think I like it because I relate to the cross-cultural difficulties and also to the specifically Asian context.

Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. A show from my own childhood, I watched the first season with my kids. There are some historical inaccuracies, of course, but I didn’t expect to find the gospel story plastered on the surface of this show, screaming loud and clear for all to hear. It’s Hosea/Israel, Christ/Church, Redeeming Love all over the place and had me crying in front of my kids. We don’t shy away from those stories with our kids – prostitution is on the surface of life here too.

The Lego Movie 2. It wasn’t a particularly enthralling movie, but the best part came at the end: “Because everything is NOT awesome, but we can make it more awesome.” This is so deeply, painfully true. Everything is not awesome. This world is deeply and painfully broken. People are hurting, and people hurt other people. The systems of the world are broken, and the natural world itself does not function as it should. But when we build community, the pain diminishes.

Captain Marvel. We watched this as a family in the theater. I like Marvel but am not overly fanatical about their movies. That said, I really liked the way this story portrayed strong female characters and strong, non-sexualized female friendships and mentorships.

End Game. Of course we all went to End Game too. I hadn’t even seen some of the pre-cursors to this Avengers movie, so my kids tried to update me. I cried so much. There are so many tearjerker scenes. The movie perfectly ties up nearly every Marvel/Avengers storyline. (I particularly like what they did with Captain America’s and Iron Man’s storylines.) Speaking of Avengers, here’s a fun article identifying many of the Avengers’ Enneagram numbers. It’s been informative for our family.

North and South. I love this movie. I agree with everyone else out there who thinks North and South wins the prize for best kiss. I watched this one with some of my kids while Jonathan was out of town (he was gone for 21 out of 27 days). Although it takes place in England (where every good drama takes place), this movie also related to a lot of the industrialism/strike issues we were studying in American history.

It held my girls’ attention well enough that I introduced them to Pride and Prejudice (the Hollywood version). They recognized Matthew McFadyen as Arthur Clennam from Little Dorrit, a really long Dickens mini-series that we watched together last summer at my mom’s house and which is now a family favorite. Anyway, after watching Pride and Prejudice, Jonathan loaded the soundtrack onto my girls’ devices, and they are in love!

 

MATH AND SCIENCE

STEMWA, a Facebook group that Jonathan created. I was lamenting yet one more time about how lonely it can be to be an expat woman in math or science. Finding other math and science people is hard enough, but finding female expat math and science people is even harder. Voila! Jonathan created this group for me.

Teaching at coop. I’ve mentioned before how much I love teaching math and science at our coop, and this semester was no different. I taught younger students, and it was still fun (though my favorite are the teenagers). In the fall I’m teaching younger students again, but I really like the content areas, so it will still be fun. I will miss my teenagers though!

 

HEALTH AND FITNESS

New hand weights. For Christmas I asked for new 3 kg weights to replace my 2 kg weights. The 2 kg weights were all I could find when I moved here, and they were only ever so-so for my fitness preferences, but after 7 years with them I knew I needed heavier weights. These weights make every video workout I have so much harder, even the ones I thought were easy before.

New workout clothes. The last time I bought workout shorts was 2008. Over 10 years ago. I was in dire need of new shorts! I found better, more comfortable workout clothes for cheap at the Decathlon store at the new Aeon mall in Phnom Penh (the same place I found those new weights).

T-25. Jonathan bought this workout series several years ago, but it had been been lying dormant most of that time. It was too hard for me at the time he bought it, and now he goes to a gym instead. So I tried some of these workouts. There are some good ones in there. They’re definitely hard, and I don’t do them every day. I think that attending dance class increased my strength and stamina and gave me the courage to try T-25 again. I try to alternate difficult workouts with easier ones.

Fitness Blender. I think I’ve mentioned Fitness Blender before. I started using their videos again. When I’m low on time but want to get something in, I do their short upper body workouts. Kelly, the gal on this husband/wife team, has an eating disorder story very similar to my own (minus the bulimia). Plus, she also has OCD (which I think is the reason I struggled with an ED in the first place and the reason it manifested the way it did, with relatively few months of being underweight but so many years of mental anguish). It’s a good video if you want to get a glimpse inside my life.

Teeccino. Yum. I weaned myself off coffee last year – very slowly over two months and honestly, quite painfully. I received some herbal coffee substitutes in a Christmas package from the States. (And all to be drunk with coconut milk as the number one creamer in the world.) I am here to vouch for Teeccino’s teas. Roastaroma from Celestial Seasonings is also a good coffee substitute. And I can sometimes find Starbucks decaf ground coffee. It’s far superior than the Italian decaf espresso you can sometimes find in stores here (but that works in a pinch). Once in a store I found some decaf black tea and snatched it up before it was gone. You never know what’s going to be in stock here, so you buy it when you find it and assume you’ll never find it again. It’s an insidious scarcity mentality I’ve picked up from living here so long. I’ve talked to friends who feel the same way.

Lebanese Red Lentil Soup. I found this delicious lentil soup recipe while searching lentil recipes. It’s so good. I try to make it a couple times a month. Unfortunately, red lentils were one of those items that went out of stock for a couple months earlier this year. I was so bummed and thought I’d never see red lentils again. Then lo and behold, one day all the stores had them in stock again. We kind of joke that when we can’t find certain items, that “the whole country is out of stock.” I mean, who talks like that? Oh yeah, expats do.

Garam Masala Nuts. I searched for a recipe for a spiced nut and seed mixture after eating a divine nut and seed mix at a Christmas gathering. Salty and spicy yumminess! I use olive oil instead of butter, and I add pumpkin seeds, which are a great complete protein. Pumpkin seeds were out of stock for a while, but they’re back in stock now. The only problem now is, walnuts are way too expensive to buy.

Green Pea Hummus. I love this stuff, but my family doesn’t care too much for it. More for me! This is the recipe that taught me the 2 key ingredients for good hummus: tahini and cumin. I had never put cumin in my hummuses before, but this recipe convinced me. I also didn’t always use tahini. It could be expensive or hard to find, plus, it’s so thick that it didn’t mix well in my blender (blenders aren’t always the highest quality here). Then my blender broke and I started making hummus by hand with a potato masher instead. This spring I started adding the tahini (because of this recipe). The trick for any hummus is to look at the recipe for the amount of oil and cut it in half. You should use half olive oil and half tahini for your “oil.” Then you get perfectly flavored (even if not perfectly blended) hummus. Word to the wise: soak your green peas overnight, or else it takes a lot longer than 30 minutes to cook them.

Black Bean Hummus. My family may not like my Green Pea Hummus, but they devour the Black Bean Hummus and request it frequently. It also has the requisite cumin and tahini, as explained above.

(As you can see, I’ve made a lot of lifestyle changes since last fall when I hit bottom.)

 

QUOTES

Oswald Chambers, January 2, My Utmost For His Highest: “Believe God is always the God you know Him to be when you are nearest to Him. Then think how unnecessary and disrespectful worry is.”

I don’t know the source of this quote. I found it from the blog of a friend walking through cancer, and she found it in a book she was reading. “We want to say that the knowledge of tomorrow would remove our anxieties, but this assumes that tomorrow holds sunshine, or that knowing what it holds means we could face it better. Whatever tomorrow holds, we can be certain that its contents will raise as many questions as they will answer.  We can trust God to manage the future without our help.”

This quote reminded me of a quote from Cindy Morgan that has always helped me: “Fear can have so many faces. We can never really escape from the things that cause us to be afraid. For everyone we secure ourselves against, there will be another waiting to take its place. The world is not under our control. So it all comes down to learning to trust God.”

A Charlotte Mason quote, found through Angelina Stanford: “If mothers could learn to do for themselves what they do for their children when these are overdone, we should have happier households. Let the mother go out to play! If she would only have courage to let everything go when life becomes too tense, and just take a day, or half a day, out in the fields, or with a favourite book, or in a picture gallery looking long and well at just two or three pictures, or in bed, without the children, life would go on far more happily for both children and parents.”

 

 

Finding a Father Wound

by Elizabeth

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It was Holy Week when the breach happened. A seemingly small incident that tore something wide open in my heart. It was a wound I didn’t know I still had, and it ripped right apart. It was a wound I thought had healed. And actually, I’m not sure I had ever identified it as this kind of wound: a father wound.

It feels strange to say that, because it didn’t come from my earthly father. While no man is perfect, this particular father wound wasn’t inflicted by him.

Rather, it came from someone who was like a father to me. A man who promised me home and then ripped it away. A man who promised me love and then withdrew it. A man who accepted me and then turned around and took it all away.

The sun was shining, and then it wasn’t. And it never shone again.

I trusted this man. I believed in this man. I loved this man. And his change of heart was both confusing and devastating. It insidiously taught me things about a Father’s love that I never should have learned. Lessons like:

Someone can offer you love and then completely withdraw it. You are never safe in love.

Someone can offer you home and then kick you out. Home and belonging are never forever.

Someone can accept you at one point in time and then for seemingly no reason at all completely reject you.

You can be worthy of someone’s love and then suddenly unworthy of love, forever expelled from their life.

So you must always work to earn people’s love, because you never know what little inconsequential thing might trigger love’s loss.

This father wound of mine, it’s a situation I knew was unfair. I’d been angry about it for years, but I hadn’t let myself hurt too much over it. I just let myself stay angry. That was easier, more cerebral. Anger doesn’t hurt nearly as badly.

But the wound was there, always festering, never completely healing. Until something ripped it open this spring. I was shocked — I hadn’t thought it was still there. But when you cry so hard you can’t breathe and you begin to think the emotional pain might literally kill you, well, that’s an experience that begs for the healing power of Christ.

It was Holy Week, and I went to Maundy Thursday service. I went expecting to meet God. In fact, on the way there I told God, This thing hurts so bad it feels like I’m going to die, so if you don’t show up tonight, I don’t know what I’m going to do.

There was plenty of space to meet God that night, and God descended into several of those spaces with me. A couple different people prayed for me. The songs, the prayers, the sermon, they were all good. But the most important part for me was the Watch at the end.

The service closes in silence and allows people, as they feel led, to stay in prayer, in the same way that Jesus asked his disciples to keep watch with him. I planted myself in prayer. I was almost undone at this point, desperate, my head hung low.

I wondered if the place to start wouldn’t be in asking for healing, but in asking for the faith to believe in healing. Because what if I asked the God of the universe to heal my heart, and He didn’t come through? What if I asked Him to fulfill his promises, and He let me down too, just like the man who was a father to me? I didn’t want to be hurt by the Lord of everything, our true Father.

So I stayed and prayed. I stayed, and I stayed, and I stayed, until I heard the answer in the form of one of the evening’s songs:

O come to the Altar, the Father’s arms are open wide.
Forgiveness was bought with the precious blood of Jesus Christ.

I stared at the newly cleansed and stripped-down altar, with its small cross inscribed into the wood now visible, and it dawned on me that a father wound is healed through the love of the Father. That my Father’s arms are open wide. The man who inflicted my father wound held arms open wide at one point, and then closed them forever. But the Father’s arms are open wide, always and forever.

I had stayed and pressed in, until I heard some sort of answer from God. And when I received it, I knew I was free to go. I packed up my bag, smiled in thanksgiving, and stood up to leave. I turned around to find no one in the room – no one except the ministry team cleaning up. I had been in the front row. I hadn’t realized I’d stayed that long. Everyone leaves the service so quietly, and I’d been praying so intently, that I hadn’t noticed.

I wasn’t healed on Maundy Thursday. But I knew where my healing would come from – the Father’s love. The Father’s arms are open wide. “How deep the Father’s love for us, how vast beyond all measure.” On that night, the knowledge of the source of my healing was enough for me. And I was on the watch for more healing.

A few weeks later I went to a special Saturday evening worship service, and God was so sweet to remind me of His truth. We sang songs about God’s goodness and faithfulness. It was good to remember everything God has done for me in my life, how He has always been with me.

That night we also sang Hillsong’s “Who You Say I Am.” It’s a song I’ve heard before but that hasn’t spoken to the deepest parts of me before. This time was different.

Who am I that the highest King
Would welcome me?
I was lost but He brought me in
Oh His love for me
Oh His love for me

Who the Son sets free
Oh is free indeed
I’m a child of God
Yes I am

Free at last, He has ransomed me
His grace runs deep
While I was a slave to sin
Jesus died for me
Yes He died for me

Who the Son sets free
Oh is free indeed
I’m a child of God
Yes I am
In my Father’s house
There’s a place for me
I’m a child of God
Yes I am

I am chosen
Not forsaken
I am who You say I am
You are for me
Not against me
I am who You say I am

In my Father’s house, there’s a place for me. I am chosen, not forsaken. The highest of Kings welcomes me. I needed to hear those truths over and over again.

A couple weeks ago we sang this song at church again. This time I sang it not through pain, but with joy. I sang, and I realized that the Father’s love had been busy at work in the undercurrents of my life, convincing me that there’s always a place for me, that my Father’s love will never fail. It will never run out, will never run dry.

The Father’s arms are always open wide. Earthly fathers may forsake, but we have a Father in heaven who never will.

The funny thing is, I thought I knew God as Father. As a child, I first learned of God as Father. “Dear Heavenly Father” is how all my childhood prayers were modeled. I was comfortable addressing God as Father. My dad was someone I could easily talk to, and God seemed like Someone I could easily talk to, too.

In the last decade I have explored God as Spirit and God as Son. This was healthy and healing, but I had neglected to keep pursuing God as Father. I thought I already knew God as Father. But I was wrong. There was more to know, more to learn. With our Triune God, it’s always that way. “Farther up and farther in,” right?

We’ve now lived all the way through Easter season and have even slipped past Pentecost. I’ve let the love of the Father wash over me the last few months, and I’m more sure of His love than before. I know that there’s a place for me in the Father’s love. I know the pain of a father wound will not kill me, even if it sometimes feels as though it might. And I know the love of the Father truly heals old wounds. Even the wounds we didn’t know were there.

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