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Archive for January, 2011

Wes, Me… and Paula

Monday night is date night for Wes and I.  For most people, date night usually involves leaving the house and, you know, going on a date.   (Most people also do silly, ridiculous things like celebrating Valentines Day and anniversaries.)  But Wes and I are not like most people.  (And all our friends say “Amen!”)  And while relationships are usually based on love and affection and respect and shared values, I think the real basis of our relationship is food.  Wes and I like food.  A lot.  We spend a lot of time eating food.  We spend a lot of time cooking food.  We spend a lot of time talking about cooking and eating food.  And then we go watch Harry Potter, which, incidentally, has a good deal of food in it and must be accompanied by appropriate amounts of candy.

I’ve decided that food is my love language.  I’m trying to pass it off as my spiritual gift, but I suspect God has other intentions for me.  So when one of us (and by one of us, I mean Wes) is fasting, my world gets pretty dark.  We drink cups and cups of tea and stare at each other, and I wrack my brain.  Isn’t there anything else we like doing?  Don’t we have any other friends?  Interests?  Hobbies that don’t include beer and garlic and butter?  And then we usually end up talking about God, and it all works out.  But I’m always relieved when the fast ends and my life can go back to normal and I can once again pretend that I’m a balanced, well-rounded person with a variety of passions and activities.

No one was fasting last Monday, though, and like I said, Wes and I don’t go out on date night.  There are a variety of reasons for this.  Apart from the fact that we’re still college student-poor, we’re also unashamed food snobs.  We cook for ourselves because we’re convinced that what we make at home will be better (often true) and cheaper (meh… sometimes) than what we can buy at a restaurant.  And yes, we’re Southern, but we’re not Paula Deen-Southern.  We still consider ourselves to be health-conscious.  If we cook at home, we can be careful about what goes into our food and avoid unnecessary preservatives and oils and fats.  But apparently, our concept of “healthy cooking” has some holes in it.

Last Monday, Wes and I went on a romantic outing to Publix to buy groceries.  Because we’re “spontaneous” (ie, bad at planning), our usual approach is to just look around until we get inspired.  If you know Wes and I, you know that this approach is… exactly as effective as it sounds.  But eventually, we decided what we wanted to cook.  Wes was inspired by the fresh brussel sprouts in the produce section.  (Fresh vegetables!  We’re so healthy!)  I was inspired by, um, heavy cream.  (Uh… dairy has lots of calcium?)  So we made chicken pesto alfredo and sautéed brussel sprouts.

Admittedly, not the most calorie-conscious meal, but I wasn’t exactly in the mood for healthy and I figured that at least this way I could take full responsibility for the degree to which my arteries were clogged.  Besides, the brussel sprouts were going to be healthy, and I wasn’t planning on eating a softball-sized wad of pasta.  I made the cream sauce with butter, half-and-half, pre-made pesto and some spices, and tossed it with linguine, sliced grilled chicken, and fresh parmesan.  Wes caramelized the brussel sprouts with butter and garlic.  We tasted the cream sauce, tasted the brussel sprouts, talked about how much better they were fresh, and started serving the plates.  Then I decided to clean up a little before we ate.

I had used half a stick of butter in the alfredo sauce and left the other half on the cutting board so Wes could use some of it in the brussel sprouts.  But as I cleaned up, I noticed it was still sitting there – and the other stick of butter was gone.  So I asked Wes about it.

“How much butter did you put in the brussel sprouts?”

“I don’t know.  Like a few tablespoons?  I used the butter on the cutting board.”

I pointed to the counter.  “But it’s still sitting there.”

“Oh,” Wes said.  “Then I guess I used half of the other stick too.”

So yes, our oh-so-healthy vegetables were seasoned with an entire stick of butter.  I think that’s my cue to get out of the South, now.  Apparently Paula Deen’s influence is far greater than we thought.  You think you’re safe, then all of a sudden, you find yourself deep-frying a block of cream cheese and wondering which recipe of cornbread casserole you should serve with your turducken.

Tonight is date night again.  Wes and I are going out for once, and I’m going to do my best to order a meal with lots of leafy green somethings.  Maybe there’s still hope for us.  But if you ever hear me talk about combining a sausage patty with bacon, eggs, and cheese and serving it between two doughnuts, someone please come kidnap me and force-feed me tofu until I come to my senses.  I will not let Paula win…

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So I hear that some people who have blogs actually update them more than once every two months.

I haven’t been one of those people lately, so I guess first I should apologize to all my dedicated readers who anxiously await my next posting.  And by “dedicated readers”, I mostly just mean Wes, who foolishly decided to make my blog his home page and has had to look at my “state of the union” letter to my car every time he wanted to go online for the past two months.  Sorry, love.

I’ve apparently gotten really good at rationalizing lately, so I could give you tons of reasons why I’ve been AWOL (I’m a teacher now!  For the rest of the school year, in fact), but making apologies for the way I spend my time really isn’t what I want to fill my blog with.  So instead, I’m going to give you the world’s longest excuse, cleverly disguised as a blog entry.

Are you ready?  Here it goes:

Stress is a commonly accepted part of life, even among Christians, and Stress and I have been in a long-term relationship ever since high school (we met during physics my junior year, and got serious when I started filling out college applications and spending my spare time laying on my bedroom floor.)  But stress is really just another word for anxiety, and anxiety is really another word for fear.  Why do we have stress?  “In this world, you will have trouble.”  (see John 16:33)  Conflict is inevitable.  So how do I deal with conflict?

Back in April, I did a presentation for Geneva’s elders on systems theory as it relates to the life of a church.  If you’re like most people, your eyes glazed over just reading that sentence.  But I’m a poli-sci major, so I think systems theory is “really interesting”.  (I used the same phrase when teaching atomic structure to my science class; now they groan when I suggest doing anything else “interesting”.  Being 23 can only buy you so much coolness when you’re a chronic nerd.)  During my research, I learned all sorts of fascinating things which the oh-so-fortunate elders at Geneva now know too.  But, believe it or not, I haven’t thought much about my systems theory research since then, until now.

Human beings are unique in that they have three “brains” – three levels of thought.  The reactive brain is the most primitive.  It controls our instinctive or unconscious reactions to our surroundings, and the physical needs of our bodies.  This is where “fight or flight” comes from.  When something is placed in a crocodile’s open mouth, it bites down.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a stick or a fish.  That’s the reactive brain, which is the one that almost all animals have.

Next is the feeling brain.  It’s responsible for our emotions and emotional needs.  A dog can be happy or sad.  Horses are lonely and anxious when separated from their herd.  Many mammals operate according to a feeling brain as well as a reactive brain.

The highest level of thought occurs in the thinking brain, which is the one unique to humans.  The thinking brain is responsible for things like our speech, our capacity for learning, and our decision-making capabilities.  It was designed to overrule the other two brains – which is where self-control comes in.  Sometimes, however, the thinking brain can be tricked into serving the other brains.  (Rationalization, for example, is the thinking brain justifying what one of the other two brains has dictated.)

So what does this have to do with stress and my blog?  If I don’t deal with conflict using my thinking brain, I have two choices.  I can use my reactive brain, in which case I’ll probably either run screaming and hide under my bed or throw a shoe at whatever’s causing the problem.  (If the source of the conflict happens to be papers that need grading, this is a particularly ineffective response.)  Or I can use my feeling brain and choose from a myriad of emotions with which to address the conflict.  My approach is based solely on how the outcome will make me feel.  And you know what?  I’d feel a lot better if I didn’t have to go to work tomorrow.

This all sounds ridiculous, until you consider that fear is an emotion.  So when I allow stress to determine how I use my time, what I’m really doing is letting my feeling brain rule my life.  I’m reacting to conflict, rather than responding to it.  Because rational thought exists in the thinking brain, reacting doesn’t involve a whole lot of rational thought, and therefore, doesn’t involve choice.  When I respond to conflict instead, I choose what my course of action will be, instead of trying to protect myself or make myself feel better.

Right now, I have tests and study guides to write.  My house needs to be cleaned and my yard needs to be raked.  And I’m tired.  Is this conflict?  Sure.  But I don’t want to react to it by getting stressed anymore.  So I’m writing on my blog, even though there are other things I “need” to do.  I chose to get up early this morning and read my Bible, even though I could have used more sleep.  Fear doesn’t get to dictate how I use my time anymore.

Isn’t it funny how we have three levels of thinking and we’re also three-part beings?  Isn’t it funny that we have a body, soul, and spirit to go along with our reactive, feeling, and thinking brains?  Isn’t it funny that our spirits, which are rightly connected with God, keep having to fight with our souls for control of our lives?  Isn’t it funny that living from our souls results in so much fear and anxiety?  Think about it…

PS – Aren’t you glad that the only part of my systems theory research I talked about was the three brains theory?  Although I can tell you all about disease and growth cycles if you want to know…

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