You know that phrase, “When life give you lemons, make lemonade”? It kind of makes me mad. Why couldn’t God just give me oranges, instead of lemons, and then I wouldn’t have to look past the sourness of the situation to find the sweet. Also, when someone is in the middle of deep suffering, sometimes they just need a listening ear and a kind smile, not an exhortation to pull themselves out of the mud and be happy. Mourning is an important part of healing, and should be graciously allowed for. That said, if I’m to be truly honest with myself, the concept of making lemonade out of lemons actually carries with it some very deep, healing truths. In this article I’d like to share with you a continuation of the healthy journey I’ve been on, and tell you more about how I’m making lemonade…well, in this case low carb lemon bars…out of some lemons that keep trying to invade my heart with their sourness.
On a side note, I have to say that this recipe for lemon bars will leave you wondering why you ever needed carbs to begin with! So tasty and easy to make, and they barely affect my blood sugar level at all! Sometimes you need some comfort food to get through the suffering, and I figure it’s part of my job to provide you with recipes that won’t destroy your health and take you deeper into the mire.
Since this article is so long, I’m giving you the recipe at the beginning, so you don’t have to scroll down to the bottom every time you want to make these. I understand if you don’t have time to read the whole thing, but hope it will be encouraging to those of you who do!
Before we get to the recipe for the low carb lemon bars, I want to invite you to join with others who are making healthy changes. I’d love to walk alongside you in your journey towards wholeness and health! Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full!” Freedom from food addictions is part of having a truly full life.
Low Carb Lemon Bars
First off, I have to tell you that diabetes isn’t the only physical struggle I’m having. I’ve had hypothyroidism for the last 15 years, and the process of getting my sugar levels balanced has been made much more difficult by fluctuating thyroid levels. Especially when I initially lost weight 3 years ago I felt very sick a lot of the time, because my thyroid took a long time to stabilize. About a year after I was diagnosed with diabetes, I started also experiencing severe panic attacks. Bear with me, please…I’m not sharing this as a sob story, but with the goal of encouraging others who are fighting similar battles. As hard as it’s been, you will find if you keep reading that hope is winning the battle for my heart over despair.
To be honest, the panic attacks are by far the most difficult symptom I’ve experienced. It’s impossible to describe how bad they are, but I’ll try. One day I was sitting peacefully in a gathering of women at church, enjoying the company. Out of nowhere, I started to notice that my breathing was becoming very difficult, and my heart was racing. As I sat there, trying to take slow, steady breaths, I noticed that I also was losing feeling in my hands, feet, and face, and my head was starting to spin. Eventually I left the room and started driving to the ER (should have accepted my friend’s offer to take me). As my head swirled more and more, and my hands, feet, and face got worse and worse, I realized that I needed to pull over and call 911 (which wasn’t easy with fingers that I couldn’t move). I sat in my van on the side of the freeway for 20 minutes, waiting for the ambulance to arrive, wondering when I was going to pass out and if I would ever wake up again. I thought about how peaceful I was, knowing that I’ll be with God in heaven for eternity, but how sad I would be to leave my sweet family. I wished I had the chance to tell Jim and my precious children how much I love them and am proud of them. I regretted being overly critical, and realized what a lie all of my fears that had lead to criticism of my loved ones had been.
Finally the ambulance arrived and whisked me off to the ER. The ER doctor gave me some Xanax and my symptoms subsided. Then I spent a couple weeks battling through the panic attacks at home, praying for peace, and using the Xanax as needed. I also spent a lot of time hugging my loved ones, and being thankful that I still got to be with them. I wish I could say that was the end of the panic experience, but anxiety has plagued me ever since. It usually becomes severe in the winter, gets a little better in the spring, becomes bearable in the summer and fall, then returns in the winter. Last winter I laid in bed most nights, feeling so short of breath and dizzy, that I wondered whether or not I would wake up in the morning. I took Xanax only on the worst nights, because it can be addictive. So many prayers were said in that time. Mostly prayers for mercy and for my loved ones.
I hope you can see that when someone is battling anxiety it does not mean that they simply feel nervous, it means that they feel like their body is shutting down and they may not make it. In medical terms, panic disorder means that your body either isn’t making enough seratonin or can’t effectively use the seratonin that is there. Different people have different symptoms, and mine have also included chest pain and headaches. It’s horrific, and for me there was very little relief for months on end. During this whole process I’ve worked closely with my fantastic natural practitioners, with some success, but when the anxiety picked back up again this winter I knew it was time to try a daily anxiety medication. I started on Zoloft early in January, and think I may finally be settling in on the right level. It takes 4-6 weeks to adjust to the medicine, and the symptoms while adjusting can be pretty rough (somedays I have increased anxiety, nausea, headaches, or jitters, and a few other symptoms). Each time I try a new level my body has to readjust. Sometimes I feel like I’ve been put in a washing machine and am being sloshed around.
Meanwhile since Christmas I’ve also been battling to get my sugar levels to a healthier level again. I was surprised to have a high A1C (a test that indicates what your blood sugar levels have been for the previous 2-3 months) at the end of December, and have been severely limiting my carbs and stepping up my exercise to try and get that sugar number down. I also lost another 8 pounds (not really on purpose, but it happens when I eat less carbs). A few weeks ago I took another A1C, and it was still high…in fact a little higher than it was in December. I started taking a small dose of metformin and my doctor is slowly increasing the dose. Metformin also causes some uncomfortable digestive symptoms, and for me the digestive trouble causes panic. Honestly, I feel really yuck right now, and it could be weeks or months until things stabilize again. It’s frustrating, because usually someone who is at a very healthy weight does not struggle with Type 2 Diabetes. Fat interferes with the effectiveness of insulin, which is why it’s so important for people with diabetes to lose weight. I’ve dropped excess fat, so clearly for me there’s some kind of metabolic or immune issue, and I will keep working with my natural guys on it, even while taking meds. I’m quite positive the anxiety, diabetes, and thyroid issues are all related.
So there are the raw facts, now you’re probably wondering how I’m feeling about it. Well, like I said at the beginning of this post, wouldn’t it be nice if God just gave us oranges and did away with the lemons? I say that facetiously…at this point in the battle I’m exhausted, but most days my heart is peaceful, because I trust in my Savior. One of my favorite parts of the book of Job is when Job responds to his suffering by saying to God “My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you” (Job 42:5). What a powerful truth it is that knowing God is more precious than any circumstance you could possibly hold onto for hope? The greatest joy the world has to offer doesn’t compare to the eternal joy of knowing God. I don’t mean knowing about him, I mean knowing him. That is the peace and hope that carried Job through the most devastating circumstances imaginable, and it is the peace and hope that carries me through everyday of my own battle.
It is not always easy to hold onto the free hope God offers us. The darkness makes a valiant attempt to steal our hearts. We all battle darkness, and the process of finding God’s light is full of ups and downs in this world. As I worked in my garden earlier this week I was struck by the fact that no matter what direction you plant your flowers to face, they end up turning towards the sun, because they know that light is the source of their life. What a powerful image God has given us in nature! Light is the source of OUR life, as well! Allow yourself to feel and walk through pain, but do not allow yourself to be buried in the darkness of your circumstances. Turn your eyes to the light and grab onto the hope that is always available…even if the hope seems like it is just a glimmer of light in a sea of darkness. Don’t worry, I’m not going to leave you with this vague concept of turning to the light. The next few paragraphs will flush out the concept a bit more and hopefully give you some practical ways to do this.
A week before my most recent A1C test I had been spinning my wheels, working my tail off, trying to maintain some semblance of control over my blood sugar levels and physical symptoms. Do you see the red flags in what I just said? I’ve come to learn that whenever I’m “spinning my wheels,” or “trying to maintain some semblance of control,” I’m not living in a place of faith or peace, and my hope has become based on desired circumstances or outcomes (in this case, the outcome of being healthy and feeling good). A couple weeks ago I read in Isaiah 30:15b, “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.” It does not say that if we work really hard and shout really loud we will eventually gain control over our lives and have salvation and strength, does it? Repentance (turning away from our own way of doing things), rest, quietness, and trust in God’s way of doing things is the recipe for salvation and strength. WOW! Did you hear that? REPENTANCE + REST + QUIETNESS + TRUST = SALVATION AND STRENGTH. Kinda goes against everything you’ve been taught by our modern culture, doesn’t it? But oh how freeing this is, right? It’s not up to you to make everything right and fix all of your problems or the problems of the people around you.
I’m happy to say that before I took my last A1C God had spoken softly to my heart, and brought me back to a place of faith, which released me from the pressure I was feeling to control my physical circumstances. I can’t control what my sugars do. Thank God I don’t have to be in control, because it’s exhausting and I’m not very good at it. I felt peace at the thought of taking medicine after working so hard to be healthy for the last 3 years, and knew that God’s plan is good, whatever it may be.
So, was I thrilled and totally peaceful when I saw that my last A1C was not down at all? No. I was kind of depressed, even though I felt peaceful about taking meds. I think my resolve to trust God the week before had been limited to the idea that, even if I had to take diabetes medication, at least the A1C would be a bit lower than it was last time. That would have meant I had a little bit of control and my fear of what diabetes can do to a person would be put to rest. I wasn’t ready to see a number that was higher than the test I took in December. God’s still working on my faith and teaching me how to apply Isaiah 30:15b!
Right now I’m reading The The Bregdan Chronicles (9 Book Series), by Ginny Dye. I highly recommend this series, especially if you like historical fiction. It starts in 1860, and you see the main characters battle their way through the Civil War and its aftermath. At one point after much suffering, the main character, Carrie, says, “I’m learning it’s my choice how I live my life, but it’s also my choice how I see my life. I’m doing everything I can to choose to live each day looking for all the joy I can. Sometimes I have to look pretty hard, but I always find something to be grateful for.” Do you hear the power in that statement? I believe that gratitude is the antidote for despair, and I believe it creates a great foundation for the repentance, rest, quietness, and trust we talked about above. Find the sweetness of life and hold onto it. There’s always something to be disappointed or fearful about, but there’s always something to be thankful for, as well. Even the darkest times in my life have held glimmers of light that stream through the black heaviness of despair.
Philippians 4: 4-8 says, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your minds dwell on these things.” Friends, hold on to the light! Find the sweetness in your lemons. If you focus on the darkness it will consume you, but if you grab on to the light, you’ll grasp the deepness of God’s love for you and be able to quietly trust His plan for your life, while you turn from your own way to follow His way. You’ll look beyond your current circumstances and find ways to make a difference that echo through eternity, both for yourself and others. Gratitude leads to joy and peace that are way beyond the confines of this world. Just as the flowers that are planted facing the shade will eventually turn to face the sun so they can receive life, you will receive life if you turn your face towards the light of the Son and focus your heart on all that is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good repute, excellent, and praiseworthy.
I have not enjoyed the pain of my physical battle, but I’m thankful that God uses the pain to bless me and bless people around me. I’m thankful for the healthy patterns my kids and Jim are learning, and I’m thankful for the opportunity to create recipes that are delicious and good for you. I’m thankful for the way God has shown me His love in a deeper way because of this struggle. I’m thankful to know that I’m not afraid of death, and I’m thankful for the times that have been so low and scary that I’ve literally let go of my life and trusted God completely, whether He takes me home soon or when I am old. Those times have brought a restful peace that is far greater than anything this world can offer. I’m thankful for everyday I get to be with the people I love. I’m thankful for the sweet joy of the children God’s given me to love. I’m thankful for the strong support and love of my husband. I’m thankful for my mom, sister, brother, and extended family! I’m thankful for the dedicated, kind friends that lift me up when I’m down. I’m thankful that Jesus let go of His life to save mine, and that He continues to save me from the darkness that tries to overwhelm my soul.
So what happens if we combine the formulas from Isaiah 30 and Philippians 4? Repentance, rest, quietness, and trust lead to salvation and strength. Gratitude leads to joy and peace. This world will tell you the exact opposite, doesn’t it? The message I hear is that if we work really hard, and never give up on our dreams, we will be happy. Don’t rest until you get what you want…spin those wheels!!! If we believe in ourselves, we can do anything we set our minds to. Joy and peace come from fulfilling our dreams (which means the focus is on what we don’t have yet, instead of what we do have). Now please hear me correctly on this…I believe there is some truth to those statements. It’s just that pursuing our dreams and working hard with confidence are empty, unless done in the context of repentance, rest, quietness, trust in God, and gratitude. Hold your dreams with open hands, and be willing to adjust your expectations when those oranges start to look like lemons. God’s plan is much bigger than your dreams, and you can trust that if you are His child, all of your circumstances will ultimately work together for good (Romans 8:28). Do not find hope and security in eventually fulfilling your dreams, find hope and security by trusting the One who made you and loves you more than you can imagine. Find joy in what you already have. Rest in your hope of eternity!
There’s one final encouragement I’d like to leave you with. As I’ve battled with hopelessness, fear, and depression over the course of my health journey, the truths discussed above have been floating around in my head, but they didn’t really make their way into my heart until recently (and to be perfectly honest, it’s still quite up and down…I’m not doing you any favors if I lie and say that I’ve found complete peace and joy. It’s a daily struggle, as it will be for many of you). I read something online the other day that really caught my attention and God used it to help get me to a better place. The basic gist of it was that Satan doesn’t attack people for what they’ve done in the past, but rather because he wants to stop God’s powerful plans for their future. I don’t know the specifics of the spiritual battle going on for my heart, soul, mind, and body. I do know that the Bible says our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Eph. 6:12). I also know that God has already won and His plan WILL prevail, though it’s certainly not pain free! The battle I’m currently facing is not about God’s punishment or retribution for my sinfulness. Satan would like me to believe that and to wallow in sadness, because he is trying to keep me from boldly stepping into whatever great plans God has for my life. Do you hear the hope in that? Why would Satan attack if he wasn’t afraid of what God is doing in and through me? Wow! God has already defeated the power of Satan, but he’s still allowed to bark at me. If the barking is getting louder, there must be something great on the horizon. The despair is trying to tell me that the battle is over, and I’ve lost, so I may as well give up. What a lie!
In the book, “Hiding Place,” by Corrie ten Boom, you discover that Corrie and her sister, Betsy, are thankful for the fleas that have infested their sleeping places in the Nazi concentration camp they are prisoners in. The bites are dreadfully uncomfortable, but the fleas keep any overseers from entering their rooms, which then gives them the freedom to read God’s life giving Word to the women around them. What had been despair when the fleas were discovered turned into hope and life in the midst of horrific suffering and death. The truth is that God’s plans are SO MUCH BIGGER than simply making us feel comfortable at the moment. Not only are they bigger, they are better. The women living with Corrie and Betsy had allowed their despair to turn into selfishness. They were constantly fighting each other as darkness enveloped their bodies and crept quickly into their souls. The more they focused on their discomfort, the more they fought evil with evil. I say this without judgment, because they certainly faced horrific suffering…it’s simply an observation. When God’s Word entered their hearts they started to work together and care for each other. God’s light reached into the darkest of dark places, replacing fear and death with hope and joy. Yes, JOY, even there. I don’t know what my future holds, but I know that the discomfort and fear that are fighting for my soul will not win. I know that God’s plans include blessing me and others around me, and this struggle is not about my past, but my present and future. God is good all the time, and His plans are to give me hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11). As my focus shifts to anticipation of the good plans God has, and I learn to be thankful in every circumstance, my heart turns from grief to joy.
I hope that as you work on baking these delicious low carb lemon bars, you will have the chance to reflect on the aspects of your life that you are grateful for. I pray that God would bless you with joy and hope that go beyond the darkness and despair of life’s frequently overwhelming circumstances. Then take a moment to sit, eat the lemons that have been made sweet, and let the smile grow on your face and in your heart. May you pursue your dreams in the context of repentance, rest, quietness, and trust, and may God bless you richly!