Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Crack for Mormon Housewifes

I thought I was stronger than this.

I thought I had beaten the odds.

My recovery program had been working so well.

And then, two nights ago, my own sisters undermined everything.  They slid me a plastic bag containing more than 200 grams of the good stuff, and my willpower was gone.

The problem started for me in high school.  My mom, a Utah Mormon housewife, was the pusher.  She had always made after-school snacks for us.  The onion bagels with strawberry cream cheese were easy to repel.  One day though, she found a recipe for peanut butter bars, and I was hooked.
A college roommate told me a story once that has stuck with me all these years.  The story goes that her mom's friend, a Mormon housewife in Phoenix, made a sheet of these habit-forming peanut butter bars for her own kids.  The family ate half the bars that day.  (Such restraint!)  The next day, while she was alone at home, she found herself picking at the remaining half sheet of this tantalizing treat until it was nearly gone.  The bars in her tummy were supposed to be waiting for her children at the end of the school day.  She couldn't own up to eating an entire half sheet of peanut butter bars, so to cover the evidence, she made another full sheet recipe.  A full sheet would invite too many questions, so there was nothing left to do but eat half the sheet again.  She ate two half sheets of peanut butter bars in under seven hours!

I know her pain.

And here's the thing, they don't just have peanut butter.  They're topped with chocolate!  A wonderfully wicked combination indeed.  We Mormon housewifes might easily defy coffee and tobacco, but wave chocolate and peanut butter in front of our noses, and we are goners.

Luckily for me, when I  left home to take on adulthood, I was too poor to buy the ingredients, so my obsession with peanut butter bars ended.  I thought I had kicked the habit.  Looking back, I realize I had only transferred my problem to a softer substance.

In college, I worked at BYU's bakery for six months.  In that short time, I put on 27 pounds (no joke) because I couldn't just let the mint-brownie rejects go to waste!  I dabbled in Texas-sized dougnuts and the occasional butter-smeared sourdough, but at least 25 of those pounds were from brownies.

I doubt I'm the only one to have battled the brownie bulge.  Livestrong.com has issued the following warning: "Brownies can be tasty but eating too many can have consequences for your health."

Well, thanks for that helpful head's up.  Notice the subtle omission of whether those consequences are negative or positive?  I wonder if Lance Armstrong informed that article with his own experience.  Oprah probably never thought to press him on his possible use of baked goods.

Fortunately, according to the article, there are ways to hide brownie doping.  Livestrong.com recommends 13 minutes of jogging or 26 minutes playing volleybal to burn the calories of one brownie.  No mention of cycling, though.  It probably takes just a couple Tours de France.

Then, there are those who don't even try to hide their actual brownie doping.  I've never explored the darker side of the internet, but in my research for this post, I was surprised at the recipes I found blatantly posted for all the world-wide web to see.  I didn't even have to leave Pinterest to find this helpful cookbook (pictured at right).  Drugs are still illegal, aren't they?  Poorwhitefarmer on International Cannagraphic's website tells how his granny wasn't much concerned with exact portion size, and simply used her spatula to cut servings of AAAA trim.  Some recipes call for budder--and here I had always just used butter!  Others call for bubble hash or finely ground Durban.  Some reference grass or weed, though I'm pretty sure I can't harvest what's growing in my lawn to make brownies.  I do like grasshopper brownies, though.  Maybe my innocent, Mormon interpretation of these recipes is the cure: actual grass-weed-and-grasshopper brownies would likely put an end to these cravings!

So, now that another piece of my Mormon-housewife naivete has been taken by the internet, back to my story.

As I write and reflect, I realize my so-called recovery has always been forced on me.  I got over peanut butter bars when I moved away from home and my mom failed to supply my after-school snacks.  My brownie problem halted when the BYU bakery relocated and laid off its student employees.  But quitting has never been my own choice.  And so, the pull is still there for me.

Sunday night, my sister, Carolyn, showed up to our family dinner with a full baking sheet of the hard stuff, and all my years of abstinence evaporated.  To make matters worse, three of the adults in our extended family aren't currently eating gluten or sugar.  In order to support their commitment, and to let Carolyn know that her efforts weren't wasted, I felt obliged to make a considerable dent in her dessert.  By evening's end, there was a formidable  half sheet of peanut butter bars sitting uneaten on the counter.  I thought of my roommate's mom's friend in Phoenix, and I couldn't bear the thought of what might happen should we let Carolyn take all that temptation back to her house, alone.  My Whole30 sister, Christy, must have had the same thought.  She filled plastic bags with bars and distributed them with the lie that, "Actually, they're good for you.  You get oats, and the peanut butter has protein."  I quickly rationalized, Christy runs marathons.  She must know what she is talking about.  It is so easy to believe a falsehood when it is topped with peanut butter and chocolate.

Yesterday, that little baggie of provocation stared me down.  I may have had a three-inch square bar while my lunch heated up.  I may have indulged a second bar while I put lunch back in the microwave for 20 more seconds.  (Soon thereafter, I may have put half my lunch back in the fridge because I was too full to finish it.)  I did show some restraint and kept five bars for my kids to finish after school.  Stupid me, relying on my kids to take up my addiction.  They, instead, all went for leftover chocolate cake.  After their snack time, I may have devoured another bar or two.

I hadn't realized that I was setting up a reverse sting operation, but now I know that I have one child who shares my propensity.  When I casually strolled into the kitchen to check on the status of the stash, I discovered that one of the two last bars had disappeared.  I quickly recalculated who had eaten which treat for snack, and then I may have freaked out a bit.  I may have shrieked, "Who ate one of these peanut butter bars?!?!"  My piercing, mommy radar was answered with only silence and dread on the faces of my four daughters.  #5, however, took off running to hide.

Be careful my boy.  It's a slippery slope.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015


These books helped me start seeing
how communities look away
and thus allow violence.
When Kent and I were freshman in college and dating seriously, his brother and a friend decided to test my worthiness of Kent and their family through a series of interview questions.  The one question that shook my 19-year-old self was, "If you were a German in the 1930s and '40s, would you house and hide Jews?"  I had grown up learning in school about Anne Frank, Native American maltreatment, black history and oppression, and at church about persecution of the early Latter-day Saints.  I had always wondered how communities and nations got to the point of--and then got away with--persecuting and killing whomever belonged to those deemed the wrong demographic.  The friend who posed this question with my future brother-in-law had herself fled Poland as a young teenager and ended up homeless, trekking across the U.S.  The struggles of Eastern Europe were real for her, making the qusetion poignant for me.  Part of me wanted to shout, "Of course I would hide Jews.  That's the right thing to do!"  But the part of me that was planning a future marriage and family wondered if I would--or should--endanger them in such circumstances.  I didn't know what I would do.

I didn't realize until years later that such worries and fears, held by the masses, are the reason why Evil gets away with its atrocities.

Three weeks ago, our family took our annual service trip to Mexico.  During the drive, we listened to an audio book, Castaway Kid by R. B. Mitchell.  It is the author's story of his childhood in an American orphanage, and of finding God in young adulthood.  His  home life in the orphanage was very much like that of the children we serve in Mexico.  We (at A Child's Hope Foundation) partner with orphanages that operate as close to a family life as possible, sending kids to school, church activities, and teaching them to give back to their own communities through service.  Rob had these things in the American orphanage where he was raised.  Still, he struggled with hurt, anger, and rage throughout his childhood, trying to understand why his mother would abandon him there, but still visit occasionally, and why his extended family wouldn't take him in and raise him with their own children.  For me, listening to his experiences was a glimpse into what the children in the Mexican orphanages might struggle with.  A few of them are true orphans.  Most, however, are there due to neglect or abuse of some sort at home.  Their parents can come for visits, but they rarely release their parental rights, and because they never fix their own problems, the children are raised in the orphanages.

There is one group of five siblings in particular that my heart has become attached to.  They are really great kids, always positive, fun and affectionate when we are there.  One boy in particular, Santiago, has a dynamic personality.  I have watched him from a distance as he's grown from a fun-loving young boy to a sweet (but still cool) teen.  A few years ago, one of our work project volunteers fell in love with these five siblings and began the process to adopt them.  Because Mexico keeps almost all their adoptions in-country, she used her half-Mexican ancestry to gain Mexican citizenship so she could be these kids' mom.  When it came down to it, though, their own mother wouldn't relinquish the parental rights, and the adoption fell through.  The siblings were never told that someone was trying to adopt them, and so they'll likely never know that they could have stayed together, being raised by loving parents in Hawaii.  (The volunteer and her husband were able to successfully adopt two sisters from Nicaragua the next year.  They continue to send monthly financial assistance to Buena Vida Orphanage that is taking care of the kids they love.)
Santiago and #5 in 2011
Saying goodbye at the orphanage last month, I thought a lot about Santiago and whether his experiences parallel Mr. Mitchell's.  I started wondering if there is a way that Santiago could live with our family as a high school exchange student.  If he could learn English, that might put him in a position to secure a bright future.  As I thought about our family dynamics and whether we have the space in our house, creeping thoughts of concern came to mind: if he has hidden emotional or anger or other issues related to abandonment or abuse, will I be able to help him, since I don't even speak his language?  It feels like the same argument, on a smaller scale, that I fought within about the hypothetical situation to house Jews.  Do I put my own family at risk to help another?

I am mature enough now to recognize these concerns for what they are: fear.  Labeling fear for what it is, and knowing that "there is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear", I can put my heart back in the right place.   If an exchange program is possible, I will move forward to bring Santiago into our home for a school year--if that's what he wants too.

Graffiti identifying the family in this
Iraqui home as Christians.
Glenn Beck has recently raised the issue for me in a different way.  Last weekend, at the Restoring Unity event in Alabama, he promoted efforts to rescue Christian refugees in the Middle East.  Those Christian families have been marked for death as Followers of the Nazarene.  The violence being committed against these Christians make the Nazi gas chambers look humane.  I won't go into it here, but Glenn Beck has described the violence, and this unaffiliated blogger gave a fair and powerful look at what is happening and the #NeverAgainIsNow movement to rescue these families.

Vernon Brewer, president and founder
of World Help, displaying "nuun" in
solidarity with Nazarenes.
I haven't listened to Beck's show much over the summer, but I am continually impressed at the charity he promotes through Mercury One, the non-profit arm of his business.  They have helped immigrants who are suffering at our border, given aid in Nepal and other locations of natural disasters, and funded covert operations to rescue children from sex slavery.  I did tune in yesterday and caught the last few minutes of Glenn's monologue asking church congregations, neighborhoods, and individuals to donate toward the goal of $10M to bring 2,000 Christians away from the horrors of ISIS.  He is asking for families who can't give money  to consider whether they have space to house a refugee family.

As I listened and envisioned inviting another family to live with us, the same old little fears about what that would look like on a daily basis began to creep in.  Would they have mental health problems as a result of their suffering and loss?  Would one of their children need to cope with having been in a rape warehouse.  How would that affect my family?  But the words of our common Master keep coming back to me: "Perfect love casteth out fear."  So what can I do?

What I realized yesterday is that even if I can't bring a family into our home right now, I can give to Mercury One's Nazarene Fund right now.  This Sunday is the LDS Fast Sunday.  The first Sunday of each month is our family's opportunity to go without food for a day and donate to our Church the amount that we would have spent on the two skipped meals.  Our bishop uses the funds to give relief to our neighbors in need.  It is a day to give and to strengthen our spirits as we set aside the wants of our hunger in the interest of others.  About 15 years ago, Kent and I realized, with prompting from the Spirit, that we needed to give more than the cost of two meals on Fast Sundays.  We needed to give enough that it hurt a little, making our giving a true sacrifice.  As we've followed that direction ever since, God has taken our little sacrifice and returned blessings to us.

This month, my church will get less as I give part of our fast offering money to help my fellow Christians in the Middle East.  I wish I could buy one of the houses for sale in our neighborhood to give to a refugee family.  I would love to bring them here to this place of hope and neighborly kindness.   For now, though, my action for #NeverAgainIsNow (a call to remember the world's vow of "never again" at the conclusion of the Holocaust) is a simple monetary donation.  I encourage you to match or exceed my $100 donation to the Nazarene Fund, and to pray for those suffering at the hand of Evil.  For me, this is a step away from my thoughts of doubt and fear and towards love and goodness.