Tonight, I cooked.

With each toss of salt from the red ceramic salt well, I cooked and cooked with an enthusiasm that would have put Rachael Ray to shame. Yes, we do enjoy food around the Bailey home, but in less than 30 minutes, I whipped up three entire dishes from scratch, lit candles on the dining room table, and dished everything into three servings: one for myself, one for my husband, and one for our friend Justin.

You see, for the last five days, I have only consumed juice, and chicken broth with eggs. Several of those in our community, including my husband and I, have been engaged in a 40-day "cleanse" of mind, body, and spirit: no TV or movies at all, no eating out, no sugar {even honey}, no grains, no starchy vegetables, and a daily discipline of prayer, reading, and meditation.

Ultimately, the reasons are different for each of us, but for me, there was a need for cleansing on many levels. I decided to start my 40 days by taking it a step further - with a Parasite Cleanse/Juice Fast – a liquid diet. I’ve recently learned that 80-85% of people have parasites in their bodies. Ewww. Having been to several countries where the food I've eaten has ranged from slightly to extremely questionable {i.e. Is this even meat?}, as well as daily living with two dogs who love to slobber my hands and face immediately after licking their water bowl, I figured it was a good idea. Parasites can live in your body for years, and I wanted to get those mean little guys out. I also had a desire to do something that was different than everyone else, where I couldn't just go with the crowd. I needed something that would take my focus off enjoying food and planning out my next big meal, even if there was no bread or sugar involved.

I’ve kind of fallen off the bandwagon lately, too. As my husband put it so eloquently on his blog, "Knowing the cleanse was coming up, I was shoveling in dairy, grains, and sugar as if I were in a pie-eating contest." And I felt horrific. We had a night a week ago - actually last Thursday when we went to see an advanced screening of Julie & Julia {more on that later} - when I positively binged. Two Julie's organic ice cream sandwiches {when it's an ice cream sandwich, does “organic” really matter?}, 1 1/2 huge walnut chocolate chip cookies, several handful's of movie popcorn, organic cheese puffs {again,“organic”? really?}, and "Oh My God" cake from The Kozy, one of our favorite restaurants in Dallas. This was all between noon and about 11pm. That night, I went to bed ashamed of myself and my stomach puffed out to kingdom come. At that point, I knew I was ready to get things right again – food is for sustenance and for enjoyment to a certain point, but it can easily turn to abuse and worship.

So over the last 5 days, I went to bed hungry every night and awoke in the morning with hunger pangs. I did not get to have what I wanted when I wanted it. I slurped bland chicken broth while the kitchen was filled with intoxicating smells of grass-fed beef sautéeing in a pan with onions, and eggs with chicken sausage. I was reminded of a story from a Sudan ministry we work through my job at Mocha Club where an orphan boy from the bush asked, “Mama Kimberly, what does meat taste like?” It was a humbling experience because I began to understand how pathetic I am...that I have to "put myself on a fast" to even experience real hunger and sacrifice. How far am I from the world's reality that freshly squeezed juice and homemade chicken broth are even considered a sacrifice?

Ultimately, this isn't about parasites or overeating. It's about the spirit. I have felt utterly hopeless lately, unable to manage my own anxiety to the point that I thought I might need to get serious help. Nothing has brought me joy. Excitement...gone. I told Steven I thought I was going through an identity crisis. And even watching When Harry Met Sally for the hundredth time or whipping up another batch of coconut macaroons was not going to solve that. I knew, deep in my bones, that is was a spiritual problem. I was worried, so worried, that God has forgotten about me. That the plan for my life was long forgotten.

On Sunday night, we hosted our first “Poverty Dinner” in our home. We perched the “Sabbath basket” on top of a bar stool by the front door so everyone who entered could immediately deposit their keys, cell phones, and any other distractions. And then in the candlelit living room, seven of us gathered in a circle on the floor and ate a small serving of rice and beans as a reminder of what the majority of the world has for a meal {which, compared to this photo of what the orphans ate everyday in India, was a pretty good serving}. We read stories of what God is doing in different countries - amidst hunger, genocide, unimaginable horrors. We processed some difficult thoughts and let others hang there like a big question mark between the seven of us, as we didn’t have all the answers. Then, we sang. Kyle brought her guitar and led us in “We Believe in God” by Amy Grant. It was the truest picture of community I’ve had in my life in awhile. There was a spirit in the room of, “I'm not sure why I'm here, but I'm just showing up." And God met us there. I felt it in my soul.

Today, I read this passage in Matthew that deeply encouraged me - I love how it says in The Message...

"If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don't you think he'll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I'm trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God's giving. People who don't know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don't worry about missing out. You'll find all your everyday human concerns will be met."

~ Matthew 16:30-33

God-provisions. Well, that's not very easy to receive when I'm trying so hard to take care of myself, and "feed" myself with all kinds of distractions.

After five days, I ended my juice fast. I guess it started to get easier, more "routine" to survive on juice and chicken broth, and that's when I decided it was over.

And tonight, I cooked. Chicken breast coated with crispy almonds, green bean salad, and sunburst squash sautéed with red onions.

And then I ate. After I ate, I looked down at my stomach that had shrunken over the last 5 days of liquid, and it was full to the brim. I looked at my empty plate, and for some reason I felt sad.

Maybe it was kind of like buyer’s remorse when you wander through the store wide-eyed, picking out all these items that are going to change your life and make you happy again. But when you get home, you still feel empty and go back to the store and return everything. Or maybe it's the disconnection you feel when you get back from a mission trip, when you want to go back to the way it was there - where life was more honest and simple. Or maybe it was guilt. One thing I do know - it was not food that I have been craving.

I’m a fool to think that five days – or forty - is going to permanently fix all the things that are wrong with my heart. But I do think these days will remind me once again how much God provides for me and how much I don't deserve this grace, and my heart might be in the right place again. Until next time.