Finding Your Feast in a Famine

Feb 5, 2014

It’s a good thing he stood out of arm’s reach. Otherwise I would’ve slugged him.

“Dairy,” the doctor said, matter of fact. “Your body isn’t able to handle dairy. You’ll need to cut it out of your diet.”

This wasn’t the slugging part. Still.

What about the cheese and  yogurt I eat every single day? Not to mention the butter. Smoothies. The cream-based pasta sauces. And the ice cream. Oh, sweet Blue Bell, the mother of all ice creams.

“Dairy? Are you sure?” He must be mistaken.

He assured me he was not.

But here’s the deal. I’d made the appointment because of his professional expertise, to get his advice about some pesky health challenges and the chronic pain that just wouldn’t let me go. I was tired of hurting, desperate for a solution.

So I gulped, agreed to commit for two full months. And immediately craved a fat hunk of sharp Wisconsin cheddar.

Little did I know it was about to get worse. Much worse.

He did one more test, and when I saw his face scrunch up I knew he’d found more bad news.

Please, oh please! Not chocolate!



“Yes, sorry. Coffee is a problem.”

No, it is NOT a problem.

He continued, oblivious to the violence in my eyes. “Your body doesn’t like coffee. You’ll need to give that up, too.”


And that’s when I nearly slugged him. You don’t tell a weary, working mama of six kids (who is in the middle of writing two books) that she can’t drink coffee. Unless you have a death wish.

I looked at him, incredulous, waiting for the punch line. Instead, he wrote his “doctor’s orders” in black ink on a prescription sheet.

Holy sweet-and-smoky dark roast. This is the beginning of the end.

That morning’s cup had been my last. If I would’ve known, I would’ve downed the entire pot. Maybe made a second. Instead, I sipped it (with cream) like I had every morning for most of my life.

No more.

So I drove home, stuffed my nose deep into a bag of Starbucks Cafe Verona coffee beans, and very nearly cried.

Those first couple of weeks were brutal. Eliminating both dairy and coffee from my diet left significant holes. How would I finish my book edits without my grande, non-fat, no-foam lattes? Or get up before dawn to make breakfast and lunches for a billion children? Or write my second book? Or DO ANYTHING AT ALL FOR THAT MATTER?!?! 

As it turns out, there is life on the other side of coffee. It’s been a full month now, and I didn’t, in fact, die (although there were a couple close calls). For the most part, I’ve adjusted. I still occasionally dream of a cheesy omelette or stick my nose in the bag of coffee beans. But, after all my whining and moaning, I discovered a secret:

Contentment isn’t merely resigning myself to what’s been lost. It’s savoring what I still have.

Rather than obsessing over dairy and coffee, I started listing all the foods I could still eat. Like apples and avocados. Roasted chicken. Strawberries. And chocolate. Turns out the list of what I have is far longer than the list of what I lost.

Hmmmm. The same could be said for the family that doesn’t look quite like I thought it would. And the children who haven’t quite turned out like I imagined. And the dreams unrealized and relationships undone.

This is our challenge, isn’t it? To day after day choose to savor what sits on our table rather than wish for what does not.

My friend, I know you’re deep in the middle of less-than-ideal circumstances, and you’ve suffered countless unfair losses. A friendship gone awry. A special needs child who needs more strength than you have to give. A job opportunity missed, a church or ministry or marriage in crisis. In each case, the losses are real and valid. Please hear me: Your losses are real and valid and worth every tear you shed.

But if you and I want to make peace with it, to find a measure of satisfaction even while nursing a gaping hole, we have to make a shift. To reach for what we still have, the goodness and riches that are still within our grasp.

To see the feast even when facing a famine.

Do you need to make peace with a loss? How could a shift in focus help? 


  1. Linda Lochridge Hoenigsberg

    Hi Michele. Wonderful word! I have found this to be so true in my own life. I live two states away from the ability to hug my grown children and I watch my grandchildren (and great-grandchildren!) grow up via Facebook or Skype. Sometimes I find nothing I like about living where I live. I LONG to be closer to my family. I am discontent (there, I admitted it) and yes, I know the Scripture verse that tells me to be content instead! But I don’t like feeling this way. I get a little down and I suddenly realize I don’t feel joy. I like to feel joy. So I shift my mind to what I have. I love the beauty of Montana. I love to see animals in the wild and watch a sky change as a storm makes its way across a valley. I love my church…my friends. As the “what I have” list becomes longer than the “what I am missing” list, joy increases. But I needed reminding of that this morning…thanks, Michele!

  2. Lily Kreitinger

    I SO hear you on this one, Michele! Six months ago I was experiencing bad symptoms beyond the normal “working mom” fatigue. I underwent a bunch of tests and received these doctor’s orders: no gluten, no sugar, no dairy. For the rest of my life. WHAT?! Of course I know find that the whole world is in this conspiracy and 90% of what we normally eat has one of those ingredients. It’s been a challenge, but I can happily say after six months of eating like that and taking a gazillion supplements (26 capsules a day, to be exact) that I am much healthier. My symptoms have subsided significantly and I now crave the things that are healthy for me. What I’ve learned is that discipline sometimes is a result of external limits and when I don’t fight it , but embrace it, I am better. Next time I see you, I’ll buy you a cup of tea 🙂

    • Michele Cushatt

      Like you, we’ve experienced improvements already. And although there are things I miss, the benefits make it worth it. AND make it easier to stick with it! Thanks for sharing your story, Lily!

  3. Kerith Stull

    Wow. Dairy AND coffee?? Rough. But good for you for twisting around your perceptions of restrictions into bountiful blessings! As the mother of an almost 18yo daughter with moderate cerebral palsy, I daily have to focus my attention on our family’s blessings. Always nice to get that reminder from someone else!

    • Michele Cushatt

      Yes. Daily. I have to keep a constant guard over how I allow myself to think. You inspire me, Kerith.

  4. Sundi Jo

    I understand the cheese and coffee thing. I haven’t been allowed caffeine since 2008. I thought I would die, too. I still struggle to find natural things to help me with energy, so if you stumble upon something great, let me know.

    • Michele Cushatt

      Over the past couple years I’ve struggled with energy (or the lack of!), too. Tried several different things, and nothing seemed to work. UNTIL I gave up wheat, refined sugar, dairy and coffee. Now I have more energy than I’ve had in a long time. I still have the same responsibilities and number of kiddos, so my circumstances haven’t changed. But I feel like my body is working more efficiently.

      I know it’s a HUGE leap to make. But it’s worked for me. (you can slap me now :))

  5. Pam

    This thought was for me, Michele. I have everything I need – I am blessed. But I struggle with what I’ve lost and what I yearn for…even ministry related. The enemy definitely wants me to think God hasn’t done His job or that I’ll never be in “that place” of “real” contentment again…that I’m missing out. Thank you for this reminder!

    BTW, your facebook share button isn’t working. It says “page not found”. If I copy and paste the URL, the link works, but the picture still says “page not found” for some reason. Just fyi.

    • Michele Cushatt

      Thanks for letting me know about the FB share button, Pam. We’re looking into it!

  6. Julie Anne

    Thank you!

  7. Nicci Ramirez

    THANK YOU…..I needed this today!

  8. Maureen

    Great job, Michele – Isn’t it ironic the things we crave are often those that give us problems? Good for you being willing to follow his advice. More importantly, not to focus on what’s missing but to find the positive in this. Proud of you.

  9. Jennifer

    Sweet Michele, my friend, I hear you! My losses are not the same – not food but again, I am losing someone I love dearly to disease. My sweet, loving mama is fighting a losing battle with dementia and I am LOSING her day by day…..another NEW normal for me to embrace. Her physical health is quite good so this will be a LONG journey as her body will far outlive her mind – BUT, I am choosing – because of your post today – to CELEBRATE what I do have – a mother who still knows who I am and that we can still laugh together – be thankful that I can help her as she travels into this darkness and rejoice that I KNOW that she will one day be healed and reunited with her daughter – my sister – who we miss deeply and that she WILL receive her reward when Jesus decides to call her home. Girl, you have a way of touching me so deeply – although we may not be on the exact same journey – we seem to share a lot of the same ” heart and soul” feelings! God bless you, sweet friend! HUGS!

    • Michele Cushatt

      Oh, Jennifer. I can’t imagine. Hope I never have to. Such a cruel disease, and I’m so sorry for your loss. But I LOVE your heart and attitude and determination to celebrate even in the losing. Such courage! You give us all strength.

  10. Danica Favorite

    You know I feel your pain, my friend. I had to give up dairy too (I think we went to the same meanie, yes?). I got to keep coffee. He tested me for tea, and I got to keep that. But I had to give up chocolate as well. *sob* So savor a piece of chocolate for me, I’ll savor a cup of coffee for you, and somewhere in that, there will be some kind of joy, yes?

    • Michele Cushatt

      Sounds good, empathy toasts. Haha. Misery loves company, eh? Of course, chocolate and coffee go so well together … whatever will I do?!

  11. Ilesha

    Oh, my dear Michele. You always know right where I am. YES! I am grieving a loss, not around diet, or even a person – it’s the life that I had or thought I would have. Nothing in my life looks like I thought it would. I am very awkward and uncomfortable in this “new life.” Compounded by the fact that I feel ill-equipped to proper handle the circumstance that has caused the change. I now have a little one that has needs that far outmatch my abilities. And I feel at a loss . . . Guess I better pull out my “what I’ve gained” list 🙂

  12. Joel Smith

    What an incredibly wonderful reminder and encouragement on facing our human condition.

    I think Chicago expressed it this way, “You don’t know what you got, until it’s gone. And I found out a little too late.” Not that they said it better than you, ’cause they didn’t!

    Thank you Michelle.


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