I was born into a ministerial home as the oldest of three. By the time I was three years old, I had already undergone three major surgeries, resulting in removal of much of my intestines. This seemed to be a curse. But even though my life was preserved by a miracle, my relatives would say, “With your poor health you will not be able to be a physician as is your Grandpa.”
And he really could not help me because he died shortly after I was born. My mother often recalled how she would find him eating a kind of a highly sweet condensed milk—even after he had been diagnosed with diabetes.
I cannot stop thinking about what could have led that intelligent, highly competent doctor to consume that kind of product, even though he knew that it could eventually kill him! When wrestling with my own personal battles against self, I do not like to face the truth that what prevented him from seeing all his other grandchildren was probably not the diabetes but the lack of self-control. Would I commit the same missteps? My parents were born in an extremely well-developed part of the country where food was very accessible, but the diet is heavily based on meat consumption. While preparing and eating meat, people strengthen identity and socialization, and if someone tries to change his or her personal diet, they will probably lose some of their relationships. That is no doubt why my parents never thought seriously about changing their lifestyle before.
But after some years, my father was called to be the administrator of a Seventh-day Adventist hospital in São Paulo, Brazil. Feeling himself unable to face that challenge, he began searching the inspired counsels God gave Ellen G. White about health. One evening, he arrived home with a small gray book and announced: “From now on, we will read from this book every evening for family worship.” That book was Counsels on Diet and Foods.
So, every night, after the story, usually told by my mother, my father would read a very small portion of that book before saying a prayer and sending us to bed. After reading, they usually made some interesting comments or simply looked thoughtfully at each other, as if saying, “We didn’t know this before! We need to do something about that!”
And they did! Step by step, they started making changes even when it meant facing some discomfort in family gatherings. They understood that while giving up this part of their culture, they were now looking for a new one—another citizenship. We perceived that salvation really came to our home only after my mother enrolled in a vegetarian cooking school.
My father emphasized that there are spiritual implications associated with every choice we make. He also said that our physical habits, such as diet and exercise, not only really matter for success or failure in this life but also affect our spiritual perceptions and make us more or less prone to make sound moral and spiritual choices.
I think that knowing those truths helped us to accept all the changes at home—not as a stubborn idiosyncrasy of our parents but as a natural submission to the will of God who wants the best for us. While looking at their struggle to obey (it was not easy), we learned that we need to seek the Lord’s guidance for every aspect of our lives. When our heart and preferences are not on the right side, we must seek God for a miracle, saying like David, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Ps. 51:10).
Those lessons were probably the best heritage we received while we were still living at home with our parents, and I am trying to apply them, not only to my personal life but also to my family life. And, by the way, my health is doing very well. My original weakness—which felt like a curse that the enemy intended to be my downfall—is now the very proof of the goodness and graciousness of our God!