Sandra Lee photo

The star of the Food Network's "Semi-Homemade Cooking" and author of the memoir "Made from Scratch," [Meredith, 2007] tells Beliefnet about her childhood with a mentally ill mother and an abusive father and how she managed to overcome the odds to become a successful entrepreneur and TV personality. When her alcoholic mother's long absences left an adolescent Sandra in charge of her younger siblings, she figured out cooking techniques and shortcuts that would one day become the basis for "Semi-Homemade," which helps busy moms prepare quick and easy meals for their families.You've had such a remarkable journey, from being on food stamps to being a successful TV host. Do you think that God had a plan for your life?

Oh, absolutely. I think He absolutely has one. I think He has a plan for me in heaven, too. I had two dreams about my Grandma after she died. I was really mad at her for not coming to me sooner in my dreams--I had expected her to stay in contact that way. She said, "Oh, honey, it's so busy up here. You can't even imagine. There's so much going on. It's so fun." So, yeah, I think He has a plan for me here, and I think He has a plan for me up there.

You mentioned in your book that you think your grandmother is your guardian angel. She spent several years raising you while your mother coped with alcohol addiction, and you later discovered she gave your mother money in exchange for getting to have a relationship with you. What role do you think angels play in lives, and how do we know where our guardian angel is?

I think that there are people that we see and beings that we can't. I think that mentors, and people who do good deeds, and people who take care of their families and their communities, are guardian angels that happen to be alive. And I think that guardian angels are also spiritual, and they help us to put thoughts in our mind in a moment when we have decisions to make which are either going to be good for us or bad for us.

You, your sister Cindy, and your grandmother were able to take a trip to the Holy Land together when you and Cindy were teenagers. How did seeing those places affect your spirituality?

Much later than in the moment. When you're young like Cindy and I were, you just want to play and be with your friends. It was fun to be with Grandma. I was very present when things were important, like when I was baptized in the Jordan River and like when we were underneath the olive trees in Jerusalem, and I washed her feet and she washed mine.

She [her grandmother] had been to Israel many times, at least a half a dozen. She planted trees over there. In fact, that picture of her planting a tree in Israel was something I used on the pamphlet for her memorial service. She was all about community service. And it wasn't just here domestically, it was around the world.

How would you describe your personal beliefs?

I was raised Jehovah's Witness, but my family is Catholic. I have studied Judaism and actually converted for a time when I was married. It was very important to my husband. To me, if you believe in God, you believe in God, and you believe in a higher power.

We all have power to make a difference and make the world a better place. That is our job while we're here because one thing we do today is going to trickle down and affect someone else's life tomorrow and the next day and in 10 years. The decisions and our conduct today are what tomorrow is built on. And you're not just here for yourself. I don't think God put us on the earth to be selfish beings. I think He put us on the earth to be a community, or He wouldn't have given us one another.

I go to St. Patrick's [Cathedral, in New York City], and I light candles. When I was writing the book, there were weeks where I went every single day. I lit a candle apiece for my siblings, that this book would help them and not hurt them because I didn't want to remind them of things that, hopefully, they had forgotten, but that I was living through in writing the book. I wanted it to be easy on them.

I always light one for my grandma, just because she's my grandma and I'm grateful, and I want her to have fun in heaven. I light them for my aunt and uncle and people who have been helpful in my life. And of course, I ask that everybody will be able to take away from the book what was intended. The first half of the book is a very gritty story, and it's a hard-knock story. And that's just fine because the last half of the book says, "Okay, you know what? It doesn't matter where we come from, or what we're going through now, or what we're going to go through tomorrow, what matters is how we deal with it, the type of people we turn out to be, and who we are to ourselves, our friends and our family. And did we do what we were supposed to do while we were here, or did we waste our life?"