Hungry for Healing, Part III

Hungry for Healing, Part III
The Apple Pie

A number of months ago, I made an apple pie for my husband. Fruit pies are his love language. He loves when I get the crust just right. But he could probably revel in the filling with delight even if the crust weren’t flaky enough or got too browned around the pinched, ruffled edge. He simply loves pie. Really can’t live without it. And as long as it tastes delicious and close to heaven, he doesn’t care what it looks like.

While I washed, peeled, and sliced apples, I recall meditating on trees and fruit and baked goods. I contemplated Rachel Jankovic’s comment once that “trees which have borne much fruit should no longer look like a sapling.” I thought about God growing my tree, deepening my roots, expanding my trunk, filling out my branches, producing my fruit, and performing the harvest year by year. In her book, Loving the Little Years (which I haven’t read in a long time), I remember Rachel’s musings on trees and fruit: “The branches are our responsibility, the ground is not.” “The more fruit you make, the more fruit gets used.” “You cannot know the depth of His plan for your fruit. So throw it out there on the ground when you have no plan for its future. Waste it.” “Be bountiful with your fruit and free with it. The only thing that you can know for certain is that God will use it.”

AppleStrudel2

While I blended flour and salt together, and cut fat into its grains with dedication and delight, preparing to wrap, enfold, cover, and encase those apple pieces… I thought about the process with a sense of recognition and familiarity. I remember texting a friend of mine to say that I was writing a blog post about apples, apple pie, body image, and mom life. I remember telling her that I had been peeled, cut, seasoned, aged, and baked – that I was realizing I was no longer an apple, but rather a pie. I vaguely recalled Robert Capon saying something which planted that seed.

I never hit publish on that. Partly because I lost steam, partly because I wasn’t ready to really expose my struggle.

But the image has not strayed from my mind. I’ve written and rewritten thoughts about this numerous times. None of them felt right. But the repeated phrase Jonathan Rogers told me this winter was to trust my instincts and to worry less about what I write. So this morning, I don’t plan to edit, rework, or nuance. I am writing stream-of-consciousness style, for better or for worse. It may be a jumbly, hot mess. That’s pretty much the state of my work these days. It’s simply true.

At nearly 35 years old, raising four children full-time, with thirteen pregnancies and a host of health & hormonal nuances under my belt, I am a woman learning to live post-anorexia and post-bulimia, loving my smile lines, embracing the little streaks of white dappling my carrot top. I think about Nate Wilson’s poetic phrasing in Death By Living when he said that his grandmother was the tree from which apples fell and grew, from which apples fell and grew, from which apples continued to fall and grow.
Apple trees produce apples, which contain seeds to produce trees, which will produce apples, which contain seeds to produce trees…

Apple tree in old apple orchard horizontal.

I am not alone, stagnant, isolated, an island. I am an apple. I fell from a fruitful tree, I was sown and sprouted. I grew into a sapling.
But the rub comes when I fail to acknowledge that God has continued to deepen my roots, increase my fruit, lengthen my branches, and strengthen my trunk. I am not the girl I once was. I am not the firstyear fruit producer I had been. And while I love the imagery of remaining the tree, of looking forward to the days of needing my branches propped up, of having burls and truly gnarly bark thick with wrinkles and creases – there’s something about the idea of moving from the orchard into the kitchen that delights me.

I’m a baking addict, so that’s one thing.
I love flour, sugar, fat, spices.
I adore the sounds of thick syrupy fruit bubbling on the stove, and the schunk sound my knife makes as it slices through crisp apple flesh.
Even just imagining the smell of pastry in the oven makes my salivary glands dance.

And then there’s Father Robert Farrar Capon.
The man who really introduced me to onions.
The one who started me realizing that my hatred of my body and my war with food was truly a spiritual battleground, and I wasn’t seeing victory.
He is the one who reminds me that, yes, I fell as a crisp, ripe, firm, shapely apple from a strong and faithful tree. But when God took that apple, He didn’t set it on a shelf to be kept the way I was harvested from the tree of my lineage.

I was plucked in order to be used.
Apples are meant to give nourishment, to give joy.
I am meant to give life, nourishment, and joy too.

And just like the apple that is used up for those purposes, I will not be left the same.

Rachel Jankovic wrote, “our bodies are tools, not treasures. You should not spend your days trying to preserve your body in its eighteen-year-old form. Let it be used. By the time you die, you want to have a very dinged and dinted body… Scars and stretch marks and muffin tops are all part of your kingdom work. One of the greatest testimonies Christian women can have in our world today is the testimony of joyfully giving your body to another.”

She goes on to say, “make sure you aren’t buying into the world’s propaganda. While there are a great many rewards, the sacrifice is very real… [and] the answer to these obstacles is not to run away in fear as the world does, but to meet it with joy, and in faith.”

My life, my calling, my homemaking, my motherhood, my faith – these things call me to be used for the good of others, to give myself away, to be used up, to savor, to become considerable, to be relished.

As Robert Capon said in a beautiful benedictory passage in The Supper of the Lamb,

May your table be graced with lovely women and good men. May you drink well enough to drown the envy of youth in the satisfactions of maturity. May your men wear their weight with pride, secure in the knowledge that they have at last become considerable… And your women? Ah! Women are like cheese strudels. When first baked, they are crisp and fresh on the outside, but the filling is unsettled and indigestible; in age, the crust may not be so lovely, but the filling comes at last into its own. May you relish them indeed… Eat well then.

I will determine, then, to turn from buying into the world’s propaganda. I will meet these obstacles with joy, and in faith. I will embrace my season of apple pie as sweeter and fatter than my firm and slender days as an untouched apple straight from the tree. I will endeavor to appreciate my softened body with a heart of thankfulness rather than a sense of resentment. I will seek to glorify God with this sweet season of bodily life, not grasping for control over the size of my jeans, the fit of my swimsuit, the taut of my belly skin, the roundness of my cheek.

May I be used. May I be molded, remade, served up as something even more marvelous than I was to begin with. And may I see joy and glory in the process and in the result. Not because my determination is a victory. But because God is in the business of making things new, and I want to give myself up to Him as He works new things in me and through me. Muffin top and all.

Glory be.

AppleStrudel1

“for to this you have been called,
because Christ also suffered for you,
leaving you an example,
so that you might follow in his steps…
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree
that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.
by his wounds you have been healed.”
1 peter 2:21, 24

Hungry for Healing, Part II

Hungry for Healing, Part II

For almost as long as I can remember, two physical features have been identifying features about me. Someone might ask, Melissa? Which one is she? and in a room full of people someone would simply have to say, she’s the skinny girl with the long red hair.

Those two terms have been about as defining to me as my homeschooling, my love of books & music, and my Christian faith. How’s that for a slippery position?! Skinny and redheaded. Because now at 34 years old, I am no longer skinny and the number of greys in my locks increases regularly (just ask my tweezers – we can’t quite keep up anymore).

How is it that I have allowed secular media and modern American culture to speak so broadly into my life?
Why is it that I have not been able to overcome this temptation, this struggle, this idol, this sin?
Where in the world did all of this hurt and pain and shame stem from in the first place?

The first time I viscerally remember feelings of shame surrounding my body was in a ballet class I adored, standing at the barre in front of the wall-sized mirror. Rather than my usual teacher, Miss Tammy, who was soft, sweet, and relaxed, the studio owner was teaching my class that day. I don’t even remember her name, I just remember the feelings of stress and shame I felt when she walked near me or gave me directions. On this particular day that stands out in my memory, she was adjusting my posture and probably some position, but all I really recall is her finger pressing into my abdomen and saying getting a bit chubby… I was eight years old. Eight.
After that, I remember really paying attention to my mom’s exercise routines and Jenny Craig diets. I picked up on the fact that she ate differently than the rest of us did – she ate “diet food” but cooked “regular food” for the rest of us – and I came to believe that that was a goal to tuck in my pocket for womanhood. Skim milk and diet soda were the norm, and the reasoning behind it in my head was to stave off fatness. My grandma always called me her “skinny granddaughter.” These were not things that happened out of purposed negativity – it was simply my life, and they are the things I remember about my childhood.
Then in my teen years I became entangled with a boy. A boy who wanted to be a man and continually fell short. Who manipulated me into believing him when he made compliments like, “you look pretty today – pretty and skinny.” I literally have journals full of these manipulative comments. Sneaking notes to each other in homeschool classes or after church, gigglingly talking about turning 21 someday so we could get married, me listening to turns of phrase that I did not even realize at the time were harmful, manipulating, controlling. It brought me multiple levels of shame and suffering which still infiltrate my life on a regular basis. Not the least of which is the skinny factor that he pressed into me. And as I felt more controlled and manipulated by him over the course of about six years of secrecy, the feelings of being spun out of control turned into actions of grabbing for control over the only thing I thought I could grab with both hands – my body. If I could not control anything else in my life, I was brought low enough to think that at least I could control the number on the scale and the size on my clothing tags.

While I don’t honestly know when I really gave in to letting the spiral control and pull me under, the seed was planted when I was eight, it was watered and fed in my preteen years, then sprouted and cultivated between about 14-18. By the time I entered college the temptation and struggle had taken root enough that I can now say it became a besetting sin and garnered enough of my focus to be an idol.

There are years of my life that are basically gone from my memory banks. I don’t know if it’s from a lack of nutrition and sleep or PTSD or a lethal combination thereof.
My tendency toward anxiety and OCD grew. I cared about a facade of perfectionism, straight A grades, and size 2 jeans. Maintaining the physique that would draw people toward my pretty clavicles, hip bones, wrist bones, and long red hair. Eating just enough in front of people so they wouldn’t question my habits. But flat out refusing to eat when I could, and coming to the point where I would eventually just forget to eat. Even now, I could definitely go 24 hours without anything but coffee before noticing it (and that’s only because I can’t get away from the comfort of holding a warm mug of aromatics). Old habits don’t die easily.

I was telling someone recently that it absolutely astonishes me that as a conservative Christian woman I am flabbergasted by some of the bad words I let take over my life. Want to know what those bad words are? Old and fat. That’s right: three letter, commonplace words that are as abhorrent as ugly itself.
That is where I have allowed our culture and mainstream media to infiltrate my worldview, to my own destruction. And I will be hogtied and hamstrung if I allow it to go on to the next generation and hand it down for their destruction.
In biblical culture – heck, in much of all culture, historically speaking – old and fat are words of goodness, blessing, prosperity, honor.
I want to see through that lens. I want to embrace that worldview.

In Rachel Stone’s book, Eat With Joy, she says, “it doesn’t help that images of extreme thinness are everywhere. Even the most seemingly mundane objects show the trend: the girl on the Morton salt container or on the bottle of White Rock water is thinner than she was twenty or thirty or fifty years ago. My children’s Candy Land game (made in 2010) shows highly idealized, thin female characters and muscular male characters, whereas in the 1984 version I grew up playing the characters were, if anything, a little chubby.” (p90)

Where are the role models for my children to show them the beauty of a wheat-heaped belly? that your navel is beautiful when in a rounded bowl rather than sunken between two jutting pelvic bones? that Song Of Solomon was right in praising the rounded beauty of the beloved bride?

Song Of Solomon 7:1-2
…Your rounded thighs are like jewels, the work of a master hand.
Your navel is a rounded bowl that never lacks mixed wine.
Your belly is a heap of wheat, encircled with lilies.

And here is what I realize now. I am their role model. It must begin with me. It must begin with the things I bring to them. And it can’t just be the words I say, the books I read them, the videos I let them watch. It also starts with my very own body. This physical set of flesh and bones and blood and fat and freckles that God has given me, where I grew these children in my belly, where I nursed them on my breasts, where I carried them on my back, where I cradled them in my arms; where I still snuggle them tight, hug them, kiss them, lift them up; where I teach by example what health, beauty, and loveliness are.

“The words we use to talk about food and bodies matter, as well, because they nourish and shape and feed us — or poison, warp and starve us — every bit as much as food does. Who can eat gratefully and joyfully while thinking, I’m an ugly pig who doesn’t deserve to eat? I couldn’t. Who can eat with real pleasure when the table talk centers on dimply thighs, flabby bellies, calories, cholesterol, and what’s ‘healthy’ or ‘unhealthy’? No one can and such talk actually fuels disorder…” (Rachel Stone, Eat With Joy, p101)

My children make me hunger to be whole, to find healing, to shed the shame.
They make me long to love and embrace things like getting older and getting softer around my corners.
want to stop plucking out my grey hairs. I want to stop worrying about my muffin top.
I want to focus on truth, goodness, and beauty.
And this is my next step along the path of how I pray to get there.

“As Christians dealing with human hurts,
we have to remind ourselves again and again
that we are not called to be successful,
but to be faithful.
Our first directions come from the way Jesus told us to live,
not from what we think will work.”
(Doris Janzen Longacre, More-with-Less)

Hungry for Healing, Part I

Hungry for Healing, part I

First thought in the morning,
last thought before falling asleep at night,
forefront of my mind every time I prepare a meal or feed my family,
choking me when I catch a glimpse of myself in a mirror,
paralyzing me when it’s time to get dressed or put on a nightie,
making me close my eyes when I have to undress – don’t look down – keep the lights off…

I’m fat and ugly, which translates to worthless and unlovable.
~~~

Processing through the written word has long been a healthy tool for me, and I have often thanked God for it. Throughout my life when I have dealt with something big, heavy, hard, complicated, or grievous, I have found my best healing through writing. When grandparents died, when romantic relationships broke my heart, when I struggled through endless miscarriages, when depression and anxiety gripped me ~ I wrote.

Often the writing happened in journals, tucked away for nobody’s eyes, but simply for the use they were in helping me process the burden God had placed upon me, the dark road He was leading me through. Occasionally, I have processed by writing letters with friends, working through a common issue or simply receiving the blessing of their listening ears (or reading eyes). When it has come particularly to my processing of the deaths of my babies and my physical problems resulting in miscarrying, I have been specifically open and honest in sharing my process through the medium of this blog. Of course, it helps somewhat that I have little-to-none as far as readership goes. Perhaps it sounds quite easy to be open and honest when you aren’t actually sure if anyone reads what you say to begin with. But I have not yet shared anything here that makes me feel ashamed. Perhaps I have delicately tiptoed across the questions of depression and anxiety in the past, rather than jumping in up to my neck. But I have had enough real-life relationships where I am comfortable sharing and discussing those struggles that I have not been pushed to the edge of needing to process through a version of public writing. Until now.

This morning as the kids were eating their breakfast and listening to an audio Bible before we packed up for a busy day at our homeschool co op, I was exercising in the back room and streaming a short podcast episode from Jamie Ivey on the subject of if you only knew which is based upon the premise of her new book by the same name.

Jamie shares,

 For so long, I was so afraid that if you only knew the mess I am so good at creating in my life, then things would be different. In many ways, my greatest fear was what you might think of me if you only knew the whole story.

As the chore of guarding the stories of my past got more and more difficult, I found that I wasn’t just hiding my poor decisions, I was robbing others of the beauty of God’s grace that had redeemed these moments.

And I realized that I have preferred to spend nearly twenty years now hiding in shame rather than share my brokenness with you. I have concealed chaos in my life in order to put on a good face and put my best foot forward… but this, in turn, has caused me to present a facade that only shows part of what God is doing. I have not arrived, but deeply hunger for healing. I feel starved for truth regarding goodness and beauty.

And I am not doing any good to anyone by covering up the raw realism and gritty facts.
All I am doing is choking myself with the struggle to maintain the facade and present only the portions I want you to see.

I stumbled upon a rich book a couple months ago called Eat With Joy, and I finally finished it. Today. It was a good read, but sections of it were downright challenging. I have a deeply paradoxical relationship with food, particularly with eating. To say that it is a love-hate relationship barely tosses an ice cube on the tip of that iceberg. This book prodded and picked and peeled at all the right scabs. And I began to bleed.

Backing up about two months prior to finding that book on my library’s shelf, I was hosting a mom’s night for the women who participate in our homeschool co op, and while I was serving up cheesecake and putting together the ooey-gooeyist-most-delicioso caramel chocolate chip cookie bars you can imagine, 0ne of the women mentioned in a haphazard way that she had spent the better part of her life recovering from an eating disorder… but that while you can learn to control the habits, the mindset often remains with you for the remainder of your life…

…and I melted into a puddle of tears.
Those me too tears that authentic familiarity recognizes immediately.

She does not go around sharing that part of her story with everyone, but for some reason God put it on her heart to open up to me that night and show me the beauty of what God has done to redeem that part of her life; her relationship with food, her body image, her fight against what good things God could bring from her life if she would relinquish herself to His hand.

And now I feel lead to do the same thing.
Because I have long hidden in my shame, struggling with self-loathing and a distorted body image that has claimed focus and happiness and health from my heart for twenty years… I have fretted within myself if they only knew, wondering who would blow me off, look down on me, or pat me on the head with a Bible passage while patting themselves on the back for solving all my problems with a Christian snippet.

But I am hungry to heal.
I am ready to reveal the redemption God has slowly been working in me.
I am starving to share my suffering and Christ’s satisfaction.

And if you find yourself thinking, oh man, me too! while you read this ~ as I did when my friend bared her heart in my kitchen, or when I read that book, or when I streamed that podcast ~ send me a note so we can walk this road together.

This is only part one of what I am hoping to share.
But the beginning is this: I am recovering from a tedious, troublesome journey with bulimia mingled with anorexia.
It is by God’s grace that I can hit publish on this post, and share with you that I am following Him through to the other side of the tangled web of eating disorders.

 

~~~~
If you or someone you love needs some beginning resources, I found these additional links a good place to begin:
https://www.ibelieve.com/health-beauty/dear-christian-with-an-eating-disorder-you-re-not-a-failure.html
https://www.focusonthefamily.com/parenting/teens/truth-about-eating-disorders
https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/topics/eating-disorders/
https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/an-open-letter-to-my-friends-struggling-with-eating-disorders
https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/gospel-hope-for-self-haters
http://www.todayschristianwoman.com/articles/2000/july/9.34.html

Journey Bread

I have been baking bread for my family since I was pregnant with Gabriel… that’s a good nine years of healthy, delicious, economical goodness right there. I have come up with a couple different staple recipes that I can whip up easily and consistently. My typical loaf bread includes whole wheat (ground right in my mama’s basement), oats, cornmeal, honey, and extra goodies like flax and millet when I can manage it. I call this Family Bread and it’s basically our daily fare (not that we eat bread every day, but you get what I mean). Then I came up with something I call Canaan Bread which includes milk, honey, olive oil, sea salt, and potato flakes ~ it is our special occasion bread that makes light, fluffy loaves or rolls worthy of being related to the promised land!

This year for Christmas gifts, I have been baking up bread (three loaves at a time) to deliver to neighbors and friends. It is a little more practical than some options, and honestly it seems like folks are genuinely pleased to have a healthier alternative to cookie plates (although really, if you want to bring one to MY house, none of us would mind!). I made pretty labels for the loaves, including Scripture from John 6.

Jesus said, “This is the work of God;
that you believe in Him whom He has sent…
For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven
and gives life to the world…
I am the Bread of Life;
whoever comes to Me shall not hunger…
For this is the will of My Father,
that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him
shall have eternal life…

John 6:29, 33, 35, 40

Plus, for our neighbors (whether they have a relationship with Christ, we don’t know), I tied a copy of the current Our Daily Bread issue to the bottom of the loaf.

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I have had the kids each take turns helping me bake the bread on different days. Today was Evangeline’s day to help bake bread.We were going to make my Canaan Bread today, so we could deliver some loaves to friends tomorrow morning at a playdate… with a couple little tweaks, because I added some sourdough starter I’d had proofing and decided to toss in some whole wheat too…

Evangeline helped me put honey, milk, warm water, olive oil, sourdough starter, dry active yeast, and whole wheat flour in a bowl. We let it rest and proof while we ate breakfast (Mommy poured a cup of coffee, but only got one sip in… hmm… red flag anyone?) and read our Bible and Advent lessons for the day. Then Evangeline and I returned to our baking project. It may have looked like just a gloppy mess but oh! It bubbled beautifully and smelled so yeasty and sour and rich! I love that part of the process so much.

We added sea salt, quick oats, potato flakes, and high gluten bread flour, and got the dough hook working on the kneading process for us.
Everything was going smoothly, it seemed, while Evangeline manned the controls on the side of my KitchenAid mixer. Gabriel was practicing piano, Asher was working on a math page & singing at the top of his lungs, and Simeon was fussing at my feet so I picked him up & snuggled him on my hip. But the gluten didn’t seem to be developing properly because the texture of the dough was not getting stretchy and smooth. Evangeline wanted so badly to jump ahead to the part where she gets to punch down the dough and knead it into a loaf shape! I wanted so badly to gulp down my cup of coffee! But frustration was mounting, because clearly our bread was not verging on the bliss of Promised Land today.

In a Hail Mary fashion, I decide to crack an egg into the mixing bowl and let it get worked into the dough… but in the process of trying to stop the machine with a preschooler on a stool and a baby on my hip… attempting to crack the egg with one hand (because there are times, yes, where I can manage to pull off cool tricks like that… hah! thank you, Food Network and The Chew…)… my elbow knocks down a cup of flour and I accidentally crack the egg onto the floor.

Oops.
That’s right; I totally could have grabbed a fork and started whipping up a batch of egg noodles right on my kitchen floor…
You know, if it weren’t covered in dog hair and coffee grounds (and the bowl of Cheerios the baby threw on the ground).
Because in all honesty, my plan WAS to vacuum after the bread was in the oven!

For some reason, it seemed smart to plop the baby down on the floor so I could grab a spatula and a roll of paper towels… but of course the pile of flour and ooey gooey raw egg on the floor looked entirely enticing…
So yes, my 14 month old makes a bee line for the mess!
Meanwhile, imagine the loud piano combining with a kindergartener’s version of silly math songs pounding in your ears…
and just to top it off, my daughter jumps off the stool and tries to lend a hand with keeping her little brother away from the mess…

In one of my less glorious motherhood moments, I yell at the baby “no no! no touch!” and holler at my daughter to back away, and follow it up with a quick shout to the boys to be quiet so I can think straight about how to clean up this mess!
Yep.
That’s me.
Mom of the year.
Trying super hard to do my best at training my kids up in a Christ-centered, home-centered, family-centered, grace-centered home education.
Let’s just say, it’s a good thing I don’t have things like Pinterest and Instagram because you would not see a picture perfect snippet of me this morning.

I got the mess cleaned off the floor, shot off a few frenzied texts to my husband, and started to laugh at the whole situation.

I mean, really.
And all of a sudden I realize that my Canaan Bread is really much more like the 40 years in the wilderness today! It was punctuated with fussing, hunger, noise, frustration, faith to believe what I can not see, and me trying to take matters into my own hands when it’s not going exactly according to my picture-perfect-plans. That’s when I named today’s bread Journey Bread.

What I needed was grace. Saving grace. I needed cleansing waters and leaven for the lump.
I gulped down some coffee and took some deep breaths while I considered these things.
Then I had my daughter crack an egg into the bowl (yes, yolk & white successfully made it into the bowl this time) while I dissolved a bit more yeast into warm water, honey, and bread flour. Finally, we got it all kneading together and it was obvious that the glutens were developing properly now.

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We were beginning to see the fruit of our labors coming back together, and I couldn’t stop laughing at the previous antics.
I even had to text my grandma, asking her about her own memories from motherhood. I know the days can be long but the years are short. I know that babies don’t keep. And I want to know what a great-grandma recalls from her own motherhood journey decades later. What parts do I take pictures of? What snippets do I write down?
Do I just want to remember the weekly ritual of baking bread with my kids?
Do I want to remember the prettily packaged loaves we delivered to friends and neighbors while it snowed?
Do I want to remember the spilled flour and the egg I cracked onto the floor?
Do I want to remember the cacophony of crazy noise and the scramble to figure out how to clean the mess, protect the children (from the horrors of possible salmonella, of course, haha), regain my sanity, and rescue the dough before it completely flops?

All my grandma responded with was I wish I could remember more of those years!!
She didn’t say which parts she remembers. She simply shared her longing to remember what the years held.

I don’t only want to remember the picturesque moments. I want to remember living life.
I want to remember the journey. To remember God’s faithfulness even when I fussed (and when the children did too).
Something we love about Scripture, about the Gospel, is that we get to see the narrative including the tensions. It doesn’t let us just skip to the end and see how it all turns out in the New Jerusalem. Nope. It’s about the journey. Faith. Saving grace. Clinging to what we know and asking God to clean us up because we keep making messes out of things.

And you know what? It is good to laugh at myself. To revel in good things like noisy kids and a messy kitchen.
It is good to send frenzied texts to my husband… he needs snippets of what my days are like so he can more fully appreciate what he comes home to at the end of a day… right? :)

Oh my word – it’s a day! I may have been trying to bake bread with our daughter, while holding Simeon in one arm and cracking an egg with one hand… I just might have knocked a bunch of flour on the floor at the same time I cracked the egg onto to the floor instead of into the bowl…I might’ve totally tweaked my neck while trying to clean up the mess and keep the kids away from it…
This. Is. My. Life.

Bless him, my husband responded, “and I don’t know how you do it.”
To which I promptly admitted three little worlds: massage & coffee & wine.
And to top off the morning of laughing at myself, I added,
Oh. Probably should’ve been “Jesus” & “God” & “Grace” but you know… #realitycheck

Savoring Friendship & Cookies

It was obviously an early day of spring.
Grey clouds and blinding sunshine danced together.
Robins were bouncing happily around outside while it rained.
The fire roared in our living room stove, schoolwork was spread on the table,
the baby was fussing, and the big kids were doing anything but focusing on their books.
I was fighting a headache with Tylenol & caffeine to no avail.

Grasping for a lifeline of sorts, I popped off a quick note to a dear friend,
the kind of friend who is more like a sister than not,
to ask her to pray for me.

She wrote right back.
She thanked me for sharing my needs and expressing my heart.
She gave suggestions that were rooted in love.
She jumped into a gap for me and filled it with prayers, love, compassion, friendship.

cookies 10

I shared a list of things with her that was making me thankful.
Across a distance of 375 miles, she gave me a virtual hug and a shoulder to lean on.
Together, while apart, we sought the Lord as well as praised Him.

She in her kitchen, surrounded by her little blondies.
Me in mine, surrounded by my wee gingers.

Friendship is acting out God’s love for people in tangible ways. We were made to represent the love of God in each other’s lives, so that each person we walk through life with has a more profound sense of God’s love for them. Friendship is an opportunity to act on God’s behalf in the lives of the people that we’re close to, reminding each other who God is. When we do the hard, intimate work of friendship, we bring a little more of the divine into daily life. We get to remind one another about the bigger, more beautiful picture that we can’t always see from where we are.
~Shauna Niequist, Cold Tangerines, p49

Then I noticed she sent me something else ~ a link to a recipe.
“If you need something sweet to eat today, here’s a link to a recipe we are making,”
she said, along with three pictures of her children helping her
stir batter, eat batter, and put trays of cookies in the oven.
“I wish we could share hot cookies and ice-cold milk with you this afternoon,” she added.

That’s when I decided it was time to stoke the fire,
strap the baby onto my chest,
put away the schoolbooks,
and take three sticks of butter out of the fridge to warm on the counter.

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“Butter is out to soften!!” I told her,
declaring that we would make the best of it,
and we would join them in the baking efforts of the day…

and we spent the next hour or two occasionally popping messages to one another
on our progress in our own little worlds of flour, sugar, aprons, and children licking their fingers.

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My children and I were able to not only connect with one another and savor our relationship,
but we were talking about these far-away friends & taking pictures to show them,
connecting in creative ways with these friends even when distance separates us.

When joy and grace are shared, it multiplies in ways indescribable.
When friendship is savored, it builds bridges undeniable.

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The short of it is that you really just need to click here and try the recipe out for yourself.
And then, once you have, share the link with a friend.
And share pics of doing the same thing as one another, even if separated by miles.

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It is good to savor friendship.
It is good to find unique ways to share life together with those you love.
Even if it is two mamas with their little ones at their sides, separated by 375 miles,
we can still share life & friendship & motherhood & cookies.
Creativity can be both warm and delicious.
Just like friendship.

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In our own unique way, my children and I
shared hot cookies and ice-cold milk
with the dearest of friends ~
our hearts were encouraged
while souls were fattened
and tongues rejoiced!

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I know of no other recipe for making a good-bye bearable than the promise that the God who goes with us and stays with them will be the bridge connecting us, no matter how far or long the distance.
~Lisa-Jo Baker, Surprised By Motherhood, p95~

Homemade Yogurt

I don’t remember exactly how long I have been making yogurt… but it’s been a couple of years now I think. We go through so much yogurt in our household each week that this is a really good way for me to save money for my family! Like with bread, this is something healthy & delicious I can make easily & economically from scratch as a way to bless my family. Recently, some dear friends of mine were asking how to make yogurt, and I thought it was a good opportunity to document it in pics and writing, rather than just in a spoken method. 🙂

Plain Easy Yogurt

Begin with a gallon of milk. I don’t buy organic, raw, or anything special.
I buy straight-up common milk (usually 2%) in a jug at the grocery store. That’s what makes this so economical:
I get 4 quarts of yogurt for about $2.80
~…~…~

To start, dump the entire gallon of milk in a large pot.
Stick a candy thermometer in there to monitor the temperature for you.
With the stove on med-high, heat the milk to roughly 185*F.

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Stir it around occasionally (using the thermometer), but try not to scrape the bottom of the pot
because you will scrape around bits of milk that adhere to the pot during the heating process
which makes the end result of yogurt grainy.
But I do sometimes scoop off the film that forms on top of the milk, and toss it in the sink.
Generally speaking, I make yogurt in the morning while I’m feeding the kids breakfast,
doing Bible with them, and washing dishes; it’s very easy in that way
to simply stay nearby and keep my eye on things.
(But that’s not to say I’ve never lost track and let it boil over all. over. the. stove.)

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I don’t do anything special to prepare my jars.
I figure they have been sterilized well enough in the dishwasher…
so I simply line up my wide-mouth quart jars on the counter
along with screw on plastic lids (although you’ll see in these pics I used a metal rim on one).

You’ll also notice that on this particular day, I was making more than a gallon
so I have six quart jars lined up.
It just means that I adjusted proportions so my milk to yogurt ratio
was still appropriate.

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Once the milk reaches roughly 185*F, turn off the stove and remove the pot from the heat.
Now is the part that sometimes makes me impatient. 🙂
Wait for the milk to cool down to 120*F.
This waiting usually gives me ample time to do other housework,
homeschooling, or kitchen projects… I’ve never timed it though!
~…~…~

Upon reaching 120*F, once again lift the film off the top of the warm milk and toss it.
This is the point where you need yogurt starter: 8oz (a cup) of a previous batch.
When I made my first batch of yogurt, I used a single serving cup
of vanilla Tillamook yogurt.
I just wanted to use one that was as natural as possible
that was clearly labeled as having live active cultures.

Just dump your yogurt started into the warm milk and whisk it around,
without scraping the sides or bottom of the pot
(again, to avoid a grainy end result).

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Now you need to pour the yogurt-milk into the jars.
I have a steady enough arm to couple with a pot that doesn’t drip when I pour from it,
so I do not use any kind of funnel.
But you just figure out what works for you
to get it poured nicely into the jars.
Don’t cry over spilled milk! 😉

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Screw the lids on nice and tight.
You can see here that you don’t have to fill the jars to an exact science.
The one with the metal rim isn’t quite as full as the others.
It did just fine though.

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There is something so thrilling about jars full to the brim
of something delicious.
I feel this way about jam and pickles too.
Glass jars make me so happy!

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This is the fun part. 🙂
Put your jars in a cooler,
and run water from your tap until it reaches 120*F…

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…and then let the warm water fill the cooler
until it’s at least halfway up the sides of the jars.
It’s okay if it gets on top of the jars, too.
Sometimes I have a pint in there with some of the quarts,
so the water basically goes to the very top of the pint.

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Now while you let those happy little yogurt bugs take dominion
and reproduce in the warm milk,
just leave the cooler closed and left alone for at least 6 hours.
Go about your day!

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After 6 hours or so (I promise, it’s very flexible!),
take the jars out of the cooler,
dry them off,
empty the cooler,
dry it out…

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…and put the jars in the fridge.
By the next morning, it will all be solidified
and beautifully tangy & creamy.

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We eat it plain!
We eat it with a drizzle of honey!
We eat it with a dollop of homemade jam!

~…~…~
Here or there, on a train and in the rain, on a boat and with a goat…
we do so like our homemade yogurt, we would eat it anywhere!
We love it, and hope you do too.

Another Round of Freezer Meal Bags

Once my freezer supply dwindles, we may try to make another round of those “dump bags” for freezer-to-crockpot cooking. Not sure if we will need it before baby is born, or if I will wait until after he arrives. But here are a few more recipes I plan to sift through and choose from, and if we particularly love any of the ones we did last week (which we have not delved into yet), we may revisit a couple as well. Just thought I would share some of these while it is fresh on my mind, in case it is a blessing to anyone who stumbles upon this conversation here. 🙂

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Chicken Potato Casserole

 In gallon Ziploc: 3 large chicken breasts, three large potatoes in big cubes, one sliced onion, 1 can mushroom soup, 1 tsp pepper, 1 chicken bouillon cube.
Label: Thaw overnight in fridge. Dump bag into crockpot. Sprinkle one package of stuffing mix on top, and drizzle with ½ cup melted butter & 1 ½ cups water. Cook on low for 6-8 hours.

 

Lemon Pepper Chicken and Rice

In gallon Ziploc (in this order): 1 ½ cups brown rice, 2 cups frozen green beans, 1 cup baby carrots, 1 onion quartered, 4 large chicken breasts, 2 Tblsp butter, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp lemon pepper, 1 sliced lemon, 2 cups water, 1 chicken bouillon cube.
Label: Thaw overnight in fridge. Slit the bottom of the bag and dump it in bottom-first for best results. Cook on low 6-8 hours.

 

Beans and Rice

In gallon Ziploc bag: 1 ½ cups wild or brown rice, ½ onion diced, 1 can pinto beans, 1 can kidney beans, 2 ½ cups chicken broth, 1 can diced tomatoes, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp pepper.
Label: Thaw overnight in fridge. Dump into crockpot. Cook on low 4 hours. Serve with green salad.

 

Sweet Cashew Chicken

In gallon Ziploc bag: 1 ½ cups brown rice, 2 cups broccoli crowns, ½ onion diced, ¾ cup cashews, 4 chicken breasts, 1 can diced pineapple.
Label: Thaw in fridge overnight. Dump into crockpot. Add 2 cups water. Cook on low for 6 hours.

 

Cheesy Chicken and Rice

1 ½ cups rice, 3 cups water, 2 bouillon cubes, 1 can cream of chicken soup, 16oz frozen broccoli, 3 chicken breasts, ¼ tsp garlic powder, ½ tsp pepper, 1 cup grated cheddar cheese.
Label: Thaw in fridge overnight. Dump into crockpot. Cook on low 6-8 hours.

 

Sweet and Sour Chicken

In gallon Ziploc bag: ½ cup tomato sauce, 2 Tblsp brown sugar 2 Tblsp soy sauce, 2 Tbsp white wine vinegar, 1 bouillon cube, 1 can pineapple chunks, 1lb chopped chicken, 2 tsp. minced garlic, 1 tsp. grated ginger, 1 onion chopped, 1 bag frozen peppers, 1 bag frozen snap peas.
Label: Thaw overnight in fridge. Dump in crockpot. Cook on low 8 hours. Serve over rice.

 

Mongolian Beef

In gallon Ziploc bag: 1lb stew meat, 3 tsp oil, 1 onion sliced, 1 Tblsp minced garlic, ½ cup soy sauce, ½ cup water, ½ cup brown sugar, ½ tsp fresh grated ginger, ½ cup hoisin sauce.
Label: Thaw overnight in fridge. Dump in crockpot. Cook on low 6-8 hours. Serve with green onions and rice.

 

Chicken Cacciatore

In gallon Ziploc bag: 1lb chopped chicken, 1 chopped bell pepper, 1 cup sliced mushrooms, ½ chopped onion, 2 tsp minced garlic, 28oz crushed tomatoes, ½ cup chicken brother, 1 tsp oregano, ¼ cup chopped basil leaves, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp pepper.
Label: Thaw overnight in fridge. Dump in crockpot. Cook on low 6 hours. Serve over egg noodles.

 

Lemon Garlic Chicken

In gallon Ziploc bag: 4 chicken breasts, 3 Tblsp lemon juice, 3 Tblsp parsley flakes, ¼ cup olive oil, 3 tsp minced garlic.
Label: Thaw overnight in fridge. Dump in crockpot. Cook on low 6-8 hours. Serve with potatoes or pasta, and a nice salad.

 

Broccoli Beef

In gallon Ziploc: 1 ½ lb flank steak thinly sliced, 1 cup beef broth, 2/3 cup soy sauce, 1/3 cup brown sugar, 1 Tblsp sesame oil, 1 Tblsp minced garlic, ¼ tsp red pepper flakes.
Label: Thaw overnight in fridge. Dump into crockpot. Cook on low 5 hours. Add 4 cups broccoli florets and a slurry of 2 Tblsp cornstarch + 2 Tblsp cold water. Cook another 30 minutes. Serve over rice.

 

Cilantro Lime Chicken

In gallon Ziploc bag: 3 chicken breasts, 1/3 cup lime juice, 1 bunch chopped cilantro, 1 Tblsp minced garlic, ½ red onion chopped, 1 can black beans, 1 tsp cumin, ½ tsp salt, ½ tsp pepper.
Label: Thaw overnight in fridge. Dump into crockpot. Cook on low for 8 hours. Shred meat and serve on warmed tortillas.

 

Easy Chicken Broccoli Alfredo

In gallon Ziploc bag: 3 chicken breasts cut in strips, 16oz frozen broccoli, 1 large green pepper chopped, 32oz jarred alfredo sauce.
Label: Thaw overnight in fridge. Dump into crockpot. Cook on low 4-6 hours. Serve over pasta.

 

Hawaiian Chicken

In gallon Ziploc bag: 3 chicken breasts, ½ cup sugar, ½ cup vinegar, 2 Tblsp minced garlic, 2 Tblsp soy sauce, 1 can pineapple chunks + juice.
Label: Thaw overnight in fridge. Dump into crockpot. Cook on low 6-7 hours. Shred. Serve over rice, topped with mandarin oranges and cashews.

 

Creamy Italian Chicken

In gallon Ziploc bag: 4 chicken breasts, 8oz softened cream cheese, 1 can cream of chicken soup, 1 packet dry Italian seasoning.
Label: Thaw overnight in fridge. Dump into crockpot. Cook on low 4-6 hours. Serve with pasta and salad.

 

Honey Rosemary Chicken

In gallon Ziploc bag: 4 chicken breasts cubed, 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar, 1/3 cup honey, 1/3 cup olive oil, 4 Tblsp chopped rosemary, 1 tsp salt, ½ tsp pepper.
Label: Thaw overnight in fridge. Dump into crockpot. Cook on low 6-8 hours. Serve with mashed potatoes and green beans.

 

Thai Peanut Pork

In gallon Ziploc bag: 2 lb pork tenderloin cubed, ½ cup salsa, ¼ cup peanut butter, 3 Tblsp lime juice, 3 Tblsp soy sauce, 3 Tblsp water, 2 Tblsp ginger, ¼ cup sugar, 3 tsp minced garlic.
Label: Thaw overnight in fridge. Dump into crockpot. Cook on low 6 hours. Serve over rice noodles or rice, topped with green onions and crushed nuts.

 

Beer Orange Chicken

In gallon Ziploc bag: 1lb chicken breasts, 12oz beer, 12oz OJ concentrate, 3Tblsp minced garlic, 1 ½ tsp basil, ½ tsp salt, ½ tsp pepper.
Label: Thaw overnight in fridge. Dump into crockpot. Cook on low 6-8 hours. Serve with salad and potatoes.

 

Potato Soup

Note: this potato soup is not a very freezer-friendly meal (texture breaks down), so I would do this as a fridge-or-fresh meal.
In gallon Ziploc bag: 3 ½ cups peeled & diced potatoes, 1/3 cup diced celery, 1/3 cup chopped onion, 1 cup diced cooked ham, 3 ½ cups water, 2 bouillon cubes, ½ tsp salt, 1 tsp pepper, 2 cups milk, 1 cup cheddar cheese.
Label: Keep in fridge up to a week. Dump in crockpot. Cook on low for 8 hours. Stir in 1 cup sour cream before serving. Delish topped with chives, cheese, bacon crumbles, etc.

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Pregnant with a Rainbow, Part IV

Let me preface this by saying with my physical, medical, immunological problems, we have learned that we have to be proactive about either pursuing or preventing pregnancy. (This is obviously a big can of worms to open up in such a public place as a blog on the worldwide web. But I guess I’m feeling no holds barred these days or something.) We have had to learn this the hard way, and there is a big part of me that has long wished I could just be one of those women who could “have a surprise” ~ I did have a surprise once, with my very first little darling, and it was truly magnificent. I will always be thankful that God gave me that gift.

Now that we know some of the intricacies and eccentricities of my body, and particularly how it connects to my womb, we know that part of what the Lord has entrusted to us is a responsibility to be particularly proactive about hedging our procreation with wisdom & diligence. My husband is called to be our protector, and God has given him some unique places where he needs to protect his wife and his children, and we continue to seek the Lord’s wisdom in how to follow Him in this.

But this all does actually tie back into where I was planning to go… which is to my freezer. Funny but true.

When I know there is pregnancy as a possibility on the horizon, I go out of my way to pack my freezer full of freezer meals. (I do like to have 6 to 12 freezer meals in there regardless, though, because it is always nice to have a buffer for myself or also in case someone I know suddenly needs a meal. But since this is a PAL post, I will leave my focus there.) I figure one way or the other, the Lord will be giving me an opportunity to stay away from the kitchen ~ either I will miscarry, and the heavy burden of grief and the physical ramifications of that will keep me from cooking for a few weeks, or I will be facing morning sickness, and the glories of that blessing will keep me from cooking well for a few weeks or months as well.

I can’t really explain what a gift it was to have filled my freezer last winter, and to drain its supply this year due to months of morning sickness. What a humbling gift and amazing blessing!

This time, my thick blanket of morning sickness lifted by about 17 weeks or so, and I was able to be back in the kitchen much of the time. But then restricted activity was prescribed at 19 weeks, and now well into my third trimester I have had to remain on partial bedrest. This has been quite the journey. A couple weeks ago we even stocked up on premade freezer meals from Costco! Which says a lot about how far God has brought me on the tough journey of letting go and lowering my usual standard of things that are so majorly tied into my line of work ~ cleaning, cooking, homeschooling, showing hospitality… wow, the Lord has given me some great challenges, and I have kicked at the goads of letting go, but He is so wise and tender and has really shown me just how sweet it is to actually do what He is asking of me.

But using fresh ingredients and making meals from scratch has long been a huge part of my career as well as my passion & love.
So a couple days ago, I found some recipes online geared specifically toward ziploc-to-freezer-to-crockpot meals, and just after I had chosen half a dozen or so recipes and was about to put together a grocery list to fill in some gaps (although I mostly did try to find recipes that would utilize things already in my pantry and freezer stashes of staple ingredients), I checked my email… and there was a note from a sweet friend of mine who wanted to know if she could stop by for a visit after work one day this week ~ including an offer to help with something practical around my home… and my heart swelled & my eyes filled with happy tears. It was the perfect timing, and an obvious gift from God.

Tuesday evening brought some additional ingredients which were piled onto the kitchen island, and Wednesday afternoon brought a delightful visit from a friend who shared in encouraging conversation and put her hands to diligent work to bless my family. I stayed mostly parked on a stool in the kitchen while she did the hard work on her feet of doing the chopping, the washing, the brunt of it all ~ I did the little piddly parts like labeling, measuring spices, etc.

And now my freezer has 14 new freezer meals packed onto a shelf!

What a gift that God works out details in such sweet ways. Food is one of the best ways we serve our families and love one another. Feeding my husband and my children well is a passion of mine. And feeding myself is one way that I am feeding Sweet Teen, and one of the best ways to help him grow. Having all the prep for these meals done without physically demanding anything of my body during a time where my feet need to be up for the majority of the days is such a blessing.

So let me share the seven recipes with you that my friend Laura and I put together yesterday in about 2 1/2 hours while we talked and laughed together. I just might have to rope her into coming and doing it again with me in another month, if my family goes through this shelf of freezer meals before the baby comes. Or maybe we’ll do it again after he’s born, because honestly I don’t plan on doing much of anything except snuggling my rainbow baby for two months after he is in my arms!!

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Veggie Beef Stew

1lb cubed stew meat 1 diced onion, 1 cup sliced carrots, 1 can green beans, 1 cup frozen peas, 1 sliced parsnip, 1 cubed rutabaga, 1 cup red wine, 2 beef bouillon cubes.
Combine all ingredients in gallon ziploc freezer bag.
Label: “Thaw overnight in fridge. Dump bag contents into crockpot.
Cook on low 8-10 hours. Serve over mashed potatoes and/or with rolls.”

~…~…~…~

Asian Orange Beef

2 1/2lb chuck roast, zest & juice from one large orange, 2 Tblsp brown sugar, 3 Tblsp rice wine vinegar, 2 Tblsp soy sauce, 1 1/2 Tblsp minced garlic, 1 Tblsp grated ginger root, 1/4 cup chopped green onion.
Combine all ingredients in a gallon ziploc freezer bag.
Label: “Thaw overnight in fridge. Dump bag contents into crockpot.
Cook on low 10-12 hours. Shred, and serve over steamed rice with broccoli.”

~…~…~…~

Cranberry Mustard Pork

2 1/2lb pork butt, 2 cups cranberries, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 2 Tblsp dijon mustard 1 diced onion, 1/4 tsp nutmeg, 1/4 tsp cloves, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp ground ginger, zest & juice from one large orange.
Combine all ingredients in a gallon ziploc freezer bag.
Label: “Thaw overnight in fridge. Dump bag contents into crockpot.
Cook on low 8-10 hours. Serve with roasted potatoes and veg.”

~…~…~…~

Ginger Peach Chicken

1lb chicken thighs, 1 cup peach jam, 2 Tblsp soy sauce, 1 inch ginger freshly grated, 1 1/2 tsps minced garlic.
Combine all ingredients in a gallon ziploc freezer bag.
Label: “Thaw overnight in fridge. Dump bag contents into crockpot.
Cook on low for 4-6 hours. Shred chicken, and serve over brown rice with salad or snow peas.”

~…~…~…~

Honey Sesame Chicken

1 1/2lb chicken thighs, 1 diced onion, 1 Tblsp minced garlic, 1/2 cup honey, 1/2 cup soy sauce, 1/4 cup ketchup, 2 Tblsp oil, 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp pepper.
Combine all ingredients in a gallon ziploc freezer bag.
Label: “Thaw overnight in fridge. Dump bag contents into crockpot.
Cook on low for 4-6 hours. Shred, and serve over steamed rice & peas.
Top with chopped green onions, sesame seeds, and sliced almonds.”

~…~…~…~

BBQ Chicken

1lb boneless skinless chicken breasts, 1 cup ketchup, 2 Tblsp worcestershire sauce, 1 1/2 Tblsp brown sugar, 1 Tblsp chili powder, 1 tsp red pepper flakes, 1 tsp yellow mustard, 1 tsp apple cider vinegar, 1 1/2 tsp curry powder.
Combine all ingredients in a gallon ziploc freezer bag.
Label: “Thaw overnight in fridge. Dump bag contents into crockpot.
Cook on low 8 hours. Shred chicken, and serve over rolls or rice with green salad and fruit.”

~…~…~…~

Chicken Chili

1lb diced chicken, 1 chopped onion, 1 can black beans, 1 can white beans, 1 can Rotel, 1 can diced tomatoes, 1 cup sliced frozen peppers, 2 cups frozen corn, 1 Tblsp minced garlic, 1 Tblsp paprika, 2 Tblsp chili powder, 1 Tblsp cumin, 2 tsp oregano, 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes.
Combine all ingredients in a gallon ziploc freezer bag.
Label: “Thaw overnight in fridge. Dump bag contents into crockpot.
Cook on low 10-12 hours. Serve with sour cream, shredded cheese, and tortilla chips.”

~…~…~…~

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Yesterday, we made two of each of the above recipes. I also have two dinners’ worth of beef chili, one pan of enchiladas, one gluten free cheese pizza, and a couple other “surprise” dishes (that apparently I forgot to label…) on my freezer meal shelf. My sister in law gave us a freezer meal of pulled pork sandwiches, half of which is still in there.

Never underestimate the power of food, and the blessing it is to a family in need to surprise them with something for their freezer for that “rainy day.” Sometimes even rainbow pregnancies have their own host of rainy days where nothing blesses quite like a meal ~ whether hot or in the freezer.

If you have recipes (or links to recipes) that would fit the easy-freezer-meal bill, please share them in the comments!

It’s about what works for your guests, your family,
the people you love and have welcomed around your table.
It’s not about what will look great on Pinterest or Instagram later.
It’s about loving the people in your life
by gathering them close into the private space of your home,
about giving them soft places to land in hard seasons,
about meeting their needs for food, for listening, for peace, for rest.

~Shauna Niequist, Bread & Wine, p278~

Easter Lessons

This year, we went out of our way to do a few more hands-on lessons and Easter preparations with the children. The older they get, of course the more they grasp ~ and it is delightful to hear their own 6, 3, and 2 year old sized insights into why we do the things we do.

On Good Friday, rather than doing our normal homeschooling routine, while the little ones had individual room time (learning to play on their own for a solid hour is a good skill to learn), Gabriel helped me clean the house. We washed windows, cleaned bathrooms, swept floors, mopped floors, did laundry, washed dishes, wiped down cupboards. And while we worked together, we talked about why we were working so hard, and why is this what we chose to do on Good Friday. When I asked Gabriel what he thought, he paused in thought, then profoundly said, “Well, today is the day we remember the whole reason why Jesus came. He came to clean our hearts. So I guess that’s why we should clean our home.” I wanted to just stop the conversation right there, and leave it at that ~ because my kid gets SO much of the Gospel story, and I love hearing his perspective on it. It’s beautiful. But we went on to talk about how Jesus served others, even though He was King of all. We talked about “our people” ~ and who are our neighbors. Gabriel even asked if he could wash my feet when we were done cleaning, because he wanted to bless me and serve me like Jesus.

But I hate to admit, I forgot about the feet-washing, because by the time we were done cleaning the house, the little ones were ready to be done with solitary playtime, and we needed to move on to the phase of dirtying things back up again. Funny how we do that in my line of work: we clean things up so we can make them dirty again!

So after a little lunch, Evangeline was ready for a nap, and the boys & I got out supplies for some crafts that would hold more lessons.

We had already dyed Easter eggs with Grandmama, Auntie, and cousins, complete with super sweet and thoughtful conversations about the metaphors, symbolism, and just plain fun of the tradition. My children and I have talked numerous times this week about the symbolism we can see in the eggs… how they symbolize the rock which closed the tomb, but new life can spring forth from it… how we can take plain eggs and give them new clothing, as we do when we take on new life in Christ… how the yolk in a cracked egg can symbolize the glorious light of Jesus’ resurrection from the dark tomb when He burst forth in glorious array…
Click here to read about Easter Egg traditions throughout the life of the Church, following the Lenten season. Even plain old Wikipedia had some great thought-provoking things about Easter Eggs, or Paschal Eggs. And for some fun nuances on Easter Egg traditions, click here and have some fun with the kids in your life.

Romans 6:4
We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death,
in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead
by the glory of the Father,
we too might walk in newness of life.

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Thanks to Ann Voskamp’s diligent sharing each and every year, I finally felt like my boys were old enough this year to really grasp & enjoy a couple more unique & detailed hands-on projects.

First we had a snack of nuts and figs, while we made a crown of thorns (using a small grapevine wreath and a few dozen coffee-stained toothpicks) and talked a lot about the events of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Three year old Asher was nearly in tears (I love how his forehead crinkles and his chin quivers when he feels genuine sorrow), talking about Jesus being tortured, bleeding, and dying. He finally smiled again when I reminded Him that this was why Jesus came, and this is how He worked to save US from OUR sins. And in his sweet little voice, Asher proclaimed, “I sure love Jesus, Mommy.”

Matthew 27:29
…twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on His head…

Mark 15:17
…twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on Him.

John 19:2, 5
And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on His head and arrayed Him in a purple robe. So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe.

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Next we went out on to the back porch and put together our own little Gethsemane. Using a small moss planter (I used this, and don’t let the word “large” fool you!), we filled it with soil. Then we set our tomb carved in the rock in the corner of the garden (I found that aquarium accessories could offer some neat options, like this cichlid stone), before filling the rest of the garden with plants. We used some little succulents we got at a local store along with some pretty decorative moss, and then Gabriel used small smooth stones to make a little pathway through the garden to the tomb. Last of all, the boys went on a stone hunt outside to find something that would serve as a tomb cover.

John 19:41
Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid.

Luke 23:55-56
The women who had come with Him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how His body was laid.Then they returned and prepared spices and ointments. On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.

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On Good Friday, we used last week’s palm branches and our homemade crown of thorns to decorate our dinner table, when we ate lamb and roasted vegetables and matzo ball soup, along with the Seder plate with all  its elements and plenty of wine.

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Our kitchen island was cleared of all other decorations, and that is where we laid our own little Gethsemane. On Friday evening we closed up the tomb. On Saturday morning we found a little soldier to keep guard outside the tomb. And the children looked forward to seeing what would come of it on Sunday morning.

Matthew 27:59-60, 66
And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away. … So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard.

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Come Sunday morning, the children came downstairs to find the guard fallen down, the stone moved away, and a piece of linen folded inside the tomb.

Matthew 28:2-8
And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men.But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.He is not here, for He has risen, as He said. Come, see the place where He lay.Then go quickly and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead, and behold, He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see Him. See, I have told you.”So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell His disciples.

Luke 24:1-12
…On the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb,but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel.And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?He is not here, but has risen. Remember how He told you, while He was still in Galilee,that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.”And they remembered His words,and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest.Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles,but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened.

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They found a table set for a beautiful little breakfast. Fruit salad, hard boiled eggs with sea salt, mimosas, Easter story cookies, and Easter tomb rolls (the kids had helped me make those all on Saturday, which was really wonderful). Candles and music and the excited rush of gathering and eating and praising God together, singing Christ The Lord Is Risen Today. Gifts for each one at their place ~ books and chocolates.

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Once the morning feasting was done, it came time to don our Easter clothing (clothing is hugely metaphorical and meaningful in Scripture and the history of the Church) ~ even the Easter sermon mentioned this, because we had three baptisms during the service and these Scriptures were emphasized.

Ephesians 4:17-24
Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds.They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about Him and were taught in Him, as the truth is in Jesus,to put off your old self,which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds,and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

Colossians 3:12-17
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience,bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

Galatians 3:27
 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

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And so we got dressed in new matchy-matchy clothes (and my heart ached in all the heaviest and bestest of ways, because I have been given a family to clothe, and children who can wear sickeningly matchy outfits!), and talked about putting on Christ, putting off our old selves, putting on the new self in newness of life and the beauty of holiness, putting on love above all other things.

And then? Then the party really started. Gabriel pointed out, “there sure is a lot of joy around church and everywhere today!” and I couldn’t help but laugh. Because isn’t that just exactly, precisely the way it should be?! May the joy of the gospel, and of the Resurrected Christ, and of the hope He has given His people, shed forth from your homes, your families, your churches, and your wanderings until He comes again and everything is made new and all is set right.

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To the glory of the Father, amen. Allelulia!

Break Bread

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The poor man may envy the rich their houses, their lands, and their cars; but given a good wife, he rarely envies them their table,
~Robert Farrar Capon, The Supper of the Lamb: a Culinary Reflection, p25~

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To be sure, food keeps us alive, but that is only its smallest and most temporary work. Its eternal purpose is to furnish our sensibilities against the day when we shall sit down at the heavenly banquet and see how gracious the Lord is. Nourishment is necessary only for a while; what we shall need forever is taste.
~Robert Farrar Capon, The Supper of the Lamb: a Culinary Reflection, p40~

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I do want you to love what you eat, and to share food with people you love, and to gather people together, for frozen pizza or filet mignon, because I think the gathering is of great significance.
~Shauna Niequist, Bread & Wine, p17~

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God never meant man to be a purely spiritual creature. That is why He uses material things like bread and wine to put the new life into us. We may think this rather crude and unspiritual. God does not: He invented eating. He likes matter. He invented it.
~C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity~

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