If You Caught a Moment and Put it in a Jar

It should have been a disaster.  We’d driven so far, spent so much money on this mini-vacation, the list of fun activities (hiking, lighthouses, waterfalls) all outdoors.  But it was so, so wet.  Rain — the fat kind, the drip-down-your-collar kind — and fog — a thick wooly blanket that hid everything — conspired against us.  Welcome to Maine.

And yet my memories of that day are some of my most cherished.  Have you ever smelled a wet collie?  Have you hiked two miles uphill for a view of the inside of a cloud?  Totally worth it.  We laughed until our cheeks hurt.  We got thoroughly stinky and soaked and then ended the day with the world’s best blueberry pie in a cozy diner.  It was a day unthwarted by cold front, unspoiled by conflict, unhurried.  It was a perfect day.

moments have powerAnd aren’t all the best memories like that?  It’s the beginning of a thousand stories:  It was a disaster.  That time we locked the keys in the car.  The time you threw up in public.  The time she fell in the creek.

All the best friendships sparkle with a dozen funny stories, moments that unexpectedly lodge in our mind and years later have the power to make us weak with laughter.  Moments have power.  But here’s a little secret:  while the memory may have been accidental, the moment, nine times out of ten, was intentional.

 

It takes intentionality to collect the moments, store them up in the heart.  You cannot catch a firefly unless you venture out at dusk with a jar in June.  If you want a jarful of memories to forever flutter and blink, you have to go after them.

Life has an ebb and flow that means today’s friends may be halfway across the country tomorrow.  Your children will almost certainly fly the nest one day.  No one will ever say, Remember that time we didn’t go to the park?  Remember that season we barely slowed down for a conversation?

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Busyness and crabbiness are the enemy of our souls, of memorable moments, of relationship.  There is no way to build a friendship or a family culture of joy and purpose if instead we pursue a million forgettable activities.  We have to slow down.

I find it fascinating that one of the most underrated, seemingly outdated prescriptions in the Bible is the commandment to dedicate one day of every seven to rest.  A day to be still, to cease striving, to wonder and to worship.  A day to hit the pause button on all of the frenzy that so easily consumes us and remember instead what really matters.  Why do we buck against rest?

What if this most ancient, Garden of Eden tradition, a weekly holiday, created space in our lives for a lifetime of beautiful moments?  What if by recapturing this one commandment we could add 52 memories to our collection this year, turn them into a lantern to light our long nights?

We visited old friends this month, friends who’ve drifted away into new seasons in new states with newly consuming hobbies and difficulties.  Just to spend an evening together might have been too much, requiring as it did the clearing of the calendar, the setting aside of other activities.  (You have to be bossy with the appointment book or it will most certainly be bossy with you!)  But after just a few minutes, the stories came flooding back — remember that time…  And in the course of an evening we made new memories — the horrifically bad waiter/the chicken execution story/could it be food poisoning?  I marvel at these friendships, surviving arguments and stress, loss and heartbreak, years of new area codes and changing life stages.  How have we lasted so long?  Why have other relationships gone by the wayside in the same period of time?

I watch our children chatting together.  Where will our kids be in five years?  In ten?  What will they remember of these evenings?  My own children teeter on the edge of adulthood, and the twin enemies of busyness and crabbiness threaten to consume our days.  Hurry, hurry, hurry!  What do you mean you aren’t finished?  No, we don’t have time right now!

This week I will slow down.  I will choose rest.  I will gather the moments.

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Make-Ahead Meals

Just for kicks — here are the five make-ahead meals we made at Stepping Up Sabbath today.  (You can read more about that here.)  I really don’t know the origin of all of them:  probably allrecipes.com, bhg.com, family friends…  They’ve been tweaked and reworked a bit, and you might be able to find the originals online elsewhere, but this is what worked for us.  Enjoy!

 

 

Cranberry Chicken

*Note:  Onion soup to taste — you may omit this entirely or use a whole packet.  Our family likes it without this ingredient, or with only a half packet.

  • 1 15. oz. can whole berry cranberry sauce
  • *1/2 packet onion soup mix
  • 1 small bottle Catalina salad dressing
  • 1.5 lb. chicken breasts

Rice

  1. Make sauce packet by mixing first three ingredients.  Freeze along with a package of chicken breasts.
  2. For Serving Day, be sure you have thawed the sauce packet ahead of time.
  3. Spray your crock pot with nonstick spray, and put in the chicken.  Pour your sauce over the top and cook on low for 6 hours.  (You could also thaw and bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes if you don’t have a slow cooker.)
  4. Make rice to serve with your chicken.  Sprinkle with parsley if desired.

 

Lettuce Leaf Tacos

  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 2 T. chicken stock (optional)
  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 3 T. taco seasoning
  • 2 large roma (plum) tomatoes, chopped, or salsa
  • 1 (8 ounce) package shredded Cheddar cheese
  • 12 large romaine lettuce leaves
  1. Dice pepper and onion.
  2. Cook and stir pepper and onion in a skillet over medium heat with olive oil and chicken broth until onion is translucent.
  3. Cut up ground beef into small pieces; place into a separate skillet over medium heat. Cook and stir ground beef with taco seasoning until beef is browned and crumbly. Drain excess grease.
  4. Combine beef, onions, peppers, and freeze.
  5. On Serving Day, reheat meat packet.
  6. Create “tacos” by using lettuce leaves for your shell, a scoop of meat mixture, a sprinkle of cheese, and some tomatoes.

 

Honey Garlic Chicken

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/3 c. honey
  • 1/2 c. ketchup (you can also use low-sodium ketchup, if available)
  • 1/2 c. low sodium soy sauce
  • 1/2 t. dried oregano
  • 2 T. fresh parsley
  • 1/2 T. toasted sesame seeds

Rice

  1. In a mixing bowl, combine garlic, honey, ketchup, soy sauce, oregano and parsley; whisk until thoroughly combined.
  2. Freeze.
  3. For Serving Day, be sure to thaw your sauce packet ahead of time.  Pour the sauce over the chicken thighs in a slow cooker.  Close with a lid and cook for 6 to 7 hours on low.
  4. Make rice to serve with chicken.  Spoon extra sauce over the top of each serving.
  5. Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds.

 

White Lightning Chicken Chili and Cornbread

This is a quick and easy chili, but like all good chilies, you can go low and slow if you want. 

  • 1 large sweet onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 4 c. cooked chicken
  • 3.5 t. chicken bouillon
  • 2 cans diced green chiles
  • 1 package white chicken chili seasoning mix
  • (McCormick makes one)*
  • 3 cans navy beans

Optional Toppings for Serving Day:

  • low-fat sour cream
  • shredded Monterey Jack or cheddar cheese
  • cilantro
  • lime
  • diced avocado
  • chips or corn bread
  1. Shred or coarsely chop chicken.
  2. Sauté onion and garlic in hot oil in a large Dutch oven, about 5 minutes, or until onion is tender.
  3. Stir in chicken with next 3 ingredients, 28 oz. water, and 2 cans of navy beans.
  4. Coarsely mash remaining beans and stir into chicken mixture.
  5. Freeze.
  6. Reheat in slow cooker, or thaw, bring to a boil, stirring often; cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer about 10 minutes.

Serve with sour cream, cheese, cilantro, avocado, lime wedges, and chips, if you like, and a batch of cornbread on the side.

*If you cannot locate a package of White Chicken Chili Seasoning, use extra garlic, 2 T. cumin, 1 T. coriander, and a cup of green (tomatillo) salsa in its place.

 

Roasted Red Pepper Lasagna

I dearly love this vegetarian lasagna.  It’s not that carroty veggie lasagna with no hint of cheesy tomato goodness; it really satisfies a good Italian craving — with no meat!  Break it out for your cow-conscious friends.  They’ll thank you.

  • 2 cups bottled red pasta sauce
  • 6 no-boil lasagna noodles
  • 1/2 15 ounce container ricotta cheese
  • 6 ounces mozzarella*
  • 1 T. red wine
  • 1/4 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup roasted red sweet peppers, drained well and sliced
  1. Lightly coat a 2-quart square baking dish with cooking spray.
  2. Spoon 1/3 cup of the sauce in the dish. Top with 2 lasagna noodles.
  3. In a small bowl stir together the ricotta cheese, 1 cup of the mozzarella, and wine. Spoon half the mixture over the noodles in the dish.
  4. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons Parmesan. Top with half the red pepper strips.
  5. Spoon half the remaining sauce on the pepper layer.
  6. Top with 2 more noodles, the remaining ricotta mixture, and remaining peppers.
  7. Add 2 more noodles and the remaining sauce.
  8. Sprinkle top with remaining mozzarella and Parmesan.
  9. Cover with foil.
  10. Freeze.
  11. Thaw overnight.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees and bake for 50 minutes. Let stand, covered, on a wire rack for 20 minutes before serving.  Serve with caesar salad and french bread if desired.

*Super good with goat cheese instead of mozzarella!  

When you’re just. so. tired.

Way back in 2002, my husband and I happily went to see the first of The Lord of the Rings movies.  Aside from all of the swashbuckle and magic, the moment in the movie that struck me most forcibly was when old Bilbo, the hobbit, says that he is spread too thin, like butter scraped over too much bread.  Maybe you can relate.

Maybe you’ve been overwhelmed or anxious, easily angered or chronically late.  Maybe you teeter on the edge of burnout, exhausted and discouraged.  Or maybe you just wish you weren’t so busy.

All of these — overwork, fear, feeling like you’re just ready to snap — are symptoms of the same condition:  humanity.  They aren’t new to our generation, they are the perennial problems of all people everywhere.  In fact, they are so pervasive, that sometimes we believe they aren’t really problems at all.

Maybe weariness is just life on Earth.  Maybe worry and hurry aren’t things to even try to eliminate from our lives — maybe we’re supposed to feel this way.  And if that’s the case, the best we can do is suck it up and power through.  Work harder.

But contrary to what we often accept as normal and even good, the Bible is clear that God offers a different way.  A more excellent way.

In Deuteronomy 28, God paints a startling contrast between His people, who worship Him alone, and those who stray away.  In verse 64, He warns the Israelites,

There you will worship other gods—gods of wood and stone, which neither you nor your ancestors have known. Among those nations you will find no repose, no resting place for the sole of your foot. There the Lord will give you an anxious mind, eyes weary with longing, and a despairing heart. You will live in constant suspense, filled with dread both night and day, never sure of your life. In the morning you will say, “If only it were evening!” and in the evening, “If only it were morning!”—because of the terror that will fill your hearts and the sights that your eyes will see.

Other gods offer us weariness, dread, and despair.  Our God, on the other hand, offers us rest.  And in the beautiful wisdom of our good Father, He offered us rest from the very, very beginning.  Before we ever worked a day, He set aside the Sabbath.

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The practice of weekly rest goes all the way back to Genesis 2.  God, who clearly has greater capacity for getting a job done than we do, rested.  For a whole day in the first week of the world, He rested.  And then He blessed that day and set it apart.  He called it holy, and commanded us to do the same.

It’s not some offhand comment that’s spoken just the once.  In fact, the word “sabbath” appears 96 times in the Old Testament alone, mostly in passages that restate the commandment, “remember the Sabbath and keep it holy” in one way or another.  In Exodus 31:12-13, the Lord said to Moses, “You are to speak to the people of Israel and say, ‘Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the Lord, sanctify you.’”  Above all.  Throughout all generations.  We sanctify the day, because God sanctified us.

(And by the by, Sabbath-keeping does appear in the New Testament.  I know there are pastors who dismiss it as an Old Covenant concept, but if you pay attention to the way Jesus talks about Sabbath, He never abolishes it, He affirms it.  Now, He clearly doesn’t like all of the added regulations and rigamarole that the scribes and Pharisees have attached to it, but the way He deals with that is to say, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”  In other words, “hey, people, this day of rest is meant to serve you, it’s not meant to master you.”)

I believe that Sabbath-keeping is important both for how we worship and for how we love our neighbor.  If we choose to neglect Sabbath, we are in fact putting other gods before the Lord.  Those gods may not be stone and wood, they may be our employer, our housekeeping, our important, busy lives.  If we neglect it, no matter if we tithe our money, we aren’t tithing our time.  And on the other hand, if we neglect it, we often force our neighbors to do the same.  Hobby Lobby and Chic-Fil-A are unique even among Christian stores for shutting down on Sunday.  Our entire culture has forgotten the Lord’s Day, and along with it, we’ve perpetuated an injustice:  the poorest among us never get a break.

You may recall that the Ten Commandments are listed out twice in the Bible, and the way the two lists treat #4 is slightly different.  The first time we’re introduced to them is in Exodus 20.  There, we’re told that we are meant to practice Sabbath because God Himself rested on the seventh day of creation.  That goes along with the Sabbath-as-worship idea.

But the second time they’re listed, in Deuteronomy 5, we get an additional insight.  We remember the Sabbath because we remember that God delivered us from slavery.  In this sense, Sabbath is an act of “holy defiance.”  By putting down our tools for a day, we declare that we will not be slaves again, that we are incredibly, gloriously free.  This is a freedom that we can extend to others, so Sabbath leads into loving our neighbor, too.

We tend to think of Sabbath as some kind of weird Plymouth colony thing that, if we really practiced it, would involve hour after hour on hard benches, absolutely no laughing, and all kinds of scheduling gymnastics revolving around being miserable all day on Sunday.  Ironically, though, Sabbath was given to us as a gift, not as a burden.

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Imagine your car had broken down.  You’re pacing around wondering how you’re going to pay for a new car when you get a mysterious phone call from your Dad instructing you to meet him in a parking lot across town.  When you get there, you see an absolutely giant box with a bow on top and your name on it.  There’s your Dad, grinning.  “It’s for you,” he says.  “But Dad,” you say with a whine, “How am I supposed to get this thing home?  I don’t even have a car!  Whatever’s in there is bigger than a refrigerator — I can’t carry that!”  You walk away, without even peeking inside the present, which of course, is a brand new car.

That’s kind of what we do with Sabbath.  “But Dad,” we say, “I can’t even deal with that right now.  It’s too heavy.  I can’t carry it.  Don’t you know how much I have to do this week?”

The beauty of Sabbath is that it offers us help in carrying our burdens.  It gives us exactly what our hearts need to not break down in the first place.

In some primitive corner of our minds, we buy into the lie that we are too important to ever need rest.  Sabbath forces us to stop working,  cease striving, and be still.  When we do, we realize that somehow the world goes on without us.  It is humbling, and it keeps our hearts soft.

When we slow down, we’re able to see God.  You can’t really see Him if you can’t be still.  But this sacred pause in the middle of the week offers you an opportunity to worship, to gaze in wonder, and to reorient your life around the One who makes it matter.  Obviously, going to church is part of that.  We set aside all of our busyness and gather together to remember what Christ has done.

But allowing your soul to linger in that place long after the church service is over allows God to speak to you individually, in that quiet whisper He uses that’s so easy to miss.  Setting aside not just a couple hours but a whole day to listen allows God to fill up what has been emptied in us over the course of a grueling week.  As Psalm 46:10 puts it, “Be still, and know that I am God.”  One day of rest is enough to remind us that God is our refuge and strength, no matter what we have to confront the other six days.

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Practicing Sabbath provides much-needed rest for our body and soul.  Without rest, we will most assuredly burn out.  Any doctor can tell you what wonders stress works on the body.  Rest is physically and mentally necessary if you want to flourish.  Building a rhythm of rest into your family gives your children a lifelong gift as well:  teach them by example that God never expected them to toil without ceasing.

Jesus said in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  Give your children the gift of learning that God’s yoke is easy and his burden is light.  Receive for yourselves the gift of Jesus’ sweet rest.

So what does it mean?  Consistency is key, the setting aside of one repeating day each week.  Sunday (unless you’re married to the pastor) works well, because you already have Sunday set aside for church, for worship.  At our house, we try to give the kids a happy, restful Sunday, but Michael and I celebrate our day of rest on Fridays most weeks, when the kids are at school.

Does it mean we sit in solemn contemplation all day?  I hope not!  Do what is worshipful and restful for you.  Go outside.  Sit by a lake.  Take a walk.  Tickle your children.  Laugh a lot.  Enjoy a feast.  Play!  Read a book.  Take a swim.  Take a nap.

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You might be like me.  You really want to practice Sabbath.  You want — no, you long for — that day of rest.  But you’re busy.  You scramble and hustle all week long, and when Sunday rolls around, you realize that you haven’t planned ahead at all.  You children, for some reason, expect you to feed them.  The things you procrastinated on all week are clamoring for your attention.  It won’t just happen, this Sabbath thing, unless you are intentional about it.

So today the gals from church got together and did a little work to make Sundays a little easier.  We’re prepped five meals that we can pull out five weeks in a row, so that for one month at least, we can gather our favorite people around a table, laugh a little, and pass the yumminess.  Or if we want, we can save aside one of these meals to share with someone who’s hurting — a neighbor, a family member who’s been in the hospital, somebody who’s had a baby.  It might mean that we show up at church one week with dinner waiting in the crock pot, and we’re able to invite a lonely person to come home with us for lunch, without even stressing us out a tiny bit.

It’s really not that hard to plan ahead in such a way that rest becomes possible, it’s just remembering to do it.  Having a go-to meal on hand won’t solve all our problems with slowing down, but hopefully it will be a tangible step in the right direction.

My prayer for all of us is that we can in some way recover the lost art of Sabbath, the unopened gift of rest that God offers us.

I pray that our church can slow down, that God can unwind the kinks of stress and worry that knot our muscles, that we can be known as a people who play, a people who laugh easily.

I pray that we can recapture our awe of this Creator, who made a beautiful, over-the-top world for us and then set aside one day a week for us to enjoy it, to enjoy Him.

I pray that our hearts never stray after other gods that mercilessly drive us past the breaking point, but that instead we would remember our first love, and freely give Him our hearts in worship.

  • If your children (or friends) were to closely watch the way you live for many years and then set about to imitate your life, would you anticipate that they would live in a way that is joyfully refreshed or in a way that leads to exhaustion?
  • What do you think would be the impact on your life of stepping up Sabbath?  What would be the result at Wellspring if, as a church, we began to incorporate more healthy Sabbath practices in our families?
  • What are some practical steps you could take to intentionally carve out a “sacred pause” in your week?
  • One reason for practicing Sabbath is as an act of “holy defiance,” a refusal to be enslaved again.  What are ways we can slip back into a life of slavery if we aren’t careful?