Making a Working Man’s Casserole

I don’t have anything too important to say this week so I decided to post the recipe to one of my favorite dishes instead. Who doesn’t like a good meal right?

This dish is very basic and I am sure it has been made in your house from time to time. I call it the working man’s casserole because it is quick to put together, easy to clean up, and it is a very hearty meal.

To start, chop up 2 bell peppers, 2 apples, 2-3 large sweet potatoes into cubes, and slice 4 links of sausage. I really like a flavored chicken sausage, but any smoked sausage would work.

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After it is all chopped up move it to a pyrex or other baking dish. The trick here is covering the dish with aluminum foil so cleanup is easier.

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After all the ingredients are in the dish, stir it up a bit to ensure they are all mixed together. Then I put about a 1-2 tsp. of salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes (for a little kick) on top. I also include a clove or two of garlic. I love garlic so I always add a little more. To top it off, I drizzle a little over 1 tbsp. of olive oil on top.

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Then I put the dish in the oven at 425 degrees for 45 mins. – hour. I stir it up intermittingly while it cooks to ensure all of the potatoes cook. Like, I said – super easy! This is nothing special, but Gillian and I love it. After about an hour, it will come out looking like this!

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If you do end up cooking this or something like this, my only requirement is that you sit down and enjoy it with your family! Meals at the table are the best meals.

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-Christian

3-13-2017, A Lesson about Giving Grace (to myself)

Days can be full of the most mundane things. More often than not, we let the mundane become our focus and lose focus on the extraordinary things that exist around us. For example, doing laundry = mundane. Allowing your baby son to destroy your perfectly sorted laundry pile = extraordinary.

Why is that extraordinary? Because it breaks up the mundane. We need both. If we didn’t have the mundane we wouldn’t know about the extraordinary. But if we lose sight of the extraordinary, we will never find lessons in the mundane.

I think Gillian shares that so beautifully below. Grace can be found in both the mundane and the extraordinary. But we need to open our hearts to both so that we can find it.

3-13-2017

The to-do list is long and the done list feels very short.

I reflect on my day and wonder how late I can stay up…
…to switch the laundry (but the shirts in the dryer are wrinkly again)
…and fold the towels
…I should pump and study.
…Help jumpstart tomorrow. Prep lunch. Make coffee.

I think about all of these things and about how much I stressed today,
and how I didn’t just take a deep breath and find joy in the moment,
and how much I fretted about being too tired and was too impatient,
and how often I cursed the time change.

I think about how my day needed a little bit more love and grace,
because I think when I talk to Jesus about my day, he doesn’t see my to-do list,
He sees my done list, but it looks very different from my own.

He sees how I loved my child and gently washed his hands after each meal.
He sees how we clapped hands a million times today,
and that we laid down and took a nap together.
He sees that I called my friend just to see if she was okay,
and spent a little extra time listening to a new game invented by a most creative 8-year-old.

So maybe my lesson for today isn’t what I did or didn’t do,
(yes, maybe I looked away too long when Simon spilled coffee on the carpet)
but that I tried to love today – that’s the takeaway.
I hope tomorrow I can give a lot more grace to myself and just as many kisses to Simon.

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When the Cure Hurts

I can always tell when my lungs are feeling their best because I can laugh freely and I don’t stifle it to avoid a coughing fit. When I stopped taking Orkambi, I couldn’t do that so well. So I think of that and I smile.

Last Wednesday, I started taking a medicine called Orkambi – the first type of medicine to treat the underlying defect of Cystic Fibrosis (CF) at the cellular level. It’s pretty cool and very new.

When I was in college, I was a part of the clinical trials for this drug and eventually started taking it “open label” until it was approved by the FDA in 2015. Shortly after though, I found out I was pregnant with Simon and since there’s no data on what it does to a developing baby, I decided to discontinue taking it. After Simon was born, I waited to restart since I was breastfeeding. It is not known if it transfers into breastmilk and if so, what that small amount would do to a baby.

Now that Simon is almost 10 months (!!!!), nurses less, and my baseline lung function is lower than it used to be, we decided it would be wise to restart Orkambi. We will get monthly labs for Simon just be sure that he’s doing well.

I have a lot of mixed feelings about restarting this medicine. It’s an amazing drug. It works and it’s been so rewarding to be a part of making it happen in the trials. But… it’s not what we all hoped for.

It’s not a cure and doesn’t completely fix the problems caused by CF. It is a start though, and in my experience on Orkambi, I was living a better quality of life, had no pulmonary exacerbations/hospital stays, and my lung function stayed steady. Sounds good right?

The side effects though. These should be temporary, but they are not pleasant.

Within a couple of hours after my first dose, I had a hard time breathing even laying down. Shortness of breath continued the next day, then fevers came. Next day, no appetite. More coughing. Night sweats and hot flashes. Tightness in my chest. Oh-so-tired (thanks Simon, for letting me nap with you).

I feeI worse now than I did before I was admitted to the hospital a few weeks ago (and I just got to feeling better!). So, this Orkambi, with all of its anticipation, hope and excitement has me feeling pretty rough right now. I’m holding on to hope that I will feel better than before, with a new kind of clarity in my lungs, more stamina, and less cough.

I can always tell when my lungs are feeling their best because I can laugh freely and I don’t stifle it to avoid a coughing fit. When I stopped taking Orkambi, I couldn’t do that so well. So I think of that and I smile.

-Gillian

Cat Videos, Pope Francis, and Lessons Learned from my Cell Phone

Pope Francis recently said that when people don’t put down their phones in the home, it is the start of a war. “When there’s no dialogue at home when we’re at the table and instead of talking everyone is on their phone … it’s the start of war because there is no dialogue.”

Lately, I’ve been privileged with the opportunity to put Simon down to sleep at night. He is nine months old so this usually involves changing him into pajamas, letting him play for a bit, and then feeding him a bottle while rocking him to sleep. This was usually Gillian’s domain because she loved nursing him to sleep. But, a couple weeks ago we decided it was best we share that responsibility.

Honestly, I’m very glad we decided to do that. Like most, I’m gone at work for the majority of the day, so the only time I can hold and interact with Simon is at bedtime. I’ve noticed, though, that once he is dozing off I reach for my phone because what else am I supposed to do while sitting in the quiet?

The other night I was holding Simon in such a way that prohibited me from grabbing my phone. I was left with two options. Either I move him into a more conducive position at the risk of waking him or I sit in the dark holding him without reading my phone.

No one will deny the enticing prospect of scrolling through your Facebook feed when it is quiet and there is seemingly nothing else to do. Nevertheless, I didn’t move him and I didn’t reach for my phone. In the words of Robert Frost, I took the road less traveled, and that made all the difference.

As I sat lamenting about all of the cat videos I could be watching, I started down a dangerous path of thought. Why is my urge to look at my phone so strong? Why can’t I just sit here in the quiet? Is Facebook more valuable to me than enjoying these few precious moments with my son?

Pope Francis recently said that when people don’t put down their phones in the home, it is the start of a war. “When there’s no dialogue at home when we’re at the table and instead of talking everyone is on their phone … it’s the start of war because there is no dialogue.”[1]

But how can cat videos start a war? Surely Pope Francis is not looking at my Facebook timeline!

The heart of Pope Francis’ comment, of course, is that we should intentionally engage in the reality around us before losing ourselves in the digital reality of our phone. He reminds us that being human is a real experience and not a digital one. If we lose ourselves in the digital world, we may forget the common humanity we all share.

After coming to terms with sitting in the quiet of my son’s room phone-less, I leaned my head back and closed my eyes. I became aware of my son’s soft breaths, the creaking of the rocker every time I leaned back, and the cold air on my feet as it was the only part of my body not covered in a blanket.

As I rocked back and forth, I heard Gillian working on the dishes then a little later start her homework. I thought of all those nights she sat in this very chair listening to me clean the kitchen then move to other chores. There was an intimacy in that as I became aware of our shared experience.

It is possible I would have heard all of that while I was scrolling through Facebook on my phone but so often, our phone is what we use to hide away from the sights and sounds of daily life. They can also, unintentionally, pull us away from ourselves to a point where in those quiet moments it is uncomfortable to simply sit and be.

What happens when we stop talking with ourselves? Do we become unaware of the struggles that rage within? Or of the greatness that lies within? As I mindlessly scroll on Facebook and compare my life to my friends’ lives, do I become ever more detached from the beautiful life I do have?

I won’t promise that every time I put my son down to sleep I won’t reach for my phone. But, before I do, I will try to sit and listen for a little while. The voice of my heart, the sounds of my home and the soft breath of my baby boy teach far greater truths about this human experience than my Facebook feed ever could. Even if those cat videos are really cute.

-Christian

[1] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/02/17/using-mobile-phones-dinner-table-start-war-says-pope-francis/

Simon’s Thoughts

After all of that, I sat down to process. I ended up with a poem that brings me joy every time I read it. It may not end up in the anthology of the world’s greatest poems, but if I were to compile a collection of my own, this one would certainly be included.

I like to think of myself as an aspiring poet. Although, ‘aspiring’ is a bold word but I certainly would never claim that I am a poet. Perhaps, it is more accurate to say that every so often I write down words that may pass as a poem if you stand on one foot, close your left eye and look at the text from an angle.

A couple of months ago I was throwing Simon up in the air and finding great joy in the way he laughed. It caused me pause. I wondered what he was thinking and feeling in those moments. Did he know just how much I loved him and how much I loved being with him in that moment? Was he enjoying my presence as much as I was enjoying his?

I gather from other parents that these questions are common for our kind. I suppose we all ask them in our own way.

After all of that, I sat down to process. I ended up with a poem that brings me joy every time I read it. It may not end up in the anthology of the world’s greatest poems, but if I were to compile a collection of my own, this one would certainly be included.

Simon’s Thoughts

Peek-a-boo just one more time!
I’m still learning how to smile!

Where’d you go mom?
There you are! Giggling away.

Lift me up! I want to fly!
Daddy don’t put me down!

I love to fly high toward the sky!

I love how you catch me
before I hit the ground.

At nighttime when I miss you
I snuggle in your breast.

I love to hear your heart beating
As I fall asleep nestled in your chest.

When I wake up in the morning
I love to find you looking back at me.

I like to smile big and bright
To welcome in all the sunlight.

I like to stretch and reach out for you.

Now throw me up! It’s the morning time!
We have some playing to do!

-Christian

 

 

 

 

Blessed Are Those

In prayer, we ask, plead with and talk to what we have never seen. And to all of us doubting, Jesus only answers: “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed” (John 20:29).

“How do you know that God answers prayers if you have never seen His face?” asked the man in old jeans and a tattered sweater standing in the food line at the homeless mission. “I mean, I go to church and I believe in God, but how do you know?”

Clammed up, nervous and inarticulate, the volunteer answered, but only to a barrage of other questions pertaining to faith and the presence of God.  I was glad I was just watching and listening. Thankfully, he was not asking me.

When I left, the first question stayed with me. I thought to myself: “I go to church and I believe in God, but, how do you know?”

I have always liked questions that can be answered. I love the dialogue, the process and, ultimately, the solution. It is exhilarating to discover, explore and solve questions.

The church-going man in his old jeans and tattered sweater shared something in common with me that night. We both loved questions that can be answered. Unfortunately for the both of us, I am not sure his question is one that can be.

In prayer, we ask, plead with and talk to what we have never seen. And to all of us doubting, Jesus only answers: “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed” (John 20:29).

That is not necessarily the kind of clear answer I love. But that is the problem all along. I too often love the answer to my question and forget to love the One who is the answer.

When I am struggling with something, I always turn to my wife and talk through it. Sometimes she responds with answers that I love, sometimes with ones I don’t like and other times with only a listening ear. Most of the time, it is not her answer that solves my problem, but her presence through my struggle.

And so it is with God. God, it may not be your face that I see, your hands that I feel or your voice that I hear. But by faith, I know your presence and I know you are near to me. Your answer to my prayers is your love for me. My answer to your nearness, your constant presence and your love – is my own.

Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.

-Christian

This was originally published on Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology’s blog, Echoes from the Bell Tower on January 5, 2017

A Thanksgiving Story

It may not be naïve after all to believe there are times in human history where we remember we belong to each other. It seems to me that when we forget that truth we should make time in our lives to come back together again and give thanks.

I feel somewhere along the way we have forgotten we belong to each other. But then again I wonder if that has always been the case. I am not sure there was any period in human history where there was not war, hunger, or someone seeking to harm the other. It is naïve to believe there ever was a golden age of togetherness, respect, and love? Is it naïve to believe one could come?

In 2016, I made my first thanksgiving dinner. I bought a turkey and roasted it. I mashed up potatoes, made green beans, made cornbread, and bought the pumpkin pie. Most of the essentials were there with the exception of sweet potato casserole. But I wasn’t bold enough to make that quite yet.

With all of the food on the table we sat down to eat. Before we started all of us went around the table and said one thing we were grateful for from the past year. To me, it is not thanksgiving unless you practice giving thanks. Without that it simply becomes another meal at the table – albeit a nice one.

Making the meal took a lot of work. One has to prep the turkey, season the turkey, pray and hope the turkey doesn’t burn or taste terrible once it is done cooking. One has to cook the potatoes, the green beans, the cornbread, and kill a few sticks of butter in the process. It is one big dance that needs to come together at just the right moment so nothing is left sitting too long to get cold. I cook often so even though I know my way around a kitchen this was still a formidable challenge.

However, even though cooking the food is a lot of work, Thanksgiving is not necessarily about eating the food one cooks. It is a holiday of being thankful we have the food to cook and people around us to share it with. At its core, Thanksgiving is a holiday to remember that we belong to each other. The Thanksgiving story of the pilgrims and the Native Americans gathering around a table to share their harvest reminds us of that truth.

I personally love stories. I love nestling up to my son and reading him the classics: Winne the Pooh, Sleeping Beauty, Little Red Riding Hood, Charlotte’s Web. I love their interesting plots and the meaningful lesson at the end. Jesus loved stories too, I think. He told them often and they always had a meaningful lesson – even if those listening did not always understand.

The course of human history is certainly a story and our lives are one small chapter or maybe just a few lines. Intertwined in our story, undoubtedly, are the holidays we come together and celebrate. I wonder if I opened that book to look back and see that a couple times a year groups of people came together from all over to share a meal, tell stories, laugh, and give thanks – if I might see that as a moment in time when the world remembered it belonged to each other.

It may not be naïve after all to believe there are times in human history where we remember we belong to each other. It seems to me that when we forget that truth we should make time in our lives to come back together again and give thanks. The story of human history is filled with chapters of war, hunger, and despair. Those are chapters we should read and continue to work toward resolving. That work never ends and because of that our coming together should never end.

So grab a seat at the table, place your napkin, and pick up a fork. I am grateful for you and most grateful for those times I remember we belong to each other.

-Christian

This was originally published on Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology’s blog, Echoes from the Bell Tower on November 23, 2016