Issue 10: not giving up | free audiobook apps | vegan green bean casserole View in browser
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Issue 10: December 18, 2019
not giving up | free audiobook apps | vegan green bean casserole

[10-minute read]

Dear Sisters,

This is my first essay about faith since launching The Hump Day Happy. I set out to refrain from using faith as a crutch in my writing, because it’s so easy for me to fall back on Christian vernacular and appeal to a solely Christian audience instead of challenging myself to write for everyone. And honestly, after you read the essay, you’ll understand why I haven’t been in a great place to share about my faith this year. However, I do feel compelled to share a peek into this journey with you periodically. It would be inauthentic for me not to. I pray if anyone else finds themselves in the same dark places I’ve wandered through this year that you’ll find hope in these words. And I hope those who don’t share my beliefs can get something out of this as well. As always, don’t hesitate to reach out if you have questions or want to say, “me too!”


I had all the best intentions for Advent this year. I really did. I wanted to dive right into the season in all its spiritual anticipation with some kind of wonderful devotional—there are so many resources available. I wanted to buy the candles and the wreath and do the whole ritual with our family for the first time. I wanted to feel all the feels. 

But then, I didn’t. We were out of town the week of Thanksgiving, and when we got back, Advent had already begun. Julia’s birthday was December 1. Time just seemed to slip right through my fingers, and now here we are, one week away from Christmas day, and I have reflected on the birth of Christ approximately twice this month.

I want to blame this on the season, on the busyness, on how late Thanksgiving was. But if I’m being honest, a large part of my Advent apathy is my own spiritual fatigue that has seemed to come and go for months, waxing and waning like the phases of the moon. A few years ago, I heard a speaker say that faith is a spiritual gift in itself. That some are just blessed with the ability to believe and embrace faith without questioning—and that others have to wrestle. I remember thinking at the time how thankful I was that I had that gift of faith: this wholesale, all-in, no-questions-asked belief that never wavered. Being a Christian has been as easy as breathing for as long as I can remember.

In 2019, though, it hasn’t been so effortless. I have had serious questions and doubts. I’ve found myself disappointed and angry over and over again at the state of American Christianity and have wondered why God seems to stay silent in the face of so much ignorance, hate, injustice and shallowness within the church and in the world at large. And to be honest, I’ve just kind of avoided God all year.

I think the worst part of this time has been struggling silently. No one could’ve possibly known the depth of my struggle, of course—I’m really, really good at saying all the right things and going to all the Bible studies and showing up at all the church events. Who could I possibly ask? How could I articulate how I was feeling? Would anyone’s responses even help, or would their answers seem trite and manufactured to my cynical, questioning mind? People have always come to me with this stuff. I didn’t know how or who to ask for help.

Additionally, I abruptly jumped off the Christian Performance Hamster Wheel I’ve always enjoyed so much and found there was not much actual intimacy between the Creator and me when all the ways I used Christian culture to meet my emotional and social needs were gone. I had all the lines memorized, but nowhere to perform—what was left?

+++

This past Sunday, we attended the church I think we’ll join soon. The sermon was about John the Baptist and his doubts about Jesus while John was in prison. John hears about the miracles Jesus is performing and the people he’s spending time with, and yet he sends a message to Jesus: “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” Jesus was fulfilling prophecy, but not in the ways John thought he would (or should). He didn’t heal everyone or fix every problem. He didn’t rescue the Jews from their political persecution. He didn’t even deprive himself and live an ascetic lifestyle in the wilderness like John—instead, he was always drinking wine and enjoying good food at parties before healing random people and making all the religious people upset. In just about every way, he didn’t live up to John’s or anyone else’s expectations.

To illustrate, the pastor so honestly and humbly communicated his own questions and doubts, which were so similar to my own. He made it so clear that the Bible, from start to finish, is a story about people not understanding God, but being captivated and ultimately transformed by him despite their doubts. “The dissonance between what we want and expect God to be and what he actually is is present throughout Scripture. The Bible is full of people asking very blunt, honest questions about God. Jesus isn’t bothered by your questions.”

Jesus’ response to John and the way this pastor explained it brought me to tears. In Matthew 11:6, Jesus says, “Blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” (NRSV) The word for offense signifies a disillusionment so strong it causes someone to walk away. Jesus knew his message and his methods were not what people expected, yet he allowed the tension to hang in the air and the mystery to remain. He asked them simply to trust and wait. And they did, for the same reasons I do—there is something irresistibly compelling and transforming about Jesus, even if we don’t understand him fully. So, in essence, he’s saying, “Blessed are those who don’t give up too soon.”

+++

Fortunately, something I never lost was a stubborn belief that God is real and he is listening. I didn’t have certainty about much else, but I did believe I could be honest with him. I finally got my journal out earlier this month and instead of doing my dutiful Bible study time, I just wrote a letter to God. It was very frank. I expressed my frustrations, doubts and spiritual exhaustion.

After a few minutes of sitting in silence with my angst, a thought popped into my head to look at the story of Elijah and God at the mountain of Horeb (to be honest I thought the story was about Moses until I Googled “Moses mountain God wind fire whisper” and realized it was actually Elijah).

To summarize, Elijah is a prophet who has served God for many years, and he’s on the run for his life when we find him in 1 Kings 19. He retreats to the wilderness, sits down next to a bush and asks God to take his life. “I have had enough, Lord,” he says. He falls asleep, and an angel is there when he wakes up to offer him a snack. Then he falls asleep again and the angel makes him eat again before he travels 40 days and 40 nights to the mountain of God.

God himself appears to Elijah in a cave and asks him what he’s doing there. Elijah is not happy and doesn’t mince words with God. “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.”

God tells Elijah to step out onto the mountain and wait for him to pass by.

“A great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. After the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.”

God talks to Elijah again, asking the same question and receiving the same response. This time, though, God gives Elijah specific instructions to appoint his successor, Elisha. He promises to reserve a small remnant of faithful Israelites.

I broke down and sobbed from relief reading this story. Not that I’m some kind of prophet or being persecuted in any way, but I so relate to Elijah—he had doubts and frustrations, but still maintained a stubborn belief in God that led him to have this incredible encounter with the creator of the universe.

I do believe God never changes, but like any of us, he is multifaceted and can show up differently for different people in different circumstances. For Elijah in his crisis and for me in mine, here’s what I felt God was communicating:

The Lord gives you rest. Rest from all the working and performing and ask your questions.

The Lord nourishes. Be a learner and a seeker for a while. Do things that nourish your soul.

The Lord provides others to continue the work. The world will not fall apart without you jumping in to help.

The Lord is a low whisper, a thin silence. For you, in this season, I am not in the megachurch, the impressive theology words or busy vocational ministry. I’m not in a pat on the back or even in the satisfaction you receive from “making a difference.” 

I’m in your daughter’s hugs. I’m in that Christmas hymn and the Sunday Eucharist. I’m in the pages of your journal. I’m with you when you stop trying to perform. I’m with you when you can hear me whisper.

+++

Advent didn’t work out like I hoped this year. This entire year didn’t work out like I hoped, honestly. But as I sit here in the final weeks of 2019 thinking about the birth of Jesus, I am filled with unexplainable hope and anticipation. This tiny seed of faith I cling to reminds me of that remnant of Israelites God promised Elijah. It’s small, but it’s been tested, and it’s the real thing. So many of my ideas and expectations of who God is and what he should do have been stripped away, and I’m like a spiritual Kindergartner ready to sit at the feet of Jesus and learn. I’ve lost the ability to fake it, and I think that’s the best gift God could’ve given me this year.

My prayer going forward is this tiny seed of faith would grow quietly in me to produce a vine with simple, humble fruit—like the grapes moms slice up to put in their kids’ lunchboxes, not the prize-winning watermelon at the county fair.

Blessings to all of you out there who, like me, are clinging to your tiny seed of faith this Advent season. May we not give up too soon, and may we experience the blessing of intimately knowing the God who never gives up on us.


Love, Jill

Book recommendation: "The First Forty Days"

A friend loaned me this book, and I cannot put it down! The Amazon description is better that what I would write, so here it is: 

"The first 40 days after the birth of a child offer an essential and fleeting period of rest and recovery for the new mother. Based on author Heng Ou’s own postpartum experience with zuo yuezi, a set period of “confinement,” in which a woman remains at home focusing on healing and bonding with her baby, The First Forty Days revives the lost art of caring for the mother after birth."

I would add a caveat that adoptive and new foster moms should allow themselves this kind of care as well. Bringing a new child into your family, regardless of how old they are or how they arrive, is a life changing event! I remember when we were fostering reading a lot of recommendations to do a "cocooning" period in which the family stays home and doesn't see many people outside the immediate family for a period of time to encourage attachment. Same principle! 

For postpartum biological moms, there is a lot of interesting information about how important this period of rest is for your physical healing and long-term health as well. 

This book is NOT typical Western, American wisdom. It is full of ancient practices from around the world and really made me think. If I'm completely honest, I probably won't make many of the recipes (they seem a little fussy and not super filling), but I definitely want to apply the principles the book espouses when baby #2 arrives in March! 

Apps: Libby & Hoopla

I love reading, but I have a really hard time devoting time to it when I feel like I have so much to do. I read every night before bed, but after about two pages, I'm dozing off. So... not much reading gets done. 

I went through a major audiobook phase a few years ago and subscribed to Audible, which is $15 per month for ONE book. I eventually realized this is not a great deal, unsubscribed and never really listened to audiobooks again. 

I recently downloaded two apps that have gotten me back into the game—for free! Libby and Hoopla allow you to borrow e-books and audiobooks from your local library. I have Libby linked to our library here in Decatur, and Hoopla (which allows you to borrow music and videos as well) is the app our old library in Mobile uses (which... by the way, Mobile, AL residents: do not take your public library system for granted! I am shocked at how much better it is than the library system here).

In both apps, you can get on a waiting list for books, which can be months long, but there are so many books available to keep you entertained in the meantime. The waiting lists actually force me to branch out from what I normally read and I've found some interesting books that way!

Recipe: Vegan Green Bean Casserole (but honestly the best GBC I've ever had)

Last weekend, we got together with some friends here in town and had a vegan holiday feast (plus smoked salmon). One of my close friends here is vegan (vegans generally don't eat any animal products-meat or dairy), so I've been brushing up on my vegan cooking skills because that's what an Enneagram 2 does when they have a friend who is vegan. 🤣 Plus, it's an intriguing culinary challenge, which I always enjoy. Anyway, the food was AMAZING, and I found myself wondering why all holiday feasts don't feature more fresh veggies. 

I made this green bean casserole to have something nostalgic at the table, and it was literally the best green bean casserole I've ever had. Its deliciousness probably had more to do with it being made from scratch than it being vegan, so if you want to use regular milk instead of almond milk, I'm confident it would be just as good! 

Vegan Green Bean Casserole

Recipe from The Minimalist Baker

I doubled this recipe to feed 6 people and we had leftovers.

Start-to-finish: 35 minutes

  • 1 pound green beans (rinsed, trimmed and cut in half)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium shallot, minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup finely chopped mushrooms (button, baby bella, or cremini)
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup vegetable broth (I used my Better than Bouillon veggie stock and really upped the ratio of stock to water because I wanted lots of flavor- it worked)
  • 1 cup unsweetened plain almond milk
  • 1 1/2 cups crispy fried onions, divided

Heat oven to 400 degrees F (204 C). Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt well - it will help season the green beans. Add green beans and cook for 5 minutes, then drain and place in an ice water bath to stop cooking. Drain and set aside.

In the meantime, start preparing the sauce. In a large, oven-safe skillet over medium heat, add olive oil, shallots and garlic. Season with salt and pepper and stir. Cook for 2-3 minutes, then add mushrooms and season with a bit more salt and pepper. Cook until lightly browned, about 5 minutes.

Sprinkle in flour and whisk to stir and coat the veggies. Cook for 1 minute, then slowly add in veggie stock, whisking to incorporate.

Add almond milk next and whisk to stir again. Season with a touch more salt and pepper and bring to a simmer, then reduce heat to low to thicken. Cook for 5-7 minutes more, or until thick and bubbly. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.

Remove from heat and add 1/3 of the fried onions (1/2 cup as original recipe is written) and all of the cooked green beans. Toss to coat well, and top with remaining fried onions.

Bake for 15 minutes, or until warmed through and bubbly and slightly browned on top. Serve immediately (handle pan carefully).

    **She says leftovers keep well for a few days, but I found the flavor to be a little off after two days. So I wouldn't bank on this being good leftovers. But I am pregnant so who knows?

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