Week 2: Giving Up Piling On, and a Recipe
“The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s ‘own’ or ‘real’ life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life–the life God is sending one day by day” what one calls one’s ‘real life’ is a phantom of one’s own imagination” – CS Lewis
I excel at waiting for my “real life” to begin. For as long as I remember I have been waiting for something to happen. It began when I was six years old and fell in love with Joanie and Chachi on the television show Happy Days. From then on I begin to live my entire life in a state of waiting. Waiting to become a teenager so I could wear cool clothes, waiting to be old enough to ride in cars with boys. To drive the strip. To be swept off my feet by a real life Chachi. And one day, one glorious day it happened. I turned sixteen.
But there was no Chachi waiting. No car to drive. No budget for the coolest clothes. And so I did what any sensible person would do – I set my sights on the next “real life” hurdle and the waiting began again. “When I am sixteen” turned into “when I am in college” which turned into, “when I am married,” which led to, “when we buy a house” followed quickly by “when I have kids” which predictably turned into, “when we buy a bigger house” and so on and so forth. You get the idea. Add it all together and what you get is almost forty years of waiting for my “real life” to begin. Stupid isn’t it?
But the story doesn’t end there. As it turns out, in addition to this waiting habit, I am also a regular old Sarai of the infamous Sarai and Hagar Saga (luckily I have not had to give my maid servant to my husband to bare children, but this might only be because I do not have a maid servant. Given the right set of circumstances, I wouldn’t put it past myself to go this route, let’s just be honest.) Somewhere along the line, I discovered that Doing was a pretty damn good salve for an anxious, impatient, waiting, heart. Around the same time I also discovered that by some strange combination of tenacity, creativity, and general good humor, I was particularly good at Making (ahem, forcing) Something (anything) to Happen.
The result of this strange alchemy of personality traits is that over the years, restless and eager to make my Real Life happen, I have used my ability to Get Things Done to exert a false sense of control over my life. I have been known to jump the gun a time or two. To put all my eggs in one basket, to overcommit, to leap before I look. In the past I have married young, had kids thinking they would fix all the broken bits in my heart, signed up for a mortgage I couldn’t afford, started a business I ran into debt, and took on jobs I had no skill set for. I have driven everyone who loves me mad with my nervous foot tapping and anxious hand wringing, as I “waited” for next big thing in my life to come along. I have also given them plenty of cause to resent me for all the forced projects and grand schemes I have piled up on us all, one after another, like mattresses on a fairy tale princesses bed, until I finally topple over, pulling everyone down with me, exhausted under the weight of my own Doing. I have Sarai’ed my way through a good chunk of my adult life, accidentally creating a new sort of chaos through all my Doing while I attempted anesthetize my heart, and pass the time, while I waited to my Real Life to come along.
Through a series of fairly traumatic-in-the-moment, yet slightly comical-in-hindsight- events, (including a broken foot, a failed house sale, and a yard of slaughtered chickens,) I recently found myself at the end of myself. It was there, at the intersection of mess and humility and humiliation, that I admitted that Doing and Waiting had both failed me, and that the Interruptions that C.S. Lewis wrote about were clearly winning the day.
This year for Lent, in addition to desserts, I am also giving up Doing Too Much. I am giving up Piling On. I am giving up Waiting for My Real Life to Happen. Instead I am embracing the ancient spiritual practice of Stillness as a way of learning how to Be in this “life God is sending one day by day.” Over the next six weeks I have vowed not to add one new thing to my calendar. Not to force one new plan. Not to fill up the empty spaces created by questions about our families future with New Schemes and New Projects and Great Ideas.
Instead I am going to sit on my couch, in my living room, for no other reason than to just sit. No book, no television show, no phone, no laptop, no to-do list. Just sitting for the sake of sitting. I am also going to sit on my front stoop this way. And on the swing in the backyard, and around the fire pit on a Friday night. During Lent I am going to cook complicated dinners for my family that require my full attention. Not because I am a great cook and I want to wow them with complex recipes, but because it is a discipline that requires me to be all there. I am going to stand at the stove and stir the curry without trying to finish a blog post while it simmers. I am going to wash, dry, fold and put away the laundry in the same night. I am going to lay still and listen to the birds before I get out of bed in the morning instead of hitting the floor with a thud and a rush. I am going to walk, one foot in front of the other, into the wild wilderness of Lent, where I am called to give up what is comfortable, like Doing and Waiting and Piling On, and discover what is real. Like the interruptions of Stillness and Grace and the Present Moment.
This is a great meal for families full of picky eaters or for a large gathering with friends because everyone can pitch in no matter their culinary skills, budget, or Lenten dietary restrictions. Because there is a lot of chopping, stirring, and browning, and waiting involved in this recipe it is the sort of dish that encourages stillness of spirit, and provides a great backdrop for good conversations if you get everyone in the kitchen working together. If you want to steer the conversation towards Lent you might want to discuss similarities between the Israelites 40 years in the desert and Christ 40 days in the wilderness. Or you might just want to play what I call the “Lenten What If?” game.
What if you were an Israelite packing for the journey and you can only take one food, one book, one outfit, one toy – what would you pack? How long do you think it would take before you got tired of those items? What sort of behavior would that lead to? Now, instead of packing those items, what if you gave up those items for Lent? Could you do it for forty days? What if?
For the Curry:
1lb Boneless Chicken Breast, cut into chunks
2 cans of Coconut Milk (look for cans around 14 oz.)
2 Teaspoon Curry Powder
1 Teaspoon Garam Masala
½ Teaspoon Cayenne Powder
2 Sweet Vidalia Onions, cut into chunks
2 cloves Garlic, minced
1 Cup of Chicken Stock
1 Red Bell Pepper, cut into strips
1 heaping Tablespoon Corn Starch suspended in 3 Tablespoon cool water
3 Tablespoon Olive Oil
Brown the chicken, with oil, in batches, in a stainless sauté pan, on medium high heat, along with handfuls of the onions. Don’t crowd the pan, don’t worry about it sticking. About two minutes before finishing the last batch, toss in the garlic and spice powders. Set all of this aside in a bowl or on a platter while deglazing the pan with the stock and coconut milk. Scrape up all of the brown stuff that caramelized on the bottom of the pan into the sauce with a wire whisk as it starts to boil. Dump the chicken with collected juices and the red pepper strips into the sauce and stir with a wooden spoon or spatula. As it comes back to a boil, stir in the thoroughly dissolved cornstarch and water. Let it simmer, open, 10-15 minutes.
Serve over sticky rice.
(place toppings out in bowls on the counter or down the center of the dining table, allowing all diners to create their own perfect dish.)
2 Cups Crunchy Lo Mein Noodles
2 Cups Shredded Cheese (we typically use a mixture of Colby, cheddar and mozzarella
½ Cup Diced Green Onions
Pineapple Tidbits (1 can)
1 cup Chopped Peanuts
Handful of Cilantro
Salt and Pepper
Serve coconut curry over the rice, and allow guest to add toppings to their taste.
I love to pile it all on, but my boys tend to stick to the pineapple, cheese and peanuts, Sweet Man loves everything including the Sriracha Sauce, which I confess to leaving off.
Jerusalem Jackson Greer is a writer, speaker, retreat leader, nest-fluffer, urban farm-gal, and author of A Homemade Year: The Blessings of Cooking, Crafting and Coming Together (which includes a chapter on Candlemas, complete with crafts and recipes.) Jerusalem lives with her husband and two sons in a 1940s cottage in Central Arkansas at the crossroads of beauty and mess with an ever-changing rotation of pets, including a hen house full of chickens and a Hungarian Sheep Dog mutt. As a family, they are attempting to live a slower version of modern life. She blogs about all of this and more at http://jerusalemgreer.com