Sorrow that the eye can’t see

I don’t know about you, but I’m not sad about 2016 coming to a close.

This year has been one huge sigh of exasperation for me. I don’t know what it is. Wonderful things have happened that I can’t fail to recognize. In many ways, it’s been a typical, and blessed year in the life.

And yet somehow, 2016 has still been a difficult one for me. Those closest to me have buoyed me up during some personal tragedies and setbacks, yet for most of the year, mine has been a sorrow that the eye cannot see.

I would be foolish to think I’m alone in this. As I have talked with friends and relatives the last few months, it’s become painfully clear to me that so many are shouldering the burden of that hidden sorrow.

Friends, I’m so sorry this year has been a difficult one for you. For us.

It’s only natural to set goals during this annual period of introspection. How can I make changes? How can I be better? How can I be happier? How can I lift those around me?

Those are some of the questions that I’ve asked myself. And oddly enough, the answer has come out of the ashes of this hot mess of a year. And it’s a simple one: #Lighttheworld.

If you’re not familiar with it, the #Lighttheworld initiative was introduced by the LDS Church on December 1. Its purpose is simple: to fill the world with light after the manner of the Light of the World himself, Christ the Lord. This light comes in the form of kindness, service, humility and love.

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For me, this initiative has paralleled profoundly with the current crisis in Aleppo. Many of you know that my husband and I started a nonprofit organization in our community in April to offer aid to the domestic and international refugee crisis. This human crisis is one that is supremely close to my heart.

But I have a sad confession. I have distanced myself from the information, pleas for help, cries for humanity pouring out of the blood-stained execution stadium of Aleppo that was once the proud home of thousands of my Syrian brothers and sisters.

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I’ve stayed away because of my own selfishness. Part of it is because my sensitive heart can’t take the pain and horror that washes over me when I hear these grim stories. Another more painful part is the feeling that despite my best efforts to aid this global crisis, I am just a drop in a crater-like bucket.

But I cannot continue to stay away. I can’t heal while standing still.

The truth is, we all need to care more about what’s happening in places like Aleppo. Because today it’s Syria. Tomorrow it could be a more recognizable city in Europe. Soon, it could hit (literally) closer to home. We need more drops in the bucket.

I’m not here to talk about the politics of what’s happening in Aleppo. If you’re interested, here are a few good articles to read from the Economist, a piece from BBC News about the evacuations that are (finally) taking place, and a piece in the Washington Post from back in October about what life in Aleppo looks like.

If you want to help Aleppo, there are several ways to get involved. You can donate to the International Rescue Committee. We have worked with them through Rexburg for Refugees, and they are a tremendous organization seeking to aid those in need. About 90 percent of all monetary donations to the IRC go directly to the cause, so you know your money is actually helping those who need it. You may also consider donation to Save the ChildrenUnicef USA, or any of these vetted, secure organizations listed here.

If you’re still wanting to get involved beyond monetary donations, here is another article about 5 ways to help the Aleppo crisis.

My point is this: kindness ripples. So start today to fill the world, dare I say light the world, with kindness effort by effort.

In my role as director for Rexburg for Refugees, I’ve had the privilege to speak at several local events and with many local reporters about what our organization does. I tell each of them the same thing.

If you are not passionate about helping the refugee crisis, or Aleppo, that’s OK. I hope you will still take the time to be educated and compassionate. But I urge you to find whatever cause you are passionate about, whether it be global hunger, veterans, the fight against pornography or human trafficking, and please, get involved. Share your time, your talents, your income, whatever means you have to make the world a brighter place.

Rexburg for Refugees was born as a coping mechanism for dealing with my own grief. Though it has exhausted me to the point of probable insanity at times, it has filled my life with enrichment, purpose and hope.

I have never regretted being kind.

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During this year of silent, unseen sorrow, I have often times felt so lonely. By focusing on giving aid to the loneliness of others around me, peace and joy have once again found a place in my heart. If you too have felt this burden of sorrow and pain this year, in whatever shape it may have taken, please, reach out and lift those around you.

Let 2017 be a year of sorrows shared, burdens born and hearts healed.

Let it begin with each of our drops of Christlike love until we “sweep the earth as with a flood.

Merry Christmas, friends.

 

7 freezer meals from my hot mess to yours

Please enjoy this unrelated selfie of us being very attractive busy.

The other day a friend texted me about some logistics for a project we were working on for Rexburg for Refugees. Half way through, she asked me a question I’m still shaking my head over.

“You’ll have to tell me your secret for how you do all that you do.”

I felt 20 percent flattered, 80 percent FRAUD.

My life has gotten exponentially busier the last few months. Like, crazy busy. I’m talking teaching at university, developing an online course, a BUSY toddler, directing a local non profit, a busy calling in my young women’s organization in my church congregation, singing in a community choir (what was I thinking) and growing a tiny human with my body. Oh, and running a household while putting a husband through school. (Consider this our holiday letter of what’s new in the Whitlock household.)

Needless to say, most days I feel like I’m holding my life together with my pregnancy-allowed doses of Diet Coke and venting during late night crying sessions to my husband between stress sobs.

That’s how I do what I do.

So I’m all about making my life a little easier whenever possible.

Cue the freezer meals.

Because let’s be real. You’re busy too. Super busy. Like, can barely keep it all together busy.

Well here are a few tried and true freezer meals to help your life. I take an afternoon about once every few weeks and stock my freezer with these (mostly crockpot) meals. I buy meat on sale at a store like Winco, I stock up on canned goods I know I’ll need throughout the month, and it keeps my costs down. Win. Win. All the wins.

And it’s so easy! The meals are easy to make (we’re talking meat browning at the most here, people), and easy to cook. Plop it in a crock pot or stick it in the oven and boom. Domestic goddess.

So here you go.

Spaghetti sauce

  • Olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 lb. Italian sausage
  • Two 24 oz jars of spaghetti sauce
  • Diced tomatoes, do not drain
  • Basil
  • Oregano
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Red pepper flakes
  • ½ – 1 tsp Sugar

Directions:

Sauté onion and garlic in olive oil until translucent. Move onions and garlic to the edges of the pan. Add the Italian sausage and cook through. Drain the pan. Add the spaghetti sauce and the diced tomatoes with the juices. Add the basil, oregano, salt, pepper and sugar to taste. Simmer for about 15-20 minutes. Let cool and place in freezer bag.

For crock pot: Defrost overnight. Place sauce in crock pot on low for 6 hours or high for 4. (Or until thoroughly heated through).

You can also heat the sauce on the stovetop.

Ranch pork chops:

Ingredients:

  • 4-6 uncooked pork chops
  • 1 envelope dry Ranch dressing mix
  • 2 cans cream of chicken soup

Prep:

  1. Place all ingredients in freezer bag.

Cook:

  1. Thaw overnight.
  2. Dump meal into crockpot.
  3. Cook low for 4-6 hours.

 

Sloppy Joes: (From Six Sisters)

  • 1 lb. ground turkey or ground beef
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 stalks celery, diced
  • 1 green pepper, diced
  • 1 can tomato soup (10.57 oz)
  • ½ cup ketchup
  • 2 Tbs. mustard
  • 1 Tbs. brown sugar

Directions:

In a large skillet, add turkey, onion, celery, and green pepper until turkey is no longer pink. Drain the grease. Cool slightly and add freezer bag. Add tomato soup, ketchup, mustard, and brown sugar to ingredients in freezer bag and mix together. Store in freezer.

To cook: Defrost overnight. Place into freezer bag. Cook on low for 4 hours, keep warm until serving. Serve on hamburger buns.
Makes 6-8 servings.

Café Rio Pork: (From Crème de la Crumb)

(Give yourself more time to complete this recipe. The end result will be worth it. I make a bunch and freeze it to use for pork salad, pork tacos, pulled pork sandwiches, you name it.)

Step 1:

  • 2 pounds pork (rib meat or loin)
  • ¾ cup coke
  • ¼ cup brown sugar

Step 2:

  • 1 cup coke
  • ¼ cup water
  • ½ teaspoon garlic salt
  • ¼ teaspoon onion salt
  • ¼ teaspoon chili powder

Step 3:

  • ¾ cup coke
  • ¾ cup brown sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 4 oz. can diced green chilies
  • 10 oz. mild red enchilada sauce

Directions:

Step 1: Place pork in a zip lock bag. Add coke and brown sugar and seal bag. Chill at least 1 hour or overnight.

Step 2: Add pork to slow cooker and discard marinade. Add coke, water, garlic salt, onion salt and chili powder. Cover and cook on high for 3 hours. Drain slow cooker and shred pork with two forks.

Step 3: Blend coke, brown sugar, chili powder, green chilis and enchilada sauce together in blender. Pour sauce into slow cooker. Cook about 30 minutes longer.

Freezer bags: Place pork into freezer bags. I divide the meat up for different meals, such as tacos, wraps, salads, sandwiches, etc. Place in freezer.

To use: Defrost in fridge overnight. Heat over the stove, or in a crockpot on low for a few hours.

Lemon Garlic Chicken:

  • 4-6 chicken breasts (or 8 to 10 chicken tenders)
  • 1-2 tsp. minced garlic
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp. parsley flakes
  • 2 Tbsp. lemon juice (or juice of one whole lemon)

Prep:

  1. Place all ingredients into a freezer bag.
  2. After sealing bag, turn bag over several times until chicken is well coated. Freeze flat.

Cook:

  1. Thaw in refrigerator overnight.
  2. Pour into baking dish. Bake at 350 for 35 minutes. OR
  3. Place chicken in crockpot (can be frozen) and cook on low for 6 to 8 hours. (High for 4-6 hours.)

Taco soup: (From High Heels and Grills)

Ingredients:

  • 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can petite diced tomatoes, drained
  • 1 can sweet corn, drained
  • 1 (12.5 oz) can white chicken breast, drained
  • 1 can cream of chicken soup
  • 1 can green enchilada sauce
  • 1 4 oz. can green chilies
  • 14 oz. chicken broth
  • 1 packet taco seasoning

Directions:

  1. Place all ingredients into freezer bag.
  2. Freeze flat.

Cooking:

  1. Thaw overnight in refrigerator.
  2. Heat in pot until warm. OR
  3. Heat in crockpot on high 3-4 hours.
  4. Serve with tortilla chips, cheese and sour cream.

Baked Ziti (From the Pioneer Woman)

  • 2 Tbsp. Olive oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 green pepper
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 lb. Italian sausage
  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • One 28 oz. can whole tomatoes
  • One 24.5 ounce jar marinara sauce
  • 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
  • ½ tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 lb. pasta (cooked until not quite al dente)
  • One 15 oz. container ricotta cheese
  • 1 ½ lb. mozzarella cheese, grated
  • ½ cup Parmesan cheese
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tablespoons minced parsley
  1. Heat olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, sausage, and ground beef
  2. Cook until meat is totally browned. Drain off and discard most of the fat from the pot, leaving a bit behind for flavor and moisture.
  3. Add tomatoes, marinara, Italian seasoning, red pepper flakes, ½ tsp. of the salt and ½ tsp. of the pepper.
  4. Stir to combine, then simmer the sauce for 25 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. Place the pasta in a large bowl and ladle in 3 cups of the sauce mixture
  6. Toss to coat the noodles. Set aside to cool.
  7. In a medium bowl, combine the ricotta, 2 cups of the grated mozzarella, the parmesan, egg, parsley and the remaining ½ tsp. of the salt and pepper.
  8. Stir the mixture together until combined. Toss the cheese mixture in with the sauce-and-pasta mixture. Do not over mix. You want to have some big chunks of the cheese mixture.
  9. Add half the pasta to a large casserole dish or disposable foil pan.
  10. Spoon half the remaining sauce over the top.
  11. Then top with half the remaining mozzarella. Repeat with another round of pasta, sauce and mozzarella.
  12. Let casserole cool and cover and label for freezer.
  13. Freeze for up to 6 months.
  14. To bake, place the frozen casserole straight into a 350 degree oven, still covered, for 1 hour 45 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes more, until hot and bubbly.
  15. OR Thaw the casserole in the refrigerator for 24 to 36 hours, until completely thawed. Bake uncovered at 375 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes, or until bubbling and lightly browned. Remove from oven and let stand 5 minutes before serving.

Shopping list:

  • Olive oil
  • 3 large onion, diced
  • 8 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 celery stalks
  • 2 lb. Italian sausage
  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 1 lb. ground turkey (or ground beef)
  • 2 lbs. pork roast (rib meat or loin)
  • 4-6 pork chops
  • 4-6 chicken breasts
  • One 28 oz. can whole tomatoes
  • 2 can diced tomatoes
  • 1 can tomato soup
  • Three 24.5 ounce jar marinara sauce
  • ½ cup ketchup
  • 2 Tbs. mustard
  • 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
  • ½ tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp. salt, plus more to taste
  • 1 tsp. black pepper, plus more to taste
  • ½ tsp. garlic salt
  • ¼ tsp. onion salt
  • ½ tsp. chili powder
  • 1 lb. pasta (cooked until not quite al dente)
  • One 15 oz. container ricotta cheese
  • 1 ½ lb. mozzarella cheese, grated
  • ½ cup Parmesan cheese
  • 1 large egg
  • 3 tablespoons minced parsley
  • Basil, to taste
  • Oregano, to taste
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 1 cup and 1 Tbs. brown sugar
  • 2 ½ cup Coke
  • ¼ cup water
  • 2 4 oz. can dice green chilies
  • 10 oz. mild red enchilada sauce
  • 1 lemon
  • 3 cans cream of chicken soup
  • 1 dry Ranch dressing mix
  • 1 packet taco seasoning
  • 14 oz. chicken broth
  • 1 can black beans
  • 1 can pinto beans
  • 1 can corn
  • 1 can chicken breast
  • 1 can green enchilada sauce

 

 

 

All my love to Orlando

When I heard about Orlando, it was dark outside.

Once again, I woke up to the news of a deadly mass shooting.

As the sunlight filled my windows, I tried to carry on like it was a normal day. That’s what you do when you hear news like this. You carry on with a prayer in your heart.

But it’s a displaced sense of normal. Because somewhere, this time in a place I once called home, hundreds of families are suffering.

I’ve offered tearful prayers for the victims and their families today. I’ve held my sweet daughter a little closer.

Tonight, just as the sunlight started to cast shadows, we took a walk outside our home. She laughed as we picked a dandelion and blew it’s white, feathery seeds into the wind.

She will be one this month.

Dandilion 2

She knows nothing of the sorrow that is being felt around the world today.

As I watched her eyes light up with excitement, I thought of my Savior.

He was very clear about how he felt about children. Prophets of old have taught similar doctrine.

“Becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.”

We could all be a bit more like the sweet child I carried in my arms tonight.

Kind. Humble. Full of love.

We need more of that in this world.

Because on days like today, I am sadly reminded of all the hate that threatens to ruin all the things we hold dear.

Because the tragedy that happened in Orlando didn’t just target our brothers and sisters in the LGBT community.

It’s an attack on anyone who has ever felt different. Anyone who has ever felt like they don’t belong. It’s an attack on anyone who feels that their differences make them a target.

Today, hate may have dominated a battle, but love MUST win the war. Love, kindness, compassion. I am fully convinced that it’s these things – things my daughter teaches me every day – they will be the ones to save us.

To my LGBT brothers and sisters in Orlando, Rexburg, England and everywhere in between, I stand with you. I love you. I have wept with you today.

To those who feel alone, defeated or afraid, I uphold you.

Though hate has been the discussion of the day, let us make the focus of our lives compassion. Concern for our neighbors. Simply, love.

The shadows of twilight are my favorite time of day. But tonight, they remind me that there are many who still hide, waiting for love and kindness to brighten their day.

I hope to always be a light.

For now, Orlando, you are in my heart.

 

 

An open letter to my students

 

I don’t talk openly about this chapter of my life too often.

When I do, it’s often for a well-timed, calculated purpose.

This time, it’s because a little voice in the corner of my heart kept telling me to share.

I am an adjunct professor at Brigham Young University-Idaho. I love my job. I love my students.

One of the things I love most about them is their strength. It astounds me.

And not just physical strength. I’m talking mental strength.

I see so many student who carry tremendous loads and do so with grace and dignity. They bear the burden of anxiety. They trudge through the trenches of depression. They rise from the ashes of their pasts as pure, refined and triumphant champions.

But the scars are still there. And sometimes, the wounds are too deep to ignore.

I get it. I mean I really, really get it.

I’ve struggled with mental illness my entire life.

I’ve been on and off medications, in and out of day treatments, even hospitalized twice as a young teenager for suicide attempts.

But I am not my past.

We are not our bleakest moments, whether those moments are locked on a replaying loop or ended years ago.

A 2013 study by the American College Health Association showed that among a sample of college students, 57 percent of women and 40 percent of men reported feeling “overwhelming anxiety.” Additionally, 33 percent of women and 27 percent of men reported experiencing debilitating depression.

The statistics of those who suffer are staggering.

If you do struggle with mental illness — and I pray that you don’t — know that there are dozens of good, strong, successful people who have felt what you feel and walk where you have walked.

They love you and support you.

I love you and support you.

Though my life is highly flawed, I thank God every day for how it turned out.

I’ve come so far, pushed so hard and prayed so fervently to fight this monster.

Often it is a daily battle to choose peace and joy rather than succumbing to the darkness that always threatens to cast a shadow over my life.

And as one that has swum in the deep side of despair, I want you to know that I believe in you. I believe in your strength to shoulder these heavy burdens.

You are doing better than you think.

Don’t be ashamed of your challenges. As cliche as it sounds, they really can mold you.

One of the greatest things I’ve learned from mental illness is my capacity to withstand challenges.

Allow the demons to refine you, not define you.

You are worth your struggles. You are worth your fight.

I know this because you’ve sat in my classrooms. We’ve chatted in my office. I’ve seen your strength, your triumph and your endurance.

Keep fighting.

Thank you teaching me what it means to press forward.

Let’s fight together.

 

 

How you can help the refugee crisis

I haven’t had a thought take hold of me so strongly in a while.

In fact, I can’t remember the last time I’ve felt this compelled to do something.

My church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has recently encouraged its members to aid in the worldwide refugee crisis. You may have heard of the #iwasastranger initiative that encourages women and families in and out of the Mormon faith to lend a hand of aid to our brothers and sisters in need.

I felt helplessly compassionate toward the millions of displaced families that are endeavoring to find safety and refuge in the most dire of ways. But what could I do?

So instead of doing anything, I found myself feeling sad as I scrolled past photos of shivering children crammed too tightly into large boats. Their eyes pleaded for help I didn’t know how to give.

Finally, something inside of me switched when I was sitting in the General Women’s session of the LDS General Conference.

Some familiar words have kept coming back to mind as I’ve tried to change my paradigm from helpless to helping.

“I’m not my brother’s keeper, but I am my brother’s brother.”

These people are my brothers and sisters and I have made a covenant with God to mourn with them, comfort them, serve them.

Now to do it from some umpteen thousand miles away.

I just have to start. We all do. We are called to lift the hands that hang down in whatever capacity we may be able to.

This refugee crisis is a pressing one with more than 60 million refugees displaced from their homes worldwide.

Eric and I have started a group in Rexburg called Rexburg for Refugees. Our goal is to help others know how they can help and assist them in their efforts to do so.

Each week, Eric and I will pick up in-kind donations needed from the International Rescue Committee in Salt Lake City. We will gather, sort and transport the donations to the IRC in Salt Lake. We are so passionate about finding ways to help and hope you will share in our desire to serve.

If you’d like to get involved, email us at rexburgforrefugees@gmail.com or text us.

Eric – 480-570-0503 or Emmilie – 707-672-3899

Here is a link to a list of donation items the IRC is in need of.

Please share our Rexburg for Refugee page of our blog and this Facebook page.

Be sure to check back on the Wit Logs for regular updates about donation events and drives in Rexburg and updated lists for what to donate.

Thank you for your service and support. We love you!

“For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me in; Naked, and ye clothed me; I was in prison, and ye came unto me.” – Matthew 25:35-36

3 things hate taught me about love

Let’s talk about hate.

There seems to be a lot of it swimming around lately. A few weeks ago, it showed up in a place I hoped it wouldn’t. This blog.

I recently wrote a post about pornography and my family’s stance against it where I stated we are fighters against this new drug. The hateful comments began to pour in and quite frankly, they were shocking. And painful. And discouraging.

Continue reading “3 things hate taught me about love”

I took my first sip of poison today

Tonight I took my first sip of poison.

It started out harmless, really. All I did was click on the first result that popped up from a quick Google search.

That’s all it took for the poison to enter my brain.

Pornography.

At first, all I could register was confusion. What in the world was I looking at?

And then my confusion morphed into horror as I understood. All I felt was revulsion and the need to put as much distance between myself and the filth as possible.

I muted the computer and lowered the laptop screen, still sitting in a state of shock.

“Did you just find porn?” my husband asked me. My reaction, combined with the awful sounds from the website, shocked him.

Continue reading “I took my first sip of poison today”