5 Things I learned from a year of Pastoral Burnout

Burnout. Breakdown. Ministry overload. Mercy fatigue. I have heard it called a lot of things but studies have shown that 45% of pastors work themselves into physical, psychological and emotional turmoil at some point in their ministry career. Sometimes it’s the burdens placed on them by their congregation or the nature of their role. Sometimes its pressures of balancing family and ministry, both demand so much of one man. I read that on a monthly average 1500 North American Pastors never return to the ministry field in a vocational capacity. And what’s really stupid, I never thought we would experience it.

Isn’t that ridiculous? I thought we were gonna have a free pass through the landmines. That the crisis that burns so many good men to the ground would somehow pass over us. Not on my account mind you, and certainly not because I figured we were invincible. But I just never saw it in the plan I had for our lives. And even when it was knocking on our door, creeping itself in, I didn’t see the warning signs. Looking back on family photos taken in the weeks leading up to my husband’s breakdown I can see a change in the man I love. At the time it was incredibly frustrating, his lack of clarity and ability to focus. His forgetfulness. His exhaustion regardless of sleep. A vacancy in his eyes and a blank expression on his face.

I certainly learned that we are not immune. And I won’t begin to pretend I have all the answers now and can pass on my great wisdom with ministry wives everywhere. But I have learned. And what I have gleaned has changed our perspective and has redirected our efforts to shore up our family for times of ministry and life storms. And if what we have gone through can help anyone in vocational or lay leadership then I hope it can spread.

Healing doesn’t move in a straight line.

Some days it felt like victory was just around the corner. And other days I was ready to throw in the towel on ministry all together. My husband was hurting deeply. He couldn’t focus to read the Word much less study it. It took him weeks to read through an average sized book. Months to be able to focus well enough to be left alone with his children. But then there would be a breakthrough. Even small ones made me cling to hope that we were finally moving forward with predictable momentum. And then the inevitable two steps back. I have always known that God does not operate on my timeline. And in retrospect, when I see even the last 6 months that we have had, I can see God’s hand using Mike’s time off to not only restore him but our whole family.

Not your will but HIS.

Don’t just pray but firmly commit your prayer life as an integral part of the healing journey. I found myself praying, asking God for wisdom. Was this a sign that our family was not meant for ministry? Was this an indication that we needed to leave our current church for another kind of ministry opportunity or at least live in a city where the financial burden isn’t quite so onerous? As I continued to search for God’s leading hand I felt Him say, with undeserved patience, “Stop looking for ways to run from the clear calling I have put on you. Instead, ask me to carry you when you feel defeated, to correct you in ways that will shape your ministry where I have appointed you. Ask me to reveal myself to you, not so you can understand the reason behind your trial but so you can know Me, more intimately than ever before, and trust me as you have never had to before.” It was convicting.

True Colors

You will learn what your church is made of. I don’t mean that in an ominous way but a realistic one. I have heard horror stories about churches in my own community who seem more concerned with hours put in and program growth than the health and well being of their pastor. By the grace of God this is not our story. Once again our church has come alongside us and built into us, offering everything from meals to get through hard days and weeks when I couldn’t leave my four young children home alone with their dad to giving us five months off to heal. They did those things because there is a genuine love for us and a deep commitment to love God and serve others. And they know that begins in their own backyard. For some, their church’s reaction to it and their support during any kind of ministry burnout may show the cracks in the foundation. True colors come out under pressure in us all.

It’s not just about the Pastor.

Ministry life is unique. It’s not that lay families don’t suffer through burnout, especially those that tirelessly serve in a lay capacity on top of their careers and families. It’s a distinct role with often trying responsibilities that bleed into the family itself instead of just the man. It was a few months after Mike’s breakdown before I really grasped that it wasn’t just him that was in need of healing. We all did. Our entire family, right down to the twin toddlers, needed to work towards wellness in every area. What affects one affects all. It may not be obvious at first but it isn’t just about the patient. A good friend of mine, and a fellow wife in ministry, lovingly cautioned me to care for my husband and take over the responsibilities he needed a break from wearing for as long as I needed to but to be careful not to lose myself in the process. To guard my own spiritual journey, distinct from my husband’s, and strive towards healing a family of six and not just a man of one.

The enemy loves darkness

Never have I felt the presence of the evil one as much as I did when my husband began preparing to go back to work. It felt like he was celebrating that he sidelined us for a while and we went off his radar but planning to go back kicked the demons into high gear. I have always understood there is a battle going on around us but I rarely feel like I am in it. It’s a scary place to be, if I am honest. I would like to run away, pack up my kids and my man and go somewhere safe. So, in a sense, we did. But that somewhere safe wasn’t Nunavut, as I originally suggested to Mike, but rather the loving arms of a conquering King. Through words of encouragement from those that have heard his story and have appreciated his transparency since this began, we have seen the hand of God at work. He has caused my husband a limp. And it took me some time but I finally can see that it was for God’s glory. When Mike shared himself in his most fragile state, with our church family and our friends, he brought depression and anxiety, fatigue and exhaustion into the light. And if I know my Sunday school lessons, what does darkness HAVE to do when there is light??? It doesn’t mean the enemy isn’t gonna battle. It just means we don’t give him any foothold.

So those are five things I have learned. And I am sure there are more and will continue to be more. For the Glory of God.

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He makes me lie down

How do I begin. How do I tell the world of our struggles in a way that doesn’t give the enemy unnecessary air time but instead points to the maker of heaven and earth. How do I bring to light things that are often hidden in the shadows of shame and publicly declare that our strength is found only in our great Redeemer and King? Ministry life often involves lines and appropriate boundaries but here, in a genuine effort for transparency, we will let the world in on the latest with our family in the hopes that it will help someone who is hurting and will bring glory to the only One who can heal.

In November of 2014, my pastor husband, my very best friend, had a nervous breakdown.

If you know anything about our life for the past few years, its not that unexpected. Four children in 40 months. Each child admitted to the hospital for weeks at a time for different medical issues. A very difficult twin pregnancy with mommy in the hospital for weeks with a placental abruption and preterm labor. Premature twin newborns, vacation time used to go to and from home and the NICU and, as one can imagine, very little sleep. Financial resources strained to provide for all the needs of a young family and 3 little’s in diapers. Postpartum anxiety disorder. A  necessary move. A devastating flood causing a temporary relocation. Uncooperative landlords. Another move. A ministry change. Changing the structure and leadership of our church. I could go on….

We have been in survival mode and everyone has a breaking point. For my darling energetic and happy husband, this was his.

After his breakdown he began to unravel the tapestry of anxiety and depression he had been struggling with. He sought prayer support and medical help. Both have been instrumental in his healing to this point. But he has a long way to go. So at the end of January our church did the most loving thing they could do for him, they made him take a leave of absence so he could get himself well. This is something his natural instincts would have not allowed him to do. They know him well and they care deeply about his health and spiritual well being. So they insisted. And we feel incredibly supported and loved. Hear me world – The church does get it wrong with pastors. But they can also get it so right!

So we began a journey towards wellness with no end date in mind. Counselling, prayer support and medical intervention have all been utilized. Rest. A vacation. Studying of the word. And time spent in quiet before the throne are all part of our plan. We have been so blessed by our elders, our fellow pastors, ministry and support staff and our congregation. Love has been heaped on us and we covet the intercession and prayers for healing, peace, restoration and joy.

My husband is a gifted preacher with a passion to bring the word of God to his audience in accessible language with a strong focus on exegesis. Preaching the word of God brings him joy. And the enemy is salivating at the chance to sideline someone who God has so immensely gifted at sharing the gospel. But where there is light, transparency and honesty there is nowhere for darkness to hide. So there is no need for our friends and family to wonder. No need for idle gossip, speculation and even well intended curiosity.

We are not jumping ship. We are not reevaluating our place of ministry or a life given to ministry. There is no interpersonal conflict. In fact we are so humbled to be carried to the foot of the cross by servant hearted leaders who have sat with us, cried with us and prayed for us. People who I have called when I needed help and literally dropped everything for me and my family. God is humbling me as a ministry wife. I am willing to wash the feet of the saints but how I arrogantly struggle to let them wash mine.

But here, in these days of hardship I have had no choice. God has made me lie down. He has made me rest. He has forced my husband and I to take a break and refocus on our love for Him alone. And He wants me to lie down in green pastures. He wants me to rest in goodness, in lush green grass. In a place of abundance and blessing. In a place of health and restoration. He knows I am incapable of choosing what is good.

So he makes me. He leads me to where I will find rest and healing. He bends my knees and draws me to Himself.

Psalm 23

A Psalm of David.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

No such thing as an ‘oops.’

***This blog entry was saved to my folder, ready to be published when I was announcing our third pregnancy. For whatever reason I was too exhausted to edit it and make sure it was ready to go. The irony is that a few weeks after writing this we learned that we were expecting baby #3 AND #4. I thought it was time to share what was going on in my mind the few days and week before we knew we were expecting our twins. And the obvious reason why I haven’t blogged in a while.

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Have you ever heard parents talking about their kids and refer to their third or fourth child as an ‘oops?’

“This is my son, the soccer star and my darling daughter the spelling bee champ. And *sigh* here is baby Henry. *whispers* He was an ‘oops.’ I told my husband it was time to make the appointment to finalize things but he didn’t listen….”

I don’t normally pay this sort of thing much attention. After all, these parents clearly love their children and are by no means intending to be malicious. Calling their baby an oops is just a cute way of saying that this was an unintended or unplanned pregnancy, right? Well it just took one conversation with a mom whose child had been called the ‘o’ word by others to learn otherwise. I won’t name her in this blog to respect her privacy but she did give me permission to use her story. I will call her Monica.

Much like myself, Monica struggled to conceive. But after years of miscarriages she was blessed with two daughters very close in age and a son about 4 years later. Though she had been given much she continued to prayerfully ask God that He would again bless her with a child if it was His will. She was getting older and she knew that with her history, this was medically at least, not likely. But she knew all things were possible with God and she trusted His will would be done. 4 years after the birth of her son she had another baby. Her friends chuckled when she told them she was expecting. “Hope the valentines day was worth it because you are going to be up to your elbows in diapers, AGAIN!” and from her family “you do know how you get that way, right?” She was shocked. These were fellow believers, those who know that children are a blessing from God, a cherished creation from a loving creator King. She was hurt but she kept it inside. That is until an older lady from her church noticed her struggling to wrangle all of her kids into her minivan one Sunday after service. Her ample baby bump was obvious and not at all intending to be cruel, the older lady said, “my, my! You should have been more careful. I got through my ‘oops,’ you will too.” Horrified and hormonal, Monica unloaded every hurt feeling she had. She knows her reaction was wrong and she has since apologized to the older lady.

But this story really made me think. It’s such a casual thing, to call a baby an ‘oops.’ If the kids are really close in age, we assume it wasn’t planned or wanted by the parents because who would choose that? Or when we see a significant age gap, the youngest must have been unintended, a night away from their preteens with a bottle of Merlot. So we call it an ‘oops,’ a kinder, gentler way of calling the child a mistake or an accident. We don’t mean any harm when we make the comment about ourselves or about someone else. But I think there is harm. I think we rob our creator of His deserving credit. Babies don’t just happen by chance. I learned the hard way that no matter how badly one wants a child, it’s not in our hands. Only God can give and take life and if we believe that, we believe that He is sovereign over all things then we have to trust that, even if the pregnancy was not in your plans, it was in Gods plans before the world began.

Our culture doesn’t revere children and parenthood the way scripture does. So the world is often hostile to children. Restaurants don’t want them, people on airplanes complain about them and you can rid yourself of your pregnancy if it’s not something you think fits into your plans. So I think the ‘oops’ terminology is a quiet creeping in of our societies disdain for what God created and called good. Very good. And I think that, as Christians, we should gouge out this way of thinking and refocus on Him.

So, why blog about this topic now? What spurred on this subject in my heart? Well, I am pretty sure it’s because I am announcing my pregnancy. When this baby is born, Lord willing, my oldest will be 3 and my middle child will be 20 months. And I will have a newborn. I am well aware that I will be busy (FYI, I am busy NOW!) and I know that my life will be a vaguely managed chaos. And though this pregnancy was unplanned by us, it was known by God from the beginning of time. And it has been the most incredible surprise and I am so excited. So this is fair warning, I don’t think it’s a good idea to call my baby an ‘oops.’ My God is sovereign over all things!!!

He Knows

EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images

The day before my 16th birthday two students, armed with weapons and vengeful hearts entered their school intending to kill as many of their peers as possible before turning the guns on themselves. That day the world changed. My world changed.

I was hundreds of miles away from the massacre but I won’t ever forget watching the live footage in our history classroom with Ms. Hansen. All of us shocked at what we were seeing. Most of us tearful for those that had been slain and shocked at the evil a young person, like us, was capable of.

I sat in the same kind of chair with the same kind of desk as the students whose blood was now spilled upon them. I took the same kinds of classes and was the same age and had the same concerns as those that would be buried and mourned by their families and community. It would be a stretch to say that I had survivor’s guilt but I can say that never before this had I really considered my own mortality, the brevity of life and the evil that permeates humanity without the love of Jesus.

Sadly, this act of unspeakable evil would not be the last that would bring me to tears and force me to my knees.

This time, instead of being a student I am a parent.

Once again I am hundred of miles away from the horror. But my heart is breaking. I know the joy those parents felt when they first brought their baby home from the hospital. I know the endless games of patty-cake and twinkle twinkle. First birthdays and trips to the zoo, the wonderment of a snowy day, the fear of a thunderstorm. And if just the thought of my child being among the fallen brings my to a puddle of tears then I really cannot imagine the pain those parents are feeling.

I tried but I could not shield my children from my tears. On Friday we built towers like we normally do and our usual dance party went on as it always does. But mommy’s face was wet. I just couldn’t help it. We smiled and laughed but the stream would not slow. Kai said “mommy sad.” And I said “yes mommy is sad and I need to spend some time with Jesus.” So, like it had been rehearsed, he climbed in my lap and he read through his storybook bible and I read in my grownup bible. It didn’t last long but the act was tender and made me so very grateful that I have another day to store up Gods truth in their hearts.

This tragedy has not touched my life, my family or my community but it has touched my heart and it has stirred up the best in me and the worst. I have held my children more closely, smelt their hair and thanked God for another day I have been blessed with them. I have also been so angry I have wanted to pound my fist against the earth until it cracks beneath my fury.

But that wont help the families of those who were senselessly and violently taken. That wont help those that witnessed the blood and the bullets and the horrors of that day and help them sleep at night. And that wont help a global community who is looking for truth in the madness, light in the darkness, a community who desperately needs the saving grace of Jesus Christ.

But I can weep with Newtown, as they weep. And I can mourn with them as they mourn. I can silently, from hundreds of miles away, pray for them and ask that God bring them comfort and peace and can somehow draw them closer to Him in this time of unspeakable sadness.

And I can remember that I worship a God whose own son was violently killed before His eyes. He knows the pain of those parents more intimately then I could ever understand.

He knows.

And when I feel overwhelmed by sadness I will remember that He knows and trust that what the enemy intended for evil, God will use for good. I don’t know how. But He does.

He knows.

Amish Envy

Admiring Niagara

They wear old-fashioned handmade clothes and they don’t use electricity. Owning cars is considered sinful and they opt for a horse and buggy because it is somehow more biblical. They are devout in their beliefs but do not spread the message of His great love to the world of ‘English’ outsiders around them. They seem secretive and are most certainly separate.

And I am intrigued by them.

The idea of abandoning my smart phone, permanently disconnecting my computer and moving away from the drama of our world seems idyllic. Like the families from the movie The Village, I think many of us long for a simpler time.

But what is most enviable about the Amish lifestyle is their sense of community – they seem to have succeeded in a way that the typical evangelical church has not. When tragedy strikes, the community shores up those afflicted in a way I have never seen or experienced. No questions, no strings and without being asked they come in droves. If someone is gravely ill they band together to cover medical expenses. If a home is consumed in a fire they rebuild it – together. While a family is in mourning, their farm and the funeral preparations are taken care of. They don’t pat themselves on the back for their selflessness. It is so ingrained in their culture that it is considered common place, it’s just what they do.

This is the part of the blog you would think I would complain about areas my church has failed me in my times of affliction or ways that I think the body could/should do a better job or won’t/can’t for this reason or that one. Instead I am going to confess that I need to do a better job of being a disciple in community. I need to do a better job and shoring up the afflicted and caring for those in crisis, regardless of the personal cost. When I stand before my maker I won’t be saying the church should have done this or they should have done that. It comes down to me and me alone.

It would be wonderful if the world simply slow and we could go back to an era of playing outside and porch swings. A slower, simpler life. Less consumption and more community. Fewer things and more people. But alas, I cannot control the world. But I can control me. I do have a role to play in how my kids grow up and how we do community. I won’t be making our clothes any time soon but I can slow our world a bit more. I can find ways to protect their innocence a little longer without isolating my children from society. I can be more mindful of which media enters our home and our children’s minds and hearts without abandoning all forms of technology. I can take a drive and show them God’s creation, celebrating our ability to reach it in safe convenience without doing away with motorized transportation. I can unplug for a while and teach them to appreciate silence, encourage our family to be content with stillness, something I struggle with myself.

And Mike and I can model community. Even at our children’s young age they can see us feed and clothe those in need. They can hear us share the gospel with our words and see us share it with our hands and feet. We can do better. I can do better.

But I don’t have to do it by candle light 😉

Rejoice in Gods Inability

When my 7 month old son was admitted to the hospital with a mysterious skin condition that left his skin scabbed, bleeding and blistering like he had been burned over 80% of his body, I cried out for God to heal him. My husband didn’t, instead he reminded me to rejoice in Gods inability.

When my 9 week old daughter was admitted to children’s hospital with what we were told was impending emergency surgery, I pleaded with God to keep her in my arms where I could ensure her safety. My husband didn’t. He trusted in Gods inability.

I know that sounds crazy but let me explain it to you in his words. This is part of a devotional he wrote:

There is comfort and security in all that we know God can do. Just take a look through the Old Testament and feel the joy of being an Israelite: miracles like the 10 plagues, walking between walls of water in the Red Sea, shouting as walls crumble, giants defeated, food from the sky, water from rocks and salvation from all kinds of disasters. We celebrate because we know our God is the creator of the miraculous.

As a new pastor, perhaps God was testing me to see how I would react or encourage others in a frightening hospital setting. It was my first experience of this kind of crisis and my baby was the patient. Courtney was obviously distraught and I began to think of ways to comfort her. I could have told her things that she already knew and had been thinking: God can do anything, He is a God of miracles, God knows how we feel. The problem was that I know that she knows those things, so what was left to say? I needed to get her attention and encourage her that while she was petitioning the Lord for the health of our child it had to come from a place of trust rather than fear. I told her that we should be rejoicing in God’s inability, what he CANNOT do!

She looked at me like I was crazy. She had not left our child’s bedside for anything but bathroom breaks. She had tried to sleep curled up in a chair but the worry and exhaustion was written all over her face. I could tell she was overwhelmed and afraid that the child we had prayed so long to have could be slipping away from us.

I reminded her of Malachi 3.6

 ‘I the Lord do not change’.

He won’t because he can’t. And this is worth rejoicing in.

We can rejoice in his inability to betray.

He gives good and perfect gifts and that won’t change like shadows move throughout the day.

                James 1.17

He will change the earth and the heavens like clothing but he remains the same.

                Psalm 102.25-27

We can rejoice in his inability to break a promise.

Politicians have a bad reputation but the Lord is not a man that he should lie or change his mind. Does he promise and not fulfill?

                Numbers 23.19

 I’ve known people who believe in and love our good and sovereign God until they’re shaken from their comfortable life and faced with a crisis. Perhaps it’s a prolonged safe and comfortable environment that begins to settle in our minds that easy is what God wants for us. The clay loves to submit to the potter until it finds out its being made into a dog dish or a leg for the back of the couch, or a shovel on the farm.

So it may have felt as though we were at the mercy of the doctors, waiting days to find out results. But ultimately we are at the mercy of our unchanging God – regardless of good news or bad. And this is what we clung to. It’s because God cannot change that we can completely trust him 100% no matter the situation. Even when we are faithless, he is faithful.

In crisis, my vulnerable faith was shaken. I had tried to build my house on a solid rock so that it would be anchored when the storm came. I learned that while my husband and I kept this house on the solid rock of our savior, I had kept a tree house in the backyard, and it was on sinking sand.

It wasn’t easy. In fact, surrendering my illusion of control was physically painful. And after many many sleepless days and nights I was battling for my sanity, exhaustion and concern overwhelming my body till it shook. But I had to rest in the peace that I worship a God who is good, all of the time. Even when it hurts. Even when I feel ill-equipped for his plans. Even when I want to run He will pursue me until I yield onto His loving path.

“I am the LORD, and I do not change. That is why you descendants of Jacob are not already destroyed.”

I rejoice in Gods inability.

Fairness & Frustration

ate

I know the world is not a fair place. I get that we are ruled by a government who worships at the altar of moral relativism. I fully understand that becoming an ‘idol’ is the new American dream. And I don’t expect those that we have culturally placed on pedestals for their artistry will have their lives, hearts and minds aligned with Christ.

I get it. But I am still frustrated.

Let me tell you why.

There is a feminist girl-group in Russia that has been put in jail. I hate even typing their name because I think it’s vulgar but you can find their shock-value title as well as details of their arrest here.

I don’t think these girls should have been arrested. I agree that the location of where they chose to express themselves was in poor taste but I don’t think a charge of ‘federal hooliganism’ is warranted nor a two-year sentence in Russia’s notoriously rough prison system. It may be ethnocentric of me but I think that thumbing your nose at the government is your prerogative as long as you are prepared to deal with the consequences.

The outpouring of support for this girl-power trio has been high on celebrity endorsement. Sir Paul McCartney, Bianca Jagger, Bjork, Robert Smith and Mischa Barton are among celebrities tweeting their support. But none has been more vocal then fellow feminist shock-performer, Madonna. “I call on all those who love freedom to condemn this unjust punishment. I urge artists around the world to speak up in protest against this travesty. They’ve spent enough time in jail. I call on ALL of Russia to let Pussy Riot go free.”

There is another story that is making a small ripple in the media. It’s about an 11 year old girl in Pakistan. There are conflicting reports, some saying she has Down Syndrome others say she does not. But we know for sure that she is illiterate and she and her family are part of the 1% of Christians in the Islamic country. And she too has been arrested. But instead of a two year prison sentence locals are demanding that she be burned alive in order to teach her a lesson. Her crime? It wasn’t a planned out political satire in an inappropriate place like the trio in Russia. She was just a little girl cooking and using paper for her fuel. Never spending a day in school, unable to read the words on the paper – she unintentionally used pages from the Quran, the Muslim holy text.

Not a peep nor a tweet from those who have rallied in support of the unjust actions of the Russian government. And not a word from the Queen of the cone brazier. No celebrity stardust has been sprinkled to illuminate this story to the masses. All is quiet while an 11 year old girl, likely to have special needs, sits in jail and may be facing execution for the accidental burning of a faith she doesn’t share.

And I am frustrated.

I know I shouldn’t be surprised at what gets the world’s attention and what injustice slips past without notice. But time and time again I am discouraged by it.

Thankfully I can find peace in Pslam 13

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

Consider and answer me, O Lord my God;
light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”
lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.

But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
because he has dealt bountifully with me.

 

$9 + 1 Crockpot = 4+ Family Meals

I love being a stay-at-home mom, it brings me more joy than I thought possible. But just like anything worth doing, it comes with sacrifice and challenges. For us, a big struggle is staying within our tight budget so I am always looking for ways to cut our grocery bill while providing nutritious and delicious food for my family. So this morning as I was contemplating the day’s meals, inspiration struck! On Facebook two family members posted unrelated things that turned into magic on our plates and in our wallets!

First was a post about our current weather. I know most people think it rains 12 months out of the year in Vancouver. Well, it doesn’t. It rains for about 9 months, pausing for June, July and August heat waves, and then back to more grey skies and precipitation come September. (Personally, unless I am by the beach or lounging poolside, the heat is not my favorite and I genuinely prefer a rainy afternoon).

To try and keep our little apartment home as comfortable as possible, I avoid turning on the stove or oven. This is difficult for me because I LOVE to cook and I feel limited and bored with what I can do on the BBQ after 3 months of oven-avoidance.

The second post was from my sister-in-law looking for Crockpot ideas and one of her friends posted about a whole chicken in the crock pot. GENIUS! I had never thought to do that before. To be honest, for all my joy of cooking, I have never cooked a whole chicken before. I get kinda grossed out at the thought of the insides – even if they are in a ready-to-toss baggie. But, against all odds, I had purchased said slimy whole chicken and put in the freezer a few weeks ago.

That’s when the magic happened. Could I put the whole, frozen chicken into a Crockpot thus avoiding the melting heat of my oven and enjoy a delicious family meal? Could it be that easy?

Ladies and gentlemen (well, probably mostly ladies but if gentlemen are reading this, welcome here!)

IT WAS THAT EASY! And not only was dinner fantastic but I have enough leftovers for chicken and egg salad pitas for lunch tomorrow and chicken and cheese quesadillas for dinner. If that wasn’t enough. I am currently brewing up some homemade broth that I will use for multiple dishes in the fall.

Here is what I did. I don’t follow recipes myself, which explains why I can cook but not bake, so I call this a recipe(ish). I know this is a long post but if you want to use one dish to make at least 4 family meals for about $9.00, its worth the read!

Tonight’s Dinner – Rotisserie Style Crockpot Chicken

I had a frozen whole chicken on hand but fresh would work the same, just adjust cooking time.

Before I froze my chicken I took out the bag of innards. It was well sealed and didn’t give me the yuck factor I had imagined. Since I am nowhere near brave enough to cook that up, I threw it away. (If you have a feline friend I think cooking the contents of that bag for them would make you very popular). I also cleaned and dried the chicken before sealing into a freezer bag and popping it into the freezer.

I rubbed the outside of the chicken with paprika, salt, pepper, garlic powder and thyme. I wanted to stuff the cavity but since it was frozen, and I was too impatient to wait until tomorrow to cook it, I decided I would have to break the sacred rules of the slow cooker and open it up a few hours into the cooking process to fill the cavity with moist-making goodness.

Here is the secret to the rotisserie style, wonderfully crispy skin in a Crockpot:

Wipe the inside of the cooker down with oil or spray your favorite non-stick. Ball up a few pieces of tinfoil to lift your chicken up out of the moisture that will drip during the cooking process. This makes for perfectly crispy skin. DO NOT ADD LIQUIDS! Put the top on and set your timer.

Because I was using a frozen bird I set the temp to high to ensure I was able to kill off any salmonella. (It’s probably a good rule of thumb to start any chicken, frozen or not, on high for the first hour or so to get the temperature hot enough to cook safely).

About 2 hours in I opened the Crockpot, something you are usually told to never ever do, and I stuffed my little birdie with onions and an orange with the peel on and sliced in half.  (I would have preferred an apple but I didn’t have any on hand. Dare to experiment!) It was hot but manageable to stuff by using tongs. Back into the Crockpot she went for another 5 hours.

I took it out and the meat was so tender- it literally fell apart while I let it rest. I used latex gloves and did the ‘carving.’ I separated the meat into 3 equal sections – one for dinner and 2 for tomorrow. The bones and skin went back to join the juices in the Crockpot. I discarded the orange from the cavity. We enjoyed this simple but delicious meal with a quick Caesar salad.

COST:

Whole chicken – $5.60

Romaine Lettuce – $0.79

Tomorrows Lunch – Chicken & Egg Salad Pitas

Since I have a few errands tomorrow I decided to make this up tonight so it was ready to go. I had 3 left over hard-boiled eggs in the fridge from a previous meal so my chicken salad became chicken & egg salad. Waste not, want not, right? I shredded the meat with my hands, (so easy when the meat is that tender) added the peeled hard-boiled eggs and mixed it all together. In went about 3 celery stocks and a medium sweet onion, diced. (Sweet onions are about the same price as your normal yellow onion and they are easy to find, at least around here. They make a HUGE difference in your meals and I highly recommend them!) Add about a quarter cup of mayo (I use hellmans light because it makes me feel better about being me) and 2 tbsp of Dijon mustard along with a handful of chopped fresh (or dried) parsley and dill weed. I added a sprinkle of garlic powder and salt and pepper to taste. If I wasn’t so full from dinner I would have eaten it all right then and there. Into a container and into the fridge. I took out some whole grain pita pockets from the freezer and tomorrow it will be like when Harry met Sally… only starring chicken salad and a pita pocket…

COST:

Leftover chicken – $0.00

3 Eggs – $0.63

Pitas or bread substitute – $0.65

You don’t have to use Pitas, you could easily put this on bread or a bagel. Just use whatever you have on hand. If you don’t have celery, throw in a bell pepper. The more you can use up what you have already spent money on, the more you will save in the long run.

 

Tomorrows Dinner – Chicken and Cheese Quesadillas

The third and final portion of chicken was also shredded and added to a small diced onion and red bell pepper. I added a touch of salt and pepper and a dash of chili powder. I want my two year old to eat this meal with us so it couldn’t be too spicy. I grated about 2 cups of marble cheese (again, use what you have on hand) and tomorrow I will mix everything with 1 avocado (I put the peeled avocado into a zip lock bag and give it to my son to squish the be-jeebees out of it). I will mix it together until smooth. If it’s not quite smooth enough for me to spread onto the tortilla I will add a touch of Greek yogurt or you could use mayo as a substitute. Not exactly a traditional Mexican recipe but we like it. I use corn tortillas. I purchased a bag on my last grocery trip in Washington and they are SO much cheaper than here in Canada. I got a bag of seventy small corn tortillas for under $4.00 (which is like $0.06 per tortilla or $0.12 per quesadilla!) I just make a sandwich out of the mixture, using the tortillas in place of bread.

Heat up a touch of olive oil (or whatever cooking oil you use) in a non-stick pan and place the quesadillas on the pan. A few minutes per side should make them a bit crispy and the insides warm. You can serve with salsa, sour cream or guacamole.

COST:

Leftover chicken – $0.00

Avocado – $0.40

Cheese – $0.50

Future Meals – Chicken stock

A love of cooking and the use of stocks go hand in hand so I often find myself reaching for a carton of store bought chicken, beef, or vegetable stock. I have decided to make my own and store in the freezer (freeze in muffin tins and then transfer into a storage bag for each ½ cup portions). This gave me the perfect opportunity and since I already dirtied the crock pot I decided to make my stock in there. (You could save up your chicken carcasses and make a big batch when you have more to work with but I decided to go for it with a smaller batch).

I added about 6 cups of COLD water to my Crockpot filled with the leftover chicken bones, fat and skin. I added the aromatics I had on hand (onion, carrot, celery) and a had a few tomatoes that were going to go bad on me so I cut those in half and added those as well. Remember, you are going to suck the life out of these vegetables – not eat them – so cut them roughly and large if at all, leave skin on rather than peeling. I have a bag in my freezer that I add things to as I am chopping produce for other meals – like pieces of onion root, the ends of carrots or leftover leaks. The contents of this bag will eventually go into a stock and make it rich, flavorful and full of depth by using something that would have ended up in the trash, saving money. Add more water if necessary to cover all the bones and veggies. I put the lid on and I plan to let it simmer on low overnight.

In the morning I will to strain the liquid and let it cool in the fridge so I can skim off the fat before placing it in the freezer. Since I know homemade stock is stronger and more flavorful than store-bought, therefore you often need to use less, I am not sure how much I will end up with from this one chicken but I am guessing enough for 2 big soups and a dozen or so ready to grab ½ cup options. Remember that the stock will be darker than the store bought variety. Aside from the fact that it doesn’t have the sodium and chemical preservatives from its tetra-pack cousin, it will also be darker in color because it’s made from a roasted chicken rather than raw chicken left-over’s in the factory.

Well there you have it. I did not expect to do this all today, and I certainly didn’t expect to blog about it but I hope my culinary adventure can bless your budget and your family as it did mine! In the words of my 2-year old:

Thank you God for my food and my many blessings, AMEN!