Living Simply | September 1, 2015

Sacred Surprises

Last evening was warm and clear as six dear friends gathered on my big old, wrap-around porch. An overly full summer had kept us apart longer than we’d intended, so we’d made a special point of setting aside this night to get together.

There was no ceremony in our gathering. We trickled in from work and meetings, tired but comfortable. With no plan but to spend time together, we ordered pizza, ate a giant bowl of the ripest summer fruit, and indulged in a Tupperware container of cookies that someone had pulled out of their freezer and baked. It was the simplest meal in its utility, and it was perfect, because all we had to do was be there.

I’m sure that all of my neighbors could hear us laughing as we told stories. We sat in wicker chairs and old wooden rockers arranged in a haphazard circle as the sun went down, and I suddenly became aware that my porch had been transformed into a sacred space. In the quiet of a Wednesday dusk, gathered around a candle and a table full of food, my friends and I accidentally found ourselves having church. We broke bread and listened to each other’s hearts; we passed the peace and hugs and “I love you’s,” and we shared bags of excess garden tomatoes—and I’m sure that God was glorified.

So often it is in those moments that have been stripped of everything but a pure desire to be in God-honoring community when I have to catch my breath, surprised by their fullness and beauty. May we be ever-watchful for those surprises of the sacred, slipped into the simplest of moments in our lives, and may we cherish them for the fact that all we had to do was be there to live them.

Grilled tomato salad

This is one of my favorite ways to prepare late summer tomatoes at the peak of their flavor.

Ingredients for two:

10–20 small tomatoes
One half of a large red onion
2 oz. feta cheese
Fresh herbs like basil, oregano, and/or chives
Olive oil
Salt and pepper


Prepare a charcoal or gas grill. Cut the red onion into large chunks and thread them onto two grill-safe skewers. Skewer a variety of small, whole tomatoes onto another set of skewers.

Grill the onions for five minutes before adding the tomatoes to the grill for another five. Pull all the skewers off the grill after about 10 minutes, when the onions have a nice char and the tomatoes are blistered but not burst. Mix all the vegetables in a bowl, drizzle with good-tasting olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and toss with crumbled feta cheese and plenty of fresh herbs. Serve with sweet sun tea and crusty bread for a perfect porch snack, or with grilled chicken or fish for a main dish. Add a handful of grilled green beans and serve over rice for a summery vegetarian main.

Amanda J. Garcia is a freelance writer living in Elgin, Ill. Visit her online at