Easiest Way to Make Yogurt

A few years ago, I was searching the internet for ways to make my own yogurt. A few friends had told me it was super easy and encouraged me to give it a try, so I did. It was a disaster.

If you know the basic concept of yogurt making, you know the temperature of the milk has to stay within a range so that the good bacteria will grow and turn your milk into yogurt. There are various methods suggested online to try to do just that.  I tried using the oven-method. My oven’s lowest temperatures were too hot. I tried using the crock-pot method. That didn’t work out either. Again, the lowest setting was too hot. I certainly did not want to spend money on a yogurt-maker so I just threw my hands up in the air and had given up, but not for long. A visit to an old Afghan friend a few months later changed all of that.

After the amazing meal my friend’s lovely wife had made for us, he gave me some of his homemade yogurt. It was delicious. I relayed my woes in attempting to make my own yogurt and he laughed and said, “Luisa, Luisa, Luisa, you taking the scenic route. Too complicated, too complicated.” He then proceeded to tell me how he does it. His is an old, traditional way that doesn’t require the fancy equipment of our modern lifestyle, but it works!! I followed his method the next week and I finally made yogurt! I have been using this same method ever since.

My Afghan friend’s method requires nothing more than milk, some store-bought plain yogurt (or get some from a friend), a liquid thermometer, and a heavy, thick blanket. Now, my friend never uses a thermometer and told me just to let the milk get to almost boiling and then cool it down to where you put your finger in it and it is still hot, but you don’t burn yourself. That seemed like a good way for me to screw it up, so I use a liquid thermometer, but feel free to try it that way if you’d like.

So what is his secret for keeping the yogurt incubated at the right temperature? It is the nice thick blanket. If your house is on the cold side you might want to use two blankets which is what I do in the winters here in PA. If your house stays on the warm side, you may only need one thick blanket, but you can use two if you want to play safe. It is simple. It is easy. I was skeptical about it working, but a batch of yogurt later, my skepticism was gone.

In the recipe below I give measurements, but the beautiful thing about yogurt is that the measurements do not have to be perfect for it to work. Sometimes I use a quart of milk and sometimes a little bit less than a quart if I don’t have quite enough. And I never measure out the  starter (pre-made yogurt). I just take a big glop of my already made yogurt and mix it into the milk.  Thankfully, I have not had a bad batch yet. So go ahead, give it a try!!

Homemade Yogurt
Print Recipe
This recipe was adapted from an Afghan friend's recipe who makes the yogurt the way his family made it in Afghanistan. No fancy equipment needed except for a kitchen thermometer. My friend does not use a thermometer, but I do to play it safe.
Servings Prep Time
1 quart 2 minutes
Cook Time Passive Time
10 minutes 24 hours
Servings Prep Time
1 quart 2 minutes
Cook Time Passive Time
10 minutes 24 hours
Homemade Yogurt
Print Recipe
This recipe was adapted from an Afghan friend's recipe who makes the yogurt the way his family made it in Afghanistan. No fancy equipment needed except for a kitchen thermometer. My friend does not use a thermometer, but I do to play it safe.
Servings Prep Time
1 quart 2 minutes
Cook Time Passive Time
10 minutes 24 hours
Servings Prep Time
1 quart 2 minutes
Cook Time Passive Time
10 minutes 24 hours
Ingredients
Main Ingredients
Supplies
Servings: quart
Instructions
  1. Heat about a quart of milk in a pot constantly stirring (so it doesn't burn on the bottom) and bring the temperature to 180 degrees. Let the milk cool to about 125 degrees.
  2. Once you reached the 125 degree mark, transfer the milk to the mason jar and add the tbsp of pre-made yogurt (this is called the starter). Mix it well into the milk.
  3. Seal the jar tightly and wrap the container with the heavy blanket. If your house stays pretty cool, make that two blankets (You can't use too many). Now set your bundle in a part of the house where it will not be disturbed for the next 24 hours and leave it. Once the 24 hours have passed, open the mason jar and your yogurt should be ready. Refrigerate. If you want a thicker yogurt, strain it through a cheese cloth otherwise it can be eaten as is. That is it! You are done!
Recipe Notes

This recipe can easily be doubled with mason jars, just add the starter (tbsp of pre-made yogurt into each mason jar with milk).

Share this Recipe
 
Powered byWP Ultimate Recipe

When Racism Died at a Well

The title of this post should make most of us Christians say, “well of course.” However, the word “racism” is a modern word. When we read Biblical accounts sometimes we miss modern applications because we don’t see our modern words in the text. That is exactly what happens when we read the account of the Woman at the Well (John 1:1-42).

I have read that section of scripture many times and I have generally focused on the words of Jesus introducing salvation to this Samaritan woman. It is a beautiful story, but my previous casual reading of this text made me miss so much that is buried in these ancient words. But that changed recently when I was given the opportunity to teach this account to the youth group at my church.

About a year ago, I came across a little paragraph in my Chronological Bible that discussed some of the cultural realities of the time and I remember being blown away by how Jesus was turning the prevalent sexism of his time on its head (more about this in a later blog). But it was only recently, in preparing to teach the youth that the racial aspect of this account jumped out at me.

To see it, you have to understand the racial realities of Biblical times. By the time Jesus was walking on this earth, there was a centuries-old feud between Samaritan’s and Jews. When the Israelis had been taken captive by the Assyrians in approximately 722 BC, their captors had brought in colonists who intermarried with the few Israelis that had been left behind. This intermixed group of people would later be known as the Samaritans. Fast forward over a hundred years later, and a remnant of full blooded Jews had been allowed to return to their homeland by the Babylonians. This group of full-blooded Jews and their descendants came to despise the Samaritans and resented the fact that these Samaritans were now racially and religiously intermixed. (For a little more detailed history of this conflict read here.)

Enter Jesus and the Samaritan woman. Jesus was a rabbi, and rabbinical standards of that time dictated that any “good” Jew would go nowhere near a Samaritan.  Why? Because Samaritans were considered “half-breeds.” When I asked my youth group class what that sounded like using modern terms, a very perceptive junior high student responded, “racism.” The most “religious” of Jews hated Samaritans so much that if they needed to travel between Judea (in the south) and Galilee (in the North), they would travel west into Perea and go completely around Samaria which was sandwiched in between Judea and Galilee. Considering that travel time by foot was about two and a half days from Judea to Galilee, to take such a detour would have been very taxing. The hate ran deep.

Another common belief by religious jewish leaders at the time was that anything a Samaritan touched was unclean. That means that drinking out of the same vessel as a Samaritan would have been unthinkable. When I reflected on this, it brought to mind the American segregation era when blacks were not allowed to drink from the same water fountains as whites. Yes, the prejudices against the Samaritans can only be described as good old fashioned racism.

But what does Jesus, the rabbi do? For starters, he didn’t take the long route through Perea to get from Galilee to Judea. He went straight through Samaria. The text actually said that he needed to go through Samaria and many Biblical commentators rightly point out, I believe, that the need was a spiritual one. He had a divine appointment, even if the intended party had no idea what awaited her. The account says that he reached the Samaritan city of Sychar and he sat at the well and asked the Samaritan woman for a drink. With the simple words, “Give me a drink,” he broke down centuries of cultural, social, and racial biases. Why? Because by asking the woman for a drink, the King of kings was telling the woman, “I am willing to drink out of the same vessel as you because to me, you are not unclean, you are worthy.”

Obviously, none of us are worthy. We all have fallen short of the glory of God. Our worthiness comes from Christ alone and as He proceeds to talk with the Samaritan woman, he invites her to drink from His living water to eternal salvation. But his actions stand in stark contrast to the corrupted doctrines and biases of the religious leaders of his time. No wonder the Pharisees hated him so much, but Jesus would have none of it. If anyone had any right to feel superior to any other human being, it would have been Him. And yet, He did not act superior. A couple of years later in the ultimate act of humility he would die for all of us, for all races and ethnicities, even for those that hated him the most.

In this beautiful account of the woman at the wall, the actions of Jesus are a good reminder to all of us that we have to check our own prejudices and biases at the door when interacting with others. There is no room for racism in Christianity. On the contrary, Christianity is about love, love for even those we consider “unworthy.”

So what of the Samaritans? I am not sure, but I do know that a word that once was considered so vile by so many now has a positive connotation. Thanks to Jesus’ parable of the good Samaritan, we now associate Samaritans with something really good. There is even a law named after it, the good Samaritan Law, to protect those just trying to be good neighbors. But what I want to remember when I think about the word Samaritan is my King, and how he loved us all then and how he loves us all now.

Galatians 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Serving the Gray

Volunteers ready to serve the elderly.

Most Fridays mornings, New Vision Community Church is bustling with activity. The parking lots are full, people are swarming in and out, and volunteers are hustling. This isn’t your regular church service activity. No, these are the days that New Vision Community Church provides free groceries to the elderly known as their Silver Star Program. It is one of their many on-going ministries and my girls and I were happy and proud to be part of it all.

This is not a haphazard operation. On the contrary, it is a well oiled machine. Every week, the church and its volunteers prepare to host 150 to 300 people and provide them with free groceries. Early in the week, Pastora Lucy, as she is famously known in Laredo (and who also happens to be my mom), makes an effort to ensure that there is enough inventory of food products, to include baked good and fresh fruits and/or vegetables when available, to accommodate those that will be collecting their “mandado” on Friday. If the inventory is insufficient, a volunteer driver and/or my dad, the senior pastor, will pick up donated goods from various places around Laredo and have it delivered to the church so other volunteers can package it into grocery bags. Things like beans and rice are usually donated to the church in bulk so those must be packaged by volunteers in their own little bags first and be ready to be placed in grocery bags.

My girls packaging bulk goods.

There are a lot of moving parts and each part has a designated set of volunteers that ensures their part is functioning and ready. For example, a husband and wife team are responsible for the dry goods and packaging individual bags so that the elderly will receive a wide variety of product. They faithfully come every week and pack paper bags with things like rice, pastas, beans, chips, salad dressings, honey, bottled drinks, and yes, even chocolate or some other type of candy.

The day of the event, everyone is in place. The church secretary has a registration table set up where each person will present their ID and she will double check that they were indeed slated to pick up that week. This is done to prevent fraud and to make sure that every “grandma” and “grandpa,” as my daughters like to call them, will get their share for the month. The kitchen staff has coffee and pastries available for the elderly to enjoy before picking up their goods and a faithful servant leads worship and shares the gospel in the sanctuary for those that want to participate. The pastors will be walking around making sure everything is running smoothly, greeting the visitors, and pitching in whenever and wherever they see a need. In the back of the church, volunteers are moving bags and handing them out to the elderly as they show up. If a person is to weak to walk, they are kindly instructed to park, and a runner will gather their groceries for them.

Young volunteer patiently waiting before the big rush.

The same process is repeated week after week and it has happened many times where the pastors did not have enough inventory to meet the demand for Fridays, but this will rarely unsettle them. They do what they can, scrape from every corner of the church, trust in God and patiently wait for His provision. What they won’t do is cancel it. And God has been faithful; the elderly have received their “mandado” every Friday that the church has scheduled it since the beginning of this ministry in 2008. On several occasions when there has been a shortage, a major food donation arrives at New Vision the day before and sometimes even that same morning. The pastors and their volunteers are used to operating in this uncertainty. Personally, I would be pulling my hair out.

I have been at the church many times in the past when I have visited my parents, , but since usually I am just vacationing, I had not experienced the full scope of work and preparation that goes into something like this. This time my daughters and I packed grocery bags, sorted and repacked bulk goods, moved inventory from one room to the other, and interacted with the sweet people that came to collect their “mandado.” I think I might have lost a few pounds that week just because of the physical aspect of the work. I was moved by the hard work of the volunteers and their faithfulness to service. And I was able to better understand my parents and the amount of logistical planning that goes into running this ministry and the many others that are part of New Vision Community Church. They have a large load on their shoulders. The Silver Star Programs runs in addition to normal church services on Sundays, Bible studies, prayer sessions, counseling and then its other non-traditional ministries.

A previous team of missionaries greeting the elderly.

Providing free groceries to about 1000 people each month (and this doesn’t include the free groceries that are given to poor people in the outskirts of Laredo) is not a cheap enterprise. How can the church afford this? The church has only about 100 members and most are people with limited means. The church tithings barely cover the church’s electric bill. So how is that possible? First and foremost, it is the strong faith of the church leadership and volunteers that God will come through. The second, is hard work. I could barely keep up with the people that worked along side me. Truly, they put me to shame and I always considered myself a hard worker (yeah, little did I know). Thirdly, the church through God’s grace has built an extraordinary relationship with organizations, companies, and individuals that provide donations to make some of these ministries happen. Lastly, the church operates outside of the box. They fund many of their ministries by running a non-profit café, a non-profit grocery store, and a working ranch.

My little girls will not understand anything that has to do with logistics nor appreciate all the moving pieces of these ministries. They will probably mostly remember the silly hats they had to wear when packaging food and having to work, “for hours, and hours without end,” as my five-year-old liked to complain (In full disclosure she really only worked about 10 minutes at a time, but if you asked her, she would have you believe she had been doing that for days.) But I do hope and pray that they took away that we serve, because we serve the King. That we do this out of love and we love, because God first loved us. I pray that they will cherish the smiles of those that we served. And I hope that they remember all the faces of the wonderful volunteers who not only served the elderly, and the poor, but also took the time to serve my two young daughters (sometimes against my pleas and wishes).

I leave you with the verse that was the genesis for the elderly ministry. It was the verse that drove my parents to move forward with this ambitious endeavor that is now in its ninth year.

Leviticus 19:32, “You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man, and you shall fear your God: I am the LORD.” (ESV version)

Letters from the Forgotten


A few of the women here at New Vision Community Church minister to female prisoners in Nuevo Laredo, a town in Mexico right across the border from here in Laredo, TX. They go there every Saturday morning to share the gospel and to comfort and bring a little joy to a dark and somber place. And although I am unable to cross the border (didn’t bring my passport), my girls and I were still able to take part in this very important ministry.

My father, the pastor, asked me if I would help respond to letters some of these women had written. I volunteered to do six and in my typical father fashion, he left me eleven to write. As I opened each letter and peeked into each woman’s soul, my heart ached for them. These were all women that had come to accept Jesus Christ in prison. They had experienced liberty in repenting, but they were still bound by their circumstances. They will have to finish their time served before they could be free from their jail cell.

Each woman had a different story to tell. Some just needed to vent, others desperately asked for prayers so that they could return to their families, their children. One insisted she was innocent, others admitted that they were guilty and asked God for help in becoming better people. While being on the outside, it is easy to look at these women and judge. Only God knows if they are truly repentant, but I am convinced that the abuse, the loneliness, the rejection, the extreme poverty many of these women endured played a significant role in propelling them to their current situation.

My girls coloring verse pictures for the prisoners.

Regardless of our feelings about why these women are there, Jesus has instructed us Christians to minister to those in prison (Matthew 25) and I was thankful to be part of it. These are women, that in many ways, have been forgotten by society and even by the church. I have to admit that at first it felt a little overwhelming, especially since I had already committed myself to helping in other ways and I don’t like writing letters by hand. But after reading each of the women’s letter, I felt compelled to respond. And since being here is suppose to help teach our entire family the importance of service, I asked my ten-year-old and five-year-old to help me. I had them color scripture cards to accompany my letters.

The letters and cards were done and we turned them in. A few days later, the woman in charge of the prison ministry thanked me and told me what an amazing blessing it had been to the women. They were overjoyed to have received letters and were able to take them back to their cells. I have to admit that I felt a little guilty that I first saw this important task as just another chore, but I am glad that I followed through with it. I do hope and pray that with God’s help, I was able to write the words that would help them in their spiritual journey.

I may have a chance to write a few more letters with the remaining weeks I have in Laredo and after I leave, I will go back to PA and continue doing the things that I do. However, there will be two women here in Laredo that will diligently make their way across the border every Saturday to minister to new and old souls. I am thankful for their service and their example of Christ’s love.

 

Family Mission

One of the poorest areas in Laredo.

Early this year, my husband and I decided that we needed to do something a bit out of the ordinary for the sake of our girls. Like many American kids in their generation, they carry an entitlement attitude and have the expectation that we exist only to cater to them. This is despite our best efforts to not spoil them, to not buy them too many toys, to often say no, and in many ways to make life a little difficult for them. Honestly, our girls do not truly have a concept of hard work nor do they know what it means to experience need. So we decided to give them an experience that would put both of those things front and center. We decided to spend a month working at my parents’ ministry in Laredo, TX.

Laredo is a not-so-small city right on the border with Mexico. Although you will see some wealth, there is also poverty so extreme, that you wonder whether you are still in the United States, but you are. And my parents’ church has a mission in Laredo to reach out to the poorest of the poor.

Well, today was our first day and we hit the ground running. Our first task was to fill grocery bags of food that will be given to the elderly later in the week. We had to sort through various boxes and make sure each grocery bag had an adequate mix of goods. It was quite the operation, pulling boxes off shelves, taking empty boxes to the recycling, moving filled bags to storage, etc. But the most beautiful part of it all was seeing the determined look on my daughters’ faces as they diligently accomplished each of their tasks. It felt good to do this as a family and know that our efforts would bless the lives of so many people. This took up most off our morning.

After a wonderful lunch of deep-dish pizza, made by my mom in the church kitchen for us and all the volunteers, we went to Ein Gedi Ranch. Ein Gedi is a small working farm owned by the church in the middle of one of the poorest and most forgotten areas of Laredo. It was sad to find out that people will use this community as a dumping ground for their garbage. But this isn’t a land fill. There are families, children that live, work, and play here. And thanks to Ein Gedi, the children have a safe place to come play, to learn, and to eat.

While at Ein Gedi, we distributed shoes to children that had attended Vacation Bible School the week before. Each family waited patiently to receive their shoes while the local school district provided lunch. The church has a working relationship with the school district in their efforts to make sure poor kids are still getting at least one nutritional meal a day during the summer break. Since there were many volunteers helping with the efforts we let our girls play outside. They loved seeing the ducks and chickens and playing with the dogs that live there ignoring the outside temperature of 100 degrees.

After Ein-Gedi, there was still more work to be done. We returned to the main church to sort boxes and boxes of donated goods. Each donated appliance had to be tested to make sure it worked. Other items had to be thoroughly cleaned before going into its respective bins, and some items would just need to be tossed out. My husband pulled the boxes from the truck into the sorting room. My ten-year-old worked with grandma to price items that would be sold in the church store to raise money for their ministry. My five-year-old was the runner. She was sent to deliver things like tape to the church secretary or plastic forks to the church kitchen. I loved how serious to took this important mission taking off in a full sprint every time she was sent out.

We finished our day by making a run to Wal-Mart to buy shoes for the kids who did not get shoes earlier in the day at Ein-Gedi (their shoe-size had not been available). Their shoes will be delivered on Friday.

All in all, by the end of the day we were all exhausted and maybe even a little cranky. We will be sleeping soundly tonight, and hopefully we will be well-rested to start this all over again tomorrow.

 

Essential Oil Fit for a King!

I love my essential oils. I am by no means an expert on them, but I use them a lot for medicinal purposes, for repelling unwanted pests, and just because they smell so good!  You can therefore imagine my excitement to find out that the oil Mary of Bethany used to anoint Jesus’ feet was spikenard, an oil you can order right off of Amazon! (Technically, it is not exactly the same, but the raw ingredient is.) More importantly, I enjoyed finding out more about this oil and its significance in the Biblical record.

In all honesty, when I had read this account before, I had not paid much attention to the type of oil, and if I had, I would have been clueless about what it actually was. Most of us have heard of myrrh and frankincense (gifts that the Magi gave to Jesus as a young child), but I don’t really think spikenard has made into our every day language. However, as I was preparing to teach a Bible study to my daughter and her friends regarding this Biblical account, I was compelled to pay attention to every detail. One of those details was the use of spikenard.

As I poured my energy and time into this study, I wanted to find out what spikenard was, how it was used by the ancients, and what its significance was in the anointing of Jesus. Spikenard was a highly expensive oil or ointment (as mentioned in scripture and confirmed by outside sources) derived from a plant that was used not only by the Jews, but many peoples from the Middle East and Asia. It was imported from the areas of present day India, China, and Nepal as the plant is native to the Himalayas. The ancients used it to season food, prepare bodies for burial, medicinal purposes, and as a perfume (See Charles Hatchet, On the Spikenard of the Ancients and Raoul McLaughlin, Rome and the Distant East.)

Jews used it as a component in incense burned at the temple in Jerusalem and apparently to bury their dead. Although I could not find first-hand sources, several online articles mentioned how Jews in Biblical times used it as one of the primary ingredients to prepare bodies for burial along with myrrh. Because nard was produced as an oil and/or ointment, it would allow more powdery substances like myrrh to stick to the body. In the John 12 account of Mary of Bethany anointing Jesus’ feet with this expensive oil, Jesus himself declares in verse 7 that “she has kept it for the day of my burial” (HCSB version).

Regardless of what it was used for, Nard was highly valued and used by upper classes, including kings. For example, Spikenard appears to have be the primary fragrance in a perfume found in King Tut’s tomb. Therefore, it is only fitting that such an oil would be used to anoint the feet of the King of Kings! And if the oil was one of the primary ingredients for preparing bodies for burial, it brings even more significance to the humble act performed by Mary of Bethany. It shows that she knew exactly what she was doing, and was the first of Jesus’ disciple to acknowledge that he was indeed headed to the cross.

There is also an interesting correlation between the cross and how this oil is used today. While in hospice care, it is used to help patients transition from life to death because spikenard has been shown to relieve stress and anxiety, to calm both body and mind (See OilsandPlants.com and this article). When I read this, it brought my thoughts back to Jesus and what he must have been going through in the days prior to the crucifixion. We know from the record in Luke 22, shortly before his arrest, that Jesus was in agony over what was to come, enough so that he was sweating blood. If we backtrack only a few days to when Mary anointed his feet and filled the room with the scent of nard, I can only assume that the weight of what was before him was already weighing heavily on him. And I wonder, could the nard have been a small detail in how our Heavenly Father (through Mary’s loving action), was helping Jesus relieve some of that anxiety? We won’t know for sure on this side of heaven, but I do wonder. But even if the scent of nard was not physically helping to relieve some of his stress, Mary’s willingness to minister to him in that way certainly was.

Today, you can find spikenard as an essential oil. It is most likely not in the same form as it was used back in Biblical times as modern distillation processes were not existent (although Hatchet makes a good case that the Indians had a primitive form of distillation that they used to produce the nard ointment/oil). However, current research, some of which is in line with how the ancients used it for medicinal purposes, shows that nard essential oil can be used for a variety of purposes. Personally, I am just enjoying putting a few drops in my diffuser along with orange essential oil and meditating on the Bible record, but I also wanted to pass along this information for anyone that might need it.

 

Benefits of Using Nard Essential Oil

Fights bacteria and fungus

Antiinflammitory

Relieves anxiety, calming the mind and body

It boosts the immune system

Promotes hair growth

Relieves insomnia

Lessens sensitivity of nerves to pain

Reduces fever

Helps eliminate body odor

Provides relief from cough and other respiratory problems.

See these articles for more information on how to use it. Remember to do your due diligence especially if you are pregnant or breastfeeding when using essential oils.

Spikenard Stimulates the Immune System and Relaxes Both Body and Mind

Spikenard Essential Oil, Uses and Side Effects

If you like this article, please be so kind to share!

 

Five Powerful Prayers for Your Kids

Parenting is hard. My oldest is now in her “tweens” and I am encountering a whole new range of issues to deal with. Honestly, the toddler years were simpler, but that is a topic for a whole other blog. As I go through my ups and downs of parenting, I have come to learn to fall back on what is tried and true, God’s word. I now pray scripture over my children. I cannot say it was my idea, but something I learned from a godly woman much wiser than myself who has already been in my shoes. When you combine God’s word with prayer, you just know it has to have a powerful impact. So here are prayers inspired by scripture that I pray over my own children and hopefully they will inspire you to find verses that you can pray over your own kids.

From I Chronicles 4:10:

“Lord, bless my daughters and enlarge their spiritual territory, and that your hand may be with them, and that you would keep them from harm so that it may not bring them any pain.”

From Psalm 119:133:

“Keep steady my daughters’ steps according to your promise and let no iniquity get dominion over them.”

From Colossians 1:9-13:

“I pray that my daughters might be filled with the knowledge of your will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, that they may walk worthy of you Lord, fully pleasing you, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of you God. May they be strengthened with all might, according to your glorious power, unto all patience and long-suffering with joyfulness. May they always give thanks to you Father, who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light, who has delivered us from the power of darkness and has translated us into the kingdom of your dear son.”

From Proverbs 4:20-23

“Father I pray that my daughters may be attentive to your words, and may they incline their ears to your saying. May those words never escape from their sight and may they keep them within their heart. For they are life to those who find them and healing to all their flesh. May they keep their heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.”

From Ephesians 3:14-19

“Father I pray that you may grant my daughters, according to the riches of your glory, to be strengthened with might through your Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in their hearts through faith. I pray also that they, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height, to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge, that they may be filled with all the fullness of you Lord.”

If there are prayers from scripture that you pray over your children, feel free to share in the comments below so that we may all benefit from it.

If you enjoyed this article, please be so kind to share it!

Christian Media: Ignoring the Nations

Before I delve into what I hope is constructive criticism of Christian media, I want to say that I am thrilled on how far Christian media has come. The choices for Christian families on movies, print media, and radio has increased significantly since I was a child. My children have access to Christian apps which in my view is one of the coolest things. These are things that were non-existent when I was a kid. However, despite my gratitude at the expansion and growth in Christian entertainment and educational tools, I do want to call attention to a problem I do not believe is getting enough attention; that is the continued use of mostly Caucasian people and culture to represent characters, whether in movies, cartoons, or print media. I don’t want to belittle the willingness and the heart that our Caucasian brothers and sisters have put into making better Christian productions, much of which has been spirit inspired, but this is an area that we can do better and I believe that for the sake of the gospel, we must do better.

My eyes were opened to this issue only recently despite my Latin American origins. For many years I was oblivious to the issues that dark skinned people face because frankly, I am pretty light skinned. As is common for most Hispanics, I have both European and indigenous blood running through my veins. Because the European side dominates I am what many of my family members would call me, “blanquita,” that is white. But I married a tall, dark, and handsome Puerto Rican and our first child is dark skinned, just like her daddy. My second child was born looking more like me with much lighter skin than her sister and upon her birth, I heard words that stung. Family members would comment on how beautiful and “blanquita” she was. The implications behind those comments hurt because I knew that not one of those people had ever said about my first child, “Look how beautiful and dark she is.”

Fast forward several years later my oldest daughter asked me a question that unsettled me more than those insensitive comments by family members. While watching a Christian cartoon on an app, my dark-skinned child asked, “Mom, why are there no people in this show that look like me? Why are there no people with dark skin?” The implication behind my daughter’s questions was this, “Isn’t the Christian message for people like me as well?” It broke my heart to think how excluded my child must have felt at that moment from Christianity. It hurt because I knew that Christ meant for his sacrifice to be for all people regardless of their background or race.

The cartoon that my child was watching was a re-telling of a Bible story in the Old Testament. It is an illustration that could have been made to look historically accurate, but it was not. It is more likely that most of the people in the Bible were dark-skinned because of the geographical region of where most Bible events took place. Therefore it only only makes sense to try to portray them as such and not continue this habit of making them Caucasian. As Christians, our reasons for doing so should go beyond any social justice cry to do so. We are called to share the gospel with all peoples and if that is our purpose, why do we continue to exclude so many from the images that we portray and the stories that we tell?

Just by sticking to historical and cultural accuracy of Biblical accounts, we will appeal to much larger audience than is currently the case. And if we portray a fictional story or an event, let’s tell the story of Hispanics, or Indians, or Native Americans or African Americans or Asians that are Christians. This also means that more Christians from different racial and cultural backgrounds need to step up to the plate. We need to tell our stories and have movies, and books, and magazines, and apps that represent our cultures and our race and the way we look. Not for our sake, but  for the sake of the audience.  I know that if my child who has had very little experience with racism and and has been raised in a Christian home could feel so excluded, it makes me wonder how other non-Caucasian children feel to hardly ever be represented within Christian media?

In I Corinthians 9:20-22 Paul tells us:

“And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became as I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.”

If our goal is to spread the gospel to all peoples, then we need to do a better job of representing different cultures within Christian media. Kudos to those outlets that are making an effort in this area, and there are definitely some that are. However, in general, we need to be more intentional about it because in large part, we are ignoring the nations. Paul may not had had print media, nor cartoons, nor movies, but in the most basic sense, he understood that he had to conform to the culture of the people that he was reaching in order to appeal to them. If we want to reach more than just the Caucasian population, then we need to re-think how we are going to portray the Christian message through images. Those images need to speak to people and children of different backgrounds and say, “Yes, Jesus died for you too.”

“Unicorn” Rose Swirl Cake

We recently celebrated my daughter’s five-year-old birthday party and her theme of choice was unicorns. As we planned each detail, she and I came up with a beautiful birthday cake that got a lot of praises both for the design and the taste. A few of my friends have asked me for the recipe, so I thought it would be a good idea to share not only the recipes, but instructions on how to put this baby together. I am not a baker so I had to do a lot of google searches to make this happen, but hopefully my blog will provide you a one-stop shop so you don’t have to do your own research.

If you have read any of my previous blogs, you probably know that I like healthy eating. And in the past, I have made whole grain cakes, sprouted grain cakes, cakes with spinach, etc. However, I need to warn you, that is not the case for this cake. I threw in the towel and decided that this is a once a year event and I wasn’t going to worry about the excess sugar, color dye toxins, nor the evils of white flour. Although I used mostly organic ingredients and replaced some of the ingredients for healthier options, it is still a not-so-good-for-you cake, but it was sooooooo good!

Well this delicious cake was a chocolate cake because, simply, that is what my five-year-old requested. I do not use some secret family recipe that was passed on through the generations nor did I develop some amazing recipe (Did I mention that I am not a baker?). Nope. This recipe was taken from the back of a Hershey cocoa box. A few years back I had used that same recipe and I remembered people loved it so there was no need to reinvent the wheel. Thankfully for me, that recipe is still printed on their cocoa powder boxes and you can also access it online. Hershey’s own “PERFECTLY CHOCOLATE” Chocolate Cake Recipe is to die for and I highly recommend it.

In order to make my three layered 8″ cake, I had to double the recipe (and use the left overs to make cupcakes). I used mostly organic ingredients with the exception of the Hershey cocoa and the baking powder/soda. I also substituted coconut oil for the vegetable oil. (TIP: If you do use coconut oil, I recommend you warm up the milk so the oil does not clump up.) Once you are done with the cakes, put them in the fridge for a few hours before putting on the icing. Trust me, it will make your life easier.

I knew from the beginning that I wanted a cream cheese frosting because I genuinely dislike buttercream icing. At first, I was not sure if cream cheese frosting would work well for the details my five-year-old wanted on her cake, but after a little google search, I came across this recipe that uses cream cheese, butter, vanilla, and lots of powdered sugar. The recipe worked well for all the decorations just as the author said it would. Make sure to follow her advice to keep the icing from getting too warm in your hands. It makes a difference. You will either need to make two batches or double the recipe to frost the cake and for the filling. However, if you want enough for the cupcakes I mentioned above and maybe to give yourself a little wiggle room, buy enough ingredients for three batches.

I cannot take too much credit for the design of the cake because I had a lot of help from a very intentional five-year-old girl. As she and I perused through Pinterest, we couldn’t find a design we both agreed on. Instead we pulled our favorite details from various cakes to come up with her “perfect” unicorn cake (Feel free to look at our Pinterest board to see where we got our inspiration). Notice that our unicorn cake does not have a unicorn anywhere near it, but my five-year-old felt the color scheme is what made it special. The final product fit perfectly with her party decorations and motif and more importantly, she was thrilled with it.

To actually decorate the cake, you want to first cover the cake with frosting. Roses line the sides and the top is covered with multi-colored jimmies. The roses are actually called “rose swirls” as I found out. To fit four rows, I used the equivalent of a Wilton 129 drop flower tip. If you want larger roses, you can use a Wilton 2D tip (the 2D works better for the cupcakes). I recommend you get at least four tips so that you can have several bags of frosting ready to go. It will allow you to move easily from one color to the next. I didn’t have the extra tips so I had to finish one color, wash the tip, and move on to the next color. It was a bit of a pain. This video shows you exactly how to do the swirls and it is as easy as it looks. Just practice a couple of times before you put it on the cake.

Well friends, that is basically it. I hope you enjoy making this cake and good luck!

And if you liked this article, be so kind to share it!

Hope in a Failing Marriage

img_8193I realize that we have the tendency to put our best-foot forward and social media seems to fuel that tendency. We upload our best pictures, our best stories, the best part of our lives, but rarely is anyone’s life that perfect. The honest truth is that my life is nothing close to what you might see from my Facebook timeline or what you might even see from me at church. I don’t have it all together. My life is messy and it is a rollercoaster ride of falling and getting back up and I have quite a few skeletons in my closet. One of those is that my marriage came dangerously close to failing, to being another divorce statistic.

I am writing this because there are many of you who are struggling in your marriages and are suffering in silence. You are afraid of what people might think of you or what the church might think of you. Some of you might even think that divorce is the only way out. And I am here to tell you that that was me and that you are not alone.

My husband and I had a very good marriage for the first nine years. We fought sometimes and got on each other nerves, but it never got so bad that I would have the desire to leave.  We survived living in separate states for several years, the unpredictable nature of the military, his deployment to Afghanistan, a significant reduction in our income when I decided to leave my full-time job. We even survived the fact that we were “unevenly yoked.” I was an evangelical Christian and he was not, but we seemed to make it work.

And then year number ten came and my “wonderful” marriage came crushing down. There were a series of circumstances that were pushing my husband and I farther and farther apart. Before we had a chance to realize what was happening, I found myself in my bedroom with my husband asking me directly, “Do you even love me anymore?” As I sat on our bed, I looked down at my feet and said, “I don’t know.” I wanted to have compassion for this man that was only a few feet away from me, but all I had was disdain. I felt the hypocrisy of my Christianity weighing heavily on me and I felt like I was drowning and that I was slowly losing my faith.

At the time we had bought a house in PA, but I was still living in VA with my daughter at a friend’s house. He was working out of NJ because of the military. He was in the Marines at the time. Initially, we had agreed that I would come up every week for a long weekend while our house was getting renovated. However, as time progressed I found myself wanting to visit PA less and less and I was reluctant to fulfill my husband’s wishes to finally move in permanently.

I justified my actions with a million excuses. “Whenever I am home, he is always mad and upset.” “I don’t know anyone in Pennsylvania and my family and friends are here in VA.” “The students at Sunday school in VA need me and if I leave there is no teacher to replace me.” “He had the choice to stay in VA had he wanted to but because he wanted to go off to war, now he is in NJ and I am paying the price for it.” “My real estate business is thriving in VA and I can’t do it from PA.”

The only thing I did right during that time period is to go see a friend. I needed to unload completely and I knew that she loved God and that she wouldn’t judge me. She listened quietly as I went off on a rant about my husband. After listening for awhile, and maybe even losing patience with me (although she did not show it), she said, “You need to let go of the business, of the church here in VA, and move in with your husband. The Bible is clear, it is God first, then husband, then children, then church, then everything else.” I resented her words, but deep down I knew she was right. A few weeks later, my concerned parents told me the same thing during a trip with them to Puerto Rico (I later found out my husband had reached out to them for help). I still didn’t accept the correction very easily; however, eventually I would take their advice. In my stubbornness, it took several days to tell me husband, but I finally let him know that I was moving to PA and I was going to stay.

I would be lying if I said that the road to restore our marriage was easy after that. It was not. After finally moving, I would spend hours laying on the bench of my dining room table crying while my daughter was at school. I had to force myself to be kind to my husband and to make him his morning coffee. I had to force myself to put my best foot forward for my little girl. I had to force myself to sit down and read the Bible and pray. But looking back now, God rewarded my obedience and he gave me a sign of hope the day after I made the decision to move to PA. I found out I was pregnant.

One of the stresses that had led us to such a broken place was the fact that we had been trying for a few years to have a second child, but to no avail. I had given up hope.  But as I made that first step towards reconciliation and things were still very rocky between my husband and I, seeing that cross on the pregnancy test gave us both something to smile about. I always say, I should have named that child Grace. In that gesture, I felt God saying, “Yes, you sinned and walked away from me, but you have repented and now I am extending my grace towards you.”

Fast forward many years later, I found out the reason behind my husband’s apparent bad moods that had been one of the reasons I had started to pull away from him. During that time period, he had been going through a very difficult time at work. My husband has never liked to talk about his problems nor open up. While he was trying his best not to bring work issues home, his frustrations at work and the effect it was having on him emotionally was causing him to be quieter than usual and it was manifesting itself in grumpiness. I felt like he was rejecting me, but from his point of view, having me there, even though he didn’t feel like doing anything, was comforting. When I started to not want to visit him, it would cause him to fall into an even greater depression that I would interpret as disdain for me. It was a horrible cycle.

By my obedience and moving home, he began to feel comfort from it and he was able to face work head on. And his mood changed for the better. I also changed. All those feelings that had disappeared starting coming back and my love and respect for my husband has grown exponentially. Eventually he also accepted Christ as his Lord and Savior. God pulled us through but it took an act of obedience on my part and my willingness to take the first step.

It was a very difficult time in both of our lives, but good came out of it. We both have learned wisdom in the ways to best guard our marriage and we both have gotten closer to God. I also learned the importance of having good godly friends (and parents) who are willing to provide that gentle but honest correction when you need it most. Reaching out was instrumental. I reached out to my friend and my husband reached out to my parents. We will be forever thankful for their wisdom.

My final words to you is that if you find yourself going through a hard time, find a trustworthy and godly person to talk to and someone that can pray with you. God has given us each other to provide edification and support and to help remind us that no matter how dark it may seem, He is still there.

If you liked this article, please be so kind to share it! Thanks!