Great Tool for Managing Screen Time!

In today’s age, one of our added parenting duties is managing our kids use of technology. I have become more computer savvy than I wanted to just so that I could keep up with my 11-year-old and 5-year-old. In a perfect world, I would control everything that they are doing on their tablets and iPads or not let them use it all. Controlling their use 100% for me is somewhat impractical. I’ll get distracted by dinner, or my other kid screaming, or my husband wanting to chat about something. Before I know it, what was suppose to be 30 minutes of screen time turned into an hour. And because I see a lot of educational value in these devices, not letting them use it all is not an option for our family. But all is not lost. To manage it, I have learned to use the various parental control tools on their devices. One of my favorite tools is Amazon’s FreeTime Unlimited.  

Amazon’s FreeTime Unlimited is available on Amazon’s Kindle Fire products if you subscribe. (And if you are undecided between the Kindle Fire and other tablets, this is a feature you may want to consider before making a decision). It is a few bucks a month (the individual plan is less than what you would pay for most drinks at Starbucks), but in my opinion, totally worth it. The best aspect of FreeTime Unlimited goes beyond the countless amount of pre-filtered content based on gender and age available for your kids to read (or play) every month. Some of the content has an audio option that allows kids to listen while they read along. This is great for non-readers or those that are just starting to read like my five-year-old. But as I mentioned, what I like the most isn’t even content based. I love the parental controls that allow me to limit their Kindle time and content without having to be over their shoulders all the time. It takes a little bit of time to set up, but once you do, it works great.

Parental controls on FreeTime Unlimited allows you to set up profiles by age range. That means that my five-year-old isn’t going to be getting material meant for my 11-year-old and vice verse. All reading content, apps, and videos are age-appropriate. If you are picky like me, you can easily delete any specific content you don’t want your kids reading through the parental controls. I am not a big fan of witches nor halloween type material so those items get quickly taken out before I hand my kids their Kindle.

The other great feature, is that you can set time limits for apps and block all entertainment content until they meet their educational requirements. You set the amount of time they can use the Kindle Fire for each of the activities: reading, watching videos, using their parent approved website, or playing apps. For example, after their 30 minute time limit is up for apps, the Kindle automatically turns off their ability to access any apps. If you are worried that they will pull out the Kindle when they should be asleep, no worries. You set up bed times and wake times for it as well. There are also set up different limits and times for weekdays and weekends. My kids’ Kindle Fire is set up so they have a little more time on the apps on weekends and they can stay up a little bit later.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I do earn a small commission if you sign up for Amazon’s FreeTime Unlimited through any links on this blog. However, if you know me well enough, you know I wouldn’t promote something I didn’t believe was useful nor fruitful. If you are thinking of getting your kids a Kindle Fire, I highly suggest you sign-up for the free trial of FreeTime Unlmited and check it out yourself. And please, if you have any other questions about this product, don’t hesitate to ask it in the comments. I will do my best to answer them. I really do love what Amazon has done with FreeTime Unlimited. If anyone knows of a similar service for Apple devices, please share!

Amazon FreeTime Unlimited Free Trial

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Mis Fracasos Como Madre del 2017

Para mi, el año 2017 siempre será un año que me provocara buenos y malos sentimientos. Fue un año con momentos muy felices, pero también, como madre pase unos momentos muy pésimos. Yo estaba fallando como madre, y eso no es fácil de admitir. Lo peor de todo, es que ni me había dado cuenta de lo que estaba haciendo, pero afortunadamente, Dios con su gracia me enseñó mis errores antes que le hiciera mas daño a mi hija.

Al principio del año, mi esposo y yo habíamos compartido con nuestro grupo de la iglesia quel comportamiento de nuestra hija estaba deteriorandose. Ella actuaba como si tenía derecho a cada uno de sus caprichos y le faltaba compasión hacia su papá, su hermana, y hacia mi. Mas preocupante, ella había hecho varia cosas detrás de nuestras espaldas, incluyendo pegarle a una amiguita de ella. Cuando la tratábamos de corregir, su actitud era desafiante y se estaba ella alejándose más y más de mi.

Era difícil aceptar que mi hija inteligente, feliz, y curiosa se estaba volviendo en una persona que no reflejaba el corazón de Cristo (y alguien que realmente no me caía bien). Mi esposo y yo podríamos haberla ignorado y convencernos que esto era una fase normal para una niña entrando a la adolescencia, pero eso hubiera sido un error muy grande. Sabíamos que teníamos que hacer cambios y por eso planeamos un viaje de misión a Laredo, TX durante su descanso del verano. Nuestra esperanza era que viendo la pobreza que se encuentra en esta parte del  mundo, my hija se daría cuenta de lo bendecida que era y eso la ayudaría a cambiar su forma de ver las cosas.

Yo siento que el viaje sí ayudó bastante y mis dos hijas aprendieron muchísimo, pero también ayudó en una forma muy inesperada porque este viaje me ayudó a mi. Durante uno de los servicios de la iglesia, my hija que en esas fechas tenía 10 años, estaba sentada detrás de mi, con su brazos cruzados, sin deseo de participar en el servicio. Esta es una iglesia pequeña y si actitud era notable por todos. Estaba yo furiosa porque me estaba poniendo a mi en vergüenza y a mi papá, que es el pastor. La mire fijamente, y después en el oído le dije palabras que ni me recuerdo, pero se que eran palabras de amenaza y condenación. Ella me miro de regreso con odio y sin arrepentimiento. Sentí un vacío en mi corazón y en ese momento el Señor me hizo sentir que yo estaba mal. En ese momento, durante ese servicio, yo estaba mas preocupada de lo que diría la demás gente de en ves del lo que estaba sufriendo mi hija en su corazón.

Durante las próximas semanas, yo oí una predica que ayudo a confirmar lo que el Señor me había eseñando durante ese servicio. También, tuve la oportunidad de pasar tiempo con un niño admirable y con su mama y aprendí mucho de ellos. Esas experiencias me enseñaron que yo estaba criando a mi hija de un lugar de condenación. La estaba yo haciendo sentirse como si ella nunca podia hacer nada bien, y que nunca podría ser la persona que yo quería. Su reacción natural era sentirse sola y que no la quería, y esos sentimientos la llevaron a un lugar de rebeldía y alejamiento. Entonces yo hice la decision que tenía que parar de gritarle, de mirarla mal, de decirle palabras que le dolerían sin poco fruto. Al contrario, tendría que buscar formas de restaurar su corazón. Yo tendría que trabajar en mi y trabajar en la forma que yo relacionaba con mi hija. Hiba que tener que aplicar el versículo de Colosenses 3:21

“Padres, no exaspereis a vuestros hijos, para que no se desalienten.”

Eso no quiere decir que cambie mis reglas ni que quité las consecuencias de mal comportamiento. Todavía tengo ciertas expectativas y ella todavía tiene sus quehaceres que tiene que cumplir. La diferencia es que cuando ella se porta mal, yo he cambiado la forma en que doy el castigo. Trato de asumir menos y le hago mas preguntas de las razones porque ella se comporto así. Y si determino que tengo que darle un castigo, trato lo mejor posible de hablarle calmadamente, con respeto y explicarle porque el castigo es necesario. Estoy tratando de evitar decirle cosas como, “No puedo creer que hiciste esos,” o “Estoy decepcionada contigo.” En ves trato de decir cosas como, “Cometiste un error. Eso le pasa a todos. Todos haceos errores, porque si no, Cristo nunca hubiera tenido que venir a salvarlos.”

También he cambiado mi forma de pensar. De en ves de esperar perfección de mi hija, yo entiendo que va cometer errores. My hija es una niña y yo sería una hipócrita si esperara yo mas de ella de lo que Dios espera de mi. No me debo de sorprender si mi hija a veces escoge mal. Al contrario, debo de usar y ver esos momentos como oportunidades de enseñarle y instruirla. Cambiando mi forma de pensar me ha ayudado reaccionar mejor cuando mi hija se porta mal. Hay menos posibilidades que la condene y mas posibilidades que yo le enseñe cuanto la amo.

Esta nueva forma de criar a mi hija no es natural para mi. Yo soy la clase de persona que es fácilmente irritada, temperamental, y los que me conocen bien saben que yo puedo ser una persona difícil. Yo tengo que pelear contra estas actitudes mías y ser una persona mas calmada. Lo que me motiva hacerlo es saber que solo tengo siete años mas con mi hija antes que se vaya a la universidad. Este es el chance que Dios me ha dad para instruir a mi hija y prepararla para la vida de adultos. Si estoy dispuesta a pelear contra cual quier persona que le haría daño a mi hija, entonces también tengo que estar dispuesta de pelear contra mis malas características que le estén haciendo daño a ella.

Ahora que estoy tratando de entender su corazón de en ves de solo buscar el buen comportamiento, me he dado cuenta que yo estaba siega a sus necesidades emocionales.  Una de ellas, es que yo la estaba ignorando sin querer hacerlo. Ella es una niña sumamente inteligente e independiente, y por eso yo creía que no me necesitaba y que ella quería estar sola. Yo no la buscaba porque ella no me buscaba a mi. Yo asumia que no me necesitaba tanto como su hermanita de cinco años. Pero en la mente de mi hija mayor, ella interpretaba mis acciones como si yo no lo quería tanto como quería a su hermana. Me duele mucho escribir estas palabras sabiendo que yo era responsable por haberla hecho sentirse así, pero no es posible cambiar al menos que uno este dispuesto a reconocer sus propios errores. Ahora, la busco y trato de servirla en formas que la hayan a ella sentirle especial sin quitarle su independencia.

Ya han pasado cinco meses y el cambio que he notado en mi hija es increíble. Ella es mas cariñosa, mas obediente, y es mas fácil para ella comportarse bien. Cuando la interrumpo mientras esta haciendo algo que le guste, ahora yo oigo las palabras, “Sí mami” de en ves de que me conteste mal. Aunque todavía hay momentos que ella demuestra mal comportamiento, es mas infrecuente. Lo que me agrada mas, es que ahora miro que tiene mas compasión por su hermanita y el resto de la familia. Ella todavía es una niña y todavía pelea con su hermana de ves en cuando y todavía hace cosas que no están bien, pero eso ahora es abnormal de en ves de ser normal. Estoy viendo un cambio en su corazón y eso me llena a mi de gozo.

El 2017 siempre sera el año que Dios me empujo a cambiar la forma de crear a mi hija. Fue el año que aprendí que para ayudar a mi hija a ser alguien que refleje el corazón de Cristo, primero tenía yo que pedirle al Señor que me ayudara a mí a cambiar. Si queremos ser buenos padres, también tenemos que estar dispuestos a dejar que Dios nos guíe, corrija, y nos transforme. Somos criaturas imperfectas creando a criaturas imperfectas, pero si dejamos que el Espirito no enseñe, lo podremos hacer de una forma que le agrade a Dios. Bendiciones.

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My Parenting Failures of 2017

2017 will always be bittersweet. It was one of my lowest moments as a parent, but also one of tremendous joy. I was failing as a parent and that is not easy to admit. The worst part about it, is that I did not even know I was doing it, but thankfully God was gracious enough to point out my mistakes before I hurt my child even further.

At the beginning of the year, my husband and I had shared with our church small group that we had noticed some behavioral issues with our eleven-year-old. She was displaying an “entitlement” attitude, worrying only about herself with almost no compassion towards her little sister, her father, nor myself. More ominously, she had purposefully done a few things behind our backs and then tried to lie about it, like physically hitting a good friend of hers. She was also increasingly defiant whenever we would correct her and our mother-daughter relationship was hanging on by a thread.

It was a hard thing to accept that my smart, curious, happy kid was turning into this person that did not reflect the heart of Jesus (and that frankly, I was not liking very much).  We could have dismissed it as part of the growing process and blamed it on the “tween” years, but that would have been a big mistake. We knew we had to make some changes and so we planned for the girls and I to spend part of our summer in Laredo, TX doing mission work. Our hope was that seeing poverty first hand would help my daughter realize that she had everything and help change how she viewed her world.

I believe the trip helped and it certainly opened the eyes of both my daughters in a lot of ways. But it also helped in an unexpected way. It helped me. During one of the  church services, my then ten-year-old daughter was sitting a row back from me, with her arms crossed, refusing to participate in the service. This is small church so her bad attitude was easy for everyone to see. I was furious because it was reflecting badly on me and it was reflecting badly on my dad, the pastor. I gave her a glare and whispered condemning words in her ear and she glared back at me, unmoved. My heart was pricked. God convicted me right there and then. At that moment I was worried little about my daughter’s heart. Rather, I was worried about what the congregation would say and how she was embarrassing me.

In the following weeks, I heard a sermon that further cemented what God had begun to speak to my heart that Sunday morning. I also got the opportunity to spend time with a remarkable little boy and his mom and I learned a lot from their interaction. Those experiences showed me that I had been parenting from a place of condemnation. I was making my daughter feel like she could never do anything right, that she would never be good enough. Her natural reaction was to feel lonely, feel unloved, and to rebel and pull away. So I made the decision that I needed to stop the yelling, stop the glaring, stop the hurtful words, and seek to help restore her little heart. I needed to do some serious work on me and how I interacted with my daughter. I needed to apply Colossians 3:21.

“Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.”

That doesn’t mean I relaxed my “rules” nor that I did away with consequences. I still have certain expectations of behavior. She still has chores. But how I lay out consequences has changed. I try to assume a lot less and I ask a lot more questions to find out where the behavior or reaction is coming from. And if I determine that she has met a consequence threshold, I try my absolute best to speak to her respectfully and to explain why the consequences are necessary. I am trying to avoid phrases like, “I am disappointed in you” or “I can’t believe you did that.” I say things more like, “You made a mistake. It happens. We are all flawed and make mistakes, otherwise Jesus would have never come.”

I also changed my way of thinking. Instead of expecting perfection, I expect mistakes to be made. My child is a child and I would be a hypocrite to expect otherwise. I shouldn’t be surprised by questionable choices, but I am trying to use them as an chance to guide and instruct her instead. Changing that frame of mind, has helped me improve how I react when my daughter does fall short. I am less likely to give that condemning glare and more likely to show her how much I love her.

This new way of parenting is very unnatural for me. I am easily irritated, I am moody, and I have been told that I can give a look that kills. For those that know me well, they know I can be a difficult person (I can hear my mom and husband chuckling now). I have to fight these natural reactions and be more calm. But what drives me is that I only have 7 years left with this little girl. This is the chance God has given me to raise His child and prepare her for adulthood. If I am willing to fight against anyone that tries to hurt my daughter physically, then I must be willing to fight against the character flaws in myself that are hurting my daughter.

And because I am seeking her heart, instead of just looking to get good behavior out of her, I am noticing her emotional needs more. I realized because she is so smart, and so independent, that I was not spending as much time with her as I used to. I wasn’t doing it on purpose. I just assumed she needed me less or didn’t want me to be around because she didn’t seek me out the way her sister does. But in her mind, that was not what was happening at all. She was interpreting my behavior as me not loving her as much as I love her little sister. It breaks my heart to write those words, to know that I did that, but I can’t move forward unless I am honest with what I did. Now, I seek her out even if she is not looking for me and I try to serve her in little random ways that will make her feel special again.

It has been almost five months and the change in my daughter has been remarkable. She is more cuddly, more obedient, more likely to do the right thing when she thinks I am not looking, and just more pleasant. When I interrupt what she is doing and ask her to do something, I am now more likely to get an “Okay, mommy” instead of her stomping away. And although she still has angry outbursts now and then, they are more infrequent and I see a much greater, genuine concern for my husband and me and for her sister. She is still a child, of course. She still fights with her sister now and again. She still makes some questionable decisions, but they are more infrequent. I am seeing a heart change and I am full of joy.

2017 will always be the year that God nudged me, actually more like pushed me to change my parenting style. It was the year I learned that in order to help my daughter, I needed to seek His guidance to provoke change in me first. As we aim to raise our children, we also have to be willing to let God guide, correct, and transform us. We are imperfect beings raising imperfect beings, but if we let the spirit guide us, it can make all the difference. Can’t wait to see what 2018 will bring.

Proverbs 4:23 Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it [are] the issues of life.

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Raising a Christian Apologist

My eleven-year-old daughter asked me yesterday, “Is it okay if I learn about other religions?” The question was part of a conversation about how other religions object to Christianity. I had an answer to her question, because my husband and I have thought through this before.

God has given us the mandate to raise up our children according to His word. We are to instruct them in the ways of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ so that they will not depart from them. But their minds are so vulnerable and as parents we have to make decisions on how much to expose to them to and at what age?

Fear sometimes grips us and we want to keep them wrapped in a bubble. When my daughter was a toddler I would desperately begin to run to her whenever she fell and my husband would bear hug me, holding me back and whisper, “It is okay. She is okay.” My little rambunctious, curious child became one of the toughest kids I knew. One time she ran full force straight into a glass table, hitting her forehead head on and falling flat on her back. To the surprise of us all, she stared at the ceiling for a few seconds and then got back up and started running again.

But now we worry about things other than scraped knees or bruised foreheads. We worry about how the world may draw her away from God. I often hear of Christian children, raised in the faith, who later walked away. I have made mental notes of all these stories and one common denominator seems to be that they faced questions to their faith that they could not answer. There are probably many other reasons why they walked away and the parents may have done everything right, but this one reason has always stuck out to me. And honestly, my husband and I don’t want that for our kids. We don’t want our kids to walk away from their faith because they wrestled with questions in adulthood that they could not come to terms with.

We have 18 years with our children before they go off into the world. We have 18 years to help them build a strong faith and that means being able to answer all the hard questions. So when my daughter asked me if she could study about other religions, I said “Absolutely.” If Christianity is the true faith, than it should be able to stand against any other faith, belief, or idea and I believe it can. I don’t want my daughter’s first exposure to other religions to be when she is out of our home. I want her to be exposed while she is at home and we can talk and discuss and wrestle with all those hard questions. I want to raise a little apologist who can confidently answer any objections to Christianity that any one may throw at her.

But I want her to be a lot more than just a good debater. I also want her to see people of different faiths for who they are. They are just people. I want her to be exposed to other cultures and not see people that are different than herself as “the enemy” or to be fearful of them. I want her to know and understand how they came to believe what they believe and I want her to love them whether they agree with her or not. I want her to feel comfortable in their midst all while being fully grounded as a follower of Jesus always responding to their objections with love, grace, and respect.

Parenting is not easy and my husband and I are constantly evaluating, and re-evaluting our parenting strategy. This is where our heart is right now and I do have to say that I am enjoying the conversations I am having with my eleven-yearold. She is curious and insightful and keeps me on my toes. And I just pray that in whatever areas my husband and I may fail, that God will fill in the gaps.

 

Easy Coconut Flan Recipe

If you don’t know what flan is, you are missing out. It is a dessert that originated in Spain, but it is pretty popular throughout Latin America. The base ingredients are eggs, but you add to that milk, cream, and vanilla and you get a delicious custard.

I also find that it is an elegant dessert and you can easily make individual portions for entertaining.  You will just need to decrease the baking time. The caramelized sugar over the custard looks downright cool. Garnish with fresh fruit or leave it as is. Dress it up or dress it down as you wish.

The recipes to make flan will vary from person to person. You will find that there are different ways of making it using different methods and different ingredients. This recipe, is our family favorite. Some people like to add cream cheese and others like myself, omit the cream cheese. It is all based on preference, but as long as it comes out the way you like it, it does not matter if you used a blender or a mixer or if you used cream cheese or not or if you use the whole egg, or just the egg yolks. Experiment, and find your own family favorite flan recipe!!!

 

Coconut Flan
Print Recipe
If you have never had flan before it is similar to creme brûlée, but different of course. It is a popular dessert in Mexico and other Latin American countries
Servings Prep Time
10 people 10 minutes
Cook Time
60 minutes
Servings Prep Time
10 people 10 minutes
Cook Time
60 minutes
Coconut Flan
Print Recipe
If you have never had flan before it is similar to creme brûlée, but different of course. It is a popular dessert in Mexico and other Latin American countries
Servings Prep Time
10 people 10 minutes
Cook Time
60 minutes
Servings Prep Time
10 people 10 minutes
Cook Time
60 minutes
Ingredients
Supplies
Servings: people
Instructions
  1. 1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. 2. Combine all the ingredients except for the sugar in a blender and blend for a minute or so. Set aside.
  3. 3. In a small sauce pan, slowly heat up the cane sugar until you get a caramel consistency. Be careful not to burn the sugar or it will give your flan a bitter aftertaste (some people like that, so it is up to you if you want to burn the sugar a bit). While it is still piping hot, pour the melted sugar into the 8x8 pan making sure to cover the bottom. Now pour the rest of the blended ingredients into the pan.
  4. 4. Boil water and pour it into the pan you had picked for the water bath. Slowly, without burning yourself, place the 8x8 pan with the flan mixture into the hot water bath. Now put both pans into the oven. The water should reach about half way up the flan pan.
  5. 5. Bake for approximately 60 minutes. The flan is done when when a toothpick comes out clean.
  6. 6. Let it cool and then chill for a few hours. When you are ready to serve it, flip the pan to transfer the flan to a serving platter.
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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).

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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.