Monday, February 22, 2016

Why We Are Observing Lent (Even Though We Aren't Catholic)

    I grew up knowing precious little about Lent. I was raised Southern Baptist (and am still proudly SBC) and oftentimes Lent was more of a joke than anything. If you hadn't done a task for a long time we would sarcastically say we were fasting that for Lent. "I'm  fasting cleaning my bathroom for Lent...". Yes, we can be more than a little irreverent at times in my house.

    My mother has always fasted in various regards, and I fast too, since I firmly believe it is a spiritual discipline endorsed by the Lord Himself. However, I have never, for whatever reason, truly fasted for Lent. I think I really thought it was just for Catholics, and since I really didn't understand it, I never gave it much though. I  also realized that not everyone has the same definition of what "fasting" truly means. I discovered, though, that just because I may not follow the regimen prescribed by the Catholic priests of old doesn't mean that I must choose to ignore this season entirely.

    The more I learn about Lent the more I appreciate the underlying meaning. In case you were as ill-informed as I, Lent is the 40 days, not including Sundays, prior to Easter. Fat Tuesday is more than just Mardi Gras-it's the last hurrah before a six week period of "less". Ash Wednesday kicks everything off-the ashes symbolizing the repentance and death to self that is the theme of Lent. And during Lent, you "fast"-in this present age, that can be anything from food to technology.

    And I think that is what finally sold me on observing Lent. It doesn't have to be "don't eat meat, except fish on Fridays, and never any sugar". It really can be about recognizing the excess in our life. and our focus on self-sufficiency. It can really be about quietly making repentance a part of every day life-not just something you do once and check off your list. It can really be about acknowledging, and reflecting on, the magnificent sacrifice Christ made when He gave His life for us on the cross. Those are things I need *more* of day.

    So, we are observing Lent in our own way this year-with a focus on all the things above: repentance, forgiveness, Christ's sufficiency and sacrifice. I would probably say what we are doing is "abstaining", rather than fasting, if you want to be technical about it. We are giving up something that we do every day, for a week at a time. I have chosen something to do by myself each day, and we have chosen something to do as a family. We decide what we will do on Tuesday, implement in on Wednesday, and change what we do the next week. So far, our choices have been simple, and perhaps something that wouldn't even cause a blip on your radar. However, they are things that are causing *us* to be more introspective and aware, which is really the point.

   So far we have done relatively small things; turning off the television at 7pm each night, not drinking soda, but I think it is really making an impact on our kids. They are really responding-they have been very aware of the choices, but haven't argued or complained about these small "abstinences". Hilariously, Joel has probably struggled with them a little moreso! He was very excited about getting to watch TV in the evenings again after that week was over. For myself, I am choosing more personal things in addition to our family's choice, like avoiding Facebook or Pinterest for assigned times during the day.

   We are also doing a nightly reading from a fabulous (free!) devotional from The Gospel Coalition. It is *not* intended for children, but I have made it work for our 7 and 10 year-old with only a few minor tweaks in vocabulary and subject matter. I absolutely adore this quote from the article that precedes the link,
"[Lent is]..first and foremost about the gospel making its way deeper into our lives.”

    We have spent a lot of time talking about what repentance and sacrifice really mean. My kids understand that giving up soda (or tv, or whatever) isn't a sacrifice, but since it is something we do often (you can judge, but I'm just being honest) it has been a good reminder daily that there are much more important things we must give up to follow Christ. Both kids have been really great about remembering (and sometimes reminding Joel and me!) and they have both asked insightful questions about fasting, and the season of Lent, but most importantly, how repentance leads to change and rejoicing in our salvation.

    I just cannot personally see anything negative about spending more time focused on Christ, more time avoiding self, more time reflecting on the truly awesome events of Easter, more time in gratitude for my salvation. I cannot help but feel that on some level, no matter how minimal, that doing this as a family will draw us closer together, because if nothing else, misery loves company, right? But seriously, I am loving seeing my kids gain a deeper understanding of what personal application of Scripture can look like in their lives.

  I would love to see Lent (or a similar observance) become more widespread in Protestant denominations. The corporate aspect is just absolutely so compelling to me-I loved this article about "Why Every Church Should Observe Lent". I feel that in this age of, "you do you" we miss that strengthening and unifying effect of "sacrificing" together. Rituals do have their place, and no matter how "modern" you believe yourself to be, they still help to cement memories and recollections. An empty ritual is worthless, that is why it is up to us individually to imbue it with meaning. That is my hope, that this, our first family venture in the the unknowns of Lent, that we will saturate this time with real understanding of Christ and His sacrifice in such a way, that long after it is over, we will still remember.

   Are you looking for more information? I found some good resources:
On Lent:
Six Reading Plans for Lent- Lifeway Women (includes another link to the devotional from TGC)
"Why Bother With Lent?" by Charles Colson
"Why Every Church Should Observe Lent" by Josh Martin (if you didn't read it already)

and for Easter:
"Maundy Thursday" by Beth Moore
"This Transforms How I See Easter" by Jennifer Dougan (If you only read one make it this one!)
"The Day of Differences" by yours truly

You can also always follow my "Christianity: He Is Risen" Pinterest board if you want to see what else I come up with!

So, do you observe Lent? How else to does your family make Easter more than just one spring Sunday?

Monday, February 15, 2016

Chocolate Peanut Butter Mousse Cake

    I love to bake. I *don't* love to cook, and you shouldn't confuse the two. Baking, for me, mostly involves sweet things and of all sweet things I dearly love a showstopper. You know what I am talking about: the ones that make you close your eyes and pause a minute as soon as the fork leaves your mouth. The kind that are so decadent you wish you could eat them all day, but a few bites are about all the richness you can handle. Definitely the kind that do not involve the words "one bowl" or "quick". Not that I don't love a good, easy recipe, but sometimes the best things really do come to those who wait.

    And to those who use heavy whipping cream! This cake is a "Frankenstein" concoction of three different recipes, none of for which I can take any of the credit. I did tinker the tiniest bit with the ganache, but the other recipes were ideal in their original form. So much so, that I will just kindly direct you to their blogs, so you can give them all due credit for their respective genius.

   However, I do love a good recommendation, so I am happy to make one to you. Make this cake. I will take full responsibility (and accolades) for combining these wonderful recipes together into this masterpiece.

     Here is how I did it: I put my cake batter in two 9 inch rounds, and reduced the baking time accordingly, made the mousse, and while the mouse was chilling, I whipped up the ganache. I doubled the recipe (8 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips, 1 c. heavy whipping cream, and I added 1 tsp. of vanilla to the chocolate chips before pouring the cream over.) Set your ganache in the fridge to cool-you don't want it to melt your mousse. Spread a little less than half the mousse over your bottom layer. Do this in a hap-hazard, messy fashion to give it that homemade look. Then top with second layer and add the rest of the mousse to the top only of the cake. Use the same "devil-may-care" hand here. Do not be confused: this is *not* peanut butter frosting, and it won't behave the exact same way. Then, once your ganache is sufficiently set, pour it onto the center of the cake and try not to drool as it runs helter-skelter all down the sides and puddles on your cake plate. Pro tip: put this on a cake stand. It is definitely worthy of being on display!

  Then, because it is your birthday (oh, wait, is that just me?) pop in an adorable pom-pom garland cake topper and take exactly three pictures before attacking it with a knife. The photos above are actually from four days later. You may ask: if the cake is *that* delicious, how is it around four days later? Because it is so rich and decadent, the merest sliver is exceptionally satisfying (and also, we may or may not have celebrated Valentine's Day intervening which meant lots of other sweet treats). Keep it chilled after the initial serving so the mousse doesn't get all wonky. That's a professional term, just in case you were unaware. But whatever you do, please be sure that you have plenty of people to share this marvel with. That much heavy whipping cream deserves an audience! So without further ado, the links:

Double Chocolate Fudge Cake (the most delicious "dressed-up" boxed cake you will ever eat!) Bakerella

Peanut Butter Mousse: (chill your bowl and beaters for best results) Cafe Johnsonia

Chocolate Ganache: ( Put it on all the things.) Rose Bakes

So, how about you? Do you usually make your own birthday cakes? Or is that just me? Looking for other amazing dessert recipes? Follow my "Scrumdiddlyumptious" board on Pinterest!

Shared Here:
"Made By You Monday" at Skip To My Lou
"What'd You Do This Weekend?" at Recipes and Ramblin' with the Tumbleweed Contessa
"Weekend Recipe Link Up" at Sugar, Spice and Family Life

Sunday, February 7, 2016

In Defense of Valentine's Day

          If ever a holiday needed a champion, it's Valentine's Day. I'm not sure where the disdain for this poor holiday originated, perhaps with a disgruntled spouse or a bitter single person, but whatever the case, I feel compelled to rise to the defense of one of my personal favorite holidays (besides my birthday, that is).

                I have discussed with quite a few people their reasons for hating on a holiday that really has done them no wrong. My husband long ago told me that he thinks it is ridiculous that there is yet another day when men must buy women gifts and flowers and the women do not have to return the favor. (The other days, in case you are wondering, are their birthdays and wedding anniversaries.) Friends have echoed the internet and said, "It's a Hallmark holiday, invented to force you to buy expensive cards and overpriced knick knacks." And we've all seen the shows on television where the single friends band together to boycott the date because it is supposedly all about romance and couples.

      However, for me, it is one of the best holidays there is. And, no, it isn't just because of the chocolate (although I *do* adore a box of Russell Stover's, dark only, please!). My birthday is a few days before, and maybe that casts a warm glow on it, but I think it started in grade school. I loved getting a box full of tiny paper squares, all with my name on them. The cheesy puns and cheap suckers with their faded white proclamations of love and friendship somehow seemed like they were just for me. I loved reading every single silly conversation heart (But I promise, they never crossed my lips if I could prohibit it-gross!). Even once we started homeschooling, my siblings and I would exchange little cards and trinkets.

    Personally, V-Day has never been about silky underthings and expensive jewelry. I've done candles and scattered rose petals and homemade dinners. But that is because I *love* my husband and want to show him how special he is to me. I would rather he give me a necklace from Forever 21 than Kay's, though. Because this isn't an opportunity to milk my spouse for jewerly store baubles and overpriced flowers, it is about love. And that isn't just about romance.

      That's why we more often share a heart shaped pizza with our kids than a reservation for two at a nice restaurant. It's why I spend hours writing handwritten notes to my friends, and in past years have made literally hundreds of Valentines, in all shapes and sizes for anyone and everyone from Sunday School teachers to the women in my Bible study. We give Valentines to ice skating instructors, and the neighbors, to our cousins and to our grandparents. It isn't just a day for lovers, it is a day for love.

     And maybe it isn't like that for you, but you get to turn that around. Buy flowers for someone, instead of waiting for some for yourself. Gift the chocolates you hope to receive. I handmade almost 200 chocolates for a Valentine's dinner at our church this year that included young and old, single and coupled. No one felt left out, and that is great. Because none of us deserve love, but it is something everyone needs.

    Don't get me wrong, I have no problem with fancy meals, and dressing up, flowers and sappy cards are fine, too. You can even request diamond necklaces or rings, if that's your thing. But maybe the problem isn't Valentine's Day, it's you. Everyone could use more opportunities to say, "I love you"- to everyone who is special in their lives. And not only that, but there are plenty more people who need to hear it, because they don't think anyone thinks they are special.

   Maybe you do that every day of the year-then why stop on Valentine's Day? Maybe you never do it-then February 14th is a good time to start.

"Beloved, let us love one another. For love is of God, and anyone that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not, knoweth not God, for GOD IS LOVE." 1 John 4:7-8 KJV

     If nothing else, use that day as a jumping off point to share the good news of Jesus Christ. Single people feeling unloved? You need Jesus. Couples who aren't getting along and romance is the furthest thing from your mind? You need Jesus. Kids who don't really understand why you can't stand in the stationary section and read all the inappropriate cards? You need  Jesus, too.

    Don't let the card and candy people dictate your behavior. Write your own cards-people like that better anyway. Skip the red-foiled chocolates and sugar hearts. Buy a bag of pretzels for all anyone cares. But for pity's sake-don't let "them" steal a chance to tell those that matter what they really mean to you. You get to make Valentine's Day whatever you want it to be, and I say, if a holiday is about love then isn't it really something we as believers should be using to our advantage? I mean, Jesus is love. Celebrate with your kids, and your neighbors, and the people at your church. Find someone who really needs a pick-me-up and give *them* the sweets and flowers. But don't let the world steal your joy. Take back this holiday and really make it about true love. For the love!


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