Rise and Shine

“But I will sing of your strength, in the morning I will sing of your love; for you are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble.” Psalm 59:16

As far back as I can remember, I have always been a morning person.  Early morning sunshine streaming through my windows invigorates me.  The birds’ chirping inspires me to sing tunes like “Good Morning” by Mandisa!  (I challenge you to find the song and listen to it: it will make you either gleefully dance in your kitchen, or, for you non-morning people, hurl in disgust.)  I wake up cheerful, ready to face the world, and engage in enlightening conversations, much to the dismay of some of my family and friends.  I am truly at my best in the morning!

Along with being a morning person, I have always loved breakfast.  I have fond childhood memories of being the first one up, opening the box of Corn Pops and eating my cereal while watching CNN News.  (My nerdy news love as a teenager is a blog for another day.)  When I was in college, I rarely missed the cafeteria breakfast, devouring the cheesy egg casseroles.  Pancakes smothered in syrup or toasted bagels with puddles of butter were some of my favorites as an adult, along with salty bacon and the occasional indulgence in southern biscuits and gravy.

When I started my journey to being healthier, I assessed my first meal of the day.  My “go to” breakfast meal was laden with empty calories, saturated fat, and unnecessary carbohydrates.  Yes, it tasted great and filled me up, but it provided little or no nutritional value to help me through my day.  So, I decided to make some changes.  In the last two years, I have developed different habits, introducing healthy fats, whole grains, vegetables, and fruit regularly into my breakfast routine.

I want to share with you five of my favorite regular breakfast meals.  Most of them are quick to make with little prep.  Along with the picture of the breakfast dish, I will share the recipe and some tips/tricks I have learned.

  1. Smoothie Bowl
Photo credit to Margaret Collins

This has become one our family favorites, not just for breakfast.  I am always smoothie ready, keeping all the ingredients on hand in my pantry*.  A typical smoothie bowl consists of 1 cup frozen fruit, half of a banana, 1-2 T. orange juice or almond milk, and 1/3 to 1/2 c. Greek yogurt.  I mix all of this in a blender and pour it into a bowl.  It should be thicker than a drinkable smoothie, so you might have to add more frozen fruit to get it to the right consistency. Next, my inner Michelangelo comes out, topping the smoothie with slices of the banana, fresh fruit, and granola in patterns.  Some members of my family swirl almond butter into the smoothie as well.   

*Feel free to play with the ingredients, adding Chia seeds, spinach, or Swiss Chard to your smoothie.    

  • Egg, Avocado, and Bacon English Muffin Sandwich
Photo credit to Margaret Collins

Some people can eat sandwiches neatly, dabbing their napkin at the corners of their mouth.  I am not one of those people, usually my sandwich falls apart, with a pile of used napkins at my side.  This scrumptious sandwich is no exception.  I start by preheating my oven to 375°F, and then cover a small pan with foil.  I then cut a piece of thick sliced bacon in half and place it on the pan and into the oven for 7-8 minutes.  Cooking the bacon in the oven saves you time and clean-up.  My sister, Cheryl, taught me the trick of cutting your bacon in half.  It will cover your sandwich and it tricks your mind into thinking you have had 2 pieces of bacon.  I then thinly slice a tomatoes and sauté’ 2 slices of it in a hot pan for about 15 seconds on each side.  Sprinkle the tomato with fresh or dried thyme.  Next, I thaw a few pieces of avocado (I’ll share my tip for that at the end) in the microwave and put my English muffin in the toaster.  I fry one egg to medium-hard, in grapeseed oil or olive oil, seasoning it with salt and pepper.  After the egg is fried, I assemble my sandwich, starting with mashed avocado on the bottom of my English muffin, adding the tomato and bacon on top.  I then add the egg and top it with half a slice of cheddar cheese (I find the half piece of cheese satisfies my Wisconsin-bred taste buds, while cutting down the calories significantly).

*Tip on Avocado:  How many of you have wasted avocado because it browns so fast?  My amazing daughter discovered that tray freezing avocado chunks or slices works well, with minimal discoloration.  Now, I always have avocado on hand, popping it out of the freezer for salads, sandwiches, or guacamole!

  • Overnight Oats
Photo Credit to Margaret Collins

This has become one of my favorites and provided me an excuse to buy a pretty glass.  You mix 1/2 c. old fashioned oats with 1 T. Chia seeds (Google the benefits of Chia seeds, it will blow your mind).  You then add 1/2 c. almond or coconut milk (or any favorite milk) and 1/2 c. Greek yogurt.  Finally, you stir in 1 T. of your favorite sweetener (honey, maple syrup or jam).  You stir all the ingredients together, cover and leave in the refrigerator till the next morning.  In the morning, top it with sliced banana and other fresh fruit, and breakfast is ready.  You won’t believe how satisfying this dish is, full of protein and fiber.  It’s my “go to” Sunday morning breakfast, since it is not socially acceptable to eat a snack in church!

  •  Scrambled Eggs with Veggies and Goat Cheese
Photo credit to Margaret Collins

I love adding color to my food in the morning. This dish is no different. I start by preheating my pan, add some olive oil, and quickly dice into it half a shallot and a few mini bell peppers.  While they are sautéing for a few minutes, I whisk two eggs together with a little milk, season it with salt and pepper, and pour into the skillet.  I then add a small handful of baby spinach to the pan with the eggs.  When the eggs are close to being done, I add a few sliced cherry tomatoes and about 1 oz. of crumbled goat cheese into the pan.  It’s done when the cheese is melted and incorporated into the eggs.  I typically serve with 1 slice of bacon and a piece of Dave’s Killer Bread toasted.  Occasionally, I top it with arugula, lightly dressed with lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, and salt.  I discovered the European habit of serving a light salad with breakfast was another way to increase my veggie intake.

  •  Double Chocolate Banana Muffins
Photo credit to Margaret Collins

I tend to prefer savory breakfast foods over sweet, but every so often, I want to indulge in something decadent but still a bit healthy.  This muffin recipe is perfect!  I found it in a great devotional/cookbook by one of my favorite authors, Asheritah CiuCiu.  A few months ago, she did a month-long online devotional based on this book** and I was able to interact with her when she demonstrated one of her recipes.  She is the real deal and uses ingredients from Aldi, a discount grocery store.  The following recipe is directly from her cookbook.  

2/3 c. all-purpose flour                                          2/3 c. whole wheat pastry flour*

1/2 c. cocoa powder                                               1 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. kosher salt                                                 1 tsp. instant coffee, optional

3 ripe bananas, mashed                                1/4 c. maple syrup

1 tsp. vanilla extract                                               1/3 c. Greek yogurt

1/3 c. coconut oil, melted                                     1 large egg, beaten

1/3 c. mini chocolate chips, plus more for topping.

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F.  Line a 12-cup muffin tin with baking cups.
  2. In a large bowl, stir the dry ingredients together, except chocolate.  Use a spatula to gently push the dry ingredients against the sides of the bowl to make a well.
  3. In a small bowl, mix together wet ingredients just until combined.  Pour wet ingredients into the well and mix carefully, running the spatula around the edge of the bowl and pulling dry ingredients over and into the wet ingredients until barely combined.  Some lumps are okay.  (This method of mixing ensures your muffins turn out tender.)  Gently fold in chocolate chips.
  4. Divide batter equally among muffin cups, topping each with a few extra chocolate chips.
  5. Bake for 15-17 minutes or until toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Cool on a wire rack.  To freeze, wrap cooled muffins in plastic wrap.  Store in freezer in airtight container up to 3 months.

*With COVID-19 affecting grocery supplies, I was not able to find whole wheat pastry flour, so I substituted King Arthur Whole Wheat flour.  The first time I made the muffins, it was a little dry, probably due to the difference in flour.  The second time, I added a dollop more of the Greek yogurt, and it turned out perfect!

**I am linking her website to this page so you can check out her cookbook.  It not only has great recipes but will help you dig deeper into the Word of God. https://onethingalone.com/bibleandbreakfast/

What you eat for breakfast can often set the tone for the rest of your day.  I know that when I start off strong and healthy, I feel more inspired to continue in that direction for the rest of the day.  I think this applies to our spiritual lives as well.  David penned these words in Psalms 59:16, “But I will sing of your strength, in the morning I will sing of your love; for you are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble.”  I challenge you to try one of these recipes and while making your breakfast, spend some time listening to worship music and meditating on the love of God.  I am sure, even for some of you non-morning people, your day will start off better!

All About Him

“Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children;” Ephesians 5:1

We all have known that one annoying person who hijacks the conversation by inserting him or herself in the center.  They haven’t progressed beyond the toddler stage, thinking the world revolves around them.  For example, if someone is talking about their recent European vacation, “that person” jumps in by telling about the vacation they took to not-so-glamorous Gary, Indiana.  Or if one person shares with the group a devastating cancer diagnosis they just received, “that person” jumps in about their latest splinter.  I think you get the picture.  Often, “that person” is not as rude and self-involved as they come off because this need to be the center of the conversation probably stems from insecurity and lack of confidence.  But they are still challenging to be around.

Recently, as I have been reading some books and listening to various podcasts, I discovered a transformative idea that has changed how I view the Bible.  The metanarrative, a fancy word for the overarching theme of the whole Bible, or the big picture, has nothing to do with me.  Instead, it has everything to do with the story of God in relation to creation, the fall, redemption, and restoration.  This revelation of the metanarrative made me realize that I am “that person”!  I have spent most of my Christian life reading the Bible from the perspective of trying to understand how it relates to me.  What principles do I need to learn, and how should I apply it to my life?   In every psalm, prophecy, and parable, I have searched for God’s message to me, desperately trying to become the ideal Christian.  All the while, God has been trying to get my attention, desiring me to know Him!

My daughter, Maggie, was the one who decided the timing and circumstances when she was going to reach a milestone in her life, including walking, reading, and riding a bike.  As parents, we couldn’t bribe, cajole, push or motivate her in any way to accomplish our desired outcome.  Some may call this a stubborn streak; I call it determination and grit.  Despite this trait, once Maggie made up her mind to accomplish something, nothing stopped her from achieving her goal.  For example, she loved riding her first bike, as long as her training wheels were still attached.  What Maggie failed to realize was that the training wheels were so worn and badly bent that they no longer touched the ground.  Terry knew that they were no longer needed, so, as any good father would do, he removed them.  She was livid with her doting daddy and told him that she was no longer going to ride her bike and walked away sulking!  Despite Terry’s encouragements and faith in her ability, she refused to try again.  But the next day, he came home to see his little blonde, pig-tailed daughter flying down the sidewalk on her bike!

Maggie’s determination and grit runs in her bloodline, as I share those same qualities, although I would label myself as stubborn!  I have served God for more than thirty years, and I know that ministers might have presented this concept of the metanarrative to me in sermons.  I am sure that many of my Bible scholar friends have discussed this principle with me before.  But, like Maggie, I was content with trying to balance my life on a broken concept, making it all about me when reading scripture.  You see, I was using God’s Word to fix me.  Jen Wilkin, in her book, “Women of the Word”, points out the flaw in this way of thinking by this quote: “We ask it (the Bible) to tell us about ourselves, and all the while it is telling us about “I AM”.  We think that if it would just tell us who we are and what we should do, that our insecurities, fears and doubts would vanish.  But our insecurities, fears and doubts can never be banished by the knowledge of who we are.  They can only be vanished by the knowledge of “I AM”.  We must read and study the Bible with our ears trained on hearing God’s declaration of himself.”

I remember when I first fell in love with Terry, I wanted to know everything about him: his favorite dessert, the places he wanted to travel and what goals he wanted to accomplish in ministry.  In learning these details, I also began to discover that he was a quiet, contemplative man who liked order and clear direction.  Learning about Terry’s need for order and clear direction shed light on how disorderly and chaotic I was.  By getting to know Terry, his nature shed light on my nature and the areas where I needed to find more balance.

When I first fell in love with God, I learned a lot of Biblical facts.  I understood doctrinal truths and the scope and history of Biblical stories.  I learned about His character, but because of my past, I had some distorted ways of thinking about God.  For example, I knew God was good, but I did not honestly believe that He would be good to me.  Instead, I thought I would have to earn my way by being a “good Christian”.  For years, I lived trying to earn God’s affection by staying in His good graces.  This revelation of the metanarrative has exposed me to God’s true nature.  He says that he is our Father, and as any good father, I don’t have to do anything to earn His love.  He loves me unconditionally, no matter what state I am in, including my sinful attitudes and actions.

At the time this blog was written, I was still waiting for news of the birth of my first grandchild.  Since the day I knew of his impending arrival, this little boy has had to do nothing to earn my love and devotion.  Just the fact of his existence has sparked an overwhelming flow of love from my heart.  I can’t wait to hold him and get to know him.  I know that, within a few short years, he will be occasionally disobedient like any child.  I am sure that as he grows, I will see flaws in his character, areas where he needs guidance from the Lord.  But none of his flaws or moments of disobedience will change my love for him.  Nor will they affect my desire to bless his life with goodness.

The Bible gives me a glimpse into the character of God in the words of Jesus when he says in Luke 11:11-12, “If a son shall ask bread of any of you, that is his father, will he give him a stone?  or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish, give him a serpent?  Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion?”  Jesus goes on to say that if we, who are sinful, want to give good gifts to our children, how much more shall God give us.  I am not talking about God showering us with possessions, like new iPads or Nespresso coffee machines.  I am talking about filling our lives with relationships, community, and creation itself to bless us.  God wants to bless us!  His desire to give sheds light on areas where I remain selfish and want to withhold.  It leads me to repentance and then, with a desire to be more like Him, I can sanctify my life.

Since the revelation of the metanarrative, I have read the Bible with a new perspective.  I look at every book, chapter and verse to see what it reveals about the nature of God.  Jen Wilkin makes this statement, “The heart cannot love what the mind does not know!”  I want to know God more, know what He likes and what He hates.  This knowledge will help me to love God more and grow in my faith.  I want to see His character in the anointed word that He has provided for us, to understand that His story is all about restoration.  With this knowledge, I can, as Paul says in Ephesians 5:1, “Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children.”  The word “follower”, translated from the Greek “mimetes”, is defined as an imitator.  My calling is not to see myself in the Bible, but to learn to imitate God, and this perspective changes everything!

Strawberry Anniversary

“Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:16

Pennsylvania summers delight me!  Warm sunshine floods the sky, colorful flowers bloom in pots on my patio, birds, bunnies, and squirrels scurry around my yard, and my personal favorite, an abundance of produce fills the farmer’s markets.  It starts at the end of May when peas, rhubarb, asparagus, and strawberries hit their peak.  Soon, blueberries, apricots, cherries, and zucchini appear in bins.  Then, raspberries, peaches, and nectarines, along with peppers, corn, melons, and tomatoes dominate the baskets at some of my favorite local stands.  Finally, squashes and apples make their debut towards the end of the summer.  This abundance of produce reminds me of how good God is, creating this colorful assortment of foods to thrill our taste buds with flavors, along with the bonus of nourishing our bodies with essential vitamins and minerals.

This year, I picked strawberries in a local patch.  After devouring a few of the perfect berries, the ones that are deep red right through to their centers, I had a moment of pure bliss!  I couldn’t believe how sweet the flavor was in the handpicked strawberries.  I immediately contrasted them to the ones I had been buying in stores for weeks.  Those strawberries, often white in their core, lacked flavor, just teasing the taste buds with a hint of strawberry essence.  I immediately understood my son’s resolution on strawberries.  For years, Ethan has refused to eat any strawberries unless they were handpicked from a local farm, referring to the ones in the stores as imposters!  I understood his resolve on some level, but strawberries are one of my favorite fruits.  And although I had a moment of absolute bliss, strawberry season and my memory are short.  Within a couple of weeks, I went back to buying the imposter strawberries, content with the lackluster flavor.

Photo credit to Margaret Collins

Terry and I will soon be celebrating twenty-four years of marriage, and I would say that, overall, we have had a good marriage.  Like most marriages, we had our honeymoon stage where we marked every first moment with romantic sighs, thinking that life could not get any better.  Within in a few years, we had two toddlers, and we had partnered together to raise our kids in a loving home.  We had some incredible moments creating memories and marking milestones in our lives.  We loved and encouraged each other, having the occasional date or weekend getaway.  If marriage was a strawberry, we had a good strawberry!

But then life happened: job changes, moving to a different state, children becoming adults, illnesses, and the death of my beloved mother-in-law.  With all these changes, we spent less time investing in our marriage and more time going through the motions.  Soon, we were satisfied with the tasteless strawberry, no longer craving the best.  We relied on years of producing good fruit to sustain our marriage.  But we all know that good fruit does not last long untended.  You leave a fresh-picked strawberry in the fridge for more than a few days, it will soon develop mold.  This mold will spread to all the fruit around it.  Because we were no longer investing in our marriage, our tempers were short, our words were sharp, and our selfishness grew.  Quickly, even this tasteless strawberry started to rot.

Fortunately, we both know a God who is faithful and merciful.  He used some “tough”, maybe even “rotten”, situations to help us redirect our diverging paths back towards one another.  We started investing more in each other, learning to listen in love, not out of self-interest.  We shared life together again, developing new mutual interests and rekindling connection.  We found new and healthier ways to deal with conflict.  We reaffirmed God as the center of our marriage and made each other our priority.

The hard work cultivated a “perfect” strawberry again.  I have learned some valuable lessons from that time that I don’t want to ever forget!

  1. If you want the perfect strawberry marriage, you must work for it.  I spent two hours in the hot sun looking for the perfect strawberries.  I didn’t pick the strawberries out of drudgery, instead, I enjoyed my time in the patch, knowing that I would benefit from the results.  If I want a great marriage, I need to be working at it.  This work shouldn’t be done out of obligation, but out of love with a servant’s heart.
  2. Strawberry season might be short but preserving the strawberries will help the season last!  I picked about ten quarts of strawberries and there was no way we could eat all of them in the few short days they were perfect.  So, I found different ways to preserve the strawberries: making freezer jam, strawberry honey butter and tray freezing some to use for pies and smoothies in the dead of winter.  It is amazing to open a bag of strawberries in the middle of a blizzard and smell the sweetness of summer permeate my kitchen!  Marriage is not always the high moments where you feel like you are living out the best romantic movie scenes.  Sometimes, life is hard, and these tough times can take a toll on your marriage.  Yet, if I take the time to invest in creating good communication skills and positive conflict resolution techniques, when the tough times hit, these skills will help preserve a good marriage.
  3. A perfect strawberry is only sweeter when covered with chocolate.  This year, we saved some of the best strawberries and dipped them in chocolate.  These were a decadent treat!  When rotten situations hit our marriage, God’s mercy and grace covered our lives as we worked towards restoration.  Even though we spent time doing some hard work, it was not enough to fix some of the wounds we both felt.  This was the perfect place for God to step in and fix those broken places with His unconditional love and gentleness.  As we moved towards the “perfect strawberry”, His “chocolate” grace covered places that might otherwise have resulted in bitterness.  I am forever humbled that the God who created all, cares enough about Terry and me to show us a better path.

I do not want to leave you with the impression that our marriage is perfect; we still have our moments of sharp words and tempers.  However, even though we are still human, we are in such a better place than we were three years ago.  After sharing our story with Ethan, he responded with something like this, “I have never seen you and Dad happier.  Genuinely happy, not only with each other, but with God”.  His description brought me to tears.  You see, the rotten fruit that was developing could very well have destroyed our marriage.  It took courage to stop the rot and invest in producing good fruit again.  During that time, I stood on this scripture found in Hebrews 4:16, “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.”  This anniversary, while I am choosing to celebrate us, more importantly, I am celebrating God’s grace!

If you are interested in making the strawberry honey butter, please follow the link to the recipe: https://www.growforagecookferment.com/strawberry-honey-butter/