What’s different about Easter this year?

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This year, Easter feels very different.

When I was a little girl, it was about fancy dresses and how much a of twirl they could spin. It was about The Bunny, coloring eggs and photographs my mom used to make us take in front of the best flowering bush in our yard.

It was about Jesus in a white robe, an empty tomb and angels on a flannel board.

It was about going to church, beautiful old-school corsages for Mom and Grandma, a huge ham dinner and the adults napping in the afternoon. I remember being bored out of my mind having to play “quietly” by myself so my mom (a hard-working, single parent) could take a much needed rest at our grandparents’ home.

Fast forward and I’m a young, married adult. Easter was still about a new dress, going to church, a huge ham dinner and a lazy afternoon basking in the fullness of the meal.

Over the next six years our three children were born and Easter reverted back to childhood traditions of colored eggs, Easter baskets, The Bunny, the huge ham dinner, a fancy dress with a twirly skirt for our baby girl and matching outfits for our boys.

It was the only day, apart from Christmas, that we could convince our oldest son to wear formal clothes.

Easter was about photographs taken in the prettiest spot in our yard, new recipes to try out for the big meal, and of course a backyard egg hunt.

We added more traditions to an already full plate: Resurrection Eggs, several picture books about the real meaning of Easter, making Resurrection cookies, and letting the kids have a ball decorating an Easter cake, which varied every year from an empty tomb to a head bust of The Bunny, Jello eggs, watching Passion of the Christ as a family and attending the Tenebrae service at our church on Good Friday.

As a mom, I confess, Easter became a scrap-booking event.

I was more caught up in the hoopla, bells and whistles of Easter than why we were really celebrating it.

One year, it happened…the worst thing EVER! It rained! The yard was too wet for photos and egg hunts. The house was dark from looming, full clouds. I remember thinking, “No! It can’t rain on Easter. You know, the empty tomb on a glorious morning. What about the pastel dresses and flowers posed for pictures? Easter is ruined.”

Wow.

I get it. As a mom who loves squeezing out every possible moment of holiday fun, I was devastated that so many plans had to change and I. Couldn’t. Control. It.

This year, however, the advent of Easter has been radically different for me. Why? We still can’t wait for our family to come visit. We still plan to color eggs and have an egg hunt and enjoy a huge ham dinner. New yearly devotionals will be discovered in baskets for our teens.

Today, my girl and me will go buy her an Easter dress, even as an older teenager.

So what’s different?

The work God has done in my heart.

A heart that has lived through the highest of highs and lowest of lows in the past year. A heart that has been both tenderly held and drop-kicked to the ground. Love has been both celebrated and tested. Hope has shown up and has hid in the shadows. Joy has met us in the most unexpected places, but seemed nowhere to be found when I was searching desperately for it.

This past year, my faith has been put in a blender and what has poured out is one single thing that makes this Easter different than any other Easter I’ve lived –

Grace.

Grace has been the underdog that wins the battle for me.

Grace advocated for lost causes.

Grace believed in the impossible.

Grace strengthened the weak.

Grace fought for the voiceless.

Grace tended to wounds no one else can see.

Grace spoke sweet dreams over a restless body.

Grace talked a weary soul off the ledge.

Grace cared enough to speak the truth…in love.

Grace buffered my heart in the decisions and circumstances I didn’t want.

Grace held my hand in the decisions and circumstances that I wanted, but couldn’t have.

Grace has been the only thing to make sense in times when nothing else did.

Grace. Beautiful. Eternal. Grace.

When I have literally fought for loved ones to the gates of hell and back. When I have mourned and wept over loss. When I have felt like dying to myself in Christ was going to kill me. When I couldn’t come up with one stinkin’ reason to get out of bed. When I’ve been pummeled by anxiety over situations out of my control. When I’ve been so furious I could spit nails…

Grace reminded me the nails have already been used – on the cross.

Jesus, grace personified, willingly took everything life could throw at me, and everything I could throw back, and diffused the bomb of my ticking heart. He replaced all the ash of this past year with mercy and hope and love that this world cannot take away.

I continually stay in an attitude of awe at the daily miracles He is doing to redeem this life. He is making a way in the wilderness one step at a time. He is providing streams in the desert one drop at a time.

I am grateful.

Grace has become my oxygen, my sustenance, my hope for the future and my reality for the day.

I am also happy to let Costco help cook Easter dinner and to put down the camera and enjoy the thrill of the day that came by way of grace because of Jesus.

These days I burst into spontaneous tears of joy because of grace and the Creator of it. I say to myself, “EEK! I’m becoming more like my mom who cried so easily and my mother-in-law who still does.” But, smiling through the tears, I get it.

When a heart truly, fully understands the need for grace, and accepts this free gift wholly into itself, the overflow of tears are of gratitude and thankfulness and joy. Unspeakable joy.

This Easter, Kristi has put down the plans. Let go of the expectations. And disbarred the bar that must be reached and exceeded over last Easter.

Instead, I’m lifting up hands to He who has the whole world in His hands – the beautiful and the ugly and every single moment in between.

Only when we really know that it is by grace we live, move and have our being can we really live. Only when we begin to accept how deep and wide Christ’s love for us is can we embrace it.

This Easter, join me in a new tradition – grace. Receive it and give it. Enjoy the beauty of it and behold the power of it.

It’s a free gift with purchase – our salvation purchased with the payment of Jesus’ own blood.

Pretty eggs, baskets full of surprises, and delectable side dishes all sound good, but they don’t make or break Easter. Rain or shine, warm or cold, celebrating Easter is celebrating Jesus, God’s grace, and forgiveness that comes through salvation.

More than the momentary delight of matching outfits, finding the last egg, or colorful jelly beans, love, joy, peace, and grace are the sweetest gifts we get to experience on Easter and every day of the year.

God has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. ~ 2 Timothy 1:9-10

 

 

 

 

Culinary Quest #17 – Bacon & tomato pasta salad

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Recently I visited Fresh Market, a high-end grocery store. They are known for their fresh products, including a delicious deli.

I purchased a small cup of their bacon & tomato pasta salad and liked it. However, I found it needed a few tweaks, so below is my version of their pasta salad.

The tweaks: Store-bought salads are mostly pasta (because it’s cheaper and goes farther). I prefer to increase the other ingredients to reduce bad carbs, increase good cards and increase protein. I also added a couple of ingredients that bring natural sweetness (peas) and a warm, nutty flavor (pine nuts) to this light dish. I also substituted white wine vinegar for balsamic vinegar because it gives just an extra spark of fruity bite that regular wine vinegar doesn’t offer.

We rarely use mayonnaise in our home and most times the jar expires before we can finish it. But, inching closer to summer, sometimes mayo adds a creamy texture to pasta salads that oils simply can’t do.

This dish is served up just in time for Easter brunch, a lazy Saturday (as in our family’s case today :)), lunchboxes for work or school, parties, or a savory snack. Enjoy!

Bacon & Tomato Pasta Salad

Ingredients:

1# boxed pasta; cooked al dente, drained (any kind will work, we had rigatoni on hand)

2 pkgs thick-cut bacon; cooked & chopped

2c green onions; chopped (1 bunch)

1 1/2c celery (approx 4 stalks); chopped

2 pints grape tomatoes; cut in halves

1c pine nuts

2c frozen peas (use them straight out of the freezer)

1t salt

1/2t pepper

1T + 1t white balsamic vinegar

3/4c – 1c mayo (for this recipe I used Duke’s regular mayo); measure to preference

Directions:

Bake bacon in oven at 375 for about 30-45 minutes until done.

While bacon is baking, boil pasta (add salt to pot) for 12-14 minutes.

While both of those are rockin’ & rollin’ prepare remaining ingredients and put them in a large bowl.

Add cooked bacon.

While pasta is still slightly warm, mix into bowl.

Store in fridge. That’s it! 🙂

 

Culinary Quest #14 – Company’s Coming! Pasta Salad

Pasta salad is as flexible as whatever we have in the kitchen at the moment.  However, sometimes we want to kick it up a notch – especially if entertaining.  I needed a recipe that didn’t include average ingredients, so off to the store I went with an open mind!  The ingredients below are simple to make, but together they offer a sophisticated flare that makes this dish not only savory, but it tastes like it was more work than it was by far.

By adding a couple of less typical veggies like heart of palm and roasted red peppers, this pasta salad does not taste like the kitchen sink salads I usually make.  They are good, but this one is one fit for company.  It’s quick and easy and with the main players being jarred, it can be easily made year-round.  The vinaigrette is really simple because the flavors in this dish stand on their own.  Enjoy!

Serves about 8

16oz                       Farfalle (bow tie) pasta

1 pint                     cherry tomatoes; halved

1/2c                       onion; chopped (white, red, or sweet onions or scallions)

9 stalks                  heart of palm (jarred); sliced

2 ½ c                      artichoke hearts; quartered (preferably jarred in marinated oil)

1c                            roasted red peppers; chopped

1 bunch                  fresh basil; chopped

¼ c                          Kalamata or black olives; sliced (optional)

Balsamic Vinaigrette – see below

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Balsamic Vinaigrette:

4T                           canola or olive oil

4T                           white balsamic vinegar

1/8t                        black pepper

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Directions:

Boil pasta in salted water al dente (approx. 10 minutes). Drain.

While pasta is boiling, prepare vinaigrette.

Toss warm, drained pasta in a large bowl with vinaigrette.

Once pasta has cooled to room temperature, add remaining ingredients as prepared above.

Chill for several hours.  Toss before serving.

Culinary Quest #8 – Mexican Breakfast Flatbread

We love Mexican food!  Just give me chips and salsa and I’m set.  But, for days when a proper meal is in order be it breakfast, brunch or dinner, I set out to create a dish that incorporates savory Mexican taste with traditional breakfast ingredients.

This hearty dish stands alone, and a fork & knife are required for this mucho grande meal.  Adapt veggies to taste.  Use egg whites, reduced-fat cheese, reduced-fat sour cream and turkey bacon to help with dietary needs.

Loaded with veggies, and a kick of lime, it’s a great break from store-bought, frozen breakfast burritos or the predictable taco night!  This flat bread is filling in an “I’m ready for the day” feel, not “I need to go back to bed” feel.  🙂 Enjoy!

Mexican Breakfast Flatbread

Serves 8

One bag                 Fresh pizza dough

2T                           Corn meal

1T                           Garlic powder

1/4t                        Cayenne pepper to taste (optional)

1 bunch                  Fresh cilantro; chopped

1 pt                        Mushrooms; thinly sliced

1                             Red pepper; chopped

½ medium              Red onion; thinly sliced

½t                           Lime juice

2                              Beefsteak tomatoes; thinly sliced (use the centers for most even distribution)

8                              Eggs

1#                            Center cut bacon; cooked & diced

2c                            Mexican blend shredded cheese

2                              Avocadoes; sliced

1c                            Sour Cream

1c                            Your favorite salsa

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Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

On a floured surface, roll out dough till flat using rolling pin.

Place dough on pizza pan or stone that has corn meal sprinkled on it. (To keep the dough from sticking to the pan)

Sprinkle garlic (and optional cayenne pepper) onto dough.

Layer in order: cilantro, mushrooms, red pepper & onion.

Sprinkle lime juice over top.  Add tomato slices.

Bake in oven for 25minutes.

While flatbread is baking, fry 8 eggs in a large skillet on the stove.  I use a little cooking spray to avoid excess fat and break the yokes so they more evenly distributed.

Remove flatbread after 25 minutes, and add eggs evenly on top. Using a spatula, simply cut out the eggs like pieces of a puzzle.

Sprinkle with cooked, diced bacon.  Cover with shredded cheese.

Bake an additional 5 minutes until cheese melts.

Remove from oven and top with salsa, sour cream, and avocado slices on top.

Just veggies at this point…pre-baked.

Frying up the eggs (with a little pepper).

Hot out of the oven…

Bless the meat let’s eat!