Panna Cotta with Roasted Lemon and Irish Whiskey Sauce

If you know any Italian words or have eaten at an Italian restaurant, you may already know that panna cotta is not an Irish dessert!  It means, “cooked cream” and it’s very similar to custard, but without any eggs.  I chose to share a recipe for a dessert this month because St. Patrick knew the sweetness of freedom in Christ.  If you don’t know his story, he was captured in Great Britain by Irish raiders and then was enslaved in Ireland.  After he escaped, he had a vision to return to his captors and share the gospel with them.

He became a hero in the faith after multitudes were baptized and monasteries were founded through his fruitful efforts.  When the Roman Empire suffered heavy invasions throughout Europe, Ireland was missed and many of the church’s important documents and traditions were preserved.   Ireland then began sending missionaries to other countries, playing a vital, saving role.  In fact, author Thomas Cahill records the story more fully in his book, How the Irish Saved Civilization.  

Because Italy was once the epicenter of the Holy Roman Empire, I chose this Italian dessert as the sweet base or palette from which to “paint.”  The roasted lemon and Irish whiskey sauce transforms it into something that tells a story of liberation.  Culinarily speaking, the lemons are sour and even bitter on their own, yet when they are roasted, they become caramelized and more sweet, especially after the addition of the Irish whiskey, which transforms the dessert into a combination of completion and freedom – freedom to forget everything but the goodness on the spoon!  Sweet, sour, bitter, and salty drizzled around the backdrop of velvety cream are what make up the completion of a most attainable dessert.

The true freedom we long for comes at a cost and with a story, whether it’s on a spoon or eternal.  St. Patrick knew freedom well because he first knew slavery.  If we are in Christ, our debt has been absorbed by Him and we inherit the freedom he purchased.  Our call is to receive this freedom and taste its sweetness daily.  May we freely share His recipe for freedom with others!  First though, enjoy St. Patrick through a section of one of his well known prayers:

“Christ shield me today

Against wounding

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,

Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,

Christ on my right, Christ on my left,

Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,

Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,

Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,

Christ in the eye that sees me,

Christ in the ear that hears me.

I arise today

Through the mighty strength

Of the Lord of creation.”

Panna Cotta with Roasted Lemon and Irish Whiskey Sauce

1 tablespoon cold water

1 ½ teaspoons unflavored powdered gelatin

1 ¼ cups heavy cream

7 tablespoons sugar

2-inch piece of vanilla bean, halved lengthwise, pulp scraped

1 ¾ cups buttermilk

1 large lemon, washed and sliced into thin rounds, and then quartered

¼ cup salted butter (½ stick)

½ cup sugar

¼ cup Irish whiskey (more or less, to your taste)

fine sea salt crystals (omit or to your taste)

  1. For the panna cotta, place the water in a small bowl and sprinkle with the gelatin.  Let the gelatin soften for 5 minutes. Set aside six 4-oz ramekins in the refrigerator until ready to fill.
  2. In a saucepan over medium-high heat, warm the cream with the 7 tablespoons of sugar and vanilla bean and pulp.  Stir until the sugar dissolves.  Turn off the heat and add the softened gelatin, stirring until it dissolves.  Whisk in the buttermilk.  Strain the mixture through a fine sieve into a measuring cup with a spout and pour it into chilled ramekins.
  3. For the sauce, place butter in a medium-sized skillet and melt over low heat.  Once butter has mostly melted and covered the pan, placed lemon slices evenly over the skillet and let them start to caramelize.  After about 10 min, they should be softened and evenly golden brown (rotate lemons if heat is uneven). Next, sprinkle sugar evenly over the lemons and let it continue cooking until it dissolves and caramelizes a bit.  Swirl pan as needed for even heating.  Pour over whiskey and bring to a boil, and then reduce back to low heat and taste.  (Keep cooking if sauce needs time to mellow or become more syrupy.)
  4. After about 2-3 hours, panna cotta should be firm and ready to serve. Remove panna cotta from the refrigerator.  With a pairing knife, run around the edge of each ramekin, keeping as close to the sides as possible.  Over each dessert plate, lightly tap each ramekin so that it will release gently.  Scatter the warm (not overly hot) roasted lemon and whiskey sauce around the panna cotta and serve, sprinkling sea salt very sparsely over the top of each portion.

Serves 6-8

Lauren Browning

Picture Freedom

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“Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.”

1 Peter 2:16

The Sorority of the Strugglers

Studying Romans with a group of “senior saints” on Thursdays has been a great joy to me. For the first time in my 24-year career, I’ve had the flexibility to be in a women’s Bible study during the morning. In case you didn’t know, that’s where these senior saints are—not at the night studies when they have to leave the safety of their home for evening risks. I had been missing a treasure trove of morning wisdom.

There’s something special about being among women who have walked long and close to Jesus. There’s a special grace indeed, but also a special humanity that comes out in their stories. I often long for their tales of perceived failure more than I do their trophy successes. I know their victories are hard won over time and tribulation. And I long for the sorority of the strugglers.

So, when we got to Paul’s circuitous confession in Romans 7:18-20 that he doesn’t do what he wants, but instead does the very things he doesn’t want to do, there was a collective, “Yes!” If we’d been Baptists, there would have been a thunderous “amen!” and maybe a “preach it, brother!” with hankies a flying.

The women had joined their extensive experience with Paul’s voice: We are wretched! We can’t make our flesh do the right thing! Try as we might, we’re powerless!

I often wonder why we don’t offer our solidarity in the struggle more often. Why don’t we “yes” and “amen” and “preach it, sister” all the daylong? If one of my sisters admits defeat, it ushers me more quickly to my own reality. It’s in that common humanity that we come to the end of ourselves—individually and collectively—and we find our rescue:

 “Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (24b-25).

–Judy Nelson Lewis

The College Release of Freedom

“Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.” Psalm 62:7-9

It had to be the hardest thing I’d ever done!  I was saying goodbye to my daughter, Madison. She was beaming with excitement and expectation, while I was fighting back the sobs within.  I thanked the Lord that He allowed me to get to the rental car before I melted into a mess.  Sending my 17 year old off to college was the best of times and the worst of times.  Even though I intellectually could say that God had opened this door 1100 miles away, my heart was breaking knowing that my day to day life would be absent of the precious daughter knit to my heart.  Why did her new ‘freedom’ feel like my defeat? “Help me Lord, to hold her with an open hand to You.”

On the airplane traveling home I was still crying (ok-sobbing) not even caring what others thought about me.  (If you knew me—you would be really impressed at this giant step.)  The next week I remember making progress and updating my facebook status to: “still crying, but at least I’m not nauseous anymore”.

For Madison you could hear her William Wallace ‘Braveheart’ cheer of FREEDOM.   She had the freedom to make choices without “the world” aka our small town watching every step and without being scrutinized as a “missionary kid”.  She also had the freedom to make new friends that taught her about the ways of THE world.  In this world she experienced the grieving of God’s Spirit in a place far from home.  BUT she also experienced the kindness that leads to repentance and the delight of God’s precious grace when we run back into His arms.

For me, it was four years of desperately clinging to the Lord and learning a new level of dependence, and yes ‘freedom’ in this dependence.  My prayer life exploded as I sometimes woke up in the middle of the night experiencing panic attacks.  Nonetheless, my desire to control all my daughter’s choices even though I knew she needed to live in this freedom was my steady struggle.  I recognized a right action doesn’t guarantee a heart dependent on God though.  So I learned to sit at God’s feet imploring Him to draw her to Himself, and enlisting trusted friends to join me.

It is with much mom pride that I can tell you Madison graduated Magna cum Laude and Phi Beta Kappa, BUT our greatest joy is that in her freedom Madison chooses to run after God.  In those four years MY life was refined!  In a new freedom I am able to say that this year she is no longer 1100 miles away from home but over 6000 miles, being a light in the Middle East.  I still miss my kindred spirit and her day-to-day infectious laugh, but there are no middle of the night panic attacks.   True freedom comes in dependence.  ~ Pam McCune

Sacred Story is honored to hear from Pam McCune as a guest contributor in March. Pam is a wife, mother, author, speaker, and very successful failure.  It is her joy to share the wisdom learned through failure with women on a daily basis.  Also, she has loved on college students for the last 29 years with CRU.  It has been her privilige to challenge students to know Christ personally and run towards Him with delight.

War boots for flip flops

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Gal 5:1 NIV

“A yoke of slavery” is anything in our human nature that inhibits the very presence of God from operating fully in our lives. Once you have been set free from something that once enslaved you, who would want it back? Yet we struggle with this daily. Why? Because yokes of slavery can be as gripping as addiction or as innocent as tradition. You may not even be aware that you are contending with a yoke of slavery.

If you could be set free from one thing what would it be? Before reading on, pause, and challenge yourself to come up with just one thing.
Still pausing…
I struggled in answering this question. I couldn’t come up with only one thing. Then I realized there is one thing driving the many things that weigh me down.

If I could be set free from one thing it would be the expectations I place on myself. With this freedom I could enjoy my wins and accept my losses. I could look for why God has me in a certain place instead of fighting my way out. I could live in the moment and smile for no reason. I could hear my Heavenly Father’s voice over mine say, “You’re my treasured possession” (Deut. 7:6), instead of “you’re not enough, work harder.”

What does the voice in your head tell you? What expectations do you have for your life that aren’t quite matching up with your reality? Like me, do you find yourself enslaved to the goals you set for your life? Even the Godly goals can become idols if we pursue them in our own strength, instead of His.

Christ came to set us free from ourselves and every good and bad thing we allow to hold us back from His “good, pleasing and perfect will” for our lives (Rom. 12:2). He tells us to “Stand firm” having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace (Eph 6:15). This means seeking out His will and His ways above our own. When your life is shod with the gospel of peace, you don’t have to hold on so tightly to the things that provide comfort and security. When you are chasing after God, you can “walk about in freedom” because you are seeking out his precepts (Psalm 119:45).

I need army boots to “stand firm” in my own strength, because I need all the protection and stability I can get. But when I allow God to take control, who can stand against? I can kick off the war boots and walk in flip flops.

What desire of your heart are you fighting for in war boots?

How could trading them in for flip flops change your life?

What are you holding onto so tightly?

Wear it like a flip flop. Walk responsibly in it, but always be ready to kick it off and walk into new places with God.

Who Calls You to Freedom?

You were running the race so well. Who has held you back from following the truth? It certainly isn’t God, for He is the one who called you to freedom. Gal. 5:7–9, (NLT) (Italics mine)

You want to know what holds me back from following the truth?

No matter how hard I try to have it all together, I fall apart in my own junk. This happens whenever I open Facebook and the news feed displays pictures of those who have hurt me smiling as if to say, “Look at me, I’m doing just dandy. Look at you, you’re falling apart!”

It happens in church when I see other women balance work, home and family a lot better than me. They seem to do it all and somehow still manage to lead Bible study on Wednesdays. They cook dinner most evenings, plan date nights every week with their spouses and they open up their homes for every event under the sun. Seriously, how do they do it?

Honestly, I can’t help but feel like a failure. I wish I could say that I get a hold of myself and it ends there. Instead, the self-pity spreads. It truly takes an act of God to pull me out of the dark funk that soon eclipses my soul.

That’s when God whispers, “I love you.” And in that moment I realize all God wants from me is to seek Him and love Him.

You want to know who calls me to freedom?

Whenever I stop trying to make life perfect, I relinquish control. This happens whenever I tell God about those who have hurt me deeply. I cry and He reminds me, “Look at me, let it go, I am all you need.”

It happens in church when I worship Him and not myself. I let go of my pride and I tell my sisters in Christ my struggles. So we pray for our homes, marriages and families. We keep each other accountable and encourage each other to stay focused on Christ. We meet for coffee, support each other in hard times, and we live life together. Seriously, how can we live without community?

Honestly, I can’t help but feel empowered. I wish I could say that I feel like this all the time, but I don’t. Instead, His grace spreads. And I remember that it took an act of God to save me from my sins that no longer keep me captive.

That’s when I whisper to God, “I love you.” And in that moment, I realize that God’s love and grace free me from fear, guilt, worry, bitterness, and death. I’m free to be me and can rely completely on the love God has for me (1 John 4:16).

What holds you back from following the truth? Who calls you to freedom?

`~ Raquel

Love Breaks Shackles

4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails.  (I Cor. 13:4-8)

Thanksgiving 2013, my mother-in-law came to visit our family.  During the 10 days that she was here, I developed stomach pains.  I realized that the stomach pains were anxiety that I was experiencing with my mother-in-law living at our home.  I was anxious about many things.

I was anxious about how she was interacting with my 2 year old son, Whitaker – how she was feeding him, playing with him and watching him.  I was anxious about our interaction together – would she try to tell me what to do, disagree with the way I do life and God forbid tell me one more time not to drink ice water, only warm water?!  Our time together felt like two strangers trying to dance together for the first time.  We were stepping on each other’s toes.  I’m sure I wasn’t the only one experiencing anxiety.

January 2014, I was 8 months pregnant with my second child.  Due to complications, my doctor ordered bed rest.  Bed rest and chasing around an active 2 year old do not mix well.  Therefore, we needed help.  Options were to pay a gazillion dollars for a full-time nanny or to have my mother- in-law live with us until I delivered my second child.  Initially, the thought of my mother-in-law living with us for a month or more made me want to hurl.  I wasn’t sure that I could control my anxieties but at the same time we really needed help.  So I prayed and asked God to give us wisdom and to speak to me about the situation.

The Lord was quick to answer my prayers.  He revealed to me that my anxieties stem from a fleshly desire to control my mother-in-law.  I wanted her to selfishly do things my way.  I was more concerned about how she was going to serve and bless us rather than how I was going to serve and bless her.  I was not loving her well.  As God revealed this to me and I started to let go of control, there was peace that surpasses all knowledge and understanding and freedom that lifted my anxieties.

I started praying that my mother-in-law would feel free to be herself as she interacted with Whitaker and our family.  I prayed that she would experience Jesus’ love through our family as she is not a believer.  I prayed that I would die to my pride and let her do things her way as long as it was not hurting anyone.  My heart’s desire changed from desiring to be blessed to desiring to bless.

My mother-in-law left yesterday morning after 6 weeks of living with us.  There was not one day of stomach pains and upon her departure, there was sadness that she was leaving and gratitude for her.  She expressed to us that she thoroughly enjoyed her time with Whitaker.  She also expressed great pleasure in her time with our family and wanted to visit again soon.  We were delighted!

Love, indeed, never fails.  I never thought choosing to love would birth such freedom.  Who is God calling you to love today?    ~Edna Lee

My Journey of Freedom

“When Pharoah let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, if they face war, they may change their minds and return to Egypt.” Exodus 13:17

Growing up, I encountered a lot of fear. In my mind as a little girl, there seemed to be no safe place to talk about my childhood fear and cry out tears of sadness. As I entered my adolescent years, I stuffed my fears by finding ways to avoid feeling scared, mostly through achieving or partying.

I came to know Jesus during my freshman year of college. Just like God led the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt, I felt His powerful release wash over me. I savored with great delight the truth that being in Christ meant I was a new creation. I immediately saw areas of my life transform as I relished the evidence of a Savior who is alive.

As Jesus so sweetly does, He began unraveling the tightly-bound cords of fear suffocating the joy and creativity out of me. I came face-to-face with situations which surfaced my fears. Through wise counsel, God gave me insight about how my entanglements of fear began and spread.

Over the last twenty five years of knowing Jesus, I walk out the healing journey of expressing my fear, finding security in being known, grieving out losses and recognizing how to avoid inviting fear to hang around. At times, a battle arises, presenting another layer rooted in the past. I wonder why my freedom is not fully secured. I am tempted to either feel like God is picking on me or somehow my life in Christ doesn’t “stick” in this area.

I pause to ponder the path God leads the Israelites out of slavery into freedom in the Promised Land. Exodus 13:17 explains that God leads them through the wilderness by the Red Sea even though it was much shorter to go through Philistine territory. He does not want the people to face the immediate terror of war.

God knows if the people encounter the prospect of war upon leaving their bondage in Egypt, they will never know the life He is preparing. They will count the cost of freedom and arrive at the wrong conclusion: the enemy is too strong and they are set up for failure. Life in Egypt in comparison will seem more attractive and any hope of being free will be snuffed out of their thinking.

God leads His children by the way of the wilderness to show He is able to bring them through every need. The people recognize the very present activity of God as they travel the long way. The water from a rock when there is thirst, the manna on the ground as the taste of His faithfulness each day. It is in the wilderness where God speaks to Moses about the laws of the nation and entrusts him with the Ten Commandments. The Israelites come to recognize their identity as followers of the One True God.

The way of freedom may seem long and frustrating at times. I am reminded in a fresh way that my Heavenly Father knows the route to take me which positions me to simultaneously experience His freeing power and tender mercy. God enables me to overcome as I understand more fully how He embraces me as His beloved daughter. He is so zealous for my freedom and chooses the path to turn the cords binding me into a net to be cast out to others who are longing for freedom. ~Laura

Divine Delays- Part 2

See message by Courtney below to read Part 1

“He has made everything beautiful in its time.” Ecc. 3:11

I’m convinced that there are lessons I would have missed out on had it not been for a season of waiting. F.B. Meyer said, “What a chapter might be written of God’s delays! It is the mystery of the art of educating human spirits to the finest temper of which they are capable.  What searchings of heart…what testing of the Word of God, what uplifting of soul…All these are associated with those weary days of waiting, which are, nevertheless, big with spiritual density.”

Those weary days are torture sometimes. It can feel like your life is at a standstill when everyone else seems to be carrying along with ease. But when I think about what the Lord has taught me along the way, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I have grown in thanksgiving for what the Lord has given me. I can enter into someone’s loss or pain more easily. I can grieve with a friend who is still not pregnant after months of trying or empathize with a friend struggling with singleness. I’m certain the Lord could teach me those lessons regardless, but I’m so grateful for the perspective I have gained as a result of a season of waiting. He never wastes our pain.

Sometimes I still get stuck and can’t understand the Lord’s timing. It’s those times I go back to some of the verses that provided comfort in our dark days. Verses like Is. 55:8-9, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways…As high as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Our finite minds cannot comprehend the unseen realm. God sees our life from a completely different perspective and I have to trust Him regardless of how I feel. What I know always has to trump what I feel.

To finish our story, the Lord mercifully blessed us with a pregnancy after three years of waiting. Jack was born April 20, 2010. Our birth announcement included a quote from Charles Spurgeon that we read countless times on our refrigerator during our wait. “The longer the blessing is in coming, the sweeter it will be when it arrives.  That which is gained speedily by a single prayer is sometimes only a half-weighted blessing, but that which is gained after many a tug and many an awful struggle is a full-weighted and precious blessing. The blessing which costs us the most in prayer will be worth the most.”

The quote is still on the fridge and Jack is almost 4 years old. We are now adding to our family through adoption and so the waiting begins– again. I am thankful that the Lord, in his kindness, brings to mind truth that has anchored us in the past so we trust in His perfect timing for the future. I am grateful to be able to say, along with the writer of Ecclesiastes, “He has made all things beautiful in its time.” ~Courtney

Divine Delays- Part 1

“My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from him.” Ps. 62:5 (KJV)

I know a little something about waiting on the Lord and I have a hunch that you do too. No matter the season of life, He seems to give us countless opportunities to wait on Him. Waiting for circumstances to change. Waiting for God to heal a broken situation. Waiting for the Lord to fulfill a dream. Waiting for a miracle. During those long, hard seasons our beliefs about God bubble to the surface and questions attack our theology. Is God good? Have I sinned in a way that will keep Him from blessing me even though I have repented? How long will I have to wait? What if what I am waiting for isn’t a part of His will for me?

Ps. 62:5 penetrates to the heart of the matter when we are facing a season of waiting. Are we trusting the Lord or are we consumed with our situation?  We know that God is sovereign and could change our circumstances in a blink. When He chooses not to, however, we have two choices: to become disillusioned and hopeless or choose to enroll in God’s school of “wait training.”

I believe there are secret, hidden things that God teaches us when we are fully surrendered to the waiting. In that place, we learn that He is enough. We learn that we should not compare our journey with someone else’s. We learn that His grace is sufficient. We learn to cling to His promises like never before. Whether we believe it at the time, waiting can be a gift. When we embrace it and surrender to the Lord, we can begin to claim something my friend Marian Jordan Ellis shared recently: “Lord, don’t give me what I want. Give me your best.” Only a surrendered heart has the courage to believe His best is worth waiting for.

The greatest waiting test for me came during a heartbreaking season of infertility.  I had always expected to have as many children as I “wanted” and then be able to call the shots when my quiver was full. The Lord had other plans- three specialists, four surgeries, countless blood tests, procedures, a miscarriage. It all felt like an out-of-body experience. I kept thinking “this isn’t really my life, is it?” I felt alone and helpless, yet as I trudged through that valley the Lord continued to show me His love in countless ways including praying friends and family, a steadfast husband and friendships with women who were walking the same hard road.

I don’t know if you are facing a season of waiting today, but I can almost guarantee it will be a part of your story at some point.  I am sorry for the pain you may be experiencing; however, the word expectation in this verse is so loaded with hope! When we are expectant, we are eager to see the Lord reveal himself in our situation and we are confident that He is up to something, ultimately, for our good and His glory. Remain expectant in this season of waiting; God is not finished yet.   ~Courtney*

*For more about  how Courtney’s story of trusting God for a child is unfolding, come back for Part 2 of Divine Delays this Friday, 2/28.