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Brownies Fit for a Black-Tie Affair

How are you feeling about the coming New Year? I find myself looking forward to it with more exuberance than usual. I don’t expect much to change with the tick of a clock at midnight, but I anticipate a new beginning – one that I intend to face with more realistic expectations than I did last year. I’d like to set myself up for 2022 according to some advice that I often give.

If you expect very little, you’re unlikely to be disappointed, but perfectly poised to be pleasantly surprised.

Mama Lava

And speaking of pleasant surprises, I have a recipe to share. It is one which upscales box brownies to a level fit for a black-tie affair. And you won’t believe how simple it is!

Fresh from the oven: A brownie fit for a black tie affair
Brownies fit for a black-tie affair, fresh from the oven

How are you going to ring in the New Year? Are you the type who enjoys fancy clothes and exclusive celebrations? Or do you prefer an intimate gathering of friends for your countdown? Maybe you’re like me and you enjoy sleeping through the whole thing so you can enter January 1st well-rested and ready to roll.

Whether the black-tie affair you attend is real, or in your dreams, this brownie recipe will fit right in. But first, let me tell you the short story that goes along with it.

You are already acquainted with my friend, Brooke. If you are not, you can find the humbling tale of how we met here. She introduced me to the incredible quiche recipe which has become a tradition in our house, and is sure to become a favorite in some of yours as well.

Brooke is amazing. She loves extravagantly and entertains with her heart. She does everything top-notch. It is just who she is.

One day, as I was scrolling social media, I came across one of her posts, announcing an event she was preparing to facilitate at a renowned location. She described the menu she had planned, and I saw my name near the bottom. It said “Also, the famous Brownie/York Pattie dessert, thanks to a recipe from my sweet friend, Mama Lava. She gave me the recipe many years ago and it’s a cherished favorite.” (Quote almost verbatim.)

Brownie cut so that mint layer is visible: Brownies fit for a black tie affair!
Brownies fit for a black-tie affair!

You know what? I had all but forgotten that I’d shared the recipe with her. I had tried to put it out of my mind, I think, because I’d been embarrassed about it. I recalled the fiasco.

I had made the brownies for a cookie exchange. (If you’re not familiar with cookie exchanges, I described one in this post.) These brownies are terrific on their own, but they were a terrible choice for the exchange. When they were plated with other goodies, their strong flavor tainted everything and ruined the more subtle flavors of the delicacies around them. I was dismayed that my dessert overpowered the hard work Brooke and our friends had put into their baked goods.

I was blessed to read that God had made a favorite out of what I had considered a failure. I was thankful for the surprise that Brooke had been enjoying my recipe through the years. It felt like reciprocation for her quiche recipe that I appreciate so much. It was just like God to be so merciful with my mess and prove to me that He is good, even when I goof!

Brooke was right about the recipe being fit for her black-tie affair. These brownies are meant to stand out and be noticed. They are sleek and decadent. And while they are impressive, they are also quick and easy to make.

Whether your New Year’s Eve plans are extravagant in actuality, or just in your imagination, these brownies will fit right in! Here is the recipe.

Brownies Fit for a Black-Tie Affair

The Ingredients

York Peppermint Patty bag: A brownie fit for a black tie affair
Bite-sized York Peppermint patties

The Instructions

  1. Preheat oven and make brownie batter according to box instructions.
  2. Pour half of the batter in your pan. (Use whatever size pan is called for on the brownie box. The most common sizes are 8×8 or 9×13-inch pans.)
  3. Unwrap York patties and place on batter, spaced evenly.
  4. Cover with remaining brownie batter.
  5. Bake according to box instructions.
  6. Let cool completely before slicing.
Covering the mints with batter: Brownies fit for a black tie affairBrownies fit for a black tie affair!
Place mints evenly atop first half of brownie batter and cover with second half of batter

The Notes

  • When you cut your cooled brownies, you can slice through the mints to show them off, or you can slice through the brownie and let the mint be a surprise in the center. If you plan the size and preferred presentation of your brownies, you will be able to intentionally place the peppermint patties to accommodate your desired result.
  • You can also use Jr. Mints and make brownie bites.
  • If you prefer a double thick brownie, use two boxes. In the photos, I’ve used only 1.
  • Pro-tip: Did you know that cutting cooled brownies with a plastic knife prevents tearing?
Topped with ice cream and sliced for a peek inside: Brownies fit for a black tie affair
I chose to serve the brownies with the mints hidden, but I sliced mine open so you could get a peek.

I served these after our town’s Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony a few weeks ago. I topped them with vanilla bean ice cream and a candy cane, but I was wishing I had pink peppermint ice cream. Mint chip works well too. And honestly, ice cream is not required! These brownies are incredibly flavorful on their own. They are decadent and delicious, and nobody will believe how little work you had to put in. I won’t tell if you won’t!

I adore chocolate and mint together. York patties are one of my favorite treats. Adding the brownie around it is just fabulous. This recipe elevates any occasion and, at least for one blissful moment, turns it into a black-tie affair. What event on your calendar could you upscale with a pan of these peppermint brownies?

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How My Cookie Crisis Could Become a Bountiful Blessing from My Family to Yours

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away… Ok, that’s an exaggeration, but this story played out a long time ago. My kids were small, my husband’s job required him to take long trips, and I was desperate thankful for adult interaction. I was beyond excited for the annual cookie exchange in which my friends and I participated every holiday season.

I was downright giddy about the opportunity to get into the car by myself, listen to grownup music on the radio, talk to women in multi-syllable words, and sample cookies of all kinds. I had my recipe with the ingredients required and all that stood between me, and my dream afternoon, was the chore of baking 13 dozen cookies.

My plan was to make the dough and begin baking the day before the event. That way, my cookies would be fresh and delectable, and I could finish up the morning of, if something came up unforeseen. Well, come up unforeseen, something did! I went to preheat my oven and… nothing. No heat. No heat at all.

I may have panicked a little and I might have even cried. If I couldn’t make cookies, I didn’t see how I could attend the cookie exchange. Store bought cookies were unthinkable. The whole purpose of the cookie exchange was to trade homemade delicacies.

Are you familiar with the concept of a cookie exchange? I think they are an amazing idea! They can be organized in several ways, but my friends and I did it the same way each year, taking turns organizing and hosting. Maybe you’d like to put one together? Here is the format we used:

  • Twelve people participated. It was important to have twelve. If you confirmed your spot, you were committed.
  • Each person baked 13 dozen cookies of one recipe (cleared with the organizer in advance to avoid duplicates) and packaged them by the dozen. They could be in bags, tins or covered plates, as long as each package contained 12 cookies.
  • Each person copied, printed or handwrote 11 copies of their recipe.
  • We all met up for one glorious afternoon. The hostess provided a huge table where we each stacked 12 of our cookie packages and our recipes.
  • On a separate table, we each opened and placed our 13th package. Also on this table, the hostess provided plates, napkins and beverages. This is where we got to sample each other’s cookies.
  • After a sweet afternoon of cookies and conversation, we went back to the first table and took one package of each kind of cookie, including our own. We took one of each recipe, excluding our own. This is the exchange by which a cookie exchange gets its name.
  • Where each baker arrived with 12 packages of 1 kind of cookie, they went home with 12 packages of different kinds of cookies.

Personally, my tradition immediately following the cookie exchange, was to pack 12 tins, each with 1 cookie from each package. My kids loved taking these grand assortments to the neighbors and their teachers. It appeared like I’d done much more work than I had, since I gifted an amazing assortment, but only baked a single recipe. All of that was looking impossible this year.

God to the rescue!

Even, no – ESPECIALLY for busy moms, the cookie exchange was a lifeline. It was a simplified and fun way to get a giant check mark on a long holiday to-do list. Not only was I looking forward to it, but I was also committed. My oven breaking had me at my breaking point too. This was a crisis.

But God. That is all I remember about how what transpired next came about. Somehow, I found a recipe. God brought it to mind. Honestly, I don’t remember if I went to the computer or if it is one I had tucked in my recipe binder prior. All I know is that I had never made “Crock Pot Candy” before that day. But boy have I made it many times since!

Crock Pot Candy: How My Cookie Crisis Could Become a Bountiful Blessing, from My Family to Yours
Crock Pot Candy with Sea Salt Topping

God and Crock Pot Candy to the rescue. This recipe did not require an oven. I pulled out my slow cooker, raced to the store for the short list of ingredients, and this blessing came together in a fraction of the time it takes to bake 13 dozen cookies.

You know what else? These were the star of the afternoon. Everyone raved! And it was such a nice touch to have a decadent piece of candy on each plate of cookies.

My own family liked them so much that they have become one of our signature family dishes. My 25 year-old daughter, who was in preschool the first time I made them, called them “Nut Chocolates” and that is what they are to this day, in our house. She and I make them every October because that is her birthday month, and it takes us almost a whole month to eat them all. This recipe makes a bountiful plenty!

Nut Chocolates; How My Cookie Crisis Could Become a Bountiful Blessing, from My Family to Yours
Nut Chocolates for Days!

I have not been to a cookie exchange in years. But that is ok. People love getting a whole bag of “nut chocolates” and I enjoy the simplicity of giving them. If you have an army to feed, or several people to gift, or a birthday month to enjoy, let my cookie crisis become a bountiful blessing, from my family to yours!

What you will need:

  • 1 pound lightly salted, dry roasted almonds
  • 1 pound unsalted, dry roasted almonds
  • 12 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 12 ounces white chocolate chips
  • 1 pound vanilla bark
  • 9+ feet of waxed paper

Instructions

  1. Pour nuts into large crock pot. Add chips and bark. Cover and turn on low setting.
  2. Now go shower, fold your laundry, or write a blog. Come back in about an hour.
  3. Lay out the waxed paper. (You may have to weigh down the corners if the paper is too curly to lay flat.)
  4. With a large spoon, stir the now-melted chocolate into the nuts until the chocolates are combined and the nuts are well coated.
  5. Spoon the mixture onto waxed paper according to the size you want.
  6. Keep spooning – this is a bountiful recipe.
  7. Keep the crock pot on the low setting until all its contents have been spooned out.
  8. Once everything has been scooped out, unplug your crock pot and walk away again. Go back to your blog, play with your dog, or read a book.
  9. Let the candy cool until the chocolate hardens and it peels easily from the waxed paper.
  10. It will keep fresh in a plastic bag or airtight container for several weeks. But you might not be able to keep it around for that long. My family loves to share it as much as we love to eat it.

Notes:

  • The original recipe calls for peanuts instead of almonds. I’ve done it both ways and, seriously, you can’t go wrong. My family just prefers almonds. I’m sure you could use other nuts too, if you have a different favorite.
  • In the photos I’m posting, you see sea salt sprinkled on top. This is the way my October birthday girl prefers her birthday treat. We have also experimented with toffee, sprinkles, and coconut. They are all amazing! I think the simplicity of the recipe is perfect and I prefer no toppings.
  • I adore dark chocolate. If I am making these according to my taste, I substitute some of the chocolates called for in the recipe and darken it up a bit. If the measurements of nuts and chocolates are the same as the recipe, you can change them out any way you like.
  • I have never had a batch not turn out. These are 99.9% fool proof. The reason I reserve that extra .1% is because you can overcook them. If you forget all about them and leave the ingredients in the crockpot for hours, the chocolate will burn around the edges. (Don’t ask me how I know!) Even still, you can use what is deliciously melted in the middle of the pot.
  • If you make these on a hot day, you may need to refrigerate them to encourage the cooling process. The best way I have found to do this is to cut the waxed paper into cookie-sheet sized rectangles and slide them onto the cookie sheets to place in the refrigerator or freezer (wherever you have room).

There you have it. That is how my cookie crisis could become a bountiful blessing from my family to yours. I hope this recipe comes in handy for you this holiday season and beyond.


Do you bake or home-make gifts? Do you have a preference between white, milk or dark chocolate? Does anyone do cookie exchanges anymore?

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How an Outrageous Act of Kindness Led to This Magnificent Muffin Recipe!

The house was gorgeous! It sat on a corner lot and had tons of natural light. There were huge bay windows and extra-large sliding glass doors. Each room had several windows, and the cross breezes were heavenly. It was more than my husband and I had imagined when we decided to move with 5 small children between the ages of 1 and 8. We moved in, all giddy-like and wonder-eyed.

And then night fell. None of those incredible windows had any blinds or window coverings. We felt like fish in a very clear fishbowl, visible to everyone. And we didn’t know what to do. My husband’s aunty came to our rescue with an outrageous act of kindness. I had no way to repay her, but to feed her. The following is the story that led to this magnificent muffin recipe.

Plate of muffins next to a Bible: How to Repay an Outrageous Act of Kindness - Feel Free to Start with These Muffins!
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash
Bible study and magnificent muffins? Yes please!

Aunt Jenny lived an airplane ride away. But she is a talented seamstress, and when she heard about our dilemma, she came. She stayed in our guestroom for weeks. She advised us and gave us style options. Whatever we could want, she could create. She took me to the fabric store and was extremely patient while I perused, touched and envisioned each pattern. She helped me to calculate and stay within budget.

She was a Godsend! Aunt Jenny made a total of 3 trips to help us. That was three round-trip flights just to come sew all day, every day. If she took a break, it was to accompany me to the fabric or hardware stores.

She crafted curtains for all our windows and even created sheer drape panels to hang from my girls’ three canopy beds. She made custom window seat cushions and throw pillows to match for each couch and bed. She didn’t stop until there was nothing more we could think to sew.

I tried to repay her with treats whenever possible. I noticed how much she enjoyed the bran muffins at Starbucks. One day, while she was busy sewing, I busied myself where I had a bit of creative talent – in the kitchen. I recreated the Starbucks muffins and received Aunt Jenny’s heartfelt stamp of approval.

I made other meals and goodies to spoil Aunt Jenny, but I think these muffins were her favorite. I made them by the dozens, and we ate them for more than just breakfast. In fact, even after her outrageous act of kindness was complete, she said she’d do it all again for these magnificent muffins!

Muffin with wheat on a fall table: How to Repay an Outrageous Act of Kindness - Feel Free to Start with These Muffins!
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash
Magnificent muffins make good use of Autumn’s outrageous and bountiful flavors

If you enjoy the satisfying textures of wheat and bran, the soothing spiciness of cinnamon, and the hearty sweetness of pineapple, raisins and carrots, this recipe is for you! I think they are best in the fall, warm from the oven. But truth be told, they are a wonderful treat any month of the year. And they smell absolutely heavenly as they bake!

Mamalava’s Magnificent Muffins

Servings: 24 – Prep time, 1 hour and 10 minutes – Oven temp. 400 degrees

Ingredients:

  • 1and 1/2 cups Raisin Bran cereal
    (or 1 and 1/4 cups bran flakes and 1/4 cup raisins)
  • 1 cup milk
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 and 1/2 cups vegetable (or preferred) oil
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup white flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 pound carrots, grated
  • 2/3 cup pineapple (chopped, drained and patted dry)
  • 2/3 cup walnuts or pecans (optional)

Instructions:

1. Heat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Stir together flours, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Set aside.
3. In a large mixing bowl, combine raisin bran, milk, and carrots. Let stand about 3 minutes or until cereal softens.
4. Add eggs and oil and mix well.
5. Add flour mixture to wet mixture, stirring only until combined.
6. Stir in pineapple, and nuts if desired.
7. Portion batter evenly into 2 and 1/2 inch muffin cups. (Can use silicone cups or tins coated with cooking spray or lined with paper.)
8. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown.
9. Serve warm!
I prefer to eat these just as they are. They are also amazing sliced and spread with butter and honey, or cream cheese, peanut butter – however you like!

Notes:

1. If you would rather make a cake or loaf shape instead of muffins, decrease the oven temperature to 350 degrees. Exact baking time will vary according to size of pan. Cakes will need to cool for about 45 minutes and loaves for approximately an hour before slicing.
2. You can change the pineapple or raisins for blueberries, cranberries or other fruit of your liking. This recipe was to mimic the muffins Starbucks was offering at the time, but it is customizable to suit your tastes.
3. I imagine you can swap the sugar and flours for alternatives too, but I’m not an expert at those conversions.
4. If you like seeds, they can be sprinkled on top of each muffin just before baking. Sunflower or pumpkin seeds are my most frequent choices. I’ve also been known to sprinkle these muffins with a pinch of raw sugar crystals for sparkle and crunch.
5. This batter can be made ahead and stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week. I like to double (or triple) the recipe in advance and quickly bake fresh batches just before serving. If you’re baking cold batter, add 2-5 minutes to the baking time.


Is there anyone you’d like to thank? Do you know someone who would benefit from an act of kindness? Is there someone you’d like to spoil? Maybe it’s you! This recipe is well worth your consideration. A basket of magnificent muffins is sweet to the taste, the appetite, and the heart.

Make gifts meaningful by putting the time in creating them, whether baking and cooking, or in making arts and craft. It will all have more meaning for the giver and receiver.

Lidia Bastianich

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord… since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”

Colossians 3:23a, 24
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This Ultimate Harvest Recipe Tastes Like Fall in a Pumpkin Pot!

Autumn! I love this time of year! The weather gets cool enough for me to want to use my oven and the fresh veggies are flavorful and ripe for my comfort food recipes. I hope to start sprinkling my blog with more of my favorite recipes and stories which go with them. Be sure to tune in if you’re the cooking and baking sort! And if you’re not, you’re invited too. Maybe you can pass them along to someone who will appreciate them and let you be a taste-tester in exchange. Let me know what you think about this idea. Today’s post, and this recipe and story, are examples of what I have in mind.

This ultimate harvest recipe tastes like fall in a pumpkin pot!

I must share this one with you quickly, before the pumpkins are gone from the stores! Maybe if you’re lucky, you have your own growing in your yard. Or, if you don’t carve the pumpkins on your front porch, this is a great recycle (upcycle?) idea.

A hallowed pumpkin, filled with stew, and baking in the oven: This Ultimate Harvest Recipe Tastes Like Fall in a Pumpkin Pot!
Harvest Stew Baking in a Pumpkin Pot

The background story

This is Fall in a pot! And it has a wonderful story attached. To tell it, I need to take you back a few (!!) decades… The elementary school I attended had two adults in each classroom, one teacher and one monitor. I had the same monitor for 3 years in a row, from 4th to 6th grade! Mrs. S. kept moving up with us. She became someone very dear in my life.

In High School, Mrs. S’s kids and I played on the same sports teams and even after graduation, we stayed in touch. We are still Facebook friends today. Several years ago, she posted about this meal, which she was making with her grandkids. When I asked her for the recipe, to make with my family, Mrs. S told me that she had actually gotten it from my mom, who is a preschool teacher and had made it with her little students!

I just thought that was incredible. It is a passed-down recipe that took a detour on its way and came through, not one, but two of my most cherished Christian mentors! Don’t you think that is pretty special? Well, even if you’re not the nostalgic type, I’ll bet your heart will melt for this pumpkin pot filled with all the flavors of harvest!

The recipe

A medium pumpkin is perfect, maybe a 10-12 pounder. First, cut a circle in the top. Then scoop out all the seeds and stringy parts. You want a thick shell with the flesh intact. That is it! Your pumpkin pot is ready to stuff with your favorite fall flavors!

Mrs. S fills her pumpkin pot with sautéed garlic and onions, browned ground turkey, shredded carrots, mushrooms, spinach, broccoli slaw, stewed tomatoes, and kidney beans. But she emphasized that this ultimate harvest recipe is completely customizable.

The possibilities

You can change the protein to stew meat, chicken, something plant based, or leave it out altogether. You can add or delete any veggies you wish. You can season to your own liking too.

Curry? (If you follow this blog, you know how I feel about curry. If you don’t, you can find out here.) Italian seasonings? Mexican spices? Do it your way with the ingredients you like and have on hand. The possibilities are endless!

The instructions

The instructions are simple. Just fill the pumpkin with whatever harvest fare you crave and replace the top. Place it on a baking pan and put it in the oven at 325 degrees. It will bake in there for 2 hours. Make sure to watch toward the end that the pumpkin pot doesn’t get too done and lose its structure.

Stew baked to perfection in a pumpkin: This Ultimate Harvest Recipe Tastes Like Fall in a Pumpkin pot!
It’s Healthy and Hot – It’s Harvest in a Pot!

When it is finished baking, your house will smell amazing! Serve it right from the festive pumpkin pot, scraping the sides to get a serving of pumpkin in every spoonful. Top with cheese, parsley, avocado, sour cream or anything you like!

More options

Mrs. S suggests serving your masterpiece over rice. Do you like jasmine rice? Brown rice? Cauliflower rice? Do you prefer potatoes or noodles? Or do you skip the carbs? Any way you serve it, this is the ultimate harvest recipe. I think you’ll agree that it takes like fall in a pot – a pumpkin pot! What’s not to like?

Are you going to try this recipe? Have you made something similar in the past? What would be your preferred ingredients? Mmm… is anyone getting hungry?

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Reflections

1 Meaningful Thing I Learned From the Garage Sale without Signs

So many of my posts start with an idea hatched while I was out walking. This one is no different. I love to walk and talk to God and have time to hear Him respond.

On this day, I walked up to an intersection and looked down the side street. There appeared to be a sale in one of the driveways, or maybe they had just moved stuff out to clean the garage? I looked around for the typical, brightly colored signs to indicate a sale, but saw none. Curious, I turned the corner and went to check it out. I’m glad I did, because God had something meaningful for me to learn.

As I neared the property which had caught my attention, a neighbor pulled up in a truck. He got out and addressed the couple in the driveway by name.

Sale Table: 1 Meaningful Thing I Learned From the Garage Sale Without Signs
Photo by Charisse Kenion on Unsplash

“Hey, I thought I saw you guys out here selling when I left for the store, but I wasn’t sure. I looked for signs on the way back, but I never saw them.” His words phrased a statement, but his face was inquisitive. The woman turned to her sale partner, who said “Yeah, we didn’t make any signs. It seemed like a lot of work.”

I had reached the area, quickly perused the sale, and turned back toward the route from which I had come. But his words rung in my ears. “Didn’t make signs”? “Too much work”? How did they expect to sell what they had painstakingly taken the time to arrange outside if nobody knew they were selling it?

Granted, they may have put an ad in the paper or advertised in some other way. But around here, a trail of brightly colored signs leading traffic from the main road to your house is expected. It is part of the fun of a garage sale.

Garage Sale Sign: 1 Meaningful Thing I Learned From the Garage Sale Without Signs
Noticeable and Direct

I was amused. I walked a few blocks away. The words were still in my head, and I was still smiling. And then I asked God about it.

“Lord, did you have me notice and approach that garage sale just to overhear that comical conversation? It sure made an impression on me. I can’t shake the feeling that You want me to learn something from it.”

It was just a few steps later when I felt God nudging my thoughts. “How successful can a sale be, if nobody knows you’re selling?” And then He was more direct, “What are you selling?”

Jesus loves you: 1 Meaningful Thing I Learned From the Garage Sale Without Signs
Photo by Chris Dixon on Unsplash

“I’m promoting the Gospel”, I thought in response.

“What signs have you put up to draw people to your sale?”, He asked. I thought back over the past few days. There were a few fresh faces around. I’d been to a new hair salon and met a couple of my kids’ friends. And you know what? I hadn’t put up any signs.

Well arranged yard sale: 1 Meaningful Thing I Learned From the Garage Sale Without Signs
Photo by Donatella D’Anniballe on Unsplash

Sure, I’d put my wares on display and tried to arrange them attractively. I’d used buzzwords like “blessing” and “prayer”. I’d been kind and compassionate. But I hadn’t made signs to lead people from where they were to the saving grace of Jesus.

How would one make a sign selling salvation? Just like a garage sale sign, it would have to catch attention and give clear direction. I’ve seen the quote:

“Preach the Gospel at all times; and if you must, use words.”

Author Unknown

I think we must use words – the words of God, whenever possible. We need to live so differently than the world that we catch the attention of the people around us. And then we must tell them Who we emulate and why.

The 1 meaningful thing I learned from the garage sale without signs is that if we want to offer Jesus to others, we need to point the way.

We need to be the signs!

What do you think that looks like? How can we be clear and direct signs which people can follow from where they are to the arms of Jesus?