With fifteen kids between them - Brooke, Whitney and Soni - the three moms who form Mercy River, undoubtedly have full plates. Even with the demands of motherhood, they refuse to slow down. Their fifth album, ALL IS BRIGHT:A MERCY RIVER CHRISTMAS, hit stores and iTunes 2015.
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If you know us at all, you know we’re passionate about Holy Week.
Since celebrating it with my family, I’ve noticed something happens to me on Good Friday. I often feel sad, even a little dark. This is no doubt due to the way we have studied and talked of Christ all week. The day of His crucifixion weighs heavy on my heart. It’s a hard day for someone who naturally loves anything light and happy.
Last year I decided to add to our Good Friday activities, to give me something to look forward to. I had learned about Hot Cross Buns as a child–my grandma would read us a book about them, they always sounded so good to me–and I knew they were a Good Friday tradition in many parts of the world.
I love the symbolism in this bread. The cross is for obvious reasons, the spices in the bread to represent the spices used to embalm Christ at His burial. English Folklore links Hot Cross Buns to many superstitions. These sweet rolls would protect ships from wrecking, cure illnesses, and protect homes from fire. But my favorite? Buns given to friends ensures the friendship would last throughout that year.
I took our original family roll recipe and made some changes and now Hot Cross Buns are a favorite around here. We like to deliver them to friends and family, just to make sure our relationships stay on good ground for the year. 😉 Plus a little service on Good Friday lifts my heart.
So here goes! Our Hot Cross Bun recipe.
Dissolve the yeast in the warmed milk, a little orange juice, and a sprinkling of sugar. After the yeast dissolves and starts to foam, add the butter, sugar, orange zest, eggs, salt, spices, craisins, and 2 cups of flour. Mix that well, then add additional flour, 1 cup at a time. Knead for about 5 minutes.
The dough should be a little sticky. You want this to be soft–soft dough equals soft rolls.
I will say at this point, the traditional recipe calls for currants or raisins. But we like craisins, so…our house our rules. But you can add what dried fruit you’d like!
And one more thing–I have superpowers when it comes to nutmeg. I can literally taste it if there’s the slightest breath of the spice, and sometimes it’s ALL I taste. So I just add a pinch here. If you like nutmeg go ahead and add a little more, or substitute the cinnamon with a combination of spices you love.
Let the dough rise in a warm place for 1-2 hours, until doubled in size.
Form into even balls, and place 1-2 inches apart on greased baking sheet. (I use parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.)
When forming the balls you may have some craisins escape. That’s OK, let them go. If they don’t want to be a part of a Hot Cross Bun that’s their problem.
Let those rise for another hour or so, (till doubled in size), then bake for 15 minutes at 375 degrees.
Once the rolls are out of the oven, let them cool for about 10 minutes before drizzling the icing on top. If they’re too hot the crosses will just melt.
Now, again, I’m straying from tradition a little. Originally, the cross on the buns are made from a pastry or a flour/water mixture, placed on the rolls before they bake. I love traditions. I do. But I also love icing.
These buns are so soft. I love the balance of sweetness from the roll and icing, the hint of spices, the freshness from the citrus, and the tanginess of the craisins. My family can’t get enough of them. In full disclosure we may eat more than we give out. But it’s the thought that counts, right? If I could just get them out of the house before the kids get home…
There you go! A simple way to show love on Good Friday. I hope you and your family are enjoying Holy Week. xoxo
It’s no secret I’m not a baker (proof here and here). Sure, I make cookies with my kids, but if I have to bake something for someone over 12 years old and it has to taste good AND look good AND be packaged in something other than a paper plate and a ziplock bag, I’m panicked. I’m not crafty either. That’s why Christmas neighbor gifts stress me to the max. Some years they don’t get done, and I know that’s ok. But there are some years when I KNOW I need to make a few visits and spread some love.
This is one of those years. Especially with the #LightTheWorld campaign, I knew our family needed to make a special effort to visit some neighbors. I asked my kids to pray individually and listen for one name of someone who was lonely and could use a visit. They each came up with a different name and carefully colored cards for them. As they worked, I cleaned the kitchen and tried to think of SOMETHING to bake. We were out of eggs, low on butter, and I had nothing (sprinkles? candy canes? red and green m&ms?) to make it look Christmasy. After 20 minutes of scouring Pinterest for answers and self esteem, I knew how this would end. We would never make it out the front door.
I realized the treats were holding me back from the visiting. I was making it too hard. Lonely people like treats, but they need people. Could we possibly make visits without treats or a gift…at Christmastime?
That seemed weird. But my mantra lately has been “don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” Going empty handed wasn’t perfect, but was good. Just go, Whitney. Just go.
I decided that instead, we could sing a song. That would be our gift. Tell me to frost a cookie and I’m stressed; but tell me to gather my kids around the piano and teach harmony parts and arrange songs– and I’m in. THAT excites me. THAT is work I can do. THAT is a gift I can give. So we bundled up and headed out. My kids were mortified to be going without treats (one even said- and I quote- “I HATE being a singing family!!”)
At the first house (of a darling, sprightly 90 year old widow), I explained that we wanted to sing her a song– that this was our gift, along with a handmade card. Admittedly, I did feel dumb not handing a plate of cookies or a clever dollar store item with a cute poem. But THIS WAS ALL I HAD TO GIVE this year. She was (of course) delighted and spent a few moments telling us the story behind the delicate blue blanket draped over her rocking chair.
We continued on our way, visiting each home my children prayed about, and they ended up loving it (like I knew they would). I’m not a fudge connoisseur or a sewing pro. These are not my gifts. But I can still make visits and offer a gift I DO have.
It reminded me of one of my favorite Christmas songs:
What can I give Him Poor as I am? If I were a shepherd I would give a lamb If I were a wise man, I would do my part. What can I give Him? Give Him my heart.
But today, I rewrote the song as follows:
What can I give Him? Lame as I am? If I were a baker, I would give some flan If I were a crafter, I’d hot glue all day long But I am just a singer So I will give a song.
*takes a bow*
Jesus meets us where we are. He accepts our imperfect offerings. And so do the widows, the lonely, and the sad. Wishing you a happy season of lighting the world and loving your neighbors, even if you go perfectly empty handed.
On May 16th we’re asking everyone to go see the movie, “The Abolitionists”– a hidden-camera-documentary about child trafficking. And here’s a disclaimer:
We’re terrified to see this movie.
Those who know Brooke know she’s a happy-ending kind of a gal. She has the Pride and Prejudice Blu-Ray on repeat- and we’re 99.9% positive this movie will not be light, fun, or happy to watch. Soni gets easily overwhelmed about the scary things in the world. And somedays Whitney would like to run to the mountains with her kids and lock them inside and pretend like sad things aren’t happening.
But that isn’t possible, nor is it right.
A few months ago, we sat down with Tim Ballard and learned of his organization, Operation Underground Railroad. Tim calls himself a modern day “abolitionist,” rescuing children from the horrors of sex slavery. This is something very sad to think about…but after hearing the truth we’ll never be the same. Here are a few things we learned:
–There are 27 million slaves in the world today. That’s more slaves than in the 300 years of the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade combined. 2 million of these are children.
–Human trafficking is the third most lucrative crime in the world and it is the fastest-growing international crime.
–Every 30 seconds a child is sold into the sex trade. The average price to rent a child for the night is $300– $1000 if the child is a virgin. The average age of a trafficked child is 13.
–There are over 100,000 children in the United States who are being trafficked. This is happening right under our noses and it is a direct result of pornography.
This information is very difficult to hear. But the bottom line is this: We’re Christians. Surely none of us want to stand before God and tell him we turned away from hard things we saw or heard. We don’t want to be the Levite or the priest who “passed by on the other side” of someone who needed help (Luke 10). Especially a child.
Last October President Russell M Nelson quoted Boyd K. Packer as saying this: “We need women who are organized and women who can organize. We need women with executive ability who can plan and direct and administer; women who can teach, women who can speak out.”
President Nelson then said, “Today, let me add that we need women who know how to make important things happen by their faith and who are courageous defenders of morality and families in a sin-sick world.”
As our friend Fiona Givens recently told us, “We need women who are not afraid of the dark.”
It’s not enough anymore to ignore the dark spaces, the problems, the wounded on the side of the road. We can’t pretend they’re not there. Nor can we be afraid. In order to fight the dark we have to face it. We have to organize, direct, teach, speak out, and lead. We have to be willing to educate ourselves and others and use our faith to make important things happen.
We want to be those kind of women.
Child trafficking is evil in its worst form– and short of learning karate and joining the #OURrescue jump team, it can be difficult to know how to help. But here’s what we CAN do:
1- See “The Abolitionists” Monday, May 16th (trailer). Most theaters are only giving this movie ONE chance. It must do well opening night so theaters will continue to play it and so it will spread. Click here to find one of the 480 participating theaters near you. It may be difficult to see, but I promise you will leave inspired and empowered. (Plus, 15% of your ticket price goes directly to rescuing children!)
2- If you can’t see the movie, buy tickets anyway and give them away. The goal on Monday is to sell seats so the theaters will continue playing the movie. More exposure of the movie = more people educated on the issue = more kids rescued.
3- Please spread the word! Post the trailer on social media and TELL people why you feel strongly about supporting the film. If there’s not a theater close enough to you, get others there Monday night so it WILL come to you. Direct people to this link to find theaters near them. http://www.fathomevents.com/event/the-abolitionists/buy
Fighting darkness takes time, energy, and resources. It’s not easy to figure out how to put filters on a computer, talk to our kids about pornography, or learn about child trafficking.
But this is the generation God put you in.
For some reason, He needed you here, at this time, in this place. These are the evils of our day, and we are His hands. We can be the faith driven women President Nelson is pleading for, anxiously engaged in good causes and fearlessly fighting the dark.
Do we WANT to see evidence of this kind of evil in the world? No. But will we face it? Yes.
Join us. This Monday night, choose to stop on the side of the road.
UPDATE: Our friend Sandra Turley posted these words on her IG and we thought it would be helpful here, coming from one who has seen a screening of the film: “Some of my girlfriends have said they simply can’t see this because they will cry too much…please listen up: yes, you will shed a tear, but the movie is not overly explicit nor is it too much to handle…the producers have done an extraordinary job to allow us to see and learn what needs to be done to save children across the world without showing us the images that would haunt our nightmares. But let us remember, children and adolescents are living the nightmare….Information is power and we need to use our power to save children from sex slavery.”
The three of us will be watching “The Abolitionists” at the following theaters. We’d love to see you if you are in one of these areas! If not, use this link to find which of the 480 theaters is near you. Remember, this is a ONE NIGHT event, pending it’s success! Let’s pack the theaters!
Brooke: Cinemark Tinseltown in Layton, 7:30 Soni: Cinemark Farmington Station Park, 7:30 Whitney: Edwards in Idaho Falls, 7:30pm (She’s driving 180 miles to see it! We double dog dare you to drive farther ;))
If you’re a mom, chances are good you don’t see a lot of “silent nights” during the holidays.
After all, YOU are the one responsible for creating most of the magic. There are parties, dinners, concerts, presents, food, neighbor gifts, Christmas cards…not to mention the normal demands of sports, recitals, homework, sick kids, and laundry. You’re up later than usual to get it all done, when what you really want to do is eat fudge, watch the Hallmark channel, and feel jolly.
But, can I be super honest? Some years all I feel is numb.
Numb from the busyness. And sad–even a little guilty– that I don’t really “feel” Christmas (other than feeling “rage” because my Amazon Prime package took 3 days to arrive, or feeling “panicked” because I can’t find the Lego set I strategically hid 5 weeks ago).
We’re so worried about everyone else around us soaking in the spirit of Christ- but what about US? Do we let Christmas “act upon” us and miss an important connection? Do we just expect that Christmas will bring the feelings we long for? Just like every other part of the holidays, these moments (often) need to be CREATED. Because of a busy December schedule, we need to intentionally act and create space for ourselves to have worshipful, reflective moments.
As a semi-expert of Christmas cray cray, I’d like to share a personal suggestion for reclaiming your connection to Christ- your inner peace- during the holiday season. Your own “silent night,” if you will.
The magic of Christmas is often tied to traditions, which include our family or friends. Which ALSO includes running to the store, organizing schedules, baking extra treats, and coordinating chaos. Oftentimes traditions- although joyful and/or necessary- are draining for the one orchestrating it all (raise your hand *here*).
But what if you create a tradition just for YOU? Something that fills your bucket. Something that doesn’t include other schedules or uncooperative kids. There are no parties, no extra baking, no surfing Pinterest for ideas. This tradition is just yours. Something that you know will bring you peace and help you reflect when you need it most.
I discovered the power of a personal tradition a few years ago, during a particularly busy Christmas season. It was two days before Christmas and I realized I hadn’t really felt at peace that entire month. So that night I sent everyone to bed (including my husband) and I grabbed my favorite Christmas book and a hot chocolate, and I curled up by my tree and read. That night became so special to me, completely changing the way I felt that season. I decided to repeat it each year. No matter how busy or chaotic the holidays get, I know I’ll get my time. Come Christmas Eve-Eve, I know I’ll have MY MOMENT to ponder, feel, reflect, and cry by the tree. It’s one of my favorite parts about Christmas. My own tradition.
During the chaos of the season, I look forward to that peaceful, private time. I know it’s coming, and that helps fuel me through the month.
Your personal tradition might look different than mine. You might gather special Christmas songs, stick them on a playlist, and go for a bundled walk. You might jump in the car and take a solitary drive as you listen to the Christmas story or a devotional. Maybe there’s a certain movie, or book that you know will bring the spirit. This is just about you and Jesus. Find what brings you peace, and stick with that tradition each year.
Creating a personal “come to Jesus” tradition for yourself will GREATLY enhance the peace of your Christmas season. We could all use less chaos and more inner stillness as we run around like frantic elves. Try to intentionally create space for few more reflective, quiet moments. Even if your “silent nights” are few and far between.
(As a tribute to mothers who often don’t see many (but desperately need more) silent nights, we created this music video. Moms, in the words of Elder Holland, “You are doing better than you think you are!” Enjoy! xo)
Many of you know my family and I have been praying to get pregnant for a few years. That prayer was answered this past February. We were of course over the moon about the news, but my due date came fairly close to a Time Out for Women event in Phoenix (which we had been scheduled for several months before the positive pregnancy test). Nevertheless, I trusted in the Lord’s timing. He knew my schedule. He knew I wanted to attend that event. As the event drew closer I often asked the Lord if I should go or stay home. My answer was never clear, so I decided to just move ahead. “I’m going to Phoenix,” I would tell Him, but then always added, “But PLEASE stop me if it’s not safe for my baby.”
The Tuesday morning before our Phoenix event I woke up with some pain in my abdomen. I tried to brush it off but as I hurried my kids out the door for school it continued to get worse. My doctor advised me to head to the hospital to be monitored.
Truth be told, I was a little bugged.
With the Phoenix event on Saturday and my nice, scheduled C-section the week after, my to-do list was rather long. My house was a disaster, my hospital bags were not packed. My 4 year old was still in PJs, and I was in my usual morning attire of sweats.
As I lay on the hospital bed the pains began to get worse. The nurses were initially baffled, and concluded I had been overdoing it and maybe torn some ligaments, which sort of increased my antsy-ness to get out of there. After 2 hours they were about to send me home, but decided to wait a little longer to get the OK from my doctor.
I was alone in the room, hoping the Tylenol I just took would kick in and release me from this inconvenience. But then I started getting worse. The pain was starting to take my breath away. After 2 extremely painful episodes the head L&D nurse came in and told me they would be doing the C section that day. I started sobbing. But my list! My ridiculous, unimportant list of things to do! And what about Phoenix? How would Whitney and Soni perform without me? I worried over the insane amount of work they would have to do to adjust because of the position I was putting them in. I quickly (and tearfully) called my husband to tell him we would be having a baby that day and to hurry to the hospital. My doctor was finishing up a delivery at another hospital but would come as soon as he could. The nurse spoke calmly–assuring me that they would both make it, and this was a happy time! (“Yes it is,” I sobbed.) As she was prepping me for an IV I had another spasm of pain, far worse than anything else I had experienced. And at the same time, my baby’s heart rate dropped.
This inspired nurse stopped what she was doing, grabbed the baby’s heart monitor, and then started calling for the other nurses. She started to give orders, then turned to me and said, “We need to get her out now. I’m so sorry, your husband won’t make it.” The following 5 minutes were a blur. Here and there I would catch phrases like, “Her uterus has completely ruptured,” and, “We’re losing the baby.” Being strapped to a bed as they ran me down the hall, all I could do was pray out loud. “Please Heavenly Father. Please help my baby.” Repeated over and over.
I have never been more terrified. With no time for epidurals or spinal blocks, the only option was to be put under. The thought of being alone and not knowing if she would be OK or not was almost too much.
The next thing I knew I was waking up in a room with my husband, parents, and sister. Our baby had made it, and was doing great. Over the next few days I would hear multiple stories–similar experiences with much more heartbreaking outcomes. Babies losing lives, even mothers losing lives. Nurses and doctors were constantly reminding me that my baby and I were both miracles. By the time we were able to finally bring her home from the NICU she had earned the nickname “the miracle baby.” And as I write this post she is happily snoring in the swing next to me.
I’ve thought about the many prayers I said during this entire experience, and the one that sticks out the most is my plea to, “Stop me if it’s not safe for my baby.” The answer to that prayer came in the form of pain. A literal physical pain that would take me to the hospital, putting me in the right spot at the right time. It most definitely stopped me from going to the Phoenix event, but even more it kept my baby safe. Had that rupture happened anywhere but the hospital we would have lost her.
I was reminded that oftentimes the Lord use our pain to answer our prayers. He uses the pain (what we don’t want) to put us in the right place to be blessed (what we DO want). More than ever, I understand the lyrics from our song Blessings:
What if your blessings come through raindrops? What if your healing comes through tears? What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know you’re near? What if trials of this life- the rain, the storm, the darkest nights- are your mercies in disguise?