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I love testimonies. I loved them before I was even a believer. I love the ones that talk about some dark, desperate moment in the speaker’s life that led to the discovery of God, self-transformation, and a happy ending. Most skeptics, I think, would agree that there is beauty to these stories, even if they don’t believe in the existence of God. I know, because I was a skeptic who found the stories of vulnerability and hope deeply moving.

But these testimonies, as raw and emotional as they can be, always made me wonder whether those life-changing events were really acts of God or just a turn of fate. Whether your recovery from addiction/self-destructive behavior was motivated from above or brought about by self-determination. Whether God was really there in your time of need or just an imaginary presence fabricated out of a profound desire for hope. I don’t think there is an answer to that if you are outside of the faith.

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But maybe the question we should all be asking is, “If there were no happy ending to your story, if there were no redemption, if things hadn’t turned out, would you still believe in God? Is your story still a testimony of the glory of God?”

Our stories of overcoming hardships aren’t meant to be validation for God. We don’t celebrate God because he saved us from illness, unemployment, or broken relationships, even though these things are worth rejoicing over. Our stories exalt God not because they end with victory, but simply because they demonstrate the tenacity and strength of our faith despite our circumstances. That even when we are caught in the midst of pain and heartbreak, we will still acknowledge something higher than ourselves. We do this because our faith saves us from being consumed by our circumstances. We worship because we refuse to let ourselves be defined by what happens to us. We are more than what others label us, more than what we can make for ourselves. Our hope isn’t in a happy ending or earthly salvation, our hope is in the promise that we are meant to share in something much greater than anything we could imagine.

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This is one of my favorite stories in the bible:

King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, ninety feet high and nine feet wide, and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon… Then the herald loudly proclaimed, “This is what you are commanded to do, O peoples, nations and men of every language: As soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes and all kinds of music, you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.”

But three Jews, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abenego, refused.

Furious with rage, Nebuchadnezzar summoned Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego…and said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the image of gold I have set up? Now…if you are ready to fall down and worship the image I made, very good. But if you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?”

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king,

“O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

Daniel 3

“But even if he does not.” Even if God does not come through. Even if He does not answer our cries. Even then, we will still believe. And God is still God, and nothing that He does or does not do will change that truth. We aren’t Christians because we want to be protected when the going gets tough. We are Christians because we believe, someday, when the old order of things has passed away, He will wipe every tear from our eyes, and there will be no more death or mourning or pain; and we will be His people, and God will be our God.

Apple Cider Caramels from Smitten Kitchen

I used to buy Whole Foods Sea Salt Caramel and devour them within days.  At every turn, I would pop these into my mouth until the last piece was gone and I start bemoaning the fact that I had ingested enough sugar to fuel a 100 watt light bulb.  Sadly, they aren’t available at my local store.  There was nothing like coming home from a long day of work, and sinking your teeth into one of these chewy nuggets.  So I decided that I should try my hand at making my own caramel.

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Heat up sugar and cream, and let it set.  It doesn’t seem like such a hard thing to do, right?  But my first few attempts were quite disappointing.  They didn’t seem to harden quite enough to hold its shape.  But third time’s a charm!  This recipe uses honey instead of corn syrup, which is not only tons healthier (well, as healthy as candy can be) but gives the caramel a richer taste. I also used raw sugar for a bit of molasses flavor.  If you slice them into pieces and wrap in wax paper, they make great treats to hand out to friends.  Now that I know how to make caramel, I can’t wait to try them over shortbread.  That’ll have to wait until another day…

Sea Salt Caramels from Two Tarts