Searching For Gratitude + Pecan Pie Bars

We started off 2020 in Thailand at our annual conference. We were back in our happy place after missing a year while on home assignment. Each year, that wonderful place brought respite, rejuvenation, warmth and beauty in the midst of bleak winter, being with people we love dearly who get this life, and eating some of the most delicious food in the world. Hello, mango sticky rice!

Mid-week, we heard about the virus breaking out in China, where we serve. I reacted nervously, not wanting to expose anyone to this mysterious disease. Our teammates who were at the same conference with us brought great, calm perspective after having lived through SARS. They would return. But should we? I was torn. I wanted to make a safe, wise decision, but I also thought about the close friends and millions of others who had no choice but to endure it, for that was their home.

After some arguments and tears, I finally relented to my husband’s decision to take our family back as planned. We wouldn’t know until months later this was definitely God’s plan for our family.

Returning wasn’t easy. Lockdown was harsh here. Every neighborhood has a gate around it with a set of guards, which makes it a pretty perfect setup to handle a fast-spreading virus. We were tracked and scanned and temperature checked everywhere we went. We were discriminated against as rumors began to spread that foreigners brought the disease over. But there was much to be thankful for:

Thankfully, our neighborhood guards were pretty laid-back and let me out just about every day to get food or necessities (and sanity). They also didn’t fuss when we let our kids play in the courtyard after a week of being inside. (Yes, only a week.) No other kids came out for several more weeks. Weird foreigners.

Thankfully, our city and province had less than 100 cases of the virus. Millions live here.

Thankfully, our weekly prayer meeting eventually started back up with the creative twist of meeting at the park and pairing up to pray and walk since gatherings in homes still couldn’t happen. We did this for months.

Thankfully, the kids’ teachers (stuck in America) figured out a way to continue teaching them each day. It was messy and hard, but they all continued learning.

Thankfully, even though lockdown was strict, it was lifted within a few months. There are still some remnants of strictness lurking around, but we’ve been back to mostly normal life since the summer. After watching the rest of the world continue to suffer, we definitely do not take this lightly.

Thankfully, because classes looked different for everyone in the spring and summer, local kids were outside playing every day and my kids spent each day playing with new friends. This is the first time local kids have been free enough to play daily in our 10 years here.

Thankfully, even during a pandemic where many are working from tighter budgets, we have been able to raise funds to nearly 100% for various budgets.

Thankfully, even when all odds were against us, we just received word that the business my husband and I have been dreaming of is one, giant step closer to becoming a reality. This is truly nothing short of a miracle.

“Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told.” –Habakkuk 1:5

I’ve mentioned this verse before, but it’s worth repeating here. We came into this year looking at this verse, and really had no idea the impact it would have on our lives. On the days I just wanted to stay in bed and cry because I didn’t want to endure the hardships, I stared at this verse until I could believe it, even if just a little.

For us, God’s plans were to bring us back to China for this time. For others, it was to take them back to their passport countries. Neither is better than the other; the best is simply listening to His plans alone, forcing ourselves not to be jealous of the things we’d rather be doing. Forcing ourselves to look and wonder and be astounded at God’s grace and faithfulness through even the messiest times.

Looking back on this monumental year, where can you find gratitude? In hard or dark times, what verse, song, or encouraging thing did you turn to? I’ll share some songs in the comments. Please share yours, for this year isn’t over yet and some aren’t quite out of the valley!


When searching for pecan pie recipes, I always ran into recipes with corn syrup. It’s possible to get here, but I never buy it. So, I hunted for recipes without it. Then, stumbled on pecan pie bars! I loved the idea of a bar verses a messy pie. I made these, and they were all gone by the end of the gathering. My husband begged me to make them again this week. Pecans and maple syrup aren’t cheap imported items, but they’re a fun splurge for these babies!

These bars take a teensy bit more time than just throwing ingredients in a bowl. They call for browned butter. If you’ve never browned butter, don’t run away! It’s not hard, and is TOTALLY worth the extra nutty flavor it brings!
Browning butter is actually fascinating. It changes forms a few different times before arriving to this deep golden brown color. Beware that if you leave it on much after this, it’ll burn!
The shortbread crust is a perfect pairing to the sweet, nutty mixture to be added on top.
Boiling the sugar and syrup creates a wonderful filling without gooey corn syrup.
Tempering the eggs (bringing the eggs’ temperature up) before adding them into the hot syrup is key. Otherwise you’ll have egg drop syrup!
The filling comes together as the shortbread is baking. So fast and easy!
These do take a while to cool, but it’s worth the wait to cut perfect squares.
These have definitely become a new favorite holiday treat!

Brown Butter Pecan Bars

Makes: 24 bars

Ready in: 1 hour 20 minutes, plus more for cooling

Slightly adapted from: Sally’s Baking Addiction

For the Curst:

  • 1 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup  granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour

For the Filling:

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup  packed brown sugar 
  • 1/2 cup pure maple syrup
  • 2 Tablespoons heavy cream (or milk)
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 3 cups coarsely chopped shelled pecans
  • optional: sea salt for sprinkling
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (177°C) and grease a 9×13 inch pan or line with parchment paper leaving an overhang on the sides to lift the finished bars out. Set aside.
  2. For the crust: Slice the butter up into pieces and place in a small pot. Melt the butter over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Once melted, the butter will begin to foam. Keep stirring occasionally. After 5-8 minutes, the butter will begin browning– you’ll notice lightly browned specks begin to form at the bottom of the pan and it will have a nutty aroma. Once browned, remove from heat immediately and allow to cool for 5 minutes.
  3. In a large bowl, stir the brown butter, granulated sugar, vanilla extract, and salt together in a medium bowl. Stir in the flour until evenly combined. Press the mixture evenly into the prepared baking pan. Bake for 15 minutes.
  4. For the topping: Combine the butter, brown sugar, maple syrup, and heavy cream in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Whisk to combine the ingredients and dissolve the sugar. Bring to a boil and allow to boil for 3 minutes. As it is boiling, carefully spoon 1/2 cup of the mixture into a glass measuring cup. Slowly drizzle it into the beaten eggs. Stir frequently to keep it moving so the eggs do not scramble. Once the 1/2 cup mixture is added to the beaten eggs, slowly drizzle and whisk this back into the pot. The trick is to always be stirring/whisking to avoid scrambling the eggs. (If you do get a few cooked egg pieces, just remove them.) Remove from heat, stir in the pecans, and pour evenly over the crust.
  5. Bake for 30-35 minutes. A toothpick inserted in the center should come out *mostly* clean. If the top is getting too brown as it bakes, loosely cover with aluminum foil. Remove from the oven, set on a wire rack, and allow to cool completely before cutting into squares. Cover and store leftover bars at room temperature or in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

Photo by Delfina Cocciardi on Unsplash

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