Unashamed

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Man with arms raised towards the sky

“For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”

I am not ashamed of the Gospel.

Nor am I ashamed to love. But neither love nor encouragement equals unlimited concession or acquiescence. Love is truthful and patient. Sometimes encouragement is to encourage away from the bad and toward the good. Sometimes love is the courage to say “I’ll never leave you, but I won’t lie and tell you this is good.”

Love doesn’t support or congratulate self-destruction. It doesn’t sell the eternal for the temporal. I don’t correct those who aren’t in my close circle because that’s not my thing. But I wonder about Christians who say, “Do what makes you happy” instead of “Do what God created you to do.” Anything that leads away from Him and more towards self is a lie.

We weren’t created to glorify ourselves. We weren’t even created to be happy. We were created for His glory. Everything above that is a blessing and a gift. And if we put happiness before His glory, before obedience, before truth in love, before dying to self, then we’ve sold the Creator for the creation. It’s a cheap trade of tragic proportions.

All have sinned and fall short of His glory. That doesn’t mean we languish in sin because we’ll never measure up. It’s meant to turn our eyes toward His grace, His goodness, His love, so much so that we find ourselves lavishing in His glory. It’s about Him, not us. So when I feel tempted, by popular opinion or law or fear of being misunderstood, to conform to the world and not God, I remember. And I remain…

Unashamed.

Kids Cook Fridays

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Fridays have always been a population favorite. They end the work and school week, usher in vacations (or holidays, for my European friends), and offer much-needed breaks. Even the most disagreeable chime in on the popular consensus of Friday’s arrival…ahh.

In my home, we issue up a hearty “Mmmm” as well. Because that’s when the kids get to cook.

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And I’m not talking peanut butter sandwiches or ramen noodles either. During the week, they pick a recipe based on what we have on hand, get a $20 budget for any missing ingredients, and take over the kitchen stove, kitchen counters, and the kitchen sink. (I clean up after myself when I cook, so can they :-).)

My son, who’s not as fond of this routine as his sister… 008
…tends to go for the more practical selections. Whatever can be thrown in one dish and cooked together is a first choice for him.

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My daughter, on the other hand, has to be scaled back now and then. Otherwise it’d be ten-course meals with drink pairings and a selection of desserts. This is what her table looks like on her nights:

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And if we have guests, she completes the scene with a towel draped elegantly over her arm, serves and refills drinks individually, and personally makes rounds about the table to dish out seconds. Top Chef, thank you.

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Though cookbooks for kids have easy to make dishes, many of them include ingredients that aren’t always the healthiest. So I prefer recipes from sites such as allrecipes.com, or cookbooks such as Ree Drummond’s The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Recipes From an Accidental Country Girl. Here comes Mathias’ version of Ree’s braised beef brisket:

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These nights are fun, but they’re not always easy. It takes longer for the twins to follow a recipe than it would if I were to cook. And the cleanup can sometimes take a military turn. But in the end, they’re learning to accept more responsibility as they get older, and I see them glow when they receive praise for a well-cooked meal.

And should we eat out on a Friday, the chef of the evening gets to choose the restaurant.

All-in-all, we enjoy this family tradition, as it gives additional meaning to the phrase, “Thank God it’s Friday!”

Your turn: What are some family activities or traditions you keep in your household?

Summer Reading

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bookmarathonSchool’s out next week, which translates into more time for reading and writing, both for me and the kids.

While I have quite a few books on my to-be-read (TBR) list already, I’m always looking to add more, and now is a better time than ever to swap recommendations.

If you have a few novels or non-fiction books you think are must-reads (middle-grade and/or adult), please share in the comments. In return, here are a few I’ve read recently (with one or two exceptions) I think you might enjoy:

  1. The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer. The first of a two book dystopian series, this book is creative and creepily realistic in its portrayal of the future.
  2. Wonder by R.J. Palacio. A book for middle-grade kids, Wonder had my whole family reaching for the tissues. It explores both the darkness and beauty of the human spirit, and prompts self-reflection of a noble variety in the kids who read it.
  3. The Butterfly and the Violin by Kristy Cambron. A hybrid historical and contemporary fiction novel that explores the origins of a Nazi-era painting, this book is simply…beautiful.
  4. By Darkness Hid by Jill Williamson. This is the first of a three book inspirational fantasy series. If you’re into Young Adult/Science Fiction/Fantasy/Speculative, you should check it out. I loved it.
  5. Undaunted: Daring to Do What God Calls You to Do by Christine Caine. This non-fiction title is like a call to arms for those seeking to live out their purpose.
  6. Wild Born (Spirit Animals #1) by Brandon Mull. Another middle-grade novel, this book is best read with your kids because of some of the violence. The story, however, is wonderful. This book is the first in a series of seven. Not that I’m into series or anything :-).
  7. Finding Amanda by Robin Patchen. I just finished this contemporary gem. Filled with suspense, conflict, and intrigue, this book is what inspirational fiction needs.
  8. A Voice in the Wind by Francine Rivers. Perhaps one of the greatest novels of all time. If you read nothing else, read this one. Then read the next two books in the series :-).
  9. To Be Told: Know Your Story, Shape Your Future by Dan B. Allender, PHd. I’m still reading this one. It’s so rich I couldn’t keep it off the list. Take your time reading, absorbing, and putting into practice the insights this book has to offer.
  10. The Black Rose by Thomas B. Costain. This book is one of my all time favorites. A friend once referred to herself as the Tristram to my Walter. To know how precious such a sentiment is…well you have to read the book.

And that concludes my list. I’d love for you to add to it. Have fun reading this summer, but don’t forget to live some adventures of your own :-).

Thanks, Mom

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I blog sporadically for Compassion Ministries, an organization that makes it possible for my family to sponsor three children from different countries.

In honor of Mother’s Day, this week’s Compassion blogging prompt is to write an open letter to my mom. I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to publicly praise her, despite her love for privacy.

So…

Dear Mom,

When it comes to how wonderful you are, I probably tell other people more than I tell you. That I love you is no secret. But what I love about you I rarely take the time to articulate.

I think you’re beautiful. You carry yourself with such grace and dignity it’s almost regal. And your taste in jewelry is adorable.

I’m amazed that you had us three girls back to back…

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…and finally the boy…

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…yet you remained ever gentle and patient. And you were always there.

Breakfast. Lunch. Dinner. Snacks of fruit and veggies. Phone curfews and friend interviews. You cared enough to take the time.

Your “no” meant “no” and your “yes” meant “yes.”

I never liked those fish mackerel patties. But no one’s perfect. You are forgiven.

You were never afraid to sing off-key and dance with us, even if you didn’t know the latest moves.

(I was going to post the Zumba picture here, but I can’t have you killing me :-).)

Your smile is contagious…

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…as is your sense of adventure.

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And while being your daughter is its own blessing, having you as the grandmother of my children is like honey straight from the comb. It takes a special grandma to help her granddaughter plant a watermelon, then turn around and mail it once it’s ripened.

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Your integrity and authenticity, your unwillingness to speak evil of anyone, your work ethic, your joy, your heart…

I love and admire you. We all do.2014-12-28-McCauleyMcCauleys-4

For all you’ve done, all you do, and who you are…

Thank you.

Happy Mother’s Day

Let It Burn!

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“And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works…exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.”
~Hebrews 10:24-25

The year’s almost half gone. Of all my goals for 2015, the one I’ve shirked the most is my resolution to exercise regularly. I could try to justify my busy nature as a form of physical fitness. I’m always on the go. Moving things. Hefting others, little people included.

But in all honesty, what I’d initially intended came with recognizable titles in the world of fitness: lunges, jumping jacks, and–God help us all–burpees.

Then one day (quite early in the year), somebody moved the Xbox Kinect system I normally use for workouts. The change in location wrought a change in my goals.

  • exercise 3 to 4 days a week 

The death of that resolution finally cried up from the ground where I buried it, enough so that I resolved, again, to make exercise a priority.

I also resolved to start slow. Too rusty for Zumba, and too irritable for Jillian, I popped in a workout DVD my sister sent. I made up my mind before the opening credits to do fifteen minutes. No more, maybe less, depending on how things were going.

At about twelve minutes, panting like a dog and grunting in a most unattractive fashion, I zeroed in on the clock. Three more minutes. I can quit in three more minutes. So focused on escape, I repeated the thought aloud.

“No, Mom. Push through the burn. Go to the end. You can do it.” This from my son, who sat at the table behind me doing homework.

Push through the burn? “Where’d you hear that? Your P.E. teacher?” I could barely find air to voice the question. Two minutes to go.

“No. That movie. The one where the guy is on the football field wearing a blindfold, carrying another player on his back, and the coach is next to him screaming for him to keep going even though it burned. Remember?”

Facing the Giants. I did remember. We had used that scene to encourage our kids not to limit themselves. So much for bailing out early.

My son took a lesson he’d learned and used it to encourage me in turn. Without that motivation, I most certainly would have called it at 14:59.

The desire to give up when things get hard is something we all face. Sadly, the act of following through with that desire has become more common, since many of us are too hesitant to risk offending one another to encourage otherwise.

Marriage. Education. Parenting. Dreams. Work. Faith. Fill in the blank. It all burns at one time or another.

Not only should we give it everything we’ve got, but we should also be brave enough to encourage one another to persevere, keep going, stick with it.

Save your marriage. Pray your kids through. Keep the faith. Finish what you started. Don’t quit. And don’t let those around you quit either.

Let it burn.

God will be with you. And the refined product He reveals on that Day will be worth every singe.

Be “Hoo” You Are

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night owl

~My eyes are awake through the night watches, that I may meditate on Your word~
Psalm 119:148

As a young child I came alive at night, and snoozed each morning till the last possible second.

In college I signed up for all the evening classes I could find. The professor of my one morning class once gave me a dignitary’s greeting. “Miss McCauley! How nice of you to grace us with your presence!”

I performed my way into a job with a flexible schedule, often baffling the poor security guards by strolling into an empty office around 2 a.m.

And yet, despite always knowing I thrived best under the glow of a silver moon, when I became a mother I tried squeezing my night owl thighs into early bird tights.

Those suckers refused to fit.

Still, the desire to blend in with other moms had a strong enough pull to make me keep trying. No matter that my little ones were involved in several activities, or that they could read before kindergarten. Forget them being accustomed to being on my schedule.

Others would hear how we ran our house, and show their disapproval to the tune of raised brows, clicked tongues, and the occasional snarky comment disguised as friendly teasing. I began to question my methods and doubt my adequacy as a mom.

I’d retire at a normal time, then lay there thinking about what I could be doing instead of actually doing it. I struggled to make it to 8 a.m. playdates, despite having gone to sleep just three hours prior.

And though nothing changed with my internal clock, my liveliness faded. My time with God became mechanical, reading the Word without actually absorbing any of it, praying from a confused, tired, joyless frame of mind.

What I’d had with Him before, in the watches of the night, had been rich and full. And I missed it.

I realized what I had sacrificed in order to assimilate and be acceptable on the ever-so-competitive mom scene. And the urge to conform lost its luster, because the cost was too great.

Of course I rise early every morning. Those kids have school. They need to eat. Practical stuff like that. But I no longer force myself to engage when I’d rather be calm and silent. I go to bed when I want, and take a nap if I need to.

And when the world sleeps, when my house is clean and silent, and more words to a story have been written, that’s when my eyes see Him best, when my heart hears Him clearly, when my joy is full.

Because that’s how He made me. So I’ll be “hoo” I am.

Your turn: When have you been tempted to operate contrary to how God uniquely designed you?

Soapbox Parenting

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200147004-001“You sly dog! You caught me monologuing!” ~Syndrome, The Incredibles

Parenting has quite a few deja vu moments. You get the distinct feeling you’ve seen, done, or felt a particular something before.

Then it hits you.

The lecture, the kid with eyes glazed over, the adult droning on and on in an attempt to impale her listeners with life lessons. You have lived this scene. Only this time you’re the droner.

It happens to the best of us. A conversation about baking turns into an analogy for marriage. (Actually that was one of my finer moments. Performing a psalm on impulse that lasted forty verses and didn’t rhyme? My kids went to bed afraid we belonged to a cult.)

Children learn more from our actions than our words. We know this. It’s been proven. Still, we succumb to the urge to give doctoral dissertations worthy of official titles:

The Fundamentals of Sharing
Why Childhood Chores Ensure a Successful Adulthood
Choose Life: An Experiential Case Study Against Drug Use

We can’t help it. Our impassioned words warm their faces until their ears shrivel up and fold over on themselves. And though we walk away realizing we should’ve dropped the mic before the crowd turned restless, we also know we’ll probably do it again.

Because we love them.

That love sifts through events and conversations searching for teachable moments. Then off we go, portable stage erected, podium approached, throat cleared.

But not all hope is lost.

Because those young people we occasionally hold hostage via verbosity, they love us too.

And if we live what we say, and listen when they talk, and dwell with them–dig in and spend the time it takes to show them they’re where we want to be–they’re actually listening.

There’s more to parenting than five-point speeches. That doesn’t mean we should never speak. Our words have meaning. And with experience, we learn to use less of them.

The clever among us even switch it up a bit, making room on the box for a few corny jokes.

Your turn: How do you compensate for your parenting faux pas?

Don’t Lose the Wonder

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“Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love.”
~Revelation 2:4~

My kids and I walked through the parking lot looking for our car.

“Ooh, a bird!” I pointed to a cute little sparrow as it hopped out from behind a tire. My youngest looked to where I pointed, her eyes rounding in a brief second of interest, then she resumed the story she’d been telling to her older siblings. Those two barely glanced.

I frowned, remembering how fascinated all of my children used to be whenever they saw an animal. They’d tug on my sleeve, grab my face in their little hands, point, clap, and squeal. “A bird! A dog! A horse!”

Nowadays, after hundreds of dogs and thousands of birds, they’re a little less impressed.

It’s to be expected. When new things–new wonders–become the norm, we don’t get as excited about them as we used to. And that’s okay for the less important stuff.

Other things are meant to awe us for a lifetime: our children, our marriages, the grace of each new day.

More than anything, when we consider the great mystery of salvation–that this Jesus humbled Himself, left glory, became a man, served the least, and endured the Cross, all before sitting at the right hand of the Father, where He daily intercedes on behalf of His own–we should never lose the wonder, never cease to be amazed.

When His sacrifice becomes a common thing to us, so does He. He shows Himself mighty, and we barely glance.

Every bird, from the tiny sparrow in the parking lot, to the eagle soaring on high, knows its Maker. Every dawn is made new. The wind and waves obey Him. From the highest height to the lowest depth, He sees what dwells there.

He is mindful of man, slow to anger, abounding in love and kindness; and yet it is a dreadful thing to fall into His hands. He is mighty, eternal, holy, and good. We are not. And yet He died for us.

Consider daily the greatness of your first and greatest love.

And be filled with wonder.

The Knight in Blue Jeans

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My phone alerted me to a text. I paused to read it and shook my head. It was from my husband, his latest response to a series of messages between us. I tapped the reply square. “You’re such a man.”

And I didn’t mean that in a “you’re the hunk of my dreams and I swoon at the thought of you” sense, though he most certainly is (go ahead, gag). The context was more: only a man would think that, type that, and actually send that.

 

Because the average man is a far cry from the poetry-spouting knight we concocted in our imaginations at girlhood. And though he might start out playing all the cards he thinks a woman wants to see in the game of courting, over time he transitions back into the flesh-and-blood guy God created him to be: quite direct, impossibly practical, and in need of a good nudge now and then when it comes to the “r” word.

And that type of realism is what I like to see in a good romance novel.

For me the guy who gets the girl has got to be believable. He makes mistakes, says the wrong thing, does the stupid thing, misses the hint, snaps back when he’s fed up, and has thicker skin than the lady sniffling across from him. Good looking is nice, though not required.

He’s also considerate, repentant, makes an effort to “get it,” loves his lady with a vengeance, and would lay down and die for her. He’s patient when she’s driving him insane, strong when she’s weak, a warrior when she’s threatened, and chases her when she runs.

His love for her–and the conflicting way it makes him vulnerable and strong at the same time–that’s romantic. And when I reach “The End” of a novel–whether I’ve written or read it–that’s the kind of romance I want to know exists in the hero.

Even if that makes him the kind of guy who sends a “you’re such a man” text from time to time.

Your turn: What’s your favorite kind of book and why?

A Wrecked Perspective

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thanks

“In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
~ 1 Thessalonians 5:18

Recently, on a day like any other, my three kids and I set out for an evening of gymnastics and Kenpo practice, with a potential coffee stop squeezed in. The smell of mint wafted from my older daughter’s tea mug. The youngest girl crunched on a carrot as if it were her last meal, and my boy pretended to finish homework (I saw him tuck a toy in the jacket of his Gi before leaving the house).

We sat in the left turning lane behind a line of cars, underneath a partly cloudy sky. Tires screeched. Metal crunched. We lunged forward. Slammed backward. I screamed.

My pulse pounded in my ears, and I couldn’t hear anything else for a moment. The surge of adrenaline made me dizzy. I couldn’t believe I’d been hit, or that my kids were in the car.

I turned to them. “Is everybody okay?” They were shocked, but otherwise unharmed. Praise God.

I got out, shaking, and walked to the car responsible, its front end demolished. Behind the deployed airbag sat a young man wearing a dazed look of dread.

“Are you all right?” I asked.

He looked himself over and nodded, though he didn’t seem entirely sure. “Can I drive?” He pointed at a parking lot. Smoke drifted up from the remains of his hood, fluid poured beneath it.

“No. You should probably get out.”

By the time the ordeal ended, the police, a fire truck, and the boy’s parents and sister had arrived on the scene, and a tow truck was on its way to haul off the totaled car. I pulled my Chevy Suburban (a vehicle I shamelessly endorse) onto the road with minor rear-end damage.

Before leaving, I’d assured the boy and his family, “We’re fine. No one is hurt. It’s not the end of the world.” But for that eighteen year old, I could tell his world was crashing fast. He looked distraught, despite his parents and sister loving on him and stressing how much they cared about him and not the car.

I wanted to comfort him myself, pull him in a hug, wipe his tears and make certain he understood that the wreck, as horrible as it seemed now, would be just a memory someday. But he’d had enough trauma. The last thing he needed was some stranger bear-hugging and petting him.

He saw the totaled car and cried over what that meant for his family. What it would cost them. How they would replace it. He didn’t consider their joy over the fact that their son had walked away from a thousand pounds of crumpled metal unscathed.

But I did. And it made me look at my own kids, my own life, my own set of problems, my own trove of joys. And it made me thankful.

Thankful that even though my son and I have a homework showdown every afternoon, he’s come home safe every afternoon. Thankful that although my daughter’s already showing signs of adolescent attitude, I get to kiss her sleeping face every night when she looks most like an angel.

Thankful because, while my edits are taking much longer than I intended, they’re getting done, and I’ve got somewhere to send them. Thankful that no matter what the day brings–good or bad–I’m loved from on high by One who suffered and died for me.

Sometimes it takes a crisis to wreck our negative perspectives; to take our eyes off all that’s wrong with the world and refocus them to see the joy, the love, the good.

I regretted not saying all I wanted to comfort the young driver before I left. I’m thankful his driver information comes with an address where I can send a card of encouragement. I can only hope I don’t look like a stalker when it arrives.

Your turn: What are you thankful for?

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