Where is the Love?

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nearness to God

“But if I have not love, I am nothing.” ~ 1 Corinthians 13:2

My mother-in-law gave me wise advice years ago. She told me that when it comes to people you admire and causes you support, if you agree with every single iota of a person’s opinions or an agenda’s position, then you’re not thinking for yourself.

You cannot change the world, play your part in it, or make the difference you were created to make if you swallow every gulp of what your favorite pastor, political party, or network is pouring in your glass. The opinions and reasoning of men are flawed and imperfect because we are flawed and imperfect. Only God and His word are infallible.

I’m not on the bandwagon that cries racism every time there’s a person of color killed by a white officer. Neither do I duck my head in the sand and say “No way this is unjust. They must have deserved it” just because somebody posts a FB photo or Twitter post about the victim that shows disgraceful behavior. I don’t share blog posts that essentially say “I was treated okay, so that other person’s experience must be bogus,” when a person who was alive and well yesterday is gone today and have people who loved them fresh in mourning.

To do so is to show the world how non-objective and hard-hearted you really are; you’ve got your Democrat or Republican, Liberal or Conservative playbook and you’ll die before you break ranks or call an audible. It’s not about being right. Where’s your sense of humanity when you can watch a person die on video and the only thing that crosses your mind is rhetoric, debate, and “what’s a good meme to silence all these outraged people?”

Where is your sadness? Your horror?

Especially if you call yourself Christian?

Even if–in your limited and sorely mistaken opinion–every single police shooting is justified and the victims are wicked, how can you take pleasure in or be so indifferent to death when God Himself takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, when he took a man like the Apostle Paul, who had a murderous rap sheet, and both loved and changed him?

These two men had value in God’s eyes. His Son died for them. People loved them. Meditate on that for a minute and get down off your politically charged social media high horse and let your heart beat blood for a spell.

“But if I have not love, I am nothing.” 1 Corinthians 13:2

Beautiful

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A woman had a dream.

She walked for miles through fields and deserts, grasslands and marshes, following the sun. It warmed her face and shined in her eyes, making her squint as she journeyed.

She pushed aside tall stalks of wheat, trudged through wet sand. Her thighs strained up steep mountainsides. In every place the sun led her past countless people. At the river they fished and washed. On the plains they shepherded. In the cities they bustled. Each of them backs turned and busy.

All but the deformed ones.

Every face she saw was contorted in some way. Young and old, from snow-white skin to complexions of polished sable.

They looked at her as she approached, then beyond her as she passed.

Hope. Relief. Joy. These emotions changed their dull expressions at sight of the invisible presence behind her, but each time she turned for a glimpse of who or what moved them so, she saw nothing.

Then she reached the end of her journey.

She stood at the edge of a cliff overhanging the ocean. The waves danced and bellowed beneath her. She could feel the spray dust her face and settle in her hair, smell the water tinged with the scent of marine life.

She breathed deep, and the cool air coursed through her like a live thing. She gasped and fell to her knees, her body radiating inside as the sun beamed overhead. It rose higher, calming the waves as its rays stretched across the sea. The same stillness settled over her.

She turned. The deformed ones had followed. They gathered around a young man dressed in white, their excited chatter floating through the air like feather-light laughter. Something about the man struck her as familiar. His hands glowed. Beautiful. He reached out to each face, his touch healing and drying heavy tears.

Then on they went, one by one, faces lifted like blooming flowers, into the brilliance of the sun.

The man faced the woman, and she woke with a start.

Her husband sat next to her in bed, mouth gaped, eyes on her. “You won’t believe the dream I just had,” he said.

Their son rushed in, his five-year-old legs pumping, and landed between them. “Jesus touched my hands, Mommy. So I could touch the people.”

Heat spread across her chest, as if the sun from her dream hovered over her heart. She wrote these things on lilac-scented stationary and tucked it in her Bible.

Her son grew and finished his schooling. His mother came to the graduation, her husband with her in spirit. She had fished out the stationary for the occasion, held it gently between her fingers, the faint scent of lilac still present on the worn paper.

He laughed when he saw it. Surely she didn’t expect him to follow through on a dream nearly two decades old. His name was already renowned in circles, his future wealth guaranteed, the likes of which he couldn’t achieve if he didn’t choose his own path.

Stunned, she opened her mouth, but the accusing stares of his colleagues silenced her. She tried to remember the dream, how vivid it had been, how real. She wanted to convince her son of the urgency of his purpose. But like the scent on the paper, the dream had faded. The faces had wilted to a silvery blur in her memory. “But Jesus…”

He shook his head. She looked at her boy, into those bright brown eyes that shined with defiance yet yearned for her approval. Not wanting to push him away, she shunned instead the unsettling stir in her heart. She crumpled the paper. “Do what makes you happy, son.”

After he hugged her, he and his colleagues stood among throngs of people that had appeared from nowhere. A deafening rip sounded from the ground and a great chasm opened the earth. The woman stumbled toward the edge but someone caught her from behind. She looked and saw her husband there, his face grave as he gazed past her to where their son stood on the other side.

The young face that had just beamed with triumph and promise now twisted in fear. Her boy.

A bitter cold knifed through the woman’s heart, even as the light of the sun fell so that particles in the air glittered like diamonds.

A voice cried out, “Oh, worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness! Tremble before Him, all the earth.”

The woman fell to her knees. The light increased around her like the touch of a soft blanket. He said her name, and she knew His voice. She lifted her head, but could not bring herself to look past the feet of bronze.

His hand touched her face, and she woke with a start.

Her husband sat next to her in bed, his eyes red and watery. “You dreamt it too,” he said.

Their son rushed in, his five-year-old legs pumping, and landed between them. “Jesus touched my hands, Mommy. So I could touch the people.” His little nose wrinkled. “He said I had to become beautiful first, so I don’t forget. But boys can’t be beautiful!”

Oh, worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness! Tremble before Him, all the earth.

The words filled the woman’s chest, like a whisper sparking a flame. Her husband pulled her close, and moved their son so that he sat on both of their laps. “Yes they can, son,” he said. “In their hearts and before God they can. We’ll teach you, both of us.”

Her husband looked at her. His eyes a letter of deep love, of memories and laughter and tears and forgiveness. Of peace. Of resolve.

He brought her hand to his lips and kissed it.

“We’ll both teach you,” he repeated. “And when you forget, Mommy will never let you be okay with it. We love you too much.”

Her son mimicked his father. He grabbed her hand with his small one and planted his soft, wet lips on her skin. His fingers thin and nimble. His bright brown eyes shining. His heart soft and open, like soil for blooming flowers.

Beautiful.

 

The Cookie Jar

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“A cookie jar, though beautiful, will always disappoint if found empty.”

My cookie jar is empty.

It’s seen a batch or two–maybe–in the months since I returned home from Mount Hermon’s Christian Writers Conference; but for the most part it’s been unoccupied. Relieved of duty. Free of tenants.

And for a while I blamed my husband.

See, we had a plan. As you probably know from a previous post, my youngest daughter started kindergarten this year, freeing up my afternoons. And according to the plan I would take the first year to write full time with keys blazing and submissions flying.

But somehow in my short, five-day conference absence the plan changed. Just up and flew away somewhere. Out there. Over the rainbow. And in its place: “You need to finish your degree.”

Say wha?

My arguments against this new scheme raged vehement. Very artistic and author-ish too. Something about sensible suits and academic labels, the futility of human standards of achievement, the colors of my creative mind fading…you get the picture. When that failed I took the practical financial approach.

Nothing worked. God has a new plan, saith my husband, and a degree for the missus therein lies.

Well alrighty then, Misters.

That was six months ago. I saw evidence of God’s hand in the orchestration, including a ripple effect in other areas. Then I discovered I could finish much earlier than expected. I snatched that baton and sprinted off with it. On top of that aim I added honor student. And because a writer must always be reading and writing I made sure to check those boxes too. Super productive. No time for baking cookies.

I felt very much like degree people feel. Accomplished. Potentially important. But in what way? And to whom?

The answers came when my son returned home one night from Awana with a list of two things he wanted to do better. One of them read:

Leave Mommy alone when she’s doing homework.

SLAYED.

Reading those words made me consider how many times I’ve said them in the past six months, and how many times I haven’t played Terraria with my son, or done Zumba with the girls, or watched My Little Pony, or baked the weekend’s cookies; all because I’d immersed myself in God’s plan–stretching it into something self-serving–instead of remaining immersed in God who keeps my priorities straight.

My kids are awesome little people. I’m proud of them. And if I graduated summa cum laude and became a bestselling author whose books hit the big screen they’d be proud of me too. And all of it would be a pretty package to behold.

But if the intimacy is not there, if I don’t remain a present, attentive mother who knows them and is known by them–who keeps school and writing and whatever else comes up out of family time–then what we’re headed for is no better than an empty cookie jar.

And that will never be a part of God’s plan.

My jar is still empty, but now it’s only because the cookies are cooling.

Your turn: Have you ever found yourself running ahead (or away) from what God’s doing in your life?

The Labor of the Journey

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“You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain…” John 15:16

My youngest is in the first weeks of her kindergarten career. After years of seeing her older siblings off to school and spending her days with me all to herself, the adjustment hasn’t been painless.

She greets Monday mornings with tolerance. Tuesdays with grudging acceptance. Wednesdays with stoicism. By Thursday her patience has run out. She flings back the covers, fed up to the full, and demands to know: “Again?!?”

Her annoyance amuses me, especially since she actually loves school when she’s there. It’s the getting there–and all that comes with it–that bothers her. The getting up, getting ready, getting denied the freedom to spend her day how she chooses, getting the task of bringing home work; work that she must get done.

She’d love to read as well as her siblings, make friends of her own, have her name on awards, have her great-grandma send her a dollar for each A. She sees what the twins have accomplished and she wants the same; she’d just rather skip over the journey and land at the destination.

I sympathize with her because I know what that feels like. I enjoy knowing I’ve done a job well. I just don’t always enjoy doing the job. Or I might like being in the midst of a good work, but I resist the need to get it started or experience pessimism before it’s finished.

Perhaps it’s the resentment of obligation, or the loss of freedom, or the overwhelming scope of the task that makes the individual steps seem insufficient, or maybe it’s a combination of those things. The Good Work seems so elusive that we lose faith in the constant work–the again, and again, and yet again work–it takes to get there.

Natural intelligence, which my daughter has, and the natural talent that so many of us possess is not enough in itself to get us where God wants us to go. We must work hard with diligence and patience, building on the unique gifts God created in us.

And we know by God’s promises that our work will be rewarded and our lives fruitful, if we couple our faith with works, and persevere in the labor He has given us to do on the journey He has called us to take.

Who Are You?

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Mirror in desert

“Search me, O God and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
Psalm 139:23-24

I’ve had recent cause to suffer a great amount of indignation over a situation involving a loved one.

Though I’ll spare the details, I’ll share what I learned from the experience.

I think I know myself pretty well. When conflict arises I tend to avoid confrontation, pray about most things and ignore others. If particularly agitated I may vent, but otherwise I try to take the high road.

Not so in this case–in heart anyway. By the grace of God I kept my mouth shut, because there were a million things I wanted to say, a billion ways I wanted to react, few of them godly. I was furious–an emotion foreign enough to me that I smiled when I felt it.

I know. Crazy-lady scary.

The loved one is dear to me, but not someone I absolutely have to keep in my life. So great was the affront and pain it caused, I considered walking away completely.

Then I noticed my husband. He bore the offense with grace. Though it crushed his left cheek, he gave his right to be struck. He took it with dignity, and loved all the more.

When I married him I believed him a peacemaker. He lived up to that belief. The same situation showed me, however, things in my heart I didn’t know were there, and other things lacking that I thought were full.

And though I don’t like this trial–loathe it actually–I see its purpose, or at least the good that can come from it.

Some of us go through life thinking we’re Davids, men and women after God’s own heart. Then tragedy strikes and we learn our name is really Solomon. We started strong but don’t finish well.

Others think we have the faith of Sarah, who believed God’s word that she would conceive despite her old age. Yet offense appears and we find we have her vindictiveness instead.

And then there are the Sampsons who walk in God’s strength with boldness, but temptation comes and cuts them down where they stand.

I was vindictive Sarah that day, and many days afterwards. I wanted this person to suffer. I knew how to strike back, and I craved to do it. But in the end I relented.

Because, like Joseph, I fear the Lord.

God, in His goodness, is constantly shaping us, revealing the character of our hearts, giving us free will to do something about it.

Despite our temporary failures, we can still be Davids, Joshuas, Josephs, Hannahs, Ruths, Abigails.

We just have to choose to be.

Your turn: Who are you?

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

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