December 12, 2018

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 12: Counselor


Counselor

"But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have told you." (John 14:26 CSB)

I'm the mom of two daughters—one in high school and the other in college—and over the years, I've doled out more than my fair share of counseling. I've tried not to offer my advice and opinions indiscriminately, because I want to speak with "an instructed tongue" (Isaiah 50:4) and because I want my counsel to "take" when I dispense it. Every once in a while, one of my girls will tell me that, while they were working through some problem or issue, "I heard your voice in my head, Mom, telling me..." (This is what is known as a "bonus" in the mom salary program.)

I am in no way equating myself with God the Spirit in His role as Counselor, but I do think He sometimes operates in a similar way. (Of course, He does it far better.) His counsel is that little voice we hear in our heads (the Newsboys' song "Spirit Thing" calls it a "holy nudge"), that sense in our spirits, that push toward something or pull away from something. 

My challenge (and I don't think I'm alone in this) is that sometimes I'm not sure if the "counsel" I'm sensing is from the Counselor or from my own jumbled thoughts or from the enemy. This is when it's helpful to have a filter to pass whatever I think I'm hearing through:

* Does it line up with Scripture?
* Does it lean toward love?
* Does it lead to peace?

Of course, discerning the counsel of God is not always clear-cut. But like most things worth doing, we get better at it with practice. And with practice, we might at some point find ourselves telling God, "I heard Your voice in my head, telling me..." As our heavenly parent, I think He'd like that.

December 11, 2018

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 11: Yahweh-Tsidkenu


Yahweh-Tsidkenu: The LORD Is Our Righteousness

"'For the time is coming,' says the LORD, 'when I will raise up a righteous descendant from King David’s line. He will be a King who rules with wisdom. He will do what is just and right throughout the land. And this will be his name: ‘The LORD Is Our Righteousness.’ In that day Judah will be saved, and Israel will live in safety.'" (Jeremiah 23:5-6 NLT)

Even though we're only a little over a week into this series, I couldn't stand to wait any longer to share this name of God with you. It's my favorite new name of God...of course, the name is not new; it's just new to me, thanks to Darlene Zschech's miniseries on names of God in her book Revealing Jesus.

The New International Reader's Version (NIRV) translates Yahweh-Tsidkenu (yah-way sid-KEN-ooh...the "t" is silent) as, "The Lord Who Makes Us Right With Himself." Can you see why I love this name? I read this interpretation two ways: first, God makes us righteous—wipes our sin-slate clean—by putting His perfect goodness on us. This is credited righteousness: a debt in our account 
marked as paid, though we've done nothing—indeed, can do nothing—to repay it.

And then, because Yahweh-Tsidkenu gifts us with His righteousness, we are able to be in right relationship with him. You've probably heard the expression "to make things right." I believe that applies here. God uses Himself to make things right between us. And of all the things that have ever been made right in the world, nothing compares to this. 

December 10, 2018

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 10: Creator


Creator

"Do you not know? Have you not heard? Yahweh is the everlasting God, the Creator of the whole earth. He never grows faint or weary; there is no limit to His understanding." (Isaiah 40:28 CSB)

I still remember the morning this view greeted me when I went out for my daily walk. The juxtaposition of light and dark, sun and moon, day and night stopped me in my tracks.

I love the way the Creator's handiwork displays His lavishness. He could, for instance, have ordered the sun to rise and set in a way that gets the job done but doesn't get our attention. Instead, out of His generosity, He creates sunrises and sunsets that make us stop what we're doing and then post pictures online with captions like, "This doesn't do it justice."

God creates because He is creative. He creates because He wants to. And He creates because He longs for us to know Him: "Since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made" (Romans 1:20).

My prayer for you and for myself this week is that in creation, we will see the Invisible in the visible—and that in the seeing, we will know God better and love Him more.


December 9, 2018

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 9: Prince of Peace


Prince of Peace

"For a child will be born for us, a son will be given to us, and the government will be on His shoulders. He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace." (Isaiah 9:6 CSB)

So much about the arrival of Jesus—Emmanuel, the with-us God—to our world was surprising and unexpected. 

Where He did it: in a barn. 

Who heard the news first: a bunch of working-class guys who spent their days hanging out with sheep. 

How He did it: in the form of a helpless baby. 

Lots of people had been awaiting Emmanuel's arrival for a long time, but they were looking for a political prince of power. What they got was the Prince of Peace.

Jesus has always done the surprising thing. His way has always been the unexpected way. In His improbable peace, we find we are ruled by something far deeper and more lasting than any earthly power or treasure. This peace is not something we have to manufacture on our own or dredge up from our natural will or strength, for "He Himself is our peace" (Ephesians 2:14 NIV). It's something we give way to and allow ourselves to be protected by, for "then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:7 NLT).

Sweet friends, may the unexpected, surprising peace of the Prince of Peace be yours today, throughout this Christmas season, and always.

December 8, 2018

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 8: Alpha and Omega


Alpha and Omega

"'I am the Alpha and the Omega,' says the Lord God, 'who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.'" (Revelation 1:8 NIV)

In their lowercase form, alpha and omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. But when these refer to our unquestionably uppercase God, they demonstrate one of my favorite characteristics of Yahweh (in fact, it's so much one of my favorites that you'll probably be sick of me talking about it by the time we get to day 365): His completion. 

Again and again throughout Scripture, we see the completeness of God on display. The Alpha and Omega finishes what He starts. He ends what He begins. He fulfills what He promises. He Himself is complete, and in relationship with Him, we discover our own completion.

Today we find ourselves at one "alpha and omega" point in our journey (okay, technically, it's more like an "omega and alpha" point, but let's not get legalistic here), having ended the first week and begun the next. I knew from the get-go that we never were going to get very far along in this series without visiting some wisdom from Elisabeth Elliot. We'll start with these words that feel perfect for today:
“It is God to whom and with whom we travel, and while he is the end of our journey, he is also at every stopping place.” (Elisabeth Elliot)

December 7, 2018

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 7: El Roi


El Roi: God who sees

"She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: 'You are the God who sees me,' for she said, 'I have now seen the One who sees me.'" (Genesis 16:13 NIV)

In Genesis 16, the servant Hagar utters one of the two most stunning statements made by a woman in the entire Bible. (Full disclosure: that is entirely my personal opinion. And I'll gladly share what I think the other one is, but not until Easter.)

"I have now seen the One who sees me."

I love the "nows" of Scripture. They show us a turning point from past to present. They alert us that something has shifted or changed. They tell us that what is differs from what was. And here, the placement of the "now" in this English translation of the original Hebrew text is so significant. Hagar does not say, "I have seen the One who now sees me." She says, "I have now seen the One who sees me." 

God had always seen Hagar, but "now," she sees Him back. And when we get the place where we truly see El Roi (el roh-ee/el roy)—the God Who sees us—we are never the same. 

I want to leave you today with some song lyrics and a link to the song itself, both of which I believe beautifully convey the heart of El Roi...

Come out of hiding
You're safe here with Me
There's no need to cover
What I already see

You've got your reasons
But I hold your peace
You've been on lock-down
And I hold the key

No need to be frightened by intimacy
No, just throw off your fear
And come running to Me

December 6, 2018

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 6: Jesus


Jesus

"'She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.'" (Matthew 1:21 NIV)

Jesus is a Greek rendering of the Hebrew name Joshua. It means, "Yahweh is salvation." 

We could stop right there and be utterly undone by the impact of this.

Jesus. The Name above all names. The name at which every knee will one day bow. The name that, when trusted, saves us from ourselves—because we need saving—and saves us for Himself, because He wants relationship with us.

Oh friends, there is so much else I could say about this name of God, but anything I can think of seems inadequate. So I will follow God's example and let a little child lead us, with these words adapted from something my daughter wrote when she was about five years old: "Jesus loves you. Jesus loves the moms. Jesus loves the world."






December 5, 2018

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 5: I AM


I AM

"Moses said to God, 'Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' Then what shall I tell them?' God said to Moses, 'I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: 'I AM has sent me to you.' ' " (Exodus 3:13, 14 NIV)

I AM is one of my mom's favorite names of God, and it's one of mine, too. It's just so definitive and done. If I introduced myself to someone and walked up to them and said, "I am," they'd probably say, "You are what?" or "You are who?" and then I'd say, "I am Elizabeth" or "I am a mom" or "I am Russ and Joyce's daughter." 

But God needs no such qualification: He just is. I love the way Darlene Zschech (of the song "Shout To the Lord," and as long as we're doing pronunciations here, this one is just "check"...really) puts it in Revealing Jesus: "all other attributes and descriptions are wrapped up in His being."

Over the next year, as we study more of God's names, I'm praying we will unwrap a deeper understanding of who and how He is. But for today, just lean into reassuring reality that The Great I AM is...and all He is, He is for you.

December 4, 2018

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 4: Yahweh


Yahweh: LORD

"I am Yahweh, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another, or My praise to idols." (Isaiah 42:8 CSB)

Yahweh (yah-way) is the most-used name for God in the Bible and is usually translated into English as LORD. Yahweh is God's personal name, revealed by none other than God Himself. I'm so thankful God wants us to know Who He is. He did not owe us that; He could have just created us and then remained aloof and stand-offish. But instead, He introduced Himself on a first-name basis, because that is always the initial step in a relationship, and God is ALWAYS about the business of relationship with us.

In days to come on our year-long journey, we'll visit many expanded versions of this particular name, each of which illuminates a different aspect of God's nature and character. Honestly, I'm restraining myself from front-loading this series with these and throwing them all at you, one right after another from the get-go, because I LOVE to study these Hebrew names. But I appreciate you dearly, my fellow travelers, and don't want to lose you. So for today, rest in the reminder that Yahweh is the Lord, holy and worthy to be praised. 


Holy, Holy is the Lord
Worthy to be praised
Yahweh
Fire rising in my soul
All consuming flame
Yahweh
He who was and is to come
Is the One who lives in us
The great I AM
Yahweh

(Elevation Worship, "Yahweh")

December 3, 2018

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 3: Comforter


Comforter

"And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may be with you forever." (John 14:16 ASV)

God the Spirit is sometimes referred to as the Comforter, and I always thought of that in terms of a warm fuzzy blanket or as someone who soothes. But in her lovely devotional for children of all ages, Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing, Sally Lloyd-Jones tells the story of a centuries-old tapestry that shows a knight on a horse with the caption, "Bishop Odo comforts his troops." Lloyd-Jones writes, "Is Bishop Odo giving them nice fluffy quilts? No. He's prodding them from behind with a stick! NOT comfy. But Odo is spurring them on, encouraging them, urging them to keep going and not give up. Because comfort in the Bible doesn't mean 'to make comfy.' It means 'to send help.' When we want to give up, when we are afraid, God sends his Spirit—the Comforter—to make us strong, to give us courage, to lift us up."

I do believe God often "comforts" us in the other ways we think of when we read that word: He tenderly consoles us and lovingly eases our heartache. And no doubt we'll see that aspect of "comfort" reflected in several of His great names. But this name of God and the aspect of the Holy Spirit it reveals remind us that God is our Help, our Strength, our Courage. Even if sometimes, it feels like He's prodding us. 




December 2, 2018

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 2: Emmanuel


Emmanuel: God with us

"All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 'Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,' which means, 'God is with us.'" (Matthew 1:22,23 NRS)

Welcome back, friends. I'm so glad you're here! Right away, on Day 2 of our series, I want to let you know about something that will hold true going forward: without using too many tricky words like "triune," my plan is to study the names of, well, the triune God...which is to say God the Father, God the Spirit, and God the Son. All are equally God, so their specific names are all equally names of God. (I'll save a discussion of what, exactly, the Trinity is for God's Q&A session in heaven.)

This name of God is so relevant for Advent, which is why I wanted to visit it early on our journey. My Bible study sisters know I LOVE the literal translation of Emmanuel, which is based on the fact that "el," meaning "God," comes at the end of this name, giving it a rendering of "with-us God." Any way you look at it, I'm so thankful He is a "with-us God" who loved us enough to come and dwell ("pitch his tent" or "camp out" are other ways of looking at it) among us. 

With us in joy.
With us in sorrow.
With us in hurting.
With us in healing.
With us in doubt.
With us in certainty.
With us in beginning.
With us in ending.

Sometimes, we say to each other, "God be with you," almost like a wish. But Emmanuel shows us this certainty: God is with you. 

With you. With me. With us all.

December 1, 2018

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 1: Elohim

Elohim: mighty, supreme

"In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." (Genesis 1:1)

Hello, sweet friends! I am so honored and thrilled to be starting this year-long journey with you. I promise I am not going to load you down every day with my ramblings. I just wanted to welcome you on this first day and offer a few thoughts on how you might approach this series.

As I mentioned in the introductory post, I like to use God's name to start off my early-morning prayers with praise and adoration instead of launching straight away into my list of requests. From there, the challenge is to apply the truth that God's name conveys to daily life. My husband says that when he does any kind of Bible study, he tries to ask himself, "What is God's Word saying, and what am I supposed to do about it?" In this case, maybe you and I will want to ask ourselves, "What is God's name saying, and what does He want me to do about it?"

I truly believe God's name provides comfort and strength and guidance and wisdom. But more than anything else, it brings about a deepening of our relationship with Him. After all, to know someone's various names usually means we have a certain degree of intimacy with them, and any deepening of our relationship with God is always for our good.

Elohim is the first name of God we come across in the Bible. If we were reading Genesis 1:1 in the original Hebrew, where our English Bible uses "God," we would read Elohim. (I like to know how to pronounce things in my head, so if that's you, too, this would be el-oh-heem.) This name reflects God's strength and authority. As with all God's character traits, these reinforce His perfection, His completion, His "lack of lacking." If God were mighty but had no authority to exercise that might, He would be less than He is. And if He had authority but no strength to go with it, He would also be incomplete. But He is both mighty and supreme...and so many other things we'll discover as we journey together through some of His great names. May they be praised forever.

November 24, 2018

Gift Guide-a-Palooza

We're still enthusiastically celebrating pie-a-palooza around here (pumpkin, chocolate cream, and muddy turtle), but if your thoughts are turning toward Christmas gift-giving, here are a few guides to help you along. 

(I'm sorry to post and run, but I've got a chocolate cream pie that desperately needs neatening.)

For your favorite introvert: Gift Guide for the Beloved Introvert from Welcome Heart.

For your favorite woman who appreciates a good deal (dear family, if you're reading this, I'm a size small in the "cardigan with pockets"): 25 Gifts for Women—All Under $25 from The Not So Busy Mom.

For your favorite dancer (as a fellow dance mom, I can tell you that this list is spot-on): Gift Guide for Dancers from A Modern Mom's Life.

For your favorite outdoorsy kid: Top Ten Gift Ideas for Outdoorsy Kids from The Hunting Mom

For your favorite teen or college kid:
2018 Holiday Gifts Under $50 That College Kids and Teens Will Love from Grown and Flown


For your favorite hard-to-buy for dad (which is to say, every dad in the history of dads): 
16 Perfect Gifts for the Dad in Your Life from Her View From Home.

And for your favorite mom (there's a twist on this one): Real Moms Share the Best Gift They've Received from A Modern Mom's Life.


November 20, 2018

365 Days of the Great Names of God


Hello, lovely friends. I've shared here before that I try to start each day by praying pretty much the moment my brain has figured out that I'm awake and that going back to sleep is not an option. This is not because I'm "holier than thou"...quite the opposite: it's because I need to fix my mind straight-away on the One Who is holier than me before it (my mind) gets bogged down with less holy things like what I'm going to make for dinner and if I ever transferred the load of laundry from the washer to the dryer.

I try to start these prayers by praising God before I launch into my litany of requests, and one way I do that is by telling God what His name is. He knows, of course; the reminding is for me. Every name of God tells us something about His character and nature, so often, I try to praise God for both Who He is (His name) and what or how He is (His character and nature). For instance, "God, You are El Shaddai...You are almighty and all-sufficient."

A few months ago, one of my favorite Bible study tools, the website She Reads Truth, did a study on the Names of God, and I loved being able to open their site on my phone first thing every morning (before I got sucked into the social media vortex) and be greeted by a name of God. I used that name to launch the praise portion of my prayer, and God and I were off and running. (Okay, He ran...I usually crawled, which at 5:20 a.m. is the best I can do.) I missed this resource when the series ended and so thought about doing a daily name of God series of my own in this space.

I originally planned to start this tidily on January 1st, but when the founder and leader of TruthBytes, the daily devotional app I've been privileged to be part of, announced she would be retiring the app after December 1st due to some major changes in her life, I decided to kick the series off early. And honestly, I can't think of a better way to keep my mind and heart on track during the whirlwind that is December than by starting every day thinking about Who God is and what He's like. 

ALL of which is just to say that, God-willing, starting December 1st and going for 365 days, I'll be posting a name of God here every day. This will not be a full-fledged study (I know my limitations) but will instead be simply a name of God ("name" being a very loose term...some will be official names, some will be more like descriptions) with a supporting Scripture and possibly a little background.

My hope, if you're interested in joining me on this journey, is that you'll be able to just open your email if you're a subscriber or open this blog's home page and be greeted with one of the great names of God. Then I'll let Him take it from there. 

Questions? Not sure what in the world I'm talking about? Feel free to leave a comment or send me an email at spencerejoy@gmail.com. I hope to see you here on December 1st!

Onya (that's "verbal shorthand" in my ladies' Bible study group for "the blessing of the Lord be on you"),

Elizabeth

November 6, 2018

7 Good Things To Tell Yourself When You're Having a Bad Day as a Mom


The best gift I’ve ever gotten from my children was a yellow sticky note left for me on my kitchen counter. The note read, “We love you.”

I can guess what you might be thinking. “Hmmm…really? This is the best gift? Not the Christmas ornament with your firstborn’s handprint preserved in clay? Not the wall hanging with the names of every family member spelled out like a Scrabble game board?”

I did love those gifts, too. But this one was the best, because my children gave it to me on a day was I was so very unlovable as a mother.

I’d had one of my typical mom meltdowns. I’m sure there was yelling and door-slamming involved. I’m sure I freaked about something that was, in fact, nothing. I’m sure my daughters snuck off to their rooms to commiserate about “mom being mom”…and to write me this note, which they surreptitiously left for me to find.

All of which is just to say that I’ve had more than my share of bad days as a mom. I’ve had to learn how to reset my defaults…to reprogram my thinking. If you’re having a day that’s headed toward bad in a hurry, I've got a little list up over on my friend Ruthie's blog that might help bring it around to good...

https://ruthiegray.mom/bad-mom-day/


This post may have been shared at some of these blog link parties.

October 24, 2018

Yes, I Really Can Make An Apple Pie

 

I have approximately eleventy billion dessert recipes, and about 95 percent of those are chocolate-based. So it should tell you something that this non-chocolate dessert recipe is one of my all-time favorites. 

This is the apple pie recipe that finally allowed me to claim I could successfully make an apple pie. The filling is adapted from Nancy Baggett's fabulous recipe for "Favorite Deep-Dish Apple Pie" from her equally fabulous The All-American Dessert Book (Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005). I put this wonderful filling in My Mom's Pie Crust, which is so good, you can put pretty much anything in it and be a happier person.

As an aside, I was looking for a recipe online the other day and had to wade through a lot of introductory prose to get to it, so I'm just going to jump right into the recipe here. Also, I really want to eat some more pie.

Yes, I Really Can Make An Apple Pie {print}

1 recipe Pie Filling
Pie Dough for double-crust pie (My Mom's Pie Crust or your own recipe or pre-made)

My Mom's Pie Crust
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cold and cut into smallish pieces
1/2 cup shortening, cold
1 egg
1/3 cup cold water
1 tablespoon white or cider vinegar

In a large bowl, mix the flour and salt. Throw in the pieces of butter and tablespoon-sized "portions" of shortening and cut all these into the flour mixture with a pastry blender or a fork or two knives. Whisk the remaining crust ingredients and toss with the flour mixture until it starts to form a ball. Add a couple extra drops of water if it seems too dry. Divide in thirds, form into balls, wrap in plastic, and chill until you want to roll out and use. (You need to at least rest and chill the dough for an hour or so, but longer is even better.) You can also freeze your dough portions for at least a few months. Whenever you use it, roll it out and bake it according to the directions for whatever recipe you're using it with. 
Makes 3 (9") single-crust pie shells. (You'll only need 2 for this pie, or just make 2 extra-large portions if you like to have extra to work with or scraps to bake.)

Pie Filling
11 cups peeled, cored, sliced apples (you'll want to use several different varieties of apples here for best flavor and texture...slice the softer apples like Macintosh a little more thickly and the more crisp apples like Granny Smiths more thinly)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
3 1/2 to 4 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch (use the larger amount if your apples are really juicy...I used 4 tablespoons in my pie)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 pinch of salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 tablespoon milk, for brushing on top of pie dough
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar for sprinkling on top of pie

In a very large, heavy, nonreactive saucepan, toss the apple slices with the lemon juice. In a small bowl, stir together thoroughly the 2/3 cup granulated sugar and 1/3 cup brown sugar, the cinnamon, cornstarch, and salt. Add the sugar mixture and the butter to the apples; toss until well combined. Bring the whole mixture to a simmer over medium-high heat. Simmer, stirring and scraping the pan bottom, for about 3 minutes, or until the apples cook down slightly; do not let the apples burn.


Pie Procedure
Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil, and either coat the foil with nonstick cooking spray or line it with parchment.

Roll out one portion (1/3 of the total recipe) of My Mom's Pie crust and fit into a deep-dish 9" pie plate. Chill while you make the filling. When filling is ready, mound it into your pie shell, heaping it up in the center. Roll out another portion of pie dough and fit it over the top, crimping the edges. Brush the top crust (but not the edges) with milk and sprinkle with sugar. Cut a few slits to vent, and set the pie on your prepared baking sheet.

Bake at 400 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until lightly browned. Coat a large piece of foil with nonstick cooking spray and use the foil to tent the entire top crust so it doesn't brown too much before your apples are tender. Bake (still at 400 degrees) for another 30-40 minutes, or until the filling is bubbling up at the edges and through the vent holes. You might also want to finagle a slice of apple out through a vent to check for tenderness. You want your apples tender but not mushy. 

Remove the pie from the oven and cool on a wire rack for at least an hour. Serve with ice cream (à la mode) or without (au naturel).




This post may have been shared at some of these blog link parties.

October 8, 2018

Autumn In a Sheet Pan Caramel-Apple Cake


I've confessed here before that Pinterest intimidates me, because it makes me feel like an underachiever. 

"How is it possible you've never done a pallet project?" or, "What do you mean you store your desk supplies in a plastic caddy you bought at the office supply place instead of in a repurposed tissue box you decoupaged with pictures of your children? What's wrong with you?"

Happily, Pinterest inspires my daughters, and they often send me links to things they've found there that they think we should make together. Even more happily, these things are usually baked goods...which is a language I speak.

The other day, in fact, my high schooler sent me a link to a caramel apple cake and asked if we could bake it together. I thought about it for possibly 1.1 seconds, because when your teenager wants to do pretty much ANYTHING with you, you jump on it. Also, I love caramel and apples. (And also, I love my teenager.)

I was completely on-board with the idea behind the recipe she sent me but not with the four sticks of butter it called for, so I set about coming up with my own version. My daughter and I baked it up the other day, and as soon as we tried a piece, we were very inspired—to eat more. So, Pinterest, I believe I owe you an apology...and a thank-you.

Autumn In a Sheet Pan Caramel-Apple Cake {print}

Cake:
1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick), cut into pieces
1/2 cup water
2 cups all-purpose flour 
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup reduced-fat sour cream (NOT fat-free)
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
2 medium apples, peeled and grated

Icing:
1 cup brown sugar, light or dark or a combination
2 tablespoons butter
6 tablespoons (1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) milk or half-and-half, plus additional as needed
2 cups confectioner's (powdered) sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract 

What to Do:
1. Round up a sheet pan approximately 9" by 13" in size. You can fudge a little on these measurements...7x11 or 10x15, for example. But don't try to cram this quantity of batter into a 9-inch square or stretch it across a half-sheet pan. Butter the pan or spray it with nonstick cooking spay.

2. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees (yes) and make sure your rack is in the middle position.

3. In a small bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg with a fork or whisk. Set aside.

4. In a large saucepan, bring the 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter and the water just to a full boil, stirring once or twice while waiting for this to happen.

5. As soon as the butter/water mixture boils, pull the pan off the heat. Dump the flour mixture into the pan, followed by all the remaining cake ingredients in the order listed. Stir everything together with a wooden spoon, scraping the sides a few times, just until everyone is in the party and you don't see any rebellious pockets of dry flour mixture.

6. Pour the cake batter into the prepared pan, smooth the top, and bake for 15-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake emerges with moist crumbs clinging to it. Be careful not to overbake this cake. You want the aforementioned moist crumbs—not wet batter, but not a totally clean pick, either. A minute can make a difference here, so start checking early and keep checking often. As my mom always says, you can add cooking time, but you can't take it away. Remove pan from oven and set on a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes.

7. When your cake has cooled for 10 minutes, make your icing by melting the 1 cup brown sugar, the 2 tablespoons of butter, and the milk or half-and-half in a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly, then reduce the heat to medium-low and cook (keep stirring!) until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool for 3 minutes, then add the confectioner's sugar and the vanilla extract and beat with a wooden spoon until smooth and/or you have worked out all your frustrations, whichever comes first. If the icing looks too thick to pour easily (it will set up quickly once you pour it on the cake, so you don't want it too thick at this stage), add a little more milk or (even better) half-and-half, a few drops at a time, until you have a pourable but not runny consistency.

8. Immediately pour the warm icing over your warm cake and spread it evenly and without delay from edge to edge. (This will be much easier if you don't pour all the icing in one spot in the middle of your cake but rather bake and forth from end to end, nearly covering the entire surface just in the pouring.)

9. Allow the icing to set up for at least 20 minutes, then enjoy your cake warm or at room temperature. If you have any to store, be sure to cover your pan tightly with plastic wrap or foil so it doesn't dry out. Eating the entire cake the day it's made also solves this problem nicely. But I will say that this cake keeps well. I'll leave it to you to work out that paradox.



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September 7, 2018

Now I Can See What Really Mattered As a Mom



When my first baby was in preschool, my husband and I agonized over when to start her in kindergarten. Okay, fine: I agonized. My husband rarely agonizes over anything. He is Mr. Calm-and-Steady to my reactionary nut-job self. But the point is, there was agonizing. Our daughter’s fall birthday put her right on the line for starting before she’d even turned five or waiting until she was almost six.

We went back and forth. We weighed pros and cons. I cornered teachers who went to our church and asked for their expert opinions. I was convinced we were staring down The Right Door and The Door That Would Ruin Our Daughter’s Life. What if we picked the wrong door?

Happily, our second daughter made the decision for us before she was even born by having a due date that was pretty much the same day as her big sister could have started kindergarten as a young five. Since I couldn’t handle two epic life events in the same day and baby girl REALLY needed to be born, we waited on kindergarten. And of course quickly figured out that both doors had pros and cons behind them and that it was our job to make the best decision we could at the time, open that door, and walk through it.

My point (and I do have one) is that one of the blessings of being a mom with some mileage on her is that I can look back and see what really ended up mattering in the overall scheme of things and what I could have saved myself (and, ahem, my family) a lot of agony about.

It didn’t matter, for instance, that we default-decided when to send our first child to kindergarten. It did matter, as it turned out, that once she started school, we tried our best to support and encourage her and to do what we could to help her be a successful student all the way through.

It didn't matter that I never got around to sending my kids to summer camp. It did matter that we filled their summers with other moments they cherish to this day: camping with grandparents and trips to a family cottage on a lake and time spent building lasting relationships with cousins from out-of-state.

It didn't matter that the hula girl cake for my oldest daughter's eighth birthday party looked like part sumo wrestler and part alien but almost no hula girl. It did matter that we tried to make the birthday person in our house feel cherished and celebrated on their big day, even if “all” we did was spend the day together.

It didn't matter that my house was never particularly clean. It did matter that it was home.

It didn't matter that Sunday mornings almost always felt like a war zone and that it seemed we never liked each other less as a family than at that time of the week. It did matter that we got our girls and ourselves to church almost every Sunday—not so we could force-feed them our faith but so that they could find their own faith.

It didn't matter that we never took elaborate vacations or had lavish Christmases. It did matter that we spent time together as a family, doing simple things that turned into sweet memories.

It didn't matter that I often didn’t know how or what to pray for my children. It did matter that I did pray for them, even if it was just, “PLEASE, God!!” (Which it often was. I'm banking on the truth of this quote from Max Lucado: "Since the power of prayer is in the One who hears it and not in the one who says it, our prayers do make a difference."

And it didn’t matter (thank goodness) that I am a wildly imperfect mom. What mattered—and what matters still—is that my children know I love them wildly (if imperfectly) and that they know they matter to me, always and forever.


Okay, mama…now it’s your turn! What matters to you and your sweet ones? 
And for that matter, what doesn’t?
I'd love to have you share about it in a comment or over on my Facebook page.
Thank you so much for being here!




**This post may have been shared at some of these link parties.**


September 3, 2018

Note to Self: Stop Saying You Are "Just" a Wife, Mom, and Homemaker

My 30th high school class reunion came and went recently. I didn't go for lots reasons I won't bore you with here (chief among them: that whole "leave the house and talk to people" thing), but if I had gone, I know I would have needed to have been ready to answer The Question. 

"So, what do you do?"

The Question is tricky, because into it I read a deeper one: "who are you?"

Who I am, in large part, is a wife, mom, and homemaker. I am other things, too—school volunteer, Bible study facilitator, church worship team member—but these are the big three.

What I do, in large part, is take care of my husband, our children, and our home. I do other things, too, but again, these are the big three.

I don't have another answer to The Question. I can't say that I'm a teacher or engineer or nurse or administrative assistant or electrician (though I wish I could on that last one, because this old farmhouse sure could use some new wiring).

Not having an answer other than "I'm a wife, mom, and homemaker" doesn't bother me. What bothers me is that I feel like I need one...

  
I'm so honored to be over on Ruthie Gray.Mom with the rest of this post. I'd love to have you make the trip over there and check it out.❤


                  

Mentoring Moms; Capturing Joy

August 28, 2018

One Day, In a High School Bathroom, My Daughter Showed Me What Kindness Looks Like


Sweet daughter,

Oh, our second and last baby, how we love you. People told your dad and me that your big sister was our "sucker baby": she was so easy-going that she suckered us into having another one. And it is true that when you came along, you were another story . . . your own story. Your approach to us was, "What have you got? Bring it on, 'cause I've got more." That "more" has challenged  us, but it has also thrilled and delighted and stunned us, because it reflects pieces of who you are.

You are complex and complicated and, as my mama and your grandma put it perfectly, "unusually unique." You feel what you feel, deeply, and you don't hide it. You are determined, focused, driven, and passionate. You can be tricky to figure out, but you are a puzzle so worth putting together. 

You are also kind and compassionate . . . and one day, in a high school girls'
bathroom, you showed me what kindness and compassion look like.


It was band camp week, and I'd been in and out, playing band mom and feeding kids. I'd messaged you earlier in the day and commented that there were a couple girls I knew for a fact were lonely . . . girls who'd told me they didn't have any friends.

Right away, you texted back: "Do you know which ones they are? I'll try to talk to them."

So I was already proud of you for that, but then when I walked into the school later that day to do freezer-pop duty, one of your marching band instructors told me, "Your daughter is a real trooper." And then, gradually, I found out what had happened.

I found out how you had walked into the girls' bathroom and discovered one of those lonely girls there, her arms covered with cuts. I learned that you'd tried to comfort her and found her some Band-Aids and gave her a hug and took her to where she was supposed to be.

I also learned that some of your fellow band members gave you a hard time for that. "Why did you do that?" they asked you, and you told them, "She's a person. She deserves to be treated with respect."

My daughter, I know I'll be proud of you many times in the future, but I'm thinking those times will always have to measure up to this one.

Later that day, I came across one Bible verse and one quote that were so right in light of what had happened, I might have called him coincidences, except that they had the mind and heart and hand of Abba written all over them. 

"And the King will say, 'I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!'" (Matthew 25:40)
"May I urge you to love the overlooked? When you talk to the lonely student or befriend the weary mom, you love Jesus. He dresses in the garb of the overlooked and ignored." (Max Lucado)
That day in the school bathroom, you showed me what this verse looks like when it's lifted off the pages of a Bible and put into action in real life. You showed me what this quote looks like when it's not just something somebody says but something somebody does. 

And you showed me what kindness looks like when it's given a voice and hands and feet—and, sometimes, a Band-Aid.

Love,

Mom



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July 31, 2018

With My Last Baby, I'm Finally Trying To Cherish (Almost) Every Moment


"Can I drive to camp today?"

The question from my 14-year-old caught me off-guard, because I'd already forgotten that she'd gotten her learner's permit the day before.

"Of course!" I told her with encouraging-mom-of-a-new-driver enthusiam, even though what I was thinking was that I'd been blindsided by the milestones of motherhood again.

And these milestones are hitting especially hard with my second-born baby, because she is also my last baby. Which means all the "firsts" and "lasts" with her are the last firsts and last lasts. No more do-overs or do-agains.

I'd be so grateful to have you head over to the lovely Moms of Tweens & Teens and read the rest of this post about how I'm trying to soak up these moments with my daughter in a way I really never have before.

sad my child is growing up
I Didn't Cherish Every Moment Then,But I'm Trying to Now


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July 4, 2018

Faith Even When You Don't Feel Like It


My husband, God bless him, is a die-hard college sports fan. His blood runs the colors of his alma mater, and he believes in his team whether they’re winning or losing. He’s a faithful fan. 

I didn’t grow up in a sport-centric household. Before I met my husband, I wasn’t even sure what the difference was between the institution of my husband’s devotion and the other big university bearing the name of our state. Out of love for my husband, I’ve learned what downs are in football and where three-point range is in basketball. I root for my husband’s team, and when they’re doing well, I’m an enthusiastic supporter. But if they’ve just given away a big game or are on a losing streak, I leave my NCAA-approved college-logo sweatshirt in the closet. I’m a fair-weather fan.

But here’s the sticking point: this is often how it is in my relationship with God.

I regularly practice fair-weather faith. I enthusiastically worship God when everything is going the way I want it to. I testify to His goodness when I feel His presence and His blessings. When I’m not sure what He’s doing, though, or when I think I can tell what He’s doing but don’t like it, I pull away from Him and hold back my praise.

And this is a problem, because I am not called to love God “when” or “if.” I am called to love God. Period.

What does love for God look like? I show love for my husband and children by spending time with them and bragging about them. So if I’m truly loving God—love, the ongoing action, not some vague feeling or greeting-card emotion—I’m going to spend time with Him. I'm going to pray and read and study His love letter. I’m going to make a big deal about Him to others.

The Psalmist knew the formula for all-weather faith, and it hinges on a single word: yet. He describes his soul as “downcast” and “disturbed” (Psalm 42:11) but doesn't stop there: “I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God.” In the midst of a struggle—not when it's over or improved or resolved, but while it is still going on—the saved soul decides to praise God.

In his book of laments, the prophet Jeremiah shows this same “yet” kind of faith. I love that the consistency and connection of Scripture is on full display here: we're told that in his own “yet”moment, Jeremiah too, finds his soul to be downcast. “Yet this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope…” (Lamentations 3:21). Same state of soul, same hinge word, same decision to extol God and affirm who He is.

As a naturally melancholy personality, my soul often dwells in the land of the downcast. When I am there, praise and hope are not my default reactions: withdrawal and wallowing are. But I can learn a new way. When storm clouds of worry, uncertainty, sickness, hardship, or sorrow roll in, I can make the choice to make a habit of defaulting to yet.

Yet, I can choose to praise God. Yet, I can choose to “call to mind” truth about who God is. Yet, I can choose to worship in the waiting, in the meantime, in the midst. Whatever the weather. Whether my team is winning or losing.

I. Will. Yet. Praise. Him.



**This post in its original form first appeared on Blogs By Christian Women. It may have been shared at some of these link parties.**