Monday, November 23, 2015

When You Feel Like a Weirdo, But Hope It's Not True

Some days it feels like I was gifted with the jackpot at the end of the rainbow of quirky traits. I can recall a phone number I've seen written out, even if I've never dialed it. I have the ability to care deeply and quickly about someone I don't know all that well. I cry when moments hold the slightest meaning even when I've promised myself I wouldn't. I'm genuinely enthusiastic about other peoples' lives and interests. And then there's this little gem: Even years later, I'll remember more than is socially normal about a person I've only met once.

It's taken some time, but I can appreciate these qualities now. Though sometimes I get fearful that potential friends or new connections won't be so comfortable with the real me and it will be awkward, so I try to tone it down. I wouldn't want to scare anyone away by my enthusiasm. I wouldn't want to turn anyone off by being the truest version of me. Wait... what? 

I think I can safely say I'm not alone in this. Some of us change the way we speak, act, react, hold ourselves, dress, and even the way we think about things, all for the sake of appearing normal. A little more like the rest. Blending with the look and feel of the masses.

There've been countless times I've allowed myself to believe I was made with faulty parts. Tears were not supposed to flow unless I told them to. Therefore I must be too emotional. And I certainly wasn't supposed to embarrass myself by remembering every single detail about a person I've talked to for thirty seconds once in my life. Obviously I must be a weirdo. These people have no recollection of me. While, I naturally remember the four freckles under their right eye, where they grew up, along with their first and last name. Embarrassing. Though helpful at times too. But still, embarrassing and unintentionally stalker-ish.

In Psalm 139:14, the Psalmist spoke words of praise to God about the way he was made: "Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well." Do our souls know and believe the truth about ourselves? Do we believe God's work in making us is wonderful? It's difficult to praise God for something we think is weird.

So when we believe the way Jesus created us is strange, cringe-worthy, or accidental, there's something wrong with our way of thinking. We must remember how intentional God is and set our minds there instead. We must remember we're set apart. Our quirks are no accident.

All this talk of weirdos and interesting traits makes me think of John the Baptist. I'm sorry, but it does. We generally think of John as this bold, insect munching, scratchy camel fur-wearing guy. He was these things, but more importantly, this cousin of Jesus was entrusted with preparing Israel to meet the Messiah in the flesh. John was to serve as the emcee for the main event -- to introduce the main person: Jesus.

To us John might have seemed a bit strange. To them he was considered a fanatic. But to Jesus he was considered the "greatest of all men" (Matthew 11:11) because of his obedience and all out commitment to carry out the task he was given.

I just love that he didn't seem at all concerned about fitting in, but he did make it a point to concern himself with making sure his life fit inside God's story. He wasn't out to be the most unique or most outlandish person. His goal was obedience. He accomplished this by walking forward in the middle of God's will for him, fully himself no matter how crazy it looked.

Nothing is wasted with God. The traits he gave you, the traits he gave me, the traits he gave John the Baptist were on purpose. Hold your head high, walk in His ways for you, and make obedience your target. Your quirky traits will serve to make the journey more interesting, and they certainly won't be holding you back.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

5 Things I'd Tell You About Marriage

This month, Jeremy and I celebrate the 20th anniversary of our very first date.

Back in 1995, he had hair, I had braces. He looked ready for his debut in a toothpaste commercial, I looked ready for the first day of seventh grade.  

We met at the weekly meeting of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship on campus at the University of Alaska Anchorage, a few weeks into my freshman year. A new friend of mine brought his oldest friend along to InterVarsity to meet me. He was convinced we'd hit it off. I was clueless about their plan, but was quite happy to see Jeremy, whom I'd recognized from my years living in the same area of the state as his family growing up. 

A couple weeks after meeting, Jeremy invited me to the movies to see the original Toy Story. We were adults, but just barely. We had the nervous tingles throughout night, the kind where your palms sweat and your heart pounds in your chest. When the date was over, he walked me up the steps to my apartment and presented me with my very own VHS copy of Little Women (the Winona Ryder version, of course.) He knew what I liked. Swoon. 

We were married three and a half years later in July 1999, after we grew up a bit (a lot.) Our marriage is a joy, but we're human, so not every moment is fun. But you know that already because you're human too. When you've got two people committed to the Lord and each other who are also on the strong-willed side? You've got us. But the good thing is that being strong-willed helps us fight fiercely for our marriage. Being strong-willed makes us stronger in our convictions about the covenant relationship we're in. Plus, we're in love. We appreciate each other. We complement each other. Jeremy is so good to me.

Last summer, as we celebrated our 16th anniversary, I wrote down what made our relationship thrive, even with a houseful of kids. Because let's face it, having children does not make this any easier. After thinking back over our life together thus far, I came up with this list.

If you were to ask me what has helped us arrive at place where we're stronger than ever, through trials and fire, I'd tell you these 5 things:

1.  Ask Jesus who He wants you to be as a spouse, listen well, and then be that person.

2.  Be willing to forgive, then gracefully give it with no bitter strings attached.

3.  Have a team mentality. You're in this together helping and serving each other and your family toward a common goal. Decide together what that goal is.

4.  Decide selfishness has no place. It will only divide, no matter how justified it feels and no matter how badly you want what you want.

5.  Love unconditionally in a way that mirrors Christ's love for us. Hard. Good. Worth it.

Being married has molded and grown us in some really uncomfortable ways. But we're better for it, and thank God for the gift of each other.

What have you learned from marriage that you'd like to share?

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Girl in the Next Seat

The room was full when I walked in to find a seat that night. My eyes were scanning the rows of chairs searching for a seat next to someone I didn't know well. I wasn't hoping to meet someone new. No, on this night I wanted to hide.

I knew I'd be in a roomful of ladies I attended church with and would normally enjoy engaging in conversation with, being the extrovert that I am, but on this night I was fragile. I knew God wanted me to be filling one of those seats, and I truly wanted to be there. But a vulnerable place in my soul left me wanting the opposite of what I normally seek.

I wonder if you've been there too. Your world feels heavy and conversations are hard. That was me that night as I sat down between two women who would be neutral. Do you know what I mean? They wouldn't know me well enough to be able to see through my smile, and I would be safe for a time.

When I pulled into the parking lot, I almost turned around and left to wander Target for the second Thursday night in a row.  For a few moments, I let fear mess with me. But instead of high-tailing it out of there, I decided to be a big girl and face the unknown inside the building.

I'm usually an engager. One who is eager and happy to connect. And I'm not usually one to shy away from a challenge, or run away from a difficulty. This time it was different. I wanted to run. Oh, how I wanted to run.

When I sat down, I realized that the woman on my left was one I'd seen around our community through the years, but had never had the pleasure of meeting. She was a little younger than myself and sat by her mother. A mother who was protective, though proud of this daughter of hers with special needs.

As we sat through the event, my new friend watched my every move. She tried to be sly, peering out the corner of her eye with her neck turned ever so slightly my way. She watched me take note after note in my Eiffel Tower notebook. She would occasionally crane her neck to investigate my scarf and necklace. She laughed when I laughed. She won my heart without saying a word.

After sitting by me for forty-five whole minutes, she leaned in close, pressing her arm and shoulder into mine, and whispered, "Hi...." It was the longest, most beautiful "hi" of my life. She saw me. She liked me. She welcomed me.

I knew right then and there I was supposed to be there that night, even sitting there in my un-brave and neutral spot so God could show me He sees, likes, and welcomes me.

After the class wrapped up, I stood and shook hands with my new friend as I introduced myself. We chatted about her favorite shows on HGTV and I learned about the crush she has on one of the hosts. Then she said three little words that held big meaning. She looked me square in the eyes and said, "I... love... you."

Twice. She said it twice to make sure I was listening.

Her mom smiled and even seemed a bit embarrassed. But I knew this girl was a messenger. She looked straight into my soul and delivered Jesus to me.

We all have lonely and painful times. We've all felt so vulnerable we want to run. I can even bet the next time you're sitting in a roomful of ladies, you don't have to look very far to find someone who needs your smile, who needs to know she's seen.

Will we show her we see her, we like her, and we welcome her like my new friend did for me?

I left the event with my head held high. Sure, I snuck out without making any intentional connections or eye contact (I'll have you know), but I'd received what I'd come for. Along with some stellar Bible teaching, I'd seen the face of God.


Friday, September 25, 2015

You're Healed. Now Walk Like It.

"Do you want to get well?"

These words from the story of Jesus healing the paralytic man at the pool of Bethesda in John chapter 5, rattle around in my brain. This man Jesus made well had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. At the point of their interaction, he had been suffering since before the Messiah he was speaking to was even born.

He sat alongside the healing pool in hopes of being cured by the waters. The first person to get into the water after it was supernaturally stirred would be the one to receive healing.

"This story doesn't make sense," I'd often think. It confused me for years.

"Was there no one, after all those years of seeing him waiting by the pool, who would help him in when the time came? What is wrong with people? If not, why didn't he just ask someone? Why didn't they form a line or draw numbers so they'd know who was next?" 

I never saw it as the man's or anyone's fault, per se. But I realize now that the point of this story isn't about fault. It's more of a circumstance, I guess. Sometimes I read too much into things searching for a lesson to be learned.

The point of the story is Jesus.

Jesus wasn't saying, "Get up, I'll help you miraculously get into the pool."

He said, "Get up and walk." You're healed, now walk like it.

The man had no idea who Jesus was. (v. 13) So it wasn't like he had a giant faith leading to his healing. In fact, he had no faith at all. But Jesus did it anyways. He released healing power into someone who had absolutely zero faith in Him. Huh. 

Jesus is not limited by your faith or my faith. The releasing of His power is not dependent on you or I. This is good for me to ponder. He does move in response to our prayers. But not always. We don't always ask in accordance to His will. Sometimes I think, "If I just had enough faith, this health issue would disappear or that friendship would be resurrected." 

It's good for us to remember that Jesus' power isn't limited within the boundaries of our faith. In the pages of the Bible, we see that Jesus usually healed a person in response to their faith like the story of Jesus making well the sick woman who reached out and touched his robe. (Mark 5:24-34)

But not here. No faith was required. So this leads me to look more closely at the words of Jesus after He heals the man.

Key words are spoken when Jesus tells the man to get up and walk, and the man does. He doesn't argue, "Walk? Yeah, rrrright. There's no way." 

The man simply gets up and starts walking. He's been healed!

This has me thinking about us. We've been healed too. If we're in Christ, we've been healed spiritually right down into depths of our souls. Some of us have been healed on the outside too. In the form of physical bodily healing.

In either case, Jesus would never have us stay sitting by the pool resisting His call to us to get up and walk once we've been healed. But sometimes we do. I still baffle myself with the ways I'm still sitting by the pool.

I hang onto bitterness Christ has already conquered.

I cling to control as a means to keep everyone safe when Christ is our safety.

I allow injustice to eat away at me when Christ brings ultimate justice.

Tired and spent, I ask myself, "Amanda, do you want to get well?" 

Christ is calling us away from the pool. We've been healed. Let's walk like it.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Mandatory Rest

Three weeks ago, Jeremy and I flew four thousand miles away from home for our first-ever week to ourselves in sixteen years of marriage.

It always feels wrong to board a plane and willingly leave the place your most beloved people are, but this time it was different.

For the first time since becoming a mom nearly fifteen years ago, I didn't shed a single tear in the days leading up to saying goodbye to our crew or even in the moment of actually parting and driving away toward the airport. And I didn't even feel bad about it.

Somewhere in the hustle and straight crazy that was this last year, I'd lost myself.

So when it was time to leave, all I could do was sigh, smile, and know that in no time at all, we'd back in the game of parenting eight children and I was so ready to be in that restful space that would only exist if we left.

If I was going to find myself again, it was going to be by getting on an airplane and going away for a time. God had provided the time away and we were confident He would fill us back up to overflowing with Himself while we were gone.

For the first two to three days, we couldn't even talk about the kids or the kind of parents we wanted to be when we got back. I joked about us having PTSD.

In many ways, it was no joke.

Rest had become mandatory if we were going to be productive at all anymore. If we were going to have the ability to have clarity and act with wisdom. Two things we wanted so badly.

In the months leading up to leaving, we were running on fumes. It wasn't pretty. We were desperate.

Maybe we waited too long to have this much time away by ourselves. Maybe we wouldn't have been quite so needy had we done it sooner. Now we know. We need respite like this more often.

Or maybe we need more smaller two to three-day breaks spread throughout the year.

The point isn't really how long or how often. The point is: people need rest.

What if we stopped putting off rest when we need it most? Before the breaking point hits and before desperation hangs so heavy you don't know how you'll go on.

Jesus regularly rested away from the push of people, even his closest companions, the disciples. What sticks out most to me though?

He never once apologized for it.

"I'm so sorry friends, but I'm fatigued and need a break. I should be able to do all of this. I should be more together. I'm sure I'm failing you somehow... but I must go. On second thought, maybe I'll stay around a bit longer because I'm so valuable to you." 


Never. We've never heard anything like that from Him.

Maybe He didn't even really need a rest. You know, because of the whole fully God part? But maybe He knew we would, and we wouldn't take it seriously unless He showed us how to do it well.

He was humble. Which meant he didn't think so low of the crowds and His disciples to think they couldn't survive without His company for a time.

On the other hand, He didn't think so highly of Himself that He had to stick around and save the world at every moment. (I had to. You know I did.)

We get so weird about rest. Is it really so bad if we get a little behind on the responsibilities that just don't matter in the grand scheme, if we'll be paralyzed with stress and unable to perform the duties that do if we overwork ourselves?

When we fail to take mandatory rests with loved ones or without, it leaves us unable to do anything well. Especially the stuff that matters.


Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Things I Learned in My 38th Year

Yesterday was my 38th birthday.

I don't know that I've ever written a birthday post before, but this last year held some memorable landmarks, silly realizations, and tremendous growth. It feels like the right time to pause and document. 

Don't worry, I won't make you sit through a list of 38 things. I don't think. I'm not quite sure where this list will end, but if you'll stick with me, you'll learn some things I took away from my 38th year:

1.     I can keep houseplants alive. I love the green and life plants add to a home, I've just never been able to keep them looking lovely until this year. I currently have seven, and I'm happy to report all are happy and healthy. We won't talk about the succulent I managed to kill over the winter. Who kills a succulent? A very talented person, that's who.

2.     Never fail, I lie awake all night the first night (and sometimes the second) I'm away from home on a trip. I didn't actually discover this cruel reality this last year, but I was reminded of it five or so times. The worst. No lavender, no sleep aide, no anything helps. Boo. Reading makes me fall asleep every time, but for some reason I don't think of it when I have insomnia. I'll try my best to remember for next time. 

3.     The theme of the books I've read this last year have followed a pattern. Quiet, whitespace, and breathing room. I only read non-fiction. It's this weird thing. I've tried fiction countless times, but I just can't do it anymore. Maybe when my brain can relax and I don't need as much "help", fiction will become my friend again like when I was a child or young adult. 

4.     Sad, but true. I've watched less movies and shows this year of life than any other. Life as we know it leaves Jeremy and I feeling like we're 80. We're pooped. He commutes 2.5 hours every work day, and I'm taking care of the masses and completing my work when he's gone. We love a good movie, so I'm hoping this next year will be the year of the movie night comeback. 

5.     I've learned to make our home one I really love. One we really love. Thanks to reading The Nesting Place by Myquillyn Smith and The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo, I've gotten rid of things we own that don't spark joy (Kondo) and have learned "It doesn't have to be perfect to be beautiful." (Smith) Such good reads. I've gotten rid of half our books (lots and lots) and have created spaces we truly feel cozy living in with little clutter. That is, if you don't count the perpetual clean laundry pile in the family room that always needs folding. Ten peoples' laundry. Can you even? 

6.     I love old things and old people. There's a story to be told if we'll listen. 

7.     Being outside makes me come alive. Again, I didn't just learn that, but it's been especially true this year. 

8.     God uses heartbreak to teach His truth and show enormous love. I didn't know it as much until my 38th year. 

9.     I learned to never give up hope. Right at the moment you're not expecting it, God just might blow your mind with a breakthrough. 

10.     Last year for my birthday, all I wanted was a Bible commentary. I'm talking a 6-inch thick book of amazingness. It's the most favorite book I own. Duh. Except the Bible. Isn't it strange how we feel compelled to clarify when it probably isn't necessary? The struggle is real.

11.     Cosmos. I learned I'm crazy about these simple flowers. They're in the daisy family, no wonder! 

12.     Eating completely sugar, gluten, dairy, and white flour-free for months at a time makes me feel incredible. Abruptly stopping eating said way and binging on sugar, gluten, diary, and white flour makes me feel terrible. Ask me how I know. 

13.     A winter with no snow and an abundance of ice is a prison. 

14.     Beginning a bullet journal is one of the best things I did for myself. Go here and watch the video. Trust me. 

15.     Unconditional love has been a recurring theme. I learned I have much work to do. 

16.     Organizing our books in rainbow color order makes me so happy. 

17.     Air-drying my clothes that are allergic to the dryer makes me feel like Ma Ingalls

18.     Being in a canoe on a lake helps me breathe again. 

19.     Marriage takes a lot of hard work, but with that hard work comes the most rewarding of prizes. Happy 16th anniversary to us!

20.     Don't ever believe the voices that tell you you're a bad friend, bad wife, or bad mother. The voice of God is never condemning. 

21.     A pure white quilt makes a bedroom feel like a haven. 

22.     I own fifteen dresses. Some days I like to be fancy. 

23.     Our children will not always make us happy. But for sure, they will make us depend more on God, make us better, make us feel important and a little crazy. Children bring so many gifts. 

24.     Talking into a microphone to nobody with a dear friend is one of my favorite things. Have you listened to The Masterpiece Mom podcast? We love hearing more than nobody is listening in real life once we hit publish on our conversations. 

25.     God speaks to me in unique ways. I've always known this. But my 38th year was the year of hearts. Though it started well beyond this last year, I see hearts everywhere. The amount I see grows as the days pass. They speak love and care and foreknowledge straight from God to me. Just today I saw one in a cluster of raindrops on a rock, one in a stump, one in the middle of a Cheerio, and one in a child's slobber mark on a throw pillow. Nice. Happy Birthday to me.

26.     Certain pens give me the willies and I love writing with pen to paper. Today I wrote with a pen that had a rollerball that was way too fast. I could hardly deal. Pens shouldn't be allowed to fly off into the next word before you've even thought of it. Just wrong. Click to behold my current favorite pen. Also, I will make a list of nonsense just for the opportunity to write on paper. A lost art. I will never stop writing things down. Never. See #14. 

27.     I think I've exacerbated my back and neck problems by checking email and social media on my phone in the morning while laying in bed. Ouch. What's wrong with me. 

28.     I will forever be tempted by a Carmello candy bar. 

29.     Taking Gallup's Clifton Strengths Finder test online helped me see my top 5 strengths. They are as follows: Strategic, Positivity, Activator, Belief, and Communication. This is exactly me. I loved reading more about these strengths. It has helped me more fully understand God's purposeful design for me. It makes so much sense. 

30.     When a child is pushing all the buttons, if I speak calmly and pray simultaneously, it helps convince me that I am calm. Try it, you'll like it. You'll like yourself afterwards too. 

31.     I have wonderful people in my life. So, so wonderful. 

We're almost to 38, so I'm gonna go for it. 

32.     Your Promises by Elevation Worship has been my go-to song. When I was unbelievably nervous and about to die while driving to speak at an event at my home church, God used it to speak His truth to me. When I've been deeply saddened, it's brought great comfort. When I've at all doubted the glimpses of my future God's shown me, this keeps my eyes on Jesus. Fun fact: Jeremy and I get to visit this church a whopping 4,300 miles away on a Sunday very, very soon. 

33.     After our sweet dog Annabelle died last summer we got guinea pigs. I had no idea how much I would love them as pets. Now I have my own, her name is Apple. I'm seven all over again. 

34.     I really like knowing how people are doing rather than what they're doing. There's a big difference. 

35.     I'm the right person for the job because God says so. When I feel weak in my roles, this keeps me motivated. 

36.     2015 is a bad year for the air conditioning to go out in Larry, our van. Hottest summer I've ever remembered. Awesome and horrific all at the same time.

37.     Oh man, I'm petering out. Just two more... Oh! I learned the definition of the greek word hubris means: pride in the sense of putting yourself in the center of the universe. Ouch. That's what we want to avoid. "One cannot be humble and aware of oneself at the same time." I'm reading A Circle of Quite by Madeleine L'Engle right now. There's some real insight there. 

38.     We made it. In my 38th year, I learned so much. But mostly I learned more of who my Savior is. More of His character and goodness. I'm forever His. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Why We Say No: Conviction vs. Personal Preference


I always know it's time for me to settle down and write something in this space when a topic won't leave my thoughts and it's not one that is specific to moms. I spend a lot of time writing and talking about mom stuff right here. But there's a lot of non-mom stuff I like to talk and write about too.

Today's topic is just that. It's one that won't go away and builds a fire in my belly producing lots of strong feelings, should-have's, and hope-to's.

Here's the thing. There are certain words spoken in conversations with friends (or even strangers) that cause me to freeze up. I go completely blank. In the moment, no coherent thoughts or words can get in or out. For a girl who isn't speechless all that often, this is big.

In those moments from the time the words leave the other person's mouth, until the time I'm supposed to respond, I become instantly afraid of appearing holier than thou or stepping on toes, so I freeze and retreat like a turtle popping back into his shell. I usually know just what I'd like to say in response, but I just can't eek it out in a loving and intelligent way (which is the goal), so I say nothing. When I'm back home or have hung up the phone I finally have the words. Of course. But it feels too late.

I've never called the person up to say, "Uh, yeah... you know how you said ___________? Well, I have some thoughts." I totally could say that. I know. But I don't. There's that whole thing where the other person might feel badly that I've spent some time thinking poorly of them or the words they spoke. It's quite possible that I think too much. Quite possible.

So this is me processing my not speaking up and an introduction to what sort of conversation it is that drives me to speechlessness. There's an important spiritual truth here that we all need to hear if you'll stick around.

Are you exhausted by me yet? 

I'll do my best to articulate what in the world I'm talking about. Here's an example:

Person A says, "I'd really like to have more children, but we wouldn't be able to fit in our current vehicle anymore if we did, and I really like what I'm driving right now. So no more children for us!"

*The names and circumstances have been changed to protect the identity of Person A.*

Person B (Me) freezes, laughs awkwardly and politely, while sputtering something like, "Yeah..." or "Hmmph..." while two questions begin playing ping-pong in my head as I continue to smile and nod all the while upset at myself for not asking Person A to explain where God's plan fits among their preferences:

1. Have you thought about asking God what He thinks?

2. Have you considered that God's plan for your life is so much more important than your comfort zone or view of a perfect life?

While I may be a really nice person, I still have some strong opinions, and disregarding God's possible plan for your life just because it might make you uncomfortable is one of my hot buttons.

With that said, what I'd really like to say out loud in response, and hopefully the next time I'll be in my right mind to press the unsuspecting person to consider this: "Has God placed a conviction in your heart about this, or is this a matter of personal preference?"

It seems easy enough. But it isn't for me. Being more bold in this area is something I desire.

If we are living our lives as Spirit-led children of God, it is impossible to answer a sure forever Yes or No about any circumstance or decision.

If we are Spirit-led children of God, we need to make sure we are letting the Spirit lead in our decision-making. Our personal preferences are bossy. They like to push us around and remind us of our fears. None of us likes to be bossed around, but if we're letting our preferences take precedence, we're getting bossed and fear wins.

Jeremy and I are often asked if we're "done" giving birth to or adopting children. I can imagine one would be curious, so I welcome the chance to respond.

Even though the eight kids I'm already mothering stretch me to the furthest reaches day in and day out, I can't solidly say Yes or No. I honestly don't desire more children at this point. But that's not to say God won't place another child before us and say, "He's yours." It's happened a couple times before in the most surprising fashion, so who's to say it won't happen again? I can't say we're "done" with a clear conscience, and I'm not about to say No to God's will for me or my family if I can help it.

God is a master at changing our desires to match His will. And I'm good with that. So I'm good with not knowing, because I trust His plan.

I want God's will more than I want my comfort. Though secretly I might be praying that pleading prayer from the Garden of Gethsemane. You know, the one that goes, "My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; ..." 

Shoot. Jesus doesn't stop there. He continues, "... nevertheless (or nevermind me) not as I will, but as you will."

I want to be like Jesus. He basically says, "Nevermind me, I want what you want, God. I'm willing."

If we're following Christ, we need to be open to the path we never imagined. Even a path we might not want or prefer. Christ never wanted suffering, death, or to bear the unbearable weight of our sins, but He allowed Himself to walk that path because it's what the Father asked of Him. He yielded. He took His discomfort and shoved it aside.

Christians spend a lot of time talking about emulating Christ, but then sometimes aren't willing to walk into the uncomfortable and scary when certain circumstances present themselves. "Surely God wouldn't want me unhappy. So... No."

He certainly would love for you to be happy (contented, really), but He's more concerned about you being holy. Suffering and selflessness has a way of molding us into the person He had in mind for us all along.

Don't we desperately want to be the person He had in mind when He dreamed us up?

These words are coming from me as a friend who has struggled down the path of fear and preference and has learned there is nothing there for us. Nothing. The path of hope is one paved by walking in the Spirit.

That means we follow where He leads not knowing exactly where we're going. It's okay that we don't have all the answers, because we don't yet know all the questions.


Saturday, January 17, 2015

When Hope and Heartbreak Move in Together

She was stronger than I expected her to be, given the circumstances.

Her father was living in his last days. It was cancer. One year earlier, her family received the diagnosis no family wants to receive. It was terminal. This man who was dear to so many. A son, brother, husband, father, grandfather, pastor. He was one who made countless house-calls and hospital room visits, counseled, led, and loved. This man knew how to live compassion.

Now it was his time to receive compassion, his time to be loved.

We sat on my couch, tears pooling and falling down our faces. "After a lifetime of memories with my dad, I'm afraid these memories of seeing him so sick will be what I remember most." This is heartbreak.

"It's so hard to see him hurting. I'm not ready to let him go, but I'm ready for him to be whole and out of pain." This is hope.

In the same conversation.

This reminds me that it's possible (and okay) to be heartbroken and hopeful at the same time. So often we think we have to be "over it" and completely moved on from a painful experience before we can hope again.

Hope is possible whenever we decide to let it move in. I'm reminding myself today that sadness has a way of lingering, but it doesn't mean we can't hope.


Thursday, January 1, 2015

hello, New Year. a time for releasing and embracing.

Well, here we are. 2015! I don't know if I've ever been so happy to see a brand-new year arrive. Is anyone else with me? 2014 was a year for the books. Last year brought the highest of highs. Some of the most tangible overwhelming God-is-SO-real-and-personal moments happened last year. But there were also the lowest of lows. The lowest of my life.

But you know? I wouldn't trade the lessons learned or the grace received for anything. But still, I'm ready for something new.

Of course nothing has really changed, it's just a figurative change as we hang new calendars and the dial rolls to 2015. We're all still walking through our days one after the other in a grand succession, but it just feels different rolling into January, doesn't it?

How about we share a bit about what we're looking forward to embracing in 2015, and what we're looking forward to leaving behind in 2014? I'll go first. Please share anything you're willing to share with the rest of us in the comments.

In Ephesians 4:22, Paul encourages, "put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life ...". Each moment of every day breeds opportunity to put off our old self, but we seem to be most aware of our need for change this time of year. And that's okay. No matter what time of year we choose to purge old behaviors, habits, or ways of life -- it's always a good time. As believers we should always be growing. And usually growing means changing. So what is it we're needing to release this year, so the good kinds of change can take place? I can think of a few things for myself. By God's grace, I will be able to:
  • Charge my phone and iPad in the kitchen overnight. I've gotten in a unhealthy routine of reaching for a device in the morning before getting out of bed instead of reaching out in prayer or for my Bible. For me, this has to stop. I want to make sure I'm connecting with God before I'm connecting any part of me with anyone else.
  • Lose the obsession with others' opinions of me. Even though I'm strong in my beliefs and fully dedicated to the work God has set before me, sometimes I struggle with how I'm perceived by other women. Even though I only want to be living for an audience of one. This is something I'm carrying over from a work that was started in my heart in back in 2013.
  • Rather than grab for a device out of boredom or avoidance, do something intentional instead. I can think of several things and most importantly people who are needing my attention. Or if a breather is what I really need, I'll look to do that in a way that feeds my soul. To help, I've removed the Facebook app from my devices as well. Out with the old!
  • Lose the obsession with self. I love how author Tim Keller puts in my favorite little book, The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness, "The thing we would remember from meeting a truly gospel-humble person is how much they seemed to be totally interested in us. Because the essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less." This year, I seek to think of myself less.
 If we were to continue in Ephesians 4, right after the putting off the old part, we run right into the good part in verses 23-24: "to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness." This sounds much more fun. But the other stuff is necessary so we can truly embrace the new. So what do you sense God is asking you to embrace this year? Here's my list. By God's grace, I will be able to:
  • Thrive and just breathe in the midst of a big change in our schooling ways. As I mentioned in this post over at The Masterpiece Mom a few weeks ago, our family has been facing some major change in the way we educate our kids. Starting next week, all three of our elementary-aged kids will be attending the same small charter school. The middle school-aged boys will remain at home, along with our three preschoolers. This is a huge stretch for us in our tenth year of homeschooling. But it's the right move for us, for right now. We've gotten that message loud and clear from the Lord. So no matter how bumpy or unsettling at times, I'm going to embrace the gift that it truly is.
  • Live fearlessly. No matter what God calls me to, I want to follow by faith. His ways are so high, and His plans SO good. I've learned He can be trusted with absolutely any and every area of my life. It's so freeing. You should try it.
  • Write in a journal. I write stuff down all the time. I'm a big fan of to-do lists and filling in squares on a fresh calendar page. And since I'm a writer, I spend a lot of time tapping out words on my laptop.  But the one sort of writing I'm really missing in my life is the kind that isn't for a purpose or an audience. It's more for the purpose of emptying this fast-moving, jump-around-y brain of mine. 
  • Read more books. See bullet point number three in the releasing section up above. Rather than reaching for a device, I'll seek to reach for a paperback. I have several going at all times. I'd really love to finish a few.
  • Be unashamedly me. For years I've sort of hidden parts of me from my friends and other people in my life that I thought were too different or strange. I don't want to do that anymore. I want to be fully me, walking into the calling God has placed on my life. With every passing year, I'm getting closer and closer to the place He's been leading me to all along. May 2015 be no different.
  • Soak up God's Word. Have I ever told you I've become obsessed with studying the Bible? For my birthday back in July, I requested this ginormous Bible commentary that I absolutely love. I'm so happy to get to spend the rest of my life at this pursuit, and then turn around and teach what I've absorbed to women wherever the Lord may lead.
Happy New Year to you. I truly mean that. I'll be praying for us as we purge the old and welcome the new. There truly is no better feeling.

So what sort of things will you be releasing and embracing as you walk into 2015?


Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Finale. {hello, Alaska}

Here we are, friends, at the end of 31 Days!

I'm giving myself lots of grace here as I've had to slow my pace way back these last couple of weeks. Nevertheless, it's been fun to share my great state with you.

I love talking about Alaska. It's spectacular.

I'd planned to talk about so many more of my favorite things, and take you so many more places. But since that didn't happen, here's a list of favorites with links, so you can go explore them for yourselves. Lame? Maybe. Or maybe it'll give you something to talk about around the dinner table for weeks to come. That's my hope.

Anchorage - Alaska's largest city
Alaska Native Culture
Polar Bears
Grizzly Bear Viewing - Live Webcams at Brooks Falls, Katmai National Park, Alaska  (You really need to visit this link again next summer. SO amazing.)
Ice Sculptures
Footwear (I must say, I own a few pairs of Dansko clogs and my favorite pair of boots ever: Bogs. This article was spot on. But in summer, we're all about the flip flops and ballet flats!)
Alaska Railroad

Thanks for taking a virtual trip to Alaska with me this month! It's been fun to have you along.

Find each post in the hello, Alaska series HERE.


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

One of the Many Cool Things About Alaska {hello, Alaska}

As promised, I'm back with more hello, Alaska! Life has been on hold these last couple of months while I worked on a big project that was presented at an event this last weekend. Well, it's done (whew, I survived!) and I'm back with a couple more posts to close out the series this week.

I've lived in Alaska nearly thirty years, and I just learned that if you skip a rock across a newly frozen pond or lake, it will make the most amazing sound! (I got the idea from THIS viral video.) Have a listen for yourself, and tell me what you think!


This post is part of a series called hello, Alaska. Find the complete series right HERE.


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Iditarod- The Last Great Race {hello, Alaska}

There's this race. It's amazing. Maybe you've heard of it?


Imagine one person on a wooden dogsled being pulled by a team of sled dogs racing 1,000 miles through ice, snow, storms, fog, frozen rivers, mountain ranges, vast tundra, and we can't forget the cold. Ooh, boy is it ever cold! Iditarod is one tough and amazing race.

As a kid, Iditarod went right by our house. We'd walk down the driveway and hang a right to watch musher after musher begin the week and a half long trek across Alaska. I have a crazy amount of respect for these men and women.

Iditarod is so fun to follow. We enjoy it each year in the month of March. You simply must scroll through last year's photo gallery. Whoa, right?

I couldn't possibly tell you all there is to know or see. So I'll let the experts do that for me:

This is a great informational article right HERE. Along with Iditarod's Official Website! A must read.

**You many have noticed that hello, Alaska posts are no longer being produced every day. Whew! Life's too full for that right now. But I will be popping in throughout these next 10 days to finish out our series! What more would you like to learn about Alaska??**

You can find all posts in this series right HERE.


Monday, October 20, 2014

moms who think outside the box {hello, Alaska}

Alaska is a wonderful place to be a kid. The opportunities for fun outdoor activities are endless and there are plenty of wide-open spaces with clean air to breathe. It's a kids' paradise.

It's also a great place to be a mom. But moms here have to think outside the box. We have to be prepared in ways moms in other parts of the country might not have to be. For instance:

1. You can't just go on a hike or walk with your family like normal people without thinking of the large and dangerous animals you may encounter. (See the above large and protective mama in the above picture.) Some of which have large teeth and claws or a stomping ability that can do great harm. Many moms I know (myself included) are skilled at using firearms to protect their family in the great outdoors. It just comes with the territory.

2. We have to be prepared with cold weather gear in the form of hats, gloves, boots, coats, and snowpants in case our vehicles break down or we're in an accident. The temperatures here reach dangerously frigid temperatures for most of the winter and we're used to driving long distances to get somewhere. Being unprepared in the cold is not something a mom wants to deal with. It's the worst feeling when your children are cold and there's nothing you can do about it.

3. As you learned on day 4, it gets dark early in the winter. Moms here have to get creative since we tend to spend crazy amounts of time indoors during those months. It can be a trying time. But it doesn't always have to feel that way. Our kids actually love to play outside in the snow when it's dark. We turn on all the outside lights and they build snowforts until it's time for dinner or bedtime. It does get long and arduous in the darker months, but having Christmas right in the middle of it all breaks things up and gives us something to celebrate!

4. This is one I know all Alaskan moms without a heated garage can attest to. Let's chant together, "Bring the diaper bag in the house tonight or the wipes will freeze." I don't need to spell this one all the way out for you. But I bet you can imagine the horror of trying to change a baby or toddler's stinky diaper when you're out and about (and you have no other choice) once you realize the entire container of baby wipes is frozen. I've been there more times than I can count. Picture a mom defrosting wipes in front of a car heater one at a time while said baby or toddler screams and all the other kids are waiting for you all crammed into a small space together. Fun times. Fun times.

What else, Alaskan moms? Please share! What makes Alaska a unique place to be a mom?

This is day 20 in a 31 day series about Alaska! Find the entire series archived HERE.


Saturday, October 18, 2014

Seward {hello, Alaska}

This weekend, I want to make special mention of our family's favorite town on the road system in Southcentral Alaska:

SEWARD.  (Learn even more about Seward HERE.)

We love, love, love this place. Isn't it gorgeous? Actually, I've never met a person who didn't have a special place in their heart for this little town.

Seward is situated on the Kenai Peninsula on the coast of the Pacific Ocean, in Resurrection Bay. Sea life and cascading mountains abound, and it's just a fun little town complete with fun hikes, camping, glaciers, a gorgeous harbor, deep sea fishing, tourist-y shops, and the Alaska SeaLife Center which is a blast to visit.

There's so much more to say. So much more to do. So many fun events. But I'll whet your appetite for this area of Alaska by leaving it at this.

Seward = My Favorite


Friday, October 17, 2014

The Ferry and Jefferson Starship {hello, Alaska}

Because Alaska is disconnected from the continental United States, sometimes we have to get creative with our travel needs.

Obviously, most people fly to and from Alaska, but the Alaska Marine Highway is great alternative. And amazingly beautiful! The ferry system is in place to carrying passengers, vehicles, and goods to and from 33 Alaskan communities, Canada, and Washington state. There are currently 11 ferries in operation. Don't I sound like a smarty-pants? I cheated. Of course. Hooray for Google.

Our family moved to Alaska on the ferry. It was quite the adventure. We boarded in Bellingham, Washington with me crying my eyes out as I waved goodbye to my best friend since birth with the 80's hit "Sara" by Starship playing in the background. (You simply have to watch the video. I died. While you're at it, you need to watch this one too.)

And wouldn't you know it, her name was Sarah. I'm not kidding. I vividly remember crying so hard I could hardly breathe. It was the cruelest of circumstances. With our great big motorhome on board in the belly of the ship, we made the gradual trip north. Though it was a slow way to go, it was still jolting. But not as bad as jumping on a plane and being in a new state and climate in just 3.5 hours.

We exited the ferry in Haines, Alaska, located just north of Seattle, and drove the rest of the way to our new home. It was a LONG trip through Canada, icy mountain roads, and then back into Alaska. This road is known as the ALCAN, Alaska-Canadian Highway, or the Alaska Highway. This journey was not without excitement and a little danger, but it was also a really fun thing to do as a family.

Back to the Marine Highway. So fun. Sightseeing. Whales. Wildlife. Wow.

For the most amazing sights and more information, click the links above!!

This is day 17 in a 31 day series called hello, Alaska. Find all posts in this series in one place HERE.


Thursday, October 16, 2014

it's the strangest thing {hello, Alaska}

I'm thinking that if you're interested in Alaska, you already know that it's cold. You already know there are polar bears way up north, right? And I'm thinking you already know lots of cool, obvious stuff about Alaska.

But here's something you may not know:

Even in the coldest of cold days in winter, some people wear shorts and dare I say it? Flip flops.

I've seen it with my own eyes. And I've (ahem) maybe, probably done it myself as a teen. I'm perpetually cold as an adult, so this is a no-go these days. Says the girl wearing socks and fur-lined slippers as I sit next to my twelve and thirteen year-old sons who are both wearing shorts. And it's 36 degrees outside.

I thought you should know that while it's bone-cold up here, it just doesn't phase some of us. That's why we laugh when folks in Florida or California wear down jackets when it hits 50 degrees. That's the start of (or the continuation of?) flip-flop weather in these parts.

This is day 16 of a 31 day series called hello, Alaska. Find the complete archives HERE



Wednesday, October 15, 2014

ain't no mountain high enough {hello, Alaska}

I couldn't help myself. I'm crazy about that song.

We really are going to talk about mountains today though. Ohhhhh, the mountains.

But before we do, I want to say something about what I posted on Monday. Many of you shared that post (I'd love to know why), and a couple of you commented to say you thought it was great I was taking time off to be with my family. Thank you. Honestly, life is difficult right now. Jeremy and I are great, but we're dealing with some pretty major issues that are affecting every area if life. We covet your prayers as a family.

So if I ever need to take another break, you'll know why.

Back to mountains.

I've lived in Alaska since 1986, and back then I wanted nothing to do with mountains. I wasn't old enough to be hormonal, but I was a bit stubborn. My family used to taunt me, "Amanda, aren't the mountains beeeyoootiful?"

I would say, "NO. I hate the mountains. They're ugly." I was such a stinker. They'd rub in the beauty of Alaska because they enjoyed my Mr. Scrooge-esque answers. And I enjoyed indulging them.

It didn't take long for me to fall head over heels in love with the rugged terrain surround me on nearly all sides. Other than my kids, it's by far the subject I take the most pictures of.

Here are some fun facts about Alaska's mountains:

**  17 of the 20 highest peaks in the United States are in Alaska.
**  Mt. McKinley is the highest peak in all of North America standing tall at 20,320 ft.
**  There are potentially more than 70 active volcanoes in Alaska. Several have erupted in recent years.

Mt. McKinley from the air this last Spring as we flew over. This does it no justice.
It honestly looked so small from up in the air. It has such a different look from the ground. But it's stunning, no?
Mountains add so much to life in Alaska. We climb them, we gaze at them, and we even play favorites. My favorite mountain is Pioneer Peak. Pioneer Peak means home. It stands as the tallest mountain in our area. It's a true landmark. Here it is from a few different angles.

Though I can't write from the experience of all Alaskans, I can write from mine. And mountains are a big part of the magic of the Last Frontier for me.

Find the archives of the hello, Alaska 31 day series right HERE.

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