Thursday, May 5, 2016

3 Questions to Ask Ourselves About Friendship

Friendships with other women can be absolutely beautiful. But as we all know, they can be tricky little specimens too.

In my younger adult years, I used to slather myself across a wide expanse of friendships. It's in my extroverted nature to go deep and fast with new friends I believe can be trusted, so this habit has helped me make lots of friends through the years.

It's a great trait until you've overshared just after the first hello and things turn awkward. Or you've got too many people to keep up with, and you just want to make it stop.

As I creep closer to 40, I'm having to learn how to do friendship smarter. Maybe you want to do friendship smarter too.

I've begun asking myself some important questions to help gauge where I'm at and where my friend or potential friend is at, so we can all do this thing like grownups.

Is she interested in pursuing me? 

I'm allergic to pursuing friends who just aren't into it. I don't want to be annoying, but I also don't like not trying. Sometimes it's hard to tell: Is she not engaging much or at all because she does friendship differently than I would, needs me to reach out to her, or is she wishing I would go away and leave her alone?

I'm learning to watch and see, and not push myself onto someone I'm unsure about. Trying a little communication here and there, and see if she bites. Though often I wonder if I'm too much. Too chatty. Too willing to share. Too eager about them or even my own life.

The thing is, if the other person is interested in being in your life, they will find ways to put themselves in your life. They will call. They will text. They will engage on purpose, and if they live close by, they will seek out ways to be with you.

Sometimes that truth hurts. Because truly, the proof is in the reaching out and reciprocating. Does she? Will she? Can she? Am I speaking a solely extroverted language here? I dunno. Introverts help me out.

Are the rules the same regardless of our personalities?

What are my motives? 

Another cringe-worthy question. Why am I pursuing this friendship? Are my motives pure?

Do I simply enjoy her company and her ways with a desire to know and see more? Or am I motivated out of a selfish place?

What will friendship with her do for me? How will it make me appear to others? How can I get her to see how great and exciting I am?

If there's an angle behind our motives, we'd be wise to set this one aside for a time until we can pursue her with right intentions.

Am I being a good conversationalist? 

In any friendship new or seasoned, conversation is a key ingredient. To be a good conversationalist and to keep friendships growing, there has to be a balance of listening, acknowledging, and sharing.

We can't just be a good listener and acknowledger and grow a closer friendship.

We can't just share our stories and tell our news and grow a closer friendship.

To grow a closer friendship, both parties have to be willing to go both places. Listening and sharing. Sharing and listening.

There are times I have hung up the phone and nearly burst because the person on the other end of the line didn't ask a single thing about me or my life. I asked all the questions, and they were happy to answer with all their things. This has to go both ways.

Unless of course, you or your friend is in crisis, or it's just a quick informational phone call. But we should at least check-in, ask how our friend is doing, and listen like we mean it.

Friendship isn't just about us. We're to serve and build others up too. But in order for a relationship to go anywhere but the friendship graveyard, it cannot remain focused on just one person.

Point blank: if the person you're pursuing friendship with doesn't ever ask you questions, generally speaking, they aren't interested in furthering the relationship.

Or maybe they want to, but don't know how.

You can never grow closer to another human being if you are only telling your stories, relaying your news, and flinging all the things you've been dying to say at the other person. 

That's a one-sided relationship and your friend happens to like hearing themselves talk. 

I would know. I've been that friend.

Let's talk friendship. What challenges do you face in making new friends? In keeping friends? What kinds of questions do you ask yourself when it comes to friendship?

Thursday, April 21, 2016

So You're Mad at Your Real Life

Let's just say Monday was not my favorite day ever.

It got so bad, that we packed a quick lunch and bolted out the door to who knows where, skipping naps and everything. I could not stay home amidst the frustrating attitudes and actions displayed by a couple of the kids. I was also upset at myself for not handling it better. 

We did absolutely nothing except drive around, take in some scenery we've seen a thousand times, and stop at church to go to the bathroom and play on the lawn. Free therapy, I tell you. It was just enough time for me to truly think about why I was so disillusioned with it all, and to talk to God about it.

What exactly was my problem? Yeah, 8 kids is a lot. Yeah, some of the kids have "unique" needs with repetitive issues that test me to the core. But where was my long-suffering, love, joy, and patience (among other things)?

I pinned down the truth of it. I was mad. Mad that this is my life. Mad that tension headaches are a daily occurrence. Mad that what God called us to as a family is so darn hard. 

Have you ever been downright mad that your current circumstances are your actual real life? Like not just for a week or two, but your honest-to-goodness, somebody-please-send-a-nanny-or-three season of life? Perhaps years of life? 


But at the very same time, the very same people who are contributing to our "mad at my real life" state of mind also make us gloriously thankful. It's this interesting mix. At times I want to run far, far away, but I never do because I love them so, so much. Plus, they're watching me. I want them to see how a struggling believer hangs in there for the long-haul.

When giving thanks in all circumstances is the bar set in Scripture, one can get to feeling pretty guilty about being mad at anything placed in our life by the Lord. Especially our kids. 

At the end of the day, a drive-thru vanilla latte helped, as did blasting the Tony Bennett station during and after dinner. Watching the young ones sway to the crooners helped too. But what really helped is my husband. 

We help each other see. 

That night he helped me see that it's normal to be mad at your right now life at times. 

Even Jesus asked the Father if there was any other way their goal of saving humanity could be accomplished. Does it have to be this? This cross? This pain?

In most cases, the Father says, "Yes. It does." Just like he did with Jesus. 

Our right now life might be the way through this season or this frustration. Much to our chagrin, we have to go through to get to the other side. 

And we can't forget that a whole lotta character is produced through these trials. (Romans 5:3-4) That's the good part we're after.

So is there any other way, God?
Maybe. But the answer might be that we need to keep going.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Let Someone Else Praise You

One recent afternoon, as I was putting a huge pot of water to boil on the stove to start dinner, two tiny little boys I’d never seen in my life came wandering aimlessly up our driveway.

There was no mama in sight, and no car waiting like before whenever a child came to the door selling raffle tickets or magazine subscriptions. There was nobody except two mousy brown-haired boys wearing backpacks.

The older one was around six or seven, the younger didn’t look a day over five.

They came cautiously, yet confidently. At least the older brother seemed to know what he was doing.

I greeted them on the porch to save them the agony of deciding whether or not to knock on a stranger's door.

“Hi guys. What’s going on?” 

The older tiny guy proceeded to tell me their bus driver dropped them off at the wrong stop, and they didn’t know where home was. What brave little guys! I know they had walked quite a ways just to get our house because I never saw any bus.

After asking a few questions and calling their mom because oldest little dude knew his mom’s number (winning!), I figured out they were a couple miles from home. What. How this can happen is beyond me. 

After reassuring the panicked mom I was a safe person (hello, mom of eight kids), she agreed that it would be helpful if I brought them home to her instead of her coming to collect them.

I loaded them up in our 15-passenger with three of my own kids to make them feel comfortable, and headed off toward their house.

As I drove, my mom-dar was working overtime. What if they had chosen the home of a person who wouldn’t have taken good care of them? Why did the ever-lovin’ bus driver drop them off miles from home? Why did they come to our house, out of all the houses on their walk to nowhere? 

In the middle of all of these questions was also this embarrassingly telling one: What would these little boys have done without ME? 

Oops. There I go again making myself the hero.

Yeah, I called their mom to inform and reassure her and drove them home. I did the right things and thought fast on my feet. I hope any person with a heart would have done the same.

It's easy to slip into hero mode because it's tempting to want our work to be noticed and praised.

I'm not proud of it, but I'm an internal eye-roller when other people peg themselves as the hero and tell big stories touting their heroic help or good deeds in a situation.

"I did _______. And then I __________ and ______. They were so appreciative of my help. I'm just so glad I was there when I was." 

I guess it bothers me when other people praise themselves because I'm prone to do the same and dislike it so much in myself.

It's inviting, yet repulsive all at the same time. It's inviting because recognition for a job well done feels good. It's repulsive because it's pride.

We are supposed to step in. It's the way of God's people.

We do heroic things. Some of us do extremely difficult, inconvenient, and costly things in our everyday lives for the good of others.

But even then, should be we drawing attention to ourselves for it?

God's Word speaks about it in this way:

Let someone else praise you.

Such simple words. When we try to convince others of our praiseworthiness by recounting all the ways we've been plain awesome, it's awkward.

What if no one saw us and there is no chance for another person to praise us? How will they know how great we are? (You know it's true.)

If nobody hears about it, did it ever really happen? Will anyone ever know what we went through or how hard we've worked unless we tell them all about it?

Maybe not.

But is that really so bad?

The good deeds we do in secret will be rewarded by God (Matthew 6:1-4), and the good deeds someone happens to notice might be recognized here in this life.

Are we okay with that? Can we stop seeking to attract admirers? Can we recognize it as pride, and work to eradicate it from our lives as we're instructed in scripture?

It's what God is asking of us.

Do the right and noble and heroic thing.
Don't boast about it.
Do seek the reward that comes straight from God.

Let someone else praise you. One day of being plain awesome at a time.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

When Staying is Harder Than Quitting

Ever so often, I have the overwhelming urge to quit.

I want to quit mothering when I'm mega-overwhelmed with all the ages, stages and issues under my roof. Bolting out the door seems to be the only answer.

I wish the exhaustion would cease and the fruit of the effort would magically settle in.

I want to quit speaking into anybody else's life. I want to be done working toward a life of ministry writing and speaking. And I want to be done having people know more about me than I'd prefer.

I want to be quiet. Obscure. Under the radar.

But then again I don't.

Because even if I chose to figuratively stop doing the hard and draining work of mothering all these people and literally stop speaking into the lives of others, I couldn't.
It's in my nature to do so.

I'm drawn to be intentional with my kids and be with my kids, even when it's mind-numbingly mundane.
I'm beckoned to sit and tap on the keys and fill notebooks, even on the days when I see no purpose in it.

Even if I chose to stop formulating messages, I couldn't.
Because they involuntarily run through my head each day, and are frantically written down lest I forget them.

But most importantly, I couldn't stop because I'm wired to do these things. Quitting would be like attempting to unravel my DNA and manipulate it into some balloon animal creation that slightly resembles a wiener dog. It just wouldn't work.

I'm wired to mother and to minister to other women. Even when it all feels like it's going nowhere in the fast lane most of the time.

When I remember God wired me to do these things, my heart is hushed. My resolve is strengthened and my eagle-eyes reset their sights on the far-off finish line God has set before me. I'm in this for the long-haul because He is asking me to be.

Plus, all of the hard stuff can also be gloriously fun and rewarding in the very same day. Like, crazy good.

What do we do about those days when we want to quit doing the things we're called to? Those days where our lives aren't gloriously fun or rewarding, but instead are downright hard and depressing? Staying feels harder than quitting on those days.

Working at that marriage. Parenting that child with needs so far above your ability to deal. Showing love to that friend whose life has taken her down a different path than our own. Taking those college classes. Running that business. Taking care of that aging parent.

Stay is a powerful force.

It's tempting to look around and notice how easy life seems to be playing out for everyone else. It can be so deceiving.

When things appear to be stable, good, and thriving in the lives of those around us, it's definitely not because it's been easy for them. Truly healthy individuals, truly strong relationships, and truly successful ventures are only such because someone spent a good portion of their time and effort working at it.

Thriving doesn't come easily. Healthy relationships don't come without an investment.

We've all heard triumphant stories of people who didn't give up. Like the Cliff Youngs of this world and household names who have persevered against crazy odds.

These verses in James 1:2-4 have been encouraging to me when persevering has felt impossible:

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."

The hardship we experience as we keep at it isn't where the joy is found. I've often been confused by this, or felt like I'm some lousy Christ-follower. The joy comes through the persevering. It's in the reward that's found as we keep at it. Faith results in perseverance. Perseverance produces maturity and completeness. I can thank God for trials because of what they produce in me.

Faith. Perseverance. Maturity. Completeness. 

Staying may be harder than quitting, but the results speak for themselves.

** A wee disclaimer: I am not advocating for staying in abusive situations. Please get help. Speaking to someone from your church or a trusted friend or family member is a good place to begin. xo

Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Twinkle is Back

I've started and restarted this blog post too many times. 

How does one start blogging again after two months away? I can't just start talking about my favorite music or how we should all learn to love without the limits we so often put in place. I can't start there, so I'll just say hello.

Hello, there. I'm still here. 

I'm active on my Facebook page, popping in every day or so. So if you're on Facebook, won't you join me over there? 

I'm also busy writing and podcasting over at The Masterpiece Mom. Our podcast is also available on iTunes, which is so fun. But it was in this place I began writing almost 10 years ago, and it is this place that holds such a special place in my heart. 

Well, this wasn't the first place I began writing. There was the book I wrote in 5th grade. Do you remember Sweet Valley Twins? Ahem. I read every single one of those books, paying my hard-earned allowance for them. After reading a crazy number of stories about Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield, naturally I wrote a story called Triplets of Long Beach. Yes, I did. That was the last time I wrote fiction. You can all thank me for that. 

I moved on to loving writing reports and term papers in high school and college. And technically, I started writing online two blog addresses ago, but I think you get what I'm saying. I guess I've been a writer for a long time. 

Hello, again. 

I hereby pledge to post at least every other week (on the weeks I'm not writing for my other site) for the next two months to get back in the habit. Will you hold me to that? Come knock on my virtual "door" in the comments or on the Facebook page if I'm not holding up my end. You have my permission. 

Life has been tough. So tough this last year. The kind where you cry through nearly every worship service. That's the main reason for my absence. I just haven't known what to say. When writing for The Masterpiece Mom, I can compartmentalize and write about mom stuff, and it keeps things neutral. But over here, I write about some different things, and sometimes they hit a little too close to home. 

I wrote Into the Presence of God {A Prayer for the Hard Times} during one of the hardest weeks, and The Girl in the Next Seat a few weeks after. I needed to keep writing. But it wasn't easy. There was nothing new to say. 

But things have turned a corner. Nothing's changed, really. The circumstance is still just as difficult. But when God plants peace in your heart, things do change. 

I'm doing well. For the first time in almost a year, I can actually say that with a familiar twinkle in my eye. That twinkle's been away. 

Have you been in that place of unexplainable peace when the storm is still raging? Isn't it just so welcomed? 

Our standards change and we become content with things not quite looking the way we'd hoped or imagined. I'm guessing that's the state of mind we're intended to have all along.

So hello, again. It's nice to be back. 

Thursday, January 7, 2016

The Right Thing at the Right Time (Why Your Gifts Matter)

I have a friend who is incredibly gifted in an area I plain stink at. 

My friend Amber has the gift of food. Yes, food. 

She has gifted the women in our community with more meals delivered to their doorstep than I can count. After my last baby was born, she delivered twenty-four meals to our home in a span of six months. What? Twenty-four. 

Each time she pulled into our driveway, I stood near tears (and sometimes tears), with so much gratitude for her selflessness, her time, and her sacrifice. 

Our home was filled with its own special brand of crazy as we followed the Lord into the births of five biological kids and three adoptions. I would be misleading you if I let on that it merely was crazy, because it just IS crazy — like all of the time. On some days during this season, the enormity of my role as a mom of a big adoptive family threatened to eat me alive. 

Enter Amber. Without knowing the current status of my sanity, she would call to see if she and her kids could stop by for a little bit the next day and bring lunch for us all to eat, dinner for the family that evening, and three meals for the freezer. She would never say she’s gifted or special in any way. She just does what comes naturally to her. She goes about it quietly, never touting her kindness for the world to see. She loves deeply in the best way she knows how. With food.

Any woman recovering from surgery, sickness, or the birth of a child, knows how hard it is to prepare food for ourselves. I have never been so touched by the selfless kindness of a friend as I have with this friend’s offering to our family. She was Jesus with a casserole and a bag of rolls. 

God used Amber to teach me to love even when it looks small, because we never know when our obedience in serving will be just the right thing at just the right time for a person in need. 

This challenges me to give and serve with my whole heart in the area of my gifting. 

Why do we always view our offerings as “nothing much,” when they most certainly are not? What seemed to Amber like a big bag of nothingness delivered to my doorstep, was actually a rescue line dropped right into the pit of my despair at the exact moment of my need. 

To this day, the kids still rave about Miss Amber’s enchiladas. And sometimes she drops off a panful just because she knows it. 

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.

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