Tuesday, April 30

I'm So Distracted: Why We Need to Find a Different Way to Live

I sat on the edge of my unmade bed, searching Pinterest for home ideas with half of my brain. The other half tried to decipher if the shouts and banging in the living room were worth getting up to check. Was that happy or argumentative shouting? Playful or destructive banging? It was hard to tell. Did I really want to know? If it was a relatively harmless argument, shouldn’t I let the kids work it out themselves?
The pull was strong to keep my Pinterest search alive, and the urge to investigate what might be going on in no-man’s-land was virtually nonexistent. There was bound to be something I needed to address — a behavior that needed modifying — but I just didn’t think I had it in me. The apps on my phone seemed like a much happier place to spend these minutes. I could scroll and tap my way to a flawless imaginary home, or I could go out there and grow my very own tension headache. Hmm … tough choice.
Except it actually was a tough choice, because parenting was calling. Was I going to let it go to voicemail even though I’m perfectly capable (and responsible) to answer the call? Why was this so hard?
When did my desire to attentively involve myself and counsel my kids fall behind my desire to do what I want, when I want? I don’t know when the switch happened, but once I realized it, I despised it and everything about it. My phone and other tools-turned-interruptions had become enemies, not the friends I thought they’d been.
The draw to temporarily escape the realities of life seems to plague me most when I need to do something important, like sleep, make dinner, work or look my kids in the eye. Interacting with the apps on my phone at the wrong times and for the wrong reasons serves as only a temporary high, leaving me frustrated with myself.
I’m guessing you might know exactly what I’m talking about. I know many of us struggle to stay focused. I also know many of us have a hard time sticking with the good and worthy pursuits right in front of us, things such as:
  • Building our relationship with God.
  • Studying the Bible alone or in a group.
  • Investing in our most important people.
  • Giving mindful attention to our work, from home or elsewhere.
  • Keeping our home tidy and functioning.
  • Making meals.
  • Having friends.
  • Helping others.
If our priorities are of utmost importance, how can we keep them in their proper place?
Proverbs 5:8 says, “Keep your way far from her, and do not go near the door of her house.” This proverb warns us to avoid an adulteress and the places she dwells if we’re tempted, but I believe it applies here as well. Anything that tempts us to fall into sinful patterns should be avoided. In our case, true distractions could be the “her” in this verse.
What might it look like for us to heed this warning in Proverbs? Let’s use phones and the internet as our example. Avoiding temptation might look like:
  • Placing our device(s) in a room other than the one where we’re spending time with our family.
  • Looking up and putting distractions aside when someone speaks to us.
  • Setting timers for internet-related tasks to help bring us back to reality.
  • Taking a weekly day off from all apps and websites.
Discipline is a learned skill, one we must practice to improve. It’s imperative we find a way around what hijacks our minds, because what we want most is waiting.
Father, we love You. We want to honor You above all else. We come before You, hands open, asking You to help us live an undistracted life. May we bring You glory as we walk toward living a focused and intentional life for Your kingdom’s sake. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

If these words resonated with you and you're struggling to stay focused on your top priorities, then you'll enjoy my new book, co-written with Anne-Renee Gumley, Shiny Things: Mothering on Purpose in a World of Distractions. Get your copy HERE
Friday, March 23

When You Stink at Unconditional Love

"I hate him. I just can't do it anymore."

Heartbroken words were whispered as a tearful prayer to God in one of my darkest moments as a mom over two years ago.

Of course I didn't mean it. I didn't hate my son. I don't hate my son. I love him and want so badly to see him succeed and for me to step out of the way and allow Christ to heal his wounded places without my offense at his sin tripping him up.

Unconditional love. That's what I really needed to show him. Not hatred or bitterness.

Obviously God knew I needed some major help in this area, because these past few years have pushed me to places I never wanted to go. Places that have hurt more than anything I've ever experienced and left me turned completely inside out.

I believe with my whole heart God wanted me to be twisted and stretched to an almost unrecognizable state so He could reform me. So He could resurrect me. So He could sit in His rightful place on the throne of my heart.

I cannot control my people, but I can love them.

But the problem is that I'm not God and I don't know how to love like Him. But I'm learning. I'm growing.

I'm seeing my own sin for what it is and I'm seeing how God deals with me and it's vastly different than how I naturally want to deal with the people who hurt or sin against me.

In my natural state, I want those who make me hurt feel the weight of their choice and hurt in return. In my natural state, I hate the idea of someone "getting away" with what they've done. I want it to crush them like it crushed me.

It's not pretty, but that's where my heart gravitates without the gospel.

In that moment when I cried out to God with my honest feelings about my son, I wasn't just mad at him.

I despised who I'd become as a person.

I was hunched low with burden. I was critical and cynical about the future. I felt completely hopeless and went through the daily motions of living without really living.

Fearful of a total loss of control, I grasped at anything that might help me gain control again.

But nothing worked. And nothing will ever work unless I operate in God's love.

He sees my sin and loves me anyways.

And not just that, He saw my sin and sent Jesus to die for me anyways.
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. — Romans 5:8
Did you get that? While we were STILL sinners. He showed the most love He could possibly ever show.

He didn't wait until we died and faced the punishment we deserved to do the amazing thing. He showed grace to us while we were still stuck hard and cold in our sin.

Stinking at unconditional love has taught me so much more about God's love for me and for all mankind than I ever would have learned apart from this struggle. And for that, I say thank you to Him.

I don't know where you stand on this issue and the degree of your own struggle, but I do know that as of now, it's a daily wrestling for me. Maybe one day I'll more naturally jump right to grace instead of condemnation. I pray that becomes my reality.

But for now, I'll continually place the remembrance of the cross before me as I reach out with His love.

Thursday, August 10

I Didn't Actually Lose Myself

I've been thinking for some time about what I would share in honor of National Foster Care Month. But, well, that was back in May when I started writing this post.

Foster Care Month or not, the words I share here are still true.

When we believed God was calling us to adopt in 2009 after the last of our first four kids were born, we did not believe God was asking us to foster adopt.

We prayed about it for nearly a year, asking Him to show us the path we should take. As we did so, we couldn't get past the sense that our child would come through a private adoption. Several months later, our first adoption came about by word-of-mouth, resulting in nine week-old Gabrielle joining our family.

At that point, we believed we were done having and receiving children. Five kids was a lot and we were swamped.

The end. This is us moving on with our lives, walking the road before us as a family of seven. God's number and all. The number of completion.

Two months after welcoming little tiny Gabi into our home, God impressed on my heart we had another child waiting in foster care. This baffled us. We weren't licensed to foster and we'd just brought a baby home. Plus, foster care was something we believed wasn't for us.

We had reason after reason why not. Most of which anyone would have agreed with.

Foster adoption felt too risky. Too dangerous. Too sad. Too everything.

Even though we were terrified, we stepped forward believing God instead of our fears. Fast forward ten more months and much more to the story, we welcomed nine month-old Levi. We were now foster parents and Levi was legally free to be adopted.

Okay, make that six kids. The end. Moving on now.

Now this little man, who turns seven next month, insists on kissing my cheek as he jumps out of the van for school or walks into Sunday school. He tells me how nice I look in a bathing suit too. Seriously. Every time. We could have missed that. We could have missed him. 

I won't tell the whole story here, but if you speed ahead a few years and add baby Emmalie who came to us the old-fashioned way, we'd say FOR SURE now that we'd never adopt again or give birth to another child. Being parents to seven kids was now over-the-top a lot. We were for SURE done.

Or so we thought.

But a phone call from a social worker in the village Levi was born in changed all that. She asked if we would consider Levi's big brother he'd never met. We were shaken to the core. Should we? Could we? Can we?

Serioiusly, God?

I was in such a hard place already with three in diapers. I was drowning in the middle of a difficult mothering season. Even so, God confirmed we should bring a sad, scared, and scarred six-year-old into our family. Jackson has been home now for three years.

Even though the risk factor had jumped up several notches, we decided it was more important to bring comfort to a child in need than coddle our own perceived need for comfort.

It is by far the hardest thing we've ever done. But it doesn't mean it wasn't for us. These children were for us.

Many times over the years I've lamented that I've lost myself. I've felt buried in kids, special needs, cooking, driving, correcting, showing love when exhausted, ministry, teaching, discipling, and lack of time to just be me.

Then it hit me.

Maybe it's not that I lost myself, maybe it's that I found myself by beginning to strip away the selfishness that had been built up by years of general ease.

Jesus said we would find ourselves by losing ourselves. I know what He meant now.

It says in Matthew 10, He gathered the Twelve to Himself to give them instructions before sending them out with the authority to drive out impure spirits and heal the sick. Near the end of His words to them, in Matthew 10:39 He said,

"Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."

The picture up at the top of the post is a picture of me losing myself. Not just my mind (oh, you know it's true), but my very self. These four kids are a representation of when my plans for my life became unimportant as I picked up God's plan for both their lives and mine, and that of the rest of our family.

I've been told more than once I'm a glutton for punishment for having eight children and for adopting. How kind, right? 

This reminds me of Rachel Lynde's warnings to Marilla about taking in an orphan in Anne of Green Gables. In that story, we all know Rachel is crazy, and that Anne is the best thing that could ever have happened to Green Gables and Avonlea at large. But that's what happens when people don't understand. They speak from their own fears instead of what's really best in the long run.

We can't use fear as the fuel in any of our decisions.
We can't internalize the fears someone else expresses either.

We are the only ones responsible for listening to and obeying God for our own lives.

As my friend Emily says in her book A Million Little Ways,

"Though fear is present, the spirit of fear does not live within you. The Spirit of God does."

The Spirit of God does.  

As much as I've fought fear and what felt like the losing of myself all these years, I've found another version of me in the process I wouldn't want to live without.

I like her. She's gritty, determined, and generally fearless. Let's not talk about the snakes I'm terrified of here in North Carolina. We just won't. 

Right before Jesus tells the disciples the part about losing their life for His sake, he says these words in Matthew 10:38,

"And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me." 

Jesus is asking us to die to our self-will, embrace God's will no matter what, and follow Him.

Losing ourselves in the process might be the very thing we need to truly know, depend on, and love God and others.

Thursday, May 18

Time is a Teacher

Recently I sat down with my journal after getting the young ones to bed and looked back at my entries from our first couple of months living in North Carolina. 

I don't write in this particular journal every day or even every week. I write in it when everything comes to a head and I just can't deal. I appropriately titled it my Things That Feel Too Hard journal. It's where I keep my big feelings. I write prayers. Lists of worries and hard things. I give myself pep talks and reminders from Scripture too. 

This is what I wrote last fall in the middle of some angst and question filled days:

What do I fear?
✔️ there will be no close friendships forged
✔️ I will be rejected here
✔️ we will mess up our teens
✔️ our kids won't have any friends
✔️ no other families will not want to be around us because we're too big, too weird, and we might not look like we need them

I wasn't in a bad place as a whole, but I sure had my questions. 

Looking back these several months later, I can see some of these fears have lessened. Some of them are still lingering, but that's only because these things take time. But it helps me to be able to see the real places I've been, and where I've landed just a few months later.  

Don't we just need a little perspective sometimes? To look back at our questions when we know differently now? I knew I needed to be patient. I knew in my heart none of it was true. But it sure felt true at the time. 

What do we do when false things feel true? What do we do when fear taunts us with possibilities that terrify?

We call fear a liar and put our hope and trust in the One who called us. He is present. He does see. He is working behind the scenes in ways we couldn't dream up. Let's give Him room to work without rushing the process. 

We just love to rush the process, don't we? 

Should I whip out some stats about waiting from the lives of some of our favorites from the Bible? Abraham? the Israelites? David? Elijah? Noah? Joseph? Some of them waited half their lives or more to see the promises of God to them come to pass. 

Why then do we think our timeline should be sped up? I'm preaching to myself here, but maybe it preaches to you as well.

"Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!" - Psalm 27:14

** You may or may not have noticed my monthly newsletter didn't come at the end of April! I decided writing quarterly newsletters would be best for me and my use of time, so I'll be back to writing another one near the end of summer! To sign-up to receive them, click HERE. If you get these posts in your inbox already, you're all signed up. ** 

Until then, let's keep up on Facebook or Instagram!

Saturday, March 11

If You Think Something Nice, Say It

I haven't been to an over-abundance of funerals in my life, but I've been to enough to notice a few things.

Each time I'm at a memorial service, as kind words are bravely spoken from the pulpit by loved ones, I always have one great hope as I manage the lump in my throat:

I hope this person heard these words before they passed. I pray they knew how beloved they were.

I picture the person being remembered sitting in a chair receiving the words. Eyes beaming. Tears streaming. But the problem is they aren't there to hear them and have it impact their life here on earth.

What if this wasn't the case?

What if our loved ones knew all the good things we thought of them when they were living?

Imagine how this would bless them. Imagine how beautiful our world would be if the good were praised and the criticisms hushed? Imagine the impact it could have it just one more person were encouraged and built up?

We hold back so much.

Maybe because we think if we tell our loved ones how much we appreciate the good in them, it will mean we accept the bad parts too? I get this.

I once heard Pastor Craig Groeschel say, "Never withold a blessing. If you think something nice about someone, say it." 

I've been so challenged by this.

If we think something nice, we ought to say it. Is there anything more simple yet so impactful?

Who might benefit from hearing your offering of kindness? The hearer? The hearer's family? You just never know what kind of waves a single act of kindness can make.

Gracious words are like a honeycomb,
    sweetness to the soul and health to the body. - Proverbs 16:24

Thursday, January 12

What 2016 Taught

Every once in a while, I like to stop and recount what I've learned after a long stretch of life, and the start of 2017 seemed like the perfect time to pause and look back. Here are my major takeaways from 2016.

1.  I don't always know the answers. My gut isn't always right. 

As hard as it is to swallow, 2016 showed me that my pride and assumptive abilities have no place in any area of my life, but especially not in decision-making. I sometimes assume the answer is whatever I'm "feeling" the most. Guilty. 2017 will be the year of me not always following my gut.

2.  You can never go wrong when you choose to serve others rather than self. 

I'm not talking about neglecting ourselves here, I'm talking about service. Real, genuine, uncoerced acts of love and service for the benefit of others. Too often we make sure we get what we want and do what we want, and forget the bigger picture. Jesus modeled this kind of others first living, and it's something I want more of.

3.  Yep, it will be hard, but it will also be worth it. 

2016 taught me to wait out the storm, take a big leap, and trust even when the way is foggy. Good things can be really, really hard and also absolutely worth it.

4.  My family needs and deserves my best. 

I don't have many words to share here because I've already said it all. My family, this gift from God, deserves more of me.

5.  Regardless of others' opinions, follow God's words to you. 

Sometimes following God's lead involves receiving some backlash from those you know. That's okay. Be gracious and keep on following Him.

6.  Unconditional love makes a difference in my heart and theirs. 

One of my top struggles as a human is the habit of temporarily withdrawing my affection from those who have wronged me when unconditional love is what's needed instead. This takes place mostly in the parenting realm. I want to be a steady mother who gives consequences for poor choices from a place of mercy and grace rather than bitterness and swinging emotions. This post I wrote over on The Masterpiece Mom speaks to this.

7.  Good skincare and well-fitting pants are important to me. 

Laugh if you will, but how many times have we neglected our skin and worn pants that are way too uncomfortable? Way too many times. I pledge that my skin will be cared for and my pants will not make me want to unbutton them. Amen.

Well, there you have it. 2016 in a nutshell. Speaking of 2016, Anne-Renee and I just released a new podcast episode where we talk about all our favorites from last year. Clothing, music, books, TV shows, mothering moments, etc. You can listen right here: Episode 58 - Best of 2016

Happy January! What did you learn last year?

Friday, December 16

I Pledge Allegiance to Their Standards (No Thanks)

The bath water was warm and inviting. A cup of chai tea sat on the edge of the tub. I wondered if I'd even drink it. Hot water on the outside of the body paired with more hot water poured into the inside is sometimes too much.

The door was locked and my laptop sat sturdy atop the hamper. A show would be nice. Time alone would be nicer.

Children aged nine and under were tucked in bed at the Bacon school-night standard time of 7:30 p.m. All was well. Chances of a knock on the door were slim to none, lest there be a fire or other emergency. Even then I'd question leaving this haven.

I sunk into the water like it was the day's saving grace. Why does warm water feel so good? So comforting?

In the womb, warm water comforts too. Maybe there's a connection, I thought.

As the flash of the laptop began to cast a blue-ish light on my skin, I notice the white streaks painted on my abdomen, hips, and legs. Stretch marks. I hadn't noticed them in a long time.

There were more than I remembered. The marks paved roads to places I didn't realize. The dark room paired with the glowing light made them stand out.


I don't make a habit of inspecting my body in front of the mirror or otherwise, so I just hadn't noticed or thought about them for some time.

Five pregnancies did this. 

Growth and life did this. 

I'm okay with this. 

I've never loved gushy words about embracing your stretch marks. I just don't think enough about them to actually devote time to embracing them.

If it weren't for vanity's sake, why would anyone care?

If it weren't for vanity's sake, why would anyone ever despise them?

If it weren't for vanity's sake, why would anyone attempt to cover them?

If it weren't for vanity's sake... a thought to investigate further.

I stopped using cocoa butter to stave off the stretch marks after my third pregnancy. Creams didn't stop them from coming anyways.

But the real reason I didn't slather my bulging belly with those magic potions any longer was because I was done trying to stop what my body naturally did as a response to the life growing in me.

Trying to stop a natural process from "ruining" my body was feeding my natural inclination to care too much about my appearance.

Here's the part where I say the words we aren't so happy to hear.

If we're struggling with despising our bodies or are desperate to look good, that's a form of pride.

I would know. For the last 16 years, I've struggled with the way my abdomen looks after growing and birthing babies. The marks don't bother me, but the shape of my body does at times.

Pride says, "I need to look better to be better. What I think and what others think about my body matters." 

Pride. It's one of the battles we face daily. It's one of the battles I find myself in more than others.

The American culture feeds this pride and internal battle of ours by shouting:

"You're not at your best unless you look your best."

Really? Says who?

"You don't need to look like you had a baby!"

Um, but I did. 

"Your body is your shining glory!"

No. Just no. This is false on so many levels.

Women apologizing for their bodies is an atrocity.

Women viewing their bodies as a god detracts from their love of God.

Women despising what growing a life does to the body takes away from one's appreciation of life itself.

Women spending the bulk of their time, money, and thoughts on their appearance, means little is left to serve and give to others.

What are our lives and our bodies for, but to be lovingly given away in service to God and others?

In love, not coercion.
In love, not fear.
In love, not guilt.
In love, not shame.

If God doesn't require our bodies to be perfectly aligned with the current culture's standards, then why should we invest our energy and resources to do so?

Can we not be of service to Him otherwise?

On the contrary. If we are worshipping the god of self and appearance, we are less useful to the kingdom. Our allegiance lies elsewhere.

Our worship.
Our attention.
Our standards are shifted from God to man.

When it's laid out like this, it stabs. But I think we need to lay it all out. We don't realize how we hinder God's work through us by staying focused on ourselves.

I wish we could snuff this problem out like we do a candle's flame, but it's not that easy. It takes time to change this way of thinking.

One prayer at a time.
One captured thought at a time.
One less jab aimed at ourselves at a time.
One day reading God's truth at a time.
One more abiding moment at a time.

Their standards are not the measuring tool.
Our value is fixed and unchanging according to God.

A zillion stretched out miles of life-giving skin does nothing to change that.

Thursday, November 17

When the Imaginary Rejections are Getting Ridiculous

The movie trailer begins by panning in on the brunette star's furrowed brow as the voice-over, in his rich, movie trailer-y voice says,

"Amanda doesn't have imaginary friends. No, she imagines her real friends despise her and think she's perfectly ridiculous and talentless. She believes what she imagines and has the ability to have a really, really bad day based on how sad her false assumptions have made her. She's not Wonder Woman, she's I Wonder Why She Doesn't Just Stop It Woman. She's loved, treasured, and strong yet is taken down by a single made-up thought." 

Please excuse me while I go hide because this is my real life.

The moment was telling when I told Jeremy I was writing about women being professionals at making up pretend rejections. This man of mine, who isn't big into explaining events and ideas with as much detail as I'd *prefer*, sat right down at the table where I was working and began a lengthy discussion about lies we tell ourselves and the crazy we allow to haunt us when we believe them. He confessed it's not just a female issue. Men do it to.

So it's not just a female issue, but is it a you issue?

Let's do a little test to see if you fall into this rather "imaginative" category like I do. Do any of these scenarios describe how you might respond?

You've made a new friend you think you'll really be able to connect with and who really seems to be interested in friendship. But instead of playing it cool, you start assuming she thinks you're too much before you even get past the first conversation. You shouldn't have said that, or laughed like that, or bombarded her with so much information so soon. She's right, you are too much.

Hmm. How about this one?

Someone has invited you to work with them on a project you're excited about. You happily say yes, submit your first piece of work, and wait for some feedback. The response time is slow, longer than you imagine she needed to look over your work, so you immediately decide she's changed her mind about working with you and regrets involving you in the first place.

Oh, yes. And this one? 

All of the sudden, your husband seems to be more than okay with you occasionally going out with the girls, leaving the house to get some work done at a coffee shop, and going on a trip across the country to a conference you're dreaming of attending. "He's happy I'm leaving," you say, "he must be cheating on me in some way." 

Are we sounding like the same person yet? 

I'll have you know these are three of my very own crazy-lady examples. I'm the one who's been hypersensitive, irrational, and nervous more times than I care to count and who has shed real tears about made-up stories I've told myself. What is going on here? 

Imaginary rejections take up more space in my mind than they were ever meant to. I say "more space", but imagining people are rejecting us shouldn't take up any space in our thought life.

Before we get too far and dissect our tendencies to jump to the negative about ourselves, can I just tell you my assumptions in the above examples turned out to be completely false?

In the new friend example, though I've never actually asked a new friend if they thought I was too much, any amount of rational thought would assure me she is thinking about me far less than I'm thinking about myself. We are a self-consumed people assuming others have us on the brain constantly. This simply isn't true. Are you sitting around thinking about that new friend you met and how quirky she was? Probably not. See?

In the friend inviting me to work with them example, I eventually checked in to see if she had any news or feedback for me, and she said she wished she did! Things were just moving slowly. Instead of accepting that things move slowly sometimes, I jumped right to rejection. I was wrong. Everything was fine.

And finally in the eager husband example, I'm always wrong when I jump to conclusions about Jeremy being suspiciously supportive of me being out of the house alone on rare occasion. For goodness sakes, Jeremy loves to see me thrive, he loves to see me come alive, and he knows some of the activities he encourages do those things for me. All love, no unfaithfulness.

So if we come to our senses realizing our imaginary rejections are off-base a majority of the time, why do we continue in this cycle? I'm not a professional in this field, but I can tell you what I do know from my own experience.

We do this for many reasons:

*we've been rejected in real life and are hypersensitive and fearful it will happen again

*we don't feel worthy of actual acceptance

*we're insecure about new situations and relationships therefore imagine all thoughts about us are of the negative nature

*we've rejected ourselves and imagine everyone else will as well

*we don't trust the outcome and timing in which God will provide whatever we're hoping for

*we control more than we rest

This is a tricky and well-ingrained pattern of thought we've gotten ourselves into, isn't it? It's not exactly fixable by just willing ourselves to stop. As I've become more aware of my horrible patterns of thought, and what it does to my outlook and attitudes, I've become keenly aware of the work it takes to fix it. We need re-training. We need repetition. We need the Truth.

The phrase that keeps coming to mind is "take every thought captive."

It comes from 2 Corinthians 10:5. This verse in Paul's second letter to the church at Corinth, in its entirety, says,

"We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ." 

All of our speculation and pondering must be judged in light of God's truth, not our fickle feelings and assumptions about a situation.

Take every thought captive. But how?

I'm a visual person, and this isn't a perfect practice, but I've been figuratively "capturing" the thoughts that are not in line with God's truth about me and setting them out of the way, out of reach and then leaving them there while asking God to give me right and true thoughts about myself and my situation.

It takes such focus to do this. I have to be in tune with what's sounding false. Sometimes I don't even notice. I believe it's true before testing it.

It might always be a temptation for us to dwell on untruths in this way, but it doesn't mean we will always be falling for it.

The enemy might be persistent at getting to us through our fragile thought life, but that doesn't mean he has to win. We might be fragile here, but that doesn't mean we're defeated.

The one thing I think we know for sure is that our runaway imaginings are getting ridiculous. We can laugh at ourselves in the most humble way and admit we're absolutely wrong when we jump to conclusions.

People don't hate us. We're not driving everyone nuts. We aren't being betrayed at every turn. We're not too much.

We're a work in progress. A very imaginative one at that. 

Wednesday, September 21

Seven Weeks Later

I picked up my journal this morning for the first time in three months. Three months ago we were one month away from closing on our home and moving in with my in-laws and then my parents' until we left the state at the start of August. 

Since then, time has both stood still and zoomed by at warp speed. Jeremy has been watching Star Trek Generations re-runs at night, so you'll forgive me for the Trekkie reference. 

I had so many questions the last time I journaled. I still do. Some of them are still valid, others have been answered. 

I was worried it would all be for naught. Would we be made a fool? Are we crazy?

I was worried about snakes and ticks. Still am. I've seen one snake so far (I almost stepped down right next to it) and my family found a dead baby snake in our yard. I can't say I wasn't happy. 

I was worried about school. It was the kind of fear that overtakes when the unknown lurks. It would be our first time having kids (just our elementary ones) in the public school. We wouldn't know where they'd be attending until we found a rental. When would that be? Would it be a good school? Would our kids be okay? Our fears were quieted when we found a beautiful rental just minutes from a fabulous school. We moved in 10 days before school started. Our kids are doing beautifully. God has been so good to us. We've got four kids at school and four kids in school at home. It's been a healthy dynamic. One we haven't had in years. 

Right below where I listed my worries in my journal, I wrote this prayer:

"Jesus, smooth all these details. You are Lord of all and we trust your plan and path for us. We'll follow you anywhere. Make us wise and at peace there." 

Our last few weeks in Alaska were tumultuous times in my heart. I didn't want to have to say goodbye, but it didn't feel right to stay put either. Tears were threatening at every turn. 

Leaving the place we love. The people we love. It was all just too much. 

If we had a direction or exact purpose for our move to North Carolina, maybe it would have been easier to stomach. I don't know. The amazing part is that we did have direction. We did have hope. It was just we weren't putting our hope in anything we could see. I guess that's the best place to put our hope. In Christ alone. 

In the weeks and months leading up to us leaving, God kept inviting me to release my grip. I had been white-knuckling people and places for some time. It was so hard to let go. 

It wasn't that we were untrusting.
We trusted God.

It was that we are human. 

We arrived in North Carolina completely empty. 

Exhausted after months of preparation and weeks of living out of suitcases.
Parenting eight kids through it all.
We had no job.
No home.
No church.
No vehicle.

Just suitcases and togetherness. 
And peace. We had peace. 

We moved forward exploring our new city. We did the next thing. Finding a vehicle was first so we could return our million dollars a day rental van. We had a free place to stay until we found a rental home. It was a beautiful gift during this time. We swam, unwound, relaxed, and settled our hearts for those first two weeks.

We were antsy too. Antsy about housing, antsy about school, and surprisingly un-antsy about a job. 

These weeks later, we still have no job and no church. We've applied for a few jobs and have visited several churches. We'll get there. There's peace there too. 

Jeremy's been working odd jobs a few times a week and he's been woodworking making things to sell. We've been content just being together. It's a luxury we've never been afforded. It can't last forever, but we'll take it.

 Leaping into the great unknown can be so terrifying, can't it?

I'm guessing you can relate. I write all of this as an update of sorts, and also to remind us to keep pressing, keep trusting, and keep hoping.

He's not finished with us yet. Praise God, He's not finished with us yet.

I document our life and times over on Instagram @amanda_baconbits -- I'd love to have you join me there!

Thursday, August 11

The Olympic Hopeful and the Christian

Well, we did it. We loosened our grip on our beloved Alaska and reached across the continent to embrace a brand new place to call home.

We arrived in North Carolina one week ago, and I'm happy to report we're all in one piece and enjoying the vacation-like setting we're in right now before the realities of life including school, work, and moving into our home set in. I'm documenting over on Instagram (my favorite!) if you'd like to follow along.

Just a day or two after arriving, it was time for the Olympics to start. One thing you have to know about me is that I am what one might call an Olympic Games super-fan.

I love the thrill of the competition, the bright colors, and the excitement surrounding the Games. I love the family and friends in the stands, the years of dreaming and training, and the general buzz the Olympics creates. 

I get into the athletes' stories and highly respect their long years of hard work and dedication. 

The medal ceremonies have the power to choke me up, no matter what country you're from and what event you're competing in. You could be a Ukrainian shot-putter winning a gold medal and I just might shed a happy tear on your behalf. Maybe it's the dreamer in me, but I love seeing big dreams come true. 

All the way across the world, from my home with my family who thinks I'm a wee bit obsessive with my USA warm-up jacket my Dad scored at a thrift store for me, my Go Team USA parties, and my general willingness to veg out in front of the TV for weeks once every two years. It's a fun gig. The Olympics are so. much. fun. 

But before the Games even begin, you have to have the Olympic Trials. 

Can I just tell you I have a whole other set of feelings and love for the Trials? But here's the thing about the Trials:

An Olympic hopeful has a 0% guarantee they will make the team. Their beloved Olympic team, after all those years of pursuing it. 

There is no guarantee they will perform well. Anything could happen. An ankle could roll, a muscle could tear, or a sickness could overtake them. I'm not trying to be all Eyeore about it, but it's true. Depressingly true. 

Because I'm a great big Olympic nerd-fan, prior to the Games I found myself watching interviews with hopefuls who eventually went on to make the team, but were interviewed before actually being selected. I love stuff like that.

Here are some of the words and phrases these athletes were using before they competed to earn their spot. Notice the air of uncertainty.

"I just don't know."

"Anything can happen out there today."

"I can only hope all the years of sacrifice and training will pay off."

"I want to make my family proud and show them it was worth it."

"I am just going to give it my all and hope it's enough."

We've all spoken these sorts of words. Maybe not with a trip to the Olympic Games on the line, but we know how it feels to be so unsure of outcomes.

That exam we've studied an entire semester for.
That illness we're fighting.
That child who gives us an insane amount of grief.
That job interview.
That move across the country.

Yep, we know the feeling. Uncertainty is associated with any worthwhile endeavor. And I don't mean to Jesus Juke you here, but whenever I think of Olympic hopefuls and the inevitable truth that someone who has worked just as hard as the rest will walk away disappointed, I can't help but think of the contrast between these hopefuls and Christians.

An Olympic hopeful has zero assurance their dream will come true.

A believer in Christ has full assurance of eternal outcomes.

Christ-followers find acceptance with God through Christ no matter how hard we work. 

Christ's death and saving work on our behalf gives us confidence of God's welcome no matter how well we perform. 

Because of Jesus:

  • there is no guesswork after years of hard work
  • there are no dashed hopes
  • the dream always comes true

The writer of the book of Hebrews reminds us of this truth in chapter 10:19-23:

The only dream we can really place any hope in is our eternal dwelling with Christ. No matter what happens, no matter what disappointment takes hold and stays for what seems like forever, in Jesus there is no guesswork, no dashed hopes, and the dream always comes true.

That's something we can be sure of.

Wednesday, June 29

On Moving and Leaping

It's taken me two whole months to actually sit down and write about our family's move 4,000 miles from home here in Alaska. Partly because I've been terribly busy organizing our move, getting our home ready, selling things off, packing, and then just living life as a wife, mom, and friend, and partly because I haven't known what to say or how to explain it.

But it's actually really simple if you get right down to it. 

God told us we needed to move to North Carolina. 
I imagine I'll go into that more later on. It's all so beautifully personal and complex though.

We prayed about it for three whole years, eventually knowing it would happen. 
Then we said yes in May once we had confirmation as a couple the timing was right. 

We then listed our house two weeks later, after prepping all winter just in case we should be selling it come summertime.

One day later it sold. 

One. Day. 

That was six weeks ago.

It's been the fastest six weeks of our lives. 

We're shocked. Sad. Excited. Thrilled to be walking into the unknown knowing the Lord is our stay. And a bazillion other things. This move conjures up so many emotions. 

For three years I've been asking God if He is really wanting us to leave. 

Why would we leave? I don't want to leave. It'd be nuts to leave our parents, our church, these amazing friends, this amazing place. Plus this: THERE ARE 10 OF US TO MOVE. 

But slowly, He changed our hearts to match His on the matter. And now we can't imagine not leaving even though we have no idea what we're stepping into. 

Jeremy was born and raised here, and has never lived anywhere else in his 40 years. 
I moved to Alaska as a kid from Washington state, and have lived here 30 years. 
This is all our kids have ever known. 

This is HOME. 

But as the years have gone by, we've loosened our grip on our earthly home, as hard as that is. And we've begun to embrace our future home, the unshakeable kingdom of our Lord and King, Jesus. 

This verse has impacted us deeply. In fact, this is the very verse that solidified it for both Jeremy and I, completely separate of each other. 

The cities and places we live are temporary. But what isn't fading away is God's kingdom. Our family is being called away from our current place because God has a mission for us, but we don't yet know what that will look like, or what exactly He'll have us doing. 

As Jeremy said right as we made our final decision, "I'm not willing to sit back, comfortable right here, if God has a plan for us there to help lead others into His kingdom." 

People get it when you say, "Hey, guess what? We've moving to Africa as missionaries!" 

No one balks. No one questions. Well, of course they do, but only on the internet, right? Did I just say that? 

We know what this means, and we're familiar with how God calls in this way.

We get squirmy when a calling is more ambiguous.  

We feel a bit (a lot) like Abraham gathering all his people up, and blindly going where God was leading him, not knowing what the future holds. 

We do know one thing amidst the massive amount of unknowns right now, and that is that we serve a trustworthy Savior who will continue to lead and guide and hold us as we walk toward Him all the way to North Carolina and her hot, sticky summers. 

And so we close this twelve year-long chapter in this glorious spot in this beloved home in just two weeks. 

We cry. We shake our heads in disbelief. We rejoice. We pray. And then we go.

Tuesday, June 14

Meet My Brain {9 Notebooks That Save My Life}

When other women ask how I "do it all" (whatever that means), I usually shrug my shoulders and talk about what a good team Jeremy and I are. Which is completely true. Never once have I stopped to consider there are additional ways I intentionally calm the crazy in my life.

Enter my notebooks.

I'll put myself out there and say that I feel all warm and fuzzy about my notebook collection. I usually take one with me anytime I leave the house. I'm a pen and paper sort of girl, and only use my phone to keep track of shopping lists. I even use a tried and true wall calendar to keep track of the family schedule.

I've tried apps like Evernote to keep it all together, but I just wasn't jiving with it.

I love writing things down.

If keeping track of life in notebooks helps me, someone who believes the brain cells in charge of memory slipped secretly out when I gave birth five times over, then maybe they'll help you too.

You certainly don't have to have as many notebooks as I have, (or any!) but maybe this post will give you an idea or two and help you gain some extra brain space of your own.

1.  Bible Study - This notebook holds whatever notes from whatever book of the Bible I'm currently studying. Right now I'm studying Numbers with the gang over on the First 5 app. (It's free! Go snag it. I love waking up with the First 5 crew.) It also holds the things I'm learning from certain passages or books of Scripture that I'll eventually use to form speaking notes when I have a speaking engagement.

2.  Personal Journal - In this notebook, I ask myself questions and answer them. For instance, "What's making me crazy right now?" or "What am I worried about?" and other honest inquiries. Leanna Tankersley speaks about having this sort of journal in her book Brazen, which was a great read for me in early 2016. We were thankful to be able to chat with her as a guest on The Masterpiece Mom podcast a few months back to discuss her new book. Have a listen right here. 

3.  Project or Ministry Notebook - This one helps me keep track of all things regarding the ministry of The Masterpiece Mom. Blog post ideas, meeting notes, podcast notes, and brainstorms are all kept here.

4.  Bullet Journal - Meet my brain: the bullet journal. It's not a specific type of journal, rather it's a journaling method. Learn about it at www.bulletjournal.com -- You're welcome! I keep track of my daily and monthly to-do's here, along with other sorts of lists like party invites, book lists, packing lists, etc.

5.  Sermon Notes - I retain more when I'm taking notes during a sermon. The end.

6.  Moving Notebook - More specifically, I call this my North Carolina book. But if there's anything that requires tons of attention and numerous details, consider dedicating an entire notebook to it. Eek. There I go again, mentioning that we're moving without talking about it. I promise, that's coming soon.

7.  Healthy Living - This one is dedicated to keeping track of healthy eating habits and exercise. It helps me stay accountable to myself and my goals, even though I often forget to write in it. As an almost 40 year-old woman, the importance of staying active and eating well for my health is at the forefront of my mind. If I don't feel well, it's usually because I'm not taking care of myself.

8.  Writing Ideas and Quotes - This little notebook holds all the writing ideas that pass through my mind when I'm going about my day. No matter how much I convince myself I'll remember them, I just can't. I also collect quotes I may want to use in my future writing as well.

9.  Prayer - Usually, I post prayer requests on my bedroom wall using white post-its and pretty washi tape, but since we've been in home-selling mode around here the last couple of months, I've had to clear the wall. So I turned to a prayer notebook. Again, I just can't remember all that I'd like to be lifting to the Lord in prayer. This helps me be more intentional.

How do you keep track of your life? 
Thursday, June 2

We Need You and Want You {Mentor Us, Please}

About a year and a half ago I stood in my bathroom and cried hot tears I didn't know were lying dormant inside of me. I was grieving. 

I realized my life had a gaping hole in it and I'd only just figured out what it was. 

I was mentor-less. 

Thirteen years ago, I moved back to the community I grew up in with my husband of three years, and two teeny little boys. I'd had mentors before. Not formal ones, really, but friendships with women a stage or two ahead of me. I treasured them, but after moving, these friendships slipped into the background without the everyday closeness we'd once shared. 

So here I was in the town of my youth, attending the church of my youth after being away eight years, starting over with my sister (who had also recently moved back) as my only friend. 

I made friends my own age quickly, and began to get involved in ministry to moms through Mothers of Preschoolers mostly because I needed it so badly myself. 

After years of involvement there, and holding leadership roles among women my own age, still I remained mentor-less. 

When I figured out what I'd been missing that day in my bathroom, I chalked it up to two things: 

1) I wasn't placing myself in circles with women in my church or community who were older and wiser than myself. How were they supposed to know I had a need if they didn't know me?

2) A large portion of the women older and wiser than myself might be assuming my generation of women and mothers don't need them or want them in our lives, therefore are afraid to reach out for fear of rejection.

When I was six months pregnant with my fourth child, I sat on a stage in Kansas City, Missouri on a panel in front of a large room of female ministry leaders who were a generation or so ahead of me pleading with them to mentor us. 

I watched their eyes widen with tears in the corners and heads shake in disbelief as I told them we needed them. We wanted them. We ached for their presence in our lives. 

And that we were sorry, we just don't know how to communicate it. Because sometimes we don't know what we're missing. 

The internet has distracted us. We think Google is a fine replacement for another woman who's been there. 

We think social media and online Facebook groups are suitable trade-outs for sitting together on a blanket at a park catching up while our kids play and hers are getting married and having babies of their own. 

We're prideful. We think we shouldn't need help. We should be able to do this on our own. 

We think she won't understand our lives. Our complicated, messy lives. But we don't always accept that she has her own messy and complicated, and gets us more than we know. 

I haven't written about it publicly here in this space, and will soon, but we're moving all the way across the continent later this summer, and I've just now started a relationship here at my church, here in this town, that I believe would have and could have turned into this sort of mentoring relationship. 

All it took was me reaching out and saying HELP. I need you. Can we talk? It's been a precious thing. 

I believe God has placed and will place mentors ahead of me in our new town, in our new life. But it's going to take some work on my part too. I'll need to reach out and make myself vulnerable. And do you know what? I'm so excited.  

There's much more to say on the topic, more of which I hope to talk further on. I'm just a mom trying to tap this out before my kids come barrelling up the stairs for breakfast. The struggle is very real. 

Before we step away and move on with our day, how about we take inventory of how we're truly doing in this regard?

How are we doing at reaching out to women ahead of us and behind us? 
How are we at accepting help and vulnerable friendship?
How are we at giving help and being a safe place? 

Have you been missing these kinds of relationships too? 

Thursday, May 5

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?