When Faith Falters

Have you ever gone through a period of time when you’ve questioned who you really are and wondered if others are questioning you too?  Or a time when a trial or an experience has shaken you to the core and you wonder if you will be able to move past it?  Have you ever looked back on a situation with regret, sadness or one million ways in which you could have done it differently and gotten a different outcome?  Or felt like you just can’t take another blow? For me personally the aftermath of a difficult experience brings out a lot of doubt, fear and (depending on the situation) self condemnation.

Four years ago God did a work in my life that has forever changed me.  Yes, I was a believer up until then, but it took the 32 years before that to get me to a place of willingness of heart to allow Him to change me.  It was just about a point of desperation and a I’m-tired-of-myself kind of place.  It was the first time I really understood and experienced that love-grace relationship.  Over the next four years I learned to trust God, He showed me firsthand how faithful He is, He answered prayers, even very specific ones, and showed up big-time when someone I love was in crisis.  I came to a place where I could say with every bit of who I am, confidently and without fear, “My God is good, He is faithful and He hears my prayers”.  I tell you this so you have an idea of where I am coming from.  I was a mess (still am) and God has used me anyway, which still blows my mind.

While God has done a good work in me and continues to shape me, which is painful at times, Satan has done his best to plan sneak attacks on me and my family unlike I knew he could.  Sure, I had heard others share about spiritual warfare and attacks of the enemy, but this seemed like a spiritual concept too deep for me or reserved for the “more mature” Christians.  I am just a wife and stay-at-home-mom struggling to figure out how to love her husband and kids well and show them Jesus in everyday life.  Why would Satan take notice of me?  I’m not speaking to crowds or preaching sermons!  But I learned that God’s word says to “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith”. 1 Peter 5:8-9.  Maybe I thought this didn’t apply to me and I’ve let my guard down at times.  Maybe I thought I was under the radar and insignificant enough that I would be okay.  I was so wrong.  Over the past few years there have been at least three significant attacks that I have know, no doubt, are enemy-driven.  Not to mention the daily snares he sets.  And something I’ve recently learned is that the enemy hits where it hurts.  Where we are most vulnerable and where it will cut the deepest.  His purpose is to drive us away from the God who loves us, and cause us to question our faith in Him and His goodness.

Most recently I had an experience that has caused me to question everything about myself.  It’s left me feeling defeated, embarrassed, defensive, fearful and confused.  While I am not one to keep things in, I do think that we, as Christians, need to have discretion when it comes to sharing our experiences and hearts with others. (Matthew 7:6)  Whether the experience was because of your own sin or someone else’s, or both, we need to be careful and thoughtful with whom we share.  For me, it’s usually my spouse, my sister, close friends, mentors, women that I personally know love Jesus and can offer me encouragement, wisdom, prayer and clarity.  Not always all of those people for each experience, but to whom God leads me to share with.  And He uses them to walk with me through the muck and yuck of what I’m going through.  IT ISN’T ALWAYS EASY TO SHARE what we are dealing with, what we are struggling with, what we are going through or about something that is painful or embarrassing.  But let me tell you that keeping it in was even worse!  My mother-in-law, Sherry, uses the phrase “Shine a light on it” and I like that because once it’s in the light we can deal with it.  Once it’s in the light I’m no longer alone.  And that is a relief.   But Satan wants us to stay afraid, ashamed and in the dark.  Look what John 1:5 says “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” How powerful is that!

I don’t know about you, but I can be very, very hard on myself.  My mind goes to places it shouldn’t and I allow the doubts to creep in and take me to a place of despair.  I think of all of “what ifs” and there might even be a sense of paranoia.  If I stay there, in that dark place, it will consume me.  Then I return to Truth.  God speaks to me in that despair.

Because of My great love you are not consumed, for My compassions never fail. Lamentations 3:22.  

It’s incredibly comforting to turn to God in prayer, His Word and to people who really know and love us.  We can let our guards down and feel safe enough to be vulnerable and unguarded.  Fear dissipates in His presence, for He did not give us a spirit of fear and timidity (2 Timothy 1:7).  What the world may think of me is dust compared to what my King says about me.

Amanda, you are My daughter, I have redeemed you, I have called you out of darkness, you are holy and dearly loved.  

First Peter chapter 5 tells us to cast our anxieties on Him, be sober-minded and watchful, resist the enemy and stand firm in the faith.  He gives us what we need to do just that, if we stay in prayer, we are seeking truth in His word (the bible) and willing to share and receive wisdom and encouragement from others.   And, for me, a shift of focus. Am I focusing on what happened (the problem, the distraction, the enemy’s scheme), or am I focusing on how God can and will use this experience?  Am I focusing on the “what ifs” or am I focusing on how, even though the enemy meant to waylay me, God’s hand of goodness and protection was there.  Am I focusing on myself and my inadequacies or am I focusing on my identity in Christ?  Am I focusing on what the world may think or say about me or am I focusing on what God says about me?  Is my thinking (during this time) rooted in fear and despair or in hope and expectation?  Am I trying to prove my worth or defend myself to outsiders or am I living clothed in the righteousness given to me through my relationship with Jesus?

And why is it so easy to offer these truths to someone else who is walking through hard circumstances, yet we have trouble believing them for ourselves?  I know what God’s word says.  I know that while on this earth I’ll have trials and you will too. I’m a sinner living with sinners in a fallen world.  More truth:  

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

What I’m finding is that the bible is full of ordinary people (sinners and sometimes faithless!) that God used, despite their shortcomings and failings, and even sometimes because of them.  He knows we are a mess and loves us anyway.  He knows we are fragile and frail, and uses us anyway.  He knows we stray and sin, and pours out his grace and forgiveness because of what Christ did for us.  Those truths still overwhelm me. I think they always will.  Lately I’ve been learning and studying the life of David.  I’m intrigued by his life, this “man after God’s own heart”, shepherd to king, sinner and yet completely devoted to his God.  David says in Psalm 16:2, I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing.” David knew, through persecution, trials, loss and sin, where his hope and identity rested.  I want to know that too.  I want to completely believe it and live in it every single day.  But instead I tend to internalize what’s going on around me and allow that to rule my emotions and stability.  It could be something my child did that reflects poorly on me, something my husband said that I took offense to or someone’s view of me that I simply cannot change.  

It’s incredibly hard to endure through trials. Sometimes harder than other times, but there is still some level of difficulty with which we need help. Let’s look just a minute at God’s endurance and faithfulness, particularly when ours is faltering.

Paul David Tripp in his daily devotional called New Morning Mercies says this “Your hope is not to be found in your willingness and ability to endure, but in God’s unshakable, enduring commitment to never turn from his work of grace.”.  He goes on to say “…perfect endurance demands just that, perfection, and since none of us is there yet, we must look outside ourselves for hope. Your hope of enduring is not to be found in your character or strength, but in your Lord’s.  When difficulty exposes the weakness of your resolve and the limits of your strength, you do not have to panic, because he will endure even in those moments when you don’t feel able to do so yourself.”  There is so much freedom available to us and yet most times we hang on to our chains with dear life.  Why must my hands be pried open to receive the peace and grace God so freely gives.  And I am so undeserving.

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What I’ve Learned I Need as a Mother

I’ve only been a mom for nine years.  I know this isn’t a long time and I have a whole lot to learn, believe me.  But over those nine years I have learned a lot about myself, my own junk and limitations and what is helpful & life-giving in my journey as a mother.  So whether you’re a new mom, a veteran, have one child or ten, I hope you find this to be helpful and encouraging to you as well. These are things I have to remember to make a priority.  I’m in this with you.

I am a list-maker and tend to do better when someone offers me practical, realistic guidance that’s both meaningful and doable.  So I hope that’s what you find this to be.

Community: You Were Made For It

First, I have found that I need others.  Period.  We were made to be in community with others. I know this doesn’t come easy for some people.  But it is well-worth it to go out of our comfort zones and join in a community of other women.  Your “community” can include your church, which is essential and life-giving. But in this post I’m referring to community other mothers, whether that’s a mom’s group such as MOPS, a bible study that meets regularly or some other similar group in your area.  Many of these groups offer various days and times to meet, which can accommodate both the stay-at-home mom and the working mom.  As a SAHM I prefer to attend the morning groups.  When I was working full-time the evening groups were a better fit.  Friendship with others in your same season of life, someone to say “me too”, encouragement, wisdom from others who have “been there” and much, much more can be found in community with other moms.

Seek Wisdom: Find a Mentor

I can’t stress this enough.  I came to a point in my parenting and marriage where I realized I needed the listening ear of a wise and godly woman.  I needed someone to share all the nitty, gritty junk with who I knew I could trust and in return would not offer judgment, but rather speak truth, admonish me when needed and speak life-giving words that only prove to better me as a wife and mother.  To be honest, I flat-out asked someone to mentor me. I knew I needed it that much, so I sought this out, even though it made me feel vulnerable and inadequate to ask for help in this way.  In return I got exactly what I needed.  God is faithful to provide for us in that way.  The “training” of a younger woman is based in truth and we see that in Titus 2. Not sure where to start in finding a mentor?  Start within your church.  Ask a woman you trust if she would consider it or if she knows someone who might be a good fit for you.  Not in a church?  Then I would start by asking a trusted friend that is involved in a church if she can help to connect you.  If you’re involved in a mom’s group or bible study, you could start there too.

Make Your Marriage a Priority: Have Fun With Your Spouse

Marriage is hard.  It’s even harder when you’re in the middle of raising little kids.  There are so many books and resources about this and we all know it to be true.  But for this post I’m going to keep it simple. Have fun with your spouse.  Without your kids.  You’re allowed and there’s way too much seriousness and stress in our day-to-day lives.  It was you and your spouse before your kids were born, and it’ll be you and your spouse once they are grown and leave home. Invest in your marriage, have date nights, do fun things and let go of expectations of each other.  I’m speaking to myself here and I know this can be easier said than done.  But I believe if we make it a priority, the whole family will reap it’s benefits. Invest the time in getting a sitter (or whatever childcare works for your family) or plan a stay-at-home date night. Remember, “mother” isn’t our only title.

You’re Allowed to Say “No”:  Embrace It

Hey, guess what?! You are free to say “no” to anything that doesn’t support the values and vision of your family!  That includes saying no to some or all of the 2,352 after-school activities, saying no to your laundry for a day (or five) so you can do something better and more life-giving, saying no to traveling all over creation over the holidays so you can stay home and develop your own family traditions, saying no when asked to volunteer for something that you know isn’t best for your family and saying no to the pressures that we put upon ourselves as mothers.  Learning when to say no (without the guilt) was a very freeing thing for me. I share a little about it here.

Kiss Expectations Good-Bye: Give Yourself a Break

Expectations of ourselves (and others) can be debilitating. They can set us up for disappointment quicker than my youngest can eat a chocolate chip cookie.  Honest to goodness, when are we going to learn.  I don’t know about you, but when I start the day, or week or even year with a load of (sometimes unrealistic) expectations I wind up feeling frustrated at myself when I don’t meet them.  Here’s a realistic example of this… on any given day I can “expect” myself to: get house in order (laundry done, things put away, dishes done, etc.), meal plan and successfully execute a somewhat healthy dinner for my family, respond to text messages and emails before day’s end, run my list of errands, spend quality time with my husband and kids, read to them and make sure homework is completed (without anyone getting frustrated), be wherever I’m expected to be that day, run people to where they’re expected to be, do some form of physical activity, whether it’s the gym, a run or something, and honestly I could go on.  And when I just re-read my list of just one day of expectations I can hardly believe that I would ever even TRY to get those things done.  Sigh. No wonder we are so tired and worn out.  How can we learn to let go of what’s good and seek what’s best?  For me, personally, I hear the Lord telling me to seek Him first and let Him order my days.  And my struggle with that is two-fold: obedience and control.  When I do what I think is best for my day or hurry around checking off my to-do list, I can sometimes end the day feeling empty and disappointed, even if my list got completed.  Again, am I seeking what’s best?

Live With Purpose & Intention: Embrace Your Gifts and Passions

In case you’ve forgotten, you are allowed to still enjoy your gifts, passions and interests!  Now I know time (or finances, or childcare) may limit this in some ways, but that doesn’t mean they are to be forgotten or unused.  Whether it’s your education, career or a job that you enjoy and is life-giving.  A hobby or passion (hiking, knitting, painting, blogging, crafting, traveling)… or the gift of hospitality, organizing, planning and service to others.  These are all worthy things and they are good gifts from a good God.  While they sometimes may need to take a back-seat (for a brief season), I don’t believe they are ever to be forgotten and disregarded.  Living with purpose and intention includes embracing and enjoying our gifts and passions.

Remember who you are, whose you are and that you are loved.  A child of God, accepted, called, redeemed, forgiven, free and beloved.  You’re never alone in motherhood, so don’t let the Enemy tell you you are.  You’re not.  Let others come alongside you.  Come alongside another mom.  Let go of the idea that we have to live a hustle and bustle kind of life.  We don’t. Seek what’s best.  And know this is different for each family, which frees us up from comparison and keeping up with everybody else.  And allow your self to have some fun without guilt.

Love,

Amanda

 

Choosing Not to Lose it!

This morning my son lost his mind, but guess what?  I didn’t!  And that’s no small feat… not letting my son control my emotions, that is.

It’s Spring Break week and all my boys are home.  All day.  For a week.  It’s also cold & rainy.  And my kids are indoors.  For a week.  We don’t usually travel over Spring Break, but I do try to come up with some sort of plan so we have some fun things to do.  I came up with that plan the day before Spring Break started and I was pretty proud of myself.  Day 1 (yesterday) went off without a hitch!  We drove about 40 minutes to an awesome indoor play-space, spent hours burning off energy and then drove home close to dinnertime. Whew.  Made it through the first day, I thought.

This morning our plans were to stay local and I’d signed my oldest up for a local Lego club for the morning.  My middle son was given the opportunity (multiple times) to attend this with his big brother, but he was adamant about going to the library with my youngest son and me.  As we got close to the library, my middle changed his mind and wanted to go back to Lego club, but it was too late as we pulled into the library’s parking lot.  He got a little upset and had a scowl on his face, but (begrudgingly) got out of the car and went with us into the library.  We briefly reviewed the Library Rules for Appropriate Behaviors, as we do before we go ANYWHERE on God’s green earth.

Upon entering the library we headed straight for the bathroom so everyone could play and socialize without potty break interruptions.  I was excited to see a sweet friend and her two boys playing near the train tables and was looking forward to chatting with her while our kids played.  However upon leaving the restroom my kids lost their ever-loving minds and became like wild beasts, unable to be captured and tamed.  My youngest attempted to run away from me and when I went to get him and lead him back to the play area he yelled a long and loud “NOOOOOOOO!!!!!!” and wriggled free like a rabid dog.  My middle then remembered that I wouldn’t turn the car around and take him back to Lego club and he got mad.  Fighting mad.  His scowl became an angry and ugly growl and he (not-so-nicely) told me he did NOT want to be at the library.  So with my sweet friend, God bless her, standing there with me I made the split-second decision to make this a “lesson learned” morning.  I had two kids in front of me that were not listening, being disrespectful and not the least bit grateful that we were at the library, a request I granted because they’d asked me to go.  I told my friend we were leaving, picked up my 3 year old and took my 4 year old by the hand and started walking, relatively swiftly, towards the entrance. All eyes on me and the crying kids.  I could just hear their thoughts… “Is she going to lose it?”, “I wonder if she’s embarrassed?”, “Glad that’s not me!”, and “Boy, her kids are awful!”.  But I kept walking and I stayed focused, like a soldier going into battle, I was mentally and physically preparing myself to get two little boy bodies into their car seats and home in one piece.  I calmly opened the car doors and put my youngest, I mean bent my youngest, into his car seat.  And in my best calm voice I reminded my boys about why we were leaving the library. About that time another mom, complete stranger, walked up behind me. I was just sure she was going to offer her judgment or opinion on how to do it better.  But you know what?  All she said to me was “You’re doing a good job… it’s hard.”  I could’ve hugged her.  I could of used a hug in that very moment, but I returned to the task at hand.  I got my middle into the car, got myself in and started driving… tears, crying, “I DON’T WANT TO LEAVE!!!!!” coming from the back seat.  But I remembered something I’d recently been reminded of… my children do not control my emotions. I do.  And even if they are upset, or angry or frustrated, does NOT mean I have to be too.

Once we made it home I transferred everyone into the house, because for some reason their legs won’t work correctly when they’re angry.  It’s by the grace of God that I was still calm and in one (emotional) piece by this point.  For the next 30 minutes my middle son continued a tantrum/fit/emotional diarrhea, if you will.  My youngest was over it by this point and went off to play.  So for 30 minutes I endured.  And it is enduring, isn’t it moms?  We endure.  We do.  During this time I made myself available to my son, but I didn’t allow destructive behaviors and he was given consequences, particularly for the disrespectful words he used.  But after a bit I could tell he’d had enough.  And though he was still upset, he was ready to move forward.  So I offered him a hug and some cuddles and told him I loved him, and he physically relaxed in my arms as he regained his self-control and reigned his emotions back in. This is my kid with big emotions.  In everything he does, his emotions are big.  And he has been a tricky kid to raise so far.  And I have failed a lot.  I’ve gone nose-to-nose with him, allowing myself to get sucked into a 4 year old’s emotional rollercoaster. I’ve given him control over my good senses at times.  But not today.

Following through is one of the hardest parenting skills there is, but probably one of the most valuable.

When we commit to following through, it speaks volumes to our children, just like it does when we don’t follow through.  It’s not always fun for everyone and it was too bad we had to leave the library, however I’m hoping and praying that it was a lesson learned. I’m trusting the Lord that it was.

Enduring right along with you,

 

Amanda

P.S.  Here’s a picture of my big emotions kid after the whole ordeal.

reece

 

My 2017: Renewal

I’m not a big fan of making New Year’s resolutions.  I’ve made them in the past, only to be disappointed when I didn’t keep them or frustrated at myself for not doing what I resolved to do.  Sure I want to go to the gym more, cook healthy meals more often, fuss at my kids less, blog more, read more, etc. I found that making a list of these things only left me feeling more empty and let down when I couldn’t keep up.

A few years ago a family I really admire told me about something they do the first of every new year.  Each member of their family chooses a word for the year.  A word that describes what they pray the year will bring and a reminder of their hope for that new year.  I really, really liked this idea. It seemed doable and easy. So two years ago I started doing the same.  I was really surprised at how often I thought of my word.  It would come to mind regularly, or I’d see my word in random places, reminding me of my prayers and hopes for that year.  I think most importantly being reminded of my word reminded me to pray.

This year I chose the word renewal.  That’s what I feel like I need, not just this year, but year after year.  2016 was the hardest year yet in my life.  And realistically I know that as I age and as those around me age, I’ll have harder years.  I know I’ll experience years with deep grief and loss, years that may have illness or injury, years with difficult parenting challenges and years with hardships in relationships.  But this past year felt like it drained just about everything good out of me.  I was stretched, frazzled and carried burdens I didn’t know I was capable of carrying.  However, even in the junk and the hard stuff, the Lord proved faithful, as He always does.  And while He didn’t always take away the storm we were walking through, He did provide strength, comfort and guidance.  And He wants to teach me to trust and obey in the midst of it all.  I’m getting the trust part down… it’s the obeying part that I struggle with.

I love fresh starts, like most people.  His mercies are new every morning and now we start the beginning of a brand new year.  It’s exciting.  Hoping for a better year and not knowing what the year will bring.  I guess that can be a little scary too, depending on how you look at it.  My word holds a lot of significance to me.  Renewal.  The definition of renewal according to Merriam-Webster online is:  “the replacing or repair of something that is worn out, run-down, or broken.”  Ever felt worn out, run-down or broken?  If you’re like me you’re screaming YES!  Daily?  Sometimes!  So renewal is the replacing of those things.  Wow.  Scripture is full of verses about renewing and renewal!  I’ll give you some at the end of this post.

In choosing the word Renewal, I know I have to let God renew the areas of my life that need repaired.  The places that are broken, dried-up or that need pruned away.  Places in my heart, relationships…my parenting needs renewal.  Being more intentional. More loving.  More selfless.  My mind and thoughts need renewed, regularly.  My marriage and my prayer life need renewal.  Refreshed, remade, replenished.  And I know that the only true renewal comes from the Renew-er.

When I asked followers on Facebook to share their 2017 words with me, I was very encouraged.  Here are some of them:  Joy, Balance, Energy, Optimism, Intentional, Contentment, Transformation, Reconciliation, Organization & Growth.  I love these.  I love the hope I hear in these words.  It’s comforting knowing that others want to allow the Lord to make changes in their lives, too.

So as we start a fresh, new year let’s give thanks for the year that has passed, press on towards a new one and allow the Lord to have His way this year.

In Christ,

Amanda

P.S.  Here are those verses I promised:

Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me. Psalm 51:10

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:2

Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. 2 Corinthians 4:16

…and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Colossians 3:10

He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Sprit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior. Titus 3:5-6

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Revelation 21:5

Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. Psalm 51:12

But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:31

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20

 

 

 

 

 

Connected by Christ

While this may be a short post, I believe it’s an experience that I’ll never forget.  I hope my words can do it justice.

This is my second year in our local BSF (Bible Study Fellowship) class; a 9-month bible study of one book of the bible (this year it’s John).  It’s international and interdenominational, represented by a variety of backgrounds and cultures.  The teaching is firmly grounded in God’s Word and in Truth and is 4-fold: daily questions (from scripture), small group discussion, teaching by the teaching leader and in-depth notes to elaborate on the lesson & scripture.

This year I have the privilege of being in a small group with a mix of women of different ages, cultures and backgrounds.  There is so much to learn from others in a setting like this.  I quickly found myself drawn to a Korean woman, about my age, with two young kids.  I’d seen her before, last year at BSF and at my son’s preschool.  As we sat in small group the first few weeks of BSF I could tell that she, too, struggled with parenting small children. She shared her heart and was vulnerable and despite the language difficulties, I could relate to her on so many levels.  I had the opportunity to respond during group, letting her know I understood.  A wave of compassion and a heart-level connection washed over me.  I didn’t even need to know the details of her life to see the beauty in her heart.

She shared, as best she could in English, her love of the Lord. But even without words I could see that her sweet, meek spirit was the Holy Spirit at work in her life.  Our language and cultural differences had no influence on our relationship as sisters in Christ.  We shared something special in spite of those differences and we shared it because of Christ.

My sweet friend will be moving back to Korea in the next several days.  A spiritual connection was formed. One that goes deeper than a worldly friendship.  Our mutual desire to love and follow Jesus, and our desperation for Him, was the common ground, the drawing force and the binding power of our brief friendship.

As we hugged our goodbyes today, teary-eyed, I was surprised at how emotional I was.  I haven’t known her long… I don’t know her favorite color, or food or even the names of her children. Maybe I was sad because today was probably the last day I’d ever see her again, at least here on earth.  But I was reminded that my sweet sister will be with me in Eternity and for that I am very thankful.

It’s incredible how the Lord gifts us with relationships, whether brief or long, that forever change us. Relationships that draw us closer to Him.  Relationships that show us what it’s like to truly be “family” with someone not related by blood, but rather connected by Christ.