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.

Thriving in Hard Times

Contributed By: Leigh Anne Rufener, mother of three sons

Change.  Challenges. Motherhood.  All words that incite possible fear, trepidation and stress.  Yet might it be possible that we could use the word GRACE to explain them all?  Ann Voskamp writes about eucharisteo – the Greek word that essentially combines Thanksgiving, Grace and Joy into one awe-struck word.  Can this truth be lived out in the midst of trials and the daily grind?  As our family has walked through this past year, I am finding that the answer is yes – only by and through God’s amazing grace.

At this moment, our family is walking through some God-sized challenges.  Job change, child injuries, loss of family members, relational hardship and exhaustion to name a few.  How on earth does a woman thrive in the midst of motherhood and life with this type of list?  My heart has been desperate for the grace and truth of God through much of this time.  By no means am I a perfect picture of faith, but the Lord has stirred my heart to desire Him and His truth.

As I have battled in my faith this past year, God has made the following truths clear and has used them to lead my life:

  1. There are STILL blessings abounding all over. Even though I might not “feel” it, God is still in the process of making all things new, so amazing things are to be seen everywhere.  He is still the giver of ALL good things; let’s thank Him for that!  This truth actually caused me to change one of my social media sites to “Thankful for Each Moment.”
  2. While listening to the radio, a famous preacher reminded me that I am a bigger sinner than I could ever know. But, my Lord loves me more than I could ever know!  Yes, He loves us, despite us; I am His and He is mine.
  3. God’s grace is deeper than the sea, and He longs to pour it out upon us. And His grace is not just for everyone else, but me too!  Why do we so often push away this amazing grace and all His amazing truths?
  4. As we keep seeking HIS face, He WILL be faithful. God has answered prayers that I didn’t even know I had – even to some of my “Why’s?”
  5. Do I really need to know the WHY? With deep soul searching, I am finding that answer to be “No.”  My heart screams, “But, YES I DO!”  The Lord in His kindness says “Trust Me.” and reminds me that His ways are NOT our ways, but His ways are BEST.  Therefore, I must do the next best thing in love and obedience to my Lord.
  6. I must seek FIRST His Kingdom & His righteousness. The Lord is so faithful to remind and reveal truths in Scripture that we need desperately.  Although, we live in a fallen world, we serve an amazing God!

Today, may I ask you, might you seek to live a life that encompasses eucharisteo – a life of thanksgiving, joy, & grace through each moment?  Above all, might you seek Christ first to give you the strength, hope, and grace you need for each moment?  Today, may you find that Jesus is the answer for all you need to thrive in the midst of your challenges in life and motherhood.

All because of Him ~ Leigh Anne

Slapped by Motherhood

This post is going to be super-honest. Maybe even the most honest one I’ve written so far.

The first time motherhood slapped me in the face was when my first child was born.  I had no clue what I was doing, felt completely incompetent the first several weeks (still do at times!) and at one point I thought I was losing my mind.  Motherhood hit me like a ton of bricks and everything that (I thought) was once in my control was gone.  And I like control. A lot.

I know most moms can relate to this initial shock of motherhood.  You don’t really know what to expect, even though people try hard to prepare you before the baby comes.  Their well-meaning advice is…nice.  But no one told me the nitty gritty, brutally honest reality of motherhood.  Why didn’t anyone tell me? I vaguely remember people making jokes about not getting any sleep or the terrible twos, but that’s about it. They mostly told me the fuzzy, fluffy stuff.  No one told me that it would feel like an open-handed slap across the side of my face and sting for some time and then leave me feeling like, “What the heck just happened?”

This summer it happened again.  I was seriously slapped by motherhood which resulted in a come-to-Jesus moment (literally) and revealed a lot about the condition of my own heart.  Ugh.  It’s funny how God consistently uses my mothering and my children (my marriage, too, for that matter) to show me things about myself (good and bad) and to gently shape me to His will, if I let Him.  This summer has been no different.  Here we are just four days away from the start of another school year.  The summer has been fun.  It was actually a lot of fun, full of day trips, park hopping, picnics, many hours spent at the pool and too many bike rides to count.  We made the most of the hot sunny days, spending most of our time outside and coming inside sweaty, tired and browned by the sun.

But it wasn’t all ice cream and push-pops.  There were some real, ugly, stressed-to-the-max moments as well.  More than I’d care to admit.  And it was in those moments that God decided to show me some ungodly qualities that He wanted to…ahem…work on in me.  To list a few… impatience, irritability, rudeness, anger, control, selfishness (big one) and pride.  There it is, my friends.  I said it.  I struggle with these things.  Sometimes daily.  Sometimes all in one day.  I pray for the Fruits of the Spirit regularly. I long to be a godly wife and mother and am willing to do whatever it takes to be those things. And something huge and of the greatest importance was revealed to me this summer.  And it’s that I haven’t yet died to myself.  I’m immensely selfish and oftentimes put my own agenda and control issues over loving my family the way God has called me to.  And just so you know, it’s really hard for me to even admit that to myself, much less whoever else reads this. I’d have an idea of what I wanted to get done during a specific time of the day… whether it be chores, meal prep, returning a call or email, working on a project, whatever…and when constant interruptions, bickering between the boys or the general rowdiness of having three sons became too loud or too rough or too much, I’d become really annoyed and frustrated and freely showed that.  Let’s just say I offered numerous apologies this summer, as well as asking forgiveness when mommy wasn’t so nice. God has very (very, very) clearly spoken to my heart this summer and whispered… Your approach is wrong… Try it My way…Humble yourself…Embrace My grace and show it to others.  These are just a few of the things that He has repeated.  And believe me, I already know my desperate need for Jesus, His grace and redeeming love.  It’s a daily need and a longing to be rid of my own awful sin.  And I’m thankful daily that there’s nothing that can separate me from His love.  But He is asking me to die to myself.  And take up my cross. Daily.  Hourly.  Minute-by-minute. (Luke 9: 23-24) To make the right(eous) choice, honor Him and love my family better.  It is so hard.  Sometimes it just downright seems too hard, if I’m being completely honest.  I think I’ve even said that to God.  No, I know I have.  “This is too hard, Lord!”  “I can’t do what You’re asking me to!” “Why does it have to be so hard?!”  Because that’s what it FEELS like.  There are moments of parenting, in marriage and life that seem too chaotic, out-of-control, bothersome or uncomfortable.  My agenda versus theirs.  My wants versus their needs.  My selfishness versus their selfishness. My expectations versus their childish behaviors. Trying to do my pathetic best on interrupted nights of sleep, days that begin at 5 a.m. and with three spirited sons who tire me out in every way. I, alone, am not enough for them.  I will never be enough.  I fall short and fail them.  I do.  But (here’s the grace part) I was never meant to be enough for them.  It was never God’s intention for me to be everything to them all the time.  First of all, how would I grow in Christ and need Him? And second of all, my sons would have no need for a Savior if they found that in me.  I see what You’re doing, God, and I like it.  God is good like that.  No kidding.  And He is so faithful to take our rotten parts… reveal them to us, remove them and show us a better way (enter, Obedience).  If we allow ourselves to be shaped, if we recognize and repent of our own sin and ask God to do the work in us, He will!  Life is hard because of sin.  Parenting is hard because you have two sinners trying to teach and love little sinners. God knows that we’re going to mess up.  He doesn’t look upon us in disappointment and condemnation.  Instead, He extends grace and mercy.  He picks us up, dusts us off and strengths us to try again. And again.  And again. We allow that grace and mercy to change us and our children see that, despite our failures.

Motherhood is hard and packs a mean punch.  But so is marriage.  And life.  This has been a good summer.  It’s also be a summer of hard stuff.  Of trying to hold on to control, while at the same time longing for God to take it away and take over.  Wanting my way, but knowing God’s will is better.  Allowing myself to be led by my emotions, versus being led by His Spirit.  I can’t help but be thankful for the hard stuff.  Honestly.  Because that’s where God makes me more like Jesus.  That’s where He works in a mighty way and shows me a better way.

I read this last night and thought it worthy to share.

“There is nothing – no circumstance, no trouble, no testing – that can ever touch me until, first of all it has gone past God and past Christ, right through to me.  If it has come that far, it has come with a great purpose which I may not understand at the moment.  But as I refuse to become panicky – as I lift up my eyes to Him – and as I accept it as coming from the throne of God for some great purpose of blessing to my heart, no sorrow will ever disturb me, no trial will ever disarm me, no circumstance will cause me to fret – for I shall rest in the joy of what my Lord is.  That is the rest of victory.” -quote by Alan Redpath

boys

Summer Reading List

I’ve finally set aside some time to share my summer reading list for 2016!  I am finding myself gravitating towards books that will encourage personal and spiritual growth. I’m hungry for wisdom when it comes to marriage and parenting in particular, so I’m sharing some of my recent favorites, along with a couple of book my oldest son and I are reading together.  Links to purchase each book are attached (I use Amazon so I can buy used).  It’s yard sale season so I’ve been picking up many good (and super-cheap!) books at local yard sales as well as thrift shops.  Last week I hit a sale at a local thrift store and got several books for 49 cents a piece!  Today I’m just sharing my most favorites.  They may seem a bit “deep” for summer reading, but I’m really into the books that my son and I read together, which are adventure and fantasy, so it balances out. 🙂

First up…

book6

This book!  This book is so full of wisdom, practical guidance and TRUTH!  A must-read for any Christian wife and mother.  I have a few of Linda Dillow’s books and was able to meet her at an Authentic Intimacy conference last Fall.  I highly recommend this book, no matter how many years you’ve been married! And if you’re in central PA, you’re invited to an Authentic Intimacy conference this September!  See all the details here!

book1

I cannot wait to read this book! This is the updated, modern English version available here.

book7.JPG

One of my favorite, most treasured books I own.  Our pastor often quotes A.W. Tozer from this book, so I decided to pick it up and see what it’s about. After sharing bits and pieces of it with my husband, he’s asking to read it when I’m done.  Check it out here.

book3

If you’re a parent to boys, this is a must read!  And I’ve read and researched a LOT of parenting books.  This is far from your typical parenting “guide” and is so full of encouragement, insight, truth and facts!  Written by two formally educated counselors and fathers of boys, this book addresses the physical, emotional and spiritual aspects of raising sons.  This, next to God’s Word, offers a wealth of knowledge if you’re desiring to know and nurture your son(s).  I can hardly put it down and is definitely something I’ll go back to time and again.

Our library’s summer reading program inspired my son to do some serious reading this summer.  He reads on his own, but asked if we could read Lord of the Rings together.  I (reluctantly) agreed but now that we’re halfway through the first book of six, I’m really into it and promised we could watch the movie when the book is finished.  It’s full of fantasy and adventure, which his boy-heart loves.  I’m happy to share in his delight and we both look forward to our reading time together each evening.  Check out the series here and look at all of those stars and reviews!

Several months ago we read The Story of Doctor Dolittle and loved it.  We wished there had been more to read, we enjoyed it that much. Now we’re reading The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle.  There’s adventure and mystery galore in this one and so much fun to read.

I haven’t gotten to these three yet, but they’re on the list!  Seated with Christ by Heather Holleman (she’s local to our area!), One in a Million by Priscilla Shirer and Twelve Ordinary Men by John MacArthur.

Happy reading!

Love,

Amanda