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Weekly Devotion: Worn Out

I am an avid reader. Sometimes I read to hide from my life and get lost in the story of another. Sometimes I read to learn or to investigate. Lately though, I’ve noticed that I’m reading to feel understood. There are a number of books I’ve read recently that were encouraging not because they had the magic answer to anything I’m going through, but because when I read what the author described, I recognized a part of myself. A fellow traveller, with my journey now less lonely because I feel understood. It’s why I blog, actually. It’s what I hope people are able to say when they read my blogs: “Wow, I didn’t know there was someone out there who felt just like me.” 

Deep down, we all want to be understood. Beneath a lot of frustration and anger and sadness, there is a foundation of loneliness. Loneliness that can be lessened by the realization that somewhere in the world there beats another heart who has survived the same struggles you have gone through. When you feel like your circumstances have become so bad that surely you can’t be expected to survive much longer, there is nothing more comforting than hearing someone else echo your same thought, the one you thought no one else knew about. The one you were afraid to express. The one deep in your soul that longs to be expressed but holds back due to fear of judgement. Somehow, it seems more survivable when you have someone walking alongside you who just gets it. 

As I was scrolling Facebook today, I came across a clip on the Elevation Church page from a message Steven Furtick posted a few months ago. The passage he was preaching from was a familiar one— the story of the woman at the well. But his message focused on something I had not considered before. Everyone familiar with this story remembers that Jesus sent his disciples away to get food, and that the woman was coming to draw water from the well in the middle of the day instead of early in the morning (probably so she could avoid people), and you probably even recall that Jesus told her every secret thing about her life. And that her testimony saved many in her village. But this one verse fell fresh to me.

John 4:4-6 (MSG) says, “…He came to Sychar, a Samaritan village that bordered the field Jacob had given his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was still there. Jesus worn out by the trip, sat down at the well. It was noon.” 

The message clip was focused on the fact that Jesus sat down because He was tired. Sometimes we read things and we’re super spiritual, and we miss the simple truth that is contained here. This passage is about a miracle in this woman’s life, and it’s about redemption for the people in the woman’s sphere of influence, and how Jesus is the living water, the well that never runs dry. All these things are true. But included here, a few words in a single line, I see the solidarity that I’m so desperate for. Jesus was worn out. 

Sometimes we become so focused on His power and His Sovereignty and His holiness, and all these things are absolutely a part of His identity. But y’all, He was human. That was the whole point of HIs existence— the word became flesh to dwell among us. To experience what we experience. To live what we live. To hurt like we hurt. To feel hopeful and sad and angry. To be hungry and thirsty. To know what friendship feels like. What betrayal feels like. To grieve. To laugh. To experience joy. And yes, even to be tired. 

There are times when the word that you need from God isn’t a specific answer to a specific prayer, it’s just a wink that says, “I get it.” In the clip, Steven Furtick says, “God, what do I tell the person who is too tired to go on? What do I tell the one who says, ‘I’m too tired?’ And God said, ‘Tell them I got tired too.’”

I have been criticized and judged for the level of transparency I have shown. I have had my wrist slapped by well-meaning-ish people who don’t understand where I am or what my relationship is with my God. I have wondered if maybe He was as mad at me as I get with Him sometimes. But I am not a preacher. I’m not a religious leader. I am flesh and blood, stumbling through life, weary yet pursuing, and called to love like Jesus loved, often misunderstood but with a message rooted in love. That is what I feel called to. Not to point out the shortcomings of others, but to make people feel less alone. And if my messy faith struggle can help you to feel less alone, I invite you to see it all. I have been angry. I have been hopeless. And now, I am tired. 

If you are tired today, I remind you that Jesus invites us to come to Him and find rest, and to cast our anxieties on Him, and thousands of other promises. But more than that, I offer you the reminder that He gave to me today— He gets it. He got tired too. You are not alone. You are loved. You are understood. And you are going to make it.  

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Devotional: Hopelessness and the Treasures of Darkness

Reading: Isaiah 45:3

Do you know what hopelessness feels like? Not momentary, it’s dark now but the sun will shine again discouragement, but true hopelessness? It feels like a bowling ball sitting in your chest. A heaviness that makes it hard to breathe sometimes. The fatigue of knowing that when you go to sleep you will experience dreams running through your mind all night tinged with anxiety and fear without any resolution, and you awaken with the thought, “How in the world am I going to make it through one more day?” 

It feels like having a fear of the dark and then being placed in a locked closet, and you know that you could probably kick the door down or wiggle the knob or unscrew the hinges but you don’t even have the energy because you’re convinced that whatever you find on the other side of the door probably isn’t worth the effort, and so you wrap your arms around your knees and you put your head down and you wait for something, anything, to happen so that it will be over. 

It feels like complete isolation, and the inability to see past the next 5 minutes. It feels like not caring what kinds of flooring you put in your house because you’re just going to be miserable anyway. It feels like watching the only parent you have left lose 50 pounds in the past year, and become so confused and disoriented that he can barely keep his eyes open, at least until he wakes up terrified of what is happening to him. It feels like despair. 

If you have never known this feeling, I am glad for you. But if you have, I want to open wide both arms and invite you to be held, because you are a fierce and valiant warrior. You are David, crying out to ask why God has forsaken you (Psalm 22:1).  You are Jeremiah the prophet, weeping and cursing the day you were born (Jeremiah 20:18). You are Elijah telling God you’ve had enough (1 Kings 19:4). You are Jesus, walking the earth, admitting to HIs Father that His soul is overwhelmed to the point of death (Mark 14:34). Because these are the people who expressed despair and hopelessness in the Bible at some point. These are the people who were sometimes frustrated by the plans of God when those plans demanded all they had to give. These are the survivors, redeemed by God, who brought glory to His name for His purposes. 

Last week, in my hopelessness and anger, I went to stay with my dad. Earlier in the day I wrote God a note, and I told Him I was thinking about giving up because it hurt too much to hope anymore, and that I was sorry, But as I was getting ready for bed I saw a piece of notebook paper on the floor. It was folded in half, with my mom’s handwriting. It said, “#1 Promise 2019: Isaiah 45:3, I will give you treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places…”

It felt like she was with me, like she was telling me what she would if she were still here. It was a reminder that God was with me, caring enough about my mess to reach out in the most personal and compassionate way He could. The way He knew I was desperate for. The words of my mother. It was the words of the psalmist given life, that he was near to the brokenhearted and saving those crushed in spirit. 

As I studied Isaiah 45:3 a little more, I saw 2 words which seemed more important than the rest. Darkness, and Know. The verse in entirety reads, “I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel who summons you by name.” 

In this verse, God is talking to King Cyrus, his chosen king, who would enter into the gates of Babylon and take the treasures of hidden places. But He’s also talking to me. 

Darkness here, in the original Hebrew, signifies misery, destruction, sorrow, wickedness, disorder, confusion, and uncertainty. The place of hopelessness. The place where I’ve been. 

Know, in the Hebrew, means, “to ascertain by seeing; to know relationally and experientially.” 

Taken with these specific phrases in mind, the verse means that God will show us the hidden treasures of the place of misery, sorrow, disorder, confusion, and uncertainty, and He will do it so that I will ascertain by seeing, or know relationally and experientially that He is the Lord, the God of Israel. 

I have always thought that treasure would be found in a place abounding with light, but I forgot that based on every pirate movie I’ve ever seen, sometimes treasure is buried. We read in scripture that Jesus is the light of the world; that the darkness has not overcome it; that He Himself is the light. But these words in Isaiah promise that even when we have trouble seeing the light around us, whether because we have closed our eyes to it or because we are in a season of refining, there are treasures to be found that are specifically hidden in the darkness. This place which seems so forsaken, and purposeless, is the place that God can use to give treasures that He couldn’t give anywhere else, and that He will use these experiences to show His identity. To show who He is. 

When I googled, “hopelessness,” one of the first things that came up was the question, “Is hopelessness a sin?” And I thought to myself, how sad. Somewhere, someone feeling like I have been feeling is looking for a way up and out, and instead they are finding information about how they are failing. About how they are sinning. About how they are wrong and not enough. Sometimes it’s not about right or wrong, it’s about letting people know that whatever they are feeling, they are not alone, because you have been there too. Religion says what you feel is wrong. The love of Jesus cries with you, draws you close, and whispers in your ear, “Those are lies. Those feelings you’re having aren’t the final word. I’m here, and I’m real, and I’m sovereign, and I’m enough,” and cleans up the sin problem later, in kindness and a still small voice free of condemnation and abounding in love. 

I want you to know that however you are feeling is OK with me, and it’s OK with Jesus. He loves you as much as He loves me, and He loves me enough to take my anger and my hopelessness and send a note from my mom to encourage me. I’m praying He encourages you too. Hopeless is a feeling, not a fact. Hang in there friend. We’re both going to make it.  

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Weekly Devotion: I Thought

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I got really angry with God this week. Spoiler alert: He didn’t smite me. He can take it. He already knows when we’re mad at him anyway, so I’ve always gone with the theory that it’s better to tell him so you’re not lying on top of being mad at him. Anyway, in the midst of being mad, I was scrolling Facebook and saw the scripture 2 Kings 5:11. At first, seeing that made me mad too, but it also made me feel like God saw how I was struggling. 

In this scripture, Naaman— commander of the army of the King of Aram and an important man in his society— had been a valiant soldier, but all of the sudden he got leprosy. Someone told him about God’s prophet and that the prophet could heal Naaman, and so Naaman goes to the prophet but doesn’t even get a personal audience. Instead, Elisha sends a messenger to meet him and tells him to go and bathe seven times in the Jordan River to be cleansed. Naaman is insulted. In 2 Kings 5:11 it says, “But Naaman went away angry and said, ‘I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy.” 

What is important to know is that Naaman was eventually healed after he did what he was instructed to do, but in the middle of his struggle and fear, he expressed his discontent. Like me. Maybe like you. “God, I thought when I suffered all these other things it would give me a free pass on having to suffer more. God I thought you would heal my dad. God I thought you would solve my work situation differently.” I thought, I thought, I thought. In the back of my mind I can hear someone (probably my mom) saying, “Well, that’s what you get for thinking.” 

The thing I’m being forced to learn now is that my thoughts are not his thoughts. My ways are not his ways. I don’t have the capacity to understand everything that is going on, and so I am forced to make a decision. Do I trust in the sovereignty of God or not? I’m being honest enough today to tell you that I don’t know yet. Maybe you’ve never been there, but it’s where I am today. 

But I do know that it brings me comfort to have God look down and see how I’m feeling, and show me that there are other people who have been insulted and disappointed and discouraged when he didn’t do things the way they thought he should do things. And he still healed them anyway. I don’t know how things are going to turn out, but I know he sees me, and that has to be enough for now.

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Current Mood: Drunk Guy on a Roller Coaster

If I had to describe my current mood to an innocent bystander, I would call it drunk guy on a roller coaster.  I’ve been up and down, back and forth, on many things in recent months. I’m not the kind of person who looks forward to change or thinks a fresh start is anything close to positive. I am that girl who stays at the same desk in the same class every day of the year, and if a new kid comes in and unknowingly usurps my assigned seat, I will smile and nod as I take a different chair that one time, but inside I will be seething and resentful and arrive 20 minutes early for class every single day for the rest of the year just to make sure it never happens again. 

Unfortunately, there are many things in life that one cannot control by arriving to class 20 minutes early. There are unforeseen circumstances that pop up when they are least expected and least desirable; unwanted events who clothe themselves in wigs and fun skirts so they can parade around as “challenges” and “obstacles to be overcome” when what they actually are under all the make-up and wardrobe is walking, talking middle fingers. 

Rachel Hollis writes that one of the issues we have in dealing with painful situations is that, once we are on the other side of a trauma, we can never go back again to being the same person we were before the traumatic event occurred. There will never again be a time when you can un-know the things you have learned or un-experience the things you’ve been through. You are forever marked by the events of your life, for better or worse, til death do you part. 

Last year, I became a girl without a mom. That is a fact. I can never go back again to being who I was before that time. Before that, I had no idea what that felt like, or how psychologically damaging it could be. Now, I can never un-know that. And so moving forward, every step I take is shaped by that knowledge. 

When I make decisions at work, I now make them as the daughter of someone who died from a medical mistake. When I interact with my children, the interactions are marked now in a different way than they were before. The way I approach caring for my dad is different now because I’m not who I was before. I know there are so many people who lose parents at a much younger age, or in a more traumatic way. There are people who survive and thrive and, at least from the outside looking in, their pain and grief appear to be a footnote. For me, this has not been the case. For me, the experience is front and center, ever present, splashed on everything I touch.

Then other situations arose after that. Issues at work. Issues with friends. Issues with family dynamics. I feel like I’ve been running on a hamster wheel, trying to survive, and now I am exhausted and I’ve decided to jump off the wheel altogether. Reinvent myself. Try to remodel my life. At first I was pretty enthusiastic about it. It seemed exciting and full of limitless possibilities. Now, I think those were just lies I told myself to make all this change an easier pill to swallow. Because here’s the honest truth: I hate all of this. I hate that life has unfolded in such a way that I was forced to make any of these decisions. I am not excited, or happy, or full of hope or excitement. I am terrified and I am angry and I am tired. 

So as I fell off the mountain of contentment into the ravine of despair that Christina Yang predicted, I asked myself, “What would make you happy right now?” The knee-jerk response that immediately came to mind was, “To have my old life back.” So I started to think about this and pick it apart a little more. I tried to picture my life with my mom still here, my dad not sick, my professional life not in complete chaos, my kids still naive and protected, my family life stable, and I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t get the scene to form itself. The reason for this is that I am mourning something that no longer exists. I can never again be content with the life I had before because I am not the same person now that I was a year ago. The things I’ve experienced and felt and cried over have made their marks on me, and I can never go back. 

When you suffer, you learn things. You notice behaviors and patterns in yourself and in others. You see what your real motivations and priorities are. You discover what things you like about yourself, and which traits you loathe. This exercise in articulating your identity is costly and time-consuming and lonely, and once the work has started it cannot be reversed. If I had back all of the individual pieces of the puzzle which seem to be causing me pain at this moment, and I was able to arrange them in the exact pattern that they were before— at a time when I was content with my lot in life— I would still be unhappy. The things that made me happy before can never make me happy again because I am not that person anymore, and I never will be again.

I discovered that what is actually bothering me is not just all the physical changes in my life, it’s the person I used to be who was untainted by the pain and grief. The person who could laugh easily and make inappropriate jokes out of thin air. The person who found joy in buying expensive shoes and purses and eating cheap Mexican food. None of these things matter to me anymore. 

What motivates me now, what brings me contentment now, is so much more complex and at the same time so very simple. I value talking with my 2 friends, the ones who don’t let me hide behind the lies I tell myself. I value hearing Mary Ann’s version of events when we review what happened during the week. I value Benjamin Button’s terrible dance moves and infectious laugh. Writing down my thoughts and reading those of others who somehow make me feel less alone. I value figuring out my faith— and you know what? It has nothing to do with the list of rules I was raised to believe and everything to do with exploring the scriptures for myself to work out my own salvation. Reading thoughts of people who are different than me and trying to understand their point of view so that I raise children who aren’t narrow-minded or afraid of embracing those who are different from them. 

So if these are the things I value, and these are the things I have, then why am I not happy? Why am I drunk guy on a roller coaster? It’s because the thing that I really miss is the old me. The innocent one. And she is lost, and I don’t think she’s ever coming back. There are so many things on the horizon that are positive. Hopefully, one day very soon, my dad will have a transplant. I’ll start a new job. My life will look completely different. But today is not that day. Today is a day of introspection, and realizing that while yes, I miss my mom and I miss certain parts of how life used to be, what I actually miss the most is me. 

There are things that, once seen, cannot be unseen. I am not the same person I was six months ago. I can never again be content in the environments, organizations, and relationships that were once so comfortable to me because I have uncovered them down to their basest parts and discovered that the comfort I felt was due to the layers and layers of disguise they wore.

It’s also true though, that I would not trade them. If I had not been in certain places at certain times, I would have missed out on making some of the greatest friendships I have ever known. I would have missed out on the training and experience that makes me so good at my job. I would have been shielded from hurts that sparked in me a desire to write and share and communicate with other people so that they would feel less alone. And even more than that, I am proud of myself for refusing to tolerate and live with things that go against my conscience. In all honesty, although I miss the more innocent version of me, I don’t want her back because ignorance might be bliss, but who wants bliss at the expense of integrity? I would rather have me as I am now, a little wiser and better informed, even if my outlook isn’t so sunny.

And two weeks ago, I knew this. But yesterday? It was back to drunk guy on the roller coaster. Dread and puking and screaming. Unable to see what’s coming around the next bend and therefore allowing myself to be consumed with what I can see now in this moment which looks like death and destruction. 

Here’s what I’m saying to you— I don’t want to be this person, this drunk guy on a roller coaster. I don’t even like this person. But I have to say that right now, I’m so very thankful for the people in my life who I trust to see the real me, and I applaud them for their stamina in dealing with me as I flail around like a lunatic. I hope someday I can pay you back. I know it has cost you to help carry the burden of my pain, and I am incredibly thankful that you counted the cost, and still did it anyway. It’s more than I deserve. One day, six months from now, when life has settled into another version of another new normal, I hope to look back on days like I’ve had this week and say that I’m stronger now and I’m proud of myself. Right now though? All I can say is that life sucks sometimes, but maybe not forever. And it sucks infinitely less when you have the right people in it. 

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Weekly Devotion: All We See is Manna

Reading: Numbers 11:6

I have a confession to make. Sometimes I have these blessings that come my way, but I am not happy about them. I decide that God must have misheard me because He did not send what I asked for. Instead of recognizing that in His wisdom and sovereignty, He is sending me what I need instead of what I prayed for, I complain—loudly and often—about the injustice of it all. I was so relieved to see, right here in the black and white of scripture, that I am not the only one. 

In this chapter of Numbers, the Hebrew people have been freed from slavery by God, and led by Moses across the dry bed of the Red Sea with walls of water on both sides of them, then observed their pursuers’ demise. Now, instead of being thankful for their freedom and the promise of a land flowing with milk and honey after having been safely rescued from their captors, they longed for what they had back in Egypt. Back when they were abused and forced to work themselves to death, and threatened and in a constant state of anxiety. They had been fed with food sent straight from heaven— manna, provided to them every day, enough for every person— but they didn’t want it. The manna which looked like coriander seed and tasted like wafers made with honey, which they boiled and baked into cakes, was not what they wanted. 

It was what God provided. But it was not what they wanted. 

Numbers 11:5 says that the people remembered the fish they had in Egypt “at no cost”, and the cucumbers and melons and leeks and onions and garlic. The beginning of verse 6 says, “But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!”

They lost their appetite for the things that God provided to them, and they craved the things that they had in captivity. Like the fish “at no cost.” The fish that was paid for with hours of their lives, and blisters on their hands, and constant fear, and the absence of rest. This free fish had cost them everything, but they didn’t see it that way. All they saw was the predictability of captivity. Every day they knew what to expect. What they expected may have been abuse and hard work and oppression, but at least it was consistent. And in return, they had their fish and melons and cucumbers and garlic and onions and leeks. Now in this freedom? They had a moment by moment dependence on God. They had to trust the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night. They had to trust that the manna would be present every day. They had to trust that bitter waters could be turned into something they could drink. And they had to accept that it would be there when they needed it because they could not store up or plan or prepare.

How many times have I done this? How many times have I looked around in my new freedom and longed for the security of my chains? When you are accustomed to oppression and all of the sudden you have freedom, it becomes intimidating. The wide open possibilities, instead of exhilarating, can sometimes feel overwhelming. The risks that before seemed exciting and manageable now seem like a stamp of certain failure. And so I look around at a whole new world, and I long for the old one. The one that felt safer by virtue of its familiarity even though it was a dangerous place for my soul. 

I see a new professional opportunity, and I long for the days when my old opportunity was as comfortable as a pair of broken in sweatpants. I see myself learning to hear God’s voice more clearly for myself, yet I long for the days when instead I could call my mom and ask her opinion or have her pray for God’s guidance for me. I’m seeing the manna everywhere I look, yet I have been guilty of despising this miracle provision because it did not feel as secure as the things feeding me before.  

God is shifting my perspective in recent weeks. I can see it, the transition from anger and grief and hurt and fear that comes with new beginnings, turning into a heart of gratitude and expectancy. God is changing my desires, shifting my appetite from the fish and produce of Egypt, to the manna He provides. It has not been a smooth transition, but it is one for which I am so grateful. 

I wonder if maybe some of what you see around you that doesn’t look like you wanted it to look and doesn’t taste like you think it should taste might be manna, and if maybe you need God to change your appetite. In His compassion for us He is willing to do just that. Ask Him today to help you to crave the manna He is sending your way more than you crave what you had in Egypt. It might not be what you wanted, but I am confident of this: it is exactly what you need. Everywhere you look, there’s manna. —Amanda 

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How the Monkeys Saved My Birthday

I woke up in Asheville on my birthday. A few months ago after we stayed here, Other Half asked me what I wanted to do for my birthday, and I said, “Go back to the Grove Park.” I didn’t even want a present. I just wanted to sit on this beautiful rock porch (not nearly a grand enough term for what it is) and read my books and look at these majestic blue mountains. 

We came up Thursday night after work and left the kids with Uncle Jesse and Joey, had some amazing shrimp scampi at Vinny’s, and then made it here. I woke up yesterday morning to my birthday in a beautiful, relaxing place, and I immediately felt sad. What is wrong with me anyway? I have the best family, friends who care about me, and more blessings than I deserve but there’s just this hole in my chest. I didn’t have it last week. I felt normal. I laughed, read books, filled out a ridiculous amount of paperwork to renew all my professional credentialing, and did just fine. But March 12, just because of the date on a calendar, I’m back to sad. (To give credit where credit is due, I have to tell you the Christina Yang predicted this last week when my happy seemed disproportionate to my usual personality. She was waiting on the crash. I hate it when she’s right almost as much as she loves it when she’s right).

I think it’s because we always focus on ourselves for our birthdays, but it’s not really about us at all. By the time we take our first breath, we have been through zero things. We have been cocooned in warm, body temperature, disgusting water for 9 months, living as parasites off of our moms while they have appetite changes and fatigue and stretch marks and get in trouble at work for having to pee more times than is allowed in a shift. She (or her support system) buys baby clothes, and furniture, and diapers, and bottles and pack and plays and expensive bedding that increases the risk of SIDS. Meanwhile, we are oohed and ahhhed over just for existing and moving and having the hiccups. 

We have done no things worthy of deserving any fanfare. Mom, on the other hand, has gone through an incredible metamorphosis, caterpillar to butterfly, in terms of the mental growth that it takes to go from caring only about one’s self to caring about another person. The shift from making decisions “all about me” to making decisions all about her child. The development of a relationship with her partner that has to learn to support not just the existence of their bond, but now introduce a third person into that who sucks all of the energy and attention out of the room from the moment they take their first breath until forever. 

Some moms make all these adjustments with seemingly effortless ease, and some moms barely survive them. Regardless, the sacrifice has been made. I remember finding out (less than 3 months after graduating from nursing school) that Other Half and I were going to have Mary Ann, and I was terrified and even a little mad because I didn’t know anything about being a mom and I just knew I would fail. Other Half came home one day with this Christmas ornament of a woman holding pickles in one hand and ice cream in the other, and I forbade him from showing it to me ever again– that’s where I was psychologically. But by the end of the 9 months, I was sad after she was born and I didn’t have the kicks and hiccups to myself anymore because I couldn’t protect her from everything– now I had to share her. That’s the kind of mental metamorphosis a mom goes through when she’s expecting. So really, birthdays are about a mother celebrating the accomplishment of bringing a life into the world, and becoming this person she never thought she could be, even if we don’t realize that’s what it’s about. When you’ve lost your mom, a birthday just doesn’t seem as special as it used to be. She gave me this incredible gift I can never repay, and she was the only one who knew what it cost her, and she can’t celebrate it anymore. 

I knew I would be sad when I woke up because it’s who I am as a person. Drama is part of my psyche and I won’t apologize for it. It’s how God made me. So, I thought maybe by waking up somewhere beautiful that I loved I would not have the time to think about what I was missing. I even scheduled a massage at the spa. This in itself is a miracle because, as anyone who is close to me knows, I do NOT want people to touch me. You can picture me as that woman in the memes who has a broom in her hand and is patting someone who is crying on the shoulder with it to avoid touching them. I don’t know why I’m like this, but I am. If I’m really close to someone, or if it’s a friend, it’s fine. But strangers? No freaking way. Christina Yang even reminded me, “You know she’s going to have to touch you to give you a massage, right?” 

Before the massage, we went and had the best breakfast ever at Mayfels. Their Crab Cake Benedict is a thing of beauty. Then I stopped in a few downtown shops and got some dresses at this retro store that is the kind where the prints are crazy and the dresses have pockets and everything is A-line and makes me want to swish like a bell. I decided it’s a new fav, but then it was time to hurry back for the massage that I scheduled in the middle of the day because it was the only appointment open. 

It was relaxing and amazing, but it was soooo quiet. I go to great lengths to avoid quiet. It’s why when I need to relax I drive around in a Jeep Wrangler with a lift kit on it blaring tunes in my ears. So I can’t hear a single thought between road noise and wind and tires and Elle King or Morgan Wallen or a Dorothea Benton Frank vs. Jen Hatmaker audiobook (depending on my mood). So during this massage, all this soothing music and quiet were deafening.

All I could think about was sitting in that little room when the doctor came to tell us my mom died, and how scared I am sometimes that my dad will die before he gets a transplant, and how much I hate life sometimes. Then I thought how blessed I am to have my husband and kids and family and friends and how thankful I am for these things in spite of the loss I suffered. And then I tried to map out the plot to a novel in my head to keep myself distracted. But there were two mortal sins from which I could not recover: 1- the thoughtful massage therapist commented on my necklace and asked if there was a special meaning behind it (it’s my mom’s fingerprint) and 2- she poured this oil in my scalp that was amazing. The oil reminded me of Psalm 23, and how it says, “He anoints my head with oil.” Then my thoughts turned to how my mom, when she had Benjamin Button or Mary Ann on her lap and one of them would hug her or lean their little foreheads on her chin she would say, “My cup runneth over,” and it was all I could do not to burst into tears right then and there. What kind of crazy is this? You guys cannot imagine how exhausting it is to live in my head. It’s a thing of beauty and a thing of horror and I can’t decide which one of those descriptions is in the lead so far. 

By the time the massage was over, I skipped the sauna and the steam rooms and the massage pool with the waterfall and the zen garden and went straight back to my room. I was in a terrible mood, and Other Half was understandably confused, but only a little. He said he knew the quiet wouldn’t be good for me. HE knows me infinitely better than I know me apparently. 

We decided we would go to Biltmore Village because it’s the cutest place, and he knows that is what matters to me. I cried half way there. Then we got out of the car, me in my Bob Ross facemark which I found at Lost and Found— the store with the dresses that make me swish like a bell. (I bought a dress with bees on it and I’m not even sorry). 

We found this awesome stationary store called Origami Ink (check them out. The owner is fantastic and genuinely loves what he does). In one of the cases I saw this statue of the hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil monkeys, only there was an extra one on the end that said “write no evil.” I knew I had found my birthday present. The problem was, I am not a pen person and this statue is a pen holder. I generally write with sharpies, or ball point Bic pens, or whatever I can get from the office or Walgreens because I forget them and lose them all the time. But these monkeys demanded a pen, ya know? There was zero percent chance I was leaving these monkeys at the store, and 100% chance I had no pen for them to hold. So, dutifully, Other Half went to all the cases with me while I found a pen that “felt right”. 

This will always be a sticking point in our marriage. Any time we need to make a major purchase, he researches whatever we are buying like it’s his paying job. Meanwhile, I walk around stores and see if my heart feels lighter when I stand in front of the car/washing machine/mattress/couch. Sometimes he tells me to help him look up reviews or consumer reports or other nonsense, and I just nod and say OK. I know I’m not gonna do it, and he knows I’m not gonna do it, but we just pretend everything is fine. 

After an hour, and picking up a dozen pens, I went back to one of the first ones. This beauty. I was so proud of myself because I knew the monkeys would love this pen. (Just so you know, I spent 30 minutes this morning writing with this pen, and I’m in love now and sad for all the years I wasted on the Bics and the Sharpies). We paid the bill, cancelled our reservations at this high-end, 4 diamond restaurant, and went instead across the tiny perfect brick-lined street from Origami Ink to The Corner Kitchen, and had the best charcuterie and burgers and gooey chocolate cake I’ve ever had. We talked and I laughed and shot whiskey out of my nose— zero stars, do not recommend this experience. 

On the way back to the hotel, Mary Ann sent me a poem in a text message that almost bought me to tears, but happy ones this time. And I looked back at the text from my dad with Betty White and a message that said he loved me more than ice cream and cookies which is exactly what my mom would’ve said too, and it made me smile. 

By the time we were ready to go back to the hotel, I felt lighter and happy, and I laughed at the thought that my mom would say, “You’ve got more money than you’ve got sense,” if she saw the monkeys holding their turquoise colored Pineider. But I think she would also be proud of me for finding the joy in the midst of the hard. I’m learning, Mom. I’m learning. 

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Weekly Devotion: Give Back Everything that Belongs to Her

2 Kings 8:6

My moods lately have been so unbelievably unpredictable. Some days I wake up full of hope and excitement, looking forward into the clear blue sky of possibilities, and other days I wake up and feel like I can’t see beyond my next heartbeat. The cycle of loss, grief, survival, repeat has drained me of becoming too comfortable with the idea that things could go smoothly for any length of time. I notice disordered thought patterns that try to convince me I can never enjoy the good things in my life because as soon as I do, they will become lost things. My therapist says it’s fear talking, and I’m sure she’s right, but it doesn’t make it any easier to combat. 

I bought a book this week, Dear God: Honest Prayers to a God Who Listens by Bunmi Laditan, and I love it so much for the honesty. I found a prayer within the pages that sums up how I feel sometimes.

She writes, “Dear God, Hope is a dangerous thing to have. Every time I feel a spark of it trying to light the dark places in my heart, I blow it out. No more, I tell myself and return to the gray. I’ve tried hope before, believed in my good dreams, thought Today will be the day, and each time I was wrong. Each time I thought I heard you, I was wrong. Hope tells me about things I can’t have and realities that will never be mine. This is my life, this will always be my life, this has always been my life— I’ll always either feel alone or be alone. The sooner I accept it, the sooner things will get easier. Hope is not for me. Please stop trying. Love, Me.” 

I know the prayer is dark, but if you’re being honest with yourself, haven’t you ever felt that way? I listened to a podcast by Elevation Church a few weeks ago about the Shunamite woman who was blessed with a son after decades of barrenness. When he was still a child he died unexpectedly, and she approached the man of God and said, “Did I ask for a son my lord?”

I knew how she felt. In my mind, she was really me, saying,  “Did I ask for any of these blessings? You gave them to me even though I knew it was wrong to hope for them, and now you’re ripping them away and the pain is almost too much to bear. Why would you do this? What did I ever do to you?” Now, Elisha prays and God heals the woman’s son, and we assume life is going OK for them. That is until a few chapters later in 2 Kings 8 when we read about her next set of problems.

The land is in famine, and Elisha tells the woman that she must leave with her family and stay away for a while wherever she can because the famine will last 7 years. We aren’t given insight into her reaction except that she was obedient and took her family, and settled in the land of the Philistines, who were the sworn enemies of Israel. This staying away protected her. It protected her son. It kept their bellies fed and their lives spared. But it cost them. It cost them their home, and their comfort, and their sense of community. It cost them nearly everything. 

This week I did the thing where you just open your Bible and a verse jumps out at you, and my attention was drawn to 2 Kings 8:6. By this point in the passage, the woman has returned and she has gone before the king to beg for her property to be returned— her house and land. When she went to make her request, Gehazi, the servant of Elisha, was talking with the King, explaining about how this woman’s son had been restored to life. He was giving the King her testimony. So the King looks at this woman, and asks her about it. About how she had lost the thing she so desperately wanted. The thing she didn’t even ask for. The blessing that nearly killed her to receive and lose, which was then restored to her in mint condition at the hand of a merciful God and his faithful servant. After hearing what she had to say, verse 6 says the King assigned an official to her case, and said, “Give back everything that belonged to her.” 

When I read those words, it was like hope coming back to me. It was as if God was saying to me then and there, “It’s OK to hope. I can still do it. I can still handle all of this. I am still sovereign.” And He reminded me that the way that this woman received everything back that belonged to her was by her testimony regarding her prior losses. By being able to tell someone else about how, when her life looked grim and her grief was overwhelming, God provided for her and restored life where it looked like only death was all around her. 

That is the path we have to take to get our stuff back. Our hope, our zeal, our fervor, our peace. Everything that we have lost can be recovered. All it takes is a few words. “Give back everything that belonged to her.” It’s coming. To me, and to you. I feel it. The honest prayer admitting fear— it’s OK to admit it to God. But then we have to shift our focus from the prayers from a fearful heart to the declaration of a faith-filled spirit. Your intent is to beg someone to restore something you’re not sure will ever be yours again, but there’s already someone talking about you, paving the way, and God is saying, “It’s time. Give all of her stuff back.” —Amanda 

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Where Babies Come From

You might not know this, but Benjamin Button is a funny kid. Sometimes he seems quiet and aloof, and he prefers video games to human interaction, but underneath it all the kid is hilarious. Case in point: back seat conversations in the Jeep.

So you have some background, we have this rule in our house. If my kids want to know something, no matter how embarrassing or uncomfortable it is (for me, usually) they are allowed to ask. No repercussions, no uncomfortable throat clearing; I will just explain whatever they want to know. I mean, when I was a kid, I would just ask my friends at school. But now? With Google? I do not need my child googling something that might result in pornographic images, thank you very much. I would rather explain whatever they want to know even if my cheeks are flaming red the entire time. It has worked out pretty well, actually. It was always my mom’s rule for us too.

That being said, not long ago during dinner, Benjamin Button asked where babies come from. Other Half explained it with the use of some very questionable hand gestures and we moved on. I desperately hoped that we would not revisit the topic ever again. Let’s just say, I did not get my wish. 

Tonight, we went to get some dinner and check on my dad, and both kids were in the back seat of the Jeep. Something I’ve noticed is that my kids are infinitely more comfortable asking questions in the car. Something about me facing forward and them not having to look me in the eye makes them feel free. And also provokes them into seeing how much they have to say to get a reaction from me because they know about the ask me anything rule. Some questions that have come up before during Jeep rides are, “What’s a prude?” Or “How did you make Mary Ann?” Or “What’s a hooker?” You know, just your normal questions for kids living in the 21st century with access to Netflix. And let’s not forget learning about the Easter bunny and Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. You can read more about that here: https://settingupstones.com/2020/06/03/back-seat-interrogations/

Anyway, they’re in the backseat tonight, and I hear Benjamin Button tell Mary Ann that he knows where babies come from. The conversation went like this:

Benjamin: “The penis goes in the vagina, and that starts a process that makes a baby.” 

Mary Ann: “Shut up, shut up! Stop talking right now!”

Me: looks straight ahead, suppressing a laugh while simultaneously giving Other Half the evil eye as the hand gestures from the aforementioned dinner are reenacted in the back seat and look way worse with 9 year old hands than they do with adult hands

Other Half: “I didn’t show him that.”

Me: “You definitely did. I was there, remember?”

Benjamin: “But the lady doesn’t know she’s pregnant for a while. Then she feels some baby crawling around in her stomach and she says ‘Wow, must be leftover tacos.’ But then her belly grows and she figures it out. And then the baby comes.” 

Me: laughing, not even sorry at this point

Mary Ann: puts in ear buds and cranks up her tunes so loud we can hear it in the front seat above the roar of my off-road tires in the Jeep and the Kenny Chesney I’m using to drown out the day.

Benjamin: “Then if they want another kid, they have to do the whole thing all over again.” 

Me: “Ok buddy that’s enough. We’re done talking about this.”

Benjamin: “Fine. What do you want to talk about besides where babies come from?”

Me: “Literally anything else in the entire world.”

Take home message of this story: If your child is friends with my child, I sincerely hope they already know where babies come from. And if they don’t, I apologize ahead of time for the hand gestures. I blame it on the ask me anything rule, Other Half’s need to have visual aids when he’s explaining something, and how safe and secure the backseat of a Jeep Wrangler makes him feel. 

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Weekly Devotion: Imperfect Circumstances, Perfect Peace

Reading: Isaiah 26:3; Matthew 8:18-20

I have recently discovered something. My love for predictability and stability are completely at odds with the life of faith that we as believers are called to live. This might be something that you have always understood, but it was sort of an epiphany to me. I mean, I don’t think a desire for stability is a sin, but I do think it’s something to be overcome. 

Lately everything in my life has been changing. And by lately I mean it started 2 years ago and hasn’t stopped since then. I feel like I live on a spinning top and I just keep trying again and again to find my equilibrium. Like instead of the earth spinning imperceptibly on its axis, someone has walked by the globe and spun it like a contestant at the big wheel on The Price is Right. It has been so hard for me to be at peace with all of this. I’ve always been a little (OK a lot) on the anxious side, and any type of change intensifies my feelings of anxiety. I desperately want to be that person who has the peace that passes all understanding, but a lot of the time I feel like if anything I am desperately grabbing at peace, terrified that any second now someone is going to rip it from my hands. Two verses are helping me figure out how to handle this. 

One of them is Matthew 8:18-20. In this verse, a teacher of the law is vowing to follow Jesus anywhere, seemingly with his heart in the right place, but Jesus is so honest. He basically says, “You want to follow me? Animals have a better chance at comfort than I do.” So many times I have wondered if the reason why I didn’t feel at peace, or why I was constantly under so much stress and change was because I was out of the will of God, when Jesus clearly says here that to follow him means to choose an unpredictable life. It’s a life that requires faith. So how does one experience peace in the face of these circumstances? 

This brings me to the second verse: Isaiah 26:3. It says, “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.” The way to keep peace in the midst of uncertain situations is to keep my mind off of the circumstances and the unpredictability and choose instead to focus on what is unchanging— God. He is love, and he can be trusted to lead from a place of love. He can be trusted to give us just enough information to move on to the next step. I have no idea what the next week or month or year of my life is going to look like, but I’m going to make a definite effort to keep my focus where it should be.

I encourage you to push aside the noise and the circumstances that are fighting your mind and your peace today, and force your life to a place of stillness to focus on your heavenly Father. Life doesn’t make sense, but the good news is, that neither does the peace that God has promised us we can have.

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Hiding in Other People’s Stories

Here’s something I’ve recently discovered about myself: When I am sad or overwhelmed or afraid or any other emotion that would cause me to gravitate towards comfort, I watch my favorite old movies or shows. I’ve never really done this before that I’m aware of, but lately my entire family is forced to tolerate this new and effective coping mechanism. 

It started a few months ago when life came to feel a little more uncertain. I’ve always had a strong affection for Pride and Prejudice (the Kiera Knightley version), Kingdom Come, and Gilmore Girls. Then I re-discovered Runaway Bride and watched it 3 times in the same week. The entire month of December was riddled with Hallmark movies, but not the new ones. I went for the old ones that I could nearly recite by heart. Then, on to Adam Sandler. Other Half has always been a huge Adam Sandler fan. When we first got together I was sort of take it or leave it, but now it’s a matter of emotional survival. Grown Ups and Grown Ups 2, Pixels, 50 First Dates…these are a few of my favorite things. 

I was thinking about it, and I think I hide in these stories for a couple of reasons. Number one, they remind me of happier and simpler times. I look back with joy on the days that my teenage friends and I would watch these movies together, or when my mom and I would lose ourselves for a couple of hours in laughs and predictable plot lines. I still remember going with one of my girlfriends to watch Pride and Prejudice the night I met Other Half. And the one New Years Eve when my boyfriend had something better to do than hang out with me, so my mom and I watched the Gilmore Girls boxed set. Or when my friend Nat and I couldn’t get enough of Kingdom Come, and how to this day I quote that movie at inappropriate times. It’s like a hug just when you need it most. 

But here’s the thing—new movies don’t do the same thing for me. I cannot sit and watch a new and uncharted movie to save my life. First because, for reasons I don’t completely understand, Netflix and Hallmark and Amazon Prime are incapable of constructing a plot line that doesn’t involve death. Either someone’s mom died when they were young, or just died, or their spouse died, or their brother died or is dying. There can be no new movies without death. I dared Mary Ann to find one new movie that didn’t involve death on some level and told her I would watch it with her if she did. She couldn’t do it. And so, we watch The Choice and Safe Haven, both of which involve death, but the kind I already know about. The kind with a happy ending. 

This brings me to the number two reason why I can’t stop hiding in these movies: I know how the story ends. Right now I am firmly in the middle of my own story which feels unpredictable and uncertain and unclear and I freaking hate it. There are zero things I appreciate about change. I don’t like the excitement, it doesn’t energize me, it doesn’t make me motivated to rush forward into a brave new world. What it makes me is tired and afraid. By the end of every day I’m so done with life from the exertion of keeping it all together that I immediately fall asleep because my brain just cannot process anymore new information, having exhausted itself with the effort of seeming to be normal all day. Since I don’t know if my own ending will be happy or sad or bittersweet, I lose myself in these stories I already know. Stories that remind me that no matter how scary the middle might look, there’s always redemption in the end.

Today, for example, Mary Ann and I decided to re-watch Safe Haven for the millionth time. I love this movie because it’s Nicholas Sparks, and he was the first novelist I ever loved enough to seek out every book signing, every year. And I love this movie because it is filmed in one of my favorite places in the whole world: South Port, North Carolina. 

When I was a kid, my parents always took Helen Keller, John Wayne, and me to “the old people beach” as we called it. Back then, it was known as Long Beach (now the trendy name is Oak Island), and there were no restaurants, no stores beyond a Maxway and a gas station, no nothing. We had to buy groceries to cook every night and we stayed in this small house with a big open room on the second floor filled with a collection of mix-matched twin sized and full sized beds, no air conditioning, but a beautiful view of the ocean which was right across the street. We would usually take a ferry boat from where we were staying to Fort Fisher and check out the aquarium every trip, and then sometimes we would go to South Port.

On the last big family trip we took with all of us (mom, dad, all the siblings with spouses and kids), we went to South Port. It’s the cutest town. Beautiful side walks and Cape Cod style houses overlooking the water, a year-round Christmas store, and some amazing places to eat. The trip was full of all the ups and downs you would expect from “too much togetherness”, but the highlight was taking all these photos together with all of us feeling content and happy and together.

I remember thinking then how odd it was that, at such a young age, my parents were able to see all of their children married and settled, and the pessimist in me wondered if that was something God allowed because they wouldn’t be around to see any of it long-term. At least for one of them, that became true. But it’s still a silver lining to me that we had this trip together in this special place, laughing and eating dinner, fighting and complaining. The things families do. So the comfort today was in seeing Julianne Hough stroll down the streets of this special place, imagining our little family in the background (minus Helen Keller’s husband from the photo below, who was probably forced to take the picture). 

I know I can’t hide out in other people’s stories forever; eventually I’ll have to submit to the whims of my own. But for today, Safe Haven is an actual Safe Haven, and me and Mary Ann will be hiding in South Port if you’re looking for us. 

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What It’s Like to Wait for a Transplant

My dad needs a liver transplant. He has been on the transplant list for a long time now, what actually feels like forever, but is actually just since July 2019-ish. My family and I have gone through the excitement, the hope, the fear. And then a lot of other things happened that seemed not fair to have happen to us given that we already had a loved one on a transplant list, but since when has life ever been fair? 

Anyway, currently my dad is admitted to the hospital. I have lost count of what number admission this is. Sometimes it’s low phosphorous or potassium or sodium. Sometimes it’s spontaneous bacterial peritonitis (an infection of the abdominal cavity). Sometimes it’s pulmonary edema where fluid fills the lungs. Sometimes it’s a bowel obstruction. All the times it sucks, and all the time he is miserable because now he’s sick and also not at home and because of COVID, he can’t see any of the people that normally help lift his spirits. (FYI, no need to panic. This time it’s the sodium).

The thing about all this is that before, when my mom was still here, we were so optimistic. We just knew that my dad would get better. But since my mom has died, it feels more desperate. It feels like if he doesn’t get a liver, then I will be an orphan, and the oldest girl, and I don’t think I can shoulder the responsibility of what it will imply for my brother and my sister and I for me to be in charge of our little branch of the family. Before I was always convinced that my dad would get a transplant and get better, but as I watch him get sicker and sicker, some days I’m not sure anymore. In just the past 3 months alone, his condition has deteriorated so quickly, and it seems like things are hopeless. The person who protected me and took care of me for my entire life is suffering, and there’s nothing I can do.

So I thought I would tell you what it’s like to have someone you love on a transplant list. It looks like cautious optimism, being ever hopeful while constantly worried that allowing yourself to hope will make the pain all the more unbearable if a new organ doesn’t become available. It looks like weekly COVID testing since September, and weekly blood tests since I can’t even remember when, and bruises all over a belly that have suffered who can even remember how many paracentesis procedures, and wondering exactly how much shortness of breath is too much shortness of breath, and how much dizziness is too much dizziness, and how much pain is normal vs. how much signals something life-threatening.

It looks like wondering if every holiday or birthday might be the last one. It looks like praying for your loved one to live while feeling guilty that in order for your request to be granted, someone else’s must be rejected. Somewhere, one day, if my dad gets his liver transplant, it will be because somewhere there’s a mother who prayed her child would survive a car accident and it didn’t happen, or some other equally horrible circumstance. I have been the one who prayed for their parent to live, sitting in the little gray room when the doctor and the house supervisor come to inform you that in spite of their best efforts, your person could not be saved. And now, by hoping against hope for my dad to survive, I am wishing that horror on someone else. 

And that brings us to another fear. The way that my dad gets the organ he needs to save his life is through a huge, complicated surgery. Infinitely more complex than the procedure that caused my mother’s death. So there’s that.

And while we’re waiting on this life saving surgery, let’s not forget about the constant fear that he will fall and die of a brain bleed because he has like 4 platelets in his whole body. Or the concern that his muscles are becoming so weak he might not be able to take care of himself, but he doesn’t want help so he’s determined to take care of himself. Or the worry that he will catch COVID 19 or some other illness before he ever gets to transplant day. But for today, since I can’t change any of this and neither can he, we choose to pass our hospital day watching Ghostbusters (1984, not Melissa McCarthy). 

During all of this, there are still kids who need taken care of, marriage to work on, jobs to be worked, groceries to be bought, birthdays to plan and celebrate. All the things that go with life, which is in addition to the fresh grief of the past 2 years. 

Don’t get me wrong. I haven’t given up, and neither has my dad or the rest of my family. We band together and take care of each other, and we try to stay positive all the while fearing the worst and hoping for the best. As My Friend recently told me, “It’s all about perspective. You can’t just obsess about the now. You have to picture the 6 months from now, where you’ll be and how much different that will look.”

Photo by Ryanniel Masucol on Pexels.com

My problem at the moment is that I can’t see the future. I know that no one can truly see the future, but I used to have some semblance of the future, like where I would be in 2 months or 6 months or one year. Right now I can’t even see tomorrow. It’s like living inside of a tiny dark box, sitting with my knees to my chest with my toes touching the edges of the box and my head maybe an inch from the top, and feeling like it will be that way forever and always. And the thing about the tiny box is that I’m not even sure if it’s suffocating or comforting at this point because the thought of allowing anything else in is just too overwhelming. 

It’s waiting to see if someone will live, while waiting for someone else to die. If you can make that seem normal in your head, I would love to know how, because I am struggling. I’m learning what it means to be pressed but not crushed, persecuted not abandoned, struck down but not destroyed. A month from now, I hope to be telling you a very different story, but this is just where I am for now. Like I’ve said before, honesty isn’t always pretty. Usually it’s not. But  it makes me feel better to get it all out. 

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I Cried in Front of My Kids This Week

I cried in front of my kids this week. It might not seem like a big deal to you, but it’s a big deal to me on a couple of different levels. First, I remember about 10 months ago going to talk to a friend about how trapped I felt in my grief over losing my mom, but how I couldn’t cry to save my life. I would find things to do to take care of people. I would wallow in numbness. I would make sure things got done, and then throw myself into my work, but I couldn’t cry.  

Then I realized that Mary Ann was doing the same thing, and she thought it was good. She said, “Mom, you’re so strong! You’ve been through such hard things and I never see you cry!” She thought it was a badge of honor, but to me it was an eye-opener that I was teaching my kids not to grieve. I was teaching them not to feel, but to instead avoid and bury feelings. I was showing them to refuse to acknowledge loss. It wasn’t something I did intentionally, it was just a protective mechanism— keeping myself at a safe distance from my pain by refusing to actually feel it. 

The other reason it was a big deal is that someone actually saw tears. My tears. Before my mom died, if I cried at all, I tried to do it alone. I just wasn’t comfortable with the vulnerability of someone else seeing it. I needed to maintain this outward facade of strength and dignity and fall apart on my own time. I don’t know why, but I just desperately needed people to think I had it all together. 

So, in this one moment of crying in front of my kids, I decided to feel whatever I was feeling, and to feel it in front of people. Immediately I felt terrible about it. I apologized even, to Mary Ann, and told her I was so sorry, that I should be happier and she shouldn’t have the stress of seeing me upset. There’s a whole chapter in Rachel Hollis’s book about how you have to keep your act together for your kids so they are protected, and here I was blowing it. But Mary Ann says to me, “Mom, happiness is temporary. Joy is permanent. You have to be ready for it, but one day you’ll find your joy.” Then I cried even more because who even raised this kid?

So fast forward to today. Mary Ann was desperate to get out of the house because she is her mother’s child. We turned on the audiobook of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and took a trip to Wal-Mart. She was telling me how anxious she’d been feeling this week, and how emotional, and I told her that she was probably feeding off the anxiety she saw in me. I told her that I was sorry she saw me struggle because I’m the mom and it’s my job to protect her from things like this. I can’t protect her from all the death and sadness she has witnessed in her short life, but she should at least have the benefit of her mother making her feel safe in the midst of so much uncertainty. And once again, she channels her inner middle-aged woman and says, “Mom, it’s not your job to protect me from anything. No one can really protect anyone else from anything for very long anyway. It’s your job to show me how to cope with hard things, and you do that.” Why is it that she understands parenting better than I do?

Anyway, we eventually make it to Wal-Mart to grab bread. One thing. But while we’re there, we stop at the book section because again, she’s her mother’s child, and then she asks if we can get Welch’s sparkling grape juice. “It was mine and Mamaw’s favorite.” So we get some. And then over in the bread section, we find my mom’s idea of the holy grail of junk food. French cheesecake. I can remember being 12 years old and eating this stuff on the beach, or in the living room floor while watching movies, or in the car on the way home from the store because, who was going to stop me?

Christina Yang texted me last week that she was craving it because she too remembers eating cheesecake with my mom every chance we got. Mary Ann sees the cheesecake in the bakery, picks it up, and says, “I think this was a good memory. Sometimes I can’t decide though. “

“I know what you mean,” I say. “Sometimes it hurts to remember, but it also hurts to forget.” 

“That’s exactly what I mean,” she says. “But today it feels good to remember.” 

My kids saw me cry this week. But judging from how Mary Ann is currently winning at life, I think maybe it was OK. Maybe Mary Ann is right, and the bigger victory in parenting is not pretending to be stronger than you are, but rather acknowledging your weakness, and processing it, and living authentically in front of them so that when they reach their own hard things they know how to survive because they saw it in you. I’m taking parenting advice from my ten year old, and I’ve made my peace with it. One day it’ll feel good to remember. 

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Weekly Devotion: Then He Lived

I have been moping. I have been fighting against the things in my life that I don’t like. I have been sulking. In the process, I stumbled across this devotion I wrote a while back, and it was so encouraging to me. It’s from Genesis 9:28. In the HCSB it says “Now Noah lived 350 years after the flood.” 

Probably this is one of the scriptures that we all skip over because it doesn’t seem important, but I am convinced that every word in the Bible is there for a reason, and we just have ask God to show us what that reason is so we can benefit from it. 

I noticed after reading this verse that a similar verse occurs for other people in the Bible. Genesis 5:4 tells us Adam lived 800 years after the birth of Seth. After defeating the Midianites, Gideon went and lived in his house (Judges 8:29). Job lived 140 years after all that he suffered (Job 42:16). And the apostle Paul lived 2 years in his own home after the events recorded in the book of Acts (Acts 28:30). 

Now think about what these people had been through. Noah had lived through years of ridicule while he was building a boat to protect his family from rain no one thought was ever coming, then he survived the flood on a boat filled with animals and family. He started a new life as a vineyard farmer, then was drunk and naked in front of his children. But then he lived. 

Adam lived through the first sin recorded and separation from the most perfect place on earth. He broke perfect fellowship with God. Suffered the death of a child at the hand of another child, then saw the birth of another son. Marriage. Loneliness. Hard work and pain. But then he lived.(Gen 5:4) 

Gideon dealt with fear and being under the oppression of his enemies, then led his people into battle as the underdog and was put on a pedestal he didn’t even deserve by the people God used him to deliver. But then he lived. (Judges 8:29) 

Job lost his health, his wealth, and his children. Then was restored double for his trouble. And then he lived. (Job 42:16) 

Paul started out as a persecutor of Christians who even approves of the stoning of Stephen, then was struck blind to receive his call. He was thrown in prison, beaten. Mistrusted by the original disciples. He stood up to the government leaders. He was shipwrecked. Snake bitten. Constantly traveling and battling and praying and writing and teaching. And then he lived. (Acts 28:30). 

The point is, they lived. It didn’t matter what they did or what they didn’t do. It didn’t matter who they were or who they hurt. It didn’t matter how their faith grew, or how it struggled. Regardless of how good or bad their pasts were, we read about seasons in their lives, but we read that then they lived. 

Jesus said he came to give us life, and not just any life, but life more abundant. Life more abundant isn’t about perfect. It’s about persistence. 

There is life beyond whatever you have experienced so far. But you have to CHOOSE life. Deuteronomy 30:19b tells us “…I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life so that you and your descendants might live.” Whatever you have gone through, whether painful or beautiful, there is more for you. Don’t get caught up in the days past and what could have or should have been. The point is, whatever has happened is done. It’s over. You can’t change it. The glimpse of the lives we see written in the Bible are just that — a glimpse. The good the bad and the ugly— they’re all just a PART of the lives these people had. Not their whole lives. 

So let people talk. They might know stories about you, but they don’t know your whole story. Noah had a story too. But then he lived. 

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Grief, Fear, and New Beginnings

This week I had some things to do, exploring new opportunities, trying to figure out what I’m going to be when I grow up, or maybe more accurately, who I’m going to be when I grow up. When I’m on the verge of something new, there’s always this double-edged sword that sticks itself straight through my chest: excitement and possibility on one side, and abject fear on the other. How can it be that something so positive and promising can inspire the same feelings as loss?

In Begin Again, Leeana Tankersley explains it this way: “One of the most genuinely inconvenient truths I know is that often something has to die in order for something new to live, And so when we know— deep down—that something isn’t working, there’s also a part of us that knows what it’s going to take to make the thing work again. Likely, it’s going to take a death…But who in their right mind wants to look death in the eyes? Or at least the possibility of death. It’s hard to think about letting something fall apart, only to put it back together again in a different way.” 

This has been my experience. I was looking through all these old photos on my phone last night, and came across these pictures taken at my wedding. In most of them I look so happy and joyful, until the very last one. Other Half was looking over my shoulder and said something like, “You don’t look quite as happy in this one.” 

In this picture, I was taking one last look at all the family and friends who had gathered to help us celebrate, and getting ready to leave for our honeymoon, and the thought crossed my mind that nothing would ever be the same. I wasn’t the same person anymore. I was someone’s wife now, not just a daughter or friend or niece or grandchild. I had all these new responsibilities and no life experience and I was only 20 years old. I didn’t even clean my room on a regular basis, and now I had a house. I was afraid. I was embarking on this new adventure with this person I love, and it was exactly what I wanted. But it was also the death of life as I knew it, and there was no going back. 

I experienced the same sensation with graduating from college, accepting my first job. Quitting my first job and moving on to my second job. I have experienced real grief and loss over the past 2 years on a larger scale than I would ever have predicted, and during this time I have learned that C.S. Lewis is right. Grief feels a lot like fear. 

When you finally get the thing you thought you thought you wanted, or the new beginning you were forced into without anyone ever consulting you about it, it comes with a price. It comes at the expense of your stability and your predictable patterns. It costs the peace of mind you experienced by having the same pattern of behavior day in, day out, for days and months and years. You pay in the energy that it takes to paste on a smile everyday and feign excitement, and with the tears no one sees. You pay with deep breaths and anxious thoughts and worry about the future. You pay with the surrendering of everything you loved about your old life— the life that came before this change. 

In A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis writes, “No one ever told me that grief feels so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid, The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.” And then a few chapters later, “…Perhaps, more strictly like suspense. Or like waiting; just hanging about waiting for something to happen. It gives life a permanently provisional feeling. It doesn’t seem worth starting anything. I can’t settle down. I yawn, I fidget, I smoke too much. Up till this I always had too little time. Now there is nothing but time. Almost pure time, empty successiveness.” 

This is the process I go through with every change, minus the smoking. I envy people who are excited by new opportunities and challenges, but to me, the solace of predictability has always been preferable. I like knowing what is coming tomorrow. I like seeing the same people day in, day out. I like knowing who will be there for me and where we will be together, and any threat to this monotony is met with me kicking and screaming, internally begging for mercy and inwardly shouting resentful rantings of having something I loved yet again ripped away.

But this process is important. If I don’t grieve the thing I’m leaving, if I don’t admit the loss, then it will follow me into my new adventures and become another ten pound weight in my pack, slowing down my journey to new places. The fear steals the joy. And almost every time, the things I was afraid of never happens.

Because in the moment all I could feel was loss, it was all I expected to see coming next. I could not wrap my head around the possibility of new life. My grief and my fear of the unknown worked so hard to convince me that what I wanted to happen was never going to manifest that during the period of time when I could have been daydreaming about my future, all positivity was swallowed up by my anxiety and fear of failure and my belief that how badly I wanted something was inversely proportional to my probability of getting it and how many things could go so very wrong.

For the longest time, I thought that by refusing to grieve— whether a death or some other type of change in my life— that I was proving how strong I was. “Look at me,” I would think. “This didn’t bother me. I’m strong. I can handle anything. I don’t need this. I am perfectly capable of starting over on my own and screw everyone. I got this.” Usually these thoughts are accompanied by an impolite hand gesture, a head held high, and a heart that was racing. What I realized after many years of living that way, though, is that I was proving to myself how strong I was by refusing to let go of a single brick I carried until, eventually, I crumpled under the weight. And the only path to healing was to baptize myself in the tears I refused to shed when I should have.

A few years ago, I did this Bible study on Esther by Beth Moore, and I wrote down my favorite quote as a reminder to myself that the fact that I hate these changes so much is likely a harbinger of the number of them that I will face in my lifetime. It says, “Accept that you are not called to an easy life. You are called to a purposeful life, Making the decisions you think will kill you, then watching as the miracle causes ‘Who knows?’ To become ‘I know.’”

I have seen this again and again. Every fear faced leads to growth and maybe even eventually joy. It leads to new experiences, and learning what I’m capable of, and growing my faith. But it’s not free. And every single time, it is preceded by crippling anxiety and fear that grips my heart, convincing me that nothing will ever be the same. That my life is over. That I will never get what I want or have any stability again. It blinds me to the possibilities and limits my vision to only the 4 walls of fear closing in on me. “What if nothing is ever right again? What if your best days are behind you? What if there is only failure and loneliness and longing for a past that you can never get back. What if you spend the rest of your life desperately wishing for this one thing you can never have again?” 

But then something amazing happens. One foot in front of the other, one deep breath at a time, one more morning waking up thinking I don’t know how I’ll make it through the day except that I do, and then a few months later I realize that my breathing is relaxed. My posture has changed. I don’t feel that tension in my shoulders anymore. My chest doesn’t feel like it’s going to explode every time I think of those people or that place. And I realize, I like where I am, and all the fear and uncertainty were worth it to get me to the place I needed to be. And I figure out that fear doesn’t get to have the last word in my life. I can rest in the sovereignty of God. 

So that’s where I am. Balancing on the edge of a double edged sword, anxiety-ridden but ready, and hoping when I jump off the end and fall, I’ll land in a fountain of peace to recharge for the next leg of the journey. It feels terrible, in case you’re wondering, but it won’t feel that way forever. For me, or for you. Feel the fear, but don’t wallow in it. Shed the tears, and let them wipe your slate clean. On the other side of this death, there is new life. You’re just in the middle of the process, and no one likes the middle. But the end? The end is worth it. 

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Ramblings of an Anxious Mind

The water is moving faster today, lake currents driven by the wind and the temperature change and the recent rainfall that we thought might drown us all. It was comforting to me. Comforting to see a visual depiction of how I feel. On the outside, I go to work and I come home and I care for my family and I talk to friends (only 2, but they count), and I look like a normal person. But on the inside I am this water, last week calm and steady, this week rushing and choppy, but trapped by the shores and unable to escape.

My chest hurts and my thoughts race and I want to run, but the running would use up the energy I have left. I see these trees and they’re swaying and bending, but they’re surviving, and I guess that’s a picture of me too. Thank God for strong root systems, right?

I’m just so tired. Tired of figuring out what to do next or which way to go. Tired of missing my mother. Tired of feeling like I’m barely holding it together. Tired of seeing my kids struggle. Tired of watching my dad suffer. Just. So. Tired. But what are the options here? Give up? I would lose all respect for myself. So I keep going, going, going. Some days it feels like I might even be doing a respectable job. Days like today though, remind me I am human.

I talked to my therapist about it, and about how I used to worry that things would never get better, but now I worry that things will get better, and I’ll actually be content, and then the bottom will fall out and loss will hit again, and the pain will come again, and I’ll be sorry that I allowed myself to feel happy because I’m not sure it’s worth the grief that follows. She told me that sounds a lot like fear is running the show. So today I’m thinking about that, and I decided she’s right. It’s absolutely fear talking. And since I’ve had so much experience lately with the things I’m afraid of actually happening, I’ve convinced myself that this is the pattern for the rest of my life.

I’ve struggled with fear for as long as I can remember. Fear leads to this need to either isolate or hold on too tightly, to run or to hide, to micromanage or to throw my hands up and stop trying. I wondered how many of the decisions I’ve made up until this point have been driven by fear, and I think the number might be a little higher than I’d like. Fear of losing someone or something. Fear of being alone. Fear of failure. Fear of being seen for who I am and having someone find me lacking. It’s exhausting.

So today, watching these currents, I decided to stop making decisions based out of fear. It is not serving me or my family or my needs. It is not healing my grief or encouraging my spirit. The point of the currents, whether fast or slow, is not their speed. The point is that they are moving. Changes are happening below the surface. Movement is being made. And it’s beautiful. It doesn’t matter if it’s peaceful or chaotic. It matters that there’s no stagnation. And all of the sudden, the wind is calm.

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Marco Polo

When I was a kid, there was never any question of whether or not I would have someone to play with, or something to do on the weekends. The reason for this? I have an unusual number of cousins. Especially in the summer, every Saturday we knew we would either be at Carowinds or going swimming. Then on Sunday there would be church and lunch at Mamaw’s house, and then usually more time with the cousins after lunch. The one closest to my age, affectionately known as Grace because she has the spiritual gift of getting hurt all the time, even if all she’s doing is walking on a flat surface, was usually the one responsible for playing with me in the pool while the older cousins and aunt’s stayed out of our zone of splash and worked on their melanoma with baby oil and SPF 4.

Sometimes we held competitions for who could hold their breath the longest, or we did flips and tricks off the diving board, or we tried to do handstands under the water. We competed to see who could touch “the bottom of the deep end.” We built little houses out of pool floats. We pretended we were Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen and did concerts from the side of the pool. We did impressions of people from church (sorry, we did, and we thought it was hilarious). We played chicken but only when adults weren’t watching to warn us that we would crack our skulls on the side of the pool and have to go to the hospital, thereby ruining the pool day. We ate Doritos and ham sandwiches and pizza and got splinters in our feet from running on the deck. But no matter how many ways we passed the time, there always came the point where we ran out of ideas and fell back on our old standby: Marco Polo. 

Just in case your childhood was more interesting than mine, and you had better games to play so you never relied on this one, Marco Polo was the game where one person in the pool had to keep their eyes closed or was blindfolded, and all the other people would scatter wherever they could, and the blindfolded person would call out, “Marco!” And then the rest of us would answer, “Polo!” And they had to find us based purely on the sound of our voice. If Marco tagged you, then you were the new Marco and they became a Polo. I truly have no idea why, but I loved this game. 

Yesterday I had to go shopping for some “adult clothes” I need for next week, and I ended up getting separated from Other Half in the South Park Mall Dillards. He called me to see where I was, and the conversation went like this: 

“Where are you?”

“Calvin Klein,” I said. 

“I’m in Calvin Klein and I don’t see you anywhere. What signs do you see around you?”

“One that says Calvin Klein. And if I turn the other way, one that says Jones New York.”

Silence. Then, “Well there must be more than one Calvin Klein section because I don’t see you anywhere.”

“Want to play Marco Polo?”

“Marco!”

“Polo!”

And you know what? He found me. Right in front of this super cute but way too small gray pantsuit with a Carolina blue sleeveless shirt. We finished what we needed to do, got some dinner, then went back to buy some “just in case the first one doesn’t work” outfits because, for reasons I don’t understand and God will have to make clear when I get to heaven, you can’t get COVID from shopping in the mall as long as you have a mask on, but you can get it if you set foot in a dressing room, so it’s better to spend $900 on all the contingency plans, then drive 45 minutes back to the mall and return all the rejects. Not that I’m bitter. 

I have a point, I promise. It occurred to me that right now, I am unsettled. In the past, I’ve always had some type of contingency plan, and with life being what it is at the moment, I’m flying by the seat of my pants. I read this book by Jentezen Franklin called, “Right People, Right Place, Right Plan,” and he says, “God’s plan for your life will come (often) through unexpected events that force you in a direction you would never have gone.” He goes on to talk about how, in order for you to make the necessary changes in your life, your misery has to outweigh your level of comfort, otherwise you will stick with the known even if the unknown is calling and the known is no longer serving you. He’s absolutely right, at least as far as I’m concerned.

I used to have a clear vision. I used to know what was coming next. But now, every day feels like a game of Marco Polo. I can’t see my hand in front of my face. I have no idea what’s lurking around the next corner. I make these decisions, day in and day out that seem trivial, but are they? Or am I one questionable judgement away from utter, irreparable chaos? Before my mom died, I had a sort of tentative trajectory. “Well, in 6 months, we can schedule that Disney trip. In 3 months, we should be ready to think about remodeling the bathroom. In 2 years, I should be able to apply for this or that certification professionally.” Then the rug was pulled out from under me, and I discovered how ridiculous this all is. We have zero percent control over what’s happening tomorrow, much less in 3 months or 6 months. Sometimes Other Half calls me in the afternoon to talk about what we should do for dinner so we have a plan in place to prevent the inevitable argument where I tell him a 10 minute intervals until 8 pm that I don’t know what I want, and I’m so overwhelmed by the thought of this small decision that I just say, “Look, I don’t even know what I’m doing an hour from now. Whatever you decide is fine.” 

I have no freaking clue where I am, or what I’m doing. I’m operating on the advice of Luke, the disciple, who decided to write the gospel bearing his name because, “…it seemed good also to me.” That’s it. That’s my master plan for life right now. Apply for that job? Seems like a good idea to me. Go to Paco’s Tacos for dinner? Seems like a good idea to me. Let Mary Ann get her hair streaked blue/purple/teal or let Benjamin Button stay up all night playing video games on a weekend night? Seems like a good idea to me. These decisions are my “Marco!” 

And then I sit on my hands, desperately trying not to mess anything up, while I wait for the “Polo!”

Last week, on the anniversary of my mom’s death, a friend at work brought me a book of poetry called, “All Along You were Blooming” by Morgan Harper Nichols. My favorite poem so far is about uncertainty, and how some days you feel like you’re scared of everything, but it’s OK to go afraid. Right now, I go afraid.

I’m waiting for a lot of Polo’s at this stage of my life. I don’t like it. It feels terrible actually. It feels like instead of swimming in the water, I’m trying to walk on it, one tentative step at a time. But a year ago, I never would’ve had the faith or ambition to try, so maybe it’s good for me. If you’re in TJ Maxx later and you hear a crazy woman yelling “Marco!” Don’t panic. It’s just me. I need a back up for my back up shirt, and I’m holding on by a rapidly fraying thread. But I feel alive, and that’s got to count for something. 

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Dark Days and Last Words

There’s an episode of Gilmore Girls where one day, Luke just goes missing for a day, and Lorelai was looking for him everywhere, trying to figure out where he was hiding, and finally she discovers that he is having a “dark day.” The day every year when he stops living his normal life because it’s the anniversary of his father’s death, and he takes the day for himself to grieve or go fishing or whatever feels like life will suck less. Well friends, today is my dark day, only I didn’t have the foresight to take off of work, so I’m having a dark day where I pretend to be normal.

One year ago today, I was at a hospital in Charlotte, waiting for news on how my mom did during her nephrectomy. And then she was doing fine. I saw her, and talked to her, and made plans to bring back whatever she thought she could drink on her clear liquid diet later that night. I hugged her and said, “Look, we survived now. Don’t do anything stupid like throw a clot. We’ve suffered enough already.” And then Other Half and I left so we could get some food, pack my bag, and bring me back later to spend the night with her. And then my dad called and said something was very, very wrong, and by 5 pm, my mom was gone.

I have learned all the things about grieving this year, it seems. I have been the angry girl, and the sad girl, and back to the angry girl for a long stretch of time, and maybe I’m finally leaning towards acceptance? Who can really tell. The stages of grief are more merry-go-round and less stairs so I’m afraid to commit to a trajectory. There are some lessons that are set in stone though, one of which I found on Monday while reading Anne Lamott’s “Stitches.”  She’s writing about any number of hard things, not limited to grief over death and loss, but her words resonated with me so much. 

She says, “So when hardships and terror appear in our lives, we first ask “Why?” I usually add, “Would it have been so much skin off Your teeth to cut us some slack here?” But then I remember that “Why?” Is rarely a useful question. After that, we ask, in a cry from our hearts; What on earth are we supposed to do? It’s perfectly rational to expect or hope for an answer from God—I’ve never thought Job was being unreasonable. I personally would like more stuff around here to make sense. But when something ghastly happens, it is not helpful to many people if you say that it’s all part of God’s perfect plan, or that it’s for the highest good of every person in the drama, or that more will be revealed, even if that is all true. Because at least for me, if someone’s cute position minimizes the crucifixion, it’s bullshit. Which I say with love.” 

This sums up my experience nicely, profanity and all. Here’s the thing: when people are grieving, other people don’t always know what to do, so they just try. They try by bringing food, and through phone calls, and through cards and hugs and anything else they can think of. They do that because it’s all they can do, because something horrible has happened and they can’t make it unhappen, so they just do whatever thing is in front of them to show the grieving person that they are not alone. My friends from work spent hours making white chicken chili. They brought Starbucks. They stood in line for hours to give hugs to my family. And Christina Yang held my hand and tried to help distract Mary Ann with play dates. Other Half kept things running smoothly with funeral plans and tried to do literally anything that would keep me from feeling as lost and broken as he had felt just a year before when he lost his dad. There’s a list of people a mile long that have helped to drag my family through this loss, and I want to say to them, “Thank you. You tried to make my year and my family’s year suck less. And I can never repay you.” 

Because this is a depressing blog, and something about this needs to be happy, I leave you with something I discovered Sunday night. Mary Ann wanted to borrow one of my old cell phones to use on WiFi, so I charged it and when it fired up, my last text message thread from my mom was near the top. I haven’t looked at any of these messages in probably 10 months because it just sounded so painful to do that. Anyway, apparently she sent me the last text message she would ever send shortly after I had given her a lecture about why she couldn’t just suck it up and drink her bowel prep stuff to prepare for the surgery. She could be so childlike about things like that. Anyway, I finally got a text that said, “I’m pooping.” I’ve polled my family members, and Christina Yang. The consensus is that if she knew that was going to be the last text she sent, she would’ve kept it that way, just so I would laugh when I saw it a year later, because that’s who she was. Love you Mom. You were one of a kind, and life will never be the same, but I’m learning. 

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Weekly Devotion: Not Enough? Or Too Many?

Judges 7:1-7

I think right now I’m in a season of time where I’m learning that less is more. I need less money, less stuff, less people, less everything than what I have always believed I needed. But it’s a painful lesson. It’s not a lesson I wanted to learn. It’s one of those things that you learn when you are completely fed up with your life in its current state, and you are ready and willing to make radical changes in order to see a different result. It’s a lesson born out of desperation. There’s the old cliche that says, “When Jesus is all you have, you find out Jesus is all you need,” that I’ve always thought was pretty cheesy, but sometimes these things become a cliche because they’re true. You just have to have your life stripped down to bare bones to see it. 

A lot of the time we think we need more in order to be successful or to even survive— more money, more friendships, more networking, more hours in the day— but that’s not the case here. It’s after God has found Gideon, hiding in a winepress, feeling like the least of the least, and called him a valiant warrior. Then he tears down the idols that were in the way of spiritual victory. And now, he’s at the place where he’s finally on the cusp of fighting the battle that God called him to fight, and instead of hearing that God is going to send him unending resources, God says to him in Judges 7:2, “…You have too many men for me to deliver Midian into their hands.” He goes on to explain that if He allowed victory to come and there was the possibility of man claiming credit, He would not receive the glory. Gideon had this beautiful collection of soldiers— 32,000 men— and was probably feeling like he stood a fighting chance. But then God says, “Nope, that’s too many.”

So in obedience, Gideon tells the men if they are afraid, they should go home. 22,000 men left. Packed up and went home. And he was left with 10,000. At this point, he was probably maybe a little anxious, but not entirely hopeless. But again God says to him, “There are still too many men. Take the men down to the water and I will sift them for you there.” If I were Gideon, I think I might’ve been tempted to tell God, “No thanks, I prefer them unsifted. Thanks for offering.” But he didn’t do that. He went down to the water as instructed, and he watched as man after man was sent home and he was left with 300 men. And then verse 7 says, “…with the 300 men who lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hands.” 

When he was down to the bare minimum, God was ready to move. Nowhere here is anything mentioned that Gideon showed anything other than obedience. And he knew what was coming. He knew he was going to lose people. Every time God instructed him to do something in these verses, it was for the purpose of whittling him down from the huge army to less and less, and he didn’t resist. He trusted. He knew that the process was worth the outcome. Would I have had that kind of faith? If I had known that to get to the point where I am now, I would have to lose a parent? A grandparent? An in-law? Friendships? Stability? A sense of security and predictability? Would I have had the courage to follow Him? I wish I could say yes, but I really don’t know. For sure I would’ve asked a ton of questions first, and that’s the bare minimum.

During this time where I have been sifted and lost people and security and even faith at times, I have been angry. I have questioned. I have complained. Until finally, I admitted as the psalmist in Psalm 73:21-24, “When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant. I was a brute beast before you, yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” 

If you are on the losing end today, I want to encourage you that it is not a sign of your downfall. It’s a sign that you are almost to the place where God can deliver you without you trying to prove you did it all yourself. You are poised to see who you are, and who He is, and what He can do.

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Weekly Devotion: Having Nothing, Having It All

Reading: 2 Corinthians 6:4-10, 4:8-10

I’m usually a peaceful person. Not because I’m some shining example of holiness and righteousness, but rather because I hate conflict. I hate wondering what someone is thinking of me, or the instant remorse that comes from wishing I had somehow avoided hurting another person. I hate trying to calculate the best offense or defense, or expending mental energy that is so hard to come by. I just want things to be stable, like a raft floating down the river on a sunny calm day. I hate rapids and waterfalls and unexpected boulders in the way. But sometimes I can’t dodge them. Sometimes I hit them head on, and it never fails to make my chest feel tight and my thoughts race. And then all my energy is focused on this one crisis until I’m just too tired. Tired of being pushed around, either physically or mentally or spiritually or relationally. Things interfere with my quality of life and hold me captive in spite of my best efforts. 

Most of the time, when this kind of thing happens to me, I assume that this is just the way things are. I mean, life wouldn’t be life if there were no periods of stress or hurt or anxiety. As long as these episodes are limited to a few hours or days, I can pretend that my life is a sitcom, and at the end of this little charade I’ll see a positive resolution. What happens though, when these issues go on for days and weeks and months? When you are exhausted mentally and emotionally, and medicine isn’t working and counseling isn’t working, and prayer doesn’t feel like it’s even working? When you are tempted to throw up your hands and say, “That’s it! I’m done! I can’t take not one more thing going wrong in my life!”

I’ve come to realize that this is the hallmark of a spiritual attack designed to distract you from fulfilling the purpose God has for you. It doesn’t matter if you’re the best Christian in the world, there are times when you get to the end of yourself and you have had enough. You’re empty. There’s nothing left to say, nothing left to give, and almost nothing left to hurt. There’s a point where you’ve been hurt again and again, so many times that you’re finally numb because your mind and your heart shut down, unable to bear the brunt of one more attack. This is the point where we finally understand what it means to be weary. Not tired, not just fed up, not merely at our wits end, but truly weary. Times when you feel like walking away, only you can’t because your children need you, or your parents need you, or your spouse needs you, and if you gave up right now it would just confirm the very thing that the enemy keeps telling you over and over, “You’re a failure. See? I told you so. I told you that you couldn’t survive this.” 

It’s at this point God reminds us in 2 Corinthians 6:4-10 that we are not alone in feeling this way. The apostle Paul is reminding us that people are watching us as citizens of the kingdom of God to see how we will respond. My first reaction to this knowledge was to get angry. “What do I care?” I thought. “They’re not helping me anyway. They have no idea how bad things are going for me right now. I don’t have a single ounce of energy left to be worried about their opinion.” But the verses aren’t referring to the opinions of other people. They are referring to the identity of God as it becomes displayed in us. When we are, “…beaten within an inch of our lives but refusing to die; immersed in tears, yet always filled with deep joy; living on handouts, yet enriching many, having nothing, having it all.” 

When you are this level of exhausted, a spiritual platitude is not going to transform your mind. But a spiritual truth? That’s a powerful weapon when wielded the way God intended. And the truth is that no matter how tired you are, you cannot give up. Not now. Not while your children are watching. Not while you’re in this narrow tunnel with the end of this trial coming sooner than you would ever believe. Do not allow yourself to be defeated. Find comfort in the knowledge that you might feel like you have nothing, but you possess everything. That’s why you haven’t given up yet. Because somewhere deep on the inside of you, the Spirit of the Most High God is nudging you forward and you cannot be stopped. You are pressed but you are not crushed. You are persecuted but you are not abandoned. You are struck down, but you’re not destroyed. You’re carrying around the death of Jesus inside of you, yes, but also His life. And because of that, you might feel like you have nothing, but you do indeed possess everything. One step at a time, Sweet Friend. You’re tired, but you’re going to make it. You might feel like you have nothing, but hang on. You have it all.

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What do you want to be when you grow up?

Here’s something I’ve never understood: Why are we so obsessed with asking kids, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Seriously. Have you ever thought about that? Favorite color— sure. Favorite cartoon— absolutely. Favorite parent— doesn’t instill great social sensitivity skills, but I’ll allow it. But why do we ask them what they want to be when they grow up? 

I remember when I was in kindergarten already saying I wanted to be a teacher or an author. So far, I’m neither. And even in kindergarten, I was already cautious enough not to say I wanted to be a ballerina or an astronaut. Even at that age I was so desperately worried about rejection and humiliation that I preferred to keep my dreams a little more down to earth. When it was time for me to actually decide what I wanted to do with my life, the decision boiled down to a truly great science teacher who figured out how to incorporate episodes of CSI into anatomy and physiology class. This is what convinced me to go into nursing at all. 

So I did bedside nursing for a while, then public health nursing, then graduate school. I eventually got everything I ever wanted professionally. The seemingly perfect niche. Yet the one thing that sticks out in my mind when I was at the beginning of my college education was how terrified I was that I was making a huge mistake. How unrealistic it seemed to me to take someone who is 18 years old and ask them what they envision for their life for the next 40 years when they possess zero life experience, an underdeveloped frontal lobe, and not one half of one clue what their identity is in this world. And then we ask them to spend thousands of dollars and hours of their lives they will never get back to achieve this arbitrary goal that they maybe don’t even understand. Who decided that this is the right way to do things? I can honestly say that every educational experience I’ve had in my life has been valuable, but the value is in the experience itself, not the end goal it was propelling me towards.

I asked Mary Ann and Benjamin Button (both within the past couple of weeks) what they wanted to be when they grow up. Mary Ann has a whole list ranging from an interior designer to a scientist to a baker. Benjamin Button mostly felt like he must be somehow lagging behind the rest of his age group because he had no idea yet. This made me feel terrible because there’s enough pressure in life already without me making my kids feel somehow less-than for not having their futures carefully mapped out like the yellow brick road. I reassured them both that, yes, you can be whatever you want, and you’re smart enough and special enough to be anything. But on the inside, I was secretly relieved. 

Thank God they have no idea what they want to be. Thank God their path is wide open. I mean, I chose this path at 18, and it has been good for me. It has taught me about how to care for other people, show compassion, relieve suffering. But it’s such heavy responsibility. People who exist outside of healthcare have no frame of reference for the weight that those of us inside healthcare carry on our shoulders every day. The wondering if we can do enough, be enough, try enough to protect the rest of the world from death. If, on a personal level, we are inadequate to do what needs to be done and know what needs to be known and learn what needs to be learned. How we lay awake at night praying for people who are suffering using energy that we siphon from our own families. 

I remember thinking recently, while in the drive-thru line at Starbucks, “Why didn’t I just go to work there? That woman looks so happy. She’s smiling. She can leave her job and go home and not worry that anyone is dying or suffering. She can live her life and enjoy it.” I’ve had similar thoughts about the cashier at TJ Maxx, the car salesman who sold me my Jeep, the chef at the farm-to-table restaurant I love so much. Don’t get me wrong— I’m more than aware that every job has its own unique stressors, and the grass always looks greener on the other side. Adults in (I’m guessing) every single field have had the same thoughts I have just expressed,  but that only goes to prove my original point. What I realized is that here I am asking my kids what they want to be when they grow up, while I’m trying to figure out how to un-become what I am. 

So I decided that this is not a realistic question. Why do we think we can can or should pressure our kids into making such an enormous choice so early in their lives when, if most of us are honest, we can’t even answer the question? I’m twelve years into a career that I have both loved and hated, and still something in the back of my mind whispers, “Wonder if there’s something out there that would be better for your soul?” 

Here’s what I’m saying— let your littles be little. Ask them about their dreams? Absolutely. But maybe ask them just that— what are your dreams? What if, when you were a kid, someone had asked you that? Would it have changed what you decided to do with your life? Would it have made you feel more free to pursue the things that aren’t as reliable financially, but make your spirit feel free? I’m starting to ask myself these questions. I’m giving myself permission to reinvent myself. I’m daring to imagine that there can be more to life than survival; there can be joy and purpose and a sense of satisfaction at the end of the day that has nothing to do with societal expectations. I want that for you too. Whatever you turned out to “be”, you can still dream. What are your dreams? It’s not too late to ask yourself. That’s where you should start. With you. Let the kids enjoy their innocence. There will be plenty of time for them to figure out what they want to be when they grow up. For now, just let them be imaginative, and compassionate, and kind. If we let them start with that, everything else that flows out of them will be just fine. 

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Weekly Devotion: Consuming Fire

Reading: Exodus 24:17

When I was growing up, and even as an adult, my mom was my hero. She always seemed to know exactly what to do. In life I’m learning there are varying degrees of strong, and there are different types of strong, and each one is unique and significant. Some people’s strong comes from a sense of confidence, or an analytical mind that sees ways to solve problems. My mom’s strong came through adversity and persistence. I remember being equal parts proud of her and hoping to be just like her, and terrified of what I would have to go through myself to be like her. What people who benefit from the spiritual strength of others fail to realize is that strength is not free. There’s a price to knowing how to navigate life’s hardest events. There’s a price to knowing how to pray for someone because you’ve already been through what they’re going through. The anointing is not free. 

I read this verse this week, and it reminded me a little of my mom. Exodus 24:17 says, “To the Israelites the glory of the Lord looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain.” 

Here’s some background on what this verse was referring to: Moses had been instructed by God to come alone and approach the Lord while the elders of Israel worshipped at a distance. It was during this encounter that Moses would receive instructions on the construction of the tabernacle, the Ark of the Covenant, the priestly garments, the consecration of the priest, the 10 commandments— all the things that the people would need in order to have God come down and live among them. But it was something he alone was called to do. Other people could pray for him, and they could surround him from a distance, and they could watch, but they could not go for him. And so he went, and Exodus 24 says that for 6 days, the Lord spoke to Moses from a cloud surrounding Mt. Sinai, and then on the seventh day he was invited into the cloud, and he stayed there for 40 days and 40 nights. During this time God spoke to him. 

I read this and I’m amazed that someone could speak one on one with God in that kind of way, but think about it from the perspective of the Elders who were waiting some distance away. Moses is in this cloud, and he’s talking to God, and he’s having this incredible experience that he could only have by being obedient to his calling. But to everyone else, the mountain appeared to be a consuming fire. The Message translation says, “In the view of the Israelites below, the Glory of God looked like a raging fire at the top of the mountain.” 

This was the same experience— from Moses’ side as well as from the Israelites, the same thing was happening. God was speaking to Moses. But the appearance from each side was completely different. Moses knew he was talking to God. The people watching saw only fire. They saw only waiting. He was in the cloud 40 days according to the scriptures. These bystanders watched a mountain burn with their friend standing on the top for 40 days. I wonder if they thought he was gone forever. I wonder if they thought he was destroyed. But he wasn’t. He was having one of the most incredible encounters with God recorded in all of scripture. 

And so it was with my mother. And apparently so it is to be with me. The whole world appears to be on fire, and even I myself wonder sometimes if I will be consumed, and the people around me (at least those I trust enough to be completely honest with) probably wonder if I will survive the obstacles that have been placed in my path. But the truth is that I’m encountering God in a way that I haven’t before. Maybe in a way that I couldn’t. It’s costing me something. Maybe it’s costing me everything. But I can’t help but think it’s worth it, and now my mom is even more my hero because I get it. I know how she got the level of strong that she got. And she’d tell you it’s worth it too. If your mountain is on fire, sit and listen. See if maybe God is inviting you into the glory. What other people think is going to burn you up is an invitation to communion with the Father. —Amanda 

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The Fierce Urgency of Now

I was listening to a podcast this morning by Dharius Daniels with Change Church, and he mentioned this quote I loved by Martin Luther King, Jr: “We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now.” It grabbed my attention because it captures everything I’m feeling yet powerless to achieve, and because I’m a sucker for the beauty of words and ideas eloquently expressed and because it brings a sense of being less alone into the struggles that feel so isolating. Words like these remind us that we aren’t experiencing anything that can be so unique that we’re completely misunderstood. Someone, somewhere, at some point in the past just gets it. 

Thanks to the magical powers of Google, I found the speech containing this particular quote which was “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence.” He was speaking to a congregation in April 1967 about the controversies surrounding his views on the Vietnam War. Although the speech was for this specific moment in history, there was a whole section in it that speaks to my own personal history and where I feel like I’m standing right now. Here’s that part:

(Not my photo. Photo Credit: Howard Sochurek/The LIFE picture)

“We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked and dejected with a lost opportunity. The ‘tide in the affairs of men’ does not remain at the flood, it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause her passage, but time is deaf to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residue of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words, ‘Too late.’ There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect—‘The moving finger writes and having writ moves on,’…Now let us begin…Shall we say the odds are too great? Shall we tell them all the struggle is too hard?…Or will there be another message, of longing, of hope, of solidarity with their yearnings, of commitment to their cause, whatever the cost?” (Link to full document here http://inside.sfuhs.org/dept/history/US_History_reader/Chapter14/MLKriverside.htm)

Now, these comments were not about any mundane day to day experience. They were about something big and controversial. There are situations in our country and our society which can definitely benefit from reading these words, and the fact that I can apply them to my daily life might make me incredibly self-centered, but here we are. I have been able to now officially put a description to the storm going on inside my head. I am feeling the fierce urgency of now. 

Somehow, I have gone from accepting contentment with business as usual to feeling like I need to tear it down and start over from scratch. I have ideas for so many things, and I have plans, and none of them are things that can be quickly accomplished. They are process kinds of things. They are empires to be built, not simple construction projects. There are all these rational explanations for why now isn’t a good time and why things need to wait and they are valid. But while I understand that on an intellectual level, my soul rejects reason entirely. In my soul beats a drum called the urgency of now. I feel like I cannot tolerate standing still. 

Photo by Josh Hild on Pexels.com

I cannot continue to live in a life that brings me no joy. I cannot continue to wait for things to work themselves out rather than take charge of the things I can change. I cannot sit on my hands and wait because it makes me feel suffocated and trapped and desperate to run, and the only way I can feel free is to bang against these walls that are closing in on me and refuse to be confined. I want my children to see that and know it and learn it by my example. I want them to realize that we are not prisoners of circumstance, and that sometimes taking chances is the only way to feel alive. Underneath all of this epiphany, reality looms and threatens to squash my forward motion, but I think I’m too far gone, and I think I’m too determined, and I think I understand what he meant by the fierce urgency of now. The odds are great, and the struggle is hard, but the threat of “too late” is more threatening than the risk of failure. Tomorrow is today, and it’s time to get started. 

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Big Picture, Small Picture

I’m struggling with perspective. You know those pictures people make, like of the United States, or the face of the nurse that has gone viral, but it’s made up of hundreds of individual photos of people? The big picture is part of a lot of small pictures. I’ve always thought I was a big picture person. When my kids fight with each other, or Other Half is freaking out about something, sometimes I ask, “Is this going to matter in ten years?” Usually the answer is no, and the point is made— let the little things go. Other days I’m not so good at that. 

Mary Ann and I were watching the preview of “Always and Forever, Lara Jean” on Netflix and she says to me, “I don’t care what kind of drama they stir up in the previews. We all know they’ll end up together in the end.” That’s a big picture kind of thinking. I like to believe that everything in life is going to work out and be tied up neatly with a bow, and some days I’m able to. But some days I’m just really not. 

When I’ve worried about things in the past, my mom would give me a hug and say, “Well, you’re wasting worry. It’ll either all work out. Or it won’t. That’s the only two options.” She meant it to be funny, but it was so honest to how I felt. That’s the kind of day today has been. 

Over the past year or two, I’ve told myself over and over, “It’s going to be fine. You’ll heal from all this.” First as we lost a Pappy and then a Papaw and then an Uncle and then a Mamaw. And then a Mom. As the kids gave up their school routine and traded it in for Zoom meetings. As Other Half went from working full time to being with the kids so they would be safe. And through all of this there have been big picture days where I understood this was just a tough year, and things would get better— that my family would heal and we would come back stronger than ever. Days that I believe my dad will get better and life will feel like an extravagant new beginning rather than one long goodbye. 

And there have been small picture days where I lived moment to moment, convinced that things would never get better and my heart would be broken forever and that I would be broken forever there was nothing I could do but accept the fact that sometimes bad things happen and we have to suck it up and move on. 

Over the weekend I was having a string of big picture days. Today I’m having a small picture day. I hate it and it makes me feel emotional and weak and like not enough, but it also builds things into me that can’t come any other way. Things like an appreciation for true friendship, or how it feels to see the kids getting along for five minutes even if it’s only to watch TV. Or a realization of priorities and how good it feels to get them back in order. Or how sometimes the best medicine is watching Gilmore Girls re-runs so you can pretend you’re 16 again and have no responsibilities. 

The big picture is that things have a way of working themselves out, and learning to have faith in that is the whole point of everything. The small picture is that today is not the day that happens. Both pictures are part of my story. Both have value. The things that seem like they might consume me now are really just the small picture, but they are the things in front of me, the things that I need to address today so that I can have a better tomorrow. One thing I’ve learned as an avid emotional runner is that avoiding the small picture doesn’t get you through your grief any faster. Big picture living without appreciating the nuance of ordinary days is a life only half-lived. We have to embrace it all— the terror and the pain and the sorrow and the joy and the anger and the uncertainty. The days that feel like a dream come true, and the days that feel like you have a gaping hole in your chest that you are almost certain you will fall into, never to be seen whole again. 

But here’s the thing—the days when your thoughts are racing and you feel hopeless and lost and alone are small picture days, but your big picture days will be infinitely more satisfying if you take the time to let the small picture days build into you the things you never wanted to learn. Things like resilience and loyalty, hope and contentment. Today is a small picture day, and I’m going to soak it up and wring out every drop from it that I can, because I’m tired of hiding and I’m tired of pretending and I know the only way to get to the big picture is to cobble together a bunch of these small picture days. 

Mary Ann told me tonight that sometimes we have to view pain as a companion, maybe not a friend but more like an organ that has a function to serve to keep us whole. The fact that my kid has suffered— that’s the small picture. The wisdom she surprises me with on a daily basis? Big picture. I might not like how we’re getting where we’re going, but I am loving the glimmers of hope I see along the way. 

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Wings and Waiting

I see a therapist. I love her. To all the people who think therapy is for the weak, you can keep being sad. She gives me perspective and helps me think outside of my narrow field of vision. She doesn’t let me lie to myself. She tells me if I’m being too hard on myself, or if my priorities are out of whack, or if I need to examine something a little more closely. When my mom died, and I was having so much trouble with surviving my life, she suggested that I write psalms. I didn’t want to at first because it sounded a little nuts, but it has been pretty helpful. Sometimes when I start writing them, things come flying onto the paper that I didn’t even know I was thinking. It’s like my side of the prayer comes out, but then I’m reminded of what God says about things too, just like David had to remind himself over and over.


Today I was writing, and I had this image of a bird the was slamming itself against glass, beating its wings over and over, unable to get anywhere. One who so desperately wanted to fly but felt trapped, and was doing such damage to itself that it was hard to figure out if, once the bird was released from the glass, it would actually be able to fly. Maybe the wings would be too damaged. And by the end of the psalm, I had reminded myself of this verse in Isaiah—40:31: “Yet they who wait for the Lord will gain new strength. They will mount up with wings like eagles. They will run and not get tired. They will walk and not become weary.” I was just letting my words wander, and I reminded myself that God promised me I would mount up with wings like eagles, but by the last line of my psalm, I realized that the way that happened was for me to wait.

Because being a nerd is who I am as a person, I looked up the Hebrew word for “Wait” in this context, and it’s a word that means “to bind together by twisting, to expect, to depend on and order things around a future event.” It’s not just the act of sitting and waiting on something to happen. It’s the twisting of threads, as in the process of making a rope. It’s the idea of knowing that the expectation one has is going to come. It’s a sure and definite happening. There’s no set date, but it’s a done deal.


I’m waiting right now. I don’t care for it at all, if you want to know the truth. I am the bird flinging herself against the glass, and God is watching, with a look of compassion in his eyes, trying to get me calm enough to listen to what he said.


“If you wait— allow the stands of all these loose ends to be twisted together— then you will soar,” he says. I’m trying, God. I’m trying. One day I’m really good at it, and I’m hopeful, and I know that I know that things are going to work out. And my wings get a little more still. Other days I’m back to straining against invisible walls. But either way he’s faithful. And either way I’m going to fly.

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Handful of Matches

Towards the end of his life, my father in law got a terrible wound on his ankle. No matter what was done, for months, it would not heal. He saw wound doctors and vascular doctors and infectious disease and orthopedists, and he was close to losing his foot. But then, we took him to another facility for yet another opinion, and they had a new diagnosis. He didn’t have one particular cause for his seemingly terminal condition. He had a lot of them. He didn’t need an infection treated in isolation. He needed an infection treated, plus dead tissue removed so new could grow, plus improvements to his circulation to improve blood flow, plus surgery to reconstruct the skin and muscle tissue he had lost. For six weeks he went through vascular procedures and wound debridement and IV antibiotics and physical therapy. I went to his house twice a day and did what I could, but eventually he ended up staying in the hospital for a full month, had a muscle and skin graft surgery, and he healed. I need to tell you why I think this is what has been happening to me. 

For a long time now, I have been broken. Different ways, for different reasons. Sometimes it was assumed to be from the death of my father-in-law, or my grandpa’s unexpected brain tumor followed shortly by his death, or my grandma’s sudden death walking into her house after being discharge from the hospital. All these traumas are reasons to be broken, right? Then it was, “Well maybe it’s because my dad is sick. I feel protective of him and I need to make sure he gets better and nothing happens to him.” It’s a reason to be broken right? And then came the biggest blow— the death of my mother, completely unexpected as the result of a surgical complication. All the while I’m still mothering, still being a wife, still working full time, starting a blog because that’s what my mom wanted me to do before she died. All of these reasons lead to broken, right?

There’s only one problem. Not a single one of those issues alone have been the thing that needed healed. All of them needed healed. The root issue has not been any specific adversity I have faced. It has been my need for control. I was the kid who cried at school every day because she wanted to be at home. I now recognize that as a need to be near my people, to be vigilant in watching over them so I could make sure they were safe. And then, as the oldest child, I was the one who wanted to make sure my brother and sister were taken care of. And then as a type A over-achiever I went to college and double-majored so that I could have options. I always seem to have a contingency plan. I always need to have my hands all over something, protecting it, nurturing it, convinced that absolutely no one can do it like I can, and that if I don’t do it, and something bad happens, then I will have to live with the guilt and blame. This can be a noble effort at times, but eventually it becomes suffocating. It becomes something that steals the breath from your lungs and leaves you lethargic and exhausted, cheek pressed to the cold floor, mind racing with all the ways you have failed. 

I was so very angry for the longest time. Angry that my family was suffering. Angry that I couldn’t protect them. Angry about a pandemic. Angry that I lost my mother. Angry that my father is sick. Angry that my kids have seen more loss in their short lives than many adults see in decades. Over the past month though, I’ve started to recognize some things in my life are changing, and seeing flickers of my old self along with some newfound courage.

Going back yet again to my favorite book, Begin Again by Leeana Tankersley, I started to hear in my mind, “Burn it down.” This has been chanted in my mind. For the past month I have been re-evaluating my professional ambitions, my mothering, my failures as a wife or a friend, my inadequacies in so many areas, and then something happened that was a direct affront to one of my most prized friendships. And something incredible happened. What should have been, at its outset, a situation which was the final blow of destruction for me, became instead an impetus to change my entire perception of how my life could be.

Before all of this, I needed to protect my stability, the things that I could control. I needed to have or not have certain people, I needed a predictable trajectory professionally. I needed an immediate ten step plan for how to get my dad better. By adding one extra ball up in the air, everything could have fallen apart. At first it was. Then Other Half said to me, “Hey, let’s go out of town. We won’t go far so you can get back to your dad if you need to, but I think you need a break. You’re falling apart.” 

Y’all he took me to the most beautiful place. It was so relaxing, and it felt isolated enough that it was safe and hidden and nothing could get to me there. After the first night, I got up at 6:30 the next morning and went to sit on the porch (not nearly a fancy enough term for what it is) and drank my disgusting black coffee thanks to intermittent fasting, and prayed and read Jentzen Franklin and Oliver Sacks, and wrote for the first time in months, and I started to process what loss has meant to me so far. It had been a gaping hole. A slap in the face. A slide into despair. It made me feel weak and helpless and at the mercy of my circumstances. And because I couldn’t control any of it, I felt like such a failure. But the beautiful thing about failing to control things is that you finally see that you’re not in control. It’s not your responsibility. 

I started brainstorming. I started asking myself what I really wanted. I started asking myself if I was living the life I was living because I enjoyed it and thrived in it and actually wanted it, or if I was living it because it seemed safer than the great unknown. (Spoiler alert: I decided it’s the second one). I felt happy for the first time since my mom died. But on the drive back home, my chest started to get tight, and my mind started to race, and I felt as if I were an animal who had been set free to roam in the jungle but was now being put back in the zoo, trapped behind iron bars for people to walk by and gawk at while they had snacks and bought expensive souvenirs.

“Burn it down,” I thought. 

Everyone looks at me and tells me they think I’m strong because I’ve survived so much. I disagree. I’m not sure I’m strong at all. What I am is fed the hell up. But hell is made of fire, and fire can burn it down. Fire purifies. Fire destroys those things that are not strong enough to stay, and leaves behind the best and purest and strongest elements. Fire sets into place the most vivid colors and patterns. Fire is beautiful. 

When you have lost and lost and lost, and you finally hit rock bottom, and you stop being mad and start to process what the losses mean to you in your new existence, something beautiful happens. Something no one tells you to expect. You feel free. You learn that you can survive. You learn whatever state you are in to be content. You learn that your life does not have to look like you thought it had to look. You have options. When I was a kid and I would be at a sleepover, or a party, or a movie or whatever, my mom would say, “Remember, you’re never stuck anywhere.” This is what I have been learning. I am not stuck. If I don’t like how something looks in my life, I can change it. I don’t have to go the same places and be with the same people and do the same things just because they are comfortable. I am made for more than that. I can dare to imagine a life that looks completely different, and I can take steps to make that happen. 

I’ve been sitting in the stillness, listening (another suggestion from Leeana Tankersley), and one day recently I asked God if my dreams were some manic identity crisis like a kid who wants to be an astronaut when they grow up, or if they were legitimate desires He had placed in my heart, waiting for the moment I would realize that I did not have to be a slave to ambition. And he said to me, “I’ve always loved dreamers. Who do you think is the giver of dreams? And what do you think I meant by abundant life anyway?” 

A woman who has decided to believe God is faithful in spite of the circumstances around her that all seem to show evidence to the contrary is the woman on the verge of a breakthrough. I am more convinced of this than anything I have ever believed in my life. I am standing on the edge and believing I will fly. 

So here’s what I’m saying to you— I am standing smack in the middle of rock bottom and I have a handful of matches and I am so freaking excited. Do with this news what you wish, but if you see a big glow coming from near the NC/SC state-line, don’t worry. It’s just me. I’ve decided to take my life and burn it down. I’m not stuck anywhere. I’m not a slave to a life that has been draining my spirit. 

There is indescribable power in having a husband who believes your crazy ideas might just amount to something, and kids who tell you that binge-watching Netflix counts as quality time, and friends who tell you that you’re better than the chains you have been bound with. There’s freedom in letting go of all the things you thought you couldn’t live without. There’s freedom in saying, “Yeah, no, I’m not afraid anymore. You didn’t give me this freedom and you can’t take it from me.” There’s freedom in having a horrible day, and coming home to see how excited your kid is that he learned to ride his bike, or finding that your daughter’s art talents are growing by the minute, and being thankful for a soft place to land at the end of a brutal day.

Begin Again opens up with a poem by Fr Francis Dorrf : “I’ll know I’ve been raised from the dead when everything becomes a door—every brick wall, every dead end, every Judas friend, everything we see and smell and taste, everything we think and feel and are, every mountain top and valley bottom, every birth and every death, every joy and every pain, every ecstasy and infidelity, when every single thing becomes a door that opens to eternity and we pass through as we could never do before.” I think I’m alive again. Alive and holding a handful of matches.

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Plunge Into the Promise

Setting Up Stones

Reading: Romans 4: 18-25

Here are some things God has promised: that I would lay hands on the sick and they would recover. That I am a Seth— one who is the rebirth after tragedy. That if I took one step at a time in the right direction, I would hear a voice behind me saying, “This is the way. Walk in it.” That if I would seek Him first, he would show me his way. God has promised you these things too. That if I abide in him and he abides in me, I can ask whatever I need and he will provide. That if I seek first His kingdom, all these things will be added to me. That if I put on the whole armor, I will be able to stand firm. These are promises right from scripture, so they’re not just mine. They’re yours too. 

The sticking point is, that I have to believe these things. Now whether they do or don’t come to pass is not up to me. That is up to God. But my part is to believe what he said. Believe it when life looks entirely different than I expected it to. When I thought I had lost everything and was due for recovery, and then something else happened. When I was too numb or angry or heartbroken to believe in anything except the need to keep taking one breath after another. There are times when you are believing God for a job, or a house, or a child, or a relationship, and in a way, it’s almost comforting to believe and pray. It forces you to shift your focus off of the impossible circumstances and on to God’s specific promises to meet your specific need. 

Other times, the need isn’t so clear. There’s no magic formula like knowing that you need to pray a certain way—sometimes I don’t know. Sometimes all I know is life is wrong and feels bad and uncertain, but I don’t know how to fix it. Sometimes there’s an incredible amount of “Who knows?” In my life, and even if I wanted to pray for God to help me, I wouldn’t know where to begin. I don’t have the specific need to pray because I don’t know where to start. I feel like in order to make any sense at all to God, I would have to dump out my purse, if you know what I mean. Lay it all out, even the candy wrappers and spare change and pieces of Gold Fish crackers, and Lego figurines and cards from my grandma, and say, “Here it is God. This is what I have to work with. I hope you are channeling your inner MacGyver.” And that’s all I have to work with. 

This is the kind of faith written about in Hebrews 4:18-25. I read it in The Message translation, and here are some of my favorite parts: “Abraham was first named ‘father’ and then became a father because he dared to trust God to do what only God could do….When everything was hopeless, Abraham believed anyway, deciding to live not on the basis of what he saw he couldn’t do but on what God said he would do….He didn’t tiptoe around God’s promise asking cautiously skeptical questions. He plunged into the promise and came up strong, ready for God, sure that God would make good on what he said.”

Abraham had no specifics to go on. He was promised he would be made into a great nation. Meanwhile he is believing God for one child. One. One that he was too old to father, that his wife was too old to conceive or deliver, wandering away from the land of his birth and walking until God said stop. And he “plunged into the promise and came up strong.” 

I’ll be honest with you. There are a whole lot of things right now that look waaayy different than what I feel like God promised me. Sort of like when Abraham was a senior citizen waiting on his first baby. I’m just saying, maybe it’s time to plunge into the promise. To stop trying to figure out the perfect strategy, carefully crafting a list of how God needs to do things. Maybe instead we don’t have to ask quite so many questions, or need such copious details. Maybe we need to plunge into the promise and let God accomplish what he has told us he would accomplish in whatever way he seems fit. Letting go of the need to control brings such freedom to your spirit. I know because it has to mine. Right now I am flying by the seat of my pants, and I’m not even scared. I’m excited. God is doing what He promised. He’s not doing it my way, but He’s doing it. Try it for yourself. Adding Abraham’s kind of faith to the peace that passes all understanding is an incredible way to live. —Amanda 

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“I Will Go With You”

Reading: Exodus 33:12-17

We survived 2020. Hallelujah. But now we are faced with a new challenge— making it through 2021. There was a time in my life when I didn’t think of life as “making it through” or “surviving”, but I think it’s fair to say 2020 burst the bubble I was living in. Here’s the thing though— I don’t want to survive my life. I want to enjoy my life. I want to teach my kids to enjoy their lives. No, we aren’t going to be happy all the time. There are going to be seasons where we are fearful or feel hopeless or grieve or we’re angry, but there should be some joy, some peace that surpasses all understanding, some power made perfect in weakness. There should be some discernible Jesus in us, his followers. Otherwise, what are we even doing?

In The Armor of God bible study, Priscilla Shirer writes that sometimes the fiery darts of the enemy aren’t sent to destroy, they are sent to distract. To prevent us from meeting our full potential, to keep us reactive rather than proactive, to exhaust our stores of energy so that we are too tired or too overwhelmed to hear from God. It’s an effective strategy. I know that because it has been an effective one in my own life. 

This morning on my way to work though, I thought of a verse from Exodus that I hope can help us to develop a new strategy, a new perspective, in how we approach this new year. Even if we are tip-toeing into it like parents into the room of a sleeping child. Or members of the bomb squad on their first day. Whichever. I wonder though, if a different approach might be better. 

Before Moses ever set out to do what he was called to do, he went to God, talking face to face with him as a man to a friend, and said to him, “God, you’ve been telling me to lead these people, but you haven’t told me anything else. You haven’t told me who you’re sending with me. You’ve said you’re pleased with me, but if that’s true, teach me your ways so I can know how you want me to do things (me paraphrasing).” And God responded to this, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” 

It’s interesting to me that all Moses asked for was that God would teach him how he should live and lead and walk, but God answers his request without a clear answer. He didn’t say, “Well, for the first couple of weeks it’ll be you and this guy, but then at just the right time I’ll send you this person. By mid-March, you should be somewhere around a river, and then you’ll make a left and go three more days journey…” Isn’t that what we want? A map? God didn’t give him a map. He gave him 2 things: a promise to be with him, and a promise of rest. Moses was asking for what he thought he needed, and God was giving him what he would actually need. Moses was looking for a guarantee of which person would go with him, and God says, “No, you don’t need to know who. All you need to know is I’ll be with you.” 

In the next verse, Moses says, “If you’re not going with me, don’t even send me. How else will people know that I’m yours?” To this request God responded, “I will do the very thing you have asked because I’m pleased with you and I know you by name.” Moses adjusted his request. He asked for the right thing. Instead of asking, “God, who’s going with me?” Or “God, where are we headed?” He changed his petition to “Wherever it is, if you’re not going with me, I don’t want to go.” 

That’s how I’m trying to approach this year. Last year I had this whole tentative plan laid out— get my mom’s surgery done and have her recover, hopefully get my dad’s transplant out of the way so he could get his life back, keep my kids afloat at school, work hard, write….and now, looking back, what I got was my mom’s death, my dad still sick, my kids in home school, a short period of time where work was completely slow followed by months of so much busy that I can barely keep up….and through most of it I was miserable. Maybe I was asking for the wrong thing. I was asking for a list, a map, a guarantee. For God to bless what I wanted rather than asking him what he wanted to do. But I’m learning now to ask not for a list of my own demands, but for his presence to go with me. 

As we start this year with so many unknowns, may we like Moses say, “God, I know you’re taking me somewhere. I don’t know where it is and I don’t know who is going with me, but if your presence is not going, I don’t want to go.” And may we hear him answer us, “I will do as you have asked. My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” —Amanda

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Still Waters

Water is everywhere in scripture. Jesus as the Living Water. Crossing the Red Sea. Being baptized in water. Jonah being thrown overboard and swallowed by a fish. The disciples on stormy seas. Jesus and Peter walking on water. When I’m upset or stressed, or life gets to be too much, I am automatically drawn to water. I went recently to sit by the lake and just think and calm down, and I noticed how still it was, with the water barely moving, and I thought back to some of these different times in the Bible when water was the major backdrop for events. 

Sometimes we are facing the Red Sea— enemies are chasing us, we don’t know what we’re going to do, and there’s no way out. The water then can be intimidating and inspire anxiety and fear. Then, we see God part the waters, and make a way. It builds our faith to know that He can do the impossible.

Sometimes we are Noah, building a boat, preparing for the floods to come. We save money or we invest in our spiritual health or we make sure our kids have a good spiritual foundation. Not because we are in trouble, but because we know one day the waters will come, and they might be a light rain at first, but eventually they will be a flood and we need to be ready, and so God prepares us, instructing us in the ways that will keep us safe. 

Sometimes we are the woman at the well, desperate for our daily drink of water, carrying it on our shoulders and coming back the next day, desperate for our next drink until we encounter the living water. 

Sometimes we are Peter, demanding to walk on water and do the impossible if it is really the Lord speaking to us, then rapidly sinking when we shift our focus from the source of our power to the situation we are in. 

I have been all of these places. Preparing myself for terrible times, going back to the well again and again, terrified by what seems to be impossible. The water has felt threatening and suffocating and impossible to survive. 

But then I was reminded, by the calm and quiet of the lake, of Psalm 23:1 where David says, “He leads me by still waters.” I haven’t considered what this might mean in the past, not really. I’ve read it and memorized it and spouted it off a million times without wondering what it meant. It occurred to me that God reveals himself sometimes through rough waters, in the storm and chaos to show us that he is able. And sometimes he reveals himself as the living water, the one who can quench every thirst we have. In this passage though, we are specifically told that He leads us by still waters. Waters that aren’t threatening, but meandering and smooth. The kind of place were you could lean down and take a drink, or you could go for a swim, or you could lay down and take a nap while the gentle sounds lull you into a restful sleep. 

Over the past year, God has revealed himself as powerful, and as present in stressful times, and I have existed in a near constant state of anxiety or grief or struggle. Now though, God says he wants me to be led by the still waters. A place to be refreshed and healed and find solace from a journey that has been too much at times and made me feel like I would never be enough. As we get ready for the next phase of our lives, let God lead you by still waters. He is able to control storms and part seas, but I think right now he’s inviting us to rest by the still waters. Let him lead you there, and rest. —Amanda

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Setting Up Stones: Learning the Hard Way

(Note: not my pictures, but they’re funny)

Reading: Jonah 1:17, 4:6-8

This week I’m still fascinated by the book of Jonah. It’s frustrating to me that the book ends with a question rather than an answer, but there’s still so much to learn from it. Especially for people like me who refuse to learn lessons the easy way. I’ve always been one who, my mom would say, “Can’t listen so you have to feel.” That was Jonah.

Last week I wrote about how God will speak to you a second time, and how he is merciful and will allow you to have a second chance even when you’ve caused the mess you’re in. After thinking about that though, I read the book of Jonah again and my attention was captured by this phrase that was repeated over and over, “God provided.”

If you’ve been in a Christian church in the south (or maybe anywhere, I’ve only been here) for any length of time, I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “God will make a way,” or “God will provide,” Usually we are referring to God supplying some type of need with a positive response— you’ve been given financial provision, or you’ve received provision in the form of a job or a health concern improving or being healed. What is different about the instances in the book of Jonah is the fact that not all of the things God provided are things we would really want. 

To understand the significance of what’s happening during these times of provision, you have to understand how Jonah got into this situation in the first place. He chose to completely disregard what he knew to be right. He intentionally ran from right, headlong into wrong. He was instructed to go to Nineveh, and instead he went in the completely opposite direction, and was in a severe storm, and then as a consequence of his actions was thrown overboard so that the other people on his ship could be saved. He knew that he deserved it. We know this because in Jonah 1:12 he says, “I know that it is my fault this great storm has come upon you.”

This is followed by a prayer in chapter 2 which acknowledges that Jonah was in trouble— he says he was in distress and called on God to help him, knowing he was in the middle of consequences and that he had been banished from the sight of God. He says his life was ebbing away and seaweed was wrapped around his head, and he was sinking to the depths of the base of the mountains. He is painting a picture of his impending death. 

But all of this prayer occurs after the last verse in chapter 1 when we read, “God provided a fish to swallow Jonah.” What kind of provision is that? It’s one of those times when you might be tempted to wonder if the treatment is worse than the disease. He was in a God-ordained time-out and he was put there because he deserved to be. He could have died right then and there. But God provided a way for him to survive. It wasn’t an attractive or predictable way to get better, but it saved his life.

Then later in chapter 4, we read “God provided a vine” which grew up over Jonah to protect him from the sun and the wind east of Ninevah. And then “God provided a worm to devour the vine.” And then, in the heat of the day in the middle-eastern desert, “God provided a scorching east wind” and Jonah said he would rather die than live. 

At this point, Jonah wasn’t asking to die because he was suffering consequences of his own actions. He was suffering because God took away the vine, and God caused an east wind to come. The provision of God did not in any way resemble what Jonah would want— which was for God to wipe Nineveh off the map so that his reputation as a prophet was intact, and so that his neighbors from Israel would not accuse him of being a traitor by reaching out in mercy to their vowed enemies, people who had slaughtered their loved ones and pillaged their lands. Instead he was dehydrated and sunburned and exhausted and angry, all because of God’s mercy and provision. And he was begrudging God’s extension of mercy to people who didn’t deserve it. The same mercy that had been extended to him. 

I’m wondering today if maybe there’s something you’re angry about in your life that might not be an obstacle at all, but rather might be the provision of God so that he could show you that he’s sovereign. That he’s faithful. That he’s merciful. That he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. And that he’s patient enough to endure a grown man’s tantrum and even manage the minutiae of it all to send a message because he valued fellowship with his friend Jonah that much. 

I hate many things in my life right now. Not dislike, not wish they were different. I hate them. I have resented them. I have asked God to do something about them because I’ve suffered enough and I’m tired, and I’m angry. But some of these things are situations that I now understand to have been provided by God to teach me of his nature. To learn not just what he can do, but who he is, and to bring me to a place where I accept that maybe I’m not as smart as I thought I was, and maybe it’s better I’m not in control of my destiny because the things I’ve been “in control of” haven’t been going so well. And as much as I have lamented the suffering, I couldn’t have learned these lessons any other way so I’m not sure I would trade them. 

If this is where you are, I’m sorry. It sucks. I know it does. But if God cares about you enough to force you to suffer in order to reveal his nature, maybe instead of being resentful it’s time to be thankful. It’s not a one and done commitment. It’ll be an everyday thing. But maybe we can do it together. And if we sulk about it like Jonah, at least we have proof in scripture that God will love us anyway. —Amanda  

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Setting Up Stones: Again

For those of you who haven’t seen it before, there’s a tab for weekly devotions on the main menu. Trying something new this week and adding it to the blog so it can be archived. In the context of the Old Testament, setting up stones was a way to make a place of remembrance, to remember where God brought you from and where he was taking you in the future. It’s what my mom’s life was all about, and what I’m learning to be about.

Reading: Jonah 3:1

I’ve always been pretty critical of Jonah. For one thing, none of us want to admit that we identify with him. Who wants to openly say that they hear God tell them to do something and they refuse? And for another thing, most of us are in denial about it when we’re running from God. Like we think we’re fooling everyone, including ourselves, when in reality everyone knows we are running. Today though, with the help of a book I’m reading, I found a verse in Jonah that spoke to me in a profound way. 

Jonah chapter 1 is about God telling Jonah to go to Ninevah, a place he doesn’t  want to go where he might not be well-received, where he is instructed to minister to people he doesn’t like or trust. He’s then thrown overboard once the crew of the ship he was on realizes that if they don’t want to die at sea, they have to get rid of Jonah. Then, Jonah chapter 2 is Jonah in prayer. In Priscilla Shirer’s book “Life Interrupted” she says that in Jonah chapter 1 everyone is praying except for Jonah, and in Jonah chapter 2, Jonah finally realizes he needs to be the one praying. He goes through rebellion, running, and then starts the repentance. 

And then finally, when Jonah is thrown up on the ground, covered in whale guts, trying to process what just happened, after being disobedient to God and going in the opposite direction of what he was told, he didn’t receive a message of condemnation or even punishment. Verse 1 of chapter 3 days, “Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time.” 

After everything he had done wrong, and some of the impure intentions he still held onto in his heart about the people of Nineveh, God still wanted to use him. He still spoke to him. He didn’t skip over Jonah and look for someone more cooperative or qualified to do the work. He repeated his original word to Jonah. He gave him a second chance. 

I have been in a dark place. I have been running. I have been struggling with what God might require of me. But even knowing all of that, when I started talking to God again this week, he welcomed me. And this verse reminded me that God is still capable and willing and even enthusiastic about speaking his word to me a second time, giving me another chance to get it right. And he wants that for you too. Never be afraid to go back to him. He’s merciful, and he wants to speak his word to you a second time. —Amanda 

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Fearless

Halloween is a time when it’s almost trendy to be afraid of something. I’ve only ever survived one haunted trail my whole life, so maybe not me, but some people. After Halloween, Mary Ann had sleepover with Christina Yang’s daughter. My favorite part of the kids having friends over is that sometimes kids are so honest that they blurt out profound truths and they don’t even realize it.

I overheard them talking in the backseat about things to be afraid of, like clowns or spiders or snakes, and Mary Ann says, “I’m not afraid of anything. I’ve seen people die. What’s left to be afraid of?” Which was pretty profound in itself, glass half-full kind of thinking. And she’s not even exaggerating. She has been present in rooms when last breaths were taken, and she’s lived through the fallout. There’s not a lot of ten year olds who can say that, Thank God. Then she adds, “Wait, that’s not true. There’s one thing. I’m not afraid of anything except getting attached to people.” 

I turned around and looked at her with fresh eyes. “You are your mother’s child,” I said. Once again she has blurted out in mere seconds what it took me months in therapy to understand. 

I told Christina Yang that I thought I’d had a breakthrough because I realized that some people I keep at arms length because I’m convinced if I love them too much I will lose them. “Huh,” she said, “you didn’t know that about yourself already? I knew that about you.” 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad to be raising a child who understands who she is and what she needs and what she’s afraid of. I’m sure it was completely by accident that I did this. But I’m also worried for her future. Is she going to turn out like me? Isolated and worried and distant for reasons she can’t even articulate?

I have always preferred small circles to large ones. I joke (not really joking) that I have Other Half and like two friends. And I like it that way. The only problem is that when your circle is so small, if you lose even a small piece of it, there’s a gaping hole that you don’t know if you can ever fill again. It takes so much time and energy to build the circle in the first place that I sometimes think I would rather be completely alone than start over. 

But, as My Friend pointed out, “It’s fine to have a small group of people you trust. People are lucky to say they have one or two true friends. But now, since your mom is gone, your circle has been cut by 30 percent.” The visual did not bring me joy. My Friend, as usual, was right. 

Choosing wisely is, well, wise. But isolation for its own sake is dangerous. It leads to loneliness and unrealistic expectations. It puts pressure on your few select people to be everything you need, and who can shoulder that kind of weight?

My reasoning behind it all is that I have never been one of those resilient people who bounces back from heartbreak. There are friendships I’ve had that dissolved 10 or 15 years ago that still bring me a twinge of pain sometimes. So my inclination is to avoid attachment until it is absolutely unavoidable because whatever effort I exert in building the relationship I will also have to eventually expend at healing when it’s over. That’s a big commitment, and to be honest, not all attachments are worth it. 

It’s easier to never form a bond than to pray and cry and sob one’s way back to wholeness. Every relationship is a risk, and my emotional energy is a finite supply. As Leeana Tankersley wrote in my favorite book, Begin Again,  “You are afraid that getting what you want will cost you what you have and that makes you feel caught again.” You said a mouthful there, sister. 

I guess what I’m saying is, I hope maybe somehow over the next few years, Mary Ann learns how to embrace a medium circle. That she’s courageous enough to face her fear, and wise enough to appreciate the dividends of taking a calculated risk. That she sees the value in removing her mask rather than just the glamour of keeping it in place. And that she remains, otherwise, fearless. 

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Things I hope my kids are learning from me

Yesterday was a special day to my parents. It was the anniversary of their first date. Maybe this is not an official holiday, but every year on that day, my dad would send my mom yellow roses, or they would have a special dinner or just spend some time together. This was the very first time in nearly 36 years that they didn’t spend this day together. 

No one can fix that. But I didn’t want him to be alone. So, I got some takeout and made plans to hang out with him. I sent Helen Keller a text to ask her what movie would be the best to watch, something that would be funny and not bring up any unpleasant memories. She says, “The Goonies.” Perfect. Target had the Blu-ray, so off to his condo I went with an 1980s classic in one hand and Italian food in the other. 

Some of the night was sad. But a lot of it was funny. There were laughs and times for him to share memories with me. It was the kind of night that you remember where nothing groundbreaking happens, but you know it will still go down in your memory as one of your favorites. 

Over the past few months I have been re-evaluating and changing and re-prioritizing. A lot of things and people and events and beliefs that I used to place such a high price tag on have been symbolically donated to Good Will, if you know what I mean. As I’m finding out more about who I am and what I need in my life, I’ve started to consider what it is that I want my kids to know beyond the shadow of a doubt. Seeing my dad continue to celebrate his first date anniversary with my mom inspired the first one, but after thinking about it a little more, the list kept coming: 

Marry someone who pays attention to the small things. I’m not good at this. I’m a big-picture kind of girl. But just like my dad remembered his first date with my mom every single year, I have a husband who does things like that for me. Thoughtfulness is highly underrated.

Don’t let the fact that something isn’t planned stop you from enjoying it. If you think dancing in the rain or swimming in your clothes will bring you joy, do it just for the sake of the joy. Not everything has to be planned or have great purpose. Seize every opportunity to make memories. There’s nothing like looking back on the memory of how it felt to throw caution to the wind and let yourself really live.

You don’t need a big circle, you need a small core. I have learned that 2 or 3 people who really understand you are more valuable than a room full of acquaintances. 

It’s OK to set boundaries. It’s OK to say, “No, I’m not doing that.” Mom used to say, “Well, if I don’t go they’ll talk about me.” You should know that if you’re worried they might talk about you if you make them unhappy, they’re probably already doing it. You matter too. Not just “them.” As mom would later say, “Stop casting your pearl before the swine.”

Make time to do things that make you smile. Art may not be practical, but if it feeds your soul, it’s worthwhile. I love literature. I love to write. I love how the perfect poem or song can capture a moment. And while these things will never make you rich, they will definitely make you a better person. 

Embrace the people who are different from you. Try to learn both sides. I have read books by both Samantha Power and Nikki Haley, Barack Obama and George W. Bush. I’ve read the Bible and I’ve listened to friends who are convinced God doesn’t exist. And I have decided that if I believe we are all made in God’s image, then I also believe we should all try to understand each other. Loving your neighbor does not know political or racial or religious boundaries. You either love or you don’t. Period.

Don’t just know what you believe, know why you believe it. My Friend has said to me that maybe some of the things I’ve accepted as the gospel truth came only from the opinions of those around me. My Friend was right. So I am taking the time to investigate both sides of many issues because no one on their death bed ever said, “I wish I hadn’t taken the time to understand.” When all the chips are down, you can’t stand firm on rhetoric. You have to stand firm on truth. God is big enough for our questions, and He’s strong enough to pursue us while we run, and to heal our wounds when we fall. 

Take pictures. Lots of them. No matter how bad your hair looks, or how fat you feel, or how tired everyone is. Some day it might be all you have left. And let people record your voice. It’s more important than you know for your people to be able to hear it after you’re gone. 

Let your leaves fall. If there are people or relationships or situations that are hellbent on letting go of you, let them fall. You are a tree. Your life is in your roots not your leaves. 

Choosing to wallow is a form of pride. Assuming that your pain is greater than anyone else’s is just your way of saying, “I’m the best at everything, even having bad things happen to me, and no one else matters.” Show the compassion you crave.

What other people think of you is none of your business. (Thanks Lexi Grey). There is such freedom to be found in letting go of your need for acceptance. 

Find a job that inspires you. I have had jobs that I worked because I needed money, and I have had jobs that were perfect for me on paper but left me longing for more. And then I found the place where my talents come together for good. Where I can bless others while still growing in my intellect and feeding my soul. I wish that for my children. We spend a lot of our hours on earth working, and they need not be wasted. 

Sometimes dandelions are better than roses. Roses are beautiful, but dandelions hold the promise of a thousand wishes. Don’t ignore them just because they’re not as beautiful as the roses. Beauty can take many forms. It’s not better, it’s just different.

Learn another language. Communicating with people who are different from you is a beautiful and valuable thing. It is an opportunity to go outside of your comfort zone and show other people that you know you aren’t the most important culture or language in the world. It shows you want to grow, that you want to challenge yourself, and that you have spent years preparing for the moment when you would meet them, just so the encounter would be a little more meaningful. 

Read. A lot. Often. Hundreds of authors with thousands of different view points. It’s OK to change your mind. It’s OK to say, “Yes, I used to think that too, but now this is what I’ve learned.” Life is not about establishing a persona and living to fulfill it. It’s about living in such a way that you’re excited to discover more about who you really are. You are not chained to anything. Grow. Change. Evolve. And don’t let small-minded people put you back down in your box.

Enjoy naps. Daytime sleep when you’re supposed to be doing something more productive feels better than a full night. Don’t ask me why.

Small things matter. From a comfortable couch to a hot cup of dark coffee to a soft rug under bare feet. Take the time to savor every sensation because these simple pleasures can go a long way to change your attitude on bad days. 

Never underestimate what date night can do for your marriage. Even if you’re mad at each other, the food is better. It’s win-win.

Make your life look like you. I used to think I had to fit into a carefully curated box that I imagined other people in my circle had created for me. But now I know what makes me happy is a Jeep, and a bean bag chair, Frye booties and Chuck Taylors. Expensive purses and cheap t-shirts. Audiobooks and tobacco scented candles. Hot baths with aromatherapy salts with a glass of something in one hand and my Kindle in the other. I don’t need drama. I like solitude. 

And most of all, love your people. I’ve recently discovered about myself that many times I keep people at arm’s length out of fear. Why the two or three I have chosen to let in have broken through those walls I have no idea, but I am grateful for them and I’m trying to figure out how to love the others just as well.

I’m sure there will be more, but I’m off to a good start. My mom taught me to be me. So for better or worse, this is what I hope my kids are learning from me so far. And to be honest, some of it, I have learned from them. What else would you add?

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“I only need one thing in Target,” and other lies I tell myself

I did that thing you’re not supposed to do. I let myself believe the lie that I was going to Target for one thing: a birthday gift. OK, two things if I’m being honest. I was buying a gift card and I could have gotten that at Walgreens, but I wanted to get the new Rachel Hollis book too, so I went to Target. 

I’m one of those women who other people make fun of because I’m the cliche— the one who says she’s going in for one or two things and manages to spend $105 dollars on things I didn’t know I needed until Target told me I needed them. If you ever wondered, “Who would buy that?” It’s me. I am who. 

Anyway, within the first five minutes, I found the gift card. But I still needed to get the Rachel Hollis book. The problem was, that all of the aisles were chaotic because it was Saturday afternoon, and it looked like Black Friday in there. I guess there must have been some aggressive book club members who ransacked the place. So I had a little trouble finding the book. 

Since I had to look through so many places, I did manage to find what I like to call “Target Poetry.” In case you’re not aware, Target has excellent poetry selections. I mean, I’m not someone who goes to Amazon and browses the poetry section. As I’m sure you’ve gathered by now, I do like Rilke. I’ve also purchased “Leaves of Grass” by Walt Whitman. And I hold a special place in my heart for the scene in Dennis the Menace where Mrs. Wilson quotes “Wynken, Blynken, and Nod” to get Dennis to go to sleep. That is the extent of my poetry knowledge. But these books suck me in, man. Target is how I discovered the wonder of Atticus and Tyler Knott Gregson and these gems led me to find Christopher Poindexter on the internet. 

So I found this book, “Confessions of Her” by Cindy Cherie. I was sucked in by the first page because I felt it in my soul, and I decided it was the Lord’s will for me to get this book. The problem is, that I usually only buy Target poetry when the mental stability is taking a little hit, so today when I had the book out my office, My Friend says, “What are you reading?” And I say “Target Poetry,” and My Friend says, “Why are you in a mood?” 

Just let me enjoy the beauty of the words Friend. That’s all I have to say.

Then, the next shelf over, there was the new TD Jakes book. Before my mom died, she read (probably multiple times) “The Crushing” by TD Jakes. I have no idea what this book is about. Presumably women who pray based on the title. But the truth is, I bought it because if my mom was alive, she would’ve bought it. 

So then me and my two new friends, Target Poetry and Bishop Jakes, rounded the corner, and there, on the end cap with all the other new releases, was Rachel Hollis. So I scooped her up too. 

At this point, I should get special points for avoiding the candy aisle, the Chip and Joanna Gaines experience, and the make up section. I was making a beeline for the greeting cards, determined not to waste anymore time or money. But, as some of you already know, I have this quirk where, if I’m having a rough day, I might go through all the cards until I find the ones that make me giggle, and then buy them for no other reason than that they bring me joy. And I definitely did that. And now, I share them with you. If you don’t think these are funny, probably we can’t be friends:

Corny? Yes. But didn’t you smile?

Because Bob Ross. That’s why. And he’s throwing shade which is hilarious.

Hee hee!

Saved the best for last!

And so, yes. I went to Target for 2 things. And I left having spent $101.11. And you know what? I’m not even sorry. It made me happy, even if only for a little while. And in a world with so much sad, I choose not to put a price on that. 

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From Enola Holmes to Finally:Happy

Spoiler Alert: If you read this one, I will have ruined the movie Enola Holmes for you. Don”t say I didn’t warn you.

Last night I was a couch potato. I got home from work, made some dinner, and then Other Half wanted to watch a movie. He’s pretty good about picking stuff he thinks I’ll like to watch. I always say, “Watch whatever, I’m just going to sit here and read.” And then he makes it his own personal challenge to choose a movie that I will watch from the corner of my eye for the first 20 minutes until I am forced to put down my Kindle and actually watch it with him. I don’t know why it matters if I’m reading when I sit 3 feet away from him on the couch vs. watching the same show with him, but for whatever reason it matters. Mamaw says it was the same for her with Papaw their whole married life.

So, this time, he picked “Enola Holmes” on Netflix. I tried to ignore it, but I was pulled into the plot and the accents and the Henry Cavill of it all. I didn’t mind that my reading was interrupted. Everything was going great. The movie was literally down to the last 5 minutes, and then I lost my junk. 

The movie, one of the most popular new movies on Netflix right now, is about the sister of Sherlock Holmes. It follows her as she searches for her missing mother while meeting new people along the way, and solving a mystery while simultaneously bringing the tumultuous issue of women’s suffrage to light. And, it was family appropriate. (Not that our kids watched it. One we couldn’t pry away from the video games, and the other officially believes that she’s a teenager and must live 90% of her life in her bedroom). 

I’m pretty cautious about which movies I watch lately. It doesn’t take much to make me emotional. I’ve never really been that type of person before, but since my mom died, if something reminds me of her I internalize it and then I become a sobbing mess. Something as simple as seeing a mom and daughter together at the nail salon or trying to eat at a restaurant we enjoyed together can really push me over the edge. 

I figured since the mom was not dying, she was only missing, that I’d be OK. But then the whole concept of a daughter searching everywhere for her mom wouldn’t let up. She’s trying to find messages her mom might have left her in gifts. She’s seeking out messages from her mom in the newspaper. She’s struggling with feelings of abandonment and anger and trying to find her own way in the world much sooner than she expected. 

The dialogue really hit home a few times for me too. In one scene, Enola visits her mother’s close friend Edith in London, and Edith can’t or won’t tell her where to find her mother, but says that if she chooses to stay in London she shouldn’t do it because she’s looking for someone else, she should do it because she’s looking for herself. 

And watching Enola try to do all these things for herself that she would normally share with her mother, and finding that her mother prepared her for everything she needed to do, that got to me a little bit too. 

But the straw that broke the camel’s back was in the last 5 minutes. Enola is finally reunited with her mother (Eudoria) and Eudoria says, “I thought I was going to be the one that was going to change the world. What a woman you’ve become.” And then this is followed by, “I am sorry. I wanted to tell you where I was going, but it wasn’t safe. I didn’t leave you because I didn’t love you. I left for you because I couldn’t bear to have this world be your future. So I had to fight. You have to make some noise if you want to be heard.”

I know it sounds crazy. My mother didn’t choose to leave me. She didn’t want to leave any of us. But sometimes I feel like she did. Sometimes I feel like she deserted me. And sometimes I dream that I’m doing everything I can to stop what I know is coming. In the dreams I am convinced that there must be some way for me to rewrite her ending. But the dream ends with me hugging her and crying and telling her how sorry I am that I couldn’t figure out how to change it. Watching this scene with Enola and her mother was like hearing my own mother tell me how sorry she was that she had to leave. My poor therapist. She really deserves a raise.

Other Half had stepped outside to let Scooby Doo chase rabbits and whatever else he has to do before bed, and by the time he walked back in the door, I had both hands covering my face, sobbing, eyes burning, unable to hold anything in. He immediately turned off the TV and got me settled in bed, knowing that there was no hope left for the evening. Once the dam breaks there’s no holding back the river. 

The funny thing is, I’ve been doing relatively fine. I mean, I miss her every day. But some days instead of feeling like there’s big hole in my chest, I feel more like I’m living in an acceptable but not quite as good as before alternate reality. And one Netflix original film sends me plummeting back to where I was before. 

I’ve been reading a collection of letters written by Rainer Maria Rilke on grief and loss, and one of my favorite passages so far says,“And while I am completely engulfed in why own sadness, I am happy to sense that you exist, beautiful one. I am happy to have flung myself without fear into your beauty just as a bird flings itself into space. I am happy, dear, to have walked with steady faith on the waters of our uncertainty all the way to that island which is your heart and where pain blossoms. Finally: happy.” 

I’m not there yet. Right now I’m still in the Enola Holmes phase, searching for my mother everywhere, in everything, as I find out exactly what I’m capable of and how well she prepared me for the things I would face in my life. But maybe one day I’ll see things in a different light. Finally: happy. 

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It feels like fall: Movie Edition

I love fall. I mean, of course I love the summer because I’m a Jeep owner who wishes she were a mermaid, and I love the winter because Christmas, and I love spring because back to Jeep owner, but I think fall is my solid favorite.

Especially days like today. Here in my little corner of North Carolina, the sky is overcast, the air feels a little misty, and it’s cool but not cold. I know that most basic white girls like myself rave about pumpkin spice and s’mores and hoodies and black leggings and Ugg boots, and I definitely check all those boxes. (Except for hoodies. They make me claustrophobic). But on days like today, the reason I love fall is movies. 

When I was in ninth grade, my parents decided I should homeschool. I was totally fine with it, because I had been begging to try it for basically my whole life. Anyway, every morning I had to get up at the same time as my brother who was still in public school at the time, take a shower, and get started on my work. My dad was adamant that homeschool would not equal lazy, so that was the deal.

Usually I would sit on the couch and start my work from a series of booklets that my parents probably paid an arm and a leg for, and then I would work for about 2 hours. That’s usually all the time I needed to get done with my assignments for the day. Then me and my mom would watch 2 hours of ER (the George Clooney one). Then we would eat chicken quesadillas (which mom pronounced quesa-deal-yas) or taco salads or something else my dad hated since he was at work and didn’t have to eat it. Then we would start laundry or whatever chores we had for the day, and then on the very best days, we would turn on movies in the afternoon and pile up on the couch with snacks and blankets.

So now, as soon as there’s a chill in the air, I get the urge to watch these movies:

1- The American President

This is the one I’m watching today. I told you already that I was a nerd, and I was reading the Madeleine Albright memoir, Madam Secretary. Also, just like the rest of you, I keep getting intrusive text messages on my phone and seeing huge banners on every social media platform reminding me to register to vote since, in case you haven’t heard, there’s a presidential election this year. So between the memoir, the text messages, and the chill in the air, I was compelled on a molecular level to watch this movie. Michael Douglas. Annette Benning, Michael J. Fox, Martin Sheen. So many things to love.

I could probably quote everything in it nearly verbatim, only no one would know what I was talking about because I’m pretty sure my mom and I were the only ones who were obsessed with this movie. It’s the American equivalent of a fairy tale, only with a strong female lead instead of someone who feels the need to sing and clean all the time while waiting to be rescued. It’s also possible that the only things I know about politics are what I learned in this movie. Judge me if you must, but I like to avoid conflict, and lately politics=conflict. But this movie=joy. I love it desperately and it makes me feel like my mom is here. 

2- You’ve Got Mail