• Category Archives Encouragement / Inspirational
  • Who’s Got Dibs

    So, what are your kids doing for school this fall? It’s the burning, million-dollar question I’ve both asked and been asked over and over the last few weeks. I’ve weighed so many different options, done endless research, read countless articles, and changed my mind at least a dozen times. The short answer is that I have no clue.

    Everything is constantly changing. As soon as I make up my mind one direction, the rules of the game change, and now I have to decide between my new options. Do I send my kids to school with masks, do we do this hybrid schedule, do I opt for a distance learning model with the school district, do I sign up for a different online program, or do I throw everything out the window and do it all myself? Some people have strong opinions, and their opinions make sense and are entirely justified. However, I suspect that the silent majority of us are smack in the middle. We don’t know what to do and can’t figure out if we are coming or going.

    At one point during the last few weeks, I was sure we’d do the remote learning provided by the district. At another point, I decided that we’d just go back with whatever plan the schools had in place for in-person learning. At still another point, I was researching different online schools and the differences of each. Then there was the co-op plan where my sister and I brainstormed dividing schooling duties.  And then, there was the time I was pouring over the grade level standards for my kids’ different grades, looking at homeschool curriculum, and deciding how to do it all myself.

    Then there is the mask issue. Political? Not political? Effective? Ineffective? Harmful? Safe? I have no idea. I do know that I don’t want my kids to have to learn through a mask. But, I also don’t want them to go to school without one if that’s what they need to stay safe. Do we? Don’t we? Who do I listen to? Medical experts? Media? Politicians? Education experts? Facebook? You can pretty much find any “research” to support your view. The problem is that these articles and research often tout completely opposing “facts”!

    And friends. Will my kids’ friends be at school? I know some of them won’t. What if all of the “good kids” stay home? I have waking nightmares of seeing my shy 11-year-old wondering around outside without anyone. But then again, they’re not supposed to socialize, right? Best friends six feet apart?

    What’s all of this going to look like? What if it changes every few days and is a mosaic of complete chaos? Do I make a decision based on health or education? How do I know what will truly be best for my children and family? I want them to get to do the classes they want and have the best learning experience possible, yet I can’t handle it if the thought of one of the kids getting Covid and spreading it to the vulnerable people in our family.

    So, what are you doing? Are you sending your kid

    I. Don’t. Know. What. To. Do.

    It drives me crazy. I’ve felt an intense amount of stress and had migraines almost daily for the last month. This post is in no way meant to tell you what to do. I don’t even know what I think and feel. And, if you wait five minutes, I’m sure my plan will change. If you tell me your opinion and why you’re choosing a certain route, chances are good that I will completely agree with you. Then, if I talk to someone else an hour later, I will absolutely agree with them, even if they have a completely opposing view to yours from an hour ago. The weird thing is that I’m not lying to anyone. I’m being completely honest. In those moments, opposite opinions are completely true representations of how I feel.

    About a week and a half ago, I was praying through my stress, fears, and concerns. I say “praying” but that is really a very loose definition. In reality, I’d start to pray, but then my thoughts would get distracted and I’d forget who I was supposed to be talking to. Soon, I’d be back to worrying, weighing the different options and panicking because I didn’t know what to do.

    For me, faith wasn’t the issue. If I just knew what to put my faith in, I’d be okay. But I didn’t know whether to send my kids to school and have faith that God will keep them safe, or homeschool them and have faith that they would be okay, get what they need educationally and socially, and still be on the right track when the mess is finally over. What should I put my faith in?

    As soon as the thought left my mind, I got an answer.

    It’s not a question of what to put my faith in. It’s a question of Who! My faith is in God who created everything and is more than qualified to handle whatever may come. With my faith secure in His hands, none of the “whats” actually matter.

    With that thought, a lot of the pressure rolled off. No matter what happens, no matter what I choose, God is the one in control, not me. I will pray for wisdom and try to make the best possible decision, but I’m not going to mess things up more than God can fix them. Choosing one way will not be a sin. The Bible doesn’t list sending or not sending your kids to school during Covid as one of the highlights of the ten commandments. It is a choice. One that God is allowing me to make. Though it feels like I’m walking on a tightrope high over the ground and that I’ll fall with any wrong move, He’s got the safety net under me.

    I don’t know what we’ll do. Not for sure. And it’s not even restricted to school issues. There are big unknowns all over my life, as there are for everyone in this twilight zone. For today, I’ve decided which direction we’re head, but everything can change tomorrow. Today’s decision is not tomorrow’s, and I reserve the prerogative to change my mind multiple times in between days as well.

    But I do know Who is in all of my tomorrows. He’s already there. He has a plan even when I don’t. Whether we go to school or don’t… Whether we get Covid or don’t… Whether 2020 deals us another unbelievable hand… Whether tomorrow is sunny or stormy… We’re going to be okay. God’s already in our tomorrows and will make sure that all things (even the tough, yucky ones) work together for my family’s good, according to His purpose. And He’ll do the same for you.

    Yes, I still feel the stress. I still haven’t shaken the migraines. I still have a book due in about three weeks, and it isn’t writing itself. I still feel anxious every time I find out a parent I respect is making a decision that might differ from my own. I try to tell myself that just because what I do is different than what you do doesn’t mean that I’m right and you’re wrong. Nor does it mean that you’re right and I’m wrong. We’re both simply trying to make the best decisions for our families and circumstances, and neither one of us owns a crystal ball. So, I’ll pray for your decision as you try to sort out the wisest, safest, smartest, most responsible, best decision for your family, and you pray for mine. And if they don’t look the same, that’s okay.Maybe I’m taking door #1 and you’re choosing #5. Eventually, I believe that we’ll recognize the same Guide leading us different routes to the same destination.

    Despite the continued uncertainty, I feel a peacethat I didn’t feel before. Every time the stress closes in, I start to panic, not knowing what to do as I run the endless maze of trying to separate the good decisions from the bad ones.

    Then I feel God quietly whisper. Whatever your decision, whether it’s a good one or a bad one—I’ve got dibs.

     


  • Blessings

    I’d like to tell the story of someone who changed the world, and you probably don’t even know her name. She wasn’t famous, she didn’t make great achievements in science or politics, and when she passed away, most of the world never knew to feel bereft. Her name was Dorothy–probably one of thousands of Dorothys born in the 1920’s. But this Dorothy was my grandmother.

    She was the sweetest person I ever met. She was very intelligent, witty, and had a positive, optimistic personality, so much so that we called her a Pollyanna. The name fit. I never recall her ever saying a negative word about anyone, even if they truly deserved it! I remember once my mom asked Grandma her opinion on an outfit she was trying on. My mom didn’t think it looked very good, and it actually looked quite terrible. Before stating her opinion, Grandma paused and then said, rather hesitantly, “Well, I think it looks a little less than pretty.” And that was the most negative thing I ever heard her say.

    I won’t take the time to relate her many virtues, how she quietly cared for others, supported her minister husband, and made the best family meals. She wasn’t perfect, by any means, but she knew how to love, and she lived her faith in a quiet, but profound way that was perhaps most greatly exemplified in how she died.

    After my grandfather passed away, my grandmother went downhill. She developed Alzheimer’s. I had recently had my first child, so I had the privilege of keeping Grandma with me during the day. It was heartbreakingly difficult, and yet I call it a privilege because my Grandma had always cared and loved me so well. Her presence was such a source of comfort to me. I felt blessed that I now got to care for her. If you’ve ever had a loved one go through the process of Alzheimer’s, you know how excruciating and senseless it feels to have that person slip away. The way I was able to convince Grandma to stay with me during the day was to tell her I needed her help. Then, of course, she would come, eager to serve me. She would fold my laundry and match socks. The socks wouldn’t actually match, and we’d have the same conversations over-and-over. But the fact that she was able to “help me,” is something I will forever cherish.

    I remember how devastated my mom was to watch her sweet mother suffer and lose her memories. It made no sense. Why would God take away the mind of someone who had served Him wholeheartedly all of her life?  Though we didn’t recognize it at the time, I realize now the answer was that she wasn’t done serving.

    It reached the point that we were not able to care for Grandma full-time, and she went to live in a facility that specialized in memory care. One of God’s waiting rooms, as they are sometimes called. My mom visited her every day, often telling her that Grandpa was off fishing when she couldn’t remember that he was gone. This made Grandma happy to know that he was doing something he loved.

    The workers at the facility loved Grandma. Alzheimer’s never changed her sweet personality, and she was always wanting to help, even when she lost the ability to do so. One day, one of the nurses asked my mom what “make me a blessing” meant. My mom replied that it was the lyrics to a hymn. The nurse thought that was interesting and remarked that Grandma walked around the home softly saying the words “make me a blessing” over and over.

    This woman who was stuck in a locked facility, stuck in her own mind, and at the end of her journey was now speaking the words aloud that she’d prayed in her heart probably her whole life. She who had absolutely nothing and could do absolutely nothing still wanted, above all, to be a blessing to others. Though her mind and body failed her, her soul still reached out to her Savior.

    And He answered her prayer. Even in heaven’s waiting room, Grandma still had purpose in every breath she took. She was a light to those around her, her faith pointing to the Lord. Her muttered words spoke a testimony that would not have the same meaning if God had asked her to walk a different path. And her prayers! Oh, how I’m thankful for those prayers, and I don’t even know what they were! But I know she prayed. And I know I was loved and prayed for.

    Because of what is going on in the world today, many of us feel stuck. We are literally stuck at home and unable to serve God the way we would like. Our independence is gone, our loved ones unreachable, and our “purpose” put on hold. After all, how can we bless others from a proper “social distance”?

    If you can’t think of anything else to do, please do as my grandma did. Pray. There are no limits on prayer. Pray for your family, your friends, your country, and yourself. Pray that God will somehow make you a blessing. Though your mind and body may be weak, let your soul rise up and converse with the One who is not stuck in any way.

    When my Grandma passed away, I wrote a poem about her that included these two lines.

    She died and nothing changed.
    Because she lived nothing was ever the same.

    I will never know what impact Grandma truly had on the world. I do know the influence she had on my own life. I have evidence that she made a difference to her last breath when she stepped out of the waiting room and into heaven. And I have faith that the prayers she spoke are still before the Lord right now, her influence reaching into our circumstances today.

    While I knew of the hymn, “Make Me a Blessing,” I’m rather ashamed to say, I never looked up the actual lyrics until today. Those four simple words Grandma spoke had such influence today, at this moment, that when I looked up their full context, I started crying because it so fit what I felt and where we are. May this be my prayer, today, as it was my grandmother’s many years ago:

     

    1
    Out in the highways and byways of life,
    Many are weary and sad
    Carry the sunshine where darkness is rife,
    Making the sorrowing glad.

    (Refrain)
    Make me a blessing, make me a blessing,
    Out of my life may Jesus shine;
    Make me a blessing, O Savior, I pray,
    Make me a blessing to someone today

    2
    Tell the sweet story of Christ and His love,
    Tell of His pow’r to forgive;
    Others will trust Him if only you prove
    True, every moment you live.

    3
    Give as ‘twas given to you in your need,
    Love as the Master loved you;
    Be to the helpless a helper indeed,
    Unto your mission be true.

     

    I hope that at the end of my journey, I won’t leave the world the same as when I arrived, and that, like my Grandma, God will make me a blessing.


  • For Such a Time as This

    I have a confession. I like to skip to the end of the book. Now, I don’t read the end of the book. I just scan it. Especially if it’s a really good, exciting book. I just take a peek—catch a line and a name here and there to make sure I’ll like it and it’s worth reading all the middle stuff to make it to the end. (BTW, this in no way gives any readers permission to skip ahead to the endings of my books.)

    These past few weeks, I have felt caught in a ridiculous plot that I didn’t like at all and made me wish I could fast forward to the end. Even a quick peek would be enough. Could I just scan for a date of when we get to leave our houses and do normal stuff?

    It’s so difficult not knowing. It’s overwhelming when we don’t know when the tunnel ends and we can’t see even a small light. Yet, this week, one thought has replayed over and over in my mind, and it’s helped me feel a little more peace in these present circumstances.

    The verse that keeps whispering to me is the one from the book of Esther. It isn’t even the complete verse, just “for such a time as this.” These were words spoken to Esther, and we seem to usually think of them as a summation to her calling—a banner to wave over her story proclaiming her success in saving her people. But actually, if you look at the verse in context, Esther may actually be being reprimanded!

    Here she is the queen. She had it made and could play life easy being pampered, eating delicacies, and not at all concerning herself with those outside the palace walls. To do anything would risk her life. Her message to Mordecai was telling him the reasons her hands were tied. His response was very near a rebuke, telling her that she just may be in her current position because this was what she was meant to do. If she chose not to do it, then God would save His people another way. But he asked her to consider that God had given her the tools and the position to do exactly what she was being asked to do in order to save her people. And now He was giving her the opportunity to do it.

    Esther’s response was to accept the purpose and risk her life to go to the king on behalf of the Jewish people, saying “If I perish, I perish.”

    Of course, the obvious question is what does this have to do with our present circumstances?

    Hopefully, one of my favorite verses will explain my thoughts:

    “Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.
    And in Your book they all were written,
    The days fashioned for me,
    When as yet there were none of them.” Psalm 139:16

    God knew what each day in April 2020 would bring for me. He didn’t just know, he planned it. And He gave me the tools and position to serve him on this day, just as He gave Esther on the day she appeared before the king. Who am I to say that, like Esther, God has not put me right where I am for such a time as this?

    I don’t have any plans to save a nation. But maybe my purpose doesn’t need to be one with a capital P. Maybe my purpose in serving God through this is to give comfort and encouragement to others. Maybe it is doing something kind that shows God’s love to someone else. Maybe it’s giving a listening ear to someone who is struggling. Maybe it is enduring something difficult and coming out stronger and more able to help others. Maybe it’s giving my kids extra snuggles and games in between the stress. Maybe it’s writing my thoughts down and pressing “post.”

    God knew we would go through this, He planned it for us, and He designed each of us individually so we could serve Him through it.

    Ok, so that sounds like pressure, and I really don’t like pressure right now. I can’t really handle any thought of purpose when the great expedition of the week is finding TP. I’d honestly rather sit back with my eyes closed and eat chocolate. But then I realized that it doesn’t really have anything to do with me; it has everything to do with God, and I get the benefit.

    Esther chose to step away from what she’d rather do and appear before the king, but God gave her the courage and tools to do it. God gave her favor with the king, when he caused him to extend his gold scepter to her and grant the bold request she made.

    I know that some people feel utterly lost right now and God seems silent. Locating a purpose seems more difficult than finding a needle in a large haystack of pointlessness. But a person is not in charge of purpose. God is. Put one foot in front of the other. Breathe in and out (with your mask in place) and wait for God to bring you an opportunity to serve. Remember, you don’t have to save a nation, purpose can wear infinite fashions. Maybe it’s a single conversation, desperately drawing close to God, taking care of others, spending time planting a garden that will later bless others, letting someone know you care or admire them, taking the time to earn a smile from a child, or even just enduring through a time when you don’t get to see God’s purpose until the end. The point is, God meant for you to be here. Right now. And He will not only get you through it, He will make you and others better for it.

    Why is it important to recognize we have purpose in this trial? Purpose changes attitude. It changed Esther. She went from timid to bold, recognizing that she would do what she was called to, even if it cost her life. If I know I am supposed to be here, that changes my perspective. I’m no longer wishing to skip to the end, but I’m looking for what I should do in the now. The Bible is full of countless examples of people who endured horrible things all because they knew they were where they were supposed to be. Noah built an ark when there was no rain. The apostles endured great persecution because they knew that sharing the gospel is what they were meant to do.

    My achievements won’t be preserved for all time, but I am just as convinced that I am meant to be here. I have purpose in this yuckiness, and I am eagerly looking for opportunities where I get to be a part of God’s larger Purpose in all of this.

    When I write books, I don’t include fluff. Every scene I write has a purpose, whether it has to do with furthering the plot or developing the characters. I write so that if a single scene is removed, the book isn’t the same. It’s pretty amazing to recognize that God is a much better author than I am. He doesn’t waste scenes either. Even when the world is crazy and we are stuck in our homes, God is not wasting this time. He has a dual purpose, one that will benefit us and benefit his kingdom through us.

    Every scene, every event in my life is there for a reason, even if I don’t recognize the why.

    After all of these thoughts, I’ve come to one conclusion:

    I want this chapter of my story to be a good one. I want to recognize how God has prepared me for “such a time as this,” and I want to step forward to serve God on this and every day.

    None of this means that I am required to like my present circumstances, that I won’t have my fair share of crying in the car episodes, or that I won’t eagerly look forward to the end of this storyline. However, it does mean that when I do get to the end of the chapter, hopefully I’ll be able to look back and see that, yes, I was created for such a time as this. And, just maybe, I’ll recognize God’s fingerprints on every page.


  • Great Expectations

     

    The other night I had an unsettling dream. It wasn’t a nightmare, and strange dreams that make no sense are familiar territory for me. But it still bothered me, and only later did I figure out why.

    I dreamed I was attending a baby shower. By nature, I’m an introvert, so large group settings are difficult for me and things I typically force myself to participate in. I didn’t want to go to the baby shower, but I felt like it was the right thing to do. I wanted to show my friend that I cared, and from personal experience, I know that simply being present speaks love. She probably wouldn’t remember what gift I gave, but at least she’d know that I attended.

    So I went to the shower, and it was unexpectedly packed with over a hundred people in close quarters. It was a great party, with everyone socializing and eating while I tried to smile in the right spots and pretend that I didn’t feel excruciatingly awkward.

    Then, I suddenly remembered something. We were on a “stay-at-home” order because of Covid-19! We weren’t supposed to be socializing or meeting in any kind of group! In fact, with that revelation, I was certain that every one of the hundred-plus people at that dream baby shower had Covid-19, and they would surely infect me! Then I would take it home and give it to my family, and it would be all my fault!

    I held my breath and tried to weave my way out of the room, trying to avoid contact and escape. Unfortunately, I never got the satisfaction of making it out of the room. Instead, I woke up.

    From the second I woke, every minute of my day crammed with multiple needs. Four children all trying to adjust to homeschooling in this crazy time equals pure chaos. I have a degree in Elementary Education, and yet I would rather teach thirty children in a classroom at a school than my own children at home in these circumstances. It’s hard. There’s no way around that fact.

    Also unfortunate–we were out of food and other necessities. I needed to venture out into the world, while my husband holed up in his office working and hoping the four kids wouldn’t actually bother him while I was gone. I gave each of the kids instructions on what they needed to work on, put an educational video in for my youngest, told my husband he was on-call, and hurried out, praying to get what we needed quickly

    I went to three stores looking for toilet paper (everyone’s crusade right now), finally finding success with a single package. At every store, there seemed to be different protocols. In some stores, social distancing was impossible with the cashier and with narrow aisles. Other stores had marks on the floor showing where you’re supposed to distance your cart, plexiglass between you and the checker, and still other rules and regulations on what you can and cannot buy and can and cannot do. And yet, even in the most regulated store, you cannot maintain six feet of separation in aisles that are barely six feet in width!

    Of course, shopping right now is stressful. You can never find exactly what you need. Still no flour, sugar, oatmeal, soap, and many other products I normally buy. I did the best I could, but further complicating matters was that it was my husband’s birthday. I wanted to make him a special dinner and a special dessert. However, we have three different, difficult, medically-necessary diets in our house, which makes such a feat as dinner and dessert complicated, especially with limited supplies.

    The whole time I shopped, I wondered how the kids were doing, if they were fighting or bothering Brian in his meetings, if I’d find what I needed to give him a special birthday, if I could manage to get every kid through the school work they were supposed to accomplish, if I was maintaining social distance, if I would ever manage to find toilet paper, if I was following all of these new, unwritten rules correctly, if I was getting everything so I didn’t need to come back to the store tomorrow, if I was spending too much money, if the massive mountain of laundry would every learn to fold itself, and if I could get my own work done while the kids were home. Worst of all, I worried that I would somehow manage to get infected with the virus while at three stores and then bring it home to my family.

    My last stop of the day was at my children’s school. My son’s teacher had said I could pick up a packet of work between certain hours. After arriving, I called the number she’d given in her instructions. The school was locked, but she’d said, when parents called, they could then let them in to pick up the packet. The school secretary let me in and returned to her station. Inside the vestibule, teachers had obviously left boxes of papers for pick-up, but I didn’t see a label with my son’s teacher or his name. Without further instructions, I wondered if I was supposed to go down to the classroom to pick it up. I started to walk that direction, but the secretary stopped me, asking if the packet wasn’t in the boxes. I said, no, but I could look to double check. While I returned, she called down to the classroom and told me the teacher would be right up with the work. I stood to the side to wait. The office area was actually very busy with multiple teachers working and talking. I hadn’t waited to the side very long before the secretary told me, “I’m not wanting to be rude, Amanda, but we really need you to wait outside. We’re just trying to keep everyone healthy and safe.” I immediately replied, “Of course! I completely understand,” and hurried outside.

    The packet was soon delivered, and I made it back to my car.

    I shut the door, put the packet on the seat next to me, and lost hold of my tears.

    I took deep breaths, feeling angry and frustrated with myself for losing the battle with my emotions. I didn’t even have a good reason to cry! I even felt guilty about it. After all, a lot of others had much more reason to cry than I did. But arguing with myself did nothing to stem the hot tears burning my eyes and sliding down my cheeks, even as I tried to dash them away and deny their existence.

    As I sat there arguing with myself and wondering why I was crying, I finally realized the reason. I wasn’t upset with the school secretary. I think she is amazing, and I absolutely applaud and agree with any effort aimed at keeping people safe in these crazy times. I didn’t mind standing outside at all. I would have gladly done that from the very beginning had I known that was the procedure I needed to follow.

    And that’s why I was upset.

    Expectations.

    I didn’t know what to expect when I stepped foot in the school, just like I didn’t know what to expect in any building I’d visited that day. Every place had different rules, procedures, and expectations. You might get people smiling and handing you your receipt across a distance of three feet, or you might get someone stepping out of a building before you reached it and telling you to “halt!” And it isn’t just the stores. In no part of life do I now know what to expect.

    What were my expectations for Spring 2020? I expected to watch my boys play baseball and play piano at their recital. I expected them to go to school and help them with their projects as they finished their grade levels with success. I expected to get to see my son play the lead role of Aladdin in his school’s drama production. I expected to watch my daughter dance ballet in her recital. I expected to watch my boys do their music recital and festival that they’d spent months preparing for. I expected to spend time with my mom and my sisters and see my new  baby niece. I expected to continue two years of work and get to vote on new high school for my community. I expected to get out of town in our new trailer. I expected a big RV trip that we had spent a year planning with my parents and in-laws. I expected to go to the store and find toilet paper and other necessities. I expected to finish writing three books by June. I expected to be able to do something special for my husband’s birthday. I expected to go into a school and not have to wait outside.

    The basic problem is that from minute to minute, to day, to week, to month, to however long we are faced with this crisis, I do not know what to expect. And nobody else does either. Nobody expected this virus to change everything. Nobody expected its impact on the economy. Nobody expected to lose their job, face illness, or lose loved ones to tragedy. And nobody in any store, schools, or house in the entire country has any more idea than I do of what all this is supposed to look like. None of us has experienced this before, and we’re all just making it up as it goes along.

    And somehow, my core fear is that in my effort of trying to do all of the right things and go to the “baby showers,” I’ll turn around and realize I’ve somehow done the wrong thing. I’ve screwed everything up, violated some rule that I didn’t even know about, not prepared the way I should, and maybe even put the ones I love at risk.

    I suspect that I’m not the only one who feels this way. We’ve all had our expectations completely dashed, and in return, we are not permitted any expectations whatsoever. You won’t know what to expect when going into any building. You won’t know what tomorrow will bring. You won’t know how long this will last. You won’t know if and when we’ll get back to normal.

    You won’t know if on the same day you cry alone in your car, you’ll be making that birthday dinner only to have the house start shaking in a 6.5 earthquake, the likes of which hasn’t happened in 37 years. (Yes, that did happen.)

    All you can hope is that this is not the “new normal.” There is nothing normal about it. And if sometimes, you need to sit in your car and cry over everything and nothing, then go right ahead. May my story give you permission to grasp hold of one last, very real expectation: you are not alone.

    You are not alone in how you feel, and you are not alone in your present circumstances. In all of those, seconds, moments, days, and weeks that I mentioned, not a single one of them exists outside of God’s control. While I’ve lost all expectations in my circumstances, there are still some expectations that will not disappoint.

    I can expect God to love me and my family. I can expect that He will never leave me. I can expect that He is good and that even the yucky stuff will be for my benefit. I can expect that He has a plan and already sees the end. I can expect that the God who made it all has not forgotten us and is fully qualified to carry us through. And I can expect that He sees every tear I cry, knows how difficult things are, and will give me His strength to make it through the next moments.

    What if I could let go of my expectations for myself and cling to my expectations for God instead? It sounds crazy, but even as all of my other expectations have dissolved, I still manage to have some rigorous, unrealistic expectations for myself. I struggle with realizing it’s okay to not do everything right. It’s okay to grieve and feel angry. It’s okay if the kids don’t get all the schoolwork done and the house is a disaster. It’s okay to cry when you really don’t know the reason.

    Lord, help me to expect less of me and more of You!

    And if, you just so happen to find yourself sobbing in your car one day because it’s all just such a mess, please know that God is there to catch every one of your tears. And also, take a look around. I’m probably in a social-distanced car crying, too.


  • Unanswered Prayer

    Have you every prayed really hard for something really important, only to have your prayer go unanswered? I’m not going to fluff this up and list all of the clichés that don’t give the issue the struggle it deserves. It is tough. It is something every Christian struggles with. Our prayers are supposed to be answered, right? But sometimes they aren’t. So what do we do with that?

    I am not a Biblical scholar, and I don’t know the church answers. All I do know is that I recently had first-hand experience with this question that seems to plague the faith of many, if not all, Christians at some point. Though not the first time, last week, my desperate prayer went unanswered, leaving heartbreak in its wake. But to tell the full story of my unanswered prayer, I really need to start at the beginning, for it is actually not my own story.

    My cousin, Mitch, was more than a few years older than me. He lived next door at my grandma’s house off and on until he graduated high school. I remember waiting at the bus stop and Mitch singing about “roly poly fish heads” just to tease us little kids. We would beg him to stop, and he would keep singing.

    Yes, Mitch was an incurable tease, but he also had some issues that even as a child, I was aware of. How did I know? Because I remember my grandma’s tears. I remember her crying over the bad decisions Mitch had made, agonizing over what would happen to him, and constantly praying for his salvation. Decades passed, and she never stopped praying for him. Even with heartbreak and seeing zero results to her prayers, she still loved and prayed for Mitch constantly. She prayed for him to turn to the Lord, for him to turn his life around, and she prayed that she would turn around to find him in heaven. On her better days when her faith was strong, I remember her speaking about Mitch as if there was no question in her mind. “I have prayed for Mitch.” And that settled that.

    Grandma didn’t live to see her prayer answered fully. My understanding is that some of Mitch’s trouble continued into his adult life, though I don’t know the details. However, Mitch celebrated his 51st birthday recently, and I’m happy to say that his life has changed. He turned to the Lord and became a Christian, and not just in name only. A year ago, he married the love of his life. She had three children, and they became Mitch’s children in every way that mattered. Mitch’s Facebook posts have been filled with him marveling about how blessed he is, especially with his wonderful wife and kids.

    I’ve had a chance to get to know Mitch more the past few years. We’ve seen him in fun and sad times. We’ve laughed at family reunions and cried through funerals. Mitch and I have an aunt who lives on the coast where he lives. When my aunt lost both her sons a couple years ago, Mitch really stepped up. He was ready to help in whatever she needed and always told her, “I’ll always be here for you.”

    Mitch hadn’t been feeling well recently. Things got so bad, that he went to the hospital, only to be life flighted to a larger hospital in an effort to save his life. As they were taking him to the hospital, he was still reassuring our aunt that he would be fine, he was strong, and he would always be there for her. Unfortunately, they discovered Mitch had MRSA in both lungs and Influenza A. His body was in such bad shape that they said it would take a miracle for him to live.

    Oh, how I prayed for that miracle! Our whole family did. Mitch’s wife and kids desperately needed him. Our aunt had already faced such tragedy. Another one was incomprehensible. God is good and merciful, and I prayed based on those traits that He would save Mitch.

    A few days after he was admitted to the hospital, we received word that Mitch’s kidneys were failing, and he wasn’t going to make it. After hearing the news, I had to drive home from dropping my daughter off at preschool. I cried and said audibly over and over, “This isn’t okay, God! It isn’t okay!”

    And it still isn’t okay. It isn’t right that Mitch was called home when he was needed on earth so much. It isn’t okay that he got his life right only to lose it. It isn’t okay that such a positive, kind, generous heart stopped beating. It isn’t okay that our family is hit with another unthinkable tragedy

    Part of me was angry and very frustrated. What’s the point of praying if God isn’t going to answer? And I was so very weary of feeling like my prayers aren’t answered.

    Then I felt a gentle knowledge seep into my spirit. It wasn’t a voice, and I don’t even know the moment of realization. But it was an awareness of God clearly saying. “I did answer a prayer today.”

    And I knew. I had prayed with all my heart, but someone else’s heart had been poured into prayer long before mine. God answered the prayer that came first. He answered the prayer that had seemed unanswered for decades, and yet that prayer had remained until the day he chose to answer it.

    Grandma had prayed for Mitch to make it to heaven, and today, he made it and found her waiting.

    Who was I to criticize the way God answers prayer? While I had prayed for God to spare Mitch’s body, Grandma had prayed for God to spare his soul. As much as I don’t like the result here, the answer to Grandma’s first prayer is infinitely more valuable than the answer to my second prayer.

    So why do we pray? Because our prayers are more powerful than we can imagine. Each one reaches to God in such a way that it remains even after your time on earth is gone. Even though God took Mitch home, I still believe that my prayers for His goodness and mercy will be answered for Mitch’s family. Sometimes I think we get too wrapped up in the time aspect of our prayers, and it takes prayer for us to communicate with God and understand that He is without the constraint of time. In the book of Revelation, the prayers of the saints are described as incense before the throne of God. That’s a wonderful image because incense is of great value and is something pleasant you are aware of in every breath you take. I believe that’s how God sees our prayers. They are not temporal like the world in which we live. Instead, they remain before Him, waiting for the day when God says, now is when I answer this one.

    This is not a new concept to me. I remember the very last thing my grandfather told me before he passed away. He was dying, and I had to leave. I knew I would never see him on this side again, and he knew it as well. He told me, “I am praying for you.” I think in the moment, I said something like “No, Grandpa, I’m praying for you.” Only after did I realize what precious final words he gave me. He was praying for me. His final moments as his body failed were spent in prayer on my behalf, and those prayers have lived so much longer than his last breath. He was giving me the gift of his love and influence in God’s provision for me that would likely carry me to the end of my own life. Years and years later, I have great comfort knowing that he prayed for me. Those prayers are before God still today, and He is acting on them.

    So, let me encourage you to keep praying. Keep praying when the situation seems impossible. Keep praying when you don’t get the answer you think you need. Keep praying regardless of time and years of not seeing results. Keep praying through senseless tragedy. Keep praying when the world is chaos and everything is definitely not okay. Keep praying as you seek to better understand God, His will, His plan, and your place in all of that

    Though you may not get your answer here on earth, you can definitely leave a legacy of prayer that God will continually hear long after your physical words are silenced. It doesn’t make tragedy okay or understandable. It doesn’t answer the “why” questions of now. But someday, when you are enjoying eternity, maybe you’ll turn around and see that which you have longed for. Maybe, like Grandma, you’ll see that, today, God answered.


  • What Women Want

    Here we go. Yes, I am going to attempt to solve the mystery that has plagued mankind since Adam first awoke with Eve by his side. Though men may think women unfathomable, in reality, what they want is actually very simple. Unfortunately, birthdays, Christmas, Mother’s Day, and many days in between pass without women feeling important and loved, and men are left clueless as to where they went wrong. To make it easy for my own husband and all men in general, I have created the definitive list of what women want. This way, a man should never wonder what to get the women in his life to show his love. If you are a man searching for the perfect gift for your significant other, you are in the right place. If you are a woman, feel free to adapt my list to create your own or just forward the list or link to your own guy.  Hopefully, solving the great mystery will lead to greater understanding that extends in all directions. Shoot, let’s aim for world peace, too! 😉

    Before my husband, Brian, and I had children, he gave me a wonderful birthday gift. I was teaching elementary school and had spent all day in parent/teacher conferences. When I’d finished my last official conference, he showed up at school and announced that he was whisking me away to a fancy hotel. He’d already packed my things and spoken to my principal, asking if I could leave a little early. I typically don’t like surprises, but this one was amazing. My tough, dragon lady of a principal was reduced to mush at my husband’s thoughtfulness, and we left the school with the envious gazes of all of my coworkers trailing behind.

    Another time, before we were married, Brian wanted to plan a date, but we didn’t have much money. He stopped at a restaurant, bought two pieces of my favorite pie, and took me up to a park overlooking the city. It was very romantic, and we ate pie and talked about everything and nothing.

    Of course, things often change and become more difficult after you have kids, but Brian has still managed to give me meaningful gifts. One year, he took all of the kids shopping and let them each pick out a piece of jewelry for me. I loved knowing that they each chose something for me, and they were so proud. Even today, whenever I wear that jewelry, they smile and remember how they chose it.

    Another year, Brian got me a new set of sheets for our bed because he knows I love clean sheets. Last Christmas, Brian surprised me with a Mother’s ring that held a birthstone for each of my children. At some point, I had mentioned that I would someday like a Mother’s ring, but it wasn’t on my “list.” Until I opened the box and found the ring inside, I didn’t even realize that he’d paid attention when I’d said it.

    So, what do all of these gifts have in common? Why do they stick in my memory as meaningful? What reduced my principal and coworkers to mush? What about them made me feel so loved and special? In reality, it isn’t the actual gifts at all. The secret is that, to a woman, the gift she loves most isn’t the physical gift, it is the thought and plan that goes into making the gift real.

    It doesn’t matter what the gift is. If you want to do something special for a woman, have a plan. Don’t wait to the last minute. Her birthday is too late. Christmas Eve is too late. If you’re asking her what she wants to do on Mother’s Day or another day that is supposed to be special, you’ve already failed. You can definitely ask her opinion, but do it long before the event and phrase it like “I’m doing this. Would you rather this or that?” Women are self-sacrificing. If you wait until the day of, have no plan, and then ask me what I’d like, the answer is that I’d like nothing. At that point, a woman feels like a burden who wasn’t important enough to plan for, and we don’t want anyone to do something for us that is work and that he doesn’t truly want to do. We don’t want to be an inconvenience. We want others to want to do something for us. Even enjoy planning or giving us something, hoping to make us happy.

    We don’t really care what the “it” is. Even if doing something means just staying home and playing games with family. The gift is being important enough to be planned for. The fact that someone cares enough to make a plan and try to do something I would like is of far more value than the actual something. It’s the thought and effort that speaks love. That’s what a woman hears every time. If there is no thought or effort, that speaks just as loudly.

    My husband is amazing. He is thoughtful, and I am so very blessed to be loved by him. He has made me feel so very special and loved with some of the examples I gave. And I have countless others I could share as well. But no one gets a home run every time. He gets busy and distracted, and sometimes he gets so focused on wanting something to be special that he forgets that special doesn’t need to be big. He always asks me for a list for holidays, and it frustrates him if my list is sparse, late, or I can’t really think of anything big. So, I decided to come up with the ultimate, comprehensive list of “What Women Want.” That way, hopefully he can understand the truth of what is special to me. What says, “I love you,” is the plan and thought behind any gift or activity. It is knowing that I am important enough that he has paid attention and taken the time out of his insanely busy schedule to think of me and plan something in an effort to make me happy.

    And I’m sharing that list with you. I think that most women feel the same way I do, but sometimes we struggle to put all of the feelings of frustration, love, and longing into words. So here you go. Let me know what you think and what you like. If you have any other suggestions to go on the definitive list, please share! It, like all of us, is definitely a work in progress. Here’s hoping you get exactly what you want for Christmas!

    For the record, here are the things that a woman enjoys and will always work for gifts:

    1.Things the kids (or grandkids) pick out—like jewelry or candy.

    2. (Chocolate. If she likes chocolate, this is always a good idea. Another tip: pay attention to what she likes and make sure you keep her favorite chocolate, or candy, on hand. If she’s mad, toss chocolate in the room before attempting to speak to her.) 

    3. Small things like nice pens, office supplies (sticky notes), nice-smelling hand soaps or a specialty candle. Flowers are always good. What’s her favorite? A live plant, roses, daisies?

    4. Pajamas. Please note, this does NOT mean lingerie. Lingerie is a gift for a guy’s benefit. Instead, get her comfy pjs, a new pair of her favorite slippers, or a plush robe. Need help choosing? Phone a friend. Ask one of her friends, sisters, daughters, or mom.

    5. A gift card or cash that is given with the specific instruction to use this much on choosing clothes for herself. (Bonus points if you combine this with #11 below.)

    6. Fixing something that is broken. Lightbulbs, drawers, anything little and big. Or making arrangements to have something fixed. Write it in a card and tell her what you did and why.

    7. Finishing a project around the house that has been in process for a while. Women love it when men are handy and fix or finish projects!

    8. Planning and making dinner or desert. Make something she likes. Have a plan. Get all the food and supplies before the day of the dinner.

    9. A date with all of the arrangements made and on the calendar. Childcare taken care of, work taken off. The plan should to be in place so she doesn’t need to answer any questions about where to go or what to do.

    • A note about surprises: some women don’t like surprises. It’s totally fine to ask her beforehand to reserve a date on the calendar and say you’re planning to take her out. You don’t need to give her all of the details. Knowing what’s coming and that you’re doing the planning should be enough.

    10. Something you’ve noticed her liking or needing. Maybe her bedside lamp is broken or she needs new socks. Maybe she’d really love to get family pictures and you’ve been dragging your feet. Maybe there’s a movie or concert that she mentioned wanting to see. The important thing is to pay attention to her!

    11. Something that is uniquely her. Maybe she loves coffee or books, and you could get her a gift card. (If you need an idea of books she’d like, I can probably help you with that!) Maybe she loves crafting or art and you can give her a craft supply store gift card or pay for a class. Maybe she’s always cold and would love a warm, fluffy blanket. If you aren’t completely sure and are nervous about scheduling, ask her opinion! Talking about it is completely fine. She’ll like that you’re interested. Just do it before the big day!

    12. Time—arrange for her time for herself or with her friends.

              Ideas:

    • I have a friend whose husband pays for her to go to a hotel one night by herself every year.
    • Watch the kids for a full day so she can do whatever she wants.
    • Some women would prefer a girls’ day with family or friends. Talk to her friends and arrange for                    them to take her out shopping, for dinner, movie, or some other activity. Better yet, pay for it.
    • Even better, combine this with #4, #5 or #6 and fix something or finish a project while she is gone!

    ***Big takeway. It doesn’t matter what you do or get. Whether you’re wanting to make your wife, significant other, mother, sister, daughter, or any other woman in your life feel special, pay attention, think of her, and plan beforehand. It is the time and effort you invest for her that is the actual gift. And if you actually enjoy doing it, well, she might just melt to the floor right there and declare you her hero for cracking the code on one of the great mysteries in life.

     

    What about you? What is your favorite gift you’ve received? What gifts do you like best? Care to add anything to the list???


  • Home Plate

    I’ve thought about writing this story for a long time, years actually. I knew the day was coming when I’d do it. Now I’m finally here and all the words that have drifted through my head are gone, and I’m left trying to translate tears to a white page.

    It seems appropriate that this past week I published my latest Crossroads Collection, which is a set of books about weddings, and yesterday I got to experience one of the most beautiful weddings I’ve ever seen. So, now is the day where I get to finally tell the story of a beautiful wedding years in the making.

    I first met Lori about fourteen years ago. I was blessed to be her oldest daughter’s third grade teacher. Two things that were very apparent about Lori was that she adored her family and baseball! By the end of that school year, both Lori and I were expecting baby boys that had nearly identical due dates. I didn’t know until later that we both chose the same name for our boys. Even more amusing is that we were both married to a “Brian”!

    Over the next few years, Lori and I kept in occasional contact, chatting when we’d run into each other around town, but her Cayleb and my Caleb found each other in first glade. They struck up a friendship that continued through the years since then as they’ve played on sports teams, gone to each other’s houses, and attended birthday parties together. A few years ago, I ran into Lori at our local 4th of July fireworks show, and we got to talk. She’d just been diagnosed with cancer. She explained openly and matter-of-factly the procedures and treatment that would start immediately. When I hesitantly asked a few more questions, she told me she’d been given a survival rate chance of fifty percent. While the thought of life or death on a flip of a coin terrified me, Lori was an optimistic person, and she seemed confident that should would win the coin toss.

    Surgery and treatment took a toll. I stayed in touch with Lori, and we had Cayleb and his younger brother over to play to give Lori some time to rest. For a while, she seemed to be in the clear. In spring, the boys got to play on the same baseball team, and Lori and I got to talk. One evening, she’d just gotten back from a doctor’s appointment, and of course, I was eager to hear how it went.

    Unfortunately, she found out that the cancer had spread, and they were out of options. Treatment could possibly prolong her life, but not save it.

    Lori was terminal.

    What thoughts go through your mind if you find out you are dying?

    I know the answer to that. On that sunny evening while our boys hit baseballs and ran around bases, Lori unloaded her utter devastation and chaotic thoughts into my willing ears. Lori wasn’t worried about herself. Lori was a Christian. She knew where she was headed and wasn’t afraid of dying. Her primary concern for her husband and kids. She had four children—two older girls, who were in high school at the time, and two younger boys.

    She didn’t want her diagnosis to prevent her girls from pursuing their dreams. Her oldest, my former student, Chelsey, was due to start college next fall, and Lori adamantly wanted her to continue that plan.

    She also talked about how much she needed to do, including finding her husband a new wife. And she was serious. She said Brian was too wonderful of a husband to not have a wife, and she absolutely wanted him to remarry. Yet she was worried because she said it took himforever to ask her to marry him! Now he’d have to do it again!

    Maybe most heartbreaking of all, she talked about all the little things that drive you nuts in life—like the Legos her boys would leave everywhere, including her bed. Nothing is more aggravating than trying to crawl into bed only to land on Legos! Yet, now, she couldn’t bear the thought of not being there for those Legos.

    What do you say to someone who is dying?

    I still don’t know the answer to that one. It is an ugly ,helpless feeling to know that nothing you can do can change the reality that is to come. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what to say. So on that day, all I did was to cry and pray with her.

    Over the next few months, I got to help out with some of Lori’s last wishes. She went on one last vacation to the coast, had pictures taken, and made some memories. Less than six months after that spring baseball game, Lori passed away. As completely fitting, we all wore Cardinals red and sang “Take me Out to the Ballgame” at her funeral.

    After Lori’s passing, I talked some to her daughter and Brian, and it was clear that they were devastated. Even before Lori’s death, I remember watching Cayleb and seeing the anger and grief pour out of him, and I know those feeling did not in any way improve afterward. Again, I experienced the helplessness of seeing heartbreak and not being able to do anything but pray.

    Over the next few months, Brian did an amazing job of keeping the boys busy while the older girls continued college and high school. Our Cayleb/Caleb duo did scouts together, and of course, when spring rolled around again, more baseball, so I would see the family every once in a while and pray for them much more frequently than that. Eventually, a woman started showing up to baseball games. One of the first times I saw her, she brought treats for the team. I didn’t know who she was, but after months of seeing her in passing, I overheard one of Brian’s boys call her by name: Mom.

    Last baseball season, two of my boys played on the same teams as Brian’s two boys, and I had the opportunity to get to know Misty. I already liked her because it was readily apparent how much the boys cared for her, but it didn’t take long at all for me to like her for who she was herself. She is smart, spunky, dedicated, and most importantly, she loves Brian and the boys with her whole being. She stepped into the role of mother and considers those kids her own. I’ve been so blessed by Misty’s friendship, and also blessed to get to see the joy she has brought back into that family.

    This spring, my once little third grader—Lori’s oldest daughter—graduated college, exactly how her mom wanted her to. And yesterday, Brian and Misty got married.

    It was a simple ceremony with only a few people in attendance. They are doing a bigger, more public ceremony in a few weeks. But this one was absolutely perfect and made even more special to me because I got to sign my name on Brian and Misty’s marriage certificate as a witness. And it all seemed so fitting. Yes, I was a witness. I was a witness the day Lori looked into the future and wanted Misty for Brian. I was there when she agonized about not getting to see her kids grow up and experience their everyday “Legos.” And now, I was a witness to a family being made whole, to children getting a mom who loved them completely, to a man getting to once again be a wonderful husband to a wife, and to a woman getting to experience the Legos another woman had to leave behind.

    And it didn’t hurt that they said “I do” on home plate of a baseball field!

    I’m not sure I deserve the great blessing God gave me through all of this, but I see it for the beautiful work it is. He allowed me to see the full story. I got to be there to see the tragedy and heartache, and then He allowed me to see the other side where He brought joy and healing.

    I don’t know where everyone is in their journey, but I can guarantee that a good number can relate to the dark part of this story. Life is hard. It’s not right that Lori got cancer. It’s not right that she didn’t get to see all of her kids grow up. Unfortunately, you will never find the answer to ‘why.’ Life is hard. It’s not fair. Pretending it is otherwise doesn’t do justice to the other side of the coin. While the harshness of life in unavoidable, the goodness of God is undeniable. Even though bad things happen. Even though pain and tragedy exists in a fallen world, God is still good. Though prayers aren’t always answered the way we think they should, God sees the big picture. At the time He heard Lori pray for her family, He knew how He would answer both her prayers and mine. In this story, His great goodness and mercy is thoroughly evident in my beautiful friend. Her name is Misty.

    So take heart. if you are suffering through the darkness of life, please know that your prayers are still heard and God is still good. Though you experience pain, try to notice and enjoy the Legos in your path and know that He still has your good planned on the other side of the coin.

    And don’t worry, He will not fail. After all, God always bats 1000.


  • Amanda’s misAdventures

    The Three-Wheeled Cart

    I had a plan, and it was a good one. Unfortunately, life doesn’t always follow the plan, and when one of my plans falls apart, it tends to do so in a rather spectacular way.

    With four young children (ages 11, 8, 5, & 2), an over-worked husband, and a writing career, life is insanely busy. Trying to manage the schedules of all four kids and still making sure everyone gets fed and ends up alive at the end of the day takes a high IQ, a generous portion of God’s grace, and a fleet of angels. This year, my oldest two boys are both playing Little League, and my 5-year-old is playing soccer. Yes, I acknowledge it’s crazy, but when you have three boys who all want to play sports, we just can’t figure out which one we crush and say “no” to! We dive into the insanity and enjoy every second of watching each of them do something they love.

    A few days ago, our 11-year-old had an away game about forty-five minutes away from our town. The 5-year-old had soccer practice in town. The plan was for me to grab sandwiches for everyone before we left. Then my husband was to take the oldest to his baseball game, which he would also umpire, and I was to take the 5-year-old to soccer. Of course, the other two kids would stay with me as well. After soccer practice, I was going to drive the forty-five minutes to the baseball game, figuring that the timing should still allow me to see half the game.

    Everything went perfect until the end of soccer practice. I hauled my utility wagon cart back to the car and decided to put my 2-year-old daughter in her car seat before unloading the cart. That way, she wouldn’t run off in the parking lot. Since we were immediately leaving on a long drive, I knew I needed to change her diaper first. Now my daughter just turned two, and is normally a very happy, easy-going girl, but she did not want her diaper changed. What she really wanted to do was drive the car, and I really think trying to diaper a cat would have been easier than getting her to lie still enough in the front seat of my minivan to strap the contraption on. After a horribly long time and a few tears (mine), I managed to succeed with the only side effect being that my stress level now felt like I’d just had to give a speech in front of a few thousand people. I successfully got her in her car seat, hopped in the car, and made sure the other two kids were in their places. Then I backed out and heard a sickening crunch.

    The wagon. I backed up into my beloved wagon. This is the wagon that hauls everything I need for the four possible seasons involved in a two-hour section of spring in Idaho, along with everything I need to manage three other children “watching” their brother’s practice or game.

     

    Yep, that’s mine, fully loaded down.

    Hopping back out of my minivan, I unloaded the wagon, noted that it didn’t look too bad, and hurriedly folded it and stowed it in the back.

    About an hour later (because kids happen and nothing just takes forty-five minutes), I finally managed to find a parking place near where my oldest was playing baseball. And when I say “near,” I mean that it’s a good quarter mile walk, or more, away.

    Once again, I pulled out my wagon cart, loaded it up with chairs, blankets, balls, sunscreen, waters, our still uneaten sandwiches, sodas, hats, and a baby doll. I got the kids out of the car and, with my daughter in my arms, I yanked the cart to follow along behind me.

    But it wouldn’t budge. Not even a little bit. One of the back wheels had apparently been completely bent when I’d run over it, and the cart was locked up. Unfortunately, there was nowhere for me to unload the cart, except back into the car, and there was no way for me to carry even a fraction of what we would need once we got to the ball field. The only options were to load everything back up and head home or find a way to get the cart to move. After coming this far, I didn’t intend to give up easily.

    I had the 8-year-old keep hold of his sister, and I tipped the cart over, fully loaded. I then stood on the damaged wheel, putting my full weight on it to try to straighten it out. I do think a little of the growling I did also helped. This was all while the 8-year-old reported that our sodas were spilling from the overturned cart and soaking everything. Of course, he was right.

    Hurriedly flipping the cart right side up, I was relieved to find that I could now pull it. Unfortunately, the back wheel still wasn’t turning, and it was extremely difficult to pull. But at least it would now move enough for me to drag.

    I was going to make it to that ball field.

    With one arm keeping hold of my daughter, I dragged the three-wheeled cart over a quarter mile with the other two kids trailing along. Out of breath and with muscles weak, I finally found the field where my son was playing. I pulled three chairs out and set them on the ground. Then I shoved sandwiches into the kids’ hands.

    Feeling satisfied that I had made it and was going to get to finally see some of the game, I grabbed my own sandwich and was just getting ready to sit down when my 5-year-old made the familiar announcement. “I need to go to the bathroom.” Sure enough, his words were said with the accompanying potty dance, so I knew this was serious.

    “Do you know where the nearest restrooms are?” I asked some of the people near me.

    “Over by the flag pole,” someone pointed.

    Of course, the flag was over two baseball fields away back the other direction. With my daughter on my hip, I hurriedly blazed the way to the porta potty. With business taken care of, I then walked the two baseball fields back just in time to hear my son’s team say, “Good game!”

    The game was over. All that work, and I didn’t get to see even a single play. My son’s team had been ahead by so much that they hadn’t played the standard six innings. They’d only played four and ended the game forty minutes before schedule.

    I finally ate my sandwich on the forty-five-minute drive home, after lugging my disabled cart the quarter mile back to the car.

    Though I fully recognize that I utterly failed in my goal, I actually wasn’t that upset that I had gone to such tremendous effort and difficulty to get to the game, only to miss the entire thing. Instead, I was actually rather proud. Not everyone can fail so spectacularly. I mean, after everything I’d been through, I arrived right as the game ended. That takes a certain amount of flair.

    So, why am I sharing all of this? I want to let all my mom peers, as well as my other fellow humans, know that you are not alone. Sometimes you try with everything you have in you and you still don’t meet your goal. Most of the time, it’s not even the big stuff. After all, everyone ended the day healthy, and we didn’t need to make any ER visits. But even the little stuff hurts and is extremely frustrating, especially when it’s on top of the exhaustion of trying to make it through the day.

    Social media and outward appearances are misleading. Even if you think someone has everything together, they don’t. Most of us are dragging a three-wheeled cart to a game that is already over.

    Things don’t go according to plan, especially when kids are involved. When you fail spectacularly, please know that, chances are, it isn’t really a fail at all. It’s just a different result than you intended. What you don’t realize at the time, and sometimes even never realize, is that your goal isn’t God’s goal. I didn’t know that the purpose behind me dragging that cart wasn’t so that I could watch my son’s game.

    When we got home, my 11-year-old overheard me giving the report to my husband of what had happened. Before he climbed into his bunk bed for the night, my sweet boy came up to me, wrapped his arms around me, and laid his head on my shoulder.

    “Mom, thank you for trying to come to my game. I know it was hard.”

    I hugged him back, thoroughly savoring the moment, and tucked him in bed. Before I left, I told him something that completely shocked him. I said, “Even with everything that happened, I would do it all over again, just for the chance to see you play.”

    To him, that was unbelievable.

    My plan failed spectacularly. But that night, my son realized in a concrete way how very much I love him. I love him the three-wheeled cart kind of way. That’s the kind of success you can never plan for.

    Likewise, may God end your failed plans and three-wheeled cart misadventures with that kind of success.

    Please note that there were no carts that died in the making of

    this misAdventure.

    The injured wagon was fixed and fully restored to hauling my load on

    all four wheels again the next day. Good little wagon.

     

    ***Please note: Links used in this post are likely affiliate links. It doesn’t cost you anything extra to click and buy, but I get a small commission.

     

     


  • Flower Shop Talk

    I’ve always loved flowers. When I was a child, my mom and grandma jokingly called me their “flower child” because I always kept them supplied with a fresh bouquet of flowers for their dining room tables.

    As a teen, flowers sort of represented an elusive dream that was never mine. On Valentine’s Day, it seemed like every other girl in the school would receive flowers from someone, but there was never a delivery for me. Keep in mind, I was painfully shy and never actually voiced the desire to have flowers. But, if you have to say you want them, that steals away part of the magic of receiving them, doesn’t it?

    Maybe that background and love for flowers is what has made a few flower deliveries extra special to me.

    When I was in college, I competed in scholarship pageants. In one pageant, I completely screwed up the talent portion. Think about your worst public humiliation nightmare, and that’s pretty much what happened. When I was on stage in front of everyone, I lost where I was in my violin piece. It was an epic failure, and I never did manage to find my place in the music. If I hadn’t screwed up so badly, I would have won the competition.

    Fast forward six months to another competition. This time, however, it was a larger competition with many more contestants. I nailed the talent portion, and at the end of the night, they gave me flowers. I won. Not only did I win, but I won a great deal more scholarship money than if I had won that other pageant. That year, the pageant I won was rated one of the top local pageants in the country in terms of scholarship money, and also came with many more perks and help than I would have had otherwise.

    On that night, and in my memory, that gorgeous bouquet of red roses meant so much more than the fact that I had won a pageant. It meant that, even if I failed, I could get back up and succeed. It meant that even when things turn nightmarish and I completely embarrass myself, God can still have a plan that is even better than I can imagine. Even now, when I screw something up or am facing something difficult, I can remember those flowers and hope for another bouquet just beyond my sight.

    Now, just so you don’t feel bad for me about not receiving Valentine’s Day flowers in high school, I have another story to tell. For the Valentine’s Day following my senior year of college, I, once again, did not receive flowers, not even from my boyfriend, Brian. Not wanting to be cliche, Brian waited until the following day to give me roses, along with an engagement ring and a beautiful proposal.

    And I said yes. Again, the flowers were more than mere flowers. They were a promise that I’d found a Prince Charming who would supply me with flowers when I needed them and when I didn’t. When there was a reason, and when there wasn’t. Through ups and downs he would love me, and I’d never have to ask.

    Fast forward over ten years and three children later. I received flowers on April 12. Why do I so specifically remember that date? Because that was my due date of when my fourth baby was supposed to have been born. I unexpectedly miscarried at 12 weeks, and there are no words to describe how difficult that was both physically and emotionally.

    Busy life went on. I had three children to care for, and we ended up selling our house and moving in the time between. Then on April 12, we were moving into our new house, and a bouquet of flowers was delivered from my parents and siblings. The card simply said that they were remembering me on this day. I honestly still can’t think about it without tearing up. Those flowers gave me permission to grieve. They let me know that I wasn’t alone and that other people cared and remembered both me and my baby.

    Three vastly different experiences, but all with the same result. I received flowers that touched my heart and made a difference to me.

    When thinking about an idea for a book, I often start with an emotion that I want to capture. The “Out of the Blue Bouquet” was at least partially inspired by my experiences and a desire to capture a bit of that magic that happens when you receive flowers. There are many different reasons one might get flowers, and many more ways those flowers could impact a life. For me, flowers have both thrilled and comforted me, representing accomplishment, validating grief, and symbolizing the love of my Prince Charming.

    The five stories in the “Out of the Blue Bouquet” hopefully capture some of those emotions associated with flowers. My book is the last in the set and ties everything together by telling the story of how all of the characters in the other books got their accidental flower deliveries.

    Wanting to stay true to the flower magic of my original idea, I thought it would be fun to open a “virtual flower shop” to go along with the book. The shop contains images that can be downloaded and sent to others, as if they were real flowers. Some of the flower messages are funny, and others are serious or romantic. Everyone likes to know someone is thinking of them, and maybe sending someone virtual flowers will give them a hint of the thrill of real ones!

    So visit the “Out of the Blue Bouquet” Flower Shop and pick a few flowers to brighten someone’s day. And then, if you haven’t yet, read the “Out of the Blue Bouquet” collection!

    So what about you? When have flowers been special to you in your life? Have you ever had any “out of the blue bouquets?”

     

    Flower shop

    “Out of The Blue Bouquet” on Amazon

    Please note: This post may contain Amazon affiliate links.


  • A Few of My Favorite Things

     

    There are certain things in life that I love. I’m not talking about the big things or the typical things. I love my children. I love their faces, the way their dimples pop out when they smile, and the sound of their laughter. I love going on a special date night with my husband. So, yes, those are some of my favorite things, but what I’m really referring to is the quirky little things that, even on a really bad day, give me a little squirt of joy just because.

    So I already know they are unique. For sure they would fit in very well with Julie Andrews’ list of favorite things in “The Sound of Music.” Maybe they are a little weird. But here is a list of a few of my favorite things:

     

    * Trees that overhang the streets *

    I especially like if the leaves meet overhead as if in an embrace. I get a little thrill when my car drives through the shady tunnel. It’s so pretty and something about it makes me feel as if the world of storybooks and fantasy may just be at the end of the street.

    * Crinkled potato chips *

    I have no idea if anyone else in the world (besides my sister) has this affinity, but I only like to eat the crinkled potato chips. I know that technically they taste no different, but I will sit with a bag and pick out the crinkled ones. If I find a super big, super ugly crinkled mess of a potato chip? That makes me extra happy.

    *** Please note: The chips in the above picture are not potato chips. They are tortilla chips. I searched my lone bag of barbecue potato chips to find that there were none that were crinkled. I’d already eaten them all. So I put that bag down and searched the tortilla chips, which I also like. I took a picture of some lovely crinkled ones, which tasted delicious.

     

    * Twilight *

    There is a moment before the sun dips past the horizon. It isn’t really sunset because sunset can last a lot longer than this moment. But when the sun reaches this point, the world is filled with a unique, filtered light. Often here, it’s a pinkish glow that bathes the foothills. This moment doesn’t happen every night. Maybe that’s why I love it so. When I was a teenager, I would take off on my bike around sunset, hoping to catch that moment where the world seems wrapped in a brief stillness, and we hold our breath to savor the beauty of a extra0ordinary moment that fades into ordinary before you can be sure it was there.

    * Christmas stories *

    A couple years ago, when I was on bed-rest when expecting my daughter, I went through every Christmas romance movie Netflix had. I guess I never realized how much I love them. Sure, some of them were so very cheesy that they make you cringe, but I still watched and enjoyed them. Maybe it’s the magic of romance combined with the magical time of year. Add a great message, and I love it extra.

     

    This one is really what got me started on this blog series. One of my books, “The Christmas Card,” is part of a Christmas in July sale. Every Christmas Romance book on this list is currently 99 cents, but won’t be for long. Snag a few for now and a few for later. And if you haven’t read “The Christmas Card,” now is your chance. I’m hoping the sequel will be out before Christmas. Maybe you’ll read it, love it, and be able to add it to your own favorite things list!

    To check out the sale, click on the image directly above or check out the link HERE.

     

    When I thought of this post, I didn’t know that I was about to have some very difficult things happen that would leave me with feelings of grief, confusion, and frustration. But even on my worst days, I can encounter one of my favorite little things and know that while life can be difficult, God can give us enough of the simple joys to know that He is still there even when we can’t see other evidence of His presence. Some days I may be upset, but I can still be thankful and happy for a nicely crinkled potato chip.

    I originally thought this post would be a relatively short one, but then I found it to be way too long, so why not do a few days of my favorite things? You can also let me know a few of your unique favorite things, and maybe I’ll include them in a post as well!

    Check back tomorrow for what is next on my favorite things list. Also, please share some of the unique things you love! You can comment below, send me an email, or message me on Facebook!

    Are your favorite things as strange as mine???