Thursday, August 10, 2017

I Sought Him. He Answered Me.

I wasn't going to go. It would be the first mission trip since we returned from Ecuador almost 4 years ago. I gave myself all kinds of excuses, fearful of all the "what ifs." "What if my child can't handle all the activities? It's too far to drive. I can't do it without Larry."

I decided to seek the Lord anyway. I heard His whisper, "I will be with you Amanda. Wherever you go." " I received a message later that morning from a girl at church who wanted to go as well but needed to ride with someone. The next day I ran into a friend at church that encouraged me to go. It was the little push I needed.

I sing the songs in church on Sunday... for God to "Lead me where my trust is without borders. To take me deeper than my feet could ever wonder." Then the opportunity awaits, it's sitting right in front of me and I almost miss it. I have to really ask myself, "Is it just a song I sing? Do I really want to go deeper, or do I desire to just be comfortable?"

There's also the layer of protecting the heart. Still tender from the ministry we left in Ecuador, even though it's been four years. A part that still hurts. That wonders, "What is my purpose now Lord?" Oh how I desired for the fire to be ignited again inside my heart. The flame that used to blaze seemed to be a small flicker now. I didn't want to just survive anymore. I wanted to live again.

What a joy to teach these precious children. It never fails. When I step out to teach them, He teaches me. It was the story of Peter and how he had denied Jesus three times after Jesus died on the cross. A few days later he's out fishing in a boat with some of the other disciples. They've fished all night and haven't caught a thing. They are tired and hungry and can you imagine how guilty and shameful Peter must have felt?

 As the sun comes up, a man shouts from the shore, "Friends, have you not caught any fish?" "No" they replied. "Throw your nets on the other side of the boat," he said. They did and pulled up a net of 153 fish. Peter, then recognizing that it was Jesus, is so excited he jumps out of the boat and he swims to shore as fast as he can (this still brings tears to my eyes).

Jesus is there waiting for them with fish cooking over a fire and bread to eat for breakfast (He meets their needs). Can you imagine?! The excitement and then the pleasure of being in His presence. He then asks Peter, "Do you love me?" Peter says he does. Jesus asks again a little later, and then again for a third time, "Do you love me?" Peter feels hurt that he would ask him again. But we learn that Jesus wasn't trying to make him feel bad. He was calling him out because he had BIGGER plans for him. It was time to get serious. He tells Peter, "If you love me, then follow me and feed my sheep."

Oh my goodness is all I can think to say. The Lord used this story to show me that my ministry was not over just because we left the mission field. In fact, it was just the beginning. He was calling me  once again to put my heart out there, to follow Him, to feed His sheep. My heart, oh how He filled it so that it was bubbling over with such joy! No longer was there shame for all I've done to mess things up. Just love. Pure, sweet, never-ending love. The flame that was a dim flicker, just trying to survive was ignited.

Restoration. Renewal. Joy. I sought Him, He answered me. He is so gracious and good, knowing exactly what I need.


Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The Fire

It was a cold snowy morning in Colorado of 2009.  Larry and I were preparing to go on the mission field.  I grabbed a cup of hot coffee and a snuggly blanket and made my way to the fireplace while everyone was still nestled in their beds.

We had been learning so much and I desperately wanted to just BE STILL as I was feeling somewhat like an onion... you know, each layer being pulled away to reveal what was really going on in my heart. I felt raw and vulnerable and desperate to hear from Him.

As I sat there in silence with legs pulled to my chest I gazed into the gas fireplace for a long time.  I was warmed by the heat it put off as the blue and orange flames danced beautifully around the logs.  That's when I heard the whisper, "What do you notice about the fire?" As I pondered that question, I thought it was pretty impressive how the fire was real, I knew this because I was warm sitting close to it. Yet, the logs, even though in the midst of the flames, were not being burnt up.  I cocked my head to the side to gaze a little longer and that's when I heard, "The same will be with you."

I sort of left it at that, and didn't really think too much more about it...until about 8 months later.  We were now on the closing end of language school in Costa Rica. This time I was sitting on the couch in our little one bedroom apartment with the windows open as I listened to it rain. I was proofreading a book that a friend had wrote when I came across a verse in Isaiah 43.

It read, "When you pass through the waters, I will be with you. When you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze."

I yelled for my husband, "Babe!!! Come here!" He peeked around the corner, and said, "Yea?"   Did you know this verse was in the bible? About the flames and the fire and how you won't be burnt because God is with you?"  I read the verse. He replied, "Yes." I asked, "Well do you remember me telling you about how I felt God speak to me back in Colorado?! This is the verse! It's actually IN the bible!" He gave me one of those little quirky smiles and said, "Yea, I thought you knew that."

 I didn't know it. I was pretty much blown away. What I heard God speak to me that morning was actually in the bible?! I was shocked. Amazed. In awe. I often turned to that verse when going through trials and hardships. It gave me a lot of comfort as I held on to His promise during some tough times over the next few years. 

(Fast forward about 7 years) I had the opportunity to go on a Ladies Retreat with our church this past weekend.  I'll just be honest.  I kinda didn't want to go at first. Okay, I really didn't want to go.  It's just easier to come up with all kinds of excuses to stay home. But, everything happened at just the right time and I was able to make it... thank God!

We are sitting in our first session and the speaker asks us to turn to Isaiah 43; which is where we'd be "camping out" for the weekend.  When I saw those words underlined and circled and read the words in my bible, I thought, "Oh boy, this is gonna be GOOD." It was. God showed up in so many ways and in so many details.

On Saturday, I felt a bit drained. As we opened up to one another, we shared things that were difficult to talk about. To be honest, I was pretty scared that I might be leaving to come back home that way.  My spirit was saying, "Lord, please heal my heart. I don't want to go home all broken like this."

We went to our last session on Saturday evening. Our speaker asked us to write down one thing that we would be taking home with us. What had we heard God saying to us over the past 24 hours?  As I put a pen to the paper, it all came out effortlessly.  "Let go, Amanda. Let go of your father and the other people that you hold so close and tight in your hand. Give them to me. Give me your pain. Let Go."

She then asked for some to share. I didn't think I could. I was already crying as I wrote. But, as I heard other women speak and be vulnerable, it gave me courage to do the same. I said it out loud, because I knew if I didn't, it would be too easy to keep holding on. I spoke with a broken heart and broken words and we wept together. There are no words for what we experienced that evening together. God was in our midst.

We worshipped on the beach Sunday morning. As I lifted my hands to the sky, I offered my clenched fist and released my most precious loved ones into His care.  As I opened my eyes, the sun peeked through the white puffy clouds in the form of an angel with its wings so beautifully etched in a brilliant gold/silver.  It was well with my soul.  I finally understood. The Lord loved my father even more than I did. All was well. It was time to move forward and stop rehashing the past.

I came home and asked my husband to go with me to the lake. I couldn't wait until "tomorrow" because as our Pastor has said, "tomorrow is the devil's day." I might chicken out if I waited until tomorrow; I had to act now. I took the black box down off the shelf. We rode out to the lake, a place where my dad loved to be. I opened the lid and ran my fingers through his ashes. It was time to let go. Victoria helped me spread the ashes out over the water.

Afterwards, we strolled around a bit longer enjoying the beautiful day.  I wasn't sure how I felt at first.  A good friend sent me a text and I told her what had just happened. She said, "Amanda, you are free." As I pondered that for a few moments, I began to realize that she was right. I didn't realize that it was actually me who needed to be set free. In letting go of my dad, I opened the door to the cage that I had made for myself. A place that harbored hurt and tears and pain was now gone. Vanished into thin air. Not only was my dad free, so was I.

I'm so thankful for the women who put the retreat together, for the speaker who brought a profound message, for all the women who opened up their hearts.  But, mostly... I'm grateful to God for never deserting me. For loving me, knowing me, dying for me.

Worship on the beach
Painting with a Purpose
Just being silly

My Roomie for the weekend
"Pull my neck back!" (You have to see my Big Fat Greek Wedding 2)

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Tell Your Heart to Beat Again

I remember like it was yesterday.  I was snuggled up on our couch in Ecuador as I ate some spicy food and talked on the phone with my friend Abby in Texas.  My contractions had started at 5 o'clock in the morning. It was now 8 in the evening.  I was seriously beginning to wonder if I was ever going to have a baby. I'll never forget her words of wisdom.  She said, "Amanda, try not to fight against the pain.  When the contractions come, don't clench your fists. Don't curl your toes. Just let the pain come." I hung up the phone and closed my eyes. When the waves of pain came, I did exactly as she said. I allowed the pain to take over and do it's job.  You see, there was purpose behind the pain. I didn't escape the pain, but I learned how to deal with it until it passed. Boy, did it work! One hour later we were on our way to the hospital and everything went pretty fast after that.  Allowing the pain to overcome me brought me the most beautiful gift this life can offer. I got to hold my baby girl just a few hours later.

What beautiful words to live by. I sit here four years later snuggled up on the couch as the princess sleeps. I lost my father a few weeks ago and I'm trying not to clench my fists.  I'm trying not to run. Some days I do well. Other days are so difficult that I can hardly breathe.  They say "it's normal. It's part of the grieving process." You know, in some ways, I thought I would be more prepared to handle the death of my dad since I lost my mom already.  I thought it might be easier. I was wrong.  I find myself trying to stay busy because it hurts too much to be still.  And yet I hear the whisper, "Do not run in the opposite direction when you see pain coming. Don't clench your fists and run the other way. Let it come, it will not overcome you. Do not be afraid, I am with you."

I know that God can make beauty from ashes. I have seen Him fight battles on my behalf. His love runs deep within me. Yet when I am feeling down and weak I find myself questioning Him, "Lord, why both parents? What have I done? I feel so alone." (The enemy can sneak in without warning and make you believe all kinds of lies). Please heal the hole in my heart. Please...tell my heart to beat again.

I think I have come to realize that I need this pain to be a part of me rather than "leave" me. I've been trying to run from it to make it go away when instead I need to face it head on. I need to look at it in the eyes and say, "Come." Pain is not my enemy, although I first thought that it was. My heart feels raw like it's on an operating table. It's vulnerable and tender. But I don't think the pain is here to hurt me. Remember the child sleeping in her bed. Remember the child that God sent to die on the cross.  Was there pain? Absolutely. God allows pain to bring about something beautiful. I don't know what it is yet. But, God is good. His love is perfect and overwhelms me. I can trust in Him even though it hurts.