The Wedding Story

Most girls spend the months (or years) leading up to their wedding date furiously planning flowers, dresses, tuxedos, music, venues, themes, color schemes, bridesmaids, groomsmen, receptions, food, guests, invitations, and honeymoons. All I wanted was to be his wife. All those other details just seemed like white noise. Marrying him was truly my only focus. So much so, in fact, that the week leading up to the big day, my sister lovingly looked at me and said, “This really is just kind of a ‘by the seat of your pants’ kind of wedding, isn’t it?!” I’m sure my lack of planning made some a bit nervous, but I knew that with as smoothly as God has allowed each step we’d taken thus far to fall, this wedding wouldn’t be any different. Just one short year earlier, a 24-year hiatus from our college dating and any type of communication, had surprisingly coming to an halt. This relationship reignited quickly and urgently, and truthfully neither one of us quite knew what to do with it at the start.

He and I have both been pleasantly shocked and thankful at the direction this relationship quickly took. Within probably 2 weeks of us initially reconnecting, I said to him, “You’re totally going to marry me!” I just knew. Something in my spirit knew that neither of us would be satisfied with simply continuing a long distance dating relationship. Although I’m not sure he’d admit it, I’m certain that deep down this initially scared the pants off him. We went from, “Hi, Jeff, we’ve not spoken in 24 years. How are you doing?” to a very sudden, practically innate, discussion of where this relationship was going. It was just undeniable. I love our story. I love the grace God poured down upon us. It was truly a welcome, unexpected gift. Someday I’ll write our story in its completion, and include it in one place, but today isn’t that day.

When we knew that marriage was our next step, we started talking about how that would look. Would we just elope, and then tell everyone after the fact? We knew we wanted it quick, simple, inexpensive, and reflective of who we are. We quickly came to the realization that our two sweet mothers would most likely kill us if we tried to run off and do this alone. We knew our families were happy for us, and would want to be present for whatever type of ceremony we had. So, that much was decided. Parents definitely. Then, the children. If our children wanted to be present, and we hoped they would, we wanted them to be a part of the big day. I’m fortunate that I live in a small town, and I have a talented family. It was soon realized that my sister could be the photographer, while my brother in law could be the officiant. So now, we have my sis, her hubby, and of course her girls coming; so it was only fitting that we invite Jeff’s beautiful sisters as well. Our plan was never to make anyone feel excluded, while also realizing that an unintentional/intentional line would have to be drawn somewhere. Fifteen. Our attendance count was now fifteen.

Jeff had been looking for months for employment in TN, so he could move here and we could begin our lives together. The call came on Monday, January 8. He had been hired, and he would be starting work on January 22. We had much to do in a very short amount of time. Twelve days. It was agreed that we would get married in twelve days. We want to be married and living in our house together before he starts work. Now, I don’t know how many people have ever planned and pulled off a wedding in less than two weeks, but I must say, the whole thing pretty much went off without a hitch. As with all other things in the Jeff and Amanda story, I attribute that fact to one thing only. Fully Jesus. Jeff and I were listening to the will of God in our lives, and He was blessing us for it. Just as He had been doing all the months prior.

He and I discussed where would be a good place to get married. We talked about our house. Truth is, fitting fifteen people in the living room for a ceremony would have resembled a bunch of nicely dressed people packed in like commuters on a New York subway at rush hour, so we quickly scrapped that idea. We still wanted it to be a place that was meaningful to us. Then Jeff said, “What about your mom’s?” It was perfect. Of course, I love my mother’s home. Jeff had visited it when we dated back in college. It was a place I had spent much time during the past 27 years. Most importantly, it was last place I saw my father alive. I love that space. We asked Mom, and she was quick to agree. I told Carolynn that we wanted her to go to no extra trouble. I told her we would come to her house in the days before the wedding, and do all necessary cleaning/arranging. Before I was even off the phone with her from asking permission to get married in her house, that woman was painting baseboards in her living room. Truth.

I realized that with 15 people being present at our ceremony, and the time of day we would be holding the wedding (sometime between 3-4 p.m.), we would need to feed everyone. I wanted something light, because Jeff’s family had generously offered to take everyone to dinner at The General Morgan Inn in Greeneville after the wedding. So, I texted my sweet friend Mandy Royston from the middle of Walmart. Mandy and I had been friends for years. My daughter swam on her swim team. She consigned with me at Clothing Carousel. She used to have her own catering business. Her husband had been our preacher, and years ago, during a particularly difficult day I was having, Mandy told me that God had a special man out there for me. She told me I just needed to pray and be patient. I assured her that while I loved her tremendously, God most certainly did NOT have someone for me, because there weren’t any good men left. Mandy told me that day that she’d begin praying with me for God to move, and to bring “him” (whoever that was) to me. I appreciated her gesture, but I was certain I’d be an old woman with a hundred cats. I just wasn’t cut out for relationships. My track record wasn’t pretty. Now, at the time of this text from Walmart, Mandy knew that God had already brought Jeff into my life, and we’d already had our big cry of thankfulness over it when it first happened. So, today’s text was to ask her if she still catered. Mandy’s family had recently moved, and she had begun a new job. I wasn’t sure if she’d even have time. When I told her what it was for, she immediately called me, and said she’d be happy to do our food. I ordered some of her famous Mandy cupcakes- almond- and she agreed to do individual peanut butter pies for our guests. I was so grateful she agreed. At the end of our call, she told me that she was so happy that God had worked this out for my life, and she wanted the food from her to be her gift to me and Jeff. Any of you who know me will know that I immediately burst into tears in the middle of the deli section at Walmart. How was this even possible? God had completely provided our venue, our photographer, our officiant, and now our food. Just amazing.

In the next few days, we secured a marriage license, and began making lists of what still needed to be done. His family would arrive the Friday evening before the wedding. There was much to be done at the house to prepare. We’d invited Jeff’s sisters and children to stay at our house on Main Street, and my kids and I would make mom’s house our base camp for the weekend. We were off from school that Monday for MLK day, but I was scheduled to work the rest of the week. I did put in to be off that Friday to get final touches ready for our guest before they arrived. Then, just as perfectly scripted by God as ALL the rest of everything has been, our town has below freezing temperatures and snowfall which was enough to allow for school to be canceled for the entire week. Jeff and I were not only able to get ready for our company, we were able to integrate his furniture and things into the house, clean everything we could get our hands on, and organize everything down to the bathroom drawers. We were ready!

Everything was ticking along perfectly, and then- as life sometimes goes- a problem snuck up on us. The water pressure in the downstairs shower had recently become nonexistent. We’d have to have the issue fixed before his family came into town. Five people trying to get ready with only one functioning shower would be a bit tricky, so I started by calling the water department. The sweet gal on the other end of the line informed me that they’d noticed a jump in my water usage. I asked her how big a jump. She informed me that in a typical month my household uses somewhere around 3,000 gallons of water. She said that for this month ALONE, we were sitting in the range of about 66,000 gallons!!!! Holy WHAT?!?! These are those moments in life where you have mere seconds to make a choice about how you will react to something. I was certain the top of my head was going to blow off! We’d basically used enough water to fill several swimming pools full in less than a month’s time. All I could hear in my mind was the cha-ching of dollar signs floating over my head. Ugh. Then, I remembered, God has been so gracious and good to me through everything, this had to be the devil trying to rain on my parade. It was a 66,000 gallon rain, but nonetheless… I wasn’t going to give him the victory of stealing my joy. No way! So, I thanked the lady on the phone, she offered to send someone out to reread our meter, and we hung up. To make a long story short(ish), both the water department guy AND a plumber came out, and told us that it was going to be “bad.” There was no standing water inside the house, nor in the basement, nor anywhere outside that we could see. That most likely during the recent freezes, a pipe had burst underground, and the driveway AND yard would have to be dug up to find/fix the problem. I was expecting six of Jeff’s family members at my house in two days. We were getting married in three days. NO WAY could we have this level of destruction happening at this house. Still, we tried to stay positive. I went into the house. A short time later, Jeff walks into the house, and he’s beaming! He and the plumber had discovered a secret room underneath the front porch that I never even knew existed! It was in this hidden space that a two foot section of PVC pipe had sprung a leak, and was the root of our problem! Our major problem and yard-gutting situation turned into a $175 problem which was fixed in less than an hour. Total God moment. Without a doubt. Crisis averted.

When Friday finally arrived, Jeff and I were so excited to see his family! His sisters and children had traveled from Virginia, and his parents had driven up from Florida. We had dinner at our house, and my family and his all had the opportunity to meet one another for the first time. It was a special night. Everyone instantly got along, there was talking and laughter nonstop for several hours. Then, everyone said goodnight, and we all got ready for bed. Tomorrow was the big day!

My Saturday morning was busy and amazing. There was much to do in a short amount of time. Jeff and I were exchanging sweet texts during the morning. I had spent the night at my mom’s, and realized that the skirt I had decided to wear (still wasn’t sure about my top) was back at my house. Now, you need to know that this skirt is one I had purchased about 14 years ago. It had been worn once, and then hung in a closet. That morning I snuck back to my house, pulled the skirt out of the closet, and got quite a shock. This skirt appeared to have had a drink of some sort spilled down the front of it. Fourteen years ago. So, to reiterate, I’m just discovering that the skirt I’m wanting to wear to my wedding in about 5 hours has a 14-year-old stain on it. Not only that, it is- of course- dry clean only. I had asked Jessica to pick me up at the house, so I could go back to moms without a vehicle. When she pulled up, I hesitantly told her my dilemma with the skirt. We drove by the local dry cleaners, and I jumped out. I carried my skirt in with me, and showed the owner my problem. She apologetically told me that they don’t clean on Saturdays, and offered suggestions on how I might could pin my skirt, so the stain wouldn’t show. Jess and I drove back to moms house, where Jess immediately began googling how to wash dry clean only garments at home. My mind started to panic just a bit. In retrospect, perhaps waiting until 5 hours before I’m getting married to finalize my outfit wasn’t the smartest thing I’d ever done, but here we were. I heard Jess say something about cold water and Ivory soap. I start filling the tub with cold water, and grab a bar of soap. We submerge the skirt in the water, and the most amazing thing happened… the stain… it just disappeared! We didn’t even have to touch the soap to it. It was like the water melted it completely away. Jess and I just stared in amazement, and then cracked up. Again, total God. No way was that more-than-a-decade old stain just going to vanish, but it surely did! Gone! Like magic!

The rest of the morning was peaceful and precious. My daughter had asked if she could do my makeup. Considering she’s better at it at age 14 than I am at age 47, I easily agreed to it. My niece, Neely, agreed to do my hair; and my sister ran around all day with a camera documenting the preparations. Emma, my other niece, helped out with my kids and running any and all errands that needed to be run. All the while, an 80’s soundtrack quietly played in the background compliments of Neely who understands my love of all things from my high school era.

At three o’clock family starts arriving at my mom’s house. We had fantastic food, and all I could think about was wanting to go ahead and get married. We had planned to start our ceremony at four, but almost as soon as people started arriving, I knew I’d never make it until then. Jeff came in, looking as handsome as ever, and looked at me and said, “There’s my wife!” We hugged and quickly kissed. We greeted everyone, and shortly thereafter took our places in the living room. I don’t really know how to verbalize what took place in that room the afternoon of January 20. It was the same sort of other-worldly sweetness that was present the night my dad died in the next room over. You just knew God was in your midst. Jeff had suggested that we write our own vows. You may think that because I love to write so much, this would be an easy task for me. Not so. I experienced the same writer’s block now as I had when I tried to write what I would say at my dad’s service. A life moment this big required my BEST words. How could I possibly do it justice? I just prayed, and asked God for His help. I knew if I were left on my own, I’d fall over myself trying to speak. We had everyone to gather in the living room. We faced our family, and Jeff Millard (our acting officiant) stood right beside us. No one was having to look at anyone’s back. Jeff M. began by welcoming everyone and saying the beautiful message he had written about how God loved Jesus, how Jesus loved us, and how husbands and wives are called to love one another. It was perfect. During one part of his talk he mentions that he knows our story and after talking to us and others there is no doubt that God has ordained this. Then, the most amazing thing happened. My sweet brother in law (the same brother in law who shamelessly mocks the Elder women for crying so easily) began to get choked up. It was just precious. He continued to speak his wonderful words, and then Jeff and I said our vows. We cried and laughed and even kissed before we were supposed to, but it was just perfect. It was exactly what we wanted that day to be for us. Our family was there. That room was literally bursting at the seams with love. Tears flowed, and hearts were filled. I wouldn’t change one single second of that day. Not even the skirt incident. Everything was exactly how it was meant to be. After the ceremony ended, without any rehearsal beforehand, Jeff and I just started making our rounds hugging our family. My sweet Ava was in a pool of tears. It warmed my heart. I don’t think anyone in that room could deny that this union was anything but the complete will of God. My heart just burst with thankfulness. I never knew I would ever experience such blessings. I had a new husband. I added wonderful people, whom I genuinely love, to my family. Life is just beautiful.

I’ll tell you something else… and I didn’t really realize this until I started going through the amazing pictures that Jessica took of us that day. Her pictures are exquisite. However, I can be quite critical of myself at times. I’m not still 21, as I was when he and I first met. I don’t still have a stomach you could bounce quarters off of like I did when we first dated. This gal, this body, has experienced a lot of life in the time we’ve been apart. Jeff Crawford loves me just the same. He really, truly loves me. Just as I am. In a perfect world, I may have been several pounds lighter and perhaps all of this would have happened many years sooner, but the truth is- I’ve never felt more perfectly myself than I did that day, in that room, with that man. THIS is God’s will for my life. It has happened exactly when and how HE wanted it. I am humbled, and eternally grateful. I’m blessed to be Mrs. Jeffrey Alexander Crawford. He is my greatest love.

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Side Roads

As I left Virginia this afternoon, from the new year’s weekend spent with my love, I took a wrong turn. More accurately, I was on the phone with a friend (perhaps mildly distracted) when Google maps decided it would take me on the scenic route to the interstate- a three hour scenic route, to be exact. This “long cut” on January 1, 2018, provided me with lots of time to reflect on the day, and more importantly, to reflect on the events of the past year. Twenty seventeen has been a year full of challenges and surprises. I’d say most of us have experienced the same with this passing year. There have been instances which have pushed me to my limits, and others which have rained upon me like gentle blessings being sprinkled down by the Father Himself.

It has also proven to be a year of much reflection and questioning about God’s timing. Not doubting it, mind you, but just wondering WHY? I don’t think God minds when we question Him. I do believe He wants us to trust Him, but I feel certain He doesn’t mind us non-omniscient beings pondering the meaning to some of life’s questions. For example, I wonder why He allows certain things to come to us so easily, while other things seem so difficult? I wonder why He allows us to flop around in our own mistakes, and to waste so much time spinning our wheels outside the confines of the boundaries of His will for us? Why? Wouldn’t it just be easier for Him to give us the specific daily instructions we are to follow, and then we could cut out about 95% of the stress and chaos from the slings and arrows that can hit us from any direction and out of complete nowhere? Imagine a life without decision making. Every problem solved before it even happens. Knowing in advance the outcomes to each and every motion we take. Close your eyes for just a moment and imagine with me…what if every move we made was a perfectly-orchestrated step in the dance of each of our lives?

It was in my questioning that I felt I heard His quiet answer. It is in these uncertain challenges, these unforeseen circumstances, these SIDE ROADS, that we find our strength. It is when we are forced into making a decision- whether right or wrong- that we are made to stand in front of a cosmic mirror that reflects to us what we are truly made of. Better yet, WHO we are truly made of.

If you’re reading this right now, you’ve survived each and every challenge which has been put before you to this point. The same is true of me. Every hurt, every pain, every illness, every loss… we made it through, and we are still standing- hopefully stronger for it. God does allow us to have input in the choices we make daily. We may choose what we feel is right. Sometimes, we may choose what we hope is right. Other times, we may knowingly choose what we know to be wrong, or even choose to make no choice at all. Regardless, each choice has a specific and significant ripple effect through our lives. We generally have no idea in the moment how long that choice will ripple through our lives, but they do create a definite cause and effect relationship. There are choices I can pinpoint in my own life from many years back, which took mere seconds to make, that still ebb and flow through my life today. Not all of them bad. Not all of them good. But choices, nonetheless.

So, much like the side road I ventured down this cold, winter afternoon, I didn’t intentionally choose this route, but it still got me to my final destination. The truth is, in taking my side road I saw a lot of beauty I may not have otherwise had the chance to experience.

I’d like to encourage you today, on this day traditionally intentioned for resolution making and goal setting, to decide with me that this year instead of getting frustrated and disheartened by the side roads that life sets before us, instead of stepping back and away from what scares us; let’s meet these challenges with our heads held high, and with a renewed confidence in our Maker that He only has our best interests at heart. He can make beauty from ashes. He can meet us right here where we are, and will take each step moving forward with us. Then, even when we intentionally or unintentionally venture down a side road, we can rest in the assurance that we are never alone- not for one second of this marvelous journey through life.

This Morning

5161C82C-5899-4D47-B6EC-47C2BCA1343EIt’s the morning after Thanksgiving, and my heart is still so full of thanks, I had to sit down to write. It’s about 35 degrees this morning in Rogersville. I’m curled up in my favorite big, green chair in front of the fireplace, under a cozy blanket. The only sounds I hear are the cars driving up and down Main Street.

On this floor of the house, my two children are still sleeping soundly. We had a big, fun day with family yesterday. I knew this morning would be a time for sleeping in. I looked through some pictures we took of our family Thanksgiving yesterday, and I’m amazed at how quickly they are growing up. I have two teenagers. I’m not even really sure exactly how that happened. It seems like yesterday, I had these two adorable little babies with heads full of dark hair. One loved her paci and one was a thumb sucker. I loved wrapping them up like little burritos, all snug and warm in a blanket, and just holding them and staring at them. I think most parents can relate. You remember those nights you would creep silently into their rooms at night just to watch them sleep? A love so big you just knew your heart would burst.

Ava used to play a game with me where she would look up at me while I was cradling her, and she’d have the big paci in her mouth. She’d POP it out very quickly, and crack up laughing, then put it right back in, and start the game over. It was hysterical to watch! She was so sharp and witty, even as an infant.

Eli always, always had that thumb in his mouth when he was little. It was generally accompanied by his thumb stuck right between his lips, and his next two fingers up each nostril. I have photographic evidence of this if anyone ever needs to see it!  In his other hand, most definitely, you could find a monster truck of some sort.  These children have grown up on me literally overnight. I blinked, and they are almost in high school. I love them so much it hurts.

In my room downstairs, sleeps the love of my life. In a million years, I never, ever would have imagined the circumstances that I’ve woken up to today even being a possibility. This man, who shared a sweet moment in time with me 24 years ago, and drifted back into my life through God’s awesome timing, has seamlessly fit in exactly where he is supposed to be. Right here, right now. I’m so blessed to get to love him, and to be loved by him. He loves me well.

(Disclaimer: At bedtime last night, I got into my car and went and stayed the night with Jessica and her crew. This is our routine for when Jeff comes to visit. Alternate sleeping arrangements are always planned out. My children will only witness a man staying overnight with me in this house when we are married. I felt clarification was in order.)

So, this chilly Friday morning, I tiptoed into the house, not wanting to wake anyone. While everyone is still sleeping, I have some quiet moments to give thanks and gratitude to God for all of it. From this warm house, to the precious souls who occupy it… from the love that fills each space between these four wall, to the practically overwhelming joy that springs forth out of me daily- I’m just so thankful to God. This house has seen a lot in the ten (plus) years we’ve been here. Some of the memories are difficult ones. What sweet victory it is to know that God has arranged for this newly-realized family to create new, wonderful memories here together. The best Thanksgiving holiday I can recall ever having. So very much to be thankful for today and everyday. I am a blessed woman.

Divorce and the Believer

This is a blog I’ve wanted to write for a while, but needed to take a few years to wrap my head around. I have a sweet friend, Jennifer Taylor, who posted a beautifully written article about a couple on the edge of divorce, who were able, only through the unfailing grace of God, to restore their marriage and stay together. I know for a fact this can happen. I’ve witnessed it firsthand. But what about the other side of that coin? What if you find yourself divorced (or divorcing) as a Christian? Have we totally let both our families and our Creator down? I’d like to share (some) of my personal experience. 

I became a Christian at the age of ten. I grew up in the church, and cultivated a very real and personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I was always taught that if I wished to marry, I should pray that God would send me the spouse He intended for me. I did, for many, many years. Without boring you with unnecessary details, in my Christian walk, I’ve had seasons of being close to God, and seasons of being further away. I think most of us can relate. Probably beginning with college, I found myself living more for me than HIM. This was what I refer to as my “season of selfishness.” I made my own choices, and consulted with God on very little. He was never fully absent in my life, but the static and noise of my everyday life became too loud for me to ever really listen to Him. During this time, and into adulthood, I made mistakes- many of them. Some people proclaim loudly, “I wouldn’t change a thing in my life, because it’s made me the person I am today.” I’m not those people. There is SO MUCH I would go back and change if I could. Stupid decisions, most taking merely seconds to make, have had a long-lasting ripple effects (dare I say “consequences”) throughout my life.

One of those would be when it came to marriage. The Bible tells us that we are not to be unequally yoked (2 Cor. 6:14). This means if you are a Christian, we are not to marry non-Christians. As a Christian, we receive the Holy Spirit. A non-Christian doesn’t have that gift. They aren’t able to view life, the world, and the will of God for their lives as we are. This creates a myriad of difficulties for an unyoked couple to overcome. I’ve even realized that we may marry someone who says they are a Christian, but I would encourage you to look for FRUIT. Do you actually SEE Jesus in their lives? Is it reflected in how they conduct their daily lives? If you do not, I firmly believe this is yet another example of being unyoked. 

Anyway, considering I have young children, and I always state that the “why” behind the unraveling of my marriage is unimportant (someday, perhaps my children and I will have that discussion, maybe not). Let’s just say that my marriage and my home became an uninhabitable place. For years, I pleaded with God for the restoration of my marriage. I cried out to Him to preserve this family unit that I so desperately wanted to keep intact. There were pastors involved, counseling, praying friends, etc. We would experience brief moments of peace, but ultimately, the chaos and unrest would creep back in and overtake any peace that had been found. This is where the battle for me truly began. How can I, as a Christian, get a divorce? Doesn’t this go against every ounce of scripture and teaching of Christ I had ever been taught? Won’t this be an embarrassment for my extended family? How can I demonstrate a Christian walk, and knowingly walk headfirst into a divorce?

Here’s what I’ve learned… first, you will be judged. This initial judgment is by the world. It’s painful. However, after about 3 years of fighting fiercely to keep my family together, I realized that by staying I was actually doing my children more harm. The words, the actions, the fights they were witnessing was doing damage to them. I’m supposed to protect them, right? What protection was I offering them by keeping them in a hotbed of anger? Those who judge aren’t privy to the endless hours of calling out to God for reconciliation. Those who judge aren’t witness to the nights of laying with my face to the floor praying to God for His mercy. Those people didn’t have to live within my four walls. They don’t know the behind the scenes damage taking place in my lovely, historical home. 

Second, I knew that God would judge me. However, I also know that I serve a God of forgiveness. As painful a decision as it was to agree to the decision the day I had papers served to me just months after the death of my father, I knew that it would take more than one person to salvage this marriage. I couldn’t do all the work for the both of us. It doesn’t work that way. So, I continued to pray, and ask for forgiveness and for covering for my family. 

Third, I will freely admit that this was one of the darkest periods of my life. I’ve never felt so empty, so helpless, so hopeless, so alone. My only comfort was that I had an amazing support system of friends and family who offered prayer and support throughout. There were many days I didn’t feel that I’d survive it. I had only two reasons to get out of bed each day, and their names were Ava and Elijah. I wanted them to see their mother not devastated by the circumstances, but instead leaning on my hope in my Heavenly Father. I was so weak, but He was strong. 

In closing, and in case you’re wondering, God brought me through that dark wilderness. He never left my side. I had to fight many battles, and there were times that I only made it because He carried me. Isn’t that what our gracious Father is all about, after all? Even when we mess up, He still loves us unconditionally. So much so, in fact, that He made the ultimate sacrifice, sending His own Son, to pay for our transgressions. Today, five years later, I’m in a place of peace that I never ever thought possible. God has poured out blessing over blessing upon me and my children. So, yes, I am divorced. More importantly, I am a child of God, who has been forgiven from the moment my sweet Jesus experiences His nail-scarred hands. God is so good. Never lose sight of the fact that He is present in all times, even those when we are struggling to see the Light ourselves. 

Be blessed, my friends. ❤️

The Struggle is Real

I’ve always experienced a tinge of guilt anytime I have a bad day. Guilt that I don’t feel like my normal, happy self. Guilt that I feel fussy, when in reality I know how incredibly blessed I am. This week though… this week has been a doozy. I’m writing this in the same clothes I had on two days ago. I feel unmotivated and a little bit sad, although it’s been really difficult to pinpoint exactly why. It’s rainy here this week, but I love the rain, so that can’t be it. I’m missing my love who is 6 hours away, but he’s always 6 hours away, so that can’t really be it. My kids have been great this week- getting along- so it’s not your regular “mom” stress. 

Then, this morning it hit me like a mack truck.  Our Bible study this week was about Jesus instructing us to be fishers of men. Mark 1:17 says, “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.”  I challenged each of our ladies, myself included, to do some fishing this week. I think God wants us to talk to people in our daily lives about Him, although for some this can mean stepping a bit outside of our comfort zones. I gave them some examples of my past experiences witnessing for Christ, and told them that I’ve even asked God to bring the people directly to me. Like, just open that door a smidge, so I can get a toe in, and then I’ll kick it on open. We’ve been sharing victories and experiences, and plan to revisit this on Monday.

That has to be it. This is the hardest week I’ve had in a very long time, and it just HAPPENS to coincide with the week I’ve committed to sharing the good news of God with others. Coincidence? I don’t think so, not one little bit. Let me tell you a secret… I don’t picture the devil (Satan) as this little, red creature with pointy ears and a pointy tail holding a pitchfork. My spiritual mind envisions the devil as attitudes and words spoken. He comes to us in secret thoughts and quiet deceptions. He typically doesn’t show himself in all of his full-force evilness, because this would scare most discerning people away. He starts gently and softly speaking words of doubt and negativity to us. He hopes to get his claws into us this way. What he can fill your mind with will become what seeps over into your soul, and eventually what comes out of your mouth. The devil gave me a crappy attitude this week. It wasn’t my actual days that were bad, it was how I felt overall. If he can keep me wallowing in self pity- “Oh, poor me, life is so hard sometimes… it’s so unfair…” then I’m not going to be in any state to even want to talk to others about the awesomeness of my God. If he can keep my eyes focused on ME instead of my heavenly duties, then he’s won. Sad to say, I let him have most of the last few days. I’m not proud of it. Today though, things are changing!

Today becomes less Amanda, more JESUS! This is how I want my everyday to be experienced. Let’s not give the devil the upper hand, and sink into his plan for our destruction. You hear everyday that life is too short, and we should make each day count. I completely agree with this in theory. I’m going to be training myself to actually put it into action. 

In closing, a Chris Tomlinson song keeps rolling in the background of my mind as I’m typing today. Let me share it with you. “Our God is Greater” is a wonderful song about the magnitude of the power of our God. I hope you listen and are blessed by it. The struggle is real, friends. We all have struggle most days. Who are we going to listen to?… the devil who wants to pull us down as far as he can, and convince us that there is no promise in our future? Or, do we listen to our God, the Creator of the universe, Who already resides in the future and is waiting for us there with His hand extended out to us? Be blessed, my friends. 

https://youtu.be/O5d_gm9zrnY

Grounding Amanda

For the first time in as far back as I can remember- perhaps ever- I am having an experience that is difficult to even put into words.  It seems that for the majority of my life, when it comes to personal relationships with the opposite sex, my heart was always in the right place; but my decision-making skills were lingering somewhere around Ittoqqortoormiit, Greenland.  Never heard of it?  Exactly.

Something amazing has recently happened.  Here.  Now.  Just weeks shy of turning 47 years old, God has allowed the sweetest and most unexpected blessing to quietly drift back into my life.  My heart is so full of joy and thanksgiving that I scarcely know how to contain it.  I’m not even sure where to begin.  Let’s just start here…

About six years ago, I wrote a blog entitled, “The Boy in the Book.”  https://mandaclair.wordpress.com/2010/07/04/the-boy-in-the-book/

This story describes an encounter I had with a young man back in 1991 when my sister and I were just starting our college experience at East Tennessee State University.  I won’t retell the story, as I know you are capable of clicking the link and reading it for yourself.  The boy, Jeff, was an important part of my college time.  He and I shared a few years of love, and eventually parted ways.  Without even realizing at the time, he would leave a lasting impression that even the grandest attempts of others to match would fall painfully short in comparison.

My memories of Jeff were always good ones.  He was the guy my girlfriends loved.  When our crew of 5-7 girls would go out in the evenings for dinner and dancing, he was the one who went along as our bodyguard.  He was the friend and the protector of our group.  Jeff was the guy who brought Georgia peaches to my mother when he would visit- a fact that now, to this day, she still mentions every time his name comes up.  He was the guy who was thoughtful, and caring, and paid attention to the little details. He was the guy who loves his mother and sisters with a love so big that it makes your heart smile.  Jeff was smart, funny, witty, kind, sincere, and had a beautiful face and smile that would send your heart swooning.

I thought about him after graduation. We spoke on the phone a few times, but eventually that faded away into no contact, and life just moved on. I thought about him every now and then, and hoped life was being kind to him. I tried searching for him online a few years later, but it was as if he had fallen off the planet. The years following lead to marriage and children. Things became very busy. Life happens.

Fast forward about 24 years. Over Christmas break of this year (2017) my sister and I had a wonderful visit from our college girlfriends. We fell into fits of laughter with storytelling of “remember the time when…” stories. It was such fun!  Throughout our stories, Jeff’s name kept popping up. He was a part of many of our fun adventures. One of the girls says to me, “You really need to try to find him.” I sort of blew it off. He was most likely married with children of his own, and even more likely would be impossible to find still. I brushed the idea aside for a few days, but it stayed hidden quietly in the back of my mind.

One day, a few weeks later, it occurred to me to look for him. I pull up Facebook, which I had recently taken a 4-year hiatus from, typed in his name, and BAM! He was right there. 😊 I went into private investigator mode, and searched through pictures, and comments, and everything I could get my “non-friended” eyes on! I decided to bite the bullet, and just send him a message. I did. It was light and easy. Something like, “The girls came for a visit, and your name kept coming up. Just wanted to say hello. Nice to see you’re still out there somewhere…” Anyway, a few days pass, and I hear nothing. I start wondering if I should have reached out at all. Then, I see it. I see by reading his latest Fb post that his father had just died. That very day. My heart broke for him. I know firsthand what a devastating time that is. It occurred to me that it was interesting that of any day, out of any week, out of the past 24 years that I could have reached out to him, it just “happened” to fall on the moment in time that his father passed. Maybe God needed me to be here for him. Could it be that? Although I’d not heard back from the first message yet, I knew I needed to send him another. I told him that I had no idea his father had been ill, and was so sorry for what he and his family were going through. I told him I’d definitely be praying for them all. I said that we’d gone through this with my own dad in 2011, and it’s horrible and surreal; but that he would get through this, and I’d be here to talk if he needed. I ended by telling him that I wouldn’t message again, as I knew he had much he needed to be taking care of during this time.” So, after that,  I just prayed for him for days. Anytime his name crossed my mind, I prayed.

It was five days from that last message that I heard from him. I was so excited to talk to him, and incredibly nervous, although I really couldn’t pinpoint why. He was sweet and I could hear in his voice that he was happy to be talking to me. I could also pick up on the sadness from the week’s events. I wanted to make him smile. His voice sounded exactly the same. It was the neatest experience. On the other end of this phone line was the exact same voice I’d loved 24 years ago. Just sweetness. He asked me if I was on FaceTime. I said, “Right now?” He replied, “No, I mean do you have it, and do you use it?” I told him I wasn’t really a fan of FaceTime. Something about the video phone (like from the old school Jetson’s cartoons) made me nervous. Anyway, that voice that I instantly recognized said he needed to see my face, and in that moment I became the biggest fan of FaceTime on the planet! We Facetimed one another. Often. This began an instant connection that neither of us could really explain.

We basically started at, “So, what have you done from the moment you left school until now?…” The conversations were easy. Some were happy stories, and some were sad. Both of us had been married for 10 years. Both of us had experienced the sadness of divorce. Both of us had two children- a girl first and then a boy. Both of us have children whose ages are close. Both of us lost our fathers to a brain disease. The more we spoke, it was uncanny how many overlaps and similarities our life experiences had.

To condense what has taken place in the following weeks is almost impossible, but something sat up in me and took notice one night when Jeff and I were texting and he sent me a picture of a bible. It had his name engraved on the front, and handwritten inscriptions inside. It was a bible I had given to him as a gift in 1992. He told me he had kept it close for all these years.  In what felt like an instant both of us knew that God had completely ordained this, and we just loved each other again. We didn’t say it out loud at the time, but we knew. Both of us agree that it’s like we left our heart with the other 25 years ago and it has only been lent out to other people for all these years.  We agree this all makes so much sense now- why nothing else worked. We believe we’ve just sort of come full circle, and Jeff says he’s back to reclaim this love with me.  I can hardly believe this amazing answer to my years of prayer has finally arrived. I’m not going to share every detail of US, because I want to leave some of the beauty of our story just for us. I can tell you, I had completely given up on ever getting to experience this pure, spiritual connection and love with any man. I’ve just not been “lucky” in most of my relationships. My mother says I like to do what she calls “missionary dating.” I find someone who needs help or fixing, and it becomes my personal challenge to try to help fix them. I can assure you, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that this “fixing” never occurs, and you find yourself in an empty relationship, where you are spending the majority of your time trying to meet the other person’s needs. Eventually, your needs are completely forgotten, and the focus is on the other person 24-7. It’s exhausting and can cause you to completely lose sight of who YOU are. This is the beauty of Jeff. I don’t want to fix him. I just want to love him. He’s a Christian. He’s an amazing man. He’s breathtakingly handsome. He loves his family- mother, father, stepdad, sisters. He’s become a father since I knew him and he worships his kids. He’s a hard worker with goals and ambition. He’s everything I’ve ever needed in a partner, but have never found.

The whole thing has happened so fast, but with such amazing PEACE that we both instantly recognized this is Jesus, not us. God has allowed me to have a very full life. I have a wonderful family. I adore my children. I’m blessed with a career I love. This has just been the icing on top. I feel complete, solid. I feel grounded. We’ve already talked to both families. All are praying and excited. Now we just wait for what God tells us is the next move. We are thankful, we are prayerful, and we are hopeful for the future. ❤

When We Give Pornography to Our Children

Do I have your attention? Good, I want to. I’m coming to you with a serious topic, but one which is important and is on my mind often. Let me begin with a disclaimer- this could get a little rough. I hope you’ll read this in its entirety, though. I really want your feedback. Please feel free to comment directly to this blog, or to this post through Facebook. 

Let’s  jump right in… Parenting is the most challenging role I’ve ever had. I’d say any of us who are parents could agree with this statement. I’m sure this same sentiment has been reverberated from parent to parent throughout history. I believe, however, that parenting in the 21st century comes with its own set of unique challenges and obstacles. 

Today our children have access to more information at their fingertips (literally) than any other generation before them. Through the use of modern technology, our children have a virtual Pandora’s box of information accessible to them. The moment we place that iPhone, iPad, other smartphone, or computer into their hands, we allow them passageway into any chat room, social media site, group text, private text, or search engine. It is staggering the information- both good and bad- which we so willingly hand over to our very eager children. As a parent, this has been a concern of mine for a while now, and I’d like to ask what your family does to safeguard against all of the harmful things they can and do very easily stumble across. 

Let me explain just a bit further. It is human nature to be curious about things. This is a good time to point out that this “human nature” of which I speak is also our “sin nature.” Scripture tells us that we are all sinners by nature (think Adam and Eve), and we are creatures who can easily be led astray by temptations of this world. I want to speak to you frankly here, but I’ll keep it delicate. I think this level of brutal honesty is necessary for the point to be fully realized. I can remember as a child the very first time my eyes saw something that they shouldn’t have. I can tell you my age, the place, and what I was doing. I knew that someone my family knew kept a certain type of magazine in their house (hidden, no less); but regardless, it was stumbled across one day and the temptation began. As a child, I flipped through those pages, knowing full well that my eyes had NO BUSINESS being there, but my human nature took over. I was curious. I didn’t realize it at the time in my childish mind, but in that moment an invisible threshold was crossed. A boundary of innocence which, through the years and through life experiences, gets whittled away a tiny sliver at a time until that innocence is so far in our background that we have to strain to remember it. Think back to your personal situations. I’ll bet most of you can remember these life-altering and life-affecting moments without even having to try very much. 

I can tell you that it was in the fifth grade that I cheated on a test for the first time, and was so overcome with guilt that I was sick to my stomach for weeks afterwards. Another life-changing moment. A threshold moment. 

I can tell you the first time I snuck and watched a Rated “R” movie. I can tell you my age, where I was, the name of the movie, and the scene which had the most impact. A life-changing moment. A threshold moment.

I can remember being a teenager, and my mother speaking to my sister and I about the importance of our sexual purity. I remember her explanation that not only was it God’s plan that we reserve these sacred, sexual acts to take place within the sanctity of marriage, but that there was an emotional and environmental consequence as well if we fell outside the boundaries of God’s guidelines. She said that once a girl (or boy) loses their virginity, then it’s most likely that they will continue to be intimate from that point on with anyone and everyone else they date up until finding their future spouse. Once your virginity has been “lost” (What a deceiving way to say that really. I’m pretty sure we know EXACTLY where it went), there’s nothing left to save for our future spouse, right? So, this being the thinking, why should I wait with anyone else? I remember understanding some of her words, but not fully grasping their truth, until I watched a close friend live out this experience. She gave herself over and over, moving from one failed relationship to the next. Leaving invisible, but very real remnants of herself behind in each relationship as she moved through them. Small pieces of her soul, her essence, being chiseled off and left behind with the boyfriend of that month. Eventually, there isn’t much of “you” left. You couldn’t see it at the time, but again, life-changing moments. Threshold moments. 

Our children today don’t have to accidentally stumble across the sin in this world, they don’t have to wait until they are at a friend’s home or even until they are out of their parent’s eyesight, it’s handed to them for birthdays and Christmases. It’s wrapped up with a pretty red bow in packages of 8, 16, and 32 gigabytes. We hand it to our children, children who have been taught right from wrong, and we just TRUST them to make the right decisions. Reality check- they are CHILDREN. These threshold moments actually play into the fabric of who we become as adults. Once these thresholds are crossed, there is no going back. You can’t regain innocence once it’s gone.

How many of you have ever seen the experiment that was on tv a few years ago, where a group of children who had been taught about gun safety, were placed in a room with an unloaded gun, and were secretly recorded to show their reactions? Here’s a link in case you haven’t:

https://youtu.be/7fdnyvwIzg0 Children and Guns

I see this as exactly what we are doing to our kids and teens when we arm them with these life-alterers, these creators of threshold moments, disguised as pieces of technology. I’ll bet if you took your child’s phone at this very moment, and simply did a Google search of any number of violent or sexually-driven words, and then clicked on “images” you’d be astounded to see what they can so easily pull up. Our children can see pornography (FREE) at their fingertips in the comfort of their own home, car, or school. There are pictures and videos that NO ONE would want their child having access to, and yet we not only give this access to our kids, but we also pay the bill for this each month. What is going on???! If Snapchat doesn’t make you a little bit nervous, I think maybe you’ve not thoroughly thought things through. 

So, I’m not trying to get completely overboard with this, and saying no one should ever have a phone. I am saying, however, that parents need to be cognizant of what their children have access to, what they are viewing, who they are talking with, and what those conversations consist of daily. Children are children. They are curious. Just like I was. Just like you were. It would be foolish of us to assume our child is always going to make the “right” decision. We want them to, of course, and we pray to that end, but just like us, they are human. 

I’d like to hear from you if you don’t mind to share your thoughts on the matter.  What parental controls have you placed on your devices, on your children, and on your environment to ensure that your child is being protected? After all, isn’t that our job as the parent? We can’t keep them innocent forever, but aren’t we supposed to protect them for as long as we can? 

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