Monday, July 7, 2014

It's Not About Me: When Faith and Fitness Collide

One week. That's all it took to change my perspective and find the motivation I needed.

I knew things had to change. For months, I'd grown more and more exhausted, despite less stress and a more relaxed pace to my life. Aches and pains became normal. I was unhappy with my body. So when I saw a Facebook post in April about a local running group starting a Couch Potato to 5K plan, I signed up - and I drug my kids along with me.

With the exception of our youngest son, we are not a family of natural athletes. To be honest, I stink at sports. My youngest didn't inherit that from me, so I wasn't surprised when he took off running that first night, outpacing us all. I ran with the group, while my oldest stuck with the walking group. Neither child was excited about being forced into a workout group.

The second night, another runner talked my oldest into joining us. My son reluctantly agreed, but made it clear that he didn't think he could finish. We forged ahead with our run 60 seconds/walk 90 seconds plan. And he finished. He did the whole thing, right beside me.

Everything changed that night.

During the next several weeks, I watched my son go from saying "I can't do this" to saying "I'm going to run a 5K." I saw the determination on his face every time we went to the track. One night he even quoted Jillian Michaels when his younger brother wanted to quit: "Unless you're puking, fainting, or dying, you don't quit."

My youngest did eventually drop the plan - and I agreed, because he's young and I don't want to push him too much - but my oldest kept running. He dug deep and found a place in himself that he never knew existed. Every "first" has been amazing: quarter mile, mile, two miles, and a few weeks ago, our first 5K.

Seeing my oldest son running inspires me. He is learning lessons that will follow him into adulthood - perseverance, discipline, the value of a healthy lifestyle.

We push each other. 
Sometimes I really want to quit - but I don't, because he's watching. I'm faster, so sometimes I slow down and run with my son so he doesn't get discouraged. Other times I run ahead and call back to him, pushing him to dig a little deeper and move faster. Knowing that he is watching makes me run faster, better, and more often, because I want him to follow my example. 

Kind of like my life...

I can't quit, because they're watching. My sons are looking to me for an example, for encouragement, for a blueprint on how to navigate life and a walk with God. They need to see my faith lived out. It's terrifying, because I know all too well how weak I am. But I have to get pushing ahead, not just for myself - but for them.

As for running - now that our first 5K is behind us, we're planning for more. I'm looking at a possible race in August, we're planning to run a few together this fall, and I'm eyeing my first ever 10K in November. We run together a few times a week, and my youngest son is joining us again. He will be racing with us this fall, if all goes according to plan. 

It's become a family activity - sometimes fun, sometimes filled with complaints, but it's something we do whether we feel like it or not - because it's not about us. It's about the fact that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, bought with a price. It's about honoring God with our bodies. It's because through every run, the good and the bad, we're learning and setting an example. That's my motivation.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

When You Need to Shut Out the Noise

Our world screams for attention. In the age of Internet on cell phones, Facebook and Instagram, viral videos and more, we're surrounded by voices. Everyone has an opinion, and everyone tries to scream loud enough to be heard. It's overwhelming. Trying to listen to everything makes my head spin and leaves me feeling overwhelmed.

The sad fact is that most of what we hear isn't truth. We hear opinions. We hear twisted versions of what people call truth - but in reality it's their attempt to twist reality to meet their lifestyle. We hear a lot of outright lies. How do we focus on God when all this is happening?

Sometimes we need to shut it all out.

It's easy to forget what's really important in this noisy world. There is only one voice and one opinion that matters: God's. But how do we keep our focus on Him?

1. Start your day with God.

If I don't carve out time with God each morning, I can almost guarantee that my day will be rocky. I need time each morning to drink my coffee, read my Bible, pray, and focus my mind on the One in charge in my life. I write out what I'm thankful for, study the scripture I'm memorizing, do my Bible study (currently I'm using She Reads Truth studies), and pray. It usually takes 30 minutes or so. Do I have to get up earlier? Yes. Does it take some extra effort? Yes. But it's completely worth it because it helps keep my mind focused throughout the day.

2. Limit social media.

I'm not talking about leaving social media. I know people who have done this, and they felt it was the right thing to do. But I don't think that's the answer. There are great things on social media! I'm part of Bible study groups, accountably groups, and even a Scripture memorization group. We need to connect with others, and the online world offers a great way to do it. What I suggest instead: Limit what you see on social media.

Do you have friends who post inflammatory things on Facebook? Hide their posts from your news feed.
Are you part of a group that seems to lean toward the negative? Drop out. (I did this recently, leaving a "professional" group that acted anything but professional.)
Do you need to clean up your list of who you follow on Twitter or Instagram? Unfollow people whose posts drag you down.

Take charge of what you see. If you need to find more inspiration, follow Hello Mornings, She Reads Truth, A Holy Experience and Hide His Word, just to name a few.

3. Choose your words.

It's hard not to argue back when people shower a website or post with negativity. But in most cases, their mind is made up, and your rebuttal isn't going to change anything. In many cases, their entire goal is to start a fight. Don't give them the fuel, and don't get into an argument that will only raise your stress levels and keep you upset. I know it's hard to stay quiet, but leave your positive feedback, and let your words shine a light into the darkness.

4. Unplug

I'll admit, I'm preaching to myself here. I spend far too much time attached to my cell phone and iPad. It's a habit I'm working to break.

Sometimes we need to just unplug from the world. Every photo doesn't have to be Instagramed. You don't have to post every cute thing your child says to Facebook. Your latest email probably doesn't need your attention this very second. Sometimes the best thing we can do is just step away from the connectedness and just live our lives.

What are your greatest struggles when it comes to staying focused on God? What helps you shut out distractions?

Friday, June 20, 2014

An Exciting Month and a Short Blogging Break

June has been an amazing month. It's also been an amazingly busy month that hasn't left much time for blogging.

One week ago, my oldest son and I ran our first 5K. We trained for two months with a local running group, going through the the Couch Potato to 5K plan.bour goal was to run the whole race, and we did it! It was amazing! There is a break this summer with no local 5K's - because no one wants to run in Texas in the summer. But there are lots of races this fall, and we're already maping out our schedule. 

Today my second short story, Salt Water, went live. It's in the June issue of Splickety magazine - and the featured author in this issue is Jerry B. Jenkins, the co-author of the Left Behind series. I'm so excited! You can find digital copies of Splickety magazine here.

In the middle of all this, we've all been been sick (the one thing you don't want your family to share...), we had a huge kids outreach event, and we're in the middle of a major remodel at our church. "Chaos" is the only word that can describe this month! 

Because of our crazy schedule, I'm taking the rest of June off from my blog and pushing back my newsletter debut a couple of weeks. I'll be back July 1 with new posts, more exciting news and surprises. See you in a couple of weeks!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

When You're Running On Empty

Drained. Exhausted. Unfocused. Restless. Do those feelings sound familiar? My guess is you've been there. I have too. In fact, if I'm totally honest, I'm there right now.

Lots of things can bring it on, but many times it's just the overwhelming demands of everyday life. For me, it's the complete remodel of our children's ministry wing at our church. I'm so excited about this project - it's been in the works for a couple of years, and the results are going to be amazing! But it's also a massive undertaking, especially since we're doing a big part of the work ourselves. Add to this planning two major summer events and training for a 5K, and you have the perfect recipe for a mom sucking down massive amounts of coffee and staring off into space, completely overwhelmed.

We all have times when we're overwhelmed. Dishes are piled in the sink, a baby won't stop crying, kids fight endlessly, jobs change. Before you realize it, you're barely keeping your head above water. You find yourself exhausted, worn, weary to the bone, and barely hanging on.

What can you do when you feel your peace slipping away? You can sneak away for a few minutes and completely lose yourself in The Hunger Games trilogy (ahem...not at I would know anything about that) - but a few minutes of fun reading won't fill you up. You can - and should - work out and get plenty of sleep. You'll be stronger, but it won't take away that 'edge of panic' feeling you get when life is closing in.

This weekend, I got the reminder I needed from my morning time with God. My favorite devotional, Jesus Calling, opened with the words, "Time with Me cannot be rushed."

Guilty. Right before I tapped open my devotional in my Kindle app, I was running through my to-do list for the day. My mind was already jumping ahead to other things. I hadn't even started my time with God yet, and I was already rushing it.

My time with God is the one thing I can turn to when I'm running on empty. It's the one thing that will truly fill me up. Job 22:21 (NASB) says, "Yield now and be at peace with Him; Thereby good will come to you." The NIV says, "Submit to God and be at peace with Him..." I have to give my crazy, hectic, 'guy at the circus spinning plates' life to God. I can't give it to Him if I don't spend unhurried, unrushed time with Him.

This week, I'm refocusing by spending more time with God. I'm starting a new Bible study with She Reads Truth and a new Hide His Word memorization plan. What are you doing right now to focus on time with God?

Monday, May 19, 2014

Creating a Bible Study Notebook

You're getting involved in Bible study. You're discovering your style and finding the best way to study. Now the only thing left to do is organize your study materials and notes so you can find the information later. You're ready to create a Bible study notebook.

A simple three ring binder and some divider tabs are all you really need to get started. You'll want to get at least a 1 inch binder - anything less and you'll run out of room too quickly.

I'm a notebook addict. I love pretty binders with beautiful colors and patterns. The new Pink Chandelier line from Walmart is my new favorite, so I picked up a brand new 1 1/2 binder this week:

I've divided mine into five sections:

1. Inspiration

Inspiration is everywhere, so whenever I find a great article or blog post that encourages me in my quiet time, I print it out for my notebook. At the beginning of mine is Ann Voskamp's "Sanity Manifesto" - the post that came when I so desperately needed a reminder to focus on what really matters. Behind it sits the email devotional that first led me to faith journaling several years ago. Find your inspiration and put it in your notebook to remind you of your "why."

2. Scripture Memory

I started this section with a little inspiration, too - tips on how to memorize and review. While I use Scripture Typer for most of my memory work, I've decided to also hand-copy every passage I memorize and keep it in this section. It's easier to review a large chunk of verses this way.

3. Word Studies

Doing organized, in depth word studies is something new that I'm adding to my study time. Each word will have its own page that I can add to it no matter what book or topic I'm studying at the time.

4. Inductive Study

Since this is my favorite study method, I have a section just for notes on inductive study. I also keep a chart of the symbols and colors I use so I can quickly find what each one means.

5. Book Studies

This is for my current Bible study. Right now, I'm obsessed with the book of Ephesians. Once I'm done studying it, I will move my notes to their own separate notebook.

And that's all you need. You can add more or less tabs to personalize your notebook, but in a few minutes you can have an easy to use, organized system for keeping all your Bible study notes.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Spiritual Misfit, Week 2: My Excel Spreadsheet Life

This post was supposed to go up last week, but I found myself in the middle of a last-minute decision to have a yard sale...which is why this post went up a week late. Sorry, everyone. I will stay on track this time!

God has a sense of humor. I think it comes out a lot when we fall in love. When I met my husband, I was a nineteen year old vegetarian studying English literature and spending most of my spare time reading books or riding horses and working in the barn. He was an avid deer hunter who only read fiction when forced to - and he was already a pastor. A painfully shy girl like me wasn't exactly pastor's wife material. But God had other plans.

I thought I had it all worked out. I would finish both my bachelor's degree and my master's before settling down. I would date the love of my life for at least a year before getting engaged. We would get married, have several kids and settle down on a large farm, where I would become a writer.

I'm pretty sure God heard those plans and laughed. A lot.

I met my husband when I was nineteen and he was twenty-four. We were friends - okay, actually, he was my pastor and we became friends during that time - for a year. Then he moved to another church an hour away, and my world crumbled. Suddenly I realized that my feelings were not longer just about friendship. He obviously felt the same way, because three weeks after he moved, he called and asked me for our first date. Less than a month after our first date, I had an engagement ring on my finger, and three months later, I became a pastor's wife.

It was a rude awakening. Some moments were the time I said "I'll pass" when asked to pray. (I'll share that story when I guest post on Michelle's blog later this summer.) Some were painful...let's just say that pastor's wives aren't always treated by the Golden Rule. Suddenly the girl who spent almost 20 years living in the same house, the girl who treasured stability and routine, moved three times in less than two years. We would go on to move four more times in the next five years - sometimes across town, sometimes across the state, and finally out of state.

As Michelle says, "I have liked a precisely ordered universe. I crave order and structure...and have an unflagging zest for control." Suddenly I knew that I wasn't in control of anything - and I think that was God's plan all along. He doesn't like to leave us in our comfort zones. Looking back, I can see that He had a perfect plan all along...I just wish I'd realized that sooner!

What has God done to take you out of your comfort zone?

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

First Grace


50/50. Those were the survival odds the doctor gave me and my mom. After three days of labor, seventy-two hours of agonizing pain, three days of a doctor insisting my mom could have a "natural" birth despite so little progression, the odds weren't good. When a new doctor arrived and rushed us into emergency surgery, he wasn't sure either of us would make it. 

I came into the world a perfectly healthy bundle of eight pounds, covered already in God's grace from my first breath. From even before. I had no damage from our ordeal, not a single health problem.

But I didn't have a name. 

I did, but it didn't work. In the days before ultrasounds, it was all guesswork, but I was supposed to be Jeremy Wayne. The revelation that their only child was wrapped in pink, not blue, left my parents scrambling for a new name. My mom chose Christy Lynn, but my dad had a last minute change of heart. He chose Amanda Michelle.

I don't believe for a second that my name was an accident. My parents didn't know the meaning of it. They didn't have time to research it, like my husband and I did before our boys were born. They just liked it. It wasn't until middle school that I learned the meaning:

Amanda - worthy of love
Michelle - who is like God

Worthy of love. Growing up, I felt anything but worthy of love. I was the skinny, painfully shy, clumsy kid, the one who never quite fit in. Not talented. Not pretty. Not anything special. Just a misfit.

But from the beginning, God saw something else. He saw a little girl with a broken heart and dreams bigger than herself. He knew me.

I wonder sometimes - when did He first think of me? 

He knew me when He spoke the earth into existence, before Adam took his first breath. 

When Jesus went to the cross, when He walked up the hill to Golgotha to be tortured and killed, He knew me - and He knew I would need grace. He gave His life so He could inscribe me on His hands forever.

Before my parents met, before they were born, before their parents were born, He knew me. He knew that from a tangled mess of sinners and praying parents and changed lives would come a little girl who was supposed to be Jeremy Wayne.

He knew me, the little girl who would put her life into His hands. He knew I would mess up over and over, running back to Him for more grace. He knew I would battle fear, taking trembling steps forward, sometimes moving ahead and sometimes cowering in terror. He knew the feelings I would have - that I was worthless, unwanted, unloved. So He gave me a name that would remind me every day that I am loved - Amanda, worthy of love. 

Grace from the first breath. From even before. Grace I can't even begin to wrap my heart around.

It's all grace. Every moment, every breath, every heartbeat is grace. From the first to the last.