Monday, September 21, 2015

Where I've Been - and Why I'm Ready to Come Back

Watching your son's dream come true is amazing. My youngest is a huge fan of the Dolphin Tale movies. He almost has them memorized and can rattle off all kinds of details about Winter and Hope, the marine stars. When we went to Orlando for our family vacation/business trip last month, we were only an hour and a half away from the marina where the movie was filmed. So on our last day of vacation, we made the drive. It was amazing! We saw all the animal stars of the movie up close. We got to touch stingrays, and both of the boys fed them.

That day was special, but the whole trip was amazing. Five days at Disney parks, a trip to both Disney water parks, and multiple visits to Disney Quest, plus Clearwater Marine Aquarium. We snorkeled with sharks and stingrays, ate dinner at our favorite restaurants, rode all our favorite rides, and marked everything off our list. 

It was a great trip. After the rough year we've had, we desperately needed this break from the routine. We were all sad to leave, especially because we know this was probably our last Disney trip while both boys are still home.

Now we're firmly planted back in reality. My husband is dealing with church business, paperwork, and sermon prep. I'm back to work and adjusting (very happily) to a great new job just minutes from home. I'm planning children's church lessons, writing, and doing laundry. Our homeschool year started just after we returned, and adding to the stress is the fact that our oldest started high school. Record keeping is a lot more complicated now.

After more than a year of writing and revising, my long dreamed-of novel is finished. It's about to go through the final editing test - six "beta readers" who will read it cover-to-cover with fresh eyes before I send it to agents in January. In the meantime, I'm working on book proposals for my finished novel, starting a brand-new one (book two in the series), and writing a short story to submit to a magazine later this year. I also have some other potential writing opportunities coming up that I can't wait to share.

It's been a year of refinement. Life has taken us through a lot of ups and downs. But it's a year that has taught me a lot. The ups I've had, the moments of celebration, wouldn't have come without the downs. Some of my greatest blessings this year grew directly out of some of my greatest disappointments. That's just like God. He took what was meant for harm, and He turned it around, making it into a gift. I couldn't always see that at the time. I only saw the bad. But He knew what was waiting just down the road for me. 

Now life marches on, much faster than I'd like. I'm already missing our days filled with roller coasters, snorkeling, and dinner at our favorite restaurants. God has given me lots of reasons to celebrate, though. He's refined me this year. He  may not be done yet. If He's not, that's okay, because while the process is hard, the end result is worth it.

While I share a lot about my Bible study methods and notes here, if you want to see more, you can find me on Instagram. If you want to follow my fiction and where I'm at with my novel, you can follow my author page on Facebook.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

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.