A Box of Letters

When my grandmother passed away almost two years ago it took my family by surprise. We were not expecting it, nor anticipating it, and my family wasn’t ready for her to leave us. She was one of my most favorite people and I miss her dearly. Last Christmas I was gifted her wedding ring, something she always said she would pass down to me. These rings that she wore on her little frail fingers, the significance of them and her desire to see me become a wife one day; they are a treasure to me. I keep them tucked away in a safe place, and I sometimes take them out admiring them and their simplicity. I think of the moment my grandpa placed them on her finger as he exchanged his vows, promising to love her until death would make them part, and the day my husband to be will place a ring on my finger making the same promises to me. I treasure these rings, and it is an honor to be trusted with their care.

A couple of weeks ago I was searching through boxes trying to find a notebook from ten years ago that holds notes I took during church that year. This particular sermon I was searching for has been on my heart for months now and I just had to find those notes. While I didn’t find the notebook, I did find something that left me in tears. A shoe-box filled with letters, cards, and words of wisdom from the people who mean the most in my life, my grandmother included. Holding those cards and letters in my hand, running my finger over the eloquently written words, tears streaming down my face I felt like we were connected again. I even had a notebook with notes that she took during church. I think I treasure those words that were written just for me just as much as I treasure those rings; maybe a little more.

I am a sucker for a hand written letter; they are the best gift that I could receive. For me receiving a handwritten letter in someone’s own handwriting connects me even deeper to them. Each word is carefully crafted. Each letter written is a gift of time, a gift of thought, and a gift of sweet care.

After going through the box of cards, letters, and words of wisdom that were carefully written just for me I came across another box. This one filled with letters that I have written. Letters I wrote during my pregnancy. I have letters that I have written to my little sister to give to her on her graduation day; letters to give to my parents on my wedding day. There was a letter that was written to my nanny that I never got to give her, and a letter written to my other grandparents. Letters that I have written to my son that I will one day give him as he reaches different milestones in the future. Letters that I have written to a man who I may or may not ever meet. These letters that are a precious reminder of time well spent. These letters that give my thoughts with handwriting that is uniquely mine. They carry the carefully crafted words gently reminding me of how precious the receivers of these letters are to me.

I still haven’t found that notebook with my church notes from ten years ago, and that sermon is still very present on my mind and on my heart. But what I did find in the process of looking for an old notebook I will deeply treasure. The handwritten words that stretch beyond time, beyond the years, and for a moment made me feel reconnected to my grandmother.

An Altar Call

On October 10, 2010 I had my son dedicated at just six weeks old, as I stood on that stage as new momma, and my preacher prayed over my baby. I will never forget that day, and the promise I made to nurture, and raise him to follow Christ. I have seen God’s hand on my child since that day, and it has been an incredible journey to witness first hand.

He has such a sweet and tender heart for the Lord. His love for Him humbles and inspires me and many others that are around him frequently. He defines what it means to have a child like faith.

I have sat across the table from him in Zaxbys as he began to sing loudly worshiping his Jesus without a care of who hears him. I have watched him tell other kids on the playground about Jesus. And watched his excitement turn into sadness and disappointment when the child ran away unwilling to hear about this Jesus that my son loves.  I have seen him run home and line his stuffed animals up after church so he can teach them what he learned about his savior that day. He isn’t afraid to worship, and he isn’t afraid to share his love for God with anyone. This little boy and Jesus are the best of friends. This child, this little boy, light shines through him and I believe he is going places and God has big plans for his future. Oh what a privilege it is to raise him and spend my days laughing and sometimes crying as we journey through life together.

Six years later to the day on October 10, 2016 we went to church to hear a preacher that I have known for many years. There was amazing singing that stirred my soul, and amazing preaching that touched my heart. But what I will remember most is my little boy looking up at me with those big blue eyes asking “Momma can you take me to the altar to pray?” I grabbed his hand and he led the way, boldly stepping out of his pew, walking to the altar to kneel at the feet of Jesus. He prayed, and he praised God for everything in his life. He went to the altar to thank Jesus. Not to ask of anything but to thank Him.  Tears filled my eyes and my heart filled with joy as I watched him.

On the way home that evening I asked him why he wanted to go to the altar. Was it because other people were walking to the altar and kneeling in prayer? His response honestly took me by surprise, “No momma I just wanted to talk to Jesus.”  Tears filled my eyes again, and I told him how proud I am of him and his desire to be in the presence of God, and his desire to genuinely do what is right. This boy is going places.

Again, like most things this child does it left me wondering. How would my life be different if I just wanted to talk to God, not wanting to ask anything of Him, but just wanting to have a conversation with Him? If I was bold enough to praise Him and worship him no matter where I was and who was listening? Landon, is teaching me what it means to have a childlike faith.

I thank the Lord for this gift of life that he bestowed upon me six years ago when I held this little boy for the first time. He made me a mother, forever changing me. I am so undeserving to have such an incredible child. With everything that I have in me I will continue pointing him to Christ, the only one who can satisfy his soul.

And Landon, sweet child, it is my prayer that you look to Jesus every day of your life. Continue following Him. He won’t let you down.

“And Jesus called the little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven” Matthew 18:2-4

A Waffle House Proposal

We have had revival at church this week, and my goodness it was powerful and spirit filled. Last night after church a group of us went to the Waffle House to eat. While we were waiting on a table to be cleared we witnessed a man proposing to his now fiancé.  I’ll admit I don’t often think of Waffle House being an ideal proposal spot, but it was sincere and genuine and so sweet to witness. The man announced to the restaurant that he had proposed and we congratulated them, and I went and gave the lady a hug.

When we were finished with our meals we were standing around talking outside, as this couple walked out. We congratulated them again, I admired her ring,  hugged her again, and they thanked us. Then this man said something to us that has left me thinking since last night. “Yall know Jesus don’t yall,” he said. “Yes sir, we do” was our response. Then he went on and said “I can tell.”

“Yall know Jesus don’t yall? I can tell”, those two sentences spoken by a stranger ministered to my heart.

The Bible tells us that we are to let our light shine brightly in the world so that others can see the Father. This world that we live in is dark with sin. When we turn on the news all we hear is of another shooting, another crime, a bigger drug epidemic, a death caused by overdose that has left a child behind, problems with our economy, and natural disasters that wreak havoc in our nations. This is why we as Christians need to shine brightly.

The encounter that I had last night has left me thinking about the light that I cast out as I encounter others daily. Am I a bright light shining for my Jesus? Do I have unconfessed sin that is causing my light not to shine its brightest? Have I grown complacent in my walk with the Lord causing my light to dim? Does my light flicker on and off? Do I serve whole heartedly and then slack off? These questions and questions that are similar have been running through my head all morning.

The couple that I encountered last night knew Jesus, but what if the teenagers that were sitting in the back corner didn’t know Him like I know Him. Would they have been able to see the light in us? Would they have been able to see Jesus shining through us? Every day we have an opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus. Let him shine through.

I may never see that couple again, but that encounter will be one I will always remember.

“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good, and glorify your Father which is in Heaven” Matthew 5:16

Little Hands

My grandmother used to always comment on how horrible she thought her hands looked. “They are so ugly and wrinkled,” she would tell me. But when I looked at her hands I saw strength, gentleness, and love. I saw hands that made unselfish sacrifices to provide for her family. Hands that was firm in discipline but warm and gentle in times of sorrow. The morning she passed away my momma was holding her hand and I was holding my momma’s, and I felt her squeeze my momma’s hand as she took her last breath here on earth and that is a memory that I will always cherish. I admire people’s hands and the stories they tell, and it is no different for my little boy.

When he was a toddler I would tell him “God’s hands created the heavens and the earth and everything in it. And not too long ago, His hands created you. God loves you and cares for you and has a specific plan for your life. I thank God for you every single day. I praise Him for your life. I want you to always remember that the ultimate purpose for your hands is to praise God too”

These two little hands, hands that would grip my finger when he was an infant, hands that I have held and nurtured so many times; these hands are precious to me. I’ve washed them. I’ve clipped fingernails, and bandaged boo boos. I’ve kept them warm. I’ve kissed them. I’ve helped them fold together in prayer. I’ve taught them how to gently turn the pages in books. I’ve taught them how to hold a pencil. I have seen them work puzzles, dribble basketballs, catch baseballs, and build sand castles. I have watched them ward off bad guys in sword fights, and Nerf gun battles. I have watched them write the alphabet and numbers. I have watched them pick flowers to give to his momma. I have watched them reach down and gently hold the hand of a hurting friend who tripped on the play-ground. I have watched them plant seeds in a garden, and pick vegetables when they are ripe. I have watched them gently behold the wonders of God’s creation. I have seen them lift in worship as he praised his Jesus.

This past weekend I had some pictures taken of my little boy, and the first thing I noticed when I saw a preview was his hands. My how they have grown, from infant, to toddler, too little boy these sweet little hands and I have been busy together over the past six years.  And God has faithfully held our hands in His, He has held every single moment.

I pray that these sweet little hands continue to point to God. I pray they continue to share God’s love. I pray that they continue to praise the one whose hands made him.

“And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us; and establish thou the work of our hands upon us; yea, the work of our hands establish thou it” Psalm 90:17

Surrendering Singleness

“I can’t marry you, I’m not sure what that means for my future, but I know I cannot marry you. I’m so sorry”

I sat in my car in a parking lot as I shakenly spoke those words to the person I was engaged to. You see I wanted to be married so badly I was willing to sacrifice Mr. Right and settle for Mr. Right now. I wanted to give someone my love, and be loved by them in return. I wanted my son to have an earthly father. I wanted more children. I wanted my family to be whole. I kept hearing “Well Amanda you aren’t getting any younger” which only made those desires stronger. I took matters into my own hands and eventually became engaged to the wrong guy, all because I was so desperate to be married.  

The months that followed my broken engagement, God began dealing with me and transforming my heart.  “Am I enough Amanda, if you never get married am I enough?”

After a conversation with one of my greatest friends about surrendering our singleness I kneeled in my kitchen and wept as I prayed “Ok, God even if I am single for the rest of my life, you will be enough for me. No one else can love me perfectly. No one else can make me whole. Only you Jesus, you are enough.”

So many of us put our hopes in marriage rather than putting our hope in Jesus. We think that a man will solve our longings for love, purpose and belonging.  Sweet friends, your life’s purpose, your vision for the future, and your personal contentment should be tied to loving and following Jesus. When you place that purpose and vision on anything else, you can create an idol.

Truth is I placed way too much emphasis on a future husband, and the dream of marriage than I should have. There is nothing wrong with having dreams and desires, but when those dreams and when those desires become an idol; when we stake our happiness and trust on something other than God we will encounter problems.

Thankfully, God has used many things to speak truth into my life and set me free from the idol of marriage that I had created. Friends, family, scripture, and the Holy Spirit himself has sat beside me and spoke to my weary soul. Do I still hope to be married one day?  Of course I do. Am I just as happy to remain single? Yes, because I know that God will always be with me. He will always give me joy and fulfillment, and He is the only one who can love me perfectly. So I keep dreaming, and I that desire is still very present, but I  have surrendered those dreams to God and have come to a place where I am happy even if they don’t come true.

My purpose, my confidence, my identity is found in Him, not in my relationship status.

A Worthy Pursuit

I was seventeen years old sitting in the church pew as a guy who attended the Bible College in my church approached me and began talking to me. My nanny looked at me in that way grandmothers do when a handsome man of God is talking to their granddaughter as if she were already wedding planning. After the brief conversation I sat back down in my seat, my nanny leaned over and told me “You know Amanda, I have always believed that if any of my granddaughters were to marry a pastor it would be you.”  We were sitting in that same church at my cousin’s wedding when she leaned over and said, “Amanda I want to see you get married in this church before I die, and I still believe it will be to a man in the ministry.”  As she squeezed my hand and I saw a tear in her eye. She believed it with all of her being. I do think my grandmother saw something in me that I have always struggled seeing myself. She saw a young woman who was worthy enough to be pursued by a godly man.

That was before the brokenness. Before the hurt. Before the scars. That was before unwed pregnancy and motherhood.

The enemy has used that brokenness, hurt, scars, and internal guilt to tell me lie after lie. You aren’t good enough. You ruined every chance you had to be pursued by a man of God. You don’t deserve a second chance. How dare you think you are capable of ministry?

But that’s not my entire story, that’s not the end. Why would I let one chapter, one season of my story define me rather than REFINE me? I am so much more than few bad chapters, and a few bad seasons.

I am loved. I am cherished. I am adored. I am a daughter worthy of love.

I am a daughter who is worthy of love. I am woman who is worth being purposely pursued by a man who pursues the heart of God.

Truth is that brokenness, and those few bad chapters of my story have refined me. God used a baby to draw me closer to him than I have ever been. God is using my story to minister to others, encourage others, and inspire others.  Maybe, just maybe my nanny was on to something. Maybe I will be the one granddaughter to marry into ministry. I whole heartedly believe that a good man will still want me despite my past. He will want me because I am a woman of God, the kind of woman whose attachment to grace echoes his own. He will see my worth and I won’t have anything to prove, just a hand to hold in this walk toward eternity.

I am loved. I am cherished. I am adored. I am a daughter worthy of love.

Dealing with the Mean Kids

I have a confession. I hate mean kids. I want to gather them all up and flick them in the head, and I want to keep them as far away from my child that I can. Or at least have a little conversation with their parents. I know this is mean, it’s not motherly and it’s defiantly not Christian.  And as much as I want to I know I cannot protect my child from everything.

One day last school year my son came home and was much quieter than usual. He didn’t want to talk about it and I didn’t pressure him, but assured him that he could come and talk to me about anything that was troubling his little heart. “She said she was going to cut my shirt with scissors and said I was weird momma” This little girl in his pre-k class threatened to cut my child’s clothing. It took everything I had not to call his teacher that night.  Instead I walked him to class the next morning and explained what happened to his teacher. She assured she would take care of it. This little girl still verbally bullied my son for the rest of the school year. “You’re weird.” “You’re a loser” “you look funny.” 

After hearing about the first few incidents of this name calling I began speaking positivity over my son. I want him to believe in himself and I want him to be confident in who he is. Each night after we said our bedtime prayers I would say things like, “Landon you are an incredible kid. God has created you just as he wants you, and He thinks you are awesome. I think you are awesome and I am blessed to be chosen to be your momma. You are loved. You are cherished.”

I won’t always be there to protect him. I won’t always be there to save him from the mean kids.  And since I can’t flick all the mean kids in the head, I can equip my son to handle them himself.

There will always be mean people. There will always be people who don’t like you. Some people don’t like me, and that’s ok. Jesus lived a perfect life. He made no mistakes, didn’t do anything stupid, and people still hated him.

Kids are mean for a reason.  Sometimes it’s because it makes them feel strong. Sometimes it’s to mask their own insecurities. Sometimes it’s because no one has ever told them that it’s wrong. Sometimes it’s because someone has been mean to them. Don’t ever define yourself based on the opinions of others. DON’T EVER!!!

And if he ever sees another child being picked on, I want him to be that kid who sees the hurting downcast kid and rescues him. Stick up for him.

This year in kindergarten he has been verbally picked on. “Landon you’re a weirdo” “Landon you don’t have any friends” “Landon you look funny”

My son has come running home to tell me about these incidents. I asked what he did about it.

“Momma I looked at that boy and said your words won’t hurt me. God created me the way he wanted me to be. God thinks I’m awesome, and my momma thinks I’m awesome”

Then he gave me the biggest hug, because apparently six-year-old hugs are tighter than five-year old hugs and said “Momma I think you are awesome too”

Boy, this kid teaches me something new every single day. What power would I have if I look my bullies in the face and said “Your words don’t have any power over me. I was created by God. I am a daughter of the King. I am favored.  I am cherished. I am chosen. I am His”, instead of allowing my bullies to make me feel insecure, unimportant, and unloved?

Finding Victory

“I remember the first time I went to church as a single mom like it was yesterday. A church I had been a part of since I was a little girl now seemed so different.  I cautiously walked in looking around at familiar faces that I had known for years. I made my way to the back row sitting quietly fidgeting around wondering if I belonged there. I kept asking myself “what am I doing here” I just knew everyone was staring at me, my baby, and my empty ring finger. I went home in tears hanging my head in shame questioning God if I was good enough.” 

 I still remember this day like it was yesterday, but I look back on this day a little differently than I did when this was originally written. Since that day there has been redemption, forgiveness, and God’s grace ever so present in my life. The judgement that I thought was taking place that day was nothing but the enemy trying to pull me way from where I belonged.

For the past year I have felt God calling me back there saying, “Amanda get back to the place where you first met me.”  A dear friend who is like a brother has told me countless times, “Amanda you belong in a Baptist church, you are Baptist at heart and once you know the truth you won’t settle for anything else” “Amanda go back to that place.” Sometimes I feel this friend wanted to strangle me until I listened to him, because sometimes I can be a brat, and he knew exactly what my heart needed.

And so I did. I went back there. I went back to the place where I first met Jesus; the church on the hill that I know and love. I was anxious and didn’t know what to expect. Would people remember me after the few years that have passed? Would I feel the same judgement I thought was taking place years ago that caused me to leave? Would I feel like a spec in a crowd of people? Through the anxiety I obeyed God’s call and went. Almost immediately as I walked through the doors and stepped foot on that burgundy carpet I heard “Amanda it is so good to see you welcome back” as I saw a familiar face and received a warm hug. I heard similar things from different people throughout the day. “Amanda welcome home.”

As I sat there in the pew on the second row tears filling up in my eyes as Jesus met with me right there. “Amanda, my daughter this is where you belong.” He directed me a pew in the balcony, “that’s where you were sitting when I called you by name and drew you back to me when you were in high school. You still think of the sermon that was preached that day and still believe that it was for you.” He directed me to another pew, “That is where you sat after you found out you were pregnant. You cried that entire sermon as a friend held your hand and comforted you. I was right there holding you too.”  The altar, “Amanda that altar is stained with your tears as you have brought things to my feet over the years. Burdens you have faced in this life that I have redeemed and forgiven. Struggles you have faced that you have overcome.”  The choir, “Amanda, I speak to you through the music that is played here. Some of your greatest memories are of being part of the Young Adult Choir. You still listen to the CDs in your car because you miss it. Amanda, my daughter come back home you have a place here” When the sermon was over, my friend that I sat with hugged me tight and told me that seat would be saved for me every Sunday, and I will be there.

The judgement and condemnation I felt when I walked into church for the first time after having my son was nothing more than my own insecurities about my situation as an unwed single mother. I was never judged. I was never condemned. I was loved, and my son was loved, and we both felt that love yesterday. I found Victory in the church on the hill. The place that I love deeply. The place where I met Jesus when he reached down and called me by name. The place where I belong.

Remember that sermon that I often think back to. I will share part of my church notes from that day in March 2005 that spoke so deeply to my heart.

“Sometimes God will let you get crazier than a ding batt so He can move in, under gird you, and supernaturally take over in your life and show you that you don’t have any light in you. Then the light of God will reflect off your life and He will shine through you”  –Dr. R. Larry Brown

No matter the deviation, all things come full circle. You begin and end your journey in the same place, but with a different set of eyes. –Jennifer DeLucy

Lessons from a Six Year Old

Southern storms and southern sunsets are a couple of my favorite things. Growing up in the south has definitely been a blessing, and I deeply treasure my southern roots.  I remember as a little girl seeing those big fluffy storm clouds and light from the sun piercing through them as they covered the sun. In my child like innocence I thought those rays were Heaven and that for a moment the south got to see a small glimpse of Heaven’s gates.  A couple nights ago my son experienced those same big fluffy storm clouds with the light from the sun piercing through. “Momma what are those lines coming out of the clouds?” he asked. I explained that the sun was hidden behind the clouds and that was the sun’s light shining through. “No, momma, I think that is Jesus” was his response.   Just like his momma years ago he too thought that light was Jesus.

I didn’t think much more about what he said until later that evening when I was filing my mail and received something that left me stressed. It left me worried and confused with tears streaming down my face. As I was laying in the bed that night thinking about this piece of mail and what it could mean in the recent storm of my life, I remembered what he said “No momma, I think that is Jesus” and God used that one little statement from my six year old to speak to my worried stressed out soul.

Just like the sun is able to shine through the dark storm clouds in the sky, the son is able to shine through the storms in our lives. It’s through the storms, the struggle, and the darkest moments of my life that Jesus shines through the most. He uses those moments to mold me, teach me, and lead me; to the woman I am called to be.

That piece of mail turned out to be nothing, but it brought a lesson that I will keep near to me forever.  He chose me just as I am in all of my imperfection. He chose my story. He knows where I am and where I am going. Through my storms and through my imperfection He shines through the most. Just like the storm clouds. Just like the sun is able to shine through the dark storm clouds in the sky, the son is able to shine through the storms in our lives.  You may be in the midst of a storm now. You may be overcoming a storm. They come and go, but when you find yourself in the middle of your storm feeling hopeless and discouraged; I encourage you to remember the same lesson my six year old taught me.  No mom I think it’s Jesus. Let His light shine.

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The List

There I was sitting in the passenger seat of that old beat up Ford with my notebook and pen writing every word he said. Words that would eventually compile a list, a list of things I needed to do, become, or change in order to be a woman worthy enough of a man.  Things I needed to do in order to become a woman who is desired by a man. Things I needed to become that would make a man proud to call me his. Things I needed to change if I ever wanted to keep him.  I’ll admit it, I clung to every word he said and thought he was truly trying to guide me to the woman who I was called to be; so I tried my hardest to live up to the list, the three sheets of paper that I left folded in my wallet.  There I was building myself on a mountain of his creation.

I remember many nights sitting in my room in tears trying to rationalize everything that was happening. One night my brother came in and I shared my heart with him and told me exactly what was happening, and I knew he was right but I defended him anyway like I always did. I felt in the pits of my stomach every single time he would lie to me, I knew he was wrong when he tried to tell me I wouldn’t amount to anything without him, I was aware of it all, but I never acted. I clung to every word that he said like it was life.  It was as if I was in a trance that I couldn’t break through, and I still tried to live up to everything he said I had to be.

I know this all sounds very harsh. It’s been tough for me to admit, and tough for me to type, because still a small part of me feels the need to protect him. I still feel the need to defend him.

It has been seven years since that list was written; six of those years it held me prisoner. It haunted me. Despite the curtain being closed on our relationship I was still trying to be that woman. I was trying to be the woman he tried to build on the mountain of his creation, the woman I was never called to be. This past February I finally took the list out of my wallet, ran my fingers over the tear-stained pages, read it one last time, and burned it hoping that I would one day find myself again.

This year has been a trying year for me but I am growing and with each day that passes I am finding myself more and more. The real me.  The woman who loves all things romance, and still believes in magical moments, and knows she is worthy of them. The woman who will stop to smell the roses, but believes they are over rated and would rather receive sunflowers. The woman who has a huge heart, a heart that is beginning to open itself back up to the idea of love; even if it is just a tiny bit. The woman who loves to dance, even if she is dancing alone.  I have found my way back to the clumsy, quirky, encouraging, loving, woman that God has created me to be, and that is exactly where I am meant to be.