Category Archives: Stories Of Faith

FIVE TIPS FOR RESURRECTING BURIED DREAMS

The Beauty of Dreams

Every little girl and little boy has dreams in their hearts. God places those dreams there for a purpose. He knows their dreams will someday be the fuel that pushes them into their destinies. When I was a child, my heart was filled with dreams.

My imagination was limitless. I would spend hours pretending and dreaming elaborate plans for my life. A dream that is very prominent in my mind is my dream of dancing. I have vivid memories of myself as a young girl dancing and choreographing routines that I hoped I would share with others some day.

Somewhere along the way my dreams were stolen—snatched away from me and replaced with doubt. By the time I was nineteen years old, my heart became disillusioned and I dropped out of my dance classes and stopped dreaming. Then I entered adulthood like a dead man walking, blindly feeling my way through life.

It wasn’t until I was in my thirties that I realized there were dreams hiding deep within my soul. It was during a church service when a dream from childhood was slightly awakened. A pastor in my church laid his hands on me to pray and began speaking prophetically over me. He spoke of how he saw a vision of me teaching little girls to dance. I had never shared anything about my childhood dream for dancing with that pastor nor with anyone associated with that church. Only God could have shown the pastor those things about me. After-all, I wasn’t even aware myself of the dream—one I had long forgotten.

My dream for using my ability to dance was completely dead, and a pastor’s words ignited a spark buried deep within me. That message from God needed to incubate for a period of time in order for the dream to be fully awakened and released in my life.

Several years later, the prophetic words proclaimed over my destiny came to fruition in the most unexpected way. While interviewing for a part-time job with a company called, Creative Movement and Dance, I was offered a position to teach ballet to little girls.

The fascinating thing about the job offer is that I had not applied for a dance instructor position. I had responded to a Craigslist ad for an instructor specializing in sports skills for preschool age children. I worked part-time for years at a children’s gym and worked in elementary schools as an etiquette instructor, but I had absolutely no experience in teaching dance.

My soon-to-be boss, Heather, shared with me that she had accidentally booked two dance classes during the same time slot. She explained, “I can’t be in two places at the same time, so I need to hire a dance instructor.” I adamantly and kindly replied, “I’m not qualified at all for teaching dance.”

She kindly responded with words something like this: You have many years of experience with teaching children and years of being a dance student. I am certain you are qualified. I was stunned. I left the interview that day still uncertain about accepting the dance instructor position.

A few days later, during a phone conversation, Heather said, “If you don’t accept this dance instructor position, I’ll have to cancel the class.” Instantly, I knew it was a scheme by God to get me in this position with a corporation that had talented instructors with degrees in choreography and dance. While letting go of my fears, I enthusiastically said, “Yes!” to Heather because I knew that only God could orchestrate something so amazing.

I was thinking, “How could someone like me with no credentials for teaching dance be presented with such a great opportunity?” God had miraculously opened a door for me to live out my dream and I began teaching dance. After decades of lying dormant, my passion for dance was fully revived.

The dance instructor job was miraculous in more than one way. It fit into my schedule as a mom. My children were taking classes two days each week at a hybrid type of school for home-schooled students. I was able to work during the days they were away from home. Additionally, the job served as a very fulfilling and refreshing way for me to earn money, and it complemented my other part-time work during the years my husband was unemployed and attending college.

I loved teaching dance so much that I would have happily done it for free. It was a “dream” job in every sense of the word. With much gratitude, I worked for Creative Movement and Dance for six years (five of the years as a substitute teacher) until after my husband earned a Biomedical Engineering degree and began his new career. Once Michael was settled in his job, he persistently encouraged me to quit the dance job, so I could focus solely on an even bigger childhood dream: writing inspirational stories.

The day I started dreaming again was the day my heart came alive. My renewed ability to dream enabled me to wake up each day with extravagant expectation from God, fully living and hoping. My dreams push me forward and compel me to do brave things. Since I’ve tasted a dream fulfilled, I can’t imagine life without hoping for more.

Do you believe there are dreams buried within your heart that need to be awakened? Begin praying today for Christ to reveal your dreams to you. There are ways we can dig for the treasures God has placed in our hearts.

1. Surrender everything to Christ and pray that He will reveal His dreams for your life. Set aside a time to be quiet and search your heart for the unfulfilled dreams buried deep in your soul.

2. Start a “Dream Journal” to record your deepest desires and passions. Making a record of your dreams will serve as a reminder to keep pressing on in pursuing what seems impossible.

3. Form a network of positive people who will listen, encourage, and support you in your dreams. Be cautious in choosing people to share your dreams with. Some people will try to sabotage your efforts to dream again.

4. Be bold and courageous. Don’t let the fear of failure stop you from going after your dreams. Failure can be a good thing. With every failure, you will learn and grow.

5. Take steps toward your dreams by taking classes or joining a group. Signing up for an art class, joining a writer’s group, singing in a choir, taking dance or music lessons, enrolling in college for the 2nd or 3rd time—any of these things could lead you to the next step toward a fulfilled dream.

Renewing the ability to dream ignites passion in our hearts, allowing us to have clarity and purpose for our lives. We are never too old to dream. Where there are no dreams, there is no life.

Proverbs 13:12 says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life.” Let your heart come alive by asking Christ to resurrect your buried dreams.

TEN TIPS: A RECIPE FOR A BEAUTIFUL MARRIAGE

 

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After a tumultuous season in our marriage and a brief separation, my husband and I decided to do whatever it took to get our lives back on track. Michael and I met when I was an eighteen-year-old student and got married six weeks before I turned twenty in 1985.

Over a decade later we had two children and piles of debt from several job losses and failed businesses. The stresses of life had taken a toll on our relationship. Our marriage hit rock bottom. Then after a season of brokenness and desperation, the healing of our rocky relationship began. Through prayer, forgiveness, and the love of Christ, our marriage not only survived—it was gloriously restored. God gave me the desires of my heart for my marriage.

To celebrate what God had done for us, we renewed our vows and celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary in 2010. Our marriage is now better than it’s ever been, thirty years after we said, “I do.”

 

Vow Renewal 1

 

Marriage is a gift from God that is supposed to be a beautiful mirror image of the love between Christ and His church. It’s a covenant that is meant to last our entire lives. How do we keep the passion alive throughout a lifetime? Is it possible to be deeply in love after three or four decades of being together? Absolutely! Choosing to love each other unconditionally and allowing the sanctification that comes from walking with Christ will result in a lasting, loving marriage.

I will never stop sharing the story of my restored marriage. It’s a story of redemption that I hope will encourage other married couples to never give up.

Three years ago my friend, Lori, had a great idea for putting together a “Happy Marriage Recipe Booklet” for a bride-to-be. She asked me to contribute my own special recipe for a great marriage. After a few days of praying and searching my heart for the best marriage tips, I wrote a list of the top ten things that have contributed to my thriving marriage.

1. Live a life that is fully surrendered to Christ. Let Jesus be the lover of your soul. Let God be your primary love relationship. Do not expect your spouse to meet the needs of your soul that only Christ can meet.

2. Forgive every day. Keep a pure and tender heart toward your spouse always. Never let the sun go down on your anger.

3. Pray together every day. Pray for each other and with each other every day.

4. Talk intimately every day. Let your spouse see your heart. Share your dreams and the secret places of your soul to cultivate intimacy.

5. Compliment each other verbally every day. Never criticize. Ask the Lord to change your own weaknesses and pray for your spouse to grow spiritually. Spiritual growth naturally decreases the power of weaknesses. The Lord will purify you and your spouse if you pray and draw near to Him.

6. Keep a gratitude journal. Write at least one thing every day about your spouse that you are grateful for. Keep it in a place where it can easily be picked up and read every day.

7. Intentionally cultivate romance. Write love letters. Have candle light dinners. Dance together. Laugh together. Play together. Act as you did when you first met your spouse. Look your best for him/her. Take care of yourself.

8. Be your spouse’s best friend. Never put anything or anyone but Jesus before your spouse. Your children, friends, family, church, work, hobbies should never take higher priority than your marriage.

9. Never ever gossip about your spouse. Gossip will destroy a marriage relationship. Go directly to your spouse to discuss problems. If there is a serious problem, seek wise counsel from a pastor or licensed counselor. Don’t talk about your marriage problems with friends or family members.

10. Affair-proof your marriage. Never talk on the phone, be alone, or have heart conversations with the opposite gender unless it’s a close family member. This is how affairs start. Innocent phone calls to a friend’s spouse can lead to sharing intimate details of your life. Even same gender friendships can rob your marriage of intimacy. Don’t be tempted to share your most precious pearls with a friend. Save the treasures in your heart for your spouse. If you want a passion-filled marriage, you shouldn’t be best friends with someone else.

The list could go on and on. But these ten things have impacted me as a wife more than anything else. My marriage is not perfect, but it is very fulfilling and beautiful. It’s an ongoing learning process for both me and Michael. Together with Christ, we are learning how to love each other perfectly.

Are you in need of a marriage make-over? If Christ could restore my broken marriage, it’s possible for yours to be healed, too. Nothing is impossible for God (Luke 1:37). I know for sure—a marriage built on the Rock of Christ will never fail. It will serve to purify your heart more than any other relationship on earth. A Christ-centered marriage is guaranteed to be filled with passion and love beyond measure.

“I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine; he grazes among the lilies.”

Song of Solomon 6:3

This post was written for my former blog and has been updated and revised.

THE POWER OF KINDNESS

A Few Kind Words

During the years my husband was attending college full-time, I worked at an event facility that specialized in hosting weddings. It was the most physically exhausting time of my life. I was working multiple jobs during the week and I was working long hours and very late nights on the weekends to make ends meet while Michael was unemployed.

Even though it was a season that stretched me, I would relive it all over again because of the spiritual growth and the lessons I learned during that time of life.

One memory from those hard days stands out more than any other. It happened while I was working at the event facility during a night shift. The kind words and actions of a complete stranger encouraged me and left a permanent mark on my heart.

I remember it clearly. I was moving swiftly around the ballroom, dressed in a tuxedo shirt, black vest, and a bow tie as I cleared plates and silverware off the big, round tables. My arms ached from the long hours of hard work during my husband’s season of unemployment.

As I reached down to pick up a plate, I heard a woman’s sweet voice speaking to me. I felt her hand gently nudging my arm as she said, “I know how hard it is to do what you’re doing. I have children, and I’m working a job similar to yours to make ends meet.”

Immediately, her words began melting my stress, and she slipped some folded money into my vest pocket. Then she paused for a second or two and did something that touched the deepest part of my soul. She leaned over and kissed me on my cheek, treating me like royalty.

My tear-filled eyes locked with her eyes and my voice cracked as I said, “Thank you.” It was obvious she knew I was feeling weary. My tears conveyed the message that she had deeply touched me.

Her kind gesture and words of encouragement caused my spirit to be lifted high in an instant. It was as though Christ had shown her that I, too, was a mother, and I needed to be encouraged.

With the formal setting of the ballroom, I knew it would be unprofessional to show the full extent of the emotions in my heart. So I hurried over to the door that led into the storage room. As I pushed the door open, I burst into a deep cry.

While reaching into my vest pocket and pulling out a twenty dollar bill, the magnitude of what she had done hit me. At a place where tips are not normal, it was obvious that God had nudged her to be kind and to generously tip me.

That evening I went home feeling treasured, and during the remaining years of working at my weekend job, I felt empowered. A woman’s small act of kindness helped me to be invigorated and remain strong through a tough season.

Later on, my husband earned a college degree and landed his dream job, and my long-time dream of being a stay-at-home mom was fulfilled. Looking back, I realize the power of that sweet woman’s kind words and deeds helped to strip away the pride in my heart and helped mold me into a more compassionate woman.

It’s been quite a few years since a stranger at my job powerfully impacted my life, yet I remember it like it happened yesterday. It was the tough season of living paycheck to paycheck—barely able to pay our bills—that I learned the most about kindness and generosity. Now, when I’m out and I see a weary person, I think of the woman whose kindness uplifted me during a hard season, and I strive to be one who shares the same kindness that was bestowed upon me.

A few kind words or a generous tip could be all it takes to change a person’s outlook and make a real difference in the world.

Have you ever been the recipient of a stranger’s kindness? I pray God will convey His love to you through someone’s kindness today or prompt you to share kind words and that you, too, will experience the power of kindness.

Lord,

Thank You for being the ultimate example of kindness and encouragement. Help us to remember to encourage the people around us with gracious words and gestures of kindness. I pray in Christ’s name. Amen.

“Kind words are like honey—sweet to the soul and healthy for the body.”

— Proverbs 16:24 (NLT)

LETTING GO: 6 TIPS FOR PARENTS OF FIRST-YEAR COLLEGE STUDENTS

Choose Joy and Let Go with Grace

Letting go of adult children can be complicated and hard to navigate a new way of parenting. When my oldest child left for college, I was surprised by the emotions that followed. I remember the sadness I felt as I drove away from her campus. After about three weeks of vacillating between feelings of joy and sadness, my tears subsided and I embraced the new season. Looking back, I realize I wasn’t prepared for the transition and it could’ve been easier.

Seven years have passed since my daughter left for college, and I have grown in many ways during those years. I’ve learned that letting go isn’t something to be dreaded.

Letting go can be smooth and fairly easy when we realize that endings are precisely where beginnings are birthed.

An ending is the necessary place to step into an exciting new beginning.

In June, about seven weeks ago, I let go of my youngest child, Thomas, as he moved away to begin a summer class and football training at college. It’s not been a hard transition because I prepared ahead of time through much prayer and choosing to focus on the great things ahead for us.

Saying goodbye to my son went as smoothly as possible. Minutes before we left Thomas, I hugged him longer and tighter than usual. He said, “I love you” in a subdued tone. Determined to keep my composure, I said, “I love you, too. I know you’ll do great!”

As we were leaving, I could see a little bit of nervousness in my son’s eyes. The normal mothering thoughts were running through my head. “How can my little boy be grown up?” It’s hard to believe he’s ready to spread his wings and fly on his own.” I purposefully pushed those thoughts out of my head. And hand in hand with my husband, we walked away from Thomas.

Everything in me wanted to turn around, walk toward my son, and “mother” him in the way I had his entire life. But I resisted that urge. I knew that the sooner I could let go, the better off I would be, and then Thomas could move on to becoming a true man.

Walking toward the car, I was thinking, “He’s becoming a man in the truest sense…I know the next time I see him, he will be different and more mature.”

In that moment, I sighed deeply and I released Thomas to God. In my head, I prayed, “He is Yours, Lord. Keep watch over him for me.”

Even though my heart had a tinge of sadness, I didn’t allow myself to focus on what was behind us. God’s grace covered me in those moments of letting go. In 2 Corinthians 12:9, it says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

God’s grace is truly sufficient to carry us through anything. His grace carried me through the process of letting go of my son.

My prayers from the previous months had been answered. God had prepared my heart to leave my son at a college eight-hundred miles away from home.

Amazingly, our drive home was filled with joy. My husband, Michael, and I talked about all the new things ahead for us and for our son as we drove through the beautiful Ozark National Forest on our way home. One of the highlights of our trip was a picnic at the Natural Dam in Arkansas. After a fun trip and hours of driving, we reached our empty house, and there was an indescribable peace instead of sadness.

As the weeks went by during the summer, Thomas had some tough moments while he adjusted to a completely new life.  With the Lord by his side, he pressed through the feelings of homesickness and persevered until college began feeling more like home.

Thankfully, we had acquired ‘Sky Miles’ with Delta, so we let Thomas come home on an airplane to visit before his fall semester. When we greeted Thomas at the airport, I saw the difference in him that I had foreseen on the day we were saying goodbye back in June. He had grown and matured already. He said, “I know Tulsa is where I’m supposed to be.” He’s excited to go back to his new home in a few days. And as his mom, I am ecstatic that God answered my prayers for him.

With having such a smooth transition, I would love to share a few tips that made the adjustment easier for me.

1. Pray often.

Praying with my husband every day helped more than anything. Every time a fearful thought would come to my mind, I would ask Michael to pray with me. Together, we have prayed every day for the Lord to be with our son and protect him. The peace that comes through prayer is simply amazing.

2. Choose a scripture to meditate on.

Meditating on scripture is a practice that my grandmother taught me. Prayer coupled with meditating on God’s Word is powerful. I chose a verse in Deuteronomy to meditate on and shared it with Thomas as he was leaving. In Deuteronomy 31:6, it says, Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” This verse gave me confidence to know that Christ would be with Thomas every moment of every day.

3. Choose Joy and focus on the new beginnings.

Staying grateful and focused on the positive aspects of a situation brings light to the most difficult transitions. I have chosen to be joyful and embrace all the great things I have to enjoy. I could make a long list of the exciting things about having an empty nest. The best thing is having so much quality time with my husband. Michael and I feel like we’ve gone back in time and regained the freedom of our youth. With our children grown now, the possibilities for new beginnings are endless.

4. Write a letter.

The week before Thomas left, I put my heart and soul into writing a letter that recapped my best memories of his childhood. As I wrote the letter with tears flowing, it enabled me to release the past and to begin looking forward to the future.

5. Trust that your college-age child is capable of making good decisions.

Years ago, I heard Ruth Graham talk about how to raise teens. She encouraged parents to lecture less and give teens the room to make choices on their own. Ruth’s words helped me to have the courage to trust Thomas to begin making wise decisions. Sometimes the only way a person can grow is by learning from their own decisions and mistakes.

6. Resist hovering. 

To hover over our child after he has left home makes the transition harder for him. At a college orientation meeting, the speaker advised the parents not to call their children too often. If we are constantly checking on them, it will be very hard for our grown children to learn to be responsible adults.

LORD. HELP MY SON BE STRONG AND COURAGEOUS

A PRAYER

Dear Lord,

Thank You for helping us to raise our children and helping us to be brave enough to let them go when it’s time. Help us to choose joy as we let go and give us the grace we need to get through the difficult moments.  Hold us close when we’re missing our children and let it be an exciting season of new beginnings. I pray in Christ’s name. Amen.

PRAYER: BEING STILL IN GOD’S PRESENCE

Be Still, and Know That I Am God

Without hearing God’s voice or knowing His direction, life would be like a train running free without an engineer. My life looked like a train wreck during a season of busyness that pulled me away from a life of prayer. After desperation set in, I got back on the path with God; and things in my life began turning around.

In Proverbs 3: 5 and 6, it says, “Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; He’s the one who will keep you on track.”

There is no better shepherd than Christ. He directs our paths perfectly, leading us to the destinies He planned for us before we were born. When we are on the path with Him, life becomes the journey we were meant to live. I’ve had to learn this the hard way. If only my mistakes will help another soul stay on the path with Jesus, it will be worth all the times I drifted off track with God.

I’m not talking about religious rituals here. I am talking about being still in the presence of God and letting His voice lead every step. This is the path that leads to the abundant life Jesus promised us.

In my eBook, I shared some of the struggles that arose when I stopped seeking God wholeheartedly.  In the following excerpt, you will see how my life got off track during a season when being still and prayer had become less of a priority in my life.

The book excerpt begins here.

As a child, it’s easier to admit weakness and bow down to God. But there’s something that happens as we grow older: our hearts change, and our way of thinking changes. It becomes harder to enter into the place of total submission to God and it seems natural to begin seeking out other ways to find comfort. This is what happened to me. By the time I was eighteen years old, I was going to my secret place with God less and less. Yet I still desired to be close to Him.

This same year, I met and fell in love with a young man who loved God. Michael and I got married when I was nineteen with the hopes and dreams of following Christ together. I wrote a prayer in 1985, the year I got married, that truly reveals the desire in my heart to live for Christ.

Dear Lord,

I need You so badly. It seems like the only time I’m desperately crying out to You is at the lowest times in my life. And I’m sorry for that. I know You want me to learn to depend on You like an infant with its mother. But oh, dear God, it’s so hard. I always think I can do it on my own. Please help me and make me what You want me to be—make me the kind of friend, daughter, and wife You want me to be.

Please give me the desire in my heart to pray more and read Your Word more. Please fill me with Your Spirit and really change my heart. Make me new inside. I know You love me more than I could ever imagine. And I couldn’t live without Your love. Thank You for loving me no matter what I do to reject You. I pray in Your name. Amen.

During the twelve years after I had written that prayer, I settled comfortably into my marriage and became complacent in my spiritual journey. I was consumed with other things—allowing my marriage to come before God, working a corporate job for a number of years, and volunteering many hours in our church. These things were all distracting me from the passionate desire I once had to wholeheartedly follow Christ. Michael and I were going through all the Christian motions by tithing and attending as many church activities as we could fit into our already full schedule. From a religious standpoint, we were doing everything right as a young, Christian couple. The most vital thing was missing though. My passion toward God had been replaced with a shallow faith. The love relationship I once had with Him was a distant memory. And it all culminated into a depressed state when my life seemed hopeless.

After that Wednesday night when I finally broke down, my eyes were opened and I could see what I had lost with the Lord. I realized my deep need for Him, and I began writing prayers more regularly in my journal. These entries reveal the desperation in my heart and spirit.

February 11, 1997

Lord, I’m really frustrated. I need to go to sleep, but I just keep thinking about everything that’s going on in my life. Please bring me rest and peace.

February 12, 1997

Lord, I really need You. It’s 3:15 a.m. and I woke up feeling uptight. I need Your peace. Now Christa is awake and she said she’s afraid. Please make her feel comfortable and able to get some rest. Please give me rest. Please help me to feel peace and comfort beyond all understanding. I know I need to trust You.

February 28, 1997

Lord, I love You and I give all my burdens to You. I surrender all to You. Please give me peace in my mind and let this struggle end.

March 5, 1997

Lord, I’m waiting for some relief. Why can’t I relax and sleep well? Are You hearing me? Please keep me well and give me the rest I need. I’m willing to do whatever it is that You want me to do. Lord, please hear my prayers.

May 22, 1997

God, do You hate me? I feel so helpless. Please show me Your love. Please make a way for me out of this.

In those desperate moments, I began to pray like I never had before. Desperation drives us to our knees like nothing else. While praying, God revealed to me that I needed to forgive my husband for some things I hadn’t been able to let go of. The words of a Scripture verse came to mind where Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:21–22). Over and over, the Lord kept bringing up these Scripture verses to me, but I couldn’t locate the verses in my Bible, even though they were some of my favorite Scriptures and very familiar to me. I wrote in my journal at the beginning of February how my inability to sleep was linked with my need to forgive. It felt as though I was doing everything in my power to choose forgiveness.

About a month later, I was still struggling to sleep so I went to the altar at my church to ask for prayer. A team of prayer counselors was available to stay after the worship service for those in need of a one-on-one prayer time. A sweet woman named Cindy walked over to me and began speaking softly, saying, “Would you like to come to the counseling room for more prayer?” I’m sure she could see the sadness in my eyes.

“Yes,” I said, with a pitiful tone in my voice.

Cindy and I walked into a room, we sat down together, and she began asking me questions like: “What’s going on in your life?” I was in such a place of turmoil that I could only speak a few words.

I said, “My daughter and I are having trouble sleeping.” And that was all I felt like saying. She prayed with me, told me that she was teaching a Sunday school class about forgiveness, and handed me a piece of paper with some Scriptures she wanted me to look up when I had the chance.

Even though nothing earth-shaking seemed to happen in that moment of praying with Cindy, my spirit felt a difference. After I returned home, I opened my Bible to the Scriptures she had written down for me. As my eyes focused onto the words, I began to weep. It was Matthew 18:21–35. She had written down the exact Scriptures the Lord had already been bringing up in my prayer time. That was a pivotal moment for me and I saw the realness of Jesus in a way I had never seen Him before in my life. I couldn’t deny that the Lord was working mightily in this situation, especially since this happened in a church where the gifts of the Spirit were not prevalent or widely accepted. I knew that only God Himself could orchestrate it for someone I had never met to give me a word of knowledge straight from the heart of Christ.

Two days later, I received a note of encouragement from Cindy.

Amy,

I was praying for you and your family this morning and Psalm 4:8 is very encouraging… “In peace I will both lie down and sleep, for You alone, O Lord, make me to dwell in safety.” May God grant rest and peace to you and your daughter. Stand firm in your faith. Keep praying until God answers. Wait on the Lord!

Love in Christ,
Cindy A.

I wept again as I read her words—I knew it was a direct message of hope from God for me. The very thing I had prayed for and written in my prayer journal in the weeks prior to meeting Cindy was in her note. “May God grant ‘rest and peace’ to you…” This was a sign to me that God had heard my prayers and that He would answer them. Until this day, I have kept that note tucked inside my Bible as a reminder of where I once was and how Christ redeemed my broken past.

I never saw Cindy again after our prayer time together—mainly because the church has over 14,000 members. I found her address in the church directory and wrote her a long letter thanking her for the compassion she had showed to me, and I shared how her words had strengthened my faith. It’s amazing how God can use a complete stranger in such a powerful way to bring lifelong positive effects.

That was the beginning of a new kind of faith for me. The closeness I had felt to Christ during my youth was restored as I began seeking Him more. God rekindled the flame I had as a teenage girl. He restored me to an innocent girl—one who is fully dependent on her Creator. I returned to the place I was meant to be. I returned to my first love.

My problems had not disappeared, but I began to see God working in the midst of the struggles. A defining moment for me was on a day that I heard a still, small voice in my spirit for the first time in such a distinct way. Holy Spirit goose bumps rose all over my arms as I heard God saying, “I created the universe. I can certainly fix the problems in your life.” I knew without a shadow of doubt that the voice I heard in my heart was God. In a miraculous way, my anxiety left that day as I focused on God’s Word and continued to pray.

My close friend Bonnie encouraged me to listen to worship music continually and to meditate on Bible verses every day. Bonnie’s words of encouragement were a reminder of the faith steps my mother and grandmother had already taught me. With the encouragement of my loved ones and by communing with Christ, I was able to begin walking in forgiveness toward my husband. The walls that were separating our hearts began to come down brick by brick. It was the beginning of a deep healing in our marriage that ultimately took years to complete. Our marriage is a true miracle. It’s not perfect—no marriage is flawless. But because of the redemptive power in the blood of Christ, we love and forgive each other daily, so that we may remain close to God and to one another.

In that tumultuous season, we came to realize that prayer was the only thing that could permanently change our lives. We began to pray together as a family every night. One by one, Michael, Christa, and I would take turns praying out loud with each other. It wasn’t long before the debilitating darkness began to dissipate. A few weeks after my son Thomas was born, Christa could sleep in her own bed and not feel panicked without me by her side. By the time Thomas was eight months old, I had gone from physical and mental exhaustion to training for and running my first half-marathon race. The difference prayer had made truly was miraculous.

That was a small beginning for me in the discipline of prayer. It’s amazing how, as humans, we need adversity to push us toward God and prayer. It seems that when things are going well, we think we don’t need to pray. Perhaps that’s when we need to pray the most.

I’ve discovered that a life without prayer is like taking a sailboat out to sea and dismantling the sails. Prayer is what brings God’s power into full sail in our lives. Even though I haven’t always been faithful to pray, the Lord has been faithful to guide me and show me the need for prayer in beautiful and mysterious ways.

This is the end of the book excerpt.

Every time I think about my past, I am reminded that a life without prayer is a life without real peace.

Prayer connects us to God so that we can hear His still, small voice in our hearts. His voice soothes. His voice comforts. His voice is the anchor of our souls.

Lord,

Let us be drawn to Your heart each day. Cleanse our hearts of any iniquities that could be hindering us from hearing Your voice clearly. Let us walk daily in humility and with kindness toward all people. Let us be still and know that You are God and that You have good plans for all your children. I pray in Your name, Christ. Amen.

The Proverbs Scripture reference was taken from The Message.

STRONG MARRIAGES ARE BUILT ON THE ROCK OF CHRIST

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The sun was setting as Michael and I were walking to the edge of Mobile Bay to see the fireworks in Fairhope, Alabama. As my husband held my hand gently with his strong hand, it felt blissful to think back over nearly three decades of being married. For the first time in years, we had gotten away alone. The family-friendly and quaint city of Fairhope was the perfect way to celebrate the independence of our country and the beauty we’ve found in our marriage.

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Looking back at the beginning of our relationship, I could’ve never dreamed of how incredibly beautiful our marriage would be after twenty-nine years of being married. My grandmother had prayed for my husband since I was an infant. She often told me that she was praying for the man I would marry. Because of her words, as a young girl I possessed a unique confidence in God to lead me to the special man who was somewhere in the world waiting to reveal his love for me.

Our Wedding Picture

Twelve days after my eighteenth birthday, my prince arrived. Within six weeks, I knew Michael was the man I would marry. I wrote about it in my journal with limited words in case someone got a hold of my diary, and I kept it a secret in my heart until four weeks later, when I received the surprise of my life.

Ten weeks after we met, Michael whisked me away to the breathtaking North Georgia Mountains. He planned a day of hiking for us, and led me to Helton Creek Falls tucked deep in the woods—a place he had discovered years before and had dreamed about proposing to his future wife. While I was sitting on a tree limb in front of the waterfalls, Michael got down on his knee and presented me with a magnificent diamond ring. In his knightly way, he asked, “Will you marry me?”

Even though I’d known in my heart, Michael was the one for me; the question caught me off guard. Words about marriage had never come out of either of our mouths. It had only been seven days since Michael had first told me he loved me. I didn’t know that he’d been having the same intuitive thoughts I was having about our destiny together. He knew if he waited much longer the element of surprise would be lost. His plan worked. I was taken by complete surprise. The word, “Yes!” popped out of my mouth quicker than my mind could fully comprehend what was happening.

I was overjoyed and utterly amused by the thought of being his bride. It was a dream come true—one I had replayed over and over in my head while pretending to be a princess when I was a young girl. Even now, it evokes emotions in me, remembering the beauty of the summer we first fell in love. It was everything screenplay writers and poets write about. It was magical. If I’d not been so young, we would’ve married the summer we met.

We got married twenty-two months later in April, 1985. We were two young people passionately in love, making a pledge to walk in oneness. Some of the memories are crystal clear to me, others are not as clear. I have a twenty-seven page memory book I wrote about our wedding and honeymoon that helps to fill in the gaps.

The one detail etched in my mind above all others is how the Spirit of God was so powerful the day we said our vows. While taking communion, I wept as I sensed the Holy Spirit so powerfully. It was truly a union ordained by God. In my memory book, I wrote about how many of our guests said our wedding was the most meaningful ceremony they had ever attended. I believe our guests were sensing the powerful presence of Christ Jesus that day.

After celebrating with our family and friends, we made our departure for our much awaited honeymoon. Within minutes of arriving at our destination, an enthusiastic, young man approached our car and introduced himself to us. With a huge smile, he said, “I’m Derek.” He told us that the Just Married decorations on our car had captured his attention. We were at the Quality Inn in Orlando, Florida and weren’t expecting to get special attention. But Derek helped us carry our luggage in. Then he prayed the sweetest prayer with us about our new marriage.

We never saw Derek around the hotel again, except for one other time. During our stay there, he came to our room, knocked on the door, and handed Michael a card. Inside the card he wrote what I believe was a message from God. It was as though the young man knew we would need the encouraging words for the road ahead of us. He filled the card with words of blessings. It ended with these words: “May you both be willing to forgive each other when difficulties arise even as Christ Jesus forgives you. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger, but always seek restitution promptly. May your marriage be built on the rock of Jesus who ensures stability in trying times.

At the top of the card, he drew a picture of us standing on a rock. Next to it were the words, “The Rock of Jesus.” Many times I have wondered who Derek really was. He couldn’t have been more than twenty-five years old. How could he have so much wisdom? Was he really an angel in disguise?

On the Rock

This card has remained sacred to me since that day in 1985. I have kept it in a place of honor with our marriage certificate. Through the years when we were fighting storms that threatened to destroy our marriage, and all I could see was darkness around me, the Lord reminded me of the words of wisdom written in that card. When I felt like giving up, I held onto those words and God’s promises, and trusted the Lord to carry us through.

In the past—especially when our children were small and we had very little time for each other, the pain and disappointment in our relationship seemed impossible to recover from. But Derek’s words proved to be true, and we saw for ourselves that a marriage built firmly with Christ as the foundation will never fail. God’s love prevails no matter how much pain there is when we forgive each other daily through the power of His Holy Spirit.

Our recent trip to the Mobile Bay area will be forever etched in my mind as a time of joy and victorious celebration. As our hearts are now truly woven together as one in Christ, we celebrated and will continue to revel in all that God has done in our marriage to teach us about His love and forgiveness.

My heart is rejoicing because we made it through the fierce storms, the sun is shining brightly on our marriage, and our love is stronger than it’s ever been.

Michael and Amy

For those of you battling in your marriage I pray that you don’t give up. If my broken marriage could be restored and renewed, anyone’s can. I am confident you will make it through the heavy rains and strong winds that may come as long as you are standing firmly on the rock of Jesus Christ.

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against the house; yet it did not fall, because it had it’s foundation on the rock.”

— Matthew 7:24-27 (NIV)

THE PURPOSE OF PAIN

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On a day of volunteering at a ministry that provides food to people in need, I was able to see clearly how God uses pain in our lives. As I stood next to a table that had a variety of delicious foods, I picked up a pie and handed it to a sweet, young mom. Tears came streaming down her face as she saw the abundance of food we were giving her family. The pie seemed to be the straw that broke the camel’s back, or to put it in better words: It was the pie that touched the mother’s heart. She was obviously deeply touched by the generosity of God through this ministry.

Through her tears, she began telling me that her small children had been without enough food to fill their tummies the previous week. While she was sharing her heart, I was overcome with weepy emotionsWith tears rolling down my cheeks, I embraced her tightly. Her story was taking my mind back to the time when I was experiencing a difficult circumstance similar to hers.

As I remembered my pain, I told her, “It will get better with God’s help; I promise.”

Memories flooded my mind as I hugged her. I thought about the years my husband’s home-based business was struggling and he delivered pizza for less than $7.00 an hour while I was home-schooling our children and working part-time. As I listened to her painful story, I remembered the day when our refrigerator was almost empty and my daughter asked me, “Are we going to starve, Mommy?”

Join me over at DaySpring’s (in)courage site to read the rest of the story. I’m super excited to be a guest contributor to one of the best women’s ministry websites online.

JESUS MAKES BEAUTIFUL THINGS

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As I shut off my cell phone, I burst into a deep heartfelt cry. I’d just listened to someone spill their heart about a really tragic circumstance. I could feel the pain of another person’s heart entering into mine. It hurt me deeply to watch a loved one go through such an excruciatingly painful thing that seemed more like a nightmare than reality.

After I dried my tears, my mind filled with thoughts and questions. How can this be redeemed? How can anything good come out of this tragedy?

Within moments, the questions left my mind and I felt the warmth of Christ’s love wash over me. In my spirit, I could hear Him whispering, “I can make beauty out of anything.”

As the day went on, I felt God’s presence and peace so intensely, and I remembered the song, Beautiful Things, recorded by Gungor. I rushed to my computer and pulled up the video online. As I listened to the words, I began to weep again. This time it was different though. My tears were not filled with distress like earlier in the day. The tears were an expression of joy as I meditated on the fact that Jesus is the Beauty-maker.

If He could take a broken, messed up life like mine and turn it into a beautiful story of love, He can surely take my loved one’s or anyone’s life and turn the ugliness into something beautiful.

My life is proof that Jesus creates beauty out of messes. He healed my broken, painful marriage and turned my seeds of hatred into mountains of love. He turned my depression into unspeakable joy. He breathed life into my broken spirit and made me new.

Because of the way Christ has redeemed my past, I choose to have child-like faith for every person’s life—not just my own. No matter how big the mountain is in a person’s life, it’s not too big for Jesus. He is the healer of broken hearts and the mender of all things.

With my redeemed life, I’ve made it one of my life’s purposes to spread encouragement everywhere I go and to pray without ceasing for those who haven’t yet seen Christ’s beauty revealed in their lives.

For those experiencing anguish, you can be assured that Christ will replace the ashes of your past with a crown of beauty and give you a joyous blessing instead of despair. The Spirit of God holds a ray of light so intense that it will penetrate the darkest places of your soul and will fill you with an indescribable peace as you trust Christ to make beautiful things out of your pain.

 “To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the Lord has planted for his own glory.” — Isaiah 61:3 (NLT)

THE SECRET PLACE OF GOD’S LOVE

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On a summer day in 2008 when I was working at a nearby country club as a server, I was taken by surprise when fear tried to grip my heart. A new man had been hired and I could see darkness all around him and tremendous hurt in his eyes. My discomfort grew when he began spilling out words that sounded more like lines from a scary movie than words a person would speak to their co-worker. I had an eerie feeling in my gut whenever I was near him.

After several days of working with the new employee, I was feeling a tremendous burden as I faced my fears. I was seeking God for answers, seeking to know whether the vibe I was discerning was truly accurate. While praying with my family about the situation, I paused to allow the tears to flow as my spirit felt compassion for this man who desperately needed Jesus.

For as far back as I can remember I battled with fear of bad guys. I thought there was a monster living under my bed when I was a little girl. I remember being tormented, as I lay awake in my bedroom of our very old house. I would hear noises in the attic, and I would want to sleep close to my mom and dad. As I grew older and grew closer to the Lord, my fears subsided. But occasionally, invasive thoughts of bad things would come back to visit.

The unsettling words of the man at work stirred up fear and were taunting me enough that I knew I had to pray fervently. I prayed over and over for this co-worker to be drawn to Christ’s heart. Praying for the man wasn’t enough to sooth my spirit though. I needed to hear the voice of the Lord. I needed His comfort and His Spirit to show me I was being cared for in the midst of my feelings of uncertainty. I needed the heavy burden to lift off of me.

I asked the Lord to speak to me and encourage my heart. I went to the altar for prayer during our worship service. My spirit was longing to know I had nothing to fear and to know I would be safely shielded in the shadow of God’s wings. After my friends at church prayed for me, I felt better, but I was still battling with unrest in my spirit.

Later in the day, after I arrived home from church, I began sorting through a pile of scarves I had left on my bed earlier while scurrying to find the right one to wear that morning. Then while putting the scarves away, I noticed a camouflage-colored bandana in the pile that had some words imprinted on it resembling a poem. I had never looked closely at it or noticed the words before. It had belonged to Mimi, my grandmother. I didn’t really like the colors of the bandana, and I had no real sentimental attachment to it, but for some reason I had brought it home after she passed away the year before.

After having the bandana tucked away in my closet for over a year, I realized that the words were actually Scriptures, and I felt compelled to read the verses.  I sat down on the edge of my bed and began weeping with a powerful sense of relief as I savored the words.

 

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
Will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress,
My God, in whom I trust!”
For it is He who delivers you from the snare of the trapper
And from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with His pinions,
And under His wings you may seek refuge;
His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark.

You will not be afraid of the terror by night,
Or of the arrow that flies by day;

Of the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
Or of the destruction that lays waste at noon.
A thousand may fall at your side
And ten thousand at your right hand,
But it shall not approach you.
You will only look on with your eyes
And see the recompense of the wicked.
For you have made the Lord, my refuge,
Even the Most High, your dwelling place.
No evil will befall you,
Nor will any plague come near your tent.

For He will give His angels charge concerning you,
To guard you in all your ways.
They will bear you up in their hands,
That you do not strike your foot against a stone.
You will tread upon the lion and cobra,
The young lion and the serpent you will trample down.

Because he has loved Me, therefore I will deliver him;
I will set him securely on high, because he has known My name.
He will call upon Me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble;
I will rescue him and honor him.
“With a long life I will satisfy him
And let him see My salvation.

 — Psalm 91 (NASB)

While wiping away my tears, my burden lifted, and my spirit settled into a warm, peaceful place. It’s hard to describe the magnitude of my relief. The verses in Psalm 91 were special to me because they had ministered to me many times before.

There is a song we used to sing at church that has the words of this Psalm for its lyrics. The song and verses have always melted my heart—speaking directly to the unsettled places inside me.

As I read each word of the Scriptures on the bandana, it was as though Christ was sitting there holding me tightly saying, “See, Amy, I will take care of you; I am showing you that I will.” Discovering some of my favorite Scriptures written on a scarf was a sweet personal touch from Jesusstraight from His heart to mine.

While holding the bandana my memory was jolted and I thought of a time in my childhood when I was shopping in a department store with Mimi, and I had gotten separated from her. I was probably about five years old. I can still envision myself standing there with a saleswoman feeling panicked and frightened. Thoughts were racing through my head. Would I be okay? Would I find my grandmother?

Can you imagine the magnitude of my relief when I saw my grandmother’s face after being separated from her? The emotions were overwhelming as I ran to her and embraced her. I felt the same emotions on the day when I stumbled upon the words of Psalm 91 on Mimi’s bandana. I felt warmly held in my Father’s embrace, with an overwhelming sense of love and protection.

Even though it’s been nearly six years since Christ used a scarf to melt away my discomfort and fear, I am still resting in the words of Psalm 91, and I pray those Scriptures over myself and my family each day. Every time God comes to my rescue, my heart falls deeper in love with Him.

The Lord amazes me with His ability to encourage His beloved children. He reveals His love in so many unique ways. Knowing Christ intimately brings us lasting joy and contentment that cannot be snatched away by the circumstances surrounding us.

Jesus is the One who satisfies the soul. He calms us in a chaotic world. He shows us that there is solace and serenity waiting for us. When we run to Him in despair, we find peace. When we run to our Father’s arms—the sacred dwelling place—we are hidden in the beautiful, secret place of His love.

This piece was originally written in 2008.

MY HERO AND BEST FRIEND

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As I look back over my marriage to Michael, I think of the laughter and joy, and the times we struggled to stay committed.

We have been in a battle to fight for our marriage from the beginning when we married at the ages of nineteen and twenty-three. Both of us coming from families that were broken up by divorce, the odds were against our marriage. But in the midst of every trial that we’ve endured, my husband has courageously fought for us. He has remained committed to the vows he made to me twenty-eight years ago. In the hardest of times, he has pressed on in loving me. I am grateful for our marriage and look forward to many more decades of sharing love with my hero and best friend.

“Many a man proclaims his own loyalty, but who can find a trustworthy man?” Proverbs 20:6 (NASB)

I’m linking up for Five Minute Friday where Lisa Jo Baker and other awesome people write for five minutes flat with no self critiquing or no striving for perfection. This week’s prompt is: “Hero.”

The photo was taken the day my husband and I renewed our wedding vows.

Five Minute Friday