It's Thanksgiving 2016. Wow. Life is flying by and time seems to be speeding up as I get older. It seems like I blinked my eyes and all of a sudden I am 41 years old, my daughter is 21, and my mom is almost 60. How did this happen so fast? I have been reflecting a lot lately on aging; watching the kids grow and change into distinct personalities is amazing. Helping them gain their independence is my purpose as their mom, but is such an emotional experience for me. I wonder if I will be able to handle them leaving the nest one by one. Things already seem so different with both Lexi and Kacie gone. Before I know it, Hannah will leave also and then we will only have half of our kids at home. The more I reflect on these realities, the more it reminds me to be present in the moment and to be thankful for each day.
Many families will sit around a table today and give thanks. Like our family often does, some will take turns talking about the things and people for which they are thankful. It seems fitting to pause on this day in particular to express our gratitude for the many blessings in our lives; however, what if we stopped to give thanks every day? What if we acted thankful for even the craziest times? The smallest of blessings?
In a recent blog called "Good Morning, Lord," I talked about starting my day on a positive note by saying "Good Morning, Lord" instead of "Lord...it's morning." This habit is something I learned as a teenager at church camp and has stuck with me ever since. It immediately helps me have an attitude of thankfulness instead of dread. In an effort to pass this on to my kids, I started praying with them on the way to school a few years ago. Each day when we got in the car, we would say, "Good Morning, Lord" and then we would each take turns saying something that we were thankful for as well as anything we wanted to ask the Lord to help us with. Soon, the kids would race to see who could get their seat belts on first and be the first to start the prayer. It was so rewarding to watch them develop godly habits and to be excited to pray.
Eventually, we started to give our neighbor's daughter a ride to school each morning. When you are around our family often, we treat you like family. So, we did not change our morning routine but included her in it. She was an extremely shy six year old and for a long time, she wouldn't talk. When it would get to her turn, we would ask her if she wanted to pray and she would just shake her head. Every day for months, she would not say a word when we prayed but I would encourage her and tell her that there was always something to be thankful for. I told her that if you can't think of anything else, we can always be thankful for Jesus. Finally, one day when it was her turn she said, "Thank you Lord for my family." Each day, she would think of something simple to say like,"Thank you Lord for the sunshine." Eventually she began to say thank you for multiple things AND pray for concerns and needs as well. Some days, my mother-in-law would drive the kids to school and also would pray with them. We saw so much growth in her by the end of the school year that I hated to see it end. I felt so blessed to have the opportunity to teach her how to pray. What I didn't realize at the time were the things that she had been teaching me.
Sometimes it is scary to pray because we don't know the right words or it is overwhelming because there is so much to say. Other times, life is so hard and it seems like so many things are wrong that it is hard to be thankful. My precious tiny neighbor didn't have a perfect life. In fact, she has had to experience some very difficult things for her age...but, she started by finding the simplest things to be thankful for. The prayer that I will never forget happened one day when my mother-in-law was driving the kids to school. When it was her turn, the little girl said, "Thank you Lord for wheat...cause wheat makes bread." Every time I remember this, it makes me smile. What a thing for a young child to think about. It is something that most people would never stop to appreciate but to her, she could see the value in it. How sweet and how powerful was this lesson. I just had to share it today, a day of Thanksgiving (and bread).
I need to be more aware of the millions of small blessings that surround me. As my children get busier and time spent with them becomes less and less, I need to remind myself to be present in and grateful for every moment. Life is going by way too quickly; although it is sometimes tough to be thankful for every piece of laundry, every trip to the grocery store, and every mess to clean up, I am so thankful for the busy life God has blessed me with. My 6 year old neighbor taught me to remember and appreciate the things I take for granted. By slowing down to think about the "small things," we will never run out of things to be thankful for.
As we enter into the busiest season of the year, may you soak in every conversation, every taste, every moment. Be thankful for each and every blessing, small and great. And when the stress hits and the lines are long, when the lights burn out and the money is tight, remember there is always something to be thankful for. Focus on the "small stuff." I pray you all have a wonderful day and a year filled with peace, health, and laughter. And bread. Happy Thanksgiving! Until next time...
As most of you know, I lost my daughter in May of 2015 to terminal cancer at the age of 16. Her battle with cancer and the experience of walking through that time with her have changed me as a person. It was the most challenging thing I have ever been through and I still cannot believe my family and I made it through such an unfathomable time. During her journey, I wrote a blog called "The Willow Tree Diaries." It was therapeutic for me, a way to capture the raw emotion that I was going through. In addition, it provided an outlet to share the things that God was teaching me as He walked with me through every parent's nightmare. Looking back, I am grateful that I documented my feelings during that time. Although I cannot read my entries because it is still too painful, I want to still keep them close because the experiences on those pages are a part of me.
After Kacie passed and I began to heal, I still found myself wanting to write; however, I wanted to begin to share other parts of my life and write about less serious and emotionally-draining topics. I did not feel it was appropriate to write about organization and decorating in the Willow Tree blog that addressed such serious matters, so the Life Just Right blog was born. I pray that those who read it will find their way to all sorts of topics that will provide laughter and helpful tips, as well as wisdom and spiritual growth.
In this entry, I wanted to bring together the two...truth be told, the OCD in me wanted to make sure that I neatly merge both blogs so that they are not lost. In this digital age where we put such meaningful parts of our lives like diaries and pictures online, I am always scared to lose them somehow or that the links I use to access my own personal items will someday no longer work. To comfort my paranoia, here is my entire Willow Tree Diaries Collection. They are in order of original entry dates, beginning with "Becoming That Family." Thank you to those who have already read my blogs and provided such encouraging feedback and to those who walked the journey with us as it happened. To those who stumble upon this page in the future, I pray that my words can somehow be an encouragement through tough times and a testament to the faithfulness of God. Until next time...
Another thing that stands out so vividly about camp is something they taught us about mornings. I am NOT a morning person at all. I'm ok once I am up and enjoy a good cup of coffee and a sunrise, but I struggle to go to bed early so mornings are not ideal. In fact, I wish I could rearrange time so that I could sleep until 10 am and go to bed at about 3 am. I do my most effective work and even my best writing after midnight. I wish I was a morning person, but I am just wired differently I guess. During one devotion at church camp, they told us not to start our day by saying, "Lord...it's morning" which indicates that we dread the day before it starts. Instead, we should say, "Good Morning, Lord." Their point was that it was better to wake up feeling thankful that He has given us another day to serve Him, rather than grumbling because it's time to get up. They probably had no idea the impact that simple lesson would have on my life.
Believe it or not, for the past 25+ years, I have been starting my day by saying, "Good Morning, Lord." There have been some days where it felt like a chore to thank Him for the morning because my world felt like it was crashing down. Other mornings, I said it with relief that I or someone I love made it through the night. Some mornings found me in the midst of joyous times and the words rolled off my tongue with praise. Other times, I awoke to the darkest moments one can imagine and spoke them through tears and tremendous pain. Regardless of my circumstances, I knew that the Lord was the one constant in my life. No matter what had happened through the night or how badly I had messed up the day before, I could count on His mercies to renew each time I awoke. It became a way to reset everything and start over.
Of course, there are mornings when I am distracted and only focused on myself. My thoughts are often crowded with my plans or responsibilities for the day and I sometimes miss my opportunity to start my mornings off right. Sometimes, I find myself starting to pray at four in the afternoon and I realize that it is the first time I have acknowledged God all day. Guess what? I make myself say, "Good Morning, Lord," as a sort of confession to God of my self-reliance and a way to remind myself that I had gone all day without the one thing I need the most in my life.
When I think back to learning this simple lesson so long ago, I am amazed at the ways it has impacted my life. I encourage you to try it. Before you even put your feet on the floor, say, "Good Morning, Lord." Begin your day by thanking Him for a new day, for another chance to start over. Begin a habit of focusing on Him first. Begin to see each morning as a gift instead of a reason to complain.
In recent years, I have passed my tradition down to my own kids. I pray that it will take root in them like it did in me and that they will learn the importance of acknowledging Christ before anything else. Look for an upcoming post about how I am teaching my children (and others) to be thankful for the mornings. Until next time...
Word of God Speak- Mercy Me
Thy Word- Amy Grant
Agnus Dei- Michael W. Smith
(Because music is the perfect backdrop for everything...just click on the links to listen)
For years, I struggled with daily devotions. People always told me how important it was to spend even just a few minutes a day with the Lord. After all, I made time for everything else in life that I deemed as important but reading my Bible always seemed to fall at the end of my list of priorities. With the invasion of technology in the last ten years, most of us probably spend several hours a day looking at our phones or watching TV. I know I can binge watch shows on Netflix for hours or spend an entire day watching football, but I often find excuses when it comes to reading God's Word. To save time and appease my conscious, I have often used devotionals or the little Daily Bread books that I would get from church in lieu of Bible reading. Hey, at least I was reading an inspirational story and one Bible verse every day, right? This type of mindset is very common, unfortunately. I know for me, it hindered my progress in my pursuit of God and, in my opinion, showed only a partial commitment to serving Him.
I have always had a crazy, busy life. As a wife, a mom of six, and a full-time teacher, I made excuse after excuse about not having time to read my Bible. I even found myself trying to estimate the least amount of time in the Word that was acceptable for a Christian. Is 15 minutes of Bible reading enough every day? How about I read one chapter a day? That would make me feel devoted. If I was really feeling spiritual, maybe I would attempt to read the Bible through in a year...checking off the little boxes every day would definitely make me feel like I was doing the right thing by God. Usually when I tried that, I couldn't even keep up because I would skip a few days and then have a ton of scripture to read in one day. I would fly through the reading and not absorb a word of it. But at least I could say that I was doing it. I could tell others that I was reading my Bible every day. Thinking back, I realize how very pathetic that line of thinking was. What must God have thought of me? What if my spouse felt the same way about me? What if he went around thinking, "What is the least amount of time I can spend with my wife and get away with it?" What would that type of mentality say about the health of my marriage or his love for me? It would indicate an unhealthy marriage and send up a red flag of doubt as to whether or not he even wanted to be in the relationship. I wonder if that's what God thought about me?
Before I go any further, let me clarify things a bit more. There is nothing wrong with using some type of structured approach to studying the Word, like a devotional book. It is great to have some guidance as to where to read each day and at least it does get people opening their Bibles. The danger for me came in my motive and attitude about reading. Some people look at their "read-the-Bible-through-in-a-year list" with great anticipation each day, looking forward to soaking in something new about the Lord. Others use a devotional book as a springboard to deeper study and cherish the time spent in the Word. That's awesome! I would go through times like that where I was excited about reading. But, overall, I procrastinated and put off reading like it was a chore or read mostly because it was what a good Christian should do. I felt like I was trying to live up to other Christians' standards of holy living by checking off a daily list of to-do's for God. Read a chapter, check. Say a short prayer, check. Tell someone "God is good," check...now I can spend the rest of my evening watching American Idol.
Can anyone out there relate to this mentality? Am I the only one who has tried to fit God into my schedule and has only tried to do the bare minimum in order to satisfy my conscious? Have any of you made numerous New Year's resolutions to spend more time with God only to fail to keep them? I know I'm not on my own island here. I would bet there are many who struggle with having the motivation and desire to read the Bible. How about you, do you know more about the lives of Chandler and Monica or the latest Bachelor than you do about Jesus? Do you find yourself satisfied with only a fraction of time in the Word? If so, it's time for a change in motive and attitude. But how do we change? Let me tell you what happened in my life.
Sometimes, God uses our circumstances to change us. Over the last three years, a transformation happened in me. Kacie's cancer battle turned my life, my heart, my mind, and my relationship with God upside-down. Her sickness left me with an enormous amount of downtime. I sat by her hospital bed for two years years and then spent the last year at home trying to heal after she passed. Not only have I had nothing but time, but I was flooded with questions inside of me about God and how He works. I have wrestled with every aspect of salvation and sanctification that exists. God used this trial to shake me to the core. I could have easily ran in the other direction but God must have had a firm grasp on me and thankfully, He didn't let go. Instead, I became so thirsty for answers to my questions that I couldn't get enough of studying the Bible. No longer did I only read out of expectation or guilt, I read because I needed to know the truth. I had to immerse myself in it so I could survive and stand firm in my faith. If I was going to trust God to walk with me through a literal "valley of the shadow of death," I had to understand Him better and know how He works. As Dr. Phil always says, this time period was a changing "day" in my life.
When Christ draws us to Himself, He transforms us. For most of us, that transformation (also called sanctification) is not immediate. It usually takes years for us to really know and become more like Him. That's how God works. He uses our trials and suffering to slowly make us into the individual that deserves (in a way) the free salvation that we received before we changed. Our pain and suffering changes us in every way and is a necessary element of developing our character (James 1: 2-4). As awful as our family's journey through cancer was, it has brought about changes in me and others that probably could have never happened any other way. One of those changes was the renewing of my mind through the study of scripture (Romans 12:2). It has transformed my relationship with Christ, my theology, my beliefs, my personality, my choices, my love for God, and my attitude about the Bible.
Like many of you, I spent years struggling with the establishment of a daily time with God. Moral obligation was the main reason I felt I should read the Bible. To be honest, I never really knew what to even read on any given day. Yeah, I knew lots of scriptures and some Bible stories, but my legitimate knowledge of the Bible was slim. Now, I have a completely new and different outlook on scripture. I know firsthand that it shapes us and our love for God. It reveals God's character to us in a way that nothing else can. It speaks to our spirit and it draws us into a deeper relationship with God. There is no shortcut or another quick and easy way to achieve what intense study of scripture can. But, if this is the case, why do we tend to avoid it and treat it like a chore? Why do so few Christians read and study the Bible on a regular basis? I think it all comes down to the condition of our hearts. When we are really exposed to what God has done for us and it really sinks in, we will hunger for His Word. Our lives will be transformed by its truths and there won't be enough time in the day for all the things we want to look up. For me, the only way I came to this realization was by having my world completely rocked. What a shame. I missed out on how amazing God really is for so many years because my focus was on myself, my family, and my desires and I didn't have time for the Bible. Now, I don't have time for lots of other things because of my passion to study. I sometimes get "in trouble" with my family because I am not paying attention to them when my mind is engrossed in what I'm learning. Sure, there are still days when I don't read and spurts that I go through when I have to focus on a project briefly or spend some extra energy on things of this world, but now I would rather be in the Word. It is such a treasure to me. I get annoyed when I have too many other things to focus on. I don't feel obligated to read and I don't hold myself to some standard of holiness; I read because it feeds my soul. And if I go too long without reading, it affects me in every way.
If you are like I was and you wrestle with this in your daily life, begin to pray about it. Pray that God will give you an unquenchable desire for His Word. And then, like Nike, Just Do It. Start reading. Pick a book and read slowly so you can think about what you are reading. Pick a topic to study. Once you get into a good study, the snowball will start rolling. If you are a Christian and you cannot relate to this post because you actually have no desire to read the Bible, no conviction about it, and you have no plans to ever start, then that is a whole other can of worms. If this is you, please feel free to email me so we can chat. For others, if you would like some suggestions on how to really get into the Word or how to spark your desire to study more intently, watch for an upcoming post called, "But, What Do I Read?" Until next time...
The Real Me- Natalie Grant
Let it Fade- Jeremy Camp
Bless the Broken Road- Rascal Flatts
(Because music is the perfect backdrop for everything...just click on the links to listen)
When you become a Christian, life is supposed to be a little easier and slightly perfect, right? The modern message of the "gospel" is that if you ask God into your heart, He will give you whatever you want in life. That, however, is not biblical and not quite how things work. In fact, I would say that being a Christian has probably complicated things in my life and added a level of stress and pressure that some other people don't experience. When you are a sinner trying to impress a holy God, nothing you do ever feels adequate. That being said, letting Christ into my life was and still is the absolute best and most important thing I have ever done. I cannot imagine for a second walking down such a broken road without Him.
I became a Christian when I was about 13 years old. Prior to that, nobody had ever really told me about Christ in a way that made me pay attention. As a kid, I never went to church that much but the few memories I have of it consisted of social gatherings and running around with other kids. I can remember sneaking into the kitchen and eating the communion bread with my friends (God forgive me) and thinking it was funny when I heard someone say they were "born again." I thought they were a little off their rocker. I had very little outward knowledge of the truth, but I am a big believer that everyone has an inherent knowledge of God (Romans 1:20). When I finally was presented with a fiery message about salvation as a teen, I grasped hold of it right away. I got saved at a megachurch and hate to admit it because the pastor, who seemed so "anointed" back then, has turned out to be pretty wacky and money-hungry. He is a "sow your seed" pastor now but God still used him way back then to change my life forever. From that point on, I began attending a local church and became very involved in my youth group, which provided a firm foundation for my faith. I turned into the weird girl at school who didn't go out and do the mischievous things my friends did. Instead, I hung out with the kids in my youth group and my relationship with God grew stronger during my late teen years. I ended up going away to a Christian college after graduation. I was on the right track but it didn't last long once I got there and started to experience some freedom.
During my first semester at college, I made some very ungodly choices, which would affect the rest of my life. I began hanging out with the wrong crowd, going to bars, and not following the path I had set out on. Due to the choices I was making, I ended up being pulled out of college by my parents. I was sneaking back there to visit a guy I met and within a few months, I was pregnant. It was a typical good girl gone wrong story. To make a long story short, my parents thought it best for us to get married so we did. I was 19 and not in love but spiritually, I had hit a brick wall of reality and wanted to get back to making the right choices. Lexi was born a month after my 20th birthday and a little over two years later, Kacie came along. I made the best of our circumstances even though we were basically impoverished and too immature for the life we had made for ourselves. During our just short of 5-year marriage, I went to x-ray school and worked to make ends meet. It was exhausting but I had no choice. I did return to serving the Lord as sincerely as I had before but I still had to deal with the consequences of my choices. Eventually, our marriage fell apart due to reasons I won't discuss in this public forum. It has taken a lot of forgiveness to move forward with my girls' dad for their sake. God walked with me as I sought to raise my girls alone and yet I still let Him down again and again. As is common with people who have a poor sense of self-worth, I felt desperate for love and affection.
Fast forward a few years and I found myself in a second marriage, better than the first but still founded on ungodly choices. Looking back, I realize how quick I have been to exchange the truth of God for the lie of selfish desire. This time, finances were not an issue nor were some of the other things I faced in my first marriage, but there were plenty of others to deal with. During this time, I went back to school to be a teacher, started my new career, and had another baby (Natalie). We were going to church and trying to "be good Christians." On the surface, it seemed like we had and all; however, there were major issues that became too much to bear and, unfortunately, we didn't make it to five years either. I was left once again feeling inadequate, lonely, and pitiful but with three girls to raise this time. Looking back, I feel we could and should have tried harder and fought longer to fix things in our marriage, but only hindsight is 20/20.
A few years after my second divorce, I met my current husband and we married after only a six-month courtship. We both had three children and hoped they would all fall in love with each other as quickly as we had. I don't think I had ever been so in love and this time felt different than the others. It had been a very broken road that led us to each other, but apparently God chose to bless us despite our past mistakes and choices. I moved two hours from my hometown to start my new life. In our marriage, we have dealt with all sorts of issues over the years and things haven't always been smooth sailing but, by the grace of God, we are stronger than ever. You can read more about our family and our life in my post called "Meet the Yates.'' At the six-year mark, I really felt like we had it all together. We were both in successful jobs and part of an amazing church family where we were serving in different capacities. My husband and I prayed and studied the Word together and were trying our best to provide our kids with an example of a godly marriage. I had wanted that since I was a teen and I finally had it. Then, out of the blue, our world came crashing down as we were confronted with some devastating circumstances. Our faith and beliefs would be tested to the core and we would have to walk down a long and terrifying road together. You can read about our journey in my post called "Kacie's Story" or in my other blog, Willow Tree Diaries. Now, eight years later and on the other side of tragedy, we are still together and in love. Our kids are inseparable and our family is stronger for what we have gone through.
Personally, I never imagined I would travel such a curvy and bumpy road in my life. Like the Jewish nation in the Bible, I consistently walked into and out of the will of God since I first trusted Christ as my Savior. It took a lot of pain and heartache to lead me back each time, but God's grace is truly amazing and He is so faithful to forgive us.
I share my my testimony with you so you can understand my spiritual background. Perhaps you have been down a similar path. Maybe you think you are the only one who feels they have disappointed God or that you cannot even pursue a relationship with God because of your past. By letting you see the real me, I pray that you will understand that God can and does make beauty from ashes (Isaiah 61:3). I realize that it is tough to accept wisdom from someone who has never experienced any difficulties or from someone with a lofty opinion of their spiritual maturity, so I wanted you to see a glimpse of the source of my spiritual insight. It doesn't come from a life of moonlight and roses; it is the result of many years of going around the same mountain and wrestling with God through all sorts of trials. There is so much more to share. I have been through my parents' divorce, an absent father, a life-long struggle with weight and self esteem issues, someone in my life going to prison, alcoholism and drug abuse in my family, childhood cancer, the death of a child, and now grieving that loss. I pray that I can take the lessons life has taught me and the wisdom I have gained with each mistake and each challenge and convey some of it to you in upcoming posts. Nobody has the perfect life. Everybody has a story. Welcome to mine. Until next time...
Hello and WELCOME to my site! My name is Amanda Yates and I am a 41 year-old mom of six children from a blended family. I am a middle school teacher and a passionate follower of Christ. In my "free" time, I love finding and decorating my home with country antiques, organizing, studying scripture, and making every attempt to get my life "just right." I am blessed beyond measure!
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