Saturday, January 9, 2016

Review of the Week: The Plans I Have for You

My favorite review this week just happens to come from my favorite test market: the Smith household. 

Laura Smith, a dear friend and fellow author, has four kiddos in her house, ranging from elementary to high school ages. For that reason, I am always eager (and a bit apprehensive) to hear her kids' all-too-honest reactions to the books and manuscripts I send for their review.

One that got the thumbs up, apparently, was my latest, The Plans I Have for You picture book, which Laura says in her review "is more than a picture book--it is a life book." 

And wow--she captured my hopes so perfectly in those two words: "life book." I pray that the message of The Plans I Have for You (from Jeremiah 29:11 and the best Life Book ever) is a message that will stay with kids--and adults--for life.

You can read her review of that book and her other favorites from 2015 here. 

And you can check out the adorable trailer for The Plans I Have for You here: 

Friday, January 8, 2016

Seven Parenting Wins That Matter . . .

Thank-you note: win! Penmanship: total loss. ;)
Parenting is a daily battle. You win some. You lose some. And you pray to God that in the end, you will survive victorious.

I, for one, have lost a bunch. But after two decades of parenting (wait--not possible), here are a few wins that I can note. And to me, they are wins that are totally worth the battle.

1. Teach your kids to write thank-you notes. We use the basic format: 1) Thank you for the specific item. 2) I will use it in this way. 3) Thank you again. After asking (okay, forcing) the older child (and eventually the younger child) to write thank-you notes for the last, oh, fifteen years, I finally see the payoff. He has learned to be brief, witty, and sincerely grateful in the space of a note card--a tool that better equips any man for life.

1b. Teach them how to address an envelope. You'd be surprised. And that's all I'm gonna say about that.

2. Eat dinner together, around the table, as often as humanly possible. So many important conversations have casually spilled out over the dinner table--when we're not competing with the television or tech devices. And do I even have to mention the money we've saved and sodium we've avoided by eating home-cooked food? (And the gratitude we've learned for burnt, under-seasoned, disastrous food . . . but I digress.)

3. Teach your kids to do laundry, even--no, especially--the boys. Several years ago, when I had to teach a twenty-something-year-old man how to work his washing machine, I vowed to send my boys into the world with a working knowledge of the laundry room. I'm not saying they're gonna like it, but they're sure gonna learn how to use it.

4. Teach your kids basic hospitality. There's really one rule: the guest comes first. We've had to have this discussion after debates at sleepovers over which movie we're watching or who gets to ride which bike. The guest comes first, period. Not fair? Well, you can just hope the sentiment is reciprocated when it's your turn to visit his home.

5. Record it all. Be the obnoxious, photo-crazed parent. Take all the photos. (Hear all the groans.) Write it all down. You will absolutely cherish every letter, every pixel (or else, in my case, sometimes regret the lack of them).

6. Embarrass them with love. Hug them. In public. Tell them you love them. Out loud. In front of their friends. Don't make them forever regret pushing you away--and being successful at it.

7. Show them a daily relationship with God. Pray with them, every day about everything, big and small, math tests and tragedies alike. Read daily devotionals. Show them an unforgettable, invincible, unshakable place to turn to when you're no longer around to parent them.

Yep, out of two decades, those are my seven wins (and really, they're ongoing battles). I do realize that I veered recklessly from thank-you notes to faith. But isn't that the scope of parenting? Every day, right here in our homes, we are tackling the ordinary and extraordinary, giving vitamins and and growing leaders, changing underwear and changing the world.

Don't ever take it for granted. Their very lives depend on it. It is as simple and serious as that.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

*RELEASE DAY!* The Plans I Have for YOU Devotional and Journal

Today we're celebrating RELEASE DAY for two more books: The Plans I Have for YOU Devotional and The Plans I Have for YOU JournalThey're the second and third books in a growing brand with ZonderKidz based on Jeremiah 29:11. (There are even more to come! Stay tuned!) 

Photo by Amanda Ward 
In August, the first of the series, The Plans I Have for YOU picture book, releasedSince then, I've read the book to hundreds of kids, watching their heads tilt and eyes widen as they hear about God's plans for them--and of course, as they learn what an entomologist is. ;) I wonder how many parents have now been told, "I'm going to be an emtozologist when I grow up!"

And really, isn't that the point? To let kids know that they're valued . . . that they have a purpose . . . Even with those little bones, in that little skin, behind those flubbed words, there's a big ol' heart that can hear God's call, that can make a big ol' difference (Matthew 18:3, 1 Timothy 4:12). It's a message we could all use--grandkids and graduates and grandmas alike!

The devotional and journal both (sample pages below), while maintaining the engaging whimsy of the picture book, take the message of God's plans and purpose to the next level. In the devotional, you dig deeper--with poems, Bible stories, scripture, even a scavenger hunt!--to really discover God's plans for you, right now, right where you are. 

The journal then lets you run with it, personalizing the message to your own life. (I would truly recommend the journal for ANY age.) Most spreads offer a scripture, then prompt you to apply that scripture to your life right now.

So we've got the picture book that plants the message in a way that will take root, the devotional that nourishes and grows that message for 90 days, and a journal with over 200 pages to harvest the message in your own life. It's my hope that these three tools will produce fruit that nourishes kids--and adults--for a lifetime, a constant reminder that:

God has BIG plans for YOU!

From the Devotional . . .

From the Journal . . .

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Jesus Calms the Storm

I'm not the best manager of my time. 

There. I said it. (But if you know me, this is no surprise.)

I take on too much. I say yes much too often. And I am much too optimistic about what I can accomplish on any given day--with all the other stuff I've taken on, and all.

This tends to create the occasional storm. Sure, I've gotten better. But at least once a year, it all piles up, and I become a basket case. Or a raving lunatic. Or both. 

It's not pretty.

I'm in the midst of the storm now. And I just so happen to be writing about Jesus calming the storm (Matthew 8:23-27): 

The disciples were getting the hang of this faith thing. They had walked with Jesus as He preached. They had witnessed the many miracles He performed.

But then came the storm.

Jesus and His disciples were all in a boat, crossing the Sea of Galilee, when the wind started whipping, and the waves started crashing. They couldn’t see for the flashes of lightning and the driving rain. They couldn’t hear over the thunder and the wind. But they could feel the water rushing around their feet—and rising.

Where was Jesus?!?

They found Him—sleeping, no less—at the back of the boat. “Jesus!" the grown men cried. "We’re all going to die!!!” 

Jesus opened His eyes and answered with an unexpected question, “Why are you afraid, you of little faith?” 
                                              (from The Faith, Hope, Love Devotional, coming Fall 2016)

AMY (in her infinite wisdom): Why am I afraid?! Can't you see all these deadlines? Don't you know how far behind I am? And I still have to feed these carnivorous boys, go to six more events this week, and spend Friday at school passing out cookie dough! Why am I afraid?! I'm going to drown!

JESUS (slow blink): Oh, you of little faith . . . don't you know who gave you those projects? Don't you know who gave you those children? Don't you know I created you, gave you these gifts? You have everything you need to accomplish these tasks. Do you not believe me, that you can do all things through me? . . . Waves, chill out. Wind, hushhh. And Amy, get back to work.

And just like that, the storm is calm. And I live to see another day.

Don’t make Jesus call you out on your faith. Don't let your "little faith" get in the way of all the big things God has planned for you. He controls the wind. He can calm the waves. And I'm starting to think that maybe He even creates the storms--just to remind us who is in control.

photo credit: Tormenta Urroz Villa via photopin (license)

Friday, November 20, 2015

If we believe . . .

When the battles of this world rage, when my heart is torn in two, I go to my Bible for answers, to recalibrate my perspective. God's perspective is the only truth that matters. It is the only truth that lasts. It is the only truth that's true.

And this is what it says to me. . . .

If we believe, our first commandment is to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind (Matthew 22:37-38).

If we believe, our second commandment is to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:39-40). As ourselves. Homes. Food. Manicures. Dessert.

If we believe, our "neighbor" is not dependent on race or country of origin (Luke 10:25-37). And it is no coincidence that He uses a priest and a Levite--'religious people'--to contrast the Good Samaritan.

If we believe, our ultimate concern is not our comfort or our earthly safety; we are happy to suffer as Christ suffered (1 Peter 4:13).

If we believe, "to live is Christ and to die is gain" (Philippians 1:21).

If we believe, we don't make decisions based in fear (2 Timothy 1:7).

And as Christ did, we choose love over fear.

In fact, if we believe, our fear is cast out by "perfect love" (1 John 4:18).

And if we believe, we love simply because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).

If we believe . . . even if we do not . . . there are three things that remain forever, well beyond the existence of this world.

These three are faith . . . and hope . . . and love.

"And the greatest of these is love" (1 Corinthians 13:13).

So whatever you do today, whatever you proclaim, do it in love. Just love.

Because no matter how faithful, how wise, or how generous we are, without love, we are nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

"The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love" (1 John 4:8).

Love them. Love them all. Love the world. (John 3:16)

Friday, September 25, 2015

The Empty Places

A very full bowl. Mrow.
My morning is greeted with a mrooweeoww.

"Yes, yes, I know," I tell Scout the Cat. Her food bowl is empty.

The dog's bowls are empty.

E's lunchbox is empty.

And, y'all, my coffee cup is EMP. TY.

I brew a cup, and the Keurig starts blinking. Empty.

I add water. And now, the Brita pitcher . . . empty.

This is a normal morning at my house. And sometimes, I feel like I just go around filling up empty things.

I'm not complaining. It's my job description: Fill 'em up with good food. Fill 'em up with encouragement. Fill 'em up with knowledge and manners and hope.

But when do we get filled? When we are running on fumes from all that filling . . .

Who fills us?

If we're lucky, we have supportive families and encouraging friends and inspiring sunsets. But that's not always the case. And if there's one thing I've learned, especially as a writer, it's that we have to refill the well, or it most certainly will run dry. 

A few years ago, on a whim, I reached for a little fuel. I started by simply reading a daily devotional Bible, and it developed into a three-step routine that's been going for five or six years now, filling me with the nourishment that I didn't even know I was starving for. 

"But you are a shield around me, O LORD; 
        you bestow glory on me and lift up my head. . . . 
I lie down and sleep; I wake again, 
        because the LORD sustains me.
I will not fear though tens of thousands [of empty bowls, pitchers, and lunchboxes]
        assail me on every side." 
                                  Psalm 3:3, 5-6 NIV, MVF (Mama-Fied Version)

Trust me. If you don't already spend this daily time with God, just. do. it.

(Are my kids the only ones who love this video? :) 

Throughout this process, I've grown to realize that God's presence is enough. It's enough to fill the incessant cycles that drain our days. We don't need to rely on humans or accolades or stuff to fill our wells. 

We simply need Him.

Could the Bible tell us this any more clearly? “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else" (Acts 17:24-25 NIV).

When I read about mamas with unfulfilled hopes and see my neighbors with empty nests, I want to shout this at them. But I refrain. Sort of.

Like yesterday.

"Good morning!"

"Morning!" I press pause.

"Whatcha doing?" 

"Reading my Bible . . . or actually having it read to me. I have this app--you can download it on your phone--that will read it to you." (Easy, now.

I press play.

"Ooh, he has a nice voice." She smiles.

And I do too . . . because I know that by filling our own wells, we spill hope all around us, soothing the empty places, and giving the nourishment that they don't even know they're starving for.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Ready for Battle?

If you follow the film industry at all, you've probably heard about a little film called War Room that released this past weekend. A couple of brothers wrote and produced a film on a relatively low budget, cast a Bible-study author as the star, and somehow battled to the very top of the box office on opening day (beating out Straight Outta Compton!?!)--making this film evidence of the very tenant they set out to proclaim.

Prayer is a powerful weapon.

Last December, I screened a rough cut of the film (SO moving, SO good), and since then I've been watching in wonder as this story unfolded. 

My part in the story alone is a miraculous one: I was to write a 128-page book on prayer strategy for kids. 

Um . . . "God is great, God is good"? . . . 

Yeah, talk about unequipped. But in January, an hour-long call with Stephen Kendrick laid out the structure of PrayerWorks. He told me that they were praying for me. And I felt it. With a prayer strategy in place, I worked through the outline--and prayed. Hard. Within a month, I had a 14,000-word manuscript delivered. On time. 

Miraculous. :)

Trust me: this is a story you want to be a part of. This is a story that will change your life and, I believe, can change our world. 

Go--right now--and buy tickets to see the film. 

And I wouldn't be doing it justice if I didn't include a little Miss Clara: 

Okay, so see the film. But don't stop there. 

These guys, with B&H Publishing, have created a whole arsenal of resources, for all ages, to maximize the power of prayer in your hands and to instill that power in the next generation. 


Still not convinced? Just turn on the news. 

There is a battle going on out there. And there's not a man-made weapon that will stand against the enemy. It's up to us to fight the darkness that's closing in around us. Sharpen your weapons, go to battle each day, and we will bring light to this darkness--through prayer.

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