Easy Friends.

I am so glad I don’t have touchy friends.

Do you know what I mean? Friends who are hard to get along with. Friends who get bent out of shape over nothing. Friends who make mountains out of molehills. Friends who take everything personally.

I need peace in my life.  Not drama.

I don’t need friends who turn some little disagreement into a week-long silent treatment or ones who give me the cold shoulder when I say the wrong thing. I don’t want friends who wear their hurt on their sleeve, but refuse to talk with me about it. Or friends who talk to others about something they should be discussing with me.

I want true friends. Ones who believe the best about me. The kind who are easy to get along with. Ones who pull me up higher and encourage me to be the best “me” I can be. I want friends who encourage me to dream big. Ones I can trust with my feelings – and my fears. I want friends who speak the truth to me in love.

And – I want to be that kind of friend, too.

I hate the thought of my friends to having to walk on egg-shells around me. I want people to be able to express how they are feeling to me without worrying about what I may say or do in retaliation. I long to be the type of person who receives correction with grace.

I want “easy” friends. And – just as much- I want to be an “easy” friend.

That may seem like an odd statement, but it is the truth. There is enough difficulty in the world without having difficult friends. There are enough hard-to-get-along with people in the world without pulling them into my circle.

I can’t choose the people I work with. I can’t select those I run into at the grocery store. I don’t have the luxury of hand picking the teachers my children have or the neighbors who live next door (not that any of them are bad. On the contrary, I love them all.)

But—I can choose my friends… So I am very careful with the people I give entrance into my life. Their influence helps shape who I am.  And who I will become. Today and tomorrow.

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:5, “It (love) is not touchy or fretful or resentful; it takes no account of the evil done to it (it pays no attention to a suffered wrong).

What a beautiful truth.

Love is not touchy.

Are you?

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Polar Bear Plunge

Have you ever heard of the Polar Bear Plunge? Well, a few years ago, I was faced with this challenge. My father-in-law (whose sole purpose in life is to get a good laugh:) promised fifty bucks to any of his children or their spouses who would take the plunge.

Before I agreed, I discussed the deal with my husband. With money tight, I wanted to be sure if I was going to jump, I would be able to spend the money how I wanted.  He agreed. So – that November afternoon in Missouri, as much as I hate cold water, this Florida girl dove into the frigid lake outside my mother and father-in-law’s home. In turn, my father-in-law lost a fifty, but gained a good laugh.

At the time, the idea of having fifty dollars to spend any way I wanted was a huge treat to me. However, each time I thought about where to spend the money, a family friend back home came to mind. I could think of no better way to ‘spend’ the money than to give it to someone who truly needed it.  So, rather than buy something for myself, I made a promise to the Lord to give the money to Justin; and for days, I was genuinely extremely excited to do so.

Have you ever had an idea like that? One where just the thought of doing something kind for someone brings a smile to your face? Where you can think of nothing more satisfying than to fill a need in someone else’s life?

Well, that is exactly how I felt that day, too.

The idea of blessing someone in need with this money sounded delightfully good. But as time passed, I began to have second thoughts. The closer I got to home, the more tightly I held on to the money in my heart.

The change that took place on the inside of me was something I had never experienced before. And it was drastic. I went from feeling over the moon about giving it, to almost sickened at just the thought.

Have you ever been there? You have a grand idea about giving something to help someone in need, but somehow, when faced with actually doing it, it isn’t near as easy as you expected? It started as joyful, and as time progressed, it became anything but?

All afternoon, I wrestled in my heart with giving this money to Justin. I wanted so much to have the joy I felt when I made the decision to give it, but – bottom line- I simply was not joyful about giving it anymore.

As I lie in the bathtub that evening with an unsettled heart, I whispered this prayer.

“Lord, help…”

I hadn’t even gotten all of the words out when I was flooded with an overwhelming joy about giving the money again.  While no one else could see it, I could physically feel the difference. The change in my heart was undeniable. And it happened instantaneously. There was no possible explanation for this infiltration of joy other than that, once again, the Lord of the Universe had heard my quiet prayer for “help”.

 2 Corinthians 3:5, “We know we are not able in ourselves to do any of this work. God makes us able to do these things.”

This moment served as a great reminder for me. All too often, we struggle through life trying to change ourselves and our circumstances in our own strength. We wrestle with emotions and desires that won’t go away- no matter how hard we try. We battle, fight and forge ahead in an effort to change something that cannot be changed with human hands…. Meanwhile, the Lord of the Universe is waiting to answer our cry for help. If we would simply take a moment to declare our dependency on the Lord Jesus Christ and ask, He would step in and do what we cannot do on our own.

Is there something in your life that you need to hand over to the Lord today? Are you struggling and striving to change something that only God can? Take a moment this morning to lay it down. He longs to help you this very hour- if you would only ask.

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When I Die.

Have you ever wondered what people will say about you when you’re dead and gone? I have… I do… I guess part of my curiosity stems from the fact that I have many relatives I know nothing about. People as close as my great grandparents. And I don’t even know their names.

When I die, will my great-grandchildren, know anything about me? Will they know my heart? Will they know what I stood for? And who I lived for?

I pray this is the case.

I pray that I live my life in such a way, that when I die, I have left a legacy for those I love. The ones who will carry my DNA for years and years to come… And for those who don’t know me at all.

When I die, I want to know that no matter how ugly the world was, I was a light in a dark place. That I did all I could to bring goodness, mercy, and love, to every person I ever made contact with. That in all things, at all times, I acted selflessly.

1 John 3:16, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.”

Eight years ago, I watched a movie that depicted the meaning of true legacy. This movie had the single most impact of any I have ever seen. When it ended, I laid my head in my husband’s lap and sobbed a gut-wrenching cry from the depths of my inner-most being.

Watching this movie caused me to come up higher than I’d ever dreamed imaginable. It challenged me to closely examine my deepest desires. To see which ones fit into the truly important category. (Because quite frankly, I think we spend way too much time chasing things that don’t really matter much at all.)

Last night I watched it again.

The movie, “End of the Spear,” is a true story based on a group of American missionaries who were killed trying to bring the gospel to a violent jungle tribe in Ecuador. Though they had a gun, the missionaries refused to use it to defend themselves against a people who did not know Jesus at all. These men willingly laid down their own lives in hopes that one day, this tribe of unknowns, in the middle of nowhere, would come to know Christ.

At the onset, it appears these men lost their lives in vain.  But what follows is an amazing testimony of God’s incredible love and epic grace. The effects of these men and their families’ selfless devotion changed the destiny of countless generations of men and women.

I love how the Word carried out in the flesh does that.

When I die, I want to leave a legacy like that. One where even if people don’t know my name, they feel the effect of my life and love for others for generations and generations to come.

I pray that my desires match my words and actions.

How about you? When your time on Earth is over, what do you want people to say about you?

Do your desires match your words and actions?

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Dream Big.

I have a dream. It’s a BIG DREAM. A really, really BIG one.

The Lord planted this dream on the inside of me many years ago. Through the years it has grown and grown. In fact, it has become so rooted in me, that no matter what nay-sayers think, my dream can’t be stolen.

It may be whimsical to some. But to me, it is a reality that simply hasn’t happened yet.

Some people will think I am crazy. Others will say it’s too big. But I learned a long time ago to put what God says above what people say. So I am going to share it any way – holding nothing back.

My hope is that as I share my dream with you, it will inspire you to dream big too. And that you, too, will give voice to the dream that the Lord has placed on the inside of you.

After all, the Word says in Habakkuk 2:2, “Write the vision And make it plain on tablets, That he may run who reads it.”

You ready? Here it is.

One day, I am going to speak to thousands of people at a time – on a consistent basis – about the love of Jesus Christ. Many are going to come to know Him, through my example. I am going to teach Christians how to live the life Christ died to give them… in churches, arenas, and tents all across the world.

I am going to be the best-selling author of, not just one book, but many books. I am going to write books on how to bring God’s promises to pass in your life and how to have a fulfilling marriage.  I am going to write books about choosing the right spouse and how to raise Godly children. I am going to write books on how to overcome an eating disorder, how to live a balanced life and how to not be ruled by your emotions…

A friend and I are going to start a Dream Center in Orlando, Florida with the royalties from the books I write. Broken people of all ages (abused children, women who are victims of sex trafficking, drug addicts, etc.) will be ministered to on a daily basis and shown the love of Christ. This Dream Center will be a place where physical, emotional and spiritual needs are met on an ongoing basis.

One day, I am going to be a guest on Focus on the Family and the Today Show. I am going to be the “Meet Amy Brandes” on Enjoying Everyday Life with Joyce Meyer.  Not because I want to be famous or have my name known, but because I want to bring the name of Jesus Christ glory in every area of my life. Because I want people everywhere to know the Glory of the Most High. 

Fifty years from now, my marriage will be as good as it is today. My children and grandchildren will grow up to be all that God has called them to be. And I will enjoy every moment of this one life on Earth the Lord has given me…

I realize that by putting this out here like this, some may judge my motives. Let me assure you, I have spent years refining them. I am not telling you these things for me.

I am telling them for you…

To release you, to dream. And not just to dream small dreams… But to dream Big, Audacious Dreams. To pray Big, Audacious Prayers… And to trust in a BIG, Audacious God.

Because God calls His children to dream. He is the ultimate DREAM GIVER.

So, friends, I charge you…Be bold. Give your dream a voice. If not here, then somewhere.

Oh… and if you are willing to dream BIG and let the rest of us in on it, please, share your dreams below. I can’t wait to hear them.

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My story… is your story.

Slamming the bike into the front door on purpose. Lying from that sweet little mouth. Tearing down the Fox Tail Palm we just planted. Getting gum stuck in those long locks of hair. Tattle-tailing on the kids at school. Whining. Whining. And more whining.

Today has been challenging. And it is only 3 o’clock.

I thought I was in the clear when I survived the sleepless nights, doing away with the pacifier and potty training. But, nothing has pushed me to my limits as a parent more than the last few months.

Eight months ago, we added a fourth child to our family. With every ounce of my being, I believe that this is the Lord’s will for my family. However, despite my confidence in this matter, on days like these, I wrestle with a merry-go-round of questions and concerns.

“How can I do a better job as a parent – to a child who deserves the world?”

“Am I really equipped to handle this?”

“Lord, I need help! I can’t ‘parent’ another minute.”

As I sit contemplating the latest happenings, I struggle. I am on the verge of tears… Enter my eldest son…

“Why did you let them play with my brand new race track? It doesn’t work now,” he moans. (Tears, whining and a mini meltdown ensue.) “Now I am never going to get to play with it!”

My last nerve has just been stepped on.

Amazingly, I hold it together.

I don’t yell. I don’t scream. I don’t break down and cry.

Instead, I calmly resolve in my mind what needs to be done.

“It is obvious you are all tired,” I calmly state. (And if you aren’t, I am. So…) “Go to your room. You are going to rest for an hour.”

The whining continues as each walks to their designated spot.

Within minutes, three are asleep. I can hear the sound of snoring (the most welcomed noise I have heard all afternoon) from my family room door.

This moment causes me to reflect and put life into perspective. So, I sit down and write. To share what I am going through. Because – I know I am not alone. My story— Is your story.

As I write, my son walks into the room again.

“I am sorry, Mommy. I should not have gotten so upset about the race track,” he says.

And that’s when it hit me… These moments at home, when I keep my composure and resist the urge to throw a fit myself, are not unnoticed. Moments like these, seen only by my children… are seen by my children. 

When I invest in them. When I hold my composure with them. When I teach them the way to go or simply the way to rest… Whether it appears that way or not, I am making a difference in their lives.

In these little moments, I am molding them into who they will become.

Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”

Whether the Fox Tail Palm will live or die, I do not yet know. But this, I am convinced of– Every day, I am training my children to be the people they will one day become. The more I act like Christ, the more they will, too.

 

Uninhibited.

2 Samuel 6:21,22, “I will celebrate before the Lord.  I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes.”

I hadn’t heard the song in months. And now, for the third day in a row these six words echoed from my radio, straight into my soul.

“I want to live with Abandon.”

The first time I heard them, I noticed them. The second time, I sang them. The third time, the words – sang to me. I have been pondering this phrase ever since.

For days, I have repeated these words over and over again in my mind.

 “I want to live with Abandon!”

But, what really does it mean? To live with abandon…

I actually looked up the word in the dictionary (the online one, of course). Here is what I found. Abandon means to have complete lack of inhibition or restraint; to give up control of; to yield oneself without restraint or moderation.

To give up control… Ouch.

To have complete lack of inhibition… Ugh.

This could be tough. (even for me- one who has never been a control freak, who doesn’t lack confidence nor pay much attention to what others think of me.) But, no matter how tough it is, I have told the Lord over and over again, “I want the life you have for me. And I will do whatever it takes to live itif you’ll just show me how. Please, show me how, Lord.”

Days later, I watched the words come to life before my very eyes.

As I meandered through Publix, I heard an angelic voice singing at the top of her lungs, “Everybody dance now! Bap, bap, bap-bap-bap. Everybody dance now!”

Without knowing what the Lord was about to teach me, I moved toward the voice.

“How cute is this,” I thought, as three year old Selah flipped over the rail at the check-out line singing unashamedly at the top of her lungs. People passing by smiled. Some turned a quick glance. Others laughed. But, nothing stopped her. This little girl just sang and sang and sang– at the top of her lungs. No matter who was watching. No matter what kind of looks she got. No matter who heard… She was uninhibited.

Selah (That means pause and think on that for a moment.)

What a picture of abandonment.

I want to live like that –. All the time. Uninhibited by what other people think of me. Unhibited by my own expectations. Unihibited by my flaws, my dimples, my voice, or my quirks. I want to sing – like no-one is listening. I want to dance – like no-one is watching. I want to speak boldly- no matter who is in the room.

In a world where it isn’t very cool to be a radial Christian, I want to be radical. Not because I want to be wacky or weird, but because I know true happiness. I have tested both sides of the fence. I know where true joy comes from. I live it every day. And now, I want others to know, too.

In every season of life, I want to open my mouth and praise Him freely and uninhibited – no matter the place, the event, or the time. No matter who is listening, I want to honor the Lord with every part of my being. I want to value His opinion more than anyone else’s, in every situation and at all times.

My heart’s desire is for His love to shine through me in tangible ways for others to see. Every. Single. Day. I want to be His hands, His feet, and His mouth. In times of chaos and in times of peace. In happy times and difficult ones.

Whenever.

Wherever.

I want to live like that little girl singing at the top of her lungs.

Uninhibited.

I want to live with abandon.

Date Night and Alone.

Deuteronomy 30:19, “I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore chose life, that both you and your descendants may live.”

It’s the second Saturday night of the month. Date night at church.  My husband is working. Again.

I take a shower. Blow dry my hair. Put on my make-up.

What am I going to do?

I have no plans. Ironically, my kids do. I have to pick them up at 10pm. That means I have to kill three hours on a Saturday night. And my husband is working… Did I mention that?

Earlier in the week, I made plans. They fell through. So, here I stand in front of my bathroom mirror all dressed up with no place to go. A few emotions run through me. 1- I don’t want to be alone tonight. 2- I don’t want to be a third wheel. 3- I thought these days were over. 4- I think this is going to be good for me.

For years I thought when I got married I would never have another unwelcomed night solo, but with a husband who works a lot, it happens. Even when I don’t want it to.

In the past two weeks, I have gone out to lunch by myself. Twice. I sat in church alone. Twice. I was the fifth wheel at a dinner party one Saturday night. The next, I went to see the movie, “Lone Survivor” by myself (kind of ironic as I look back.)

Being single for so many years taught me how to be comfortable in my own skin. To go it alone. And to enjoy every moment of it. And so I did. But- it wasn’t always this way. Years ago when I had nothing to do or my plans fell through, my regular day would quickly turn into a miserable night. I would sit at home and think about the life I wished I had. I would end up being the star of my own, personal pity party decorated with crying until my eyes hurt and eating until I wanted to throw up.

Those days are long gone. But it isn’t because I finally have a family and never have a lonely night. It’s because I learned how not to let my emotions rule my life. Just because I feel a certain way, doesn’t mean I have to live in that place. I can choose to live above my feelings by focusing on the good things in my life. By focusing on what I do have, and not what I don’t.

It took years of practice for me to learn… It’s up to me to choose life or death. Much of this choice happens in my thoughts. Before, I didn’t know I could choose my thoughts. Now, I realize I can choose what to think on and what to push out of my mind. I can choose joy or destruction. Happiness or sadness. Peace or worry. Faith or doubt.

This weekend served as a great reminder for me. Life is full of choices. Our choices make all the difference in how we live. Now, rather than sitting down feeling sorry for myself on a Saturday night, I make a choice to get up and do something.

Every time I choose life, my choice pays off.

Fresh Eyes.

1Corinthians 2:9, “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”

“Has Mitt Romney ever been the President, Mommy?” my eight year old son inquired this morning.

“No,” I responded.

“Good.” He said with a grin.

My daughter, Aspen, was quick to jump in. “Jayce,” she said, “That is not a good thing!”

“Yes it is!” he replied. “Now he doesn’t have to worry about being the president just once. He can still be president -TWO- times!”

Aren’t kids great?

Never mind that Mitt Romney already ran for president. And lost. Forget the countless hours he put into campaigning. And lost. Pay no attention to the many sleep deprived nights he incurred, the enormous amount of stress he endured on a daily basis, hours worth of study for debates, pages and pages of criticism and personal judgments passed by people he has never met. And, oh yeah. Don’t forget… He still lost the election.

Leave it to children to disregard every natural circumstance and look with fresh eyes to the opportunities still possible. By losing the race for President in 2012, Mitt Romney gained the opportunity to be president for two terms in the future.

Hmmm. That’s a different perspective. One I have never considered.

Before I go any further, let me say this – I have no idea whether Mitt Romney would ever consider running for president again. Nor do I know that he should. Quite honestly, my point has nothing to do with politics at all.

What this one little conversation reminded me of, is this… When the Lord looks at His children, He doesn’t see the times we fail or the people who reject us. When He looks at us, He sees possibilities. For every missed opportunity, He sees the ability to rise again. For every disappointment, He sees hope for a bigger appointment.

God is not moved by our past failures or mistakes. He is not moved by our present circumstances. He is not moved by our logic or reasoning. The Lord is, however, moved by our ability to see through the eyes of faith, all of the good things He has prepared for us.

When we gaze at our life from His perspective, there is a world of possibilities that are opened up to us.  With eyes of faith, we can see that every missed opportunity is a chance to learn and grow. To be – Better. Wiser. Stronger. And more satisfied.  Our past failures prepare us for our future victories. To be more. To do more. To give more. And to love more.

I challenge you today to stop seeing the areas you fall short in as failures. Instead, recognize the possibilities that still exist. Begin to look at your life through the wide-eyes of an innocent child. And in doing so, open yourself up to the world of possibilities that your past has prepared for you.

Gum? Anyone.

Psalm 104:27, “These all wait for You, That You may give them their food in due season.”

Today is a special day. Before the sun came up we sang “Happy Birthday” to my youngest son, Ty Owen. He made a wish and blew out the candle in bed. Then we ate cupcakes for breakfast before school.

Fifth birthdays are large milestones in our house. Like driving a car when you are sixteen or getting into a rated “R” movie at seventeen. In the Brandes home, turning five means you get to chew bubble gum for the very first time.

So, after listening to the “cha-cha-cha” rendition of the “Happy Birthday” song, Ty excitedly asked, “Mommy, can I chew gum now?

“Are you five yet?” I retorted.

“Yes!” He beamed.

“Then, today you can have as much gum as you want!” I said.

Years ago, when my husband mentioned the idea of not allowing our kids to have gum until they were five, I thought the idea was rather ridiculous. “What’s the point?” I thought. “Just because you weren’t allowed to chew gum until you were five, you think we should make our kids suffer the same fate?”

Of course, I didn’t voice those thoughts out loud. I simply asked what his reasoning was.  The first was obvious. Little kids stick gum in places it shouldn’t go. Like under the counter, in their hair and on the ground for others to step in. The second was one I had never considered.  “I think it’s good to make them wait for some things,” he said. “It teaches them appreciation for the simple things. And… delayed gratification.”

Delayed gratification? I have never liked the sound of that. But it is something I have learned to appreciate more and more through the years. After all, we don’t learn much from the lessons in life that come easy, or happen quickly, for that matter. And, as much as I hate to admit it, those seasons in life that take f-o-r-e-v-e-r to arrive, have actually taught me the most.

Why would it be any different for the little version of me?

For five years, Ty was told “No. You can’t have bubble gum yet.” When his brother and sisters, cousins, and friends were chewing it, he couldn’t. He learned that “no now” doesn’t mean “no forever”. It was only “no” for a season. Until he was mature enough to handle it.

He learned firsthand at a very young age the meaning of delayed gratification.

Five years of waiting ended this morning. I wish you could have seen him chomping and chewing. All – day – long. The smile… and the gum… never left his mouth.

To an outsider, the lesson here may look small. But from one who knows what it is to wait for something valuable, the implications are far reaching. They go far beyond the surface level and into the heart of that child’s character.  A lesson that will follow them forever.

I encourage you, today, to look for ways to teach your children little lessons such as these in the days and weeks to come. After all, one of the greatest gifts we can give our children is to sprinkle character building lessons such as these throughout their young lives.

Please, share your ideas below on how you have helped your children learn character building lessons.

Guilty.

I realize it’s bold, but it’s the way the conversation started…

“Are you a Christian?” I asked.

His answer caught me a little off guard. “Yes,” he said with his head down. “My wife has always been deeply religious, too. I don’t generally tell people this, but years ago she had two abortions and she has never really forgiven herself.”

My heart sank. Empathy ripped through my soul.

“Have you?” I replied.

He glanced up at me with a look of guilt no eighty-five year old man should have to bear. “No, I guess I never really have.” (Pause.) “I could have stopped them, you know?”

A flood of emotions ran through me. Immediately, I was transported in my mind to the morning just a few weeks ago when I stood in church, hands lifted high singing, “My every stain is washed away. I am forgiven.”

Clearly, this man did not understand what “forgiven” truly meant.

Instead of receiving genuine forgiveness, he chose to carry the heavy weight of guilt that comes with a decision such as this —for over sixty years. Rather than receiving forgiveness from the only One who can wash the stain away, this man and his wife bore this burden of sin on their shoulders. All. These. Years.

Standing next to him, tears streamed down my cheeks. I wept… Just as Jesus weeps when we refuse to accept the free gift He has given us- forgiveness of our sins.

When Christ died, He died for ALL of our sins. Not just the ones we can admit to. He died for the ones we are ashamed of. The ones no one else knows about. The sins we have carried for years and years. Like this man. And his wife.

Mathew 11:28-30 says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

I don’t know what you are going through. Or what you have done. But forgiving yourself is a choice that only you can make. Don’t waste another minute holding on to unforgiveness toward yourself.

Before you ever asked. Before you ever sinned, Christ forgave you.

For the abortion. For the divorce. For the abandonment. For the abuse. For the words. For the thoughts. For the actions. He has forgiven you… For everything you have ever done and everything you will ever do.

The only one left remembering… Is you.