On a day much like any other, I was with two good friends, riding in the backseat of a truck, singing along to a song we were playing too loud to be healthy. In a sudden blur of color, two (probably modified) sports cars screamed past us in the middle and rightmost lanes going a hundred and something miles an hour. I couldn’t tell if they were racing, or just going fast because they felt obligated on account of all the money they’d spent to be able to. You see stuff like this on highways all the time, so I thought nothing of it and kept singing.
I wasn’t looking at the road when my friend in the driver’s seat gasped — I’m talking about an honest, stage-worthy gasp — and turned the music all the way down. I leaned forward, squeezing my shoulders between the front two seats, and looked out through the windshield. Something glowed bright in the distance, casting a soft light on the road in front of us. A fiery mushroom cloud erupted from a car and billowed at least a hundred feet into the air before caving in on itself. It was like a handheld nuke had gone off. It’s strange what goes through your head in moments like that. I remember thinking it was strange to see something so bright and so orange late at night. And on a highway where typically your view is comprised of long stretches of dark road. It’s like your brain takes a moment to process things like that — things that just aren’t supposed to happen. Eventually it seemed to understand: explosion.
We were going to stop, but there were already loads of cars parking on the side of the road. We called 911, and as we rolled slowly by the scene, we saw the car still immersed in that relentless inferno like some metallic bonfire, the driver’s side door blown off and laying on the side of the road beside a flaming tire. I knew immediately that I had just witnessed someone die.
We looked the story up in the news later. The kid was seventeen. And so, even though I believe in a perfect God, my question then was this: “How can there be a good God in a world where this happens?”
I think it’s healthy to question what you believe every now and then — to ask difficult, uncomfortable questions. I do find myself asking why a perfect, benevolent God would allow such tragedies to occur. In fact, one of the most popular arguments against the existence of God is the existence of evil. How can God allow these things to exist? If he’s all powerful, why did he not prevent evil from ever entering the world in the first place? Better yet, why does he allow evil to exist as a construct, as a concept? If it didn’t exist, surely it could never have entered the world. If you think I’m here to answer those questions, you’d be wrong. There are folks far smarter than me who devote their lives to studying these issues and formulating logical answers; there’s no use in me trying to stumble around forming a theological explanation. I do think that there are people out there who have delivered pretty sound explanations as to why God and evil exist. And I do believe that there are answers. But there’s a problem with having all the answers, anyway.
Once you know everything there is to know about everything, you have entirely removed wonder from the world, and you have abolished the need for faith. If there is nothing I don’t know, not a question I can’t answer, then why do I need God? Why do I need faith? I don’t. The thing is, there’s actually some stuff I don’t know — quite a bit, really —you could call it a lot and it wouldn’t be a stretch, I don’t think. I don’t have all the answers, and neither does anyone else, nor anyone past, nor anyone to come. It wouldn’t be called faith if we had all the answers. Not everyone will agree with me, and some may even despise me, but I’m choosing to believe. Not because I think it’s the most logical decision (even though it may be) but because I’ve felt the peace, love, and joy that I believe only God can provide in this world that so often feels broken down and rusted over, malicious and sadistic in its intent. In the end, I feel Jon Foreman described it pretty well when he said, “I think both faith and doubt are equally logical responses in the face of tragedy. Faith is to say, ‘Yes the future will have pain. But there is a meaning and a purpose deeper than that pain.’ For me, that is my choice: to believe rather than doubt.”
Sam Skipper is a university senior studying English and Creative Writing. He hopes to graduate within the year and pursue a possible career teaching high school English. While he is furthering his education, he spends his remaining hours working part-time, staying active in his church, and doing absolutely nothing with his friends. Sam enjoys the beach, traveling, camping, and hiking among many other things, but he values his relationship with Christ, his friends, and his family most of all. He lives in Jacksonville, Florida with his mom, dad, and brother.
Recreational football. Recreational, meaning fun. Except it wasn't. Zero wins when you're twelve-years-old translates into the ultimate downer; let's be honest, it's true for most adults, too. Those endless weeks of "fun" were contentious, combative, and downright gut-wrenching. If you've ever been a part of "little" league anything, you know what I'm talking about. Winning is great. Losing sucks—for everyone.
My husband had never quit anything in his life; nor had we ever encouraged our children to quit. In fact, we are very much a finish what you start family. However, when I tell you this experience was terrible, take me at my word.
About halfway through the season, we gave our son the out. Again, something we had never done. We presented our reasons and justified why this one time might be okay.
What played out next will be etched in my mind until my last breath. I sat on our bed. Our son stood at the foot. His dad sat on the floor, back against the recliner. Our little boy respectfully listened to every word we said, inhaled deeply, blew out a long breath and grew six inches in the span up of a blink. With big, brown teary eyes, he took his father and I to school with these words, "Sometimes finishing is the win. So I think that's worth it. I want to finish."
Okay, cue tears, right?
He completed the season 0-10. And it sucked.
The lessons learned from those weeks will stay with us forever.
Let's talk leadership.
When you commit to something, you are assigning time, energy, strength, endurance and stamina to said thing. Do your research. Discover the ins and outs of the task. Knowledge is power and frequently equips one with the giddy-up to say, "I do." and mean it.
Scripture: Proverbs 16:3
Research an area of interest. Set a short-term goal pertaining to that area. Make sure a timeline is associated with the goal. Commit to finishing—no matter what.
Please feel free to share your goals/results!
I've been in leadership positions my entire adult life. Over two decades, I have had the absolute privilege of working with young people as they are trying to hone their leadership skills. Here's what I know.
There are born leaders who are going to lead others, no matter what. Now. Depending upon the person, the path might be positive or negative. However, they will lead. It's in their bones.
Then, there are those whose leadership qualities are learned, practiced, and tested over time. Not that the born leader doesn't take the development journey, but they have to choose to turn away from the status quo and turn toward a posture of learning.
Whether in the classroom, the collegiate world, or the sphere of business, I've seen what works and what doesn't. 30 distinct leadership characteristics stand out as vital.
Caution: You can read about these qualities. You can turn them inside out and sideways academically. Leadership, however, only translates when people in a specific environment choose to follow you.
Interested in learning more? Follow me on Thursdays. We will cover:How to Be:
It was a collaboration between Matthew, my youngest brother, and me. A back and forth, debate/argue/healthy discussion blog appropriately named, Sibling Says. We would choose a controversial topic, assume a position, and then hit the keys. Back and forth. Back and forth. Back and forth. Until one of us conceded or got bored with the rhetoric. Very few individuals attempted to read these hot topic forays.
Matt and I loved words. The bigger the better. The more the merrier. Bottom line? The rest of the world would weary of our multi-syllable entourage after the first paragraph.
We didn't care, though. He and I had bonded over countless games of Scrabble and verbally challenged one another on the daily. Loving the sound of your own voice? Yep, we owned that.
Outside of the blog, we did a lot of talking. A lot of creating. A lot of plotting. He inspired/pushed/encouraged me to dip my toes back into the world of publishing. He collaborated with me on the covers of seven of my novels. He asked me questions, challenged me, and pushed me to think outside my perfectly square box.
Then he got sick.
When conversation wasn't centered around that terrible six letter word, we continued to create.
After he died, the tip tapping of the keyboard shushed.
Words and ideas stuck in the mire of missing him and the slow comprehension of tragic loss gobbled up precious energy. Mourning sudden silence created a sludge of pushing through the paces of what would never again be normal.
Creating content felt forced—a word I had never used when it came to the writing process.
Thankfully, my army of thoughts have recently begun to discard their mourning apparel item by item and as a result, the creative energy is sparking, bit by bit.
Luckily, the echoes are true and faithful. Words Matthew wrote or spoke that remind me to NOT squander what God has given. To NOT squander the gift of life. To NOT squander the gift of creativity.
Matthew would often quote a random bible verse just to prove me wrong in an argument. He had a knack for flustering me when he did that.
I very much hear the echo of his voice when I read this version of God's Word.
I Peter 4: 10-11
Be generous with the different things God gave you, passing them around so all get in on it: if words, let it be God’s words; if help, let it be God’s hearty help. That way, God’s bright presence will be evident in everything through Jesus, and he’ll get all the credit as the One mighty in everything—encores to the end of time. Oh, yes!
We would have discussed Saint Peter, Rome, the original Hebrew language versus the above translation, and then proceeded down delightful rabbit trails—for hours. He would have rolled his big green eyes and made a sarcastic comment about infinite encores that would have caused me to belly laugh.
But he would have made his point. He always did.
Amanda, just write. Write about what moves you. Tell your stories. Express your thoughts. Inspire conversation. Lean in. Be real.
Okay, bud. Heard.
Thank you for reading my scribbles, for commenting on my thoughts, for signing up for my newsletters, for allowing me to read your material, and for cheering me on. I hear you and love you for it.
Sorry for the cussing. Offensive language isn't my typical go-to.
Today is the one year anniversary marking my youngest brother's death. He was 34. Cancer ravaged his body and brought everyone who loved him to their knees. And frankly, today I woke up pissed off.
I know. I know. I can hear my mother's voice in my ear as she admonishes, "Amanda Lynne, we don't talk like that. Where's the soap?"
Sorry mama. It's in the cabinet. I'll grab it later.
Alas. Matthew would have wanted filter-free honesty. Frankly, he always enjoyed when I let a cuss word slip. So here goes.
Not because I'm unaware of my abundant blessings. I AM. Moms and dads and brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews and friends and bonus kids and bonus parents and the list just goes on and on and on. My family is SHOWERED in blessings. Y'all. I know. I stand under the abundant stream of grace and let those tears fall freely. I feel the prayers. I feel the love. I do.
But today still sucks.
I broke down for a moment in front of the gurgling coffee-maker this morning. My husband pulled me into his arms and asked me how I was feeling. Here's what came out. "Damn it." Sniffle and a foot stomp. "I'm tired of writing memorials." He held me tighter, rubbed my back and chuckled with a hint of sadness in his voice. "Yeah, I know. But you're pretty good at it." I huffed and smiled. ( He's good at making me do that. )
He's right, though. I am good at it. Why? Practice. Decades of practice. Not obituaries or formal bits of anythings. Just tributes on social media. Happy Birthday in heaven. Happy Mother's Day/Father's Day/Whatever Day—in heaven.
Am I thankful for heaven? Yes. Of course I am. If you know me, you know my heart. I love Jesus and am profoundly grateful for His sacrifice. Engage me in conversation or allow me to engage you, and I'll share my heart and the miraculous healing Jesus has performed in my life.
But today, I'm giving you the gut-honest top layer of emotion.
I would have rather my parents attended my graduation.
I would have rather my parents met my future husband.
I would have rather gone wedding dress shopping with my mother.
I would have rather my father walked me down the aisle.
I would have rather my parents held our children when they were still wrinkly and red, new to this world.
I would have rather my parents commented on social media about their adorable grandchildren.
I would have rather my parents and my brother come to watch Zachary play football and Mackenzie play volleyball.
I would have rather--
Any and all of it, here with me. With Marshall. With all of us.
Whew! It felt good to just type it.
Today will pass, never to come again, just like that horrible day a year ago passed with the sunrise and sunset of another day. And I will continue to honor my parents, my brother, my grandparents, Diana, and whomever else passes on from this life to the next with words and pictures and heartfelt sentiments.
I will celebrate.
I will hope.
I will never forget.
Today, though, I cling to John 11:35. Jesus wept.
God in the flesh wept angry, troubled, moving tears over this broken world. And so will I.
Brian Dembowczyk has created a beautiful resource for parents and children (age level 6-12, grade level K-6) to break down the nuts and bolts of their faith. The purpose of the book is to engage kiddos in the "why behind the what", "why we do what we do" and most importantly, "why we believe what we believe" conversations.
From the Introduction:
Cornerstones: 200 Questions and Answers to Learn Truth is designed to help kids learn the
foundational doctrines of the Christian faith—not with the goal of knowing more about God, but
instead to know God more. Each question and answer is designed to help explain who God is, how
we can know Him better, and why He does what He does. Cornerstones teaches through questions
and answers, a method that began in the early days of the church. The practice recognizes a
child’s natural inquisitive nature and offers doctrine in bite-size morsels. As kids understand each
question and answer, they begin to develop a comprehensive understanding of God that deepens
their love for Him. God moves from being a distant, unknown authority figure to a close, known,
The book is divided into eight sections, each with its own color scheme:
The Church and Last Things
The Parent Connection section is fantastic and should not be ignored. A serious opportunity for digging in exists on these pages.
Sample question from the Think section: Jesus said the Bible is a like a strong foundation to stand on. How can the Bible help us when life is difficult, such as when someone is being unkind to us, when we feel lonely, or when we are tempted to sin?
A Parent's Guide is also available as an additional resource. As a parent, I would consider purchasing both.
My junior book reviewer, Brooklyn, was excited to dig in and give me her "take" on the book. Here are her thoughts:
She loved the colors and design of the book.
The Scripture references cited in the answers were cool because she could open her Bible and look it up for herself.
Some difficult words were defined, such as grace and salvation.
There was no table of contents, so if she wanted to look up one question/answer, she had to flip through the book instead of looking at an index.
Final Analysis: 5 stars, a handy tool for the toolbox, and a sturdy purchase! See the posts on social media for an opportunity for a free Kindle copy.
The opposite of explosion.
Collapsing from the inside versus collapsing from the outside.
One is obvious; the other is quietly occurring right before the eyes of unsuspecting onlookers. Then--
Men and women make choices over time causing their lives to crash inward every single day.
In this Eric Geiger's, How To Ruin Your Life, he uses the example of King David's implosion documented by Scripture found in 2 Samuel and The Book of Psalms. He discusses the implosion, the confrontation, the confession, and at last, the celebration involving the man after God's own heart.
The book is divided into three parts: Imploded Lives, If You Want to Ruin Your Life... and If You Want to Start Over...
I commend Geiger on his ability to clearly state the steps of implosion and starting over, while weaving God's Word throughout the discussion.
How do you implode?
Isolation, Boredom, Pride
How do you start over?
Confess, Surrender, Rejoice, and Look to Him
As a reader, these points stayed with me and I remembered them for days to come. I could see myself on each page and the Holy Spirit pricked my heart and compelled me to look inward during the times of my implosions, and what to do to avoid future catastrophes.
Well-written. Well-organized. Biblical.
Win. Win. Win.
Seven Days Ago...
A 19-year-old, bent on destruction, hid in a bathroom overcome by a rush of adrenaline to seek, kill, and destroy.
A shot fired, a piercing scream, a crying girl, a look of panic, a compassionate intervention. A moment of divine stillness in the midst of chaos induced a shocking surrender.
An officer doesn’t hesitate to run toward danger, instead of away.
A child injured.
Men and women tasked with teaching tackle trauma.
Doors opened to provide shelter and closed to protect.
Messages, rumors of chaos spread like wildfire. Guns drawn, first responders on site.
A girl running-sprinting away from danger and toward home-trembling as she desperately tries to check on friends, siblings, family.
A mama moving heaven and earth to reach her baby.
A dad halfway around the world praying to get home, unsure of what home would look like.
Parents catapulted from the mundane to a shocking reality-desperate to touch the children housed inside the big white church on the corner.
A collective, trembling sigh of relief. Hugs exchanged in the palpable reminder of what is precious. No last good-byes.
A community brought together. A community inspired to act. A community driven to protect, to honor, to love. Whether through peaceful protest, prayer and praise, or pause, Marion County showed up and wrapped their arms around its own.
I’ve never been more grateful than I am today. I tucked my children in last night, and today, I’m allowed to reflect. And I pray for communities all over this nation who have suffered these unspeakable horrors- for parents, spouses, and children who unwittingly gave those final farewells. My heart bleeds.
But today, we celebrate. #ForestStrong #ForestFriday
The subtitle of this book is, "Trading Restless Insecurity for Abiding Confidence".
Restless Insecurity? Yes, I think most women in today's society can grasp onto that phrase and identify with insecurity that can be defined as restless. We think we're okay. Then, we turn on the television, scroll through social media, flip through a magazine and believe we absolutely do not measure up.
Would most of us raise our hands and declare a desire to trade that horrible feeling for one of abiding confidence? I think I can answer a resounding, "Yes, please, and thank you." for most women whether they are Jesus followers or not.
In Bloom is beautifully written with entertaining, sometimes gut-wrenching accounts of Kayla Aimee's journey in dealing with her insecurities. Most will open this book and feel as if they are reading a friend's diary or memoir. And if that is what you are looking for—SCORE! Buy it now. Bonus: There are study questions in the back with scripture references from the Message that will lead you on an introspective question and answer session of your own.
My only drawback is the book is advertised as a "blueprint" or a "how-to" tool for growing in one's faith. I'm not sure this book is that.
Do I agree it's a "fearless, funny, and refreshingly relatable chronicle"?
Yes. It's very much a ME TOO journey of, "Yep, let's call out that problem for what it is and recognize I need to do something about that." But—the what's next step might lead you off a cliff of, "Wait, is that it? What about that whole metamorphosis thing?".
Access that smart consumerism and know what you're buying. Then, you won't be disappointed and you can very much enjoy the journey with this smart, witty storyteller.
The CSB Kids Bible, Hardcover was a big hit with my junior book reviewer, Brooklyn. Brooklyn falls smack dab in the middle of the age range and grade level for this bible. She loves the colorful design of the hard cover, as well as the multi-hued edging of the paper. During her reading time, she found the charts and maps very interesting, especially the timeline of Jesus’s life and the directory of kids in the bible. Her level of excitement over God’s Words places a smile on this big girl’s face. Enthusiasm is contagious!
The designers of this edition did a great job of finding a combination of sturdy and attractive. In addition, I, personally appreciate the way they targeted their audience through the intelligent presentation of information.
Considering all aspects, Brooklyn and I give this one five stars. Her only drawback—the orange bookmark. My JBR is not a fan and would have preferred a nice shade of blue.
Nevertheless, an overall high five and a big thumbs up!
Amanda Williams is a forty-year old wife and mother of two who can still swing her pony tail and display just a tad of sass. She is also a Jesus loving girl who realizes she is nothing without the One who saved her. Amanda has two degrees specializing in serving students with special needs and is currently working in the field of Leadership Development. She is a Christian author, speaker, blogger, and publisher who loves serving beside her husband at her local place of worship, First Baptist Church of Ocala.