Posted in Life Lessons, waiting, Word, Writing

The Gentle Gardener

One morning shortly after my divorce, as I woke up, I had this vision. I clearly saw a pair of rugged male hands reaching down, digging in, and clasping together underneath a wilted plant. Actually, the plant was beyond wilted—it was dried by the sun, and what had once been some kind of small growth was now beginning to fly off in the wind. It was that dry. It was almost entirely dead. Its roots, however, were entirely alive. As the hands came down and clasped together, they carefully pulled the plant out of the soil – carefully keeping its roots intact. The “Gentle Gardener” as I have sometimes described the owner of the hands, removed the plant from the ground with the roots sticking out between his loosly clasped fingers. The process of extracting the plant took some time, as the dry ground was caked around the roots. Some digging, pulling, and scraping went on for what seemed like an hour. As the hands lifted together and transported the plant, I noticed the hands, up to the wrists, were now caked with soil and there was dirt caked under his fingernails. Some blood began to pool and dry around a scrape. The gardener was fully invested in this process.

Then the scene in my vision widened out – as in a movie. I noticed that the whole field that the plant had been pulled out of was a dry, cracked land. I would call it parched. Thirsty. What once may have been a field of beautiful wild flowers was now barren.
At this point, I surveyed the entirety of the landscape. I began to have a new realization: I could no longer see the plant, nor the hands, nor the roots – because I was the plant, and I was being intentionally moved. But to where? Suddenly panic set in. What if I fell from this height? Was I destined for the fire pit, the compost pile, or – hold on, what’s this? As the hands came down and I descended, I (now as the plant) peeked over the edge of the hands that carried me. I saw the greenest grass, flowers were budding, new trees danced and swayed, and a bubbling, flowing mane of water caressed the soft curves of the land.
Water! My parched soul rejoiced! But the water did not come to quench me for a long time. Replanting was painful – physically agonizing. As my roots settled into the earth, something strange happened at the surface.
Nothing.
Nothing happened. Not for a long while.
While my roots underneath the surface reestablished a bond with the earth, I remained dry and cracked and thirsty above.

While all around me everything was glorious and full of life, I kept my head down and tried to hide my ugliness.

And then something else happened.

I began to cry.

I began to ugly cry. The kind of tears that run hot and wild. The kind of tears that arrive as a whimper, then become a sob, then a wail. I cried for a season – and then another – and suddenly, I was no longer seeing from the perspective of the flower, but from the viewpoint of the Gentle Gardener. Or was
I? Had I grown to this height?
Yes! I had. He had planted me in the center of his beautiful garden. I had not started as a
seed, but as an acorn. He saw that I had fallen on the side of the fence that did not have the proper environment for growth. Furthermore, I was not watered by the river, but by my own tears. My eyes were so swollen from crying that I did not notice my growth until I had become a glorious Oak. Tall and mighty.
Beautiful and sturdy. Arms outstretched toward the sun. Birds nested in my branches. Squirrels gathered and scattered my acorns. Bunnies frolicked in my shadow. I provided oxygen—I gave life where once I was almost dead.
The last I saw of the hands they were clean and glowing and applauding me.

Perhaps you’re in a dry season. Perhaps you’ve been in this season for a long time. But perhaps it is a season not of dying and thirsting, but of crying and learning and growing. That is where I have been lately: in a crying, learning, growing season. Let me encourage you to trust the Gentle Gardener.
Cry. Let your eyes swell shut if you must – but when the season ends, you’ll find you’re just what you ought to be – glorious, life-giving, quenched. And best of all, your arms will be outstretched toward the sun once more.

Posted in waiting, Word, Writing

Wait Lifting #3 – Finding Hope to See in the Dark

For the past few weeks I have been immersed in a hands-on education in waiting. I’ve written more on this subject here (Life Lessons – Patience),  here (Waiting Room), here (Learning to Wait), and here (Minding Your Ps [Pauses] and Qs [Quizzes]).

Today I want to write about my latest discovery – how to find hope when you’re waiting in the darkest places.

“Why, my soul, are you so dejected?
Why are you in such turmoil?
Put your hope in God, for I will still praise him,
My Savior and my God.”
Psalm 42:5

Have you ever been in a really dark place in life? What was it? Write it down, type it out, or just hold it for a moment in your mind.

Got it?

Right now my dark place is a job search.

Do you have your list? Now what? If you’re anything like me, walking through dark places makes me feel a bit lost, lonely, irritated, angry, disappointed.

How do you trust God with disappointment? How do you trust God in the dark? Just how?

As I mentioned, my latest “moment” has been walking through trying to find a job. I have a really great lead right now, but it’s March 10th and this has been ongoing since January 1st. Just how do I avoid depression and hopelessness when the bills continue to go unpaid?

For me, hope is a candle in the dark. When I place my situation and my hope in God’s hands, I can be in the darkest of places and still walk straight ahead as if I could see, because in the darkest times, he leads me.

My grandmother was legally blind. She could only see a couple of inches in front of her. We would go to the grocery store and she would hold products up close to her glasses and read the labels from inches away. But wherever she walked, I would lead her. She never slowed down. We went all over the place – the mall, restaurants, parks, concerts, ballet recitals, the grocery store. I would take her arm gently and she learned to follow me. That meant she had to trust that I was watching for curbs and obstacles in her path. I would say – “Step up, now” or “Curb” or “Steep incline.” When we watched movies or my daughters’ ballet recitals I would tell her what was happening in vivid detail. She never missed a thing (this is partly why you can read my words and feel like you can see what I’m describing – I learned to describe so that even a blind person could see).

And this is what God does with us. When we learn to trust his voice or his direction even when we cannot see the way ahead, we can keep moving forward.

My sheep hear My voice, I know them, and they follow Me.
John 10:27

So trust. Let him lead you by the arm in the dark places. Let him describe in detail what your heart cannot see.

I don’t know what next week’s job interview will bring.

What I DO know is that I’ve followed his voice. I’m letting him lead. I’m trusting that he knows where he’s leading me. I trust that he’s led me to this particular job and through this particular job interview process. I know his voice. I have followed.

I never said it was easy. In fact, it’s the hardest thing to trust in what you cannot see. This is faith. THIS is where the Light meets the dark.

Just try this week. Stop. Look. Listen.

Are you waiting because it seems dark, or are you going to trust God to lead you out?

Let me know how it goes.

I’m praying for you.

Love, Melissa

Posted in Uncategorized

How Long are You Going to Mourn?

The Lord said to Samuel, “How long are you going to mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and go. I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem because I have selected a king from his sons.”
1 Samuel 16:1

Mourning is necessary for healing. But like anything else, too much is usually a bad thing.

I’ve started In Medias Res (in the middle of things).
Let me give a short backstory for the Old Testament story I posted above:
Saul is God’s pick for King over Israel and Samuel is a prophet.
The Lord told Saul (through Samuel) to have Saul destroy his enemies, even their livestock. Saul followed through with the first part, but saved some of the livestock to “sacrifice to the Lord.” (Those would be air-quotes if we were face-to-face.)
Samuel to Saul: Why didn’t you obey God?
Saul: I did.
Samuel: Is that sheep I hear bleating?

Because Saul disobeys, God rejects Saul as King, but Samuel is grief stricken that he has had to tell Saul – sorry – God won’t even listen to you since you disobeyed him – to obey is better than sacrifice (taken from 1 Samuel 15). In fact, the Word says they never saw each other again.

“The Lord said to Samuel,
“How long are you going to mourn for Saul, 
since I have rejected him…”

When I read these words my eyes were opened. How long will I mourn over (fill-in-the-blank).
Until Saturday when I read this – my answer would have been that I’ve been mourning the job I just lost. I loved what I was doing. I felt like I had purpose. I loved my co-workers.
Budgets get cut. Contracts end. I get it. But whatever the reason, I lost it. And when I read those words, time stood still for a moment. I thought back over my life and the things I have grieved for too long: divorce, being abused, people who left through death or stubbornness or disagreement.

What is it for you? Divorce? Being single? Losing a loved one in death? A job? People who have left?
How long are you going to mourn?

In most cases I can look back and see that the horrible things that have happened or the cases in which people left – that was God’s hand protecting me from something that either was bad for me or something that wasn’t in his plan for me.

But why grieve any longer? He has something for me to do.
Look at this next part:

Fill your horn with oil and go.
I am sending you to _________ because I have chosen to do ____________________ and I’ve chosen YOU to accomplish it .

Today we wouldn’t say fill your horn with oil and go.
The reference was to anointing oil. That was the tool of Samuel’s “trade.” Samuel was a priest; he used his anointing oil to literally pour out a blessing on someone. Today we’d say – get up, get your backpack, and let’s go. What’s in my backpack these days? What are my tools for blessing others? A laptop (for writing), a paper Bible (I don’t leave home without it), and many colorful pens (because I’m a writer).

In one verse I feel like God is speaking this to me through his word:

Melissa, how long are you going to mourn over your lost job, since I have tied up that end for you? Get your backpack and let’s go. I am sending you to the women in the community because I want to bless them with your story and with the Word I have stored up in you. Go bless them.

So I am choosing to obey.

How long are you going to mourn over that thing you’re mourning?
God has work for you.
Get up, get your backpack, and go.

Posted in Life Lessons, Word

Immediately Jesus

It’s no secret – I believe in Jesus. I love him. I love reading the Word. If you’ve ever shared a meal with me, you know. I’m all about Jesus.

Some seasons though, some days – they are rough. Even when I’m in the Word daily. Even when I’m at my best.

Today was rough. Bad news seemed to come from everywhere. And then I got home to my youngest kiddo having flu-like symptoms.

Most days I have faith like Peter. Remember Peter was the disciple who walked to Jesus on the water.

Well today I felt like Peter – full of equal faith and doubt. When he was in the boat, the sea was scary, then he saw Jesus, and stepped out in faith to walk toward him, but…

But when he saw the strength of the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out his hand, caught hold of him, and said to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Matthew 14:30-31

I am so much like this. I step out in faith, then see the “strength of the wind” and begin to sink.

Here is what my strong wind looks like: when my kids are sick, when someone I love is hurting, when I lost my job contract in 2016, when I feel inadequate, when I sink in depression (like today), when I lose a friend, etc.

Loss or the threat of loss just unhinges me. Today my wind was mostly the fear of just that – the fear of loss.

On my way home today I cried out as Peter did – “Lord, save me!”

Immediately Jesus flooded me with peace. He reminded me he’s got this. Whatever the outcome, I’ll be okay.

It’s human to have moments of doubt. But instead of reaching for anything else to steady you, take the outstretched hand of the only one who can.

Posted in family, Friends, Life Lessons, Love, Word

When the Unexpected Happens

Has your life ever come to an end punctuation that you weren’t quite expecting? Haven’t you been so sure of one thing, only to, at the turn of a phrase, been suddenly unsure, and ended your sentence with a question mark instead of an exclamation point?! (Okay – that’s the word nerd in me.)

More practical:
Have you ever gone home to what you thought was a solid marriage, but then had to pack your bags suddenly because you discovered your spouse was cheating or wanting out? Or have you ever had an unexpected Cancer diagnosis? Or have you ever gone to work carefree one morning only to find out your job was suddenly ending? Or been in the car talking about dinner one minute and been hit by a deer the next and found yourself covered in glass and debris? That last one happened to one of my best friends this week. (Praise God she’s recovering well.)

I’m saying – there’s not much in life that is constant. At least not in mine. I feel like for the past 16 years I have been living in “what if” mode.

I’m constantly wondering what’s next.

But I’ve found some constants that keep me steady when things change suddenly.

  • Daily Bible reading
  • Worship music in my earbuds at work
  • Family time
  • Intentional time with friends

If I am not in the Word and constantly reminding myself that “God’s got this even when the unexpected happens,” then when the unexpected does happen, I return to my former ways of thinking. These include being slow to listen, quick to speak, and quick to anger.

But the Word reminds me to “…understand this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for human anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness.”
James 1:19‭-‬20 CSB

And that, “The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and great in faithful love.”
Psalms 145:8 CSB

I want to be more like Him.

So I perked up when I came across Beth Moore’s quote from “The Faithful” Bible Study on Old Testament Heroes that says “When our old priorities don’t go with our new life, we either return to our old life or adopt new priorities.”

I love my new life. If you knew me before I surrendered to God, you know why. My old life was a mess. With Him life is not perfect, but the storms don’t shake me as much. And new friends and readers – if you read back over archived blogs about my life, you’ll find more storm damage than Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Andrew combined.

In fact, it’s stormy season for me right now, but you probably have no idea – because I’m in the boat with the God who tames the winds and rains and waves. Like this:

“…and as they [Jesus’ disciples] were sailing he [Jesus] fell asleep. Then a fierce windstorm came down on the lake; they were being swamped and were in danger. They came and woke him up, saying, “Master, Master, we’re going to die!” Then he got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waves. So they ceased, and there was a calm. He said to them, “Where is your faith?” They were fearful and amazed, asking one another, “Who then is this? He commands even the winds and the waves, and they obey him!”
Luke 8:23‭-‬25 CSB

In my old life I lived on my own time, with my own priorities, and on the little faith I thought I had (which was mostly self-centered.) In my new life I find that I need so much more Jesus than I think I do. Contrary to popular memes, I’m really NOT enough. In fact, I’m NOTHING without Jesus.

One final thought about new priorities that go with a new life: it’s so easy in this social media era to revisit our past and to “like” things just to be noticed. Please avoid this. If you’ve moved on to a new life, just move on.

And as we discussed in my Sunday morning group, “If that thought, lyric, or image put Jesus on the cross, (if it causes someone else to lust, or entices them to stumble, or is aimed at irritating them in some way) then it’s probably not worth liking, commenting, or posting.”

New life. New priorities. New year.

My word for 2019 is “MORE”.

What’s yours?

Posted in Poetry, Word

King David and Stuttering Metrical Dactyls (just read)

I imagine King David,
writing instrument in hand,
scroll on one knee,
writing furiously –
trying to beat the dusk.
This is when poets live –
as the world falls asleep,
poetic minds wake –
Imagery marches down the page.
Poetic hearts beat iambic pentameter,
Thoughts come faster
than hands can write…
da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM
da-DUM da-DUM
Until adjectives lie breathing, exhausted on the page.
Until anxieties fade,
Anger subsides,
And all remaining questions
get asked of God.
It is only then,
When stuttering metrical dactyls
Screech to a comma
That life begins.
Or begins again.
This is where I find King David:
Enjambing justice and right against
Poetic praise.
“When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy…”
“…the Lord has become my fortress, and my God the rock in whom I take refuge.”
Sometimes words bring trouble.
Sometimes they sort it through.
The Psalmist shoulders the gift and the burden.

(Somehow I got all this from reading Psalm 94.)

Posted in Cancer, Life Lessons, Word

My Word for 2019

Ups and Downs

This year has been a roller-coaster. It began January 4th with a biopsy by way of a D&C.

It continued to May 17th – when I had surgery to remove fast-growing pre-Cancerous cells by removing my uterus. It was not the surgery I signed up for. There were complications. A laparoscopic procedure became an open abdominal procedure and it took months, not weeks, to recover. I spent weeks in bed and my depression level spiked.

One thing people say they notice from my social media presence is that I am a person who absolutely trusts and believes in God. This is true.
But it is also true that my faith has been tested more this past year than any other.

Also this year – I re-gained and then quickly re-lost my sister. This has been something I’m quietly grieving. It is so deep…

I’ve felt my heart ache more times this year over more situations than I have blog space for.
I have cried more tears than I thought were humanly possible.

Finding Hope

But I’ve freshly realized that for every single horrible moment in my life, I have had the opportunity to use it to help someone else through a similar circumstance.
I am grateful for that.

This will go down as the year I fell deeply in love with God via His Word. I just can’t put it down. I prayed for this and found that God was faithful to give me an unquenchable thirst for the deeper things in the Bible.

As I struggled with the reality of Cancer this year, I’ve realize that my perspective on things is always clearer when I look upward instead of inward.

Don’t miss this: What I need is to be honest about my struggle with depression so that someone else can see what it is to struggle and still (imperfectly) rely on God.
God did not order this chaos; God is bringing order to this chaos.
I’m not sure where you are in life – but I know you’re not alone, because…I struggle too.

Word of the Year

At the end of each year, I ask God for one word or phrase that will carry me through the next year. In 2018, my word was “MEASURE(D)”. It’s interesting because I can’t tell you how many medical tests and how much of my bloodwork was measured this year. But in the end, what is immeasurable is how much I’ve grown spiritually this year and how much deeper – my love for the Lord.

My word for 2019 is “MORE”.

I can’t wait to see what that looks like.

Pray about your word for 2019 and comment here or on my Facebook page.

I’d love to know your word for 2019.

Posted in Life Lessons

Unanticipated

Life has its dips and straights.

Sometimes Summer feels more like Spring, sometimes Spring feels more like Winter.

Sometimes the road is paved with love and laughter; sometimes it is washed out by torrents of tears.

When I look back over my life I’ve always known what is right and what is wrong. And I’ve always known that my God is a good God.

I’ve not always chosen the recommended path. I have scars on my skin and my heart as mile markers for the roads to avoid.

Sometimes my silence shrieks while my karaoked daily routine resounds like a symphony.

I’ve come full-circle from where I thought my life ended to where I felt alive again. I stood on the precipice of hope, only to find what I’ve longed for is just out of reach, then gone.

When the straight highway to the great unknown I’ve anticipated takes an unanticipated turn in a valley ahead, and the road bends from an exclamation point into more of a question mark, I will choose to take a moment and ask for this one thing: God, if you’ll give me more of your Holy Spirit and I can feel your presence, then I’ll continue on. I can’t live without the power and the presence of the Almighty. In fact, I won’t.

 

Lord, fill me with your presence in this valley so I can get to that glorious unknown you have waiting over there for me to inhabit.

You’re a good God. Without you I add up to nothing.

Posted in Life Lessons, Word

Who Inspires You? (for Caro)

I remember it was on a day like this one – dreary, bleak, and wonderful. The rain started and stopped, but mostly fell steadily just past my fingertips against the front window. The kids were at school and I was supposed to be grading papers, but I couldn’t. My mind was stayed on one student – one Mr. E. Caro. Something was amiss with this young man. He was brighter than the rest – young, but an old soul. Always late to my class. Pretended to be in that group of guys in the back who didn’t care about anything but passing. But I saw something greater.

I was in graduate school and a Teaching Fellow position was offered me. I taught two different courses: Developmental Writing and Technical Writing. I took the position to help pay tuition. Caro was in my Technical Writing class.

It was about the 2nd or 3rd week of classes when I found myself, fingertips to rain-speckled glass, thinking about Caro and remembering those who had cheered me on when I’d lost my way. There was my editing professor at UNT who suggested I apply for graduate school to be a Technical Writer when it wasn’t even on my radar.

There was my friend Merelee who faithfully picked me up for youth group when I was a stubborn 14 year old with a chip on my shoulder.

There was Mrs. B from my 7th grade English class (who lives just down the street now) who urged me to keep writing, even though I made an 18% in her class for the semester because I kept throwing away my perfectly done English assignments to impress a boy. She got my work out of the trash, uncrumpled it, and admired my writing skills anyway.

Something about Caro reminded me of myself. The next time I saw him we had a memorable chat in the hall. I’ll keep that conversation private. Bottom line – he was already bright and capable, but no one bothered to tell him so before. He was never late to class again, passed brilliantly, invited me to his graduation, and we still keep in touch. I cried when he crossed the stage to receive his diploma. He’s an up-and-coming music artist now – rap, hip-hop, R&B. Brilliant musician. He shows up in life ahead of schedule. Always. He is a great dad. I’m so impressed, Caro. I love your passion to succeed.

My point?

People can inspire you, but you have to want to succeed. You have to put in the work. You have to do the dang thing every single day and get up every morning and do it again.

Every one of us has a Caro in our lives to inspire, to push a bit, to encourage to do more.

Today’s Challenge:

  1. Who is it for you? Who is your Caro? Do them and yourself a favor and speak up and speak into their lives.
  2. Who inspired you to be better? Thank the people who encouraged you, no matter how long it’s been. Your thanks may catch them at a time when they need it most.
Posted in Word

Is This On My Kid’s School Supply List?!

This is the week before school begins. More than usual, this week is all about family dinner nights out, Wal-Mart excursions (for school supplies), and various other ways the kids are finding to raid my bank account.

When I was shopping for my own school supplies at M.E. Moses (that was a five & dime store, remember those?) for elementary school, it was crayons, scissors, glue, watercolors, and construction paper. Now it’s all of that plus copy paper, Expo markers, and earbuds. Yes – earbuds.

Times, they are a changin’.

This is my last year with an elementary school student. My middle child is in her Senior year of high school. And my eldest is a Junior at the University. Sigh.

All of these changes lately have me asking questions.

Where did the time go?

How did we get here?

How do I make the most of this year with them?

What the heck?

I’m in the 2nd week of a FREE Beth Moore online Bible study called The Quest. The sessions are free, you just have to buy your workbook (I bought mine on Amazon.com). The sessions are free to view online until September 30th. I get there by going to https://blog.lifeway.com.

In The Quest I’m learning not just to study the Bible (as you’d expect from Beth Moore), but to let the lessons dust off the leaf-covered paths in my life of faith. Somehow I’ve become so accustomed to lacing up my hiking boots and grabbing a water bottle on my way out to hike this forest of faith, but I’ve forgotten all direction. I’m all routine. No destination.

I’d forgotten beautiful well-worn paths I’ve walked with God. I’m so accustomed to throwing in a pair of necessary-for-life (and apparently elementary school) earbuds and listening to worship music or re-listening to the Sunday sermon via podcast, or scrolling through my Bible app and letting it read the Word to me, but I’ve left my gold-edged brown leather Bible pages to stick together and gather dust on a shelf.

But the last 2 weeks, highlighter and colored pens in hand, I’ve been cross- referencing and journaling and pouring my heart out to God aloud and onto the workbook pages and my life suddenly feels right. Fulfilled.

I’m encouraging you, as I’ve encouraged my kids this week – get in the Word and see what happens.

Like poetry? Psalms

Need wisdom? Proverbs

Like great stories? Genesis & Exodus

I find a new treasure every time I read.

This weeks challege:

Skip Netflix, ditch your earbuds, read the Word.