Wednesday, May 24, 2017

I Will Also Dance

I am so thankful to be part of Bonnie Gray's launch team for her beautiful - inside and out - new book, Whispers of Rest. It just released yesterday!

I've been reading it for close to four weeks* and it's been like I imagine cups of water feel when handed to marathon runners. This devotional has been poetic, practical, and peaceful relief and refreshment on a daily basis during a time when I have desperately needed it.

Jesus has met me through these pages.

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In recent days, God has used Bonnie's words to remind me my hope is in Him. Not doctors or teenagers or myself or anyone else. My hope is in Christ and the Holy Spirit IN me and IN God's people. But even so, clinging to my God of Hope lately has felt like a tug-of-war with desperation and anxiety trying mighty hard to defeat me.

Monday this week I tried to count everything as JOY. Ten years ago I wrote a song called "Count It All Joy", and I dug it out so I could remember the words. What amazed me wasn't the song, but ALL of the songs. I found song after song after song after song I had written 3-10 years ago.

Where had my song gone?

I opened this Monday afternoon. Even the chocolate was preaching at me!
I was so sad to see how grief and stress and other problems in recent years had stolen my joy.

I woke up in the middle of the night and cried a bit. Then I woke up yesterday morning and read these words in Whispers of Rest:

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God whispered to me that it was time to PLAY. A couple of pages later, I read this:
"Dare to be renewed. Dare to play. Today. ... Make time to play. Be child-like. Laugh, waste some time, SING, dance, try something new. Renew your spirit with joy."
I cried again, but this time touched by the tenderness of the Holy Spirit. I downloaded a song I'd heard on the radio and made it my anthem for the day. I danced and sang in the morning. I exploded marshmallows in the microwave with the kids in the afternoon. I even took pictures of the dishes when I noticed the colors were all matching each other (and the tile and Bonnie's book!) last night.
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Ok, so I did have to add some red and purple and black and brown eventually. But the blues and whites and silvers made me smile. :) 
As I wake up today, the worries are threatening to steal my joy again. I'm choosing this time, however, to remember the things I'm worried about may be real and hard and confusing, but they are not the end of the story or the whole story. There is more to life than the difficulties and a good way to deflate my anxiety is to focus my attention on something else. To count my blessings and remember the Blesser.

I will still grieve when I need to grieve and work when I need to work. This marathon is far from over and I have to keep running this race. So, run I will.

But I will also dance.

(You've GOT to hear this song. Dance with me?)

In His Joy,
Melissa
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 *In order to participate in the Whispers of Rest Launch Team and write a review of the book (which I'll do in full once I've finished it in a few weeks), I was given an advance copy of the book. (Yippee!) Whispers of Rest is a 40 day devotional detox designed to help the reader hear God's voice and enter into His rest. It's now available everywhere books are sold! Check out Bonnie's website for more info and free downloads, and join us June 5 for a 6 week online book club

Monday, May 08, 2017

Planting Hope

Once a year, Lowell and I wander the garden section at Home Depot or OSH or a local nursery and choose a plant together. We come home and pick a spot for it in our yard and plant it in celebration of our marriage. It's a cherished anniversary tradition and a symbol of hope for the future.

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Sweetheart Cherry Tree - Planted April 2017 for our 21st anniversary

Passionfruit Vine - Planted April 2015 for our 19th anniversary
Maybe it's the farmer's blood running through my veins, but I see planting as an act of faith. We never know for certain if what we've planted will survive and thrive and bear fruit or not. We know some things die. Yet hope and faith say to keep digging and weeding and planting anyway.

Even if you don't know if you'll live in the house long enough to ever taste the fruit.

Even though it could die if it freezes in winter.

Even though dogs sometimes do dumb things and dig stuff up that you've just poured your sweat into.

It's still worth hoping and it's worth planting and dreaming. Especially with someone you love.

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Since we moved back from Peru, we've celebrated 3 anniversaries in Fresno. Last year, for our 20th anniversary we planted a Hot Chocolate Calla Lily with deep purple flowers. It was gorgeous. 

I was really bummed that it didn't come back up this year after the extra cold, wet winter we had. Even when the Easter lilies were already in full bloom, there was no sign of life from the Hot Chocolate Calla Lily - just an empty patch of dirt, twigs, and dried leaves where we planted it last year.

I sighed, accepted it just didn't make it, and moved on disappointed.

Until a couple of weeks ago when I noticed some little green spikes poking through the earth. It turns out our Hot Chocolate Calla Lily just sleeps longer than it's relatives and is very much alive after all.

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Have you given up hope on anything? Is there something God planted in your heart that grew for a while but now you can't find it or it seems to be dead? Have you left a dream behind because there doesn't seem to be a place for it in your here and now? Be encouraged that not everything that seems dead has died. Dreams and gifts and hearts sometimes have to lay dormant for a season. We wait and hope and trust and keep planting new seeds, but sometimes God breathes new life back into the old as well. 

Look for life today, friends. You just might find it where you've stopped expecting it. 

And whatever you do, plant some hope.

Dream new dreams. Say hello to someone new. Learn and read and smile and encourage and weed and exercise or study and work. Plant something! Change another diaper and teach that little one to tie their shoes. Invest in the future even when you don't know what may come of your efforts.

"So we must not grow weary in doing good, for in due time we will reap, if we do not give up." ~ Galatians 6:9 (NET) 

Lord, open my eyes today to see what You're bringing to life - either after I thought it was dead or for the first time. Let me see the world through eyes of hope and expectancy. Help me to keep planting and tending Hope. In Jesus' Name and by Your Power and with overflowing Thankfulness, Amen.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Where there's a Will there's a Why

It's often said, "where there's a will, there's a way." I'd like to propose, however, that where there's a will, there's also a "why" and where there's a plan, there's also a PURPOSE.

I have a tendency to make plans and to-do lists like there's no tomorrow. (Really. I often feel like everything has to get done TODAY, even though that's rarely the case.) Even worse is how often I make plans without considering the purpose behind them. My motivation often comes from feeling like "I have to get X, Y, and Z done" rather than paying attention to WHY I want to get them done or why they need to be done (if indeed they do.)

At the end of 2016, I started noticing the word "Purpose" here, there and everywhere. It's turned into my word for 2017, and I'm hoping I'll learn to pay more attention to the purpose behind my plans and that I'll trust and rest in the Purpose behind God's Plans, as well.

Job 42:1-2 1" Then Job answered the Lord:
'I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted;"
I last posted on this blog in September '16 about starting a new teaching job. In the months that followed, I didn't take time for blogging because I was too busy learning how to be a teacher and a wife and mom all at once. At the end of school in December, however, my wise husband helped me realize we had come to a point as a family where something needed to be let go of in order to pursue better health for multiple members of our family. We couldn't keep going the way we were going. Changes needed to be made and or pursued.

So just before Christmas break, I turned in a letter of resignation and two amazingly supportive administrators sat with me while I told my students I wouldn't be coming back as their teacher after Christmas. We cried together and hugged each other and took comfort in knowing I'll still be around to say hello (since my boys are still there!), even though it isn't the same. (I can't believe how much I miss my students already! And yes, they will always be "mine".)

A few weeks before my resignation, God had spoken the word 'timing" to a friend of mine for me when we were praying together. Neither of us really knew what it meant, but I took it as a signal to keep trusting. When I finally (suddenly) realized I needed to quit, I hoped and prayed it meant He was in charge of the timing. I KNEW it was the right choice at that point, but hoped it also meant God had a teacher in the wings to take my spot before the kids came back from break. AND HE DID! The school was able to hire someone to take the class and he was there (with his decades of teaching experience!!!) on Monday this last week when they all went back. That was my biggest concern and I believe with all my heart God provided. I am so thankful.

So what now? I'm walking through the process of signing my daughter up to homeschool online for a semester, and getting ready to work part-time at my husband's non-profit while their preschool director is out on maternity leave. I'm trying to get caught up on all that was ignored around my house when I was teaching full-time. And I'm hoping I'll get to work on my book again! (Blogging semi-regularly might even happen again. We'll see!) I'm wondering what the purpose is in all this change and finding comfort in knowing God's purposes can't be thwarted (Job 42:1-2) and that His ways and thoughts and purposes and plans are higher than mine (Isaiah 55:8-9). I'm confident there's a WHY behind His will and a PURPOSE in the middle of His plan. Even if I never get to know what it is, that's okay.

He says, "Trust Me."

And that's just what I plan on doing. On PURPOSE.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Ready or Not!

I was struck this morning by how many big things happened to Mary that she couldn't have felt ready for.

I guess first, though, I should clarify what I imagine it means to "feel ready". For me, feeling ready has to do with things feeling under control. I feel ready and prepared for something when I've had time to think through what's going to be needed and I've had time to make the appropriate preparations. I also feel ready when I've had time to process the emotions and/or issues that come with whatever I'm preparing for. According to Dictionary.com, I'm right.

ready  adjective

1. completely prepared or in fit condition for immediate action or use:
troops ready for battle; Dinner is ready.


prepared  adjective

1. properly expectant, organized, or equipped; ready:
prepared for a hurricane.
Was Mary expecting to be expecting before she and Joseph were married? No. She hadn't been mentally gearing up for an angelic visit announcing to her that she was about to become pregnant by the Holy Spirit. She wasn't that kind of ready.

Was Mary expecting to give birth in Bethlehem? She might have known it could happen, but her birth plan wasn't followed. There was no place for them to stay! I don't believe she gave birth alone. (Seriously? I don't care how busy they were, women in Bethlehem would have gone to help once they knew she was in labor. It's what women do!) But she didn't get to interview doulas and go over her preferred pain-management strategies with anyone. She gave birth in a strange place that wasn't prepared for her and she couldn't have felt ready and under control.

Then again sometime later, she was woken up by Joseph saying Gabriel had come by again. They had to leave for Egypt. Nothing was packed. Goodbyes hadn't been said. Was she ready? Umm, no. Not in normal human terms, anyway.

Oh, this God we serve! Personal and wonderful, merciful and gracious, faithful and always present. Yes, yes, yes. Predictable? Controllable? Not really.

God's ways aren't ours. Sometimes that means that He is working behind the scenes preparing us for things without our awareness. Sometimes He surprises us! Sometimes He asks us to do things that we don't FEEL ready or prepared for. Or maybe we trust that He has prepared us and we're ready in some ways, but not in others because so many details are still out of control.

Have you guessed that's where I am right now? You may or may not already know that when school started this year I was expecting (=ready and prepared!) to spend another year tutoring at the school where our boys attend. I loved it last year and though in the summer I had wondered if God was leading me to something else, by the time school started I figured that I was in for another part-time, pretty-easy-job year.

You know where this is going, don't you?

Tomorrow I'm officially taking over one of the 4th grade classes at our school. I'm going to be a real-deal teacher again. After almost 16 years.

And in many ways I don't feel ready or prepared. My house isn't all organized and our meals aren't all planned and the laundry isn't all done and the classroom isn't all laid out and the curriculum is still being developed. I have SO. MUCH. TO. LEARN.

That's why I'm so glad that God doesn't care about Dictionary.com.

God looks at the heart. God decided who is and isn't ready. God brings new things about when we aren't expecting it and tells us to walk by faith and not by sight. He promises His overflowing, abundant grace.
2 Corinthians 9:8(NET Bible)And God is able to make all grace overflow to you so that because you have enough of everything in every way at all times, you will overflow in every good work.
As my family and I walk into this new season, that will surely be challenging for all of us in different ways, I am praying that my response to the challenges will be like Mary's. I'm praying my soul will magnify, exalt, glorify, praise, and declare the greatness of the Lord. He is good and He is with us.

Art by Mikaela
And really? As long as God is ready, I can trust that in Him I am, too.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Taking off King Saul's Armor

I don't know why it's so hard to do this. Except that maybe I do. It's rarely easy to admit mistakes and doing so publicly is not most people's version of fun. (Asking for help isn't something I'm good at either.) But I want to tell you what God's been teaching me this week, so I'm doing it anyway.

As I mentioned a couple of posts ago, I've been working on writing a book. In the last several months, I've ended up on several writers' email lists and have received many emails with suggestions for how to write or market a best-seller, how to create a book proposal, and all manner of ways to expand your "platform" (or following or audience or reader list or whatever.) I've read some of it and questioned much of it, partly because I don't really want to write a best-seller and don't want the pressure (that I imagine) of having so many readers. I listened, though, and while I think God perhaps was leading me to work on a book proposal (in part to clarify to myself what I was thinking) I took that and ran with it where God wasn't leading. At least that's how it seems now.

Yesterday I finished reading 2 Chronicles. Unlike 1 & 2 Kings (which follows the history of both the kings of Israel and the kings of Judah) 1 & 2 Chronicles sticks to the Davidic lineage through the kings of Judah. Some of Judah's kings completely disregarded and blatantly dishonored Yahweh - the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob - but there were several kings who truly did all they could to pursue, honor, worship, and obey Yahweh alone. They were inspiring, until they would do something foolish, like look to another country for protection or ignore the messengers God sent them. Often it was because they listened to the wrong advice.

I marveled and shook my head at it all, and finally realized I was just like them. God has brought me so far and carried me through so much. He put on my heart to write down my story and the lessons He has taught me on this journey, even when it didn't seem logical to do so. From beginning to now, He has led me (I think and hope) by His Spirit to walk and write by faith. Why would I think I should abandon this work of faith and take the path advised by the experts? 

"Hold on, Melissa. What are you talking about?"

Well, it's like this. "Experts" suggest that if you want to get a book published and purchased, you should probably have a base of followers first. This base (also known as a "platform") could be blog readers, email list subscribers, or Instagram, Twitter or Facebook followers, to name the most common. Experts also suggest you write a lot. Write everyday. Whether or not it's published on a blog or kept private, it's good to practice, because the more you write, the more you'll develop your "Voice" and become a better writer. Working to get your writing shared as a guest post on other blogs is recommended, as well. They also suggest you read a lot, because you'll get ideas and be able to compare your writing voice to other authors, discovering what might be similar about your styles and what might set you apart. All this can be just fine. (It actually sounds smart, doesn't it?) There's nothing wrong with any of it - unless you start thinking about all of it too much and it starts to overload your brain and heart because it's not what God is leading you to do! I haven't tried to do it all. But I have started trying to post more and think more like a real "writer" and even more than the posting, all of the thinking has been a big distraction. My heart and home and family have suffered a bit for it. The big proof, however, might be that I haven't gotten hardly anything done recently on my actual book - which is what I'm most certain I am being led to work on. 

Back to the kings. I keep thinking about Saul and David - specifically when the Israelite army was being taunted by the Philistines and David said he would face Goliath. Saul offered David his armor and David tried it on. He decided not to wear it because he wasn't used to it and he trusted God  to lead and protect him, even without King Saul's armor. All of my thinking about readers and writers and platforms has been my equivalent of trying to fight wearing King Saul's armor. Saul's armor fit him, but it didn't fit David. Those strategies might fit other writers, but they don't fit me right now.  So I've unsubscribed from some things and quit some other things.

I'm taking off King Saul's armor.

Jesus says his yoke is easy and his burden is light. The yoke he has for me fits me and the stage of life my family is in right now. It will still involve work, but it will be a work of faith rather than a work of fear that my efforts won't be enough or that God won't come through if I don't follow the advice of others. 

The first step I believe Jesus is leading me to take is to invite people to pray for me. It's time I stop trying to do this mostly on my own. A friend who has prayed for me for years already recently said, "I'm sure you have other people praying about this..." and I hemmed and hawed and had to admit I haven't regularly asked for prayer about this. Gulp.

So I'm swallowing my pride and repenting and admitting I can't do this without more people. My husband, amazing as he is, can't support me alone. Neither can one praying friend. Others are praying some, but I haven't shared with them enough. I need a team of people who believe God is calling them to join me in making this book happen.
In all my life, I don't think I've ever done anything significant for the Church and the Kingdom of God without a group of people praying me through. 
And I need to start talking to these pray-ers more about specifically how they can pray for me. If you're interested in this, as far as I'm concerned, it will have to be God. You hardly even know what I'm writing about. And please don't feel obligated. If you've read this far, I already consider that amazing. :) But if you actually want to pray for me (and my family) as I write by faith and walk where God leads, let me know somehow. Leave a comment, send me a text or a message on facebook or something. I'll figure out later how we'll communicate. I just know for now I've got to ask.

Lord, I think this is what You wanted me to do. Show me what's next. Move in the hearts of people You want on this team. It's not even mine. It's yours. It's all yours. My story, the book, my life. It's all yours. Show us what to do. Thank You for showing me I needed to let all that other stuff go. You are who I need to hold on to. But thank you for the Body of Christ. You made me to need them, too. 
In Jesus Faithful Name, Amen

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Walk with Me

I went for a walk this morning.  The peach trees (or nectarine trees. I'm not actually sure.) are blooming and I hadn't taken time to stop and savor them yet this year. I thought about you when I was out there and wondered what it would be like to take you on a virtual walk with me... Have you ever seen an whole orchard in bloom?

Parked here next to an old olive grove, it's just us and the crows.


But the blossoms are gorgeous. Even more beautiful than my phone can capture.


Ever since I was a little girl I've been mesmerized by rows... rows of trees, rows of cotton plants, rows of vines... They make me happy.


It's interesting how grapes don't have blossoms like the fruit trees. There are signs of new growth, though. See the green new leaves popping out?

The olive trees behind us still have a few olives hanging on them. Drying out leftovers after the harvest, I guess.


Walking back, I can't help but notice the branches that have been pruned in preparation for this year's harvest. The trees are beautiful partly because they've been lovingly, painfully cared for by the workers who aren't afraid to prune back branches so there will be better fruit.

Some blossoms started blowing in the breeze. It was dreamy, snowfall-like loveliness. I picked up a few scattered petals to take home. That's when a word came to mind:
 GENTLE.

To carry a handful of petals, you have to be gentle. You can't hoard and carry too many, or they'll be crushed. It reminded me of one of the lessons God taught me at the retreat this past weekend.

I have to take the pressure off of my life, or I will crush it instead of letting the GENTLE life of Christ in me CARRY my life. 

My heart was made for GENTLE living, not PRESSURED striving.

My kids were made for GENTLE training, not HARSH impatience.

My marriage was made for GENTLE love, not DUTIFUL obligation.

"I therefore, the prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live worthily of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and GENTLENESS, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." ~Ephesians 4:1-3 (NET)

We are also instructed to allow the Spirit to grow the fruit of GENTLENESS in our hearts (Galatians 5:23), to clothe ourselves with GENTLENESS (Colossians 3:12), and to let everyone see our GENTLENESS (Philippians 4:5). 

Why? Because Jesus said, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke on you and learn from me, because I AM GENTLE and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and my load is not hard to carry." ~Matthew 11:28-30 (NET)

We can be gentle with each other and on ourselves, because God is gentle with us.

My friends Wendy and Debby both became grandmothers yesterday. They are so excited, and rightly so. Their granddaughters are adorable. While neither of them have older siblings or cousins, you can bet that if a toddler or other child was holding or touching those baby girls, the word "GENTLE!" would be on the lips of those grandmas. Why? Because we treat babies with gentleness. It's instinctive.

It's RIGHT. 

Friends, let's remember that it's also right to treat ourselves and those around us with gentleness. Somewhere along the way, it becomes less instinctive. By the grace of God, though, we can learn again. Because we can learn from him. And HE IS GENTLE.


Thanks for walking with me today, friend!
Have a blessed and gentle day. :)
See you next time,
Melissa


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