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, 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

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:

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,

OneWordCoffee Linkup

Friday, January 29, 2016

Giant Baby Steps

We often think of big decisions as giant steps or leaps of faith. In my experience, however, what appears as a big decision is likely made up of countless little choices. Baby steps.

And even baby steps sometimes feel like terrifying, giant leaps.

Three examples come to mind.

I remember laughing once or twice at the cautions people gave us during our adoption process. Something about not rushing in. I laughed because with all of the papers and interviews and fingerprints and processes (and money) involved, I'm pretty sure nobody has ever adopted internationally on a whim. It would be impossible. Every step required effort, from researching agencies to attending trainings to home studies to immigration paperwork. Over and over we made the choice again to pursue adopting our son. It was not one giant leap. There were hundreds of steps involved. (Do I need to say I'm so glad we did it? I'M SO GLAD WE DID IT.)

There may have been less paperwork involved with moving overseas as missionaries, but there were just as many steps and decisions. Like when to... Tell the family. Contact the missions agency. Tell our pastor. Fill out the first application. Tell church leadership team. Don't tell anyone else. Attend the week-long interview. Fill out the rest of the application. Sign up for psychological evaluation. Say yes to the invitation to training. Tell the rest of the church. List the house for rent. Move to Canada for training. Learn to say, "eh?" and drink Tim Horton's. (wink.) Say yes to vulnerability with trainees. Say yes to Peru. Figure out a potential timeline. (I think you get the point.) There were a lot of steps and each one required effort and courage and determination and making a choice. Over and over we had to choose to keep going rather than turn back. It was in that season God taught me this important lesson:
Indecision and doubt are enemies of perseverance.
It is very, very hard to persevere when you haven't made up your mind or aren't sure you can do something.

This is the example I am living right now. Most of you don't know that I have been dreaming for the last several years about writing a book (because I haven't made the choice and taken the step to tell you!) about our journey to Peru and back. I have had this little project tucked away in my heart and our dropbox because I'm scared of showing it to practically anyone. I'm slowly working on it, but have wrestled over and over and over with whether or not I really want to do it. (Remember what I said up there about indecision and doubt?)

Every time I decide (once again), "Yes. I am going to write this book." another choice confronts me. So maybe I'll write it, but will I let anyone read it? Maybe. Maybe I'll get it printed by my friends in Peru and keep the copies in my trunk and whenever I feel led to share my soul on paper with someone I can hand them a copy. (Sounds safe and fair enough.) OR will I sell it online so anyone can buy it? Will I tell The World or just my little world? Will I dare to go to this retreat coming up by some authors I like? Because if I do, I'm pretty sure my safe little boat is going to get rocked and WHAT IF GOD TRIES TO LEAD ME TO ACTUALLY TURN IN A BOOK PROPOSAL TO A REAL PUBLISHER??? (Hold on while I hyperventilate just a little bit, please.)

Even though my email inbox is flooded with the secrets to a great book launch and how to write and market a best-seller, I don't actually want to go there. I've just barely accepted the idea of a quiet, little printing process..... that I can control.

(I typed those last words r e a l l y  s l o w l y . . .)

S i g h . . .

Lord, is that really what this is about? I want to keep control of my story because I don't trust others to be kind and I don't trust You to protect my heart in the process? I'm so sorry.

Friend, maybe you're in the middle of your own Big Decision that is made up of lots of tiny choices. Can we do this together? Even if we aren't quite ready to say "YES" to the next step, can we at least say "NO" to some enemies?

By your power and in your name, Jesus, I say no to fear. I say no to doubt. I say no to my desire to control and protect my story and my heart. I say no to fear of failure. I say no to fear of man. To fear of rejection and to worry and anxiety. And I do say yes to You, Holy Spirit. Yes to your power at work in my weaknesses. Yes to weakness turned into strength. And yes to letting the Family of God encourage me in this journey.

I have held back sharing because I've been afraid people wouldn't understand my dream and I wouldn't feel validated and that might mean I should quit. I've also felt like I needed to be sure all by myself before I shared with anyone else because I needed to not depend on validation from others. This morning, however, I believe God showed me the third way. (There's almost always a third way.)
Share with others in the Body, not for the sake of validation, but for the sake of mutual encouragement.
What would it be like if I invite you to take this journey with me? What if I let you and others encourage me? What if just being in this with me encourages you on your journey and inspires you to take your own scary baby steps?
What if I stop making this about me and instead make it about God and His people?

That's a lot harder to say "no" to.

If nothing else, I'm sure I don't want fear to be my reason for not making a choice. Even if I take no other steps today, I may find saying "no" to fear is a big enough baby step after all. For today, at least.

Walk By Faith...
Walk with me?

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Whispers of Hope

God has been going out of his way (though really it just is his way!) to speak HOPE to me in the last few days. In books, on walls, in songs, and in Scripture, over and over and over again I keep seeing this word: HOPE.

It is touching my heart in tender, merciful ways. Driving home from Shaver Lake this morning was worshipful. The mountain vistas and rocks and trees and hills seemed to be breaking into song all around. The beauty was stunning. These drought-stricken hills are a brilliant green, for a little while anyway, and I didn't want it to end.

(Can you see the rainbow off in the distance, just over the hill?)
While the green was lovely, I was most captivated by the oak trees. 

It's hard to tell the difference between dormancy and death when you can only see the surface, but there they stood. Survivors of drought and fighters for life, their roots go down DEEP. They aren't afraid of winter seasons that look like death because they know HOPE. They aren't afraid of their true shape being exposed because in dropping their leaves, they let through more light. They lift their bare branches to the heavens in a posture of praise and worship, all the while digging down deeper and deeper so they can keep surviving as long as the drought may last. They are brave, bold and beautiful even in the barest state. At least to me. 

I, too, am still in a winter-like season. I'm not doing any official serving or ministry or leading right now and haven't since we returned from Peru last year. For at least a few more months, I'm allowing God to continue to work on healing hearts and deepening roots, because it's not that kind of fruit-bearing time. Not yet, anyway. We trust with hope, just like the oak trees, that this is truly just a season and that fruit will be grown and shared once more. I hope that as I stand before God with the leaves down that more light will continue to shine and more work will be done where it's needed.

I can't help but compare this season of my heart to the seasons around me and find it intriguing how timely it is. I pass by peach, plum and nectarine orchards several times a week. Like the oak trees, they have stood bare through the winter and recently I have watched the farmers and workers out in the middle of the still bare-branched trees with pruning shears in their hands. It is the season for pruning and shaping. They are removing dead and unnecessary wood so that the best harvest will come a few calendar pages from now. The best time for pruning is now - before the leaves cloud the view. The blossoms are coming, too. Every day I am intently searching for glimpses of the tiny hope-bearers that are about to explode all around me. And they're starting to show up. More evidence of hope.

I will cling to hope, too. Whether it's because the skies inside feel grey or because the pruning shears in the hands of God sting when they expose and thin the dead attitudes and damaging lies that will keep me from bearing fruit in the future, I will hold on to hope. As sure as the oak trees and I are that spring will come, I am sure that someday again bareness will turn to bearing. Fruit and glory bearing will come in due time.

And in the meantime, I have HOPE. And much more. And that's enough.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

New Mercies

As I explained last year (oh, about 5 blog posts ago?) while it's become more popular to choose a word for the year to focus on or whatever, for 20 years now (woohoo!) I've been choosing a word I want to learn about for that year. By mid December I knew that the word I wanted for this year was MERCY. Then I thought also about NEW and realized that the two go perfectly together... NEW MERCIES.  

I'm making "desktop art" to keep the verses in front of me as often as possible.  My daughter and I are memorizing verses with Beth Moore's blog community and these are the ones I'm starting with.

So far I've learned that mercy is much more than I've always thought.
It's lovely. 
It's LOVE.