Butterfly Sparks Designs

Friday, June 28, 2013

Am I Beautiful?

I stood in front of them on the platform, where our eyes met.  I gazed over a wide sea of eager eyes across the auditorium, staring back at me hungry and hopeful, waiting for Truth. The conference leader had asked me to speak about the doubt, uncertainty and pain over one simple question…

Am I beautiful?

“I am so not qualified to answer this question,” I told her when she invited me to come and speak. On most days, I see myself as anything but beautiful. 

So I guess we start with the basics…what is beauty, anyway? Of course, this is a huge question. Creation is beauty. Worship is beauty. Family is beauty. Love is beauty. So many things reflect God's creation and presence and can be called "beautiful". 
Although beauty is not gender specific, I do believe women struggle with this concept more than men, in that at the core of a woman’s soul is a longing to unveil her beauty. And usually, for a woman, the context of the question starts with standards placed on personal, outer beauty. I am forty-something, yet still delight in my earthly father’s affirmation of my beauty. When he says, “you look very pretty, Melissa” (which he does often because he’s a wonderful father), my heart still melts.

This idea of beauty isn’t limited to the external, although the world certainly places an emphasis on that. Our desire to share beauty is far more than external: it not only includes, but demands the presence of an internal beauty – a beautiful heart. I do not feel beautiful when I am critical or mean-spirited or impatient or harsh. I do not feel beautiful when my relationships are not healthy and whole. I am not married but know that if God calls me to marriage, then I will long to unveil beauty to my husband, both in my outer and inner appearance.

Before others, we long to offer beauty to the world. This shows in many ways – our bent toward decorating a home, putting flowers on a barren table, or nurturing those we love with encouragement. Simply put, I am not at home if I feel as though I am not offering beauty to the world.

If taken in the context of God’s image, Scripture says that “God created human beings; he created them Godlike, reflecting God's nature. He created them male and female” (Gen 1:17, MSG). God’s nature defines beauty, and if He created us to reflect that nature, then it’s easy to understand the longing to unveil beauty to those we love, and to the world.

But earth-mirrors can be so cruel – especially when the enemy of our soul holds them up to our gaze.  Whether they reflect our external physical appearance or the internal courts we create for ourselves and for others, those mirrors are distorted and deceptive. There are just so many voices and pictures and ideals infused with lies that tell us we are not enough.  The first experience of rejection in our young lives can catapult us into a lifestyle of striving and performance. It is a bitter root that bakes slowly in us and over time, burns into our minds and hearts so deeply that we no longer recognize it.

We move from freely offering beauty to withholding it, out of fear that it will not be enough, or even worse…rejected. But the desire to unveil it remains despite the rejection…so we strive (and strive, and strive some more) to achieve some imagined benchmark that God never intended to exist.

But it’s so simple, really.  So very simple. 

I am beautiful when I am not striving to be beautiful.

When I’m not obsessed with my appearance.
When I’m not obsessed with my performance.
When I’m not worried about what others think of me.
When I’m truly listening to and connecting with someone else.
When I fully open myself to giving and receiving love.
When I openly share my heart with someone else.
When I freely accept God’s love, mercy and grace.
When I am no longer Melissa the earth-girl, but Melissa the Spirit-filled girl.

I am beautiful when I am at rest, because that’s where He is.

And He is beautiful.  
Those who look to Him are radiant (Ps. 34:5).

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Her Hands.

It's her day. A day to celebrate a woman like no other … my sweet Mom.

This is one of my favorite pictures of Mom and me. I’m pretty sure I was about four years old here. And check out Mom’s bee hive – hubba hubba! But seriously…I have often said that I love her hands in this picture. They captivate me. Her hands reveal much more about her than her perfectly shaped hair or radiant smile. Her hands show the depth of her heart.
My mother’s sweet spirit and loving heart are so very apparent to all who know her. But only some know her story. Mom’s childhood was very difficult. Those beautiful hands had desperately tried to fight off abusers and bullies for many years. Those hands had shielded her own face in sorrow and shame. Those hands had begged and prayed for acceptance.
Jitterbugging to "I Can Help" (read about it here)
Yet even so...she overcame. Those once-earnest hands went on to hug me every single day…and to lovingly stroke the birthmark on my forehead as I fell asleep on her lap and to cradle me when I cried. Her hands held mine as we danced, and they pushed the swing as Mom sang our made-up song…"Mommy and Melissa, swingin’, swingin’, we’re having fun!"
Her hands have always freely offered me the love, affection, and acceptance for which they had long ago grasped.

As far back as I can remember, her hands have created beautiful pastries and dishes. Mom would work so hard, for days and days, to prepare beautiful culinary delights for our family, neighbors, friends, and church family. She loved opening our home to guests and showing hospitality. Needless to say, our house was a favorite for sleepovers with my friends!
Her hands have created beauty.
During my teen years, Mom and I weren’t as close. Like many teens, I "knew it all" and didn’t respect her much. I would give anything to get those years back. Even in the midst of my making some seriously DUMB decisions, she showed her love and affection for me, and I know that she never stopped praying for me. In my twenties, something just clicked and I began to see her differently. Although it had always been there, her ability to forgive and to love unconditionally began to draw me in to her in a new way. The Lord was working powerfully in her life, and although I didn't realize it until later in my own life, she was Jesus to her wayward daughter (me) for many years. (For the other Moms of lost daughters out there…I pray that brings you encouragement. Don’t give up. I don’t know where I would be right now without the faithful prayers and love from my Mom and Dad.)

Her hands have freely offered grace.
From that point on, I wanted to study her, and I have been ever since. I cannot describe the depth of my love for my mother.
Over the years, I have had the privilege of observing those same hands lovingly and oh-so-meticulously create unique and beautiful crafts and arrangements and beautiful treasures that have brightened the lives of so many.
Unbeknownst to me until around the time I turned thirty, her passion for cooking and hospitality had taken root in my heart as well. I began to see my own hands mimicking my memory of hers, as she intricately and carefully thumbed through cookbooks, writing menus, creating masterpieces in the kitchen and crafting beautiful presentations at gatherings of family and friends… infusing a piece of her heart into every touch.
And most beautifully, I have studied the hands that faithfully pray. My sisters and I joke that Mom must have some sort of direct line to God, because when she prays (and she prays all the time), stuff happens! And her hands lift in praise, too. From my hospital bed just a few months ago, as four doctors pushed Mom and Dad away as they surrounded my bed during a critical complication, I caught a glimpse of her. I was so scared. My eyes searched to find Mom and Dad standing together. Dad, bless his heart, was weeping and I knew he was praying. I was so comforted by that…he was fighting for me, as a good Daddy would. But Mom…Mom had a huge smile on her face as her eyes gazed upward, with her beautiful hands lifted. Mom was lifting me up and praising Jesus on my behalf…praising Him even in advance of His blessing.
Her hands have loved well.

I heard someone say once that “One day, you’ll be putting on your coat, and you’ll look down to see your mother’s hand come out from under the sleeve.”

I hope so. I really hope so.

Her children arise and call her blessed, her husband also, and he praises her: “Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.” Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Honor her for all that her hands have done,and let her works bring her praise at the city gate. (Proverbs 31:28-31 NIV)

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. Thank you for who you are. Thank you for loving me like Jesus then and now. Thank you for being my most faithful cheerleader, mentor, advisor, encourager, and friend. I can't imagine my life without you. I love you so very much, and I am proud to call you Mom. 

(reposted from May, 2012, but is even more true today than it was last year) 

Monday, April 15, 2013


crescendo  \krə-ˈshen-(ˌ)dō\  :  the peak of a gradual increase

It was one of those abnormally warm, humid January days in Atlanta. 73 degrees – in January!  As a near-native to this metropolis down South,  I (like anyone else who has lived here for any length of time) have grown accustomed to the inevitable, unexplainable hot and muggy blip on a thermostat in mid-winter.  Here, we dress in layers, because the idea of “seasons” sometimes gets a little...blurry!    

Driving home from the gym after a long and intense workout, I clicked on the a/c in my car.  All I could think about in the hot gym was how good the cold air would feel on my drive home.  I turned the dial to full blast. 

Dead.  Dead, dead, dead. 

This had been an intermittent problem over the previous summer – my a/c would often not engage until I hit a bump or turned hard.  Basically, if I wanted to be cool, I had to drive like a maniac.  On this day, though, no matter what I tried, the a/c would not engage.  I was H-O-T!  Rolling the windows down didn’t help because of the muggy, humid air outside.  Anyone who knows me well knows that it’s always winter inside my house, and that I’m not a fan of the heat.  Suffice it to say, on this humid day in my car driving home after an intense workout, I was miserable and could barely breathe as sweat poured down my face. 

I took a deep breath and braced myself for the long and HOT drive home.  I clicked on my iPod, set it to “shuffle” and decided to put the heat and my discomfort out of my mind by singing at the top of my lungs.  Surely that would work.  The "shuffle" setting on my iPod makes for an interesting playlist due to my diverse musical taste, so I was prepared at any moment to hear anything from Hillsong, Aerosmith, Billie Holiday, Jesus Culture, Carlos Santana, Pavarotti, Coldplay, Casting Crowns, or James Brown blare through my speakers.  

Please God, whatever song plays, just let it have a beat and let me know all the words so I can boogie my way home to quickly pass the time.  

(Such a holy prayer, right?  Ha!)

At the sound of the first note, I knew what it was ….  "Walk In the Promise" by Bethel Worship.  One of my favorites.

SCORE!  I knew all the words, and this one makes me sing with my hands and bounce in my seat.  Excellent! I started my drive as the song began…

Our souls wait in silence, in rest and in quiet for You, Spirit…
In trust and dependence, we walk in the promise of You, coming
With hope and healing in Your wings,
with fire and with wind,  You fall on us again.

By this point, I was soaking wet, head to toe, from the heat.  But I didn’t care anymore.  My focus had changed…to worship.  I wanted more.

Here we are waiting for this house to be shaken,
for the boldness to carry Your name to the nations!

Yes, Lord!!!!  Even more of You!!!! 

I bounced in my seat and sang each word louder than the next, as the words built up to the crescendo: 

Your signs and Your wonders to go now before us,
For the weight of Your glory to rest as we lift You up…

And right there, at the crescendo of this beautiful song of praise and worship and at the precise moment my lips began to form the words “We lift You up"...

It happened.   

That a/c kicked on, full blast, all at once and so powerfully that a little cloud of white, icy air shot out and made little tiny snowflakes fall in my car.  For real!  As I sang those words over and over again -  "We lift You up" - the heat melted away and I felt renewed and reborn as the cold air reached my flushed, red, burning face and flowed down my body cooling me from the inside out.

As I had been overtaken by His presence, He led me with love to the crescendo, where He revealed His power and grace.  I was overcome with gratitude, and I wept all the way home. 

Crescendo.  The peak of gradual increase.  He knew what I desired.  He knew my ache and my thirst.  He knew my need.  And at the very moment I lifted Him up, He provided it…and with GUSTO! 

That’s how it is with Him, isn’t it.  No matter what "heat" is making us uncomfortable today, just a little bit of His presence, and a little bit of praise leads us to our crescendo.  Increase after increase after increase leads us to our path out of the fire into that cold, healing, life-giving air.

Oh, I know it is not always easy.  And so does He.  We don’t serve a shrine, we serve a living Savior who understands.  Think about His path to the crescendo at Calvary.  He knows that praise in the unrelenting heat and in the pain and in the confusion is hard.  But He is there in our every step, to lead us with His love to our crescendo, where He reveals His power and quenches our parched souls.  Every single time.

Friend, as you step into the increase and allow the Lord to lead you to your beautiful crescendo, anticipate with eager expectation what the Lord will do. He's going to blow your mind!
In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.  
I Peter 1:6-9 (NIV)

Monday, January 14, 2013

True Horizon

We vacation each year on a very secluded and sparsely populated section of the Gulf Coast, about 25 miles down a long, narrow peninsula, far away from everything.  We don’t mind sacrificing the long drive to civilization for the pure, unobstructed views up and down the beach and out into the horizon. 

I’ve always been so fascinated by the mystery of the horizon.  As my father (a former seaman) has explained to me over the years, the “true horizon” is the actual point on the line at which you can no longer distinguish the earth from the sky.  On most days, if you fix your eye on the clearest, sharpest part of the line, you will see a beautiful halo effect coming out from it.  Where the halo is, the "true" horizon is. 

On our last trip, with an impending tropical storm out further in the Gulf, we experienced very high winds and therefore, very rough water and high waves.  I was fascinated to observe that the true horizon never disappeared – halo and all.  It was right there, amidst the huge waves, just as it was on the previous days when the ocean was as smooth as a big sheet of glass.  Regardless of the circumstances of the weather or waves, that mysterious, magical line was there and visible.  And beautiful.

As I thought about it, I realized that the true horizon line at which Earth meets Heaven is in me, too.  Some days, I'm the trusting, loving smooth-as-glass girl.  And on others, I am one scary raging rough-water lady.  But that place where I let go and disappear into Him is always beautiful.    
You see, if we really believe what we say we believe  as Christ followers, then we become that place where Earth meets Heaven because His spirit is in us.  We are a place at which the beauty of His Creation disappears into the deeper and eternal beauty of Heaven.

The place where the truth of hope and healing found in the Lord heals the brokenhearted.     

The place where the richest, most unexpected blessings are found in the midst of the deepest of suffering.  

The place where the angels become our dance partners as we celebrate His blessings, presence and love. 

The place where the peace that passes all understanding miraculously overtakes the things of this earthly life that seem impossible to bear.   

The place where I end and where He begins.      

Monday, December 24, 2012

The New Story.

Tomorrow morning, many of us will gather around to read a story.  A beautiful, miraculous, true story.

The story of a man and woman obedient to the Lord when they hadn’t a clue what to expect.  The story of the baby who was born to die.  The story of the birth of the Savior of the world.   The story of a baby King who frolicked and played, just as any other boy made of flesh and bone. 

The story of the birth of Christ is beautiful, powerful and indeed most deserving of glorious celebration. But as we celebrate, may we also remember that the birth-story of the Messiah was only the beginning.  There were new stories to be told.  

That baby boy King grew up to be the blameless God-man who felt every single emotion that I do.  He laughed…and he cried.  He had a mind to think and reason, and he had a tender heart.   That birth story became the story of the King who humbled Himself to understand me, to love me, to die for me.  And (Hallelujah!), the new story both ends and begins with my Jesus rising again.

I’m so glad the story didn’t end in the manger.  

Stories are powerful.  They have an amazing ability to change not only the listener but the teller.  In listening to a story, whether read or spoken, it’s easy to get lost in it, and often that story becomes a part of who we are as it changes us.  There is also release in telling our stories, as there can be hope and encouragement given to those who hear them.  

But my question both to you and to myself is this.  Are we looking for the new story?  As compelling as our “last” story may be, do we open our eyes and ears and hearts wide enough to receive the next one?

What if we had been so fixed on the story of the beautiful birth of Christ that we missed the rest? 

God, as we celebrate our "last" story, help us to see the new stories You are writing in us.  

Help us, Lord, not to miss the resurrection.