Butterfly Sparks Designs

Thursday, October 14, 2010

In the Listening.

Hello again. It’s been awhile. It’s good to be back.

I’m finding it hard to believe that Fall is already here. This is hands down my favorite time of year. The time of year that this non-outdoorsy girly girl actually enjoys the outdoors and nature. I was actually giddy last night during my evening walk/run as I saw the first leaves dancing down the street, singing the familiar pitter-patter song of Fall. A perfect, cool, breezy Fall evening. Windows open, pumpkin-scented candles burning, and beautiful evening skies with the constellations of the season returning their beauty for us to enjoy. I love everything about Fall.

I’m a bit under the weather tonight, but still enjoying this Fall evening from the indoors. The cool breeze, newly fallen crunchy leaves, and gazing at Orion through my window relax me to a place of quiet stillness. And tonight I find myself keenly aware of a simple truth about God…and about me.

God speaks.  And sometimes I am so busy talking that I forget to listen.
The LORD said, "Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by."  Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it…” (1 Kings 19:11-13 NIV)
He didn't speak in the great and powerful wind. He didn’t speak in the earthquake. He didn’t speak in the fire. He spoke in the gentle whisper. And Elijah was listening.

Sometimes I am caught aware not only by my failure to stop long enough to listen for God's gentle whisper, but also my failure to listen to others whom I truly love and care for. Albeit with good intentions, often I am so quick to say “I’ll pray for you!” that I don’t take the time to truly listen to what the other person longs to express. Sometimes I am so quick to offer encouragement or counsel that I miss the sweetness of the opportunity to truly listen to a friend. Maybe the encouragement that would reach that person's heart is in the listening. And sometimes not with the best of intentions, I am too busy, impatient, or prideful to listen.

When we don’t listen, we miss something precious. We can see a person when we truly listen, when we study them and patiently listen for the whispers that reveal the deepest parts of their hearts to us. And after all, isn’t that what all of us want in our relationships – to be seen and known? Isn’t that what God wants from us – to see and know Him?

God, may we stop speaking long enough to hear You so that we may see and know You. For in that, you not only speak to our hearts, but you faithfully equip us with quiet hearts to hear, see and know others. 

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Time.

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven…He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. (Ecclesiastes 3: 1,11 NIV)
I am breaking away from my sequence on posts relating to my personal journey from woundedness to hope, but today is one of those days with a clear, discernible theme. You know those days when you feel like everywhere you turn, God is giving you the same message…I liken it to being hit by a “holy 2X4” over my head, when God is supernaturally repeating Himself in earnest, to ensure that I don't miss it. Yesterday, the Ecclesiastes passage above was my devotional scripture. Throughout the day, I saw that scripture twice more, in random places. And also throughout yesterday, I was reminded of this truth that some things are seasonal, and some are permanent. And then today, our pastor announced that our worship leader is leaving our church and pursuing the next phase of his ministry call. And in other areas of my life, I am facing the reality that God has placed me in seasonal situations that I would prefer to be permanent. It’s hard. But He is always good, and He is God.

I am not God. He is.

To everything, there is a time. Some things are forever, some are for a season. We’ve all read the sappy/cheesy poems and quotes about it. But corny or not, it’s true. Sometimes, there is a permanence to the situations or relationships in our lives, and other times, there is not. But regardless of whether a relationship or ministry assignment or job or any other situation is seasonal or forever…He is always good, and He is always working on our behalf. "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose" (Rom 8:28 NIV).

Regardless of whether God has placed something or someone in our life for a short time, a long time, or permanently, “He has made everything beautiful in its time” (Ecc, v.11). What a beautiful promise.

His ways and thoughts are so much higher than ours. We say that often as Christians, but I wonder if we will ever really understand this truth that God sees the entire picture of our lives, and that we “cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end” (Ecc, v.11).

He sees our life story…from beginning to end… through a heart and eyes of love that go deeper, wider, and truer than any other love we can experience from any other.  Seeing it all and seeing it out of an unfailing love is a beautiful combination, don't you think? 

So with this beautiful truth, may we "lean not on [y]our own understanding, but in all [y]our ways, acknowledge Him, and He will direct [y]our paths" (Proverbs 3: 5-6 NIV).

God, help me to trust in Your unfailing love, that You will make everything beautiful in its time.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Chase.

In December of 2009, I began a journey that I had been avoiding for almost one year. Well, OK, if I’m being totally honest it was probably much longer than one year, but it was almost exactly a year before (November of ’08) that I had heard God clearly say “go”. I wrote about it here. Specifically, He said, “Melissa, I cannot release you into what I have for you until you allow me lead you from your pain to hope.” Not a destination I cared to see again. When you read my original post about it, you'll see that I chose to "go", and I had just stretched my foot out to take the first step when...yep, you guessed it.

Distraction. The enemy of my soul used Distraction to stall me (but he didn't win. He never wins. Keep reading...)

A year later, after a long, twisted, messy series of bumps and turns, the pain had only grown. My delayed obedience was nothing more than disobedience.

I was broken, hopeless, and at the end of myself. So I reluctantly said, “OK, God, I’ll meet you there, because I’m tired of carrying this around”. It seems silly, how simple it was to type that out just now. It almost makes it seem trivial. But I promise you, that was an extremely hard decision. Opening up a wound doesn’t feel good. It hurts. But that’s where the healing is. That’s where He is. That’s where freedom is.

With the Holy Spirit working through a trusted counselor to shepherd me through the process, I have placed one foot in front of the other, and walked into the valley of destruction that becomes Hope. I began to see the flowers in His hand, again. He compels me toward Him, draws me in, and my choice becomes having no other choice. He woos like no other.

"Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her. There I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. There she will sing as in the days of her youth ..." (Hosea 2:14-15)

For the past six months, through the healing power of the Holy Spirit, my counselor and I have navigated through the mountains of unresolved pain-garbage that invaded my will and my heart like cancer. Out of my desire to guard my own heart by walling it off with the bricks of fear and the mortar of anxiety (and firmly braced by shame), I had been living my life trying to find my love, joy, peace, and value in others. That pain that I had never truly given over to Him was my prison.

And the scary part? I didn’t even know it.  Because I didn't "feel" bound. 

After all, I was serving God faithfully. I was called to ministry. I was speaking publicly.  I was at church every Sunday. I was tithing. I was spending time with God every day, in Bible Study and prayer.

I was pursuing him passionately. But not wholly. Because I wasn’t whole.

Yes, years ago I made a very purposeful decision to never look back at that pain.  But instead of allowing Him to meet me there, give me His perspective and truth about the brokenness, and heal my heart, I simply denied it was there.  I had never invited Him in to it. I had never met Him there.

What I had failed to understand for all of these years is that He chases my pain. He chases my fear. He chases my shame. He chases my guilt. He chases my heart.

The Holy Spirit desires to receive my pain, guilt and shame just as much as I desire to receive His love, joy and peace.

I’m being chased by the very One that I pursue.

There is much, much more.  The next few posts will be more about this journey from the valley of pain and woundedness to the doorway of Hope. 

Hitting the Snooze Button

Hi there...

I am thoroughly embarrassed at the length of time that has passed since my last post. Wow. That was a really long nap!

On April 1st, something happened both spiritually and mentally -- an unshakable, non-negotiable press to become more physically fit. So, I made some moderate dietary changes. I felt so good that I decided to hire a nutritionist/trainer. We started working together on April 15th, when I started the Maker's Diet and working out every day. Since April 1st, I have lost a total of 36 pounds! I still have a ways to go, but my resolve and motivation is stronger than ever.

Getting settled into a routine of waking up early (4:30 a.m.)to allow myself enough time for God time AND working out has required not only discipline, but also has had an effect on how I manage my time for the rest of my day. This has had an impact on my writing time...so I had to give in to the "snooze" button for a while. But I think I found my groove, so we'll give this another shot.

I'm so excited about all there is to share with you and learn from you. I love your responses through comments and emails, so keep 'em coming.

I'll be posting more, likely later tonight. So please stay tuned.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

How He Loves.

Not long ago, during my quiet time, I tried something a little different than usual. I was in a bit of a dry season. You know what I mean, right? Maybe it’s just me, but there are times when I don’t feel connected to God in my prayers, or when I simply don’t connect with God’s Word. I wanted to go deeper and overcome this separation that I felt from God. So, I put to practice a prayer method that I had learned about some time ago, but had never tried myself. Lectio Divina is an ancient, intentional approach to reading Scripture and experiencing God's Presence and His Word through reading, meditation, prayer, and contemplation. First, the Scriptures are read slowly, with an open ear to the voice of the Spirit identifying the new truth He desires to reveal. Then, time is taken to meditate upon what was heard,  which leads to prayer (dialogue with God), and finally, a time of simply resting in His presence. It’s a beautiful, intentional, longer-than-my-normal-quiet-time process. And one that I intend to repeat often.  Very, very powerful.

After I had finished with that part of my quiet time, it was blatantly clear that God was revealing to me through His word that I do not accept His love, forgiveness, or grace very well. I so often quantify His love and grace by my performance. Can you relate? Is it hard for you to truly accept His love because you’re not “good enough”? It’s just so difficult to understand His love for us with our narrow, human, finite minds!

I wanted to continue my time with Him, so I felt led to put on some worship music and just continue to rest, and to praise. I heard…

“Oh…How He loves us so. Oh, How He loves us…”

You know the song, right? In my view, one of the most incredible worship songs ever written.

He had my attention, and I was in the zone. But then something happened. I tried to personalize the song, to truly claim His love for me.

“Oh…How He loves me so….Oh, How He loves me…”

I couldn’t do it. I literally could not form the words and melted into my fear, shame, and guilt. I was overcome with embarrassment over His love for me. How could he possibly love me? After all of the things that I have done, how could he possibly love me? Realizing that even if I was the only one on earth, He still would have sent His son to die for me sent me into a pit of shame.  despair.  unworthiness.  pain.  guilt.

A pit of lies told to me by the enemy of my soul.

The reality of the depth of the condemnation that I held against myself for what I had done, even though I “knew” He had forgiven me, hit me hard.  Even though I knew He had forgiven me, the old and already-canceled sin still held power over me.

A-Ha.  I found my wall.  I found my breaker.

In the time that has passed since this experience, there has been breakthrough.  Some walls have come down and I’m learning to more freely receive God’s love and grace. We can’t give what we don’t have, so we need to receive His love and grace so that we can pour it out to others.

You’re going to see more posts from me about the strongholds that are being knocked over like Lincoln Logs by an angry 2 year old. They’re going down, one after the other, and it’s amazing to experience a new level of intimacy with God that I didn’t even know was possible. Yet even still, sometimes it remains challenging for me to accept His love and grace freely given.

I have come to realize that I do indeed receive His forgiveness. But here’s the part I was missing. Not only does he forgive our sin, but He actually breaks the power of canceled sin over me. How awesome is that. Many of us have sung the very words many times, from the hymn “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing”. Check out the last verse.

“He breaks the power of canceled sin, He sets the prisoner free”…

Do you get how awesome that is? God KNEW that even when we receive His forgiveness, that we in our nature would allow ourselves to continue to feel condemned at times. But the Truth is that upon repentance, God sees us as blameless. Not only does he cancel our sin, but he breaks the power of that canceled sin over us.

Hear it again: He forgives your sin. And then He breaks the power of that canceled sin over you.

Receive it. Freely.
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).
 Oh, how He loves you so.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Rerun: Ready, Set, Jump!


Well, hello again!  I did not intend to take a week-long blogging break, but my long Emmaus weekend plus a seriously nasty sinus/upper respiratory infection has had me grounded until today. 

I have so much to share, so I hope you'll keep checking in...but for now, I think the best depiction of my thoughts lately is from a post that I wrote back in July of 2008...and especially today after a compelling phone interview regarding a HUGE academic opportunity (fabulous, God-ordained, but a little scary).  After my call today, my thoughts immediately evoked memories of a prior season in life...and the assurance that God covered me then, and He will certainly cover me now.  I think I'm finally starting to get that.  Finally.

So...an encore presentation of the post from July 11, 2008.  Enjoy the rerun.

Ready, Set, Jump.

When I was in elementary and middle school, I was not a big fan of Phys Ed class. I hated it. I was a prissy little girl, concerned with my clothes and my hair. I hated to sweat. And for those of you who know me, you know that those things have not changed very much. (OK, so my brief stint in mountain biking several years ago was fun, but it didn’t last. I was, however, the only biker on the trail with riding gear that ALWAYS coordinated with the color of my bike, and lips perfectly lined with kiss-me-red lipstick. I fell. A lot. But if I was going to fall, at least I looked darn good doing it.)

Anyway, despite my disdain for Phys Ed class, and my utter lack of athletic prowess, there was one activity that I loved. The Standing Broad Jump. The fact that I can say that I enjoyed anything related to track and field events makes me laugh out loud. But as a kid, I loved this. For those of you who may not remember, this was a game where you would stand at a line, just behind a sand pit. Our teacher would shout the cue…”Ready, set, jump!” And from a standing position, you would jump into the pit, and the length of the jump was measured. The farthest jump was marked by a yellow flag in the sand. The person who jumped the farthest, with both feet landing together and not falling backwards, was the winner.

I am not sure why I loved this little event so much. Perhaps it was because it wasn’t a contact sport. Or maybe it was because I didn’t have to run and get all sweaty. I loved that it wasn’t “Dodgeball” day, when I literally feared for my life. I’m not sure what the lure of a pit of sand and a yellow flag held for me. But there was just something about standing still and summoning all of the strength I could muster from standing firmly planted on solid ground to propel myself as far as I could into the “sandbox”, not knowing where or how far forward I might land. I jumped with all of my strength, as high as I could. I remember Mrs. Stafford, my P.E. teacher, suggesting to us that we look at the yellow flag from the longest jumper and focus on a mark past it. I would fix my eyes on the asphalt waiting on the other side of the sand and would mentally charge myself to jump as close to it as possible.

Tonight, as I write this, I feel like a child again, standing at that chalk jump line. Just as I stood on the asphalt at the line as a child, I now stand firm on the solid ground that comes from knowing that the course of my life is in the God’s Hand and in His control.  But He is now asking me to jump, yet again. All I can see from my perspective is a desert of sand ahead of me. But what a gift it is to jump from that standing position. He is the solid ground from which I will propel. But I must admit, it’s still a little scary. There is a weird mix of adrenaline, excitement, anticipation, and curiosity about what is next...and when. I know that at the perfect moment, He will call me to bend my knees, push off, and fly across the desert, that Great Divide, to the very spot that He has already marked for me with the flags of His promises and faithfulness. I can rest in knowing that He will ensure that both of my feet hit the ground and that I don’t fall backwards.

I have to remind myself that I must place my security in who God is, and not in the circumstances swirling around in my life. Sometimes it is hard, because the circumstances seem to be the reality of life. But the true reality is not in the circumstances…the true, unwavering reality is in our great God who sees the entire picture and is always working on our behalf.

One of my favorite verses is Hosea 2:14.  Paraphrased, it says:  So now I am going to draw her back to me. I will allure her into the desert. There I will speak tenderly to her. . . when she rests in me, I will give her back her vineyards.

This verse reminds me that He calls us to see the invisible, to commit to the impossible, and to do the outrageous. He never calls us to do what we can — only to do what He can through us. He calls us to rest and to live in His faithfulness, and only then can He return us to the vineyards of His fruitfulness in us. God will lure us into the desert sometimes —circumstances beyond us—and He asks us to endure the desert with no other thought than that His great heart will sustain us. And may we remember that the desert is all about discovering the faithfulness of God.

Ready... Set... Jump!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Emmaus.

Luke 24: 13-53 
Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him. He asked them, "What are you discussing together as you walk along?"
They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, "Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?"
"What things?" he asked.
"About Jesus of Nazareth," they replied. "He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn't find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see."
He said to them, "How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?" And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, "Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over." So he went in to stay with them.
When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?"
They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, "It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon." Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.
While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you."
They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, "Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have."
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, "Do you have anything here to eat?" They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence.
He said to them, "This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms."
Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, "This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high."
When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.
Christ meets us on our own road, wherever we are.  The Spirit walks with us even when we don't recognize Him.

I will be celebrating this story this weekend as I serve on a Walk to Emmaus team.  Would you please pray for us?  About 113 ladies will be walking and talking with Christ this weekend, laying down our phones, computers, and watches.  Renewal and refreshment in Him.

I can't wait!

I'll catch up with you on Sunday evening, and I have a feeling I'll have a lot to write about.  In the meantime, I encourage you to read this story again and again.  Allow him to meet you where you are.  Feel your heart burn within you.   Hear what He has to say.  Receive His love.  Receive His grace!

De Colores!

Monday, March 22, 2010

She Remembers.


The Garden is a ministry in Atlanta that provides homeless women and children with temporary shelter while they find jobs and permanent housing. The ministry assists the women in both spiritual and professional development. Jason Sebren, the outreach pastor at The Vine, has a special heart for this ministry and has been working with The Garden for quite some time. It is indeed a very special place.

I have had the privilege of leading the ladies in a few of their Monday night Bible study sessions. They are such beautiful women. Their stories of trials, perseverance, faith, and strength will truly melt your heart.


LuvBug Photography. Copyright 2010

Belle Marie is a woman that could easily be a co-worker of yours or mine. A woman working as the principal of a school who fell ill and after a time, her insurance and disability ran out. She had nowhere else to go. Zu is a beautiful soul who left the life she knew out West to come here to start over with her children. The temptation and influences at home were too great. She walked away from everything to make a new life for herself and for her 2 small children.

These women could be any of us. Statistics show that most Americans are one to two paychecks away from being homeless if financial disaster struck.

And sometimes, it strikes.

And sometimes, leaving everything behind is worth it to make a new, safe, honest life.

LuvBug Photography. Copyright 2010

He makes all things new.

During my first trip to The Garden, when I nervously spoke to the women with a message on that very Scripture, I shared a small portion of my testimony. Part of my story involves a song that holds deep meaning for me in my journey. It was the song that moved me to walk down the aisle at 11 years old to accept Christ.

"In moments like these, I sing out a song,
I sing out a love song to Jesus.
In moments like these, I lift up my hands,
I lift up my hands to the Lord.
Singing I love you, Lord…
I love you, Lord...I love you Lord…
I love you, Lord. I love you."

A simple chorus with a beautiful melody. A song I would never again hear until 20 years later, after running from God for twelve years. Nine years ago, driving home from a bar in the middle of the night, there it was on my radio. And everything changed.  I found my way back Home.

He makes all things new.

At the Garden that Monday night a few months ago, we all sang the song together. It was beautiful to hear their voices lift to Him such a sweet love song. I was so nervous that first time at The Garden, and I left feeling disappointed in myself.  For the most part, it seemed that the women weren’t very responsive. I felt as though I had failed to connect and that I didn’t make any real impact.

Fast forward to last month. The Vine sent a team to The Garden just before Valentine’s Day to lavish some love on these women and children in a very special way. On a special Saturday, the kids did crafts, played on inflatables, and enjoyed lots of fun games. The women were treated to a day at the salon – we did their nails, had a team of hairdressers to do their hair, and a team of makeup artists did their makeup. Here’s the really cool part: Jason’s wife, Nikki is an incredible photographer (LuvBug Photography, check her out!), and she took their pictures. You see, these women have lost nearly everything on the streets, including their family pictures. Think about what your family photographs mean to you.

Consuela, a shelter guest at The Garden, sat down at our nail table and extended her hand while I did her nails. As I held her hand to start her manicure, she began to sing…

“In moments like these, I sing out a song…I sing out a love song to Jesus...”

I didn’t recognize her.  I didn't make the connection. I said, “Hey, I know that song, and I love it.” She said, “Yes, I know. You taught it to us a few months ago, and now I sing it every day. Do you remember?”

Do I remember? Yes, I remember. I couldn’t believe SHE remembered.

God WILL make Himself known. Whether we “feel” it or not, His Word brings impact.  It truly is the sword that cuts through the darkness.  The darkness that falls when you have no home of your own.  His Word cut through her darkness.  And mine.

He opens ears and hearts and minds when His love is shown and when Truth is shared. It doesn’t matter if we feel it. It’s there. And they remember. 

I remember.

She remembers.
LuvBug Photography. Copyright 2010
  *Photographs included with express permission of LuvBug Photography.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Face of Worship.


A few weeks ago, I walked to the front of our church, a little nervous but mostly expectant. Expecting God to move in big ways in the hearts of His people. This was my first time doing this. This, what I was about to do, is my HEART, my passion, my desire. A day I’d waited for, longed for. That next little/gigantic step into what He revealed four years ago that He has called me to do. As I walked to the front, I silently and earnestly prayed for the Spirit to lead me in ministering to those who needed encouragement, healing, or truth.

My pastor had delivered a powerful and compelling sermon, and the call was given for those who needed to confess, pray, or accept Christ for the first time in their lives. The last song started as I turned around to face the congregation, to pray with and for those who were led to respond. I stood, not all prepared for what I would see. Or for what He was about to reveal.

Our stage lights in the worship center are bright from the stage itself. The rest of the room is dark, so the stage lights cast a soft glow across the congregation. It took my breath away. Faces that I see every Sunday, coming and going, from my vantage point at our Guest Services desk. Many faces that I have looked upon in small group, over coffee, or in my home as they shared their stories, their praises, their struggles, their pain, and their joy. These faces are my family.

But in this moment, as they marinated in the Truth of God’s forgiveness and love, they were radiant. These familiar faces were transformed in worship.  The countenance of some revealed worship from a place of joy, and others revealed worship from depths of pain. Both bring freedom through His grace and love. It was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen, and I wonder if it is just a tiny glimpse of what heaven will be like. I hope I never forget it. Lord, please don’t allow me to forget this. I felt as though I should look away, as if I was looking in on a sacred, private moment between each heart and God. Yet, I was drawn in and couldn’t look away.

I wonder . . . Is this what worship looks like to Him?

Imagine how much more deeply He delights in the beauty of His children as they direct their hearts toward Him in authentic worship.

How it must take His breath away.

How He must delight as He looks upon His children receiving His grace.

How He must delight as He looks upon His Bride.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

No Ordinary Brunch.

My Italian roots have bred in me an innate need to feed people. I can thank my Mom and maternal ancestors (and a few of my Dad’s, too) for that genetic wiring! From a very young age, I observed my Mom doing this. Creating a beautiful and warm home from simple things, and creating beautiful dishes for all to enjoy was and is something that she loves to do. I love to cook, but even more than that, the experience of bringing people together in a warm environment for great conversation and fellowship makes my heart sing. I love to connect with people and equally cherish seeing others connect with one another.

I first realized my passion for entertaining and hospitality when I was traveling through Europe on one of many overseas trips I took in my twenties. I was with a group of friends backpacking from Geneva, Switzerland into the quaint rural towns of the Swiss countryside. I laugh when I realize how carefree and adventurous I was back then…not a worry in the world that I was the only one in our group who spoke French or that we had no idea where we were going. As we traveled, we encountered small-town European families who lavishly welcomed us into their homes for wonderful meals, conversation, and shelter. I absolutely melted in that, and it was then that I realized despite my late-teen and early-twenties years of rebellion toward my Mom, that I was much more like her than I thought!

So here we are, twenty years later, and the passion is still here, even more prevalent than all those years ago. But still very different. In my years apart from God, it was just a fun thing to do. Now, and for some time now, my heart-view of this wiring inside of me is that is can be a form of ministry.

This past holiday season was a rough one. It was early December, and I was sitting at my dining room table, choosing a date to invite women to my home for a special Christmas brunch. I was exhausted. The year prior had been a rollercoaster of emotions…joy, falling in love, engagement...and then wounds. And only a few days before this morning at my table, I had said goodbye. I was broken, puffy-eyed, exhausted, with nothing left to give to anyone.  But the press to host this brunch was hard and unrelenting. Truly, it was a God thing. He was calling me to do ministry. You have got to be kidding, God.

“God, no…not now. I can’t host a party.
You know I’m in pain, broken, scared, empty. I can’t do ministry right now.”

“Melissa, I can still use you. I love you, and I am with you.
Do this in my name. Walk in obedience, and trust me.”

With a heart resembling a two year old throwing a tantrum, I forced myself to go through the motions of planning the menu, writing out names, and creating the e-vite, all at the pace of an inchworm. I finally realized that with Christmas fast approaching, dates were limited. It was only about a week from the only day that was feasible to host these women, so I figured no one would come. So, I doubled the guest list, thinking that if I invited 20 people, maybe about 6 would actually show and it would be worth the effort of cleaning my house, setting the table, and cooking a full brunch. My finger hovered over the “send” button for what felt like 30 minutes…but it may have been longer! And I’m pretty sure I actually prayed for no one to be able to come.

Not more than ten minutes after I sent the e-vite, Cyndi, our worship leader’s wife called me. “Melissa, do you mind if I bring someone? Her name is Stephanie.  She and her family recently moved from California, and I was just on the phone with her when your email came. Stephanie was crying, homesick, missing her friends and family, asking me to pray for comfort for her. She was grieving over not having been to one single Christmas party this year. I couldn’t believe it when I saw your email right at that moment.”

Oh my goodness. My entire perspective changed in that moment. “Yes, yes, bring her!”

In that moment, I understood why He was calling.  For her.  For me. For Him.  The tears are flowing as I write this several months later, because of the powerful way He revealed Himself that day in the midst of pain, brokenness, and bewilderment.  In the following 24 hours, 6 more women would call me with personal stories of how much they needed this time of retreat as a gift to themselves. I couldn’t believe the heart-heavy stories they were telling me! This was no ordinary brunch.

I know that God doesn’t “need” us.  He fulfills His purpose whether we respond “yes” or not. But I am so glad that I said “yes” and received blessings beyond measure. Yet for this time I said “yes”, there are so many times that I resist and say “no”. I hate to think about the opportunities and blessings I have missed, and have caused others to miss.  It's also pretty important to note that if Cyndi hadn't been obedient to God's nudge on her heart to invite her, this would not have happened! 

Stephanie showed up that morning with a big smile…along with 18 others!!! I opened the door and saw her beautiful face enter my home, and I’m pretty sure she had a great time. She lights up a room with His light, and it has been a privilege to get to know her more since then and to serve with her in our church.

That time with those beautiful, strong, women of God that morning was a precious gift.  And I thank God for using them as instruments of His love and peace in my life every day.

My friends, if you feel that urge to serve, say “yes”. Receive His healing as you serve others. Read the verse at the top of this blog. His power is made perfect in our weakness.

Your Stephanie is out there.

Monday, March 15, 2010

What’s in a Name?

In my last post, I mentioned that God has refreshed and renewed in me His vision for this blog. Why continue writing? What does He want me to say? What’s the point of it all, really? Does anyone really even read this thing?

As is often the case when we begin to question that about which we were once certain, it is simply best to go back to the basics. What compelled it to become in the first place?

The title of the blog is very significant and meaningful to me. I chose it intentionally and with purpose. In 2002, not long after I had returned to God after a 12 year absence, I was at home listening to some Christian music. You see, after 12 years away from anything God-related, including music, I was rather unfamiliar with “contemporary” Christian music. Can you believe it -- I completely missed the Carman and Petra era [bummer]!!! For me, the jury was still out about contemporary Christian music, and especially anything that sounded too “rock and roll”. I had grown up with organ music and hymnals, after all! Hymns had always been special to me, but I wanted to give this new stuff a try, too. I felt awkward listening to newer music which was drastically different than 12 years before. I could still hear the deacons’ voices scolding us, calling it “young whippersnapper music”! Up until that day, I had not been brought to an authentic state of worship during contemporary music, so I thought of it more as a novelty, rather than a vehicle to sweep me away to the throne and face of God. I was sorting through a mountain of CD’s my friends had loaned me, and I slid one in to the player…

"There's a place that I lose myself within,
There's a place that I find myself again…
Dancin' with my Father God in fields of grace...
There's a place where religion finally dies,
There's a place that I lose my selfish pride...
Dancin’ with my Father God in fields of grace...
I love my Father, my Father loves me,
I dance for my Father, my Father sings over me
And nothing can take that away from me."**

In the middle of a Christian “rock” song, I was brought to a beautiful state of worship. And this chick DANCED!  And 8 years later, it still takes me there.

My committment to this blog has been intermittent, at best.  I can't lie...this past year has been the most difficult of my lifetime.  And I confess...I focused on my circumstances instead of Him.  In the pain, I stopped dancing.  But in His healing, I begin to sway to the melodies of grace He sings over me.  As His love envelops me, I just can't help it.  I dance. 

So the vision for this blog is that it would be a place for me and you to come and dance in His grace. To receive His love. To trade religion for a relationship. To get real about questions and struggles and blessings. To celebrate the days when we endure through His grace in our weaknesses, and to celebrate the days that we blissfully ride on His grace in the victories. 

Will you dance with me?

**"Fields of Grace", 2002 version by Darrell Evans, remade in 2008 by Big Daddy Weave



Sunday, March 14, 2010

Blog Makeover.


Check out my awesome new blog design! 

Vanessa at butterflyspArks is incredibly talented. I highly recommend her! I can also confirm that she might just be the most patient woman alive – as many of you know, I can be a bit … picky. I prefer to refer to myself as “reasonably selective”. However, others may disagree. (ha ha)  Anyway, Vanessa listened intently, was thoughtful and mindful of the concept that I desired to convey, and she was committed to excellence through the process.

So…why a new design? Well…there is more to come about that very thing. God has birthed a renewed vision in my heart for the ministry of this blog. So you’ll be seeing more posts, more often. Check in tomorrow for some more details about that and about what is coming soon. I’m so excited about the new season, and I hope you are, too!

Until then...receive His unending grace, my friends. 

(And please leave a comment...let me know what you think of the new design!) 

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Hands of the Healer.

I sit staring at my screen, because any introduction that I could write to this video is simply futile.  Hear Zac's story.  Pray for his healing.  Inhale his message of Truth.  God is God.  And always, God is good.


The Story of Zac Smith from NewSpring Production on Vimeo.

Monday, February 22, 2010

I Can Help.


When I was a little girl, I remember dancing in the living room with my Mom, on our rust-colored shag carpet, in front of our shiny chrome entertainment center and “hi-fi” turntable/8 track/AM-FM combo.

Yes, I’m officially old!

(I can neither officially confirm nor deny whether the carpet, chrome, or turnable are still in Mom and Dad’s home...they "might" be...) But, I digress…

Our FAVORITE song was called “I Can Help”. When it came on, if I was in another room playing with my Barbies or in my play kitchen (complete with an Easy Bake Oven, of course), I would run…not walk, but RUN…to meet Mom in the living room, with the ruffled hem of my favorite little yellow daisy-covered nightgown flying behind me. She would have dropped whatever she was doing as well and was faithfully there, waiting for me. This was OUR song!

Dancing with her to this song is one of my most precious memories with Mom. A close second is laughing hysterically while Mom sang her “high note”. But that’s another blog post for another day.

Anyway, the lyrics of this old classic go something like this…

”If you've got a problem, I don't care what it is.
If you need a hand, I can assure you this,
I can help, I've got two strong arms, I can help.
It would sure do me good to do you good,
Let me help…”

There was a part in the song that slowed down a little, and we would move from our freestyle "boogie" pace to a slower one, and I would stand on Mom’s feet. I was good at the freestyle portion of our dance, but when it came to coordinated movements, I was too little to understand or to make any sort of synchronized slow dance steps with her (and sadly, my dance skills have never really improved). So she would gently guide me to stand on her feet and would hold my hands to guide me through the moves. I was able to keep my balance and sway and step along with her to the sweetest part of the song. It was beautiful, and she held me while I wobbled, her experienced and grownup hands and feet guiding my tiny, inexperienced ones.

My sister Lorri would hold my hand as she taught me to write…cursive…at age five. Yep, age five! (She also taught me to read by the time I was four!) I skipped a grade because of Lorri…none of us are surprised that she grew into the most amazing teacher ever. Even at her very young age, she would sit behind me, holding my tiny hands and guiding me to shape the letters correctly. Her hands around mine kept them steady and allowed me to create words in script.

God blessed me with wonderful parents and sisters to guide my hands and feet as they taught me so many things. Because of their steadiness, my hands and feet remained limber and could carry out the task at hand. Their strength, sureness, and firmness allowed me freedom of movement to dance and to create.

And there is yet another One who places His hands over mine and holds them strongly, tenderly and steadily:

Genesis 49:24-25: His bow remained steady, his strong arms stayed limber, because of the hand of the Mighty One of Jacob, because of the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel, because of your father's God, who helps you, because of the Almighty…”

What a beautiful picture of the omnipotent, sovereign, Almighty God, Mighty One of Jacob, and Rock of Israel.  The One who tenderly, sweetly, firmly and gently places His hands over ours, as we rest in his strength so that we too can freely learn, dance, create, and sometimes so that we can fight the enemy's archers shooting at us.

God, may I never lose my identity as your child, with my Abba Daddy’s strong hands and feet guiding mine, as I dance...

”If you've got a problem, I don't care what it is.
If you need a hand, I can assure you this,
I can help, I've got two strong arms, I can help.
It would sure do me good to do you good,
Let me help…”

Friday, February 19, 2010

Overcoming.


My employer makes sure its employees feel appreciated. So the head honcho around here hosts a birthday lunch each month for those celebrating birthdays. The luncheon is held in our most plush conference room, and is catered beautifully. The grand poo-bah (a super nice guy) says lots of words of affirmation and appreciation for our hard work, we receive a gift, and we get to enjoy a 1.5 hour lunch break. Sweet deal. We also go around the very large conference room table and introduce ourselves (a huge company, not all of us have met).

As we went around the table yesterday, I got to meet Allen. Allen sat a few seats away from everyone. I’ve seen Allen before, in the cafeteria here. Always sitting alone, a few tables away from where others are gathered, but always smiling. When I walk into our cafeteria here, it’s like re-living a bad high school flashback, when you’re not sure about where to sit, with whom, and that feeling of awkwardness when you just don’t fit in anywhere specific. So seeing Allen sitting alone almost every day makes my heart sad.

But yesterday, I got to hear him utter some words for the first time. Allen works in receiving, and logs in all of our lab samples. We get thousands of them every day. He is one of a team who makes sure that those samples get coded to the right patients. If that doesn’t happen, people can die. Seriously.

Allen stutters. But the more he stutters, the more he smiles. His hands are also just slightly deformed. I never noticed that before. I’m guessing it’s some sort of palsy. He moves slowly and talks slowly, but when he speaks, is very articulate. And have I mentioned he’s always smiling? Always.

I had to fight everything within me not to start bawling right there at lunch yesterday. But he doesn’t need me to cry for him or his disability. His big, bright smile tells me that.

I have an out-of-state friend who is a quadriplegic. I’ve known him for years. His injury came when he was 20 years old, in a skiing accident. He’s in a chair now, and has been for the past 20 years. But he still skis and skydives and bungee jumps and gets up every morning and leads a more active life than I ever have, with all of my limbs working fully. I cry when I think about him sometimes. I cry when I get a gift from him in the mail, because I know what it took for him to get himself out of the house, to the store, and to the post office. But again, he doesn’t need my tears. He’s good.

So why do I feel a lump in my throat and an overwhelming urge to weep on their behalf? I tell myself it's because they must be lonely and sad. But if I get really honest about it, I don’t cry or feel sad for them as much as I cry and feel sad for me. Because honestly, sometimes (most of the time), I don’t have a spirit of overcoming challenges like they do, and I grieve that.

I saw Allen again in the cafeteria about 30 minutes ago when I went down to grab lunch to bring back to my desk. On my way out, I stopped and wished him a Happy Birthday again. He expanded his already bright smile. I couldn’t resist. I asked him, “Allen, why do you smile all the time? Don’t your cheeks get sore?” He laughed, with cracker crumbs flying out of his mouth, as he said, “Because Jesus loves me.”

Yes, He does. And Allen, you just preached the most beautiful sermon to me that I’ve ever heard.