Butterfly Sparks Designs

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.  
  

Friday, December 21, 2012

Sometimes You Just Have To Laugh.


I was a serious kid.  

Mom says that I usually seemed to be in deep thought, even as a baby.  Others often called me a kid with an “old soul”.  


As I grew up, I developed more extroverted aspects of my personality and definitely inherited my parents' sense of fun and humor…but even so, that serious kid was still there.  And she still is.  

I love to think, to study, and to connect with others in very deep and meaningful ways.  There’s not much I love more than a deep conversation with meaning and substance.  But if you know me well, then you know I can also be a great big goofball who (i) sings silly songs in the shower at the top of her lungs and off key; (ii) makes sad attempts at joke-telling, uncontrollably laughing before she can even get the punch line out; and (iii) wheezes and snorts when she laughs – well, it’s more of a cackle, really.  

But that thinker, that “old soul” who still makes up more of me than the goofy part … well, she is my comfortable place.  Sometimes I wonder why.  I mean, that doesn’t make sense.  Shouldn’t it be the other way around, like it is for most others?  Maybe it’s because I’m confident in my intellect but not in my ability to make you laugh.  Or maybe it’s because I hate the sound of my laugh.  Or maybe it’s because I think I can hide behind a deep conversation in order to keep you at a safe “distance” from me yet still allow me to connect to you. I mean, don’t most people start off by being lighthearted at first and then when trust is built in a relationship, the deep stuff comes later?  Nope, not me.  I’m the opposite. Because if I don’t feel safe or trusting in a relationship, then it’s very, very hard for me to laugh with you.  

So if I can be goofy and silly and cut up around you -- well, it means that I’m comfortable enough with you to let you in.  It's me, making myself vulnerable.  I know -- weird.  

One of my most treasured friends stopped me in my tracks in a conversation earlier today.  I was getting a little frustrated with my friend's attempt to tell a joke after I shared something that I considered heavy.

“Melissa, don’t you know that I just want to make you belly laugh right now?”  

Whoa.  There, across from me, was someone who loves me enough to genuinely want me not only to chuckle, but to belly laugh.  That was his only concern in that moment.  He couldn't fix my obstacle.  He couldn't change my circumstance.  But he could lead me back to joy through the simplicity of laughter.  What a simply beautiful gift to want to give someone.  

In that quick moment I felt the presence of one of the most special gifts there are  – one that I had taken for granted not only in this relationship but in my relationship with the Lord.  And in that little minute I felt so grateful, so loved…as the voice of God spoke through my friend’s voice.  

God just wants to make me belly laugh, too

I love the depth and substance of my prayer and study time.  But it’s so easy to find myself so caught up in the academia, the meanings, the general “heavy stuff” and to forget to just … laugh.  I was reminded so lovingly today that He wants to make me belly laugh as He directs my heart and my life.  But for someone like me…well, that means I need to trust Him and let Him in more. 

And in my relationships, it’s so easy for someone who loves to connect with depth and substance to forget to breathe in and exhale a wheezy snort-filled belly laugh even when things are heavy.  So thank you to my amazing friend for reminding me. You know who you are.  I love you much, and I promise to trust, relax, and let you in a little more, too. Thank you for loving me with the love of the Lord and reminding me of what is possible with Him! 

Monday, December 3, 2012

In the Garden.

Virginia Driggers (1919-2006)
Today marks a special anniversary in our family.  Six years ago, my sweet grandmother (my Mama) went to the Great Throne Room…the day she lived her entire life for…the day when her faith became her eyes.

I still remember so many details about my last night with her. I remember the love and unity in my family as my father made the long, prayerful, heartbreaking decision to remove her life support. We were so proud of him, and I have never felt more honored or blessed to be his daughter. He led our family through a very difficult time with tenderness, compassion, and humility. The way he honored his mother while he and Mom were caring for her at home for those last years, and the way that he honored her during her last days on earth demonstrate the type of man my Daddy is...and the type of mother my Mama was to him. The selflessness of my parents during those years of caring for her in their home is something that I will forever admire and stand in awe of.

Everyone was utterly exhausted on that last night. But I had come to the hospital a little later than the others that day, so I stayed overnight to allow the others to get the extra rest that I had been able to enjoy the night before. Her life support had been removed earlier that day, and by that evening, her vitals were still in the normal range but were falling very, very slowly. The doctors were telling us that we probably had another day or so. That was so typical of her fighting spirit! Mama had several health problems, but the one that ultimately took her life was respiratory failure. As the body fights for every breath, there is a sound that I will never forget. I will hear it every so often when visiting a hospital, and it brings chills every single time.

After everyone had left the hospital that night, I lay next to my sweet Mama as she fought for every breath. Over and over and over. I talked to her through the night, read from Isaiah and the Psalms (her favorites), and sang to her. The only times her breathing calmed was when we sang one of her favorite hymns to her... “Amazing Grace”, “I Surrender”, or her true favorite, “In the Garden”.

I sensed that Mama had already begun her journey that night to her King. While I longed for her, one last time, to talk to me and tell me her stories as she had done so many times before, I wondered what she must be experiencing and seeing. I stared at her face for hours, stroking her cheek, longing to capture every memory I could of her face and her hands.

Mama had fallen down her front steps three years before, which prompted her moving in with Mom and Dad because she could no longer walk, go to the bathroom, or care for herself. She was in severe pain for a long, long time. Her mind and her heart were as alive as when she was fifty years younger, but her body was just giving out. She loved the outdoors so much but could no longer get outside, so we created a garden room for her with a rocking chair next to a big window, and her bed positioned by the window also. Dad placed bird feeders and plants right outside her window, and she had every single squirrel named. There was “Greedy Gut” (the bully of the bunch) and “Walter”. And she loved watching the birds. She would sit for hours and watch, and read from her Bible. Every so often, she'd squeeze in a little Judge Judy, too. She LOVED Judge Judy. Ha!

Mama was born into poverty and lost her mother as an infant. She was raised under severely adverse circumstances, yet still developed a strength and a spirit of perseverance that simply could not be broken. My grandfather suffered from addictions that made Mama’s and my Dad’s lives very difficult on many levels. Yet, as my Dad shared on the day of her funeral, she never made her children feel as though they were a bother… he testified that she always made her children feel important, valued, and loved. I am forever grateful to her for what she instilled in my Daddy so that he could, in turn, give the same to his children.

As a little girl, I remember when she lived in Florida and would visit us each summer. I would sit in the car anxiously on the long ride to the airport to pick her up, and I remember the butterflies I felt waiting for her to exit the gate to catch the first glimpse of her sweet face. And the hug that followed was so tight that I couldn’t breathe! When Mama hugged you, you KNEW you’d been hugged! When we arrived home, she would always pull three gifts from her bag, one for each of my sisters and me. Mama drank Sanka instant coffee, and she would save her little Sanka jars. She would fill a jar with change, and bring it to me when she would visit. Dad and I would sit at the kitchen table and he taught me how to count it out. I would get so excited, that you would have thought that $3.00 in change was a million dollars. Then, a fun shopping trip with Mama would follow as I chose my treasure.

When I was little, I was also fascinated with all of her night creams, potions and makeup. Mama would sleep in my room when she visited, and I would sleep with her. My most fond memory of my Mama is the way she would smell. During those last weeks, when it appeared she wasn’t coming home from the hospital, I found myself in the drug store buying a box of her Coty face powder. Mama always wore it, and I longed to smell the familiar sweetness of her beauty. And you can still find that box of powder in a very special place in my dressing area today, for those times when the memory of her consumes me.

Of course as I grew up, I began to see her differently. I began to see her from an adult’s perspective, and began to recognize that along with the soft qualities I knew of her as a little girl, she held a great deal of strength, resilience, and faith. Her life was not about material things, glamour, or impressing anyone. She was so very content with so little.

Mama’s love for her family was unshakable, unquestionable, and unrelenting. And her faith, trust, and love in the Lord were also unshakable, unquestionable, and unrelenting. She had coffee with Jesus every day, she was a prayer warrior, and spoke boldly and unapologetically of her love for God. The mere mention of the name of Jesus brought a smile and a twinkle to her eye.

After our last night together, the next afternoon, with her family standing around her as she took her final breath, her once gray and lifeless face became bright, radiant, and exquisite. Holding her hand and witnessing this moment as she set her eyes upon her God was one of the most incredible blessings that I have ever been given, and I praise God that He allowed me to be a part of that moment.  There was no noise. No fight for her last breath. There was simply peace. Beautiful, beautiful peace.

About 2 years before her final day with us, we were sitting in her garden room in Mom and Dad's house, just talking and talking about everything under the sun. At that time, she was in a great deal of physical pain and had been for a long, long while. 

She had looked intently at me, not with sadness, but with excited, eager anticipation, and said “Melissa, I’m ready to go. I want to be with Jesus. I am sure of my salvation. I have my ticket to Heaven, I just need a ride!” Mama, I'll bet that ride was amazing. And I’ll bet the Garden is just beautiful.

I come to the garden alone
While the dew is still on the roses
And the voice I hear, falling on my ear
The Son of God discloses

And He walks with me
And He talks with me
And He tells me I am His own
And the joy we share as we tarry there
None other has ever known

He speaks and the sound of His voice
Is so sweet the birds hush their singing
And the melody that He gave to me
Within my heart is ringing


And He walks with me
And He talks with me
And He tells me I am His own
And the joy we share as we tarry there
None other has ever known

I'd stay in the garden with Him
'Tho the night around me be falling
But He bids me go; through the voice of woe
His voice to me is calling

And He walks with me
And He talks with me
And He tells me I am His own
And the joy we share as we tarry there
None other has ever known

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Embers.


I never should have said it out loud.

I said to my mentor, “I really believe I have finally figured out what joy really means.  It’s not what I always thought it was.  It’s not always belly laughing or dancing – sometimes, it’s just knowing.  I think I’ve reached a place in my walk with God that no matter what may come, nothing can steal my joy." 

Just a few days later, on Sunday October 16th, he sent me a text early in the morning that said “Melissa, you came to my mind this morning.  Here are some verses I believe God wants to seal in your heart.  1 Peter 1:3-9.”  As I read these verses that morning, I reflected back in time over the previous two years.  Years of breakthroughs and learning how to dream again.  I read these verses through a joy-filled lens, and the words held me.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 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.
A little more than 24 hours later, on October 17th, 2011, I got the phone call that would change my life forever.   “Melissa, you have cancer.” 

My Protector, My Comforter, My Healer knew that I would need those verses, so He made sure they were planted in my heart.  I read those verses again, but this time through a grief-filled lens.  And again, the words held me.

I had said it out loud, that nothing could steal my joy.  It was so much easier to make that proclamation on the “through” side of breakthrough than on the “break” side.  Or so I thought at the time.  

Today marks one year from that day.  I have thought and prayed about what to post today, because I could write a book about what the Lord has revealed to me this year.  But He just keeps bringing me back to one central truth to share with you today. 

That thing I said out loud?  Well, it’s true.  

I realize that years ago, when I invited Him into my heart, my soul, and my life, He took me at my word.  So what I receive in return is an intimacy with Him so close that it's hard not to see Him, even in the midst of cancer.  A presence so deep that it's hard not to feel Him, even when my heart is broken or my dreams for myself shatter in front of me.  And a voice that is now so familiar that it's hard not to hear Him, even when He quietly whispers.  

I have come to understand that faith is not always like a raging fire in my heart.  You know what I mean – those mountaintop moments when our felt connection to His presence is so thick and His goodness is so great that it’s almost too much to bear.  But after the raging fire has been smothered by rain or snow, when only a faint glow from one single burning ember remains - well, that's faith, too. 

That one tiny, glowing ember that remains still moves mountains.  I know, because it moves me.  

Sometimes, it’s not too much.  But it’s always just enough to get me home. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Hello, My Name Is ...





In my home office, framed diplomas and plaques hang above my desk.  Each bears my name and represents my professional and academic accomplishments. In my office in the city, a nameplate outside of my door bears my name and title, which for some reason causes others to respond with respect and recognition of my “status” in the company. My name is written on these symbols of accolade, and I am rewarded. And to be honest, I am proud of those achievements. Perhaps too proud.

My name is written in some places that I’d rather it not be, as well. On the hearts of ones I love, whom I have hurt with my words or actions (or both), and their remembrance of my name may bring pain. Or during the years when I was far from God but still called myself a Christian, spending time with “friends” and making choices that now make me cringe to even think about. When those friends think upon my name, do they remember someone who acknowledged Jesus with her lips but denied Him by her lifestyle? And let's not forget those few but memorable instances when others unjustly and dishonestly represented my name in a deceptive way. My name is written in these dark places, too, and I would give anything to be able to hit the “delete” button and clear my name.

There is yet another place where my name resides, though.

With the One who chose it.
With the One who bought it.

I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands…
(Is 49:15-16 NIV)

Regardless of what our name represents here on earth, our name belongs to Him - because He is in us and we are in Him. And here’s the best part – ultimately, whether I or others celebrate or despise my name here on Earth, there is an audacious promise from God to us that not only will He redeem and restore our names on Earth for His glory (Romans 8:28), but we as believers in Christ are also promised a sweet heavenly reward.

Whoever has ears, let them hear ... I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it. (Rev 2:17 NIV)

One of our rewards in heaven is a new name. Our God-chosen name.  Our untarnished name.  A name so uniquely chosen and set apart that it is known only to Him and to the one who receives it. 

"I will also give that person a white stone..." In those times, it was customary to cast a vote for someone’s innocence or guilt by using black and white stones. If a black stone was cast, the vote was guilty. A white stone meant that the person on trial was voted blameless. Pardoned. 

 
Much like the Hebrews were given a name that revealed their purpose, we too will receive our heavenly name. Here on Earth, as a body of believers in Christ, we already share some names that I think sound pretty heavenly.

Redeemed.


Forgiven.


Beloved.


Grace-Given.

I can’t imagine that I have been given a heavenly name more beautiful than those, but the promise says I will. And I believe it.

Yet as awesome as that truth is, there is an even more powerful promise.

I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will they leave it. I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on them my new name. (Rev 3:12 NIV)

There is also a name of God that has never reached our ears. One that has never been profaned or mocked. I believe it will be so beautiful that my earthly ears couldn't bear to hear it. More melodious than the sweetest song, and more beautiful than the gut-deep utterances and cries of “Yahweh” or “Jehovah” or “Abba” that cross my lips in my most intimate moments with God.

May we receive the promise given, that nothing can separate us from our names in Christ – our names are graven on his scarred hands.

May we, with excited anticipation, receive God's radical love given through the beautifully mysterious promises of what awaits us in heaven.

And may we press on and into Christ so that we may live up to the potential of our new heavenly name.

Our white stone awaits.

Hallelujah!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Seasons ... and Twirling.



The past few mornings have been light and cool, with just enough of a hint of Fall to tease me into the excitement I feel every year as the humid midsummer days relax into the softer beauty of Autumn.   The release from one season into another.   

But it’s not just the weather.  I feel the seasons changing in me, too.

Is it true, Lord?  Is this season coming to a close so that another can come?  

I feel the cool wind on my heart.  I see the leaves, fallen on the ground, tired from their exposure to months of extreme heat, making way for new growth on strong trees.  I sense it.  The time for harvest is coming.  Soon.  It’s almost here.  

The past 10 months have tested, challenged, tried, and proven my faith in the One who is my God over and over again.  I would not trade one day, one hour, one minute, or one single second.   Through every moment, He has revealed something new to me about Himself.  He has breathed new life into Scriptures that I’ve read hundreds of times.  He has breathed new Truth into me.   I am more hopeful for His preferred future for me than ever before. 

Your love is extravagant, 
Your friendship, it is intimate.
I feel like moving to the rhythm of your grace..."

To the melody of those words, and in anticipation of the new season to come, my inner child took over…

And right there, in my living room, without even thinking about it…

I twirled. 

If anyone had seen me, I doubt that words like “graceful” or “lovely” would be used to describe the vision of me dancing in my living room.  But I really don’t care.  

I twirled anyway.  Again and again and again.

And maybe, just maybe, from now on, when I sense the seasons starting to change, 

Instead of walking into them, 

I’ll twirl into them.

Because I can.  

Because His love IS extravagant.

Because no matter what, He is God and He is good. 


 (Reference: Casting Crowns, Your Love is Extravagant)

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Story.


I sit here tonight, prayerfully considering how I will share my recent story in a very public way.  For hundreds to see in a few short days, and for even more to hear.  Yet I cannot stop thinking about her.  I wouldn’t be here to tell this story unless she had invested in me.  

Bridgette was my best friend from college. She lived out her love for God in a way that I had never seen before. I met her during my sophomore year at Kennesaw State.  Bridgette didn’t know me as you all do today, though.  Bridgette knew me as a lost young girl, desperately seeking validation and fulfillment in my own selfish desires and addictions. During the countless hours we spent together for all-night study sessions, enduring difficult classes together, and traveling across the globe for international debate team competitions, she took every opportunity to share the love of God with me. But I wasn’t interested in any part of it back then.   I cruelly made fun of her for her beliefs, and often.

Oddly, despite our spiritual differences, we were inseparable. I had tasted “religion,” and I had been badly burned and deeply scarred, so I had no interest in anything that remotely resembled it.  We had a weekly tradition to meet at IHOP on Thursday evenings.  Somehow, she was the one person – the only one -- in my life then who could convince me to pray or even think about God. Even with her difficult schedule and many other demands on her life, she was faithful every week to make time for me. Those few minutes talking with her each week were the only time that I thought about or talked about God at all, and even then, my heart was hard and skeptical. But Bridgette kept it simple. She didn’t whack me over the head with her King James Bible.  She merely told me her story … the simple, everyday ways that God was moving in her life. 

As we said goodbye in the IHOP parking lot on December 18, 1995, she hugged me more tightly than usual and said “Melissa, God is going to do great things in you, you just have to let Him,” and then she recited Jeremiah 29:11 to me: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” I had no belief at all that God could or would do anything with my wretched life, but it was evident that God had called her to great things. 

On her way home that evening, a drunk driver ran a stop sign and took her life. She died shortly after arriving at the hospital. Her last words were directions to her doctor to relay a message to the man who hit her… “Tell him that God loves Him, and that he is forgiven.” 

Her final moments in death reflected her life’s legacy…investing in others. At her funeral, her mother showed us the inscription in her Bible. She had written on the front flap:  "I want my life to bring lost hearts to You.” Oh, how God answered this prayer in my life and I am certain in the lives of so many others touched by her.

You see, Bridgette would not know the unexplainable impact that her bold, unwavering and unapologetic witness would bear on my life. She would not know that years later, the seeds she planted in my heart would come to harvest by my submitting my life to Christ. She would not have known the incredible impact that embracing God’s promise to us in Jeremiah 29:11 would have on my life as I responded to a call to ministry. She did not know then that the legacy of God living in and loving through her would live through me for His glory. She did not know any of this. God had not given her a “written guarantee” that her efforts would be successful. But she invested in me anyway. Because she believed. And God knew what would be born in me and others she touched with her life.

Her last journal entry (the day before her death) read:

“I had my ups and downs and I fell a few times, but I did not give up. Take a risk, chance it, trust in God. You will see what God can do with a willing heart." 

I made fun of her back then.  But tonight, I weep over my gratitude to her for loving me … and loving Him… enough not to give up on me.   

Her willing heart is written in each and every word of my story.

Sometimes we make it so much harder than it really is. We don't need a theology degree. Let’s just tell our story

Tell them how much He loves them.   
Tell them that He died on the cross with them on his mind.
Tell them how he made you new.  
Tell them all that He is the best thing that happened to you.

It’s really just that simple.