Friday, December 2, 2016

The Gift

The sights and sounds of Christmas are already everywhere. Lights glow outside people’s homes. The Sunday ads are taunting us with early deals. People are asking, “What do you want for Christmas?”
And, yet, for some, it is reminder of all that will not be.
Homelessness robs dreams of a bank account with any extra.
Being removed from the home strips wishes of warm fuzzies around the tree.
Abuse dissolves trust and belief that anyone cares.
As people of the cross we know that our.... 

To finish reading, please visit the Our Savior's Lutheran Church blog (where I was honored to be the first staff blog writer) and think about how YOU can be a gift this Christmas
xx Melissa 

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Friday, November 18, 2016

Seize the Moment. Make Life Better for the Person in Front of You. {A Tribute to Lloyd in Retirement}

We met under the most precarious of circumstances.

He was dating my mom.

When my father died in college, I couldn’t imagine my mom ever dating again and wasn’t sure I ever wanted her too. The idea felt like a replacement of my dad, though now as the mother of multiple children I understand the ability to fully love different people in the same role.

Much to my surprise, my mom, once overwhelmed with grief opened her heart to love again. I looked at her with admiration. This woman, who knew the risk of love found the gift worthy of shared joy worth more than its potential struggle. She’d worked hard for financial stability, single parenting well, and living a new normal.

Now she saw possibility in a man at a coffee shop.

I remember telling her nothing would be immediate and that God would give us all time to adjust.

We could all quickly see what she did. In a season when this man could’ve cared primarily for my mom because my brother and I were now grown, he embraced us too. Despite never having children of his own, he showed up at the hospital all by himself when our little one was very ill, asked to see her, and gowned up to hold her. With the loss of his former wife, he shared appreciation for our experience and built conversation about all that makes us who we are. I could quickly see that this man wanted to form a family more than solely love a wife.

Lloyd made transition a gift for us. We ALL love him dearly.

We love him for the way he loves and cares for my mom. We love him for the way he loves and cares for us. We love him for the way he loves and cares for the kids.

And we also love him for the way he has long loved others.

As the Director of Facilities for our county he has worked with many. He goes in during off hours to make sure people have a positive experience. He thinks clearly about the budget dollar and its use to better life for everyone the county serves. He manages with a quiet, servant heart and uses his great bread making skills to up work satisfaction for the hard-working people he employs.

Lloyd looks at life each day with opportunity. How can I seize this moment and make life a little better for the person in front of me? seems to be his guiding question that molds his life.

Today he turned in his badge. Retired. With new dreams with my mom – whom he knows to treasure each second with – and for family life but still with that same guiding question. I suppose that is why he’s telling people his first to-do after retirement is to paint the bathroom for my mom J

Happy retirement, Lloyd. I/we know you’ve worked incredibly hard for many years and blessed the county with your skill set. But, even more, I want to say from all of us, “Thank you.” Thank you for the way you love. Our family is better with you in it.

May this transition be a gift for you and might we all take cue from the way you lead your life.

How can you seize the moment and make life a little better for the person in front of you?

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Monday, October 24, 2016

Why It Can Be Well With Me

She comes out of her room twirling, hands outstretched high.

“Do I look pretty?,” she wants to know.

It’s rainbow day in kindergarten and she’s got one on her shirt paired with a glitter accented tulle skirt that's filled with multicolored tiny poms.

“Color me happy,” her top reads, and she most definitely is.

I want what she has.

My soul isn’t playing in unison with hers.

I deduce it’s the season. A few weeks ago we went to the pumpkin patch with the girls. Walking through the muddied ground in search of the perfect pumpkin, we laughed about my intent for a MUCH smaller one because the innards gross me out. As the day faded into night, though, and my head hit the pillow, tears streamed down my face.

Last October cancer was not part of our story and now we visit the cemetery. Thanksgiving was the first holiday after the diagnosis. A pumpkin centerpiece sat atop my dining room table and Gary wrote he was thankful for every breath on our Attitude of Gratitude tablecloth.

How did we get from there to here so fast? Weathered by the storm, what feels like years is, in fact, only calendar months.

Kristene DiMarco and Bethel Music plays through my phone on the way on the way to conferences. There's a lot happening on this day.

I wish I could capture my girl’s smile as she looks at her teacher. It’s genuine and her eyes are lit bright. The conference is for us to hear but her teacher’s gaze is set on Grace as she speaks not only of how proud she is of Grace for her classroom success but for how she has shared this year. I wonder if she knows how much deeper my girl goes thanks to her? I wonder if she realizes the new found strength Grace has discovered in vulnerability? There is a richness in Grace’s expression she’s drawn into the light.

It’s when I move out of her room and go to the school lounge that it all hits. I pick up the first crock pot to wash and remember that fall conferences were later last year. It coincided with blanket day and blanket day was the day I first shared with someone that cancer was affecting our family. Paralyzed by fresh remembrance, I stood there at the sink in shock when a friend’s voice broke through the silence.

“How is your family doing?,” she asked, wetting a washcloth to clean with me.

“You wouldn’t even believe what I just realized,” I began.

Our hands did the mundane while our voices shared work of the heart.

Déjà vu of last year, when the acquaintance - now turned treasured friend - whom I dared speak the words aloud to at the blanket tying came into the lounge and began to wash. Not because the work is fun. I mean, let’s be honest. I tell my husband the domestic days of my year are staff appreciation because it is the only time I actually wash by hand. But because she cared.

In full awareness, I texted her as I arrived home this year. At conferences [last year] you came in and helped wash dishes, standing by my side in one of the most beautiful acts of generosity and kindness. Thank you for your friendship and all the moments you’ve stood alongside. Physically and emotionally.”

Her reply was immediate. I thought of you this morning and you and your family have been on my heart all day.

She remembered. She remembered when I didn’t. A teacher spoke life into struggle. A friend shared space with me to process as I cleaned again this year on this significant day.

Dear readers, I don’t know what the waves and winds are in your life today or what they will be. I only know that we all face storms. Weird and hard days where resolution feels next to impossible.

And rainbow day becomes a good reminder for all of us.

Even when the rains fall the beat down isn’t the total of our story. God is near and, if we just take time to lift our eyes, we see evidence of this Lord’s faithfulness. In the mere fact that we can put one foot in front of the next. In the encouragement of another. In ordinary places that becomes shared holy spaces. In the heartbeat of hope bigger than the pull of lament.

God loves you and Promise weaves our way to victory.

So it is that at the end of rainbow day, I, too, found my hands outstretched, palms up. For when our eyes are on the Lord, it can be well with me.


Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Beauty Lessons on the Playground

“It’s probably never going to heal fully normal,” the hand surgeon reported, trying to console me with, “But if somebody didn’t know I bet they wouldn’t even notice.”

I flashed my hand in the air before her. Saying nothing, I pointed at the wonky finger and we both erupted in laughter.

May 1. That’s when I incurred this “common athletic injury.”

For Sunday afternoon fun, my husband and I, along with our three girls, went to the school playground to play a family tether ball tournament. I was playing (and beating) my husband when I had an incredible follow through, hit the pole, and my hand went numb.

Sensation and movement returned and I went on with life, until it started to arch. Despite my own splinting efforts, it continued to worsen. A trip to the orthopedist revealed a 5th finger PIP joint ligament rupture and tendon tear, landing me in occupational therapy for a formed night splint, a spring-loaded day splint that looks like gym equipment for a mouse, and exercises so that I’d be able to tighten my fist without M&Ms falling through. A woman has to have priorities :)

It was all going splendid and I could make a fist with the best of ‘em….until it started to curve again.

I returned to the surgeon with hopes of a permanent fix. To hear this well-respected woman say that surgery might make my particular case worse was a win for the pocket book but not to my image of perfection.
And I was disappointed.

Tetherball, people. TETHERBALL! How does a grown woman permanently mess up her hand playing tetherball?!

I was on my way back to occupational therapy with this assignment on my mind when God smacked me upside the head with truth.

I want...

Finish reading on ModSquad here

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Monday, September 5, 2016

On Grieving & Dreaming Again

We’re discussing the restaurant’s waterfall when I see the tears begin to roll down her cheek. In Hannah’s hand is a tiny object I can’t quite identify.

“I just realized this is the same pin I gave grandpa in the hospital.”

Taking it into my hand, I fasten the tiny image of a resurrection cross onto her tank before pulling her in for a hug, my shirt absorbing the sudden leak from broken places.

Later Grace would run into someone from school who’d ask the leading question, “How was your summer?”

 “I didn’t know how to answer because good isn’t really right.”

And she’s spot on. It’s okay to abandon rote response and call a spade a spade. Our summer was marked by an abrupt goodbye and the death of dreams.

I was feeding Leo, my sister-in-law’s dog, when it struck me. Aside from his chomping the house was silent. In a family of big personalities this kind of quiet is rare to come by when we’re together in their home, but where the quiet was so too was Gary. Usually in bib overalls. Always with his coffee cup in hand and some kind of profound question. When he didn’t round the corner, I was leveled. “Leo’s eating and I’m crying,” I texted my man.

What we believed our summer held and the reality of our experience is markedly different. Painfully opposite. And, though we find refuge in the love of our tear-collecting God, some broken places will leave permanent emotional scars.

It’s not just the 10-year-old that didn’t know how to respond. I lost a bit of my voice with all of you, too. Sure, the newness of full time work combined with the necessary rest of my pinkie from my athletic tether ball injury competed against the optional brushing of computer keys. But, more than that, I had nothing. Tears and chocolate consumption often said what words couldn’t. It was a summer of sitting in God’s lap.

Much of the summer I felt paralyzed. Survival mode – figuring out our new equilibrium, being present to share in the grieving of four household members who process at different times, doing my ministry work well, remembering to do laundry - became a way of life. I just wanted to get through the day faithful to God and my family. The rest, if not life-giving, can and continues to be let go.

In making those choices we’ve had bountiful good times. Side splitting laughter and fun times with family and friends. “Good grief” has slowed us down, softened us, and revealed sweet authenticity we wouldn’t have otherwise tasted. The five of us are more intentional than we’ve ever been and within the messy layers of life we’ve discovered rich beauty.

Sometimes I still can’t believe that we’re living this. That in the midst of this valley we are able to put one foot in front the next. This God we cling to breathes life into dry bones and is doing precious things before our eyes, reminding us of greater joys yet to unfold.

And we’re energized by it. Waking with new hope. Tough days and tough moments, they will be real. But we are dreaming again.

There is new paint on the walls in our home remodel.
Three backpacks sit by the door for 3 very excited girls to start school tomorrow with teachers Grace called “perfect matches.”
My man is gearing up to lead All Pro Dad once more.
I’m prepping choreography for another school musical, placed my first classroom volunteer date on the calendar, and anxiously await seeing new ideas I’m bringing to the church (hopefully) bless families.

The pulse of life beats strong thanks to that resurrection cross. :)

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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Real Mom Confessions

They're baaaaaaack.

Maybe not every week because I'm going to have to adjust to this back-to-school schedule/working full time combo but they are here today and will be again. I would hate for you to miss out on your laughter at the expense of my kids and boy have their been some doozies lately.

1. "I've worn these underwear for two months."

This is what Ava reported in front of friends. Clearly she has no perception of time. She gets a fresh change of undergarments with every bath, I assure you.

2. "Mom, I was thinking we could go to that one place to eat. What is it called? I can't remember exactly. We haven't been there in a long time. Fu __ __ ruckers?

This unfortunate error happened in my office. In church! Insert me having a heart attack. "Oh my gosh, that is a swear word! Shut the door. Begin to pray." And that's how I handled that. Thankfully it was a quiet time and I don't think anyone else was around.

3. "Everyone will have their own room except mom and dad because they love each other. They kiss in the night."

WHAT IN THE WORLD?! Grace, Hannah, and Ava were talking about the new room being built and what this meant for them when Ava shared this with the teacher at back to school open house. Charlie just left the room.

Nesdahls out.

Have a great week, parents! No matter what happened, just keep swimming :) We got this!

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Saturday, July 30, 2016

Get in the Game

“I felt like everyone got court side seating to a difficult game I didn’t feel prepared to play.”

I was sitting in my beautiful friend’s office describing life early last school year. It was there that I first uttered aloud to her that my father-in-law had cancer. Where I confessed fear of mothering strong, representing my family name well, and being a good witness to the inner faith that sustains me when that which meets the eye appears to be falling apart. It was there that she responded with the words of grace I would later claim for my 2016 verse of the year.

“Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.” Phil 4:5

She let me cry and struggle, but she also spoke to my gifts as a mother and leader.

And that was what made this day’s visit fun.

I’d come in thanksgiving. We were on the front end of summer. The outlook for my father-in-law was encouraging. And, I’d just received the call to my dream position in my home congregation. Work that would intertwine my heart for promoting strong family and identity in Christ with my love of education.  She was a reference, and I couldn’t wait to say thank you and let her know that I was going to utilize all those gifts that she’d articulated to me to be the good in this new life high.

My girls helped me decorate this office to make it feel home - the result a precious mix of elementary classroom and fanciful class. Perfect for the birth through fifth grade families I serve and warm + inviting for all who enter.

My desk was moved, a large, framed photo of my girls was hung, and a few toys made their way in for the kids.

I thought I was done until the girls offered their two cents.

“Your window wall is boring and that’s the first thing people see when they come in, ya know.”

Target dollar spot string lights and a Hobby Lobby wall hang to the rescue.

For a window that looks out upon this.

Gary died the first day I sat in the chair overlooking the court and my words to my friend echoed loudly in my mind.

You need not be afraid of the game. I’m in it with you.

What do you say when life throws you off your A-game? How do you respond in the unknown?

From a holy conversation in one office to the sacred view in my own, I’m reminded to just get in the game. To always do my best and let go of the pressure to define moments won or lost.

God is near.

Peace, friends.
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