Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Where Are Your Eyes?

Last week our nation was glued to the television as Hurricane Irene approached US soil. Where would it hit? At what speed? What could be done to prepare? Did everyone have enough batteries and water?

Now we watch airlifts take food to cut off towns and hear people struggle with insurance reimbursements in the aftermath of her trail. News footage was and is of people scurrying around frantic and overwhelmed by this life situation.

I’ve never endured a hurricane. As a Midwesterner, the very thought of one freaks me out. But, I have lived situations outside of my control that have raised my blood pressure and induced panic.

Haven’t we all?

While watching footage, I looked up the meaning of the name Irene. Years ago I was in charge of games at a baby shower. Since I’m not into tasting baby food or putting funny stuff into diapers, I decided to make my own game. After looking up the meaning of everyone’s name that would be attending the shower, I created a mix and match of people’s names and their meanings. Obviously, the person with the most correct matches won.

The game was a hit. Most people didn’t know the meaning of their own name so it created a fun conversation piece.

Needless to say, I was surprised when I discovered Irene to mean “peace.” Clearly naming storms is solely about a name that correctly fits the letter and nothing beyond that because natural disasters never bring peace to those living them.

But there is another One whose name translates to peace – Jehovah Shalom. First named in Judges, Gideon is threshing wheat in private to hide from the invaders. And he is clearly scared and frustrated by all happening around him. Like you have probably uttered a time or two yourself (or at very minimum heard from a friend), he says, “if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us?” (Judges 6:13).

For anyone unfamiliar with the rest of the story, Gideon asked for a sign that God was talking to him and went to prepare an offering for his guest. When he returned, the angel had him place the food offering on the rock, touched the end of his staff to it, and the food engulfed in flames – a miracle indicating God’s presence (Judges 6:17-20).

And this raises our question. Which has your primary focus? Irene or Christ? The hurricane in your own life (whether it be health uncertainty, financial struggles, work stress, broken relationships, natural disasters, etc) or your Jehovah Shalom?

In any area of distress we should do what we can to prepare, but where we then place our eyes will determine the peace we experience.

If our focus is solely on our situation - our storm - we cannot experience peace. We will run in circles trying to control what we cannot and expend all of our emotional energy fearing an outcome we do not yet know. But, if our eyes are on Him, we can slow down and do what we need to do when He calls us to do it. We can stop a spinning mind fast in its tracks and successfully take every thought captive. Even in the storm we can relax.

This is so beautifully illustrated in a version of the 23rd Psalm from Japan that Joanna Weaver shares in Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World

The Lord is my Pace Setter
The Lord is my pace setter…I
shall not rush
He makes me stop for quiet intervals
He provides me with
images of stillness which restore my serenity
He leads me in a way of
efficiency through calmness of mind and his guidance is peace
Even though I
have a great many things to accomplish each day, I will not fret, for his
presence is here
His timelessness, his all importance will keep me in
He prepares refreshment and renewal in the midst of my activity by
anointing my mind with his oils of tranquility
My cup of joyous energy
Truly harmony and effectiveness shall be the fruits of my hours
for I shall walk in the Pace of my Lord and dwell in his house for ever.

Certainly storms will crash our lives but we choose if our emotions follow an earthly situation or the Word of a divine God. He promises, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).

Peace in the storm. I love that.

In Him there is confidence in every step, a purpose in every action, and a unique calm every second of the day because we are operating in His strength rather than our own and, as a result, we walk victoriously.

We can only look one place at a time, however. I pray my gaze is steadfast on Jehovah Shalom. You?

Monday, August 29, 2011

A Night to Remember

Yesterday my dear friend and co-author Pam Stenzel came to Sioux Falls.

Pam and I first met thirteen years ago. As a college sophomore I was exposed to her talk and inspired by her message. Shortly thereafter we met at a Perkins and the trajectory of my life changed. I began working in a local crisis pregnancy center and upon graduation started writing with Pam.

Eleven years of ministry help and curriculum development have passed and now we have our first book together - NOBODY TOLD ME. Being a voice of truth in a culture that perpetuates lies, we've taken actual emails of students questions, comments, and stories to expose lived consequences of sexual sin, provide needed education that many have never heard, and, most importantly, promote the goodness of God's design. Teens, parents, and all who work with youth are totally digging it.

Because we are in two very different seasons of life, Pam and I are rarely in the same place. Geographical distance divides our homes and she travelling the globe speaking to over a half million teens per year while I am leading the life of a young stay at home mom with three beautiful little girls. Our work together is done primarily by phone and email with an occassional trip here and there.

Last night Pam came my direction. Brought to Sioux Falls by Planning Life (crisis pregnancy center), she hit it out of the park to a crowd of many. People vacillated between wiping away tears to knee slapping laughter and lives were changed. Students sat between their parents and as they listened new avenues of communication opened. An area teen MOPS group came and left empowered to make new choices in the future. Educators, doctors, and counselors were empowered with new discussion tools. Youth groups and young dating couples left with much to discuss. And the stories attendees discussed with us....well gut wrenching is not adequate to describe them. Pam rocks and everyone just loved her to pieces.

After Pam finished speaking, we gifted some lucky winners with our book and then we did our first joint book signing. We met so many neat people and I got to reconnect with my favorite nurse who brought her daughter and a high school classmate who came with some girls from her church's youth group. Seriously, the smile was glued on my face!

I praise God for the work Planning Life does in our community and the center's effort to gift people in the area with a positive message. You should all follow the CPC on Facebook to stay "in the know" for future events that are certain to bless you. And, I thank God for bringing Pam into my life. Yes she is the best speaker I have ever heard and yes being her co-author is one of my greatest priveleges, but I count her friendship as one of my greatest blessings. I love that she has a heart for God that always has her prepared for deep, heartfelt spiritual discussions yet her everyday down-to-earth style makes her fun to laugh and hang with. My kids will tell you the same. Pam got a boost in the cool meter, if that is possible, when she brought them a fun connecter, construction straw set yesterday. I'm pretty sure they will be wanting to consume liquids all day. :)

I love her. I love our work. And, as my heart bursts with happiness for the many ways God worked last night, I know this will go down as a night to remember.

Make sure to follow Pam on Facebook to find out when she will be in your community. You won't want to miss her!


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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

What Do You See in the Mirror?

Three way mirrors.

Three little words that invoke a multitude of emotion from the youngest of girls to the oldest of women.

On the one hand, we love this invention. It provides a real view of what our potential purchase looks like all the way around. On the other hand, we hate this invention for the very same reason. Regardless of a person’s body type, it has the capability of triggering major mental trauma.

Last weekend I braved the crowds...

Finish reading my post on ModSquad

Photo credit

Monday, August 22, 2011

We Have a Kindergartener

And she was clothed in love.

When I was growing up my grandma bought me new clothes for my first day of school each year. Now that I have my own children my mom asked if she could carry on the tradition which took no time to think, YES!

Grace chose this adorable bee outfit.

She coordinated from head to toe thanks to Gymboree's uber complete line.

There was not on ounce of hesitation on her end. She was so excited. Mom and dad's hearts, on the other hand, were flip flopping a litle bit.

It was my goal to "be strong" in front of Grace, but she foiled my plans when she started singing skinamarinky dinky dink to me by the flag pole. Yep, the tears fell.

Once we were inside, Grace found her spot right away and happily bid us farewell.

Praise be to God the day was a success. When I arrived to pick her up, I was suprised to find my hubby there to greet us. Grace told us all about making a picture of herself in her outfit, learning the school song, playing games, meeting new friends, and the list goes on.

Tonight when we were picking her outfit for tomorrow, she said, "I wish I had a shirt that said, 'I love my teacher.'" And, she is sitting at the table right now making her a picture. Obviously she made a big impact in only one day's time.

Thank the Lord for people with gifts and patience to educate little people. Clearly we are in for a wonderful year.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Lunch Box

Dear Grace,

On the table right now sits a lunch box ready to be packed for the very first time. Unlike all the rest of the items we purchased for kindergarten, this one causes a prolonged stare and forces me to catch my breath. The school box is a rite of passage. For the first time in your life, you will be away from me going to school all day.

And I can’t believe we got here so quickly.

One day that comment will most certainly cause you to roll your eyes and growl a “mo-om.” It always did for me. But now my mom doesn’t seem so off her rocker.

It feels like just yesterday that your dad and I were a spry young couple looking for our very first home. He wanted to quit throwing money into rent with nothing to show for it and we both very much wanted a baby.

We were praying for you nine years ago.

Our desire for you guided our home search. We wanted yard space for you to play. We wished for a low traffic street so that you would be safe. We preferred a quiet neighborhood in walking distance to a library, pool, and park for us to enjoy. Most of all, we hoped to be in a particular school district for you to attend elementary school.

When we finally got pregnant with you, we were over the top excited. Well, except for the crazy sick part but you were totally worth it. :) We painted your room, bought all the baby stuff, and began to imagine life with a baby.

Soon our dream became our reality. One night when I awoke my water broke and I knew that meant you would be here within 24 hours. I woke your father and told him that it was time to go. He asked me if I was sure and I said yes, at which point he quickly followed up with, “Can I take a shower first?” Apparently he wanted to look good for your grand entry into the world. On the way to the hospital, I became overwhelmed. What would life look like with you in it? In between contractions I uttered, “I don’t know if I’m ready for this.”

But after a long labor and a few stressful moments I heard your cry and all I wanted to do was hold you. I was ready. I had been ready for years and finally God had answered our prayers. Looking at your daddy, I saw a tear run down his cheek as he announced, “We have a girl.”

When they put you on my chest I had the tears. She’s beautiful. And I was in love. You put your tiny fingers around mine and I knew I only wanted to be with you. After you nursed your daddy picked you up again. As I watched him adore you, I fell in love with him in a whole new way. Our whole world changed for the better

And it feels like just yesterday.

But it wasn’t. You are growing quickly and somehow it is already time to send you off to this school we thought about nine years ago. Whoa.

Being home with you has been an incredible gift. Seeing your every “first,” playing games, taking walks to the park, reading books to you and now you reading them to me, snuggling on the couch, tickling you so that I can hear that amazing infectious laugh…it has become my everyday joy.

And now, as much as I want to hold you, I’m happy to hand you your lunch box and let you go to kindergarten because this is a life transition you are ready for. After all, you repeated again this morning that you wanted the day to go by fast so that your first day would be here. I love that. I was always in to school too. :)

So much opportunity lies ahead of you.

Watching you thrive in this new season of life makes me smile even as I type. I can’t wait to see your excitement as you show me school projects and tell me about all the new things you learn. Even more, I can’t wait to see how you shine for Him. You always say “I love God the most” and that calms my heart as I entrust you to your teacher for a full day. Always remember that as long as you cling to Him you will get through every situation you face. And, as long as you let your little light shine – and it shines oh so brightly - you will grow friendships and mature in unimaginable, awe-inspiring ways.

You are an amazing girl, sweetheart.

Have an awesome first day! And be sure to pay attention to your lunch box because there is a special note in it from me. I know. I’m a sap. I’ll be thinking about, praying over, and, quite honestly, missing you the whole day.

Life is changing but it is an exciting change.

Once that end of the day bell rings, however, be prepared. I'm going to smother you in hugs and kisses.

Bursting with love for you,


Thursday, August 18, 2011

Sioux Falls Book Signing

It’s true!

I’m going to be doing a NOBODY TOLD ME signing event right here in my wonderful hometown. And it gets even better

My wonderful, witty incredible friend and co-author Pam Stenzel is going to be joining me!

After speaking at the United Nations, Kingdom Bound, and finishing work on our second book, Pam is making a stop here in the lovely Sioux Falls, South Dakota to do our first joint book signing since our book came out.

And, she’ll be speaking too!

I always say that she could talk about the color the sky and it would be captivating but our topic is much more important and she has a brilliant way of taking the awkward topic of sex and making it into a safe, comfortable, funny, enjoyable talk. Pam uses a perfect blend of fact and humor to educate everyone, bridge communication gaps, and empower students with the abstinence advantage.

I know, it’s going to rock so let me get you the details:

Everyone 12 and up is welcome
Planning Life will be hosting her at Gloria Dei Church (5500 E. 57th Street)
Sunday, August 28
Tickets are $10 each
Get your tickets by calling 605-521-8139 or at Crossroads
Remaining tickets will be sold at the door

Once she is done knocking your socks off with the best sex talk you ever hear we will start signing away. Books will be available for purchase at the event.

So put us on your calendar and come on out to say hello.

We can’t wait to meet you!

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Calm Before the Storm

Summer is quickly winding down so our family took the "peace, be still" message to heart and escaped for a relaxing weekend getaway to my uncle's with my mom's side of the family.

Grace and Hannah enjoyed two canoe rides. We couldn't have asked for a prettier landscape. The sun reflected like diamonds on the still, glassy water and cotton-candy like clouds filled the sky.

Ava rolled over for the first time and was pretty impressed with herself.

And every generation there savored bonding time with one another.

What joys are you soaking in before busy school schedules change the pace of life?

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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Caught in the Middle

Sometimes fear keeps me there.

Our Bible Study is currently going through Joanna Weaver’s “Lazarus Awakening.” Inside the beautifully written pages, Weaver entwines the Lazarus story into our own lives.

A particularly striking image for me was her discussion of tombs. In Jesus’ day they were made of two chambers, she educates. The first room is a vestibule, which contained a stone seat. The inner chamber was for the deceased.

Metaphorically speaking, Weaver asserts than many of us live in the “midchamber” of life.

“Suspended halfway between death and life, we’ve accepted the Lord as our Savior, but we have yet to step out into the fullness of life Christ came to give. Instead, we’re holed up in the dark, held captive by our hearts, our hang-ups, and our habits.” (Weaver)

Ouch. Call me guilty.

Often times I let fear of failure (my hang up) hold me back. I’ve locked away goals in the corner of my heart because I didn’t think I had the skill set to successfully accomplish my desire.

I’ve dwelt in the “midchamber.” Anyone else?

Somehow, operating in this self-protection mode feels safe. I tell myself that I have much to offer and the gifts I don’t think I have, well, that is okay. Someone else has that skill to contribute. And to a certain extent, that is true, but it holds me back from trying things God is nudging me to do.

If I am going to affirm that I can work through every situation He has called me to in His strength (Phil 4:13), then I need to trust Him with all areas of my life and not decide for Him where I will shine.

So I am going to try to be better at letting go of the hang-ups to get out of the “in between.” I want to leave the “midchamber” to experience the full richness God has uniquely designed for me.

And I’m starting with the site. I know it’s a small think in the big picture, but for a while I’ve really felt God calling me to change the template and customize the header so that readers and publishers who stop by get a better sense of me. However, “tech” skills are not my thing. Whenever I go to tutorials on headers my blood pressure rises and my memory drifts back to my college days when I’d be stuck in the science lab for hours because I couldn’t create and import my graphed out findings. I emotionally curl into the fetal position, close the computer, and settle.

But I want (and feel called) to try.

Sadly, this is one example of this rut I’ve experienced in many different ways.

However Weaver’s imagery has me inspired. Get me out of this “midchamber.” I want to step into the light - even if it means going out of my comfort zone and a belly flop here and there.

It’s go time!

So I read more tutorials and came up with this new color scheme and design. What do you think? I’m not going to lie. I might have let out a little scream and done the happy dance. Now I’ll move on to my next issue. :)

What has you hanging out in the “midchamber?” What hang-up, past hurt, or habit do you struggle to let go?

You aren’t alone. Be encouraged.

And, if you don’t have this book on your shelf, get yourself to the store! It’s Just. That. Good.

Photo credit

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Defining Success {Blogging on Blogging}

Recently a friend wrote asking, “How do you start a successful blog?”

I was surprised because I don’t necessarily think of my blog as “successful.” I wrote her back, but God has been YANKING at my heart to share on this topic because I think there is more to defining “success.”

From a practical standpoint, this is what I would have to say-

1) Know your voice: There are a million blogs out there and each has their own flavor. Some bloggers are great at pulling you into story. Others draw you into every day experiences through straight forward explanation. Some have an upbeat tone while others are more serious. A tendency can be to try and “speak like” a blog you deem successful, but if the voice is not uniquely yours you will not be able to effectively convey your message. God made you unique. Be you.

2) Know your audience: Who are you trying to reach? You can’t be all things to all people. And, you shouldn’t be because then you would not be staying true to you. My blog appeals to those seeking Truth in the everyday life. This base builds through family and friends, readers who like my book, MODsquad writing, other published pieces, blog hops, and those who accidentally stumbled upon it through twitter or a google search and liked what they saw. I share my heart, projects, and updates in my written ministry, creating a fun mix of the personal with the “business.” What do you share? Rest in knowing that there is an audience for every message.

3) Know your posting goal: Bloggers vary in how frequently they post. Some post everyday while others do once in a while. I fall into the latter category. I pray over my posts and typically have a sense of when and what the Spirit is calling me to post. There isn’t one “right” or “best” way. It just depends on what you want to do.

4) Use your public networking platforms: Posting your blog posts to your Facebook, twitter, and other social networking accounts will give people (that you probably already share interests with) the opportunity to see your postings. This will serve as a good springboard to building readership.

5) Don’t get too caught up in numbers: Believe you me, I love seeing my google connect and networked blog numbers increase just like the next person. But, sometimes God reminds me that when He inspires a message it is meant for a purpose larger than a committed group. You never know what impact one post will have on an individual. And, if one person is deeply moved, inspired, or transformed than it doesn’t really matter if anyone else saw it or even if they are a public devotee of your blog. Committed followers make us feel good, but the unseen ripple effect has greater impact.

Which probably brings me to why God has been calling me to post this. Because even though I know number five to be true, as a relatively new blogger I still struggle with it sometimes. Although I bet if we went around the virtual blogger room I wouldn’t be the only one. :) Somehow it feels like followers equals being liked, and who doesn’t like to feel liked?! Then my mind will get ahead of me and I begin questioning if a white background would make this space more visually appealing. I start wishing I had “techy skills” to build a custom header/template. Insecurity rears its ugly head.

And then God shakes me.

Because I am sidetracked. My focus is shifted away from being confident in the heart of my posts He's inspired to my perception of how the blog looks on the outside. But, if my goal is for people to know and follow One, than I can’t be a distraction. So, I quite focusing on the gifts I don’t have and hone in the one’s He’s given me. More importantly, I quite trying to measure “success” and simply trust what is.

Ultimately every blog is a success if the author shares the message their Author has given them!

Be you. Share what you have to share. And trust that the right people will see it.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Family Tapestry

Last week was the annual Nesdahl family vacation. And while we were there, we made a family tapestry.

Part of the yearly trip is a family talent show. This year I rocked out a solo dance to Tiffany’s “I Think We’re Alone Now.” In homage to the late 80s I pegged my jeans and wore a side ponytail.

Confession: I made up a dance to this song on the hill in my back yard when I was growing up and for some odd reason I still remembered most of it. But hey, it has now officially served me a purpose.

While the talents varied, my mother-in-law, who is great with word pictures, took a more sentimental approach and created this family tapestry. To do it, she took out a big sewing hoop and several types of ribbon. We all chose ribbon that we thought somehow represented us. Then we cut enough for our ribbon to span the hoop both directions and weaved them together. Lastly, she took out three separate ribbons to represent the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The idea is that we are all unique yet woven together in God’s love.

I’m not going to lie, this brought tears to my eyes because it so perfectly defined us.

This year’s trip took place in the beautiful Palisades State Park. We all stayed in one beautiful lodge cabin and made many new memories.

Since we were in a state park known for gorgeous waters and breath-taking rock formations you would think that I would come prepared.

I didn’t.

So, when we ended up on an “adventure hike” instead of the kids playground like I thought, I panicked. First of all, I’m asthmatic and the air was VERY muggy. Without moving I felt like it was hard to breathe and when I saw the hilly land and was without my inhaler, I was fearful of an attack. Second, I was in slippery sandals and shorts. If I’m going to be by long grass and trees, I’d prefer to be in long clothes because I don’t want to be bonding with any bugs or other creatures. Particularly the types that hang out in long grasses.

I froze inside.

And my family knew it. My brother in law who was videoing the family experience probably has footage of a frozen Melissa looking like a deer in headlights.

But, I didn’t want to be a buzz kill so I tucked away my fears and followed the group.

In that moment, the "unique yet woven together" came out. I looked uncomfortable (think Shelley Long Troop Beverly Hills-ish) and they, being nature lovers, were right at home. But they didn’t make fun of me or harass me. Rather, they walked at my side and went on a short, flat trail.

Their strengths and my weaknesses coming together to encourage and experience something incredible with one another.

And then we stopped and saw this.

It was like God was saying, “Look at what I made. Think of what you would have missed.”

It was absolutely gorgeous. When combined with the sound of the flowing waters, it relaxed me to the core.

I loved it.

I’m so thankful to have married into a family so dedicated to one another.

Our tapestry isn’t just beautiful hung on the wall. It’s vibrant in the heart.

What a wonderful week.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Calling All Teens, Parents, & Youth Workers: Pam Stenzel is coming to Sioux Falls

Are you a parent, grandparent, youth leader, counselor, volunteer or mentor? Do you wonder how to effectively talk about sex and God’s design for marriage? Then this is the event for you!

She’s engaging. She’s funny. She’s dynamic. And, she’ll give the best sex talk you ever hear. Internationally known speaker and author Pam Stenzel is coming to Sioux Falls to present, “Sex Still Has a Pricetag.”

Stenzel, who began her ministry as the director of a crisis pregnancy center, travels full time speaking to over 500,000 teens each year about the importance of abstinence. You may have also seen her on national television.

Last year Planning Life hosted Stenzel before a sellout crowd. Parents and their teens came together, bridging a divide and promoting healthy conversation afterwards. Youth groups came in busses. Adult leaders in the church and community took mental notes to help them better discuss the topic with teens they love.

And the response was overwhelming. After the event one girl wrote, “You answered all the questions that I’ve wanted to ask but was to afraid too. It was so funny and informative. Before you came I thought sex would be okay if I was in love, but I don’t want to risk all that you talked about. Now I get why God said marriage and I’m going to wait. Thank you. I’ve never heard such an amazing talk!” Many young people personally committed to abstinence or recycled virginity, and one even wrote to say that she told her parents for the first time that she was sexually abused. Everyone loved her unique blend of humor and fact, saying it was "fun" and that she was "cool" and "the best" they'd ever heard.

So mark your calendars because Planning Life is bringing her back!

When: August 28, 2011
Time: 6:30pm
Location: Gloria Dei
Cost: $10 per ticket
Tickets are already on sale at: 605-521-8139

After the event, Pam & I will be doing a joint book signing for our recently co-authored book “Nobody Told Me.”

Get tickets for you and the teen (12 and up) that you love TODAY! It is a life-changing event no one should miss!

View Pam's promotional video here
"Like" Planning Life on Facebook to learn more about this and other events here
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