Friday, December 30, 2016

Maybe 2016 Wasn't the Year You Hoped For. Now What?

If you’d have told me 2016 would end like it did I would’ve said you were straight up crazy.

I could never have imagined feeling such joy when my baby went to kindergarten (because she would finally get to do all that she’d been eagerly anticipating) or beginning work that so perfectly weaves all that I am passionate about into one purposeful position.

I could also never have imagined my father-in-law’s death.

Not in a million years.

I told you that I entered 2016 hopeful. When I chose my Bible Verse of the Year it was an honest struggle because I wondered how to calmly balance shock/grief and your well-wishes when we were in disease management mode. This year had nothing on us. The doctor, who understandably cannot know all things, made mention of years and a positive response to chemotherapy. Cancer was going down.

Only lung cancer took me down instead. With abrupt speed it ripped love from my life, mocking my understanding and testing my hope with a headstone and the toughest parenting year of our life as remains.

Darkness fell.

There is safety in the black that hides us from the voices. Answering the hard questions. The need to feel put together when the batty mind games strike.

How could this happen? Why must this be so hard?

I begged Jesus to take my cup of suffering. My hands lay crossways over my heart with desire to piece back together all that was invisibly broken. My mind exhausted from navigating life pain I didn’t plan.

When this is true. When life looks different than we want it to, can we still enter 2017 with hope?

Circumstance won’t rob us of hope. Sight will.

The desire to be okay was the very thing that was suffocating me and it might be the very thing isolating you.

With our eyes and attention drawn to what isn’t, disappointment and heartbreak naturally follow. This isn’t something we need pretend away or hide. There is healing place for it in the light.

But emotion cannot be the final dictator of our well-being.

We must look into the Face of hope rather than at the idea of hope.

Hope is a choice.

When the situational brokenness of life weigh us down we must let the Truth of who God is reign supreme.

Making this decision isn’t always easy. It requires trust beyond the heaviest of moments and demands that we mentally defy all that is crumbling in front of us.

No simple task but the only way to peace.

I entered 2016 with hope driven by a smile, largely dependent on an earthly outcome. I will hang the new calendar with hope driven by the eternal, fully dependent on promised victory.  

What will you choose?

The beauty in choosing eternal hope is that it doesn’t always have to look hopeful. We’re freed to remove the mask of “okay-ness” and just be. Sometimes we will appear joyful and other times completely broken. But, the guarantee of an intimate God who has overcome it all + caring community who embraces authenticity means healthily making it through in the Light.

With love,

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Wednesday, December 21, 2016

How to Throw a Fun, Meaningful {Peanut Free} Christmas Party on a Budget

Last Sunday we braved the cold for our church rotation school (four-year-old through third grade) Christmas Party. If you're still looking for some simple, budget-friendly safe for all ideas in your church or school, this party was a hit.

We divided into three groups for stations.

1. Craft - Candy Cane Ornament: Give each child half of a red pipe cleaner and instruct them to twist one end. Then have them string beads, alternating red and white, and have them bend it into the shape of a candy cane when they are done. We also read this "The Symbolism of the Candy Cane" poem and each child took one home as reminder of Jesus' love for every time they see a candy cane.

2. Snack: Tree Decorating: Joy sugar cones are peanut-free so the kids decorated "snow covered" trees with Betty Crocker Rich and Creamy Vanilla frosting. Then they used 2 ropes from one twist of Twizzler & 10 skittles to bedazzle their tree to beautiful perfection before eating :)

3. Game: Follow the Star: Every kid loves to play with balloons so I made up this simple game that I called Follow the Star. The Wise Men followed the start to Bethlehem so I blew up bright yellow balloons and had students work in pairs, keeping their eyes on the Star of the East (balloon). Their goal was to keep it in the air as long as possible, counting as they went.

The older kids finished their craft early so my back up plan was this hilarious Christmas Drawing Game. I'd played this Christmas tree/mantle version of it myself at a board fellowship night and knew it must follow at all things I attend :) Tomorrow we will be doing it at my kids' winter parties at school too. But, for Sunday School I quick came up with a faith-filled version.

Get a white paper plate and writing utensil for each player. They put the plate on top of their head.
1. Draw a line on the ground.
2. Draw a manger.
3. Draw Baby Jesus in the maner.
4. Draw Mary and Joseph near the manger.
5. Put the star in the sky.
6. Draw some hay.
7. Animals

There was So. Much. Laughter!

Since we use the Jesus Storybook Bible we started the party by showing "He's Here" to get our minds focused and hearts on the purpose of Christmas. The adult station volunteers and shepherds to move the groups made it an awesome Intergenerational event and smiles were had by all.

However you celebrate with the children in your life, have a Merry Christmas!

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Saturday, December 17, 2016

Breaking Out: A New Understanding of Purpose-Filled Living

Sometimes our gate gets left open.

I know this isn’t a good thing, but it doesn’t induce panic because, despite the ability to run, our dog doesn’t go anywhere. She might eye the area, but she always opts to stay in the backyard.

Sometimes I watch her, amazed that she makes no effort.

And then I get it.

I’m just like her.

As much as I don’t like to admit it of myself, I choose a pretty safe life. I thrive in space I know, doing things I know how to do, in places I like to do them. Yes, I will take on some risk, but within the confines of a setting where success feels likely or without great loss.

I dwell in the familiar.

I like the backyard.

I tell myself that I’m better off here. That I know my grounds. That I won’t mess up. That I will claim (or tweak) what I do like a boss.

Ironically, there is a sense of bravery that comes in existing like this. But it is false, to be sure. 

Confidence is not the same as purpose-filled living.

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been challenged to step beyond my comfort zone. Important work lurked beyond boundaries I’ve always honored, drawing me into conversations I often shy away from.  It took the loving encouragement of many to hold my hand and challenges that got under my skin for me to bring my wobbly knees into the conversation. 

And, it’s honestly come at a cost. 

Tears. Frustration. Investment in opportunities that lie ahead because my heart, in good conscience, will never be able to back out of this situation intended to benefit humanity (and did not resolve as I’d hoped).

I still feel scared, overwhelmed, and not enough.

But in living safe I also didn’t realize all I was missing.

Change for God's glory dwells within me. Within you. Oh. My. Stars.

I have to think God looks at me asking the same question I do of my dog. “Why do you hang in the backyard when I’ve opened the gate and given you all kinds of territory to explore?”

Friends, a world stands waiting. Will we hang in the safety nets that actually confine, restricting us from using the fullness of our given gifts? Or, will we trust that in our humility The Lord might use us – knees knocking – to benefit the good of all?

The gate is open wide.

xx Melissa

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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.

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