our make or break words

There is a small insect flying around my room, and it’s about to drive me insane. It hasn’t done anything to me. It’s not biting me or trying to get in my ears or entangling itself in my hair. But it is distracting and aggravating and it needs to find a new home.

(I know I could just kill it, but dead bugs gross me out more than live ones annoy me, so…here we are with me starting off my blog post with a gripe about bugs.)

In all reality, I don’t know what I’m writing about. I have started this blog post no less than half a dozen times just in the last twenty minutes, but I’m getting nowhere.

Believe it or not, I drafted this post on black paper in white text in a font that I never use. It’s an odd method for trying to overcome this block, but hopefully it worked and you’re actually reading a blog post right now. If it does work, then all the oddity is worth it.

Some people probably would have the sense to just stop trying to force something to be written that clearly does not want to be written, but I have very little common sense and so here I am, plugging way at trying to unpack my summer.

I’ve been back in Texas for…almost two weeks now? Yeah.

It feels much longer than that, but not in the “OH MY WORD, LIFE IS AWFUL AND SLOW AND ENOUGH ALREADY” kind of way. More in the sense that this feels natural, it feels normal, it feels established.

Not like it should feel to have lived in a room for less than two weeks after spending fifteen weeks in a different time zone.

Already Mackinac feels pretty remote, which just adds to the weird time-displacement thing that I’ve got going on.

Has it really only been two weeks since I clocked out for the last time? Like, two weeks ago right now I was sitting on my carriage, about to give my last tour of the summer. I was talking to my mom as she stood on the side of the street that I’d travelled many times a day for the last 100 days.

And somehow those 100 days weren’t long enough for me to feel as though I’m out of place now that I’m back in Abilene.

The whole muddle of it is doing a top-notch job of messing with my head.

I know I didn’t really blog much about the last half of my summer. Much of it was a lot like the first half of the summer: joy and growth mingling with exhaustion and heartache.

The highlights were, as is so often the case in life, sweet people and the heartfelt kindnesses they spoke over me.

Like, one day an older gentleman handed me my tip with some joke that I found genuinely funny, so I laughed aloud because the sun was bright and the grass was green and I was alive, and he met my eyes and said, “That giggle: I like it. Do that often.” And then he smiled and was gone.

Just quiet kindnesses like that.

So many blessings were spoken over me, and luck at school wished, and meaningful clasps of my hand to convey that I was a human and I was real.

I wasn’t just some driver to them.

I was a human.

That’s the real takeaway here: let’s just treat each other like the people we are. None of us are faceless. None of us are nameless. We have backstories and hurts and fears and loves.

Duh.

So let’s act like it.

On the flipside, the definite lowlight of my summer was when my favorite horse died and I spent two days giving tours around a lump in my throat, fighting with varying levels of success to keep the tears from flooding my eyes and washing down my cheeks.

The worst day, the first day of knowing that I’d never get to drive my sweet boy again, I pulled up to drop off a load of tourists, gushing at the crew to ‘have a fabulous day’ and ‘thank you for taking my tour’ and the thousand other things that I usually meant but meant a little less that day, and one of the guys who was helping unload my carriage remarked, “Wow, you’re in a good mood today.”

Thinking he was serious, I cooed back with my smile firmly in place, “Oh, it’s all an act. Today sucks.”

And he quietly replied, “I know. Your eyes tell it.”

Which was exactly the right thing to say. It was the exact nod to my humanity that kept me from losing my mind.

So if you’re reading this, Daniel, thanks.

…I think that might be what I have to say.

What I had to say.

However you want to put that.

Huh.

It took all those words just to come up with a few simple points:

  1. Time still feels weird and irrelevant.
  2. My summer was neither all bad, nor all good.
  3. Our words can make or break humanity.

– Melissa

let the words of my mouth and the mediation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, oh Lord, my rock and my redeemer. [psalm 19:14]

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(yes, it’s about the eclipse.)

So here’s the thing. With this whole Eclipse thing going on I’ve been thinking a lot, and several things have come to mind.

First of all, remember that time in the Bible when God made the sun stand still just because he loved his people so much? (See Joshua 10:12-14) We serve a God big enough to stop the sun simply because he loves us.

Wow.

That’s so amazing. Like, that’s more love than I deserve. It’s more love than I could ever possibly deserve.

And yet, I have it.

There’s no escaping it, no denying it, nothing. I am loved that deeply.

Another thing that I’ve been thinking about, is how easily I get freaked out about little things.

During the eclipse today, I knew exactly what was going on, and yet part of me was still distressed by the fact that the sun was going dark. I mean, how ridiculous! There was a perfectly good explanation for what was going on. 

And yet, here I am, in all my silliness, freaking out.

About the sun, about today, about the future. When I know that there’s a perfectly good plan put in place for them by a perfect God.

Whatever, Melissa.

And then, of course, today I couldn’t help but remember my senior year when there was a lunar eclipse while we were in Mexico.

We were all way too tired, as is always the case in Mexico, and yet our leader loved us enough that he let us stay up way past curfew to watch the Earth’s shadow fall across the full moon.

Bare feet on a concrete parking lot blanket around my shoulders, friends all around me with their faces upturned to the heavens.

That’s a memory that will last forever.

Basically, in summary, I am loved so deeply.

Loved despite all my flaws, by people and by my heavenly father alike. And that brings me safety and joy that eclipses even the most too-tired, too-much of days.

3 more days of work and then I’m done.
– Melissa

a tumble of thoughts

I wanted to write something intelligent tonight. I wanted to share with you some of the lessons I’ve learned lately or some of the anecdotes that my life seems to provide in abundance.

But it seems that I am just too tired.

My fingers clitter-clatter over the keys and I make up onomatopoeia and nothing really profound appears in the aftermath.

I am still living on an island.

I am still keeping track of how many more days must pass until I no longer have to wake up to a 5:30am alarm six days a week. (47 more days.)

I am still in love with horses and the sound of waves and the way the world smells just after it rains.

I am still vibrantly alive, more so than I ever dreamed was possible in the madness of the last few semesters of school.

It is funny, how coming to Mackinac where everything is slower has quickened my thirst for life.

Because everything is slower here.

The fastest you can go on the island is 50mph when you’re biking down the three steepest hills, and that’s against the law and so you have to risk a $100 ticket. The fastest you can legally go on the island is 25mph on your bike, and I don’t have a bike so for me it’s walking or horse-drawn carriage.

Horses don’t go too fast, especially around here.

So everything is slower on the island.

Time doesn’t move slower here, but it does seem to kind of get lost. Like, I intellectually know that it is July 10th and my summer is half gone. But it doesn’t feel like July to me. Heck, it doesn’t even feel like I exist in the same dimension as time belongs in.

Most days I have no idea what the date is or what day of the week it is, or even what time it is—short of hungry vs. not-so-hungry moments.

Life is blurry and drowsy and sometimes it’s disjointed around the edges. Life is horse kisses and horse manure and telling jokes about horse pee because it makes the tourists laugh and when they laugh they sometimes tip me. Life is good songs and songs that I’m sick of and hearing all my music so often that I despair and want to hurl my headphones across the lake.

Here on the island you can’t ever be more than four miles from anywhere else on the island.

I had a child ask on my tour the other day where my horse’s arms were. My roommate had someone ask her how much the island weighed and how many trees there are on the island.

You can never get more than four miles away from the questions here, from the entitlement of the rich and the young and the millennials, from the bikers who haven’t sat on a bike in years and years and years.

Life is compressed. It’s slow. It’s early mornings and it’s long days and it never sleeps.

And sometimes, life is worth it.

Sometimes life has Oscar.

Oscar is old.

He knows things. He’s seen things.

(Maybe numerically I’m older, but you know wisdom when you see it.)

Sometimes, in the morning, when I’m trying too hard to stay pleasant because the barn is chaos and my patience is thinnest when I’m tired, Oscar nuzzles my face and gazes at me with eyes so steady and deep and pure that I think maybe I’ve just caught a glimpse of what heaven might be like.

And then sometimes Oscar goes out in the corral and rolls in the mud until he’s no longer a white horse and I have to transform him back from the brown horse that he’s become, and then I think that there’s no heaven in Oscar at all.

There is pain in the world, and degradation, and inequality, and death. And it’s here, even on Mackinac, where life is so abundant and vibrant.

Life wends its way past death with the clatter of hooves and the cushion of obliviousness and the cheery smile of a tour guide.

I’m tired.

I miss church.

I miss friends and family so deeply that I can’t sleep without them walking through my dreams, but it’s wonderful because I wake with the echo of their hugs.

This summer has already been both fantastic and tragic, both giddy and despairing.

Over the next 47 days—days made edgeless by sleeplessness and routine—why should I expect any less tempestuous a ride?

When everything is disjointed, I am so glad to be held by the God who is the I Am.

– Melissa

Kumbaya by Rend Collective

Vitality

I think I expected college to transform me into some greater version of myself, to wake me up and revitalize me and just generally embolden me.

And while college changed me and grew me, it wasn’t in those ways that I had expected.

This blog is as close to a chronicle of those changes as anyone’s going to get, short of standing me up next to my past self and marking down all the differences between us, and I think it bears pretty clear testimony to the fact that the last three years have left me tired.

Tired and ready to run.

The funny thing is that I didn’t even come to Mackinac with the intent to run from what was hurting me. I just came because I needed a job and thought I wanted an adventure and liked horses.

Yet Mackinac has proven to be a more rejuvenating retreat than I could have known to request, if I thought to request a retreat at all. And it’s also a strange place to feel so deeply revitalized, because this isn’t your traditional mountain-top spiritual hideaway.

I am working long hours with people who, while kind, do not share my faith. There are no pastors daily pumping me full of well-considered interpretations of scripture or guitarists inviting me to join them in songs of faith-fueled praise.

Even so, I am more at peace than I have felt in a long time.

Possibly because Michigan air is easier to breathe.

Which I mean a little bit literally, because I grew up on Bakersfield air so dirty that you can chew it up, spit it out, and build a sooty sandcastle out of it. But metaphorically too.

Life itself feels more abundant here.

Even after nearly three weeks I find myself still silently gasping in delight when I catch sight of Lake Huron as I round the corner to stage along the point, still nearly laughing aloud when I pause to consider the fact that I am holding the lines to a team of horses the same way that my ancestors did.

Lately I laugh a lot.

And if you know me, you’re probably smiling because that’s what you expected. But if you’ve known me during school, when the trying to juggle classes and people and fear and exhaustion have transformed me into a snarling disaster of a person, then you might begin to guess how refreshing it is to laugh.

People smile at me because I am always smiling. They chuckle because I dash at new tasks with such enthusiasm, even though I’m tired and kind of just want to go home. And their amusement brings me more joy, which only increases the infectiousness of my laughter.

I truly do feel as though I’m breathing easier. As though life were painted in brighter colors than it was before.

Contentment and restfulness bring a certain vibrancy to the world.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t feel particularly well-rested. Even today, on my day off when I’ve slept in and napped and generally relaxed all day long, I am yawning with exhaustion before I’ve even eaten dinner.

Nonetheless, these few weeks in Michigan have brought me a certain level of restfulness.

There’s been heartache, too, and my tears have mingled with my desperate begging to the heavens for explanation of things I can’t understand.

But through it all, this peace. This knowledge that I am both where I’m supposed to be and where I want to be. And this almost audible song of celebration coming from everything around me.

I really don’t know how else to describe it, and kind of feel like I’m chasing my tail now as I try to explain.

It’s as though I’m alive again.

As if a person I’d long forgotten how to be is emerging from the storm of the past few years, and she hasn’t forgotten how to be bold or courageous or outgoing. (She has forgotten how to love to run and be active, but we’ll cross the exercise bridge some day in the maybe-never future.)

All that said, I am eager for this summer to end if only to end the torture of the crazy-early mornings. While I have settled into the routine of awakening at 5:30 every morning, I still don’t like it. And every morning I get a little closer to clinging to my pillow and sobbing at the thought of being parted from it.

I guess I don’t have much energy left for a well-worded conclusion. It’s taken long enough to just achieve anything like sense on this page.

My heart-song doesn’t much want to be translated today.

Anyway. Life is an adventure, and I’m so happy to be living this chapter of it. Feel free to come visit and write yourself in.

– Melissa

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. /Psalm 19:1-4a/

I’m Actually Covered in Horse Hair

There are three really big hills here on the island. There’s Turkey Hill, which we don’t take tour carriages up or down. There’s Mission Hill, which is off by the east bluffs and which I’ve only driven down once. And there’s Grand Hill, which goes up past the Grand Hotel and which we drive multiple times a day.

When we take our horses up Grand Hill with full carriages, we give them multiple breaks, just because the carriage is so heavy and because we want them to pace themselves. They are nowhere near overworked, but we’re still careful. (Actually, they just get diva treatment all the time and can I please have their job instead of mine because oh my goodness.)

I think that, more than learning how to give a tour of Mackinac or learning how to drive a carriage, this summer is going to be about learning to pace myself.

All this week I have been going full throttle, throwing myself into the work and finding a new task as soon as I finish whatever I’m doing. And I don’t regret it, because I’ve proved to my superiors and peers that I’m both dedicated and competent, and I’ve moved quickly through training and should be done sooner than later, but oh boy am I tired.

I didn’t even fully realize how exhausted I am until I was stripping harnesses off horses at the end of today and met eyes with a quiet old gelding.

Horses’ eyes are actually magical, and they can plumb the depths of your soul without even trying.

So when our gazes locked, suddenly the lack of sleep and the trying so hard and the lurking anxiety and everything else just washed over me and my whole being acknowledged my weariness and tears rushed to my eyes and all I could do was burrow my face in the horse’s neck and focus on keeping my breathing steady. Believe it or not, I’m not a fan of bursting into tears in the middle of a barn of people I’ve worked with for less than a week.

Horses got cared for and I clocked out with dry eyes, but as soon as I got back to my room, I just let myself fall onto my back on the floor and lay there as I felt the tears trickle down my cheek to my hairline.

I legitimately love my job. I love the horses and everything that caring for them entails. (Except maybe the getting hit with overspray during morning baths. Because that’s freaking cold.) I love the driving and how I’m learning to keep the carriage where I want it at the speed I want it. I love the tour and discovering all the fantastic history of this island. I love my roommates and how we laugh and commiserate and explore. And I love the lake and the trees and the wildflowers and the quaint little buildings that are older than I can quite comprehend.

But I am so tired.

Part of me feels weak for needing tomorrow off, even though the day was just assigned to me; I didn’t have to ask for it or whatever. I want to be able to work harder, longer, faster than expected, to keep pace with the people who’ve been doing this for years. I want my tour to be spectacular, my driving to be flawless, my harnessing to be seamless right now.

Like the team I drove yesterday, Elvis and Hogan, I want to throw myself into the weight of the load and just push it until my heart gives out and I fall over.

Being paced is hard. Pacing myself is proving even harder.

And yes, I have lost count of how many of my coworkers have told me to slow down, catch my breath, and take it easy this week. At one point, I got sent out to the wash rack to cool off because I looked so frazzled and overheated. Oops.

I’ve lost the concentration necessary to bring this to any cohesive conclusion, because it’s after 7pm and way too close to fall-into-bed time. So suffice it to say that my goal for tomorrow is to rest up, and my goal for my next week of work is to strike a balance between giving it my all and not overdoing it. Because if I hit this tired again and providence doesn’t provide a day off the next day, I’ll end up sobbing or sick or both. And everyone up here tells me that it’s next to impossible to get healthy again once you’re sick.

Also, if you need a summer job, check out openings on Mackinac. They’re still hiring at a lot of places, and the island is fantastic.

Sleep well, my people. I know I’m going to.

– Melissa

P.S. This week I’ve spent a lot of time meditating on the words to Whatever Comes by Rend Collective, and it’s been such an encouragement. Check it out here!

to the rhythm of hooves outside my window

Monday, May 15, 2017 – 8:05am

Well, it’s been twenty-something hours since I landed on Mackinac Island, and the truth is that it’s been a beautiful whirlwind. (Notice that I didn’t misspell “whirlwind,” which I did during my freshman year when my hashtag that I used for an entire weekend home was “#whirlwhindweekend,” and I probably will never forgive myself for that idiocy.)

If you’re not up with my latest adventures, I’m going to be spending the summer here, on Mackinac (pronounced Mackinaw) Island in Michigan, working for the local carriage company as a driver. Mackinac Island is known for banning cars back in the early 1900s, so now transportation on the island is limited to bikes and horses. Hence the carriage thing. It’s quite the tourist destination, which I’m sure will get old but yesterday just meant seeing a lot of happy people.

The fact that I’m now in Michigan implies that I somehow got from Texas to Michigan, and let me tell you, that was quite the trip. On my way home, if my fam doesn’t manage to come out to visit and give me a ride home at the end of the summer, I need to find some stretch of the trip to manage by train, just so that I can say that I’ve used every mode of transportation in one trip. This time I only managed car, plane, and bus on day one, and ferry on day two. Yesterday actually started off with a ferry ride, and that was absolutely amazing. I have plenty of friends who are pretty sure that, deep within their souls, they’re actually mermaids, and while I can kind of relate, that’s not really the type of love I have for wide expanses of water.

I personally think that I’m secretly a pirate (though someone tried to argue yesterday that “sailor” was a more appropriate label, which I think is dumb.)

Between the wind in my hair, the spray of water on my face, and the feel of Lake Huron surrounding me on all sides, I almost started weeping for joy as soon as we left the dock. Like, I was blinking my tears away so that I didn’t look like a complete idiot amongst all the tourists.

As expensive as island life might be (which is fair; all goods have to come over by ferry and get transported to the store by horse-power) I think it’s really going to work for me. The weather so far has been exquisite—which won’t be a constant, but is worth celebrating today—and the fact that I’m never more than a few miles from the lap of waves on the shore is so comforting.

Also, the view.

Oh. My. Word.

It more or less takes my breath away every single time.

(You are welcome to remind me of my prior enthusiasm when a few weeks have gone by and I’m tired and grumpy and homesick.)

Orientation starts today, and my roommates and I are all grateful that it starts at 9am. Generally we’ll have to be at the barn around 7am, so sleeping in is a rare treat. Granted, I didn’t sleep in because I’m way too nervous about the first day of work to have slept well, and the sun woke me up around 5:30, but the thought was nice.

Also nice was having the time to read the Bible. I think I’ve mentioned this before, but staying in the Word is my Christian Achilles’ heel, so to speak. God is gracious, though, and two days in a row I’ve ended up with mornings where I had nothing to do but curl up with my Bible. This morning I ended up in Psalms 117 and 118, which are both emphatic praises of God’s love and might. Psalm 117 makes me smile because it’s so short: only two verses! I can just see the Psalmist having scribbled down a few words of his morning prayer, and someone picking it up and saying, as we do in Life Group, ‘Woop, Jesus!’ and deciding to put it in the Old Testament Canon.

Okay, so no one would have said exactly that back when the Psalms were being written, but I think the underlying sentiment remains the same: the idea of celebrating God for who he is and what he’s doing/has done, and doing so with gusto.

Overall, it was a really refreshing start to the day, and my echoing heart-prayer that I’ve chosen for today comes from Psalm 118:1.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.

Things I’m looking forward to about today:

• Finally finding out what’s expected of me and what I can expect from work this summer
• Getting the WiFi password so that I can actually post this…
• Maybe finding some more time this evening for exploring; there are so many hiking trails and locations to explore
• Dinner
• Going to bed tonight, because sleep is just so fantastic

All in all, I have been a heady combination of excited about and terrified of this summer for months now, but now that I’m here I’m finally relaxing into it. It’s weird to think that I’ll be here for so long; one of my roommates mentioned Fourth of July fireworks last night, and that didn’t quite compute in my brain. I’ll celebrate the Fourth here, and my birthday, and miss two family members’ birthdays. When the months seem long, though, and home seems far, I keep reminding myself that this stretch of time isn’t that different from my first semester at HSU, and surviving and thriving is just as doable.

By the time I can post this, all these first-morning-thoughts will be outdated, but they’re still me and you’ll still get to read them. Perhaps I’ll even get to where I’m posting with some consistency, and we can both track how this summer grows me…and maybe I’ll grow wings and spend my hours swooping gracefully about above the island. Both are equally likely.

In the meantime and in-between-time (I just love that phrase!) keep celebrating, keep growing where you’re currently planted, and, for goodness sake, keep dancing!

– Melissa
P.S. Rend Collective is currently my jam, and I have a feeling that I’ll be posting a lot of their music this summer. For my first selection, check out their song Come On.

this place cannot be Home

Do you ever focus on the things you most would like to ignore? The facts that are most unrelated to reality or the most likely to cast reality in a dim light?

I do. All the time.

Like, I almost just threw my phone across the room and nearly burst into tears because my fingers had the great idea to pull up my calendar app to see how long it’s been since I didn’t spend every evening alone in my room. Why borrow that pain? Why not focus on the days where I’ve had really great days and come home to happily curl up on my futon to recharge because I was peopled out and didn’t want company?

I’m actually an optimistic person. I think. I see the best in people and events. For the most part.

Yet negativity is such an easy spiral to get sucked into. And you try to work through it on paper, because that’s the easiest way for you to figure things out, and it just gets worse. You work yourself into a frenzy and you can’t wrap it up because you don’t know how. You can’t scream at the people who have broken your heart because a public attack doesn’t allow them to defend themselves and that’s too innately infair. The fear is spread out on the table but goes unaddressed, and all the pain of the semester is documented like the video I took of the filth of my kitchen this afternoon.

I want to scream, but even my paper scream gets swallowed.

Because as much as I want to scream, I’m afraid to be heard.

Because if I am heard, someone might say something.

And I don’t think I can believe their love.

It’s not that I feel unlovely. It’s that I feel unseen.

Like, I think you could love me if you knew who I really was, but I don’t want your hollow allegiance to this mask that I wear. The mask that I am so ready to set aside if you ask.

Ask me, and I become real and vulnerable. Heck, you don’t even have to ask. Just notice the freaking mask, raise an eyebrow, and I’ll slip it off with a sheepish, ‘you caught me, but are you sure you’re ready’ kind of a smile.

So why wear the mask at all, if all I want to do is take it off.

Because when people don’t bother to see the mask, at least they’re not ignoring the real me.

Does that make any sense? I know it doesn’t have to; I’m just writing what I feel. But still. Does it?

When we play hide and seek as kids, what’s the goal?

It’s to be found.

If you leave a kid in hiding for long enough without finding him, he’s going to get antsy and eventually reveal himself. Maybe not give up his hiding spot, because the other goal of the game is to be the best at hiding. But still. Being found is central.

Plus I don’t think I even started out hiding. Sure, I started out college painfully shy and crazily overwhelmed. But I did come out of that shell. I did make an effort to meet people. To see them.

I even think it’s safe to say that I’ve seen people. I’ve found them, whether they were hiding deep or were wandering around without a hiding spot.

And not everyone’s going to be a match, I get that. Not every friendship becomes a David and Jonathan.

Actually, most friendships won’t be David and Jonathan.

But, like, could we actually be friends? Could we take the time to consistently see each other, rather than just off-handedly noticing each other once in a while?

I am so. Freaking. Lonely.

And I am so tired of feeling guilty for feeling lonely. I am tired of the arguments with myself over whether I am allowed to be disappointed by people’s behavior or whether it’s my own fault for expecting more of them than was realistic. What does friendship really mean? Is friendship, at its most basic, noticing when someone’s hurting, or is that something deeper than just entry-level friendship? Is my definition of friendship just way out of sync with reality? Are we really even friends, or are we just friendly acquaintances?

I know that I’m no model human. I know that I aggravate the heck out of people and I come across as aloof or as clingy far too often, which is ridiculous because those are pretty much opposites. I don’t always play well with others, and you probably won’t find a more opinionated person between here and the Rio Grande, but I do try. And I do care.

And if I didn’t care, then no one would have the power to break my heart.

It is the end of my second-to-last semester and I am ready to get the heck out of dodge.

I am ready to be back with the people who truly see me.

This semester I have sung. I have laughed. I have danced for joy in the sunshine and the wind. I have smiled at people and they have smiled back at me. I have embraced others and felt their arms enfold me in return.

Even so, at the end of the day every day, I still end up here. In my room. Alone.

And the thing is, it’s kind of too late for you to join me to make it all okay again.

Because I don’t believe you. Not anymore.

In 225 days, I graduate, and then I’m gone. Because this place—this dynamic—can’t be home.

– Melissa

faith & hope & february

Most of you who read this blog (or at least the ones who do with any regularity) know that in September of my junior year of high school my mom had a seizure in my kitchen and was diagnosed with a tumor that, while benign, had to be surgically removed in November of that year. Nearly as many of you know that surgery wasn’t the immediate solution we’d all misunderstood it to be, and know that it wasn’t until February of my senior year that my mom had been seizure-free for long enough to resume things like driving and climbing ladders.

(If your mom is going to have seizures and not be allowed on ladders, get rid of vaulted ceilings, because cleaning those celing fans will become your job…)

The reason that I know that Mom was cleared to drive in February of 2014 is because that was when the two of us travelled to Texas so that I could tour colleges and audition for theatre programs.

It was a great trip, and it was great that I didn’t have to do all of the driving myself, because I was a nervous wreck. Like, I wouldn’t have a voice to order with when we’d stop to get food. I may have offended my grandparents, because I was much less like myself and much more like a mouse. I shut down when I’m overwhelmed.

We actually ended up at HSU (where I’ve ended up for the past two and a half years) twice: once to audition, and then once again because the theatre director invited us back to see the show that was opening the next weekend.

Both weekends that we stayed with my always-called-her-an-Aunt-even-though-she-isn’t who’s been friends with my mom since they roomed together in college a bamillion years ago. So I don’t know which weekend it was. But whenever it was, Jen arranged for a group/family/something to come pray healing over my mom, because although she was no longer having full-scale seizures, the surgery after-affects still often affected her vision and made her dizzy.

Let me just say that I didn’t grow up exposed to any kind of healing prayers ministry.

I’d read about it in books, with missionaries. That was cool. God does some pretty cool things for missionaries, even bigger than the God-sized works I’d seen over the past year and a half in my family’s life. But I’d never really experienced it in my life.

And we had two prayer quilts on the couch at home. Ones that people in my church had prayed over and held as they prayed specifically for my family. I liked those. I liked to wrap myself up in them on hard days.

Anyway, those people came over, and chatted for a bit, and then prayed over my mom, and she thanked them, and they talked a bit more, and then they left.

I’m 90% sure that everyone thought I was asleep in the back room the whole time, because I never showed my face, not the whole time, and no one ever called me out on my absence. After all, I generally had the decency to come and greet people when I was awake, and I definitely tended to be involved in prayer. Especially in prayer over someone so dear to me.

But I wasn’t asleep.

I was very much awake.

In hiding.

In tears.

Weary.

Scared.

And so achingly guilty from feeling like a failure for not wholeheartedly believing that God—the One who made the heavens and the earth and me and my mother—couldn’t (or wouldn’t, or something) heal that selfsame mother of mine that he created.

Guilt like that is consuming. You can’t fight it or flee it. It drives you to tears to that sting of salt in a wound that might never heal. It eats away at your chest and your stomach and your heart.

It consumes you and your world and your hope.

For that afternoon, I felt devoid of hope. And I felt isolated from the world, or at least from everyone else at the house, because they still had the hope I’d somehow lost.

I wish I could step into seventeen-year-old Melissa’s world. I wish I could wrap her in my arms in the hug she so needed and whisper fiercely to her that God wasn’t done yet and that someday the health problems really would be a thing of the past. I wish I could brush away the tears of shame and pain from her eyes and remind her that God’s a father who loves his little girl enough to hold her when she’s tired and afraid. I wish I could give her the words to ask for help, or even just lead her to the living room to lean on the faith of community in a moment when she was too worn out to pray.

Instead I’m here. And it’s been three years, and I’ve just a week ago accidentally discovered the scars that that afternoon left on my heart.

Lately God’s been teaching me the lesson on persistent prayer that I somehow didn’t quite learn the first time, and I think that’s why I’ve remembered what I’d forgotten. And as much as I initially didn’t want to deal with that long-buried pain, it’s amazing to now look back at all those days I spent praying and other people spent praying, and the days I joined them and the days I didn’t, and to see the outcome:

God’s long-time “not yet” was just that. It wasn’t a “no.”

There was never a point where God said, “Oh, yep, the statute of limitations has run out on this request. I didn’t get to it in time. Bummer. Guess it’s a definite no-go now.”

God did not heal Mom right away.

Instead He murmured, “I’m not done healing the rest of you yet.”

And then, not all at once but little by little, He healed her in his time.

He said, “Yes.”

I am currently staring down some things in my life that have been “not yets” for so long that I’ve given up hope of them ever changing. And let me just tell you, I did not want a reminder of a time when I felt like a complete failure in my prayer life to come up now as I’m daring to pray for God-sized results.

That afternoon, when a group of strangers took up the plea that I was weary from carrying, and the “yes” that eventually followed have become a tangible example for me of the power of persistent prayer and of the importance of being part of a praying community.

I’m not hiding in the guest room anymore.

– Melissa

tramping through Narnian snow

Last month I had the privilege to assistant direct a play by the name of Christmas in Terminal B with a local community theatre group. It was, overall, a beneficial and worthwhile experience, but it was also a real struggle since tech week landed squarely on my finals week.

Last year I spent threeish hours underneath a table in the makeup room of the theatre during finals week because that’s where I was mentally. That was without tech week for a show I was assistant directing—a show in which anything that could go haywire did go haywire.

Anyway…tech week saw me barely clawing my way to the rehearsal space, dark circles under my eyes, random economic principles and facts about European theatre spinning around in my head. The entire cast and crew were awesome at cutting me slack over missed cues and spacey moments, and were also great about letting me go early so that I could study or sleep or whatever that night required of me.

Marlo, our stage manager, even brought me a box of chocolates.

Not just any box of chocolates, mind you: one of the boxes that has a key on the lid so that you know what you’re eating.

“Life is a box of chocolates.”

I don’t know who said that, but it’s so true, especially when you don’t have the chocolate key. But I had it and it was great because I could avoid the coconut ones and the ones with caramel so chewy that it rips out your teeth.

But, you know, Finals Week cannot allow anything so blissful as that.

When I took the chocolates home that night, the box came open just enough in my backpack that all of the chocolates slipped from their cozy little nests and pooled at one end of the box. So much for having a key.

That’s kind of how 2016 and the first couple of weeks of 2017 have felt: there’ve been some really great moments (and some really gross coconut moments) but life’s shook the box up and I have no idea what the heck is going on.

2016 brought the blossoming of unexpected friendships and the completion of the first half of my oh-so-difficult college career. It gave me the most amazing experience of my life to date: Scotland; and it bestowed upon me the most pressing dream of my life to date: to get back to Scotland. It granted me my own room for the first time since Abbie joined the family back in 1997, and that’s been unspeakably awesome. I got to join a small group at my church in Abilene, and act in my all-time favorite venue, and help direct a show for the first time in three years. There were at least three amazing concerts that I got to attend, all of which I got to attend with one family member or another.

But 2016 also saw me wreck my sister’s/my truck, as well as the wreck of a couple of really precious friendships. It handed me a move and some really tough goodbyes, health concerns for my horse (though, really, that’s a yearly thing), and a feud with my sister that didn’t really start to get resolved until a month or so ago. And just college in general, with all its stresses and heartaches and people…all the people.

So now it’s 2017 and there’s a lot to unpack, but I haven’t found time for it amidst the tumult that is this year. I’ve changed my major from two down to one and I’m going to graduate a semester early because I Hardin-Simmons is crushing the breath from my chest and I couldn’t see how I’d have the air to make it to graduation unless something changed, so I made changes and it’s great and also terrifying. Dad’s got to find a job and my family might be moving again and it’s all so upside down and turned around that I can’t follow it anymore or even guess where things are going to land in the next week or so. I have multiple possibilities on the fire for the coming summer, and I’ve shuffled them all around and we’ll see how things fall over the course of this month so that I can make some real decisions. No idea where I’m going to be living this summer or—more critically—this fall when I’m back in Abilene for just one semester instead of two.

And all of that since January 1.

But January 1…

We started off the year gathered around a piano singing Auld Lang Syne. Me and my best friends in the world, just…together. Ha. Now I’m about to cry because gosh I miss them so much and plus I’m tired and also I haven’t cried recently so I’m about due for a poorly justified meltdown. But, yeah, it was fantastic, and then the day was together and laughing and more fantastic. Pretty auspicious start to a year, right?

2016 was a box of chocolates that somebody had shaken.

I think 2017 is feeling more like Narnia?

You know, because it started off magical, and then it’s gotten cold and snowy and wintery, but still magical, and eventually I’ll come out on top of this struggle and it’ll be good awhile and then the next books will come along and life will get crazy and hard again, but at the end there’s the Last Battle and we all come out all right and together again.

Can 2017 be Narnia? And can we meet Aslan?

Maybe. Maybe there’ll be a pirate adventure in here somewhere, and maybe we’ll get to the last pages and come together to sing Auld Lang Syne again, and maybe we’ll harmonize even more closely and hold each other even more tightly because of the battles we’ve come through and the Lion we’ve looked in the eye to see our souls reflected back at us.

I am terrified of 2017. But I think the Pevensies were a little bit scared too. So I think it’s going to be okay.

– Melissa
check out this music inspired by The Chronicles of Narnia

a heart bound up with ribbons

Quick note: if you’re going to read this, please read it in its entirity. It starts off pretty gloomy, and I don’t want my friends and family to be uncessarily worried about me. I’m okay, I promise.

 

I think I finally get it. I get why bullying is such a hot topic, and I get how the bone-ache of others’ malicious words could lead to a rope-around-neck or blade-to-wrist situation. I haven’t ended up either of those places this past week, but that’s more a duration thing than anything. And a pride thing, too.

I haven’t slit my wrists because that’s too obvious. Because that’s too much evidence to leave of my weakness.

Sticks and stones will break my bones,
But words will never hurt me.

That’s how it goes, right? So why have the words of others wreaked such havoc on my heart?

I can tell you exactly the last time I hurt so bad that I asked someone to come from where they were to where I was.

Tuesday.

Before that, it was my Junior year of high school, either when my mom was having her first seizure or in the aftermath of all that when I had an absolute breakdown over something unremembered and I spent almost an hour working up the courage to accept someone’s offer of companionship—I can’t remember which one of those two times came first.

Four years. It took me four years to work up the courage for another cry for help. No, not exactly. I invited myself over to my best friend’s house this summer when someone was breaking my heart into a thousand pieces. But still.

I don’t ask for help any more than I accept offers of help.

So why the heck was it words that brought me to such a place of helpless tears this week that I whispered aloud the scream within my heart?

I barely left my room for most of this week. I made it to most of my classes and I didn’t skip work or rehearsals, but I wasn’t brave enough to face the people calling me a villain and so I postponed meals by an hour or more so that the kitchen would be empty again, and I used the door I never use so that I wouldn’t have to go past their door, and I stood for hours doing homework that isn’t due for weeks so that I would have something to occupy my mind with.

Fear has always had a pretty hefty presence in my life. But this stomach-churning terror of having to look at someone knowing what they thought of me and that, no matter what I did, I was going to do the wrong thing in that person’s eyes…it was new.

I’m not startled by fear anymore, but I was this time. I was when I realized that my chest was tight as I did homework and that breathing was hard and that this is what I’ve accidentally talked about when I’ve offhandedly said that such-and-such thing gave me a panic attack.

I’m finally getting it.

The words that tend to break us generally aren’t the ones we’re hearing for the first time. They’re the audible echo of that inner whisper that has always told us that we aren’t good enough, that we don’t deserve friendship or grace. You’re not losing your mind when you start to buy in, you’re just giving into what you’ve always suspected.

You’re berating yourself for not standing up for yourself while simultaneously berating yourself for thinking you don’t deserve to be told of your crimes. And it all makes sense in your head because your inner voice is all confused by the people trying to tear you down and the people trying to build you up and by the voice that sounds a lot like yourself.

Last night I drifted off to sleep wrapped in the memory of a night last semester with friends when I felt very safest and they felt the very most like family.

And that’s a win, because there’s no way I could have remembered that on Tuesday or Wednesday or even Thursday. (To be honest, I can’t even remember if I talked to people on Wednesday or Thursday, because I didn’t trust anyone to care about me a whit.)

But there’s still a twinge that comes with remembering things like sleeping on Maegan’s floor with Michael snoring and Righleigh hogging the blanket we were sharing and Sierra pretending to have been asleep for hours. It’s back to a whisper, but that whisper of unworthiness is still there, telling me that nights like those were flukes and that I need to reframe my expectations.

Honestly, I was struggling long before I fell sobbing to the floor in the dark on Tuesday night. I skipped church last week because I couldn’t bear the thought of standing alone while surrounded by people in twos and threes and holding hands.

This week was an overflow of every fear that this semester has been: that inner voice that assured me that I was alone finally found outer assurance voiced this week, and I couldn’t help but notice all the people who hadn’t noticed my withdrawal. And that on top of actual harassment was just too much.

Sticks and stones will break my bones,
But words will break my heart.

I didn’t slit my wrists this week. I didn’t find myself in a closet with a length of rope and a death wish. Thank you, God, that’s not where my story has led this week.

But there are gashes on my heart—from me and from others—still bound up as they heal slowly.

I think I’ve bound them up with ribbons, though. Because I’ve long believed that there is beauty to be gained from pain. And though this healing process is slow, I’m already beginning to see the glimmer of hope.

In forty-eight hours I will be home, and in fifty-two hours I should be hugging my crazy, gone-off-to-Chicago-and-thriving-but-I-miss-her sister. I’m clinging to that idea as I sit alone in my room for the I’ve-lost-track-of-how-manyeth night in a row.

I want to wrap this post up and top it off with a tidy little bow, but that’s not life, is it? There aren’t clear answers as to how any one story ends, and too often the happily part of the ever after is a bit up in the air. We breath in a lungful of air and then we exhale it and then we repeat the two-step cycle indefinitely. And in between those breaths we try to make some sense of this thing called life.

I’m writing from snuggled deep in a colorful blanket, and the music I’m listening to is full of lazy smiles and I’m smiling too. Things are getting better, in this house and in this heart, and I do have people who I’m talking to about few lingering fingers of gloom. I love how vibrant and beautiful life is tonight, and the shadows only make the light glow more brightly.

I found this song yesterday as I was looking for something else. And it made me laugh because someone basically read my mind. (Except for that double negative at the end…I don’t approve of that.)

So I’m going to leave you with this as I bid you goodnight and wander off to get ready to crawl into bed. Goodnight, friends.

Hear that? That’s what you are. A friend. Mine or someone else’s.

Because you are no more alone than am I.

– Melissa