Hope & Joy & Restoration (i’m still here)

A couple of weeks ago as I wrapped up the first week of my junior year of college, one sentence kept running through my head, mantra-like in its persistence and pervasiveness:

“Something’s got to give or I will.”

It had been a long, stressful week following on the tail of a crazy-busy summer, and my heart wasn’t here at school. The more I thought about it, I wasn’t sure if my heart had ever been here at school. Freshman and sophomore years were their own brands of crazy, riddled with long bouts of intense homesickness and severe burnout.

Two years of fighting to stay at Hardin Simmons because of some higher purpose, some feeling of ‘this is where I’m supposed to be,’ and all I felt was worn out.

I almost dropped out.

Two weeks ago today I was completely ready to go to the registrar’s office, drop all my classes, pack my truck, and leave. I had developed a pretty solid two-year-plan that involved finishing my degree in Business Administration and diving into the home renovation world via flipping houses—first with Dad, then increasingly on my own as my skill set continued to grow. I was going to miss friends, but it kind of came down to prioritizing my mental health over the fear of letting people down by leaving. And besides, long-distance friendships are a thing, right?

I’m still so so grateful to the people who talked to me for hours all throughout that weekend—my parents, sister, and best friends—who I know would have supported and embraced me regardless of which path I chose. God knew what he was doing when he assigned me a family.

Today I just finished my third week of school. And I’m in a totally different head space than I was in two weeks ago.

The new phrase that it permeating my life is, “God, you have restored my hope.”

And I’m weeping with joy just to type that, because this journey is proving to be so much more beautiful than I could ever have imagined.

As much as I sat down with the specific idea of sharing this, though, I don’t know how to put it into words.

I…I guess I came into freshman year, like I said, with this idea that God had me exactly where he wanted me, and I struggled with not being able to fully delight in being where I felt called. But, you know, God doesn’t always call us to comfort, so I slogged on through homesickness (that I would’ve buckled under if home had been any nearer than 19 hours away). And as I think it through now, I still don’t know whether that divine purpose that I kept clinging to was truly still a calling in my life, or if I just feared giving up, feared failing at sticking out this scholastic, grown-up undertaking. Whatever the reason, I still clung to that phrase.

But that phrase felt so threadbare this year.

When we were in Scotland we got to tour Falkland Palace, and one of the more breathtaking spots in the palace was the chapel. Partly because I just am overwhelmed by the breadth of the church, how it spans history and continents. But one can’t enter the chapel without noticing the beautiful tapestries on the walls.

Tapestries fade with time. They weather and the threads come loose. Mice get into them.

They have to be restored before they are truly worthy of awe.

My conviction of my belonging had to be restored before it was worth anything.

In the past two weeks, I have not once told myself that I am in Abilene because I am called to be. I think that I’ve let go of that concept all together, because in all the prayer and seeking counsel that I’ve done lately, I’ve realized that I am not bound to Abilene by God or anyone else. I can make the choice to stay here, or I can make the choice to leave, and neither one violates the call that has been made on my life.

I choose Abilene.

I choose it.

I choose a church where I am (finally allowing myself to be) drawn into a community of believers who are fervently pursuing the heart of God and joyfully sharing that hope with the world.

I choose friends who have so much to teach me and love me in ways I’ve never asked them to.

I choose a horse who lives down the street from me and who makes me laugh every day (even if we’re both getting chased by wasps that will not freaking go away!)

I choose professors who know me and genuinely care about how I’m doing and who have been so gracious about my needing to step back and catch my breath.

I choose Abilene and I choose to hope.

Hope.

That’s my new favorite word.

Joy.

That’s still my favorite word. The two go hand in hand!

Restoration.

(This is the part where I’m a rebel and declare that I have three favorite words because this is my blog and this is America and I do what I want and…yeah.)

As much as this post has rambled and as much as I’m not sure that I’ve communicated all that I’d like to, this is me. This is where I am right now.

I don’t want to take steps backward, but I know that I will.

I don’t want life to hurt anymore, but sometimes it does.

I do want to paint hope and joy and restoration and all their abstract realizations all over my wall, but I can’t do that because I am renting and I don’t want to have to pay fees on top of what I’m already paying to live here, so…

Anyway.

God is restoring my hope.

And for this I shall forever rejoice.

– Melissa
(I usually use this space link to something, but I can’t find just the right song for tonight/this week. There are plenty of lyrics coming to mind, but I’m way too tired to put together some kind of mashup, so…go listen to music that gives you hope, because hope is pretty legit.)

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i feel pretty jubilant today

Stagnating is one of the things that terrifies me the most.

Now, don’t get me wrong: in some ways I love to stay still. I love to put down roots somewhere, and once I do I cling to ‘normal’ and hate, hate, hate change.

But I hate to stagnate.

I hate to sit in one place doing nothing for too long. I also hate observing people sitting in one place doing nothing for too long.

This is the reason that sometimes, when I’ve had to sit still for a while, I will suddenly spring to my feet and do something silly and active and not sitting still. This is also the reason that even if I don’t jump up and do something random in a random moment I will still jump up and move with intensity if it’s (finally) time to do something else.

And as awesome and dynamic as my relationship with God is, sometimes I let myself stagnate, and I hate it. Sometimes my prayers seem to get stopped by the ceiling and I don’t remember what it’s like to be held because I’ve dug my heels in and refused to go where I’ve been told to go. I don’t grow and I won’t go and I cry the entire time because where is God? because why am I not getting what I want how I want it when I want it?

Not good times.

Praise God for loving me despite me being so me.

But you know what the opposite of stagnation is?

Movement.

Growth.

And those moments of obvious, measurable movement in my spiritual journey stand out as some of the most breathlessly beautiful things I have ever experienced in life.

I remember my junior year of high school, preparing to go on our annual mission trip to Mexico. It was a hard year for me, mainly because of the leadership position I had been put in and because of the leader that was directly over me. There had been many tears, much frustration, and probably some energetic rants to the people I trusted best. And then, one day, kind of out of nowhere, it dawned on me:

I wasn’t the same person I had been a few weeks before.

Through all the struggle and all the pain, something had clicked and I had changed for the better. It was an almost physical feeling of elation; I danced in it for days. The journey remained hard, but I wasn’t the same and I was able to meet it with a new strength and new sense of purpose.

I’ve been dancing through this week, too, and once again it’s something I can’t quite adequately describe.

See, for a long time I have really, genuinely disliked people. As a whole. As a species. Humans are prone to idiocy, laziness, and a herd-like mentality that only makes things worse. Really, what’s to like?

Now, sure, I made exceptions. I had a group of about fifteen humans that I loved and maybe twice that many that I could tolerate for a decent amount of time. I’m not even kidding.

But if I’m called in life to mirror Christ to the world, then hating the very people he loved enough to save isn’t exactly the right game plan.

So I prayed about it. A lot. Beginning the first semester of my freshman year. What use was this new mission field that I felt certain God had brought me to if I disliked everybody too much to even talk to them? Because if there’s one thing I know from being a hard-headed introvert, it’s that few of us have voices outside of the relationships we build, and here I was not building any relationships at all. (Well, I kinda built two. But that’s not the point.)

And so I kept praying.

And I cried.

And I detested humanity.

And I prayed.

But it’s been within the last week that I have realized that I don’t actually hate the human population anymore. I don’t know when it happened. I guess it’s been a gradual change that I’ve just now noticed. Regardless, it’s pretty amazing!

I think I’m actually learning to love people. As a whole. I’m making friends with more than just one or two people. I’m interested in what people have to say, not because it directly pertains to my life but because they are human beings, created in the image of God, and the ability to communicate at all is intrinsically beautiful.

It’s crazy and mind-blowing, and it’s so nothing I could have done on my own.

Simple though it sounds, it’s exactly what 1 John 4:19 has to say:

“We love because he first loved us.”

The more I learn about how vastly and perfectly I am loved, the more I know how to love others. The more I am embraced by vast love the more I see the vast importance of embracing others.

Three things, though, that I must clarify:

  1. I am still an introvert. I still love coming back to the quiet of my room at night. I still process everything internally, and lately I’ve often laughed at how busy of a day I think I’ve had simply because of how many internalized conversations I’ve carried out. So please don’t think I’ve suddenly become the life of the party. (I actually haven’t gone to any parties this semester, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.)
  2. I am still a human being and I do not, by any means, have this down pat. I do not suddenly possess the saint-like ability to love everybody no matter what. Despite the fact that I’m doing way better about seeing people as fellow image-bearers of God, there are actually still a couple of people that I would rather leave the room than be around. I acknowledge that they’re valid and probably wonderful people who I just dislike for no apparent reason, and that I just need to get over myself. I’m working on it. God’s working on me.
  3. Despite how this post may read, I am not going to run out and make friends with the entire world. I don’t want to. Because (referring back to point 1 here) I’m not actually an extrovert and I can’t handle trying to be friends with the entire world. It’s not how I’m wired. But what I am going to do is continue doing what I’m learning I do best: loving you in the moment we’re together. And when I meet somebody new, I’m going to do the same for her, too. (Or him. We need a gender neutral pronoun, and I refuse to accept ‘them’/’they’.)

So that’s kind of what’s on my heart. That’s kind of why I’ve been so singy/dancey/overall jubilant for days.

The dark days will come. They always do, because that’s how weather works.

But in those days, when all might seem lost, I’ll remember today, I’ll remember what it feels like to know that I’m not the same person I was this time last year, and I’ll know that the sun is coming back again.

– Melissa
1 John 4:7-21

P.S. This whole ‘love’ thing has nothing to do with Valentine’s Day or being seasonally appropriate. It was an unfortunate coincidence. In the future, I’ll try to go back to warning you if a post is going to have to do with the latest and greatest holiday craze.

A Seasonally Appropriate Post

Christmas music makes me cry.

Not all of it, granted. And I’ll also admit that a lot of music makes me cry.

But pause for a moment and take in the concept that we sing about:

The omnipotent, omniscient God became a human baby.

What’s the average weight of a newborn? 6, 7, 8 lbs?

That’s nothing.

My backpack weighs more than that most days.

The Lord of Lords became a baby who weighed less than my backpack.

Like, what even? That’s humility beyond my understanding, vulnerability beyond my comprehension. It’s kind of taking my breath away just to even type that.

The God of the universe was cradled by a teenaged mother, who probably sang lullabies to help the King of Kings fall asleep.

I mean, come on! If that doesn’t blow your mind, then your head must be made of something other than brains and bones. (If that’s the case and you haven’t had some kind of surgery to implant a titanium plate in your skull, then I’d suggest you talk to a doctor because you might be a cyborg…)

One of my favorite pictures is from two years ago, when I was directing a goony bunch of high school and junior high students in a Christmas play, and we’d all gathered to take pictures in costume. My younger sister Gracie was playing Mary—and, let me tell you, she looked cute and she knew it—and my best friend was playing Joseph, and the two decided to make fun of each other rather than acknowledging how awkward it was for a thirteen year-old to be playing the wife of a seventeen year-old.

But…we weren’t too far off from being pretty accurate: it’s more than likely that Mary was, by our culture’s standards, just a child herself when she gave birth to Jesus. Probably thirteen or fourteen. Joseph could’ve been as young as sixteen or seventeen, though he might have been older. We can’t know for certain.

Jesus came into the world weighing less than my backpack and trusted himself to the care of a teenage girl from Nazareth.

Let me just say that I wouldn’t trust myself to raise a child, much less thirteen year-old Gracie (or even fifteen year-old Gracie.)

That’s what the Christmas songs are about. That’s what fills my eyes with tears.

The magnitude of the gift…it’s too great.

I don’t feel worth it.

I don’t feel worth anyone giving up the glories of heaven to lie in a feed trough and cough on the dust stirred up by a stable full of restless animals. I don’t feel worth anyone learning the pain of burs and splinters and skinned knees and the cruelty of other humans.

But Jesus did.

One most likely not-so-silent night, nestled away in a smelly little stable in Bethlehem, Jesus took his first breath of earth’s air and changed everything forever.

***

I think I’m failing at writing this post in the way that I want to.

I think maybe my heart’s too full and I’m trying too hard.

Let me try again.

***

Take a deep breath. Hold it for just a moment.

Okay, now rummage around your mind and find all that cynicism you’ve accumulated over the years. It’s okay that it’s there, your life hasn’t been easy, but it’s not something you need right now. Gather it up.

Now let that breath out, and exhale that cynicism, too. Like I said, you don’t need it at the moment.

Humor me just a moment more and go back into your mind palace (mine’s actually more of an attic, hence the subconsciously attic-y metaphor I’ve got going on here) and poke around in those cobwebby corners for that spirit of exuberance you retired years ago. Remember that glow of excitement that everything used to bring bubbling up within you? That’s what we’re looking for. Childlike glee.

Found it? Yeah, I know: the lens got foggy with disuse. But don’t give up on it. Because it’s Christmas, and you’ve got ample opportunity to polish that sense of delight.

Is there a Christmas tree around? Notice how the lights stand out against the green of the branches? The way the ornaments nestle in like they’re basking in the glow? Remember your first ornament? How proud you were to hang it from a branch and how you didn’t notice when Mom came along later to double check that it wouldn’t fall?

And the weather. Outside. What’s it like? Prayerfully it’s not a bajillion degrees outside, but I suppose it could be. If it’s chilly, though, check out the way the air intensifies everything, the way the colors stand out from each other in crisp perfection. Summer smears it all together, but winter clarifies the world. It’s pretty spectacular, snowing or not.

We’re going to try ignore all the department stores. They make me nervous because there are people everywhere. And too many of them haven’t read this blog post and are still clinging to their cynicism. (So it’s your job to be a beacon of joy and hope. Show ‘em what they’re missing and make ‘em wonder if maybe there’s something better out there.) But if you do end up in Wally World or wherever, look for the joyful people. The ones who remember what a joy it is to be alive in December.

Are you feeling any better? I hope so. I desperately hope so. I hope that you can spontaneously break into laughter because you remember what a beautiful world you’re a part of. I hope you’re remembering how it is to feel things instead of retreating back into the safety of numbness, because safe does not equal fulfilled.

Christmastime is such a roller coaster season for me, because—whether I like it or not—I approach life with a vivacious attentiveness that demands that everything be felt on, like, twenty-seven levels or so. And there’s just so much to take in! Colors and tastes and smells and feelings and songs!

The songs especially are big for me. There are the fun, peppy songs like Jingle Bells and Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree that just make me want to dance. There are the popular songs like All I Want For Christmas and Winter Wonderland that make me just a touch frustrated and just a touch sad because I don’t have a significant other to share the season with and I wish I did.

But then there are all the other songs, my favorite ones, the ones that tell the story of the season. I know the traditional ones by heart, and I know most the new ones pretty well, too, and I basically sing along no matter how hoarse I may happen to be. And sometimes I cry. Because…well…what the songs have to say is pretty amazing.

They tell of a baby, born in a stable, heralded by angels, and greeted by society’s outcasts. But not just any baby: the baby who was God-become-flesh, come to earth to dwell among his creation and, ultimately, to redeem them from the fate they’d brought down upon their own heads. It’s a beautiful story. It’s a true story. And it’s a story with incredible implications in my own life.

Sometimes I wonder if we don’t forget to remember those implications. If we don’t just go on about our lives when, in reality, we should stop to let our breath be taken away by the beauty of perfect humility and perfect love.

I’ve actually put together a list of a few of my favorite Christmas songs. For you. Wherever you are. My prayer is that you’ll be able to carve out a few moments of quiet to let the words wash over you, to replace the bustle of preparing for Christmas with the peace of the victory Christmas has already accomplished. And I pray that, with childlike awe, you’ll learn something new about Christmas this year, and that you’ll live it in a way that makes other people notice.

I love Christmas, because nearly everybody is glowing with the magnanimity of the season. But the people who are glowing with something more…those people are truly a delight to encounter.

Have a joy-filled day.

– Melissa
Christmas Playlist on Spotify

Christmas Playlist on YouTube

 

 

I didn’t actually proofread this…

Sometimes you just hope beyond hope.

You plan beyond the impossible and you do your very best not to get yourself into a position where a letdown is going to let all of the air out of your sails. You know it will hurt, a little, if things fall through like you know they probably will, because that’s how letdowns work, but you brace yourself for the impact so that it doesn’t capsize you.

But some days your hope gets realized.

The pieces of your impossible dream settle in and you end up with a coherent possibility. A reality, if you can call it that despite the inevitability of life to catch you by surprise.

This afternoon I found out that I have been cast in the play that my theatre department is taking to Scotland next August.

And, to be honest, I thought my audition sucked. Truly. I was inwardly cringing even before I finished the one scene I was asked to read for, and when I wasn’t asked to read again I knew that that was it. I was done for. I’d blown it and that was that. But Scotland is expensive anyway, and I could always act as stage crew if finances came through and I could go.

But I got cast.

Despite everything I thought and everything my insecurities screamed at me.

(And let’s be real: my insecurities are still screaming, maybe even a bit louder now.)

So yeah. That’s my terrifically exciting news for the day:

I will be playing Agnes in Shadow Box here in Texas come April, and then I will be playing Agnes in Shadow Box in Scotland come August.

Aside from that, I didn’t have a spectacular day.

Toby’s been being an idiot and he’s managed to drum up an inflammation in one of the (numerous) scrapes on his leg, and since Saturday his leg has been swollen from the knee down. I swear, that horse thinks I’m studying Veterinary Medicine. The swelling is down somewhat today, but it’s still there and it’s still worrying away at me. I really don’t want to spend money on a vet right now.

Also, Spanish is the worst, and I totally didn’t study for the test we had today and the language does not come intuitively to me and I really need to study next time. That’s all.

But it is Happy Pufferfish Tuesday! So that’s fantabulous!

If you haven’t gotten the vibe yet, I’m kind of in a strange mood, brought on by a terrifying cocktail of emotions compounded by a case of (ever-present) exhaustion. I’ll be okay, but everything’s a bit…oh, what’s the word…spikey? at the moment.

You know…

Spikey…

Like, it peaks and then it valleys and then it peaks and then it valleys?

Like your heartbeat on a monitor.

Except this isn’t just my heart beating.

This is life pulsing, first bright and then dingy.

It’s kind of normal for me, but it’s a little more tonight because I’m going to Scotland!

Do you live like that ever?

In spikes? Up and down, good and bad, each distinct unto itself and each startlingly real and pressing in the moment?

My dad talks about it like a mountain. Like I get to experience the mountains but I also have to trudge through the valleys, and since I’m from California the mountains are all Mount Whitney and the valleys are all Death Valley, and that makes sense when applied to my life as a whole, but what do you call it when it’s happening over and over again in the course of five minutes?

What’s that?

Madness?

Sometimes I think that it is.

But…it’s beautiful. Despite it’s overwhelming nature and its tendency to bounce me back and forth between bouncing and…well…not.

I’m rambling. Because I’m hyper, I think, in a sit-down sort of way.

I should probably stop typing. Because now is when life…well, this post…gets weirder and weirder until suddenly I’m posting pictures of happy pufferfish to social media.

Wait.

I already did that.

Just kidding, we’re apparently past the pufferfish stage.

Now is when I…

I what?

I don’t know.

I think maybe it’s when I start questioning life. Reality.

I love the word Ontology.

A) Because it’s a beautiful word.

and also

B) Because of what it means.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines ‘Ontology’ as “a branch of metaphysics concerned with the nature and relations of being.”

Isn’t that confusing?

My psychology teacher taught me that, and I’ve clung to the term ever since. Because ontological is me past a certain time of night on a certain cocktail of emotions compounded by a case of (ever-present) exhaustion.

But anyway, morning comes early and I recognize that I’m venturing further and further down a path of weirdness.

Stay chill, my people.

– Melissa
Something odd for your day.

Destined for More

If the Christian life were all about satisfying the self, life would kind of suck.

Because, I mean, you get saved, and that’s great and all because you’re going to heaven instead of hell, right, but…then what?

If Christianity was all about being happy, earth isn’t the place for Christians.

I don’t know about you, but I long for my heavenly home where pain isn’t a thing and relationships thrive the way God intended them to and I don’t have to worry about how many calories that bar of dark chocolate has.

(Let’s be honest: I really don’t care about the calories all that much. I’m a total chocoholic and I have no shame.)

But seriously, life kinda sucks if it’s all about you being a happy Christian.

Your mentors, the ones who taught you about God and helped you attain salvation, they’re gonna die. Go to heaven and be away from you. And you’re going to be stuck here.

Here, where no matter how hard you try, you will never attain perfection. The day will never ever come where you’re, like, “Dude! I just overcame my last struggle! Now that I’ve attained not lying to anyone, I will never struggle with sin again! I get to sit back and relax and just chill!”

Just in case this is necessary for someone, news flash: You will always be struggling with something. Always. And if you somehow reach a point where you can honestly look at your life and be, like, “Hey, I’ve got it all together!” then you’re not being humble, and that’s a sin, too.

So yeah, you’re stuck in a world where loved ones die and where you’re going to keep messing up no matter how hard or how long you try.

And while you’re here, people are going to give you a hard time. Because you’re a “Christian” and they don’t get it. Or maybe they think they do, or maybe they feel threatened by the way the truth is outshining the lie they’re living, or maybe something else. Whatever the cause, people are going to mess with you and be rude to you simply because you call yourself a Christian.

If you’re lucky.

In some cases, people will take it beyond just rudeness and will actually cause you physical harm. Maybe they’ll even kill you.

So why?

Why live at all if Christianity is about being happy and going to heaven?

Thing is, it’s not.

Christianity isn’t about you being happy.

Christianity is about a God who loves not just you, but the world.

And the really sad part is that a great portion of the world doesn’t know that.

So here’s the deal: instead of it being all about you, it’s all about us. The collective whole that the gospel was written for.

You are loved. Unconditionally, unequivocally, and beyond everything you can imagine.

But so is your neighbor. So is your coworker. So is your boss who you can hardly stand and who some days you wish would step out in front of a passing horse-drawn carriage and break every bone in their body so that she’d have to spend months in a full-body cast.

Yeah. I’m serious.

God loves them, too.

And you know what?

He’s put you in their lives to tell them that.

And you know what else?

He’s put me in people’s lives to tell them that.

The truth?

I don’t really like people.

I’m not even kidding. As a whole, the human population tends to rather repulse me. I’m working on getting my heart in tune with God’s on this one, but it’s a struggle because people are just such (yeah, I’m gonna say it) idiots.

(I’m a person, too, by the way. I annoy me, too.)

If it were up to me, looking out for my own personal happiness, I would go live on an island with my horse and a smart phone and a wifi signal, and I would live out my days in solitude until I got to go to my true home in heaven.

But I don’t get to do that.

Because life isn’t about me.

It’s about doing the will of my Father, which is to tell others what was told me.

So I love you.

I love you as an individual, despite the fact that you’re a person and I sometimes get annoyed with you, because my God loved you enough to die for you. And that makes you pretty worthwhile indeed.

And so whatever I have to do, whatever I have to say, I am committed to telling you how worthwhile life is when you have a purpose bigger than yourself.

Because living to gratify yourself, living to ‘be happy’ inside or outside of Christ, is a pretty dreary, meaningless place to be.

And you were destined for something greater.

– Melissa

Journey through Oceans

I still remember the first time I heard the song. It had to have been the summer before my senior year of high school, and though I don’t know exactly what my spiritual and emotional status was on that particular Wednesday night, I do know that I had come to youth group to worship Jesus, by golly. So I socialized as always and then maybe even did the announcements before the worship service—I don’t know for sure—and then the lights dimmed and the band started the set they’d prepared for the night.

I don’t recall the songs prior to that one, so I can’t have minded them too much, but then our worship leader started telling us about this new song she was going to introduce and how it had touched her and spoken to her and all this. Great, I think, so now let’s just sing it. I’m here to worship, remember?

If shown four power point slides, one of which contained the background that the sound booth fellows decided to put behind the lyrics that night, I could almost assuredly pick out the correct one. It’s that clear of a picture in my mind of those frustrating moments when I could not pick up the melody or figure out how the lyrics fit or glean any type of meaningful worship out of whatever it was that the worship leader was so beautifully singing.

In short, I was not a fan of Oceans by Hillsong United.

But that’s sort of typical for me: I start out hating the songs that will become my favorites. (Just ask my family about my Fireflies mania…)

Over the course of that summer and the following months, Oceans grew on me. I started to understand what the lyricist was trying to convey, started to identify in the pulse of a cry for God in the midst of unknown and seemingly terrifying circumstances.

My heart learned to sing along with my mouth.

“You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep
My faith will stand”

By the time my senior year was wrapping up, Oceans was the song that my apprehensive heart so clung to that I would, without fail, cry through it every time we sang it in church.  Which was every few weeks.

For someone who hates crying in public, I got very used to sniffling my way through worship services.

And then all of a sudden a summer had flown by and I was beginning freshman year of college and that ocean was not just looming deep, I was floundering in it.

And Oceans became a daily prayer, a desperate plea for my Savior to remember that I still felt like I needed saving, still needed someone to keep my head above water. The chorus was my mantra.

“And I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine”

First semester passed in a hazy blur of tears and uncertainty, a success based on grades, a failure in terms of my spirits. I had found a church and become a regular attender, but my heart wasn’t truly tethered, and when I came home for Christmas break I found myself feeling the way about the church I’ve always called home.

Where was God now?

What happened to feeling secure?

Again I fell back on the penned prayer of my by-now treasured lyricist:

“Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand
Will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You’ve never failed and You won’t start now”

I can’t imagine that God managed to escape the whole thing without having to smile at my piteous persistence. For all my health and family and blessings, I sure was convinced that my world was among the more terrifying in existence.

But even if God did allow Himself a smile, He never stopped caring for me in ways that daily blew my narrowly-focused mind.

When lived moment by moment, my days throughout Christmas vacation and the second semester became egg hunts for God’s provisions and love notes: prizes easily found if only I kept my eyes open.

Sunrises and letters from friends and the wonder of rain on my face kept bringing my focus upward, reminding me of who was in control of both oceans and my life.

And, believe it or not, that song kept cropping up, at worship services and on my car radio. And, surprising maybe no one but myself, I found I was a little less desperate and a little more awe-filled as I sang. And also a little more inclined to smile at the thought of this crazy adventure I was on and of all the provisions I was getting to experience along the way.

“Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior”

This summer I’ve been home, and my heart has had the opportunity to rejoice in more of the same second semester-type experiences. The biggest difference is that each day now seems to open my eyes a little bit more to the security that I have been afforded in Christ.

The oceans may rage, but my God is so much bigger that me getting upset over it is like the fleas on a dog getting really worried about seeing a puddle that was all choppy from a breeze. Those waves may seem majorly mammoth to the flea, but the dog has got the situation more than under control.

(Also, I don’t think of myself as a flea. It’s more a size thing. Because similes don’t have to be perfect.)

Every day is such a blessing, whether I’m working alongside my family on the house we’re prepping to sell or spending time with the friends I spent two semesters missing like mad or just ambling along through the countryside with my amazing horse.

And sure, there have been tears and frustrations and more than one ‘Why me, God?! What’s up with this super crummy, super unfun situation?!’ screamed silently or not-so-silently at the sky. This is life, remember? And since life doesn’t revolve around me, things don’t always go in a way that’s my favorite.

But every night I end up crawling into bed with a heartfelt ‘Thanks for giving me today and showing me a little bit more of who you are’ on my lips, because it’s kind of hard not to be incredibly grateful when you keep noticing how blessed you are.

One of those blessings this past week was the opportunity to attend Glory Fest 2015 in Santa Clarita, CA with five of my very best friends in the world to hear three super awesome Christian bands in concert. But before the bands played (some very awesome worship music, I might add), a group of very talented worship leaders from across the community led us in a time of worship.

And Oceans was the third or fourth song they played.

I was standing in the middle of a park, literally surrounded by the Church, so very far from the spot of fear and trepidation where I stood a year ago, and singing a song that is so well known by my heart. It was beyond beautiful.

But a funny thing happens when God’s growing you: you start to see things a little differently than before.

“So I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine”

Keep my eyes above the waves.

For over a year, that was a plea to keep my head above water. Don’t let me drown, Lord. Don’t let me end up in a place where the water fills my lungs.

I spent so long treading water.

And on Wednesday, I realized that I’m not anymore.

And now, the words mean so much more.

Keep my eyes above the waves, Lord. Don’t let my line of sight keep creeping down to the problems that seem to want to overtake me. Let me so deeply trust in your control of my situation that I don’t even have to try to monitor the mess anymore. Keep my eyes up on your face.

We’re called to step out of the boat, just like Peter in Matthew 14, and the One we serve is more than capable of allowing us to walk on the waves.

For some reason we let ourselves be convinced that somehow we’re going to drown.

But you know what?

That isn’t going to happen.

He’ll help you keep your eyes above the waves. Whatever that means to you today, and whatever that means to you tomorrow.

Because you know what?

He loves you.

– Melissa
Oceans by Hillsong United

My Mirror Horse

Yesterday was remarkable.

The projected high was 88°F, and while I don’t know what the actual high ended up being recorded as, I am quite sure that the weather didn’t get any warmer than predicted.

It was overcast and breezy and there were occasional outbreaks of what we water-deprived Californians exaggeratingly refer to as rain.

Basically, it was impossibly gorgeous for June 9th.

As if the weather weren’t enough of a blessing, I had the marvelous opportunity to take a trail ride with my best friend in the entire world. (No offense to you two-legged folks. You’re awesome and all, but you don’t live in my backyard.)

Toby (my horse) can be an idiot even on his best days, but on our ride he kept the idiocy to a minimum and was mostly willing to trust me when I assured him that that terrifying noise or smell or whatever wasn’t actually out to eat him.

The pigs we passed got him riled up. But really. They’re pigs and they smell weird and they’re mostly lacking fur. Who can blame him for being afraid of those alien creatures?

Any time I get to go for a ride, it truly blesses me.

Because in my horse I see an unpolished version of myself, the version that lacks the self-control and the verbal skills that have been so carefully engrained in me.

And let me tell you what: if you’ve never had to deal with the tainted mirror version of yourself, you are both lucky and seriously missing out.

It’s humbling.

And also quite frustrating.

Toby gets up in arms about every little thing. Literally.

  • Yesterday we were frightened of a passing car. (Little car. Like, not quite Mini Cooper, but close.)
  • We were afraid of pigs.
  • We were skittish because of the orchard we’d been riding alongside for the past ten minutes but that suddenly became scary.
  • We nearly ran into a tree because we were so busy eying the house and driveway beside us. (Those things are pure evil, folks.)
  • We pranced at the sound of somebody offloading feed sacks.
  • We shied away from the wall because it was reflecting back at us the sound of the dirt bikes we’d already gotten over.
  • We were afraid of the dirt bikes.
  • We were nervous about walking on the gravel because it sounds and feels weird.

Most of these items we encountered are items we encounter on most of our outings. The pigs were new, the dirt bikes are rare, and the only place we usually encounter the noise of feed sacks is at home when he’s getting fed. Aside from those three, though, all of this should have been pretty normal.

But, like I said, Toby’s all about the drama.

Fact is, so am I.

I am afraid of the dark, of spiders, of insects, of being alone, of being in large crowds, of talking to cashiers, of talking to strangers, of talking to people I know, of talking in general, of fire, of knives, of guns, of dangerous objects that aren’t fire or knives or guns, of loud noises, of heights, and of driving.

I get anxious on a daily basis about things that, especially when handled properly, are extremely unlikely to hurt me. I let the ‘what ifs’ of life take control of my emotions and send me spiraling to places I’d rather avoid.

It annoys me to death when Toby does it, and I can’t get inside his head and change anything. Why do I approach the same behavior within myself with such a ‘such is life; can’t change anything’ type of attitude?

Toby is also exceedingly lazy.

Yesterday was better, but most days it takes us three times as long to go the .3 miles to from my house to the end of the neighborhood as it does to ride .3 miles anywhere else. Why? Because Toby doesn’t want to leave the house. Because leaving means working. Because working is hard.

Any time we get to a turn that turns back toward the house, my usually docile, doesn’t-need-steering horse becomes a tough-mouthed mule who takes every bit of natural and artificial aid at my disposal to get to continue in a straight line. I mean, it’s preposterous. We’ve walked this trail a hundred times; you should know that we don’t turn back homewards at this junction.

I should know the same thing.

How many times has that sister pushed that button? How many times have I responded inappropriately and had to deal with the consequences? So why do I yell at her this time and next time and the next time?

Why don’t I realize that the reason I’m struggling with this math problem is because I inadequately completed the last one and because I still haven’t bothered to properly learn the formula?

These are the sorts of things that go through my head when I’m applying leg pressure and verbally correcting and using my reins in the not-proper-riding-technique ways they teach you not to use unless your horse is being an absolute idiot the way mine is.

Toby points out to me my vanity, my impatience, and my lack of pliability.

Toby reminds me, as I struggle to remain patient, how much patience God daily shows me.

Toby keeps me humble, which is a remarkable feat considering my unerring tendency to be completely full of myself.

As pessimistic as all that may sound, I ended yesterday with a sense of wonder and bliss at the incredible blessing and opportunity that I’ve been given in this inexplicable bond that Toby and I share.

I would not trade yesterday’s ride for anything.

Well, maybe for a chance to join Mary in sitting enraptured at Jesus’ feet, but nobody’s invented time machines yet, and I somehow suspect that I’ll get that opportunity in heaven anyway.

Also, if you’re now kind of wishing for the chance to have a horse point out all your failings, I’m giving riding lessons this summer.

Now I think I’m off to bed. Because sleep is almost as beautiful as my beautiful, beautiful horse.

– Melissa
Lamentations 3:22-23

the post i actually got typed up (instead of just thinking about it)

Life is never planned.

I mean, perhaps your parents planned to have you, and maybe you even came at the time they were hoping you to.

(I was 10 days late, but born around the time of life that my parents were hoping to have kids. My younger brother was a surprise baby.)

But what I actually am talking about is our absolute inability to dictate how a day is going to transpire.

Sometimes everything goes right.

Sometimes everything goes wrong.

Sometimes life balances precariously in the middle of absolute disaster and absolute ecstasy and there’s nothing but the color of your lens on life to decide which way the scales are going to tip.

Speaking of scales, my youngest sister is learning to play piano and I wish she had a keyboard with headphones.

It’s how you view life that mixes up everything.

Today I got paid way too much to move furniture, far too little (in my opinion) to work a few hours at renovating a house my dad is trying to sell, I took a lovely (though belated and short) nap, and watched bits and fragments of rather uninteresting movies and TV shows on Amazon Prime.

Six months ago, today would have been a bust in my eyes.

Two months ago, I’d probably be curled up in a corner somewhere, trying to remind myself that things are never as bleak as I make them out to be, pep talking myself with the good that I could recognize from today and trying to reason that the good at least balanced out the bad and that today was at least counts as neutral.

Today, however, isn’t six months ago. It isn’t two months ago. It’s today. Here and now in the present.

Today, one of my favorite quotes comes from Owl City: “Every mushroom cloud has a silver lining.” (Which I think maybe I’ve quoted within the confines of this blog before, but it’s still one of my favorites so I’m going to risk redundancy which isn’t really a risk because I have no shame about repeating myself when I’m safely within the confines of my blog.)

Today, I’m fully capable of laughing softly at the misfortunes of today, of grinning joyfully at the unexpected pleasures of today, and of sending nonsense text messages that have very little to do with anything at all sensical.

Sensical is a word. Because nonsensical is a word. Because I say so.

I found a picture last night of a trio of meerkats, dressed and ready for a wedding. There was an officiating clergyman, wearing spectacles and clasping his bible; a bride, clad in a lovely dress and veil and holding a bouquet of roses in her gloved paws; and a groom, spiffy in his tux and bow tie and carrying a rather too large ring in his mouth. It is one of the odder sights that my phone’s screen has presented, but I find the nonsense of the thing perfectly delightful. It made my night last night, and continues to prompt an idiotic grin from me whenever I catch sight of it.

I haven’t really planned for most of what has gone on in my life recently.

Granted, I planned to come home for the summer.

Hallelujah, I’m home for the summer!

And I planned to spend time with my horse.

One forgets the possibility of being so sore after riding until she quits riding for almost a year and then suddenly resumes it with ferocity…

But I hadn’t really anticipated how much adjustment it would take—on the entire family’s part—for long-absent sister to reintegrate herself into the unique (and sometimes volatile) mixture of personalities and emotions within our household. It’s like a daily experiment, and because I never liked science, I never know which chemicals are going to make the other ones explode. Actually, it’s nothing like science. I just felt like saying that. On the bright side, I think all four siblings are on speaking terms with me at the moment. Unless I’ve missed something. Which is entirely possible—life seems at times nothing more than a mad scramble to try not to step on toes.

I also hadn’t really prepared myself for what an analogy of myself my horse provides. Granted, he always has reflected (quite clearly) all the worst parts of me in his stubborn insistence to do things in his own way and his ability to just barely toe the line while still asserting his control over the situation and other lovely tendencies like that, but so long out of the saddle let me forget what a humbling experience trying to work with a horse is. Particularly a horse whose poor training is entirely upon your own head. This summer is going to be a mad scramble to teach an old horse new tricks. Specifically, how to do some very basic maneuvers without grinding his teeth at me.

I have a confession to make:

Humankind is not as idiotic as I usually assert.

It’s only that most of humankind is totally idiotic.

I just keep meeting the exceptions.

I maintain this position because social media and news headlines are both full of records of people doing stupid, stupid, stupid things. Occasionally even my friends decide to dabble in mainstream idiocy and do stupid things. Me included.

But that’s an exception.

Just like the non-idiots are the exceptions.

Hear me: I’m not definitely calling you an idiot. Just vaguely alluding to it in a way that hopefully won’t offend you but will instead demonstrate my general disgust with the majority of society.

We should all keep ducklings to snuggle with.

Ducklings make everything better.

Except for soup.

Never put ducklings in soup.

That’s just cruel and unusual.

Life doesn’t go exactly as we intend it to. But whether the glass is half full, half empty, or full of idiots, God is good and, if you’re looking, you’re sure to glimpse that.

Blessings,
Melissa

Watch this if you need a smile. Also, I can sing ALL of it, including the onomatopoeia and the too-fast-for-belief monologue.

hindsight and raw hands

Growing up with my dad, there were two ways to know that you weren’t working hard enough: 1. if you were cold and 2. if you didn’t sleep well at night.

Well, I’m proud to say that I did work hard enough today.

How do I know?

Well, I never got cold (never mind that the theatre was a sort of an oven) and I am 99% sure that I will sleep very well tonight.

I didn’t exactly work smart enough, though.

My hands are red and raw and swollen from working without gloves.

I had gloves in my back pocket the entire four hours we were working.

Now, to be fair, I did remember that they were there most of the time. But I was switching back and forth between so many different tasks—some of which gloves would have helped, some of which gloves would have hindered—that it hardly seemed worth it to take the time to switch back and forth between gloves.

It would have been worth it.

But that’s easy to say looking back.

Also looking back I realize all the benefits of working for my dad all the time. The benefits that I never noticed at the time.

Stuff like the fact that all the muscle tone I achieved mixing concrete and digging trenches and running the chop saw goes away when I don’t consistently utilize it.

Or the idea that if I’m not spending every weekend doing manual labor that I really ought to be getting a work out some other way. Ew.

(While we’re on this subject, if anyone knows of a contractor here in town who’s interested in hiring a slightly dramatic eighteen year-old who has a pretty decent work ethic and is afraid of power tools and electricity and completely over-paying her, let me know.)

Granted, those days had—and continue to have—downsides.

Like the whole working thing.

And getting frustrated because my plans for causing enough mischief to slide the world into total chaos conflicted with my dad’s schedule for home improvement.

And the fact that I know what I’m doing whenever I have to work alongside people who definitely don’t. (By no fault of their own. Don’t hear me being rude or judgmental. Just annoyed and rather inclined to do things all on my own.)

Such is life.

I’m sure I’ll be fussing and seeing only the downsides when I’m back at home for the summer, working on projects that I don’t see the point of and that interfere with whatever nonsense I’ve dreamed up. Isn’t that the way things go?

But anyhow, I’m now going to go and make sure that I’ve met the requirements for Dad’s second condition of a good work day.

G’night!

– Melissa

12:00 AM

It’s funny how things evolve.

Now, don’t hear me buying into the idea of Evolution of present day life from an amoeba.

I’m talking about how things like emotional responses change over time.

Because I’m still crazy homesick. But ‘crazy homesick’ is manifesting itself differently this semester than it did last semester.

Last semester, the longest I ever went without breaking down in tears stemming from my vast desire to no longer be here but instead be there was about a week.

I’m less weepy this semester.

Last semester, it felt like every waking hour was filled with thoughts completely centered on home, and whenever I did end up distracted, I noticed.

I’m less single-minded this semester.

Homesickness is more of a persistent ache this semester. It’s fixating on what I hear about life at home and on the pictures I surround myself with. It’s relating every bit of life back to something about my family. In other words, it’s more subtle to me but probably still glaringly obvious to everyone around me. Maybe even more obvious than last semester. I don’t know for certain.

The play closes tomorrow.

And, on one hand, I’m super relieved. I’ve been so exhausted the past week that I’m only certain the week happened at all because a) it’s a different weekend than it was last weekend and b) homework’s turned in that I had to have turned in during the week of February 9-13. The hustle and bustle and socialness of a show has me drained even when I’m getting enough sleep.

But, on the other hand, I’m super dreading the cessation of this show’s run. Because I know me fairly decently by now, and I consistently come down with a bad case of post-show-blues upon the close of any and every show. Even shows I hate. Even show’s I just worked backstage for and spent two weeks bored out of my mind during.

Anticipating how awful something is going to be usually makes it worse, psychosomatically and all that, so I’ve been trying very hard to talk myself out of this sense of impending gloom. Yet history speaks pretty loudly and clearly.

I’ve even taken actions to prepare myself to get over the hump I presume (know) is coming: I’ve started prep work to begin the legwork for putting on a show at home this semester (stay tuned for details as they arise) as well as stocking my plate with various other projects to engage in.

The truth: I’d rather just shut my emotions down and go into hiding for awhile.

Turtles have it good: they take their shells with them everywhere.

And armadillos (which I personally like to call darmarillos just for the heck of it) have armored plates on their backs and the curl up and look ridiculous and are fairly well protected.

And porcupines have awesome terrifying quills bristling everywhere.

(Have I ever mentioned that I have a slight phobia of porcupines? Oh, and also of fire. If you don’t believe me, ask the two idiots who, with a lighter, had me cringing halfway across the stage before the curtain came up for Act 2 tonight…)

And then there’s me: I can be as prickly or turtley or tough as I want, and I still have to deal with people and life.

Ugh.

This is normally where I’d get spiritual. Talk about how what I’ve been learning in my quiet time or in Bible class relates to all this. But it’s midnight and so I’ll condense it to just saying that I’m really really trying to remember to do life not on my own strength. To forgo comfort and safety and do whatever it takes to bring glory to God. I’ll also say that it’s not that I feel that I’m entirely failing. It’s just that the Christian walk isn’t easy. It goes against everything in us. For me, it means dealing with people. And boy oh boy am I over dealing with people.

Okay.

It’s late.

I’m going to sleep so that I can be alive, alert, awake, enthusiastic for church and Hay Fever and set strike tomorrow.

Blessings on all your heads. And maybe water balloons, too.

If any of you have a random water balloon materialize over your head and fall down and land on you with a splat and drench you in icy cold water just as you’re reading this, a) you’re welcome and b) please tell me so that I can laugh in delight at your misfortune while also marveling at the awesome weirdness of God.

Adios!

– Melissa
Check this out.