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.


That’s my new favorite word.


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


(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…


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.)


in the Middle

Hi. Hello. I’m Melissa. But you probably already know that.

My speaking patterns are pretty Middletonian tonight. Thanks, Mr. Eno.

But seriously, my mind is still caught in the patterns of the play I’m currently on tech crew for: Middletown by Will Eno. It’s a beautiful piece, full of explorations of life and deep meanings that make me tilt my head to one side contemplatively somewhere or other every night.

If you’ve never been on a tech crew, never been part of a cast, then I don’t expect you to understand the madness of tech week. Sure, it’s great and all. Great and utterly exhausting. It’s madness, and exhaustion, and frustration, and elation, and it all comes together on opening night.

Tonight was opening night.

Coming into this show, I was incredibly nervous. After all, I am the kind of person who likes to know exactly what she’s doing and exactly how she’s doing it so that there is very little risk of looking like an idiot. I was talking with a friend tonight and this proverb came up:

“Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent,
and discerning if they hold their tongues.”
Proverbs 17:28 (NIV)

But it’s hard to keep silent as a sound designer. The goal is kind of to…you know…make sounds. And I had never sound designed and I had no idea what I was doing or how I was going to do it. It was risky.

Sometimes, though, you get assigned a job and you know it’s going to grow you and so you take a deep breath and say, “Okay.”

I said, “Okay.”

The long and short of the story is that I didn’t fail miserably, and I have fallen madly in love with bluegrass music. In fact, the hardest part of my job is probably having to not dance during all the transition music. I have to sit still and wait for the cue to fade the music out and that is so hard!

I really do love this show.

I love the thoughts Mr. Eno has to express.

For the past three nights, there has been one line per night that has reached out and entwined itself around my soul. And by entwined, I mean that it resonates so deeply that it kind of hurts a little bit. It hurts for me and it hurts for the people I know who have faced blackness. Who have stared into the depths of a seemingly empty life and longed for a glimmer of hope.

“…I wanted to be an emergency, somehow. I always felt like one, deep down.” – John Dodge

Don’t we all? I sometimes do. Maybe not always, but sometimes.

I feel the need to be someone’s emergency. I feel the need for someone to notice my silent screams and to drop everything to come running because I am worth it. I need to feel that I am worth it. That I have worth.

“We all have our dark nights. We’re probably never as alone as we think.” – Mary Swanson

‘As we think.’ As we fear. We fear—I fear that I am desperately alone. It circles back to that worth thing, and I look at what my life is and I know, without a doubt, that I am not good enough.

I am a mess of scars and tangles and raw places. I am rude and venomous and cold.

How can I be anything but alone?

How can I be worth it?

The night is dark, far darker than I think anyone can understand, and deep down I suspect I deserve it. I deserve to be alone.

It doesn’t have to be true. I am the girl who is loved fully and unconditionally. Who has been deemed so ‘worth it’ that a perfect somebody died to save me from myself. He died. I fear death, and maybe he did too, but he died for me to shout that I am irrefutably worth it.

I know that.

But sometimes, in the dark of night, I am still afraid.

Maybe we all are. Maybe you are.

You’re not alone. Know that, please, above all else.

You are not alone in your fear. You are not alone with your fears.

Truth runs deeper than what you feel, what you imagine.

The truth is that you are loved fully and unconditionally. You have been deemed so ‘worth it’ that a perfect somebody died to save you from yourself. He died to save you from your fears. He died to shout that you are irrefutably worth it. And now he lives and promises that you are never alone.

We’re never as alone as we think.

“There’re people like me in the world, I think. You don’t hear much from us because we usually don’t say anything. But we’re out here, trying to get a hold on the whole thing.” – The Mechanic

Us: the mostly silent messes.

We don’t talk about our failures enough, I think. We’re too quiet about our fears.

We dupe ourselves into believing that somehow everyone else has it together. That nobody else has as much to hide as we do.

Can I admit something?

I am a wreck.

That wasn’t really a weighty admittance. I’ve said it before. And I’ll keep saying it. Not as self-deprecation, but as hope.

I am a wreck, and you are a wreck, but we’ve been deemed salvageable.

My life is a salvaged wreck, and somebody’s putting me back together. Slowly, sure, but it’s happening.

Please don’t read this and think that I’m on the edge of crisis. I’m not. Tonight has been truly wonderful, and I’ve kind of been floating all day.

I jumped off of a couple of steps earlier and shouted for joy.

The world is full of joy.

Tonight isn’t one of those dark nights.

But my soul remembers them.

My soul remembers how quickly clouds can darken the skies, and it cries out for someone to understand those moments. I think Mr. Eno does.

I don’t know where you’re at tonight, physically or emotionally.

If you are physically in Abilene, come and see Middletown. No matter where you are emotionally. Please. We have six more shows, November 13-14 and 19-22, and this really isn’t something you should miss.

If you are not in Abilene, find and read Middletown. Especially if ‘dark nights’ and ‘being an emergency’ resonate with you. Read Middletown, and know that I am here to listen. I don’t claim to even begin to have all the answers, but I can listen.

I am good at listening.

And I never want you to feel alone.

Hit me up on facebook, or comment here, or—if you know me in person—come up and start a conversation. I don’t bite. And I’m serious: you never have to let yourself feel alone as long as I’m around.

Feelings are sticky. They don’t make sense. (Trust me. I am currently battling the Battle of the Unruly Emotions and it is downright ridiculous the lies I’m being fed. Like, um, let’s stop ignoring the perspective I am going to great lengths to try to attain, please. And that’s all totally beside the point.)

Fear is sticky, too, and it convinces us that its presence is justified. But it isn’t, and finding an Other to give you some perspective on what you’re fearing is really helpful.

It’s really important.

God’s love is sticky, too.

And it’s not an adhesive that you can escape. You are loved, more than you will ever comprehend. It’s okay if you can’t understand that tonight. But please know that. Know that your mess can never be too much. I promise. Bigger than that, God promises.

I love you. I love your humanity and your soul and your destiny for something bigger than yourself.

So goodnight, sweet human. Whether or not it is night where you are. It’s night somewhere, right? In some Middletown somewhere on the planet. Sweet dreams.

– Melissa
my anthem, on the dark nights

the mask comes off: i’m not strong enough

Recently, I’ve been pretty down in spirit.

During my free time.

During my quiet time.

During worship service at church.

Because I keep running up against an I-keep-failing-at-this wall.

I do not love people in the fearless, relentless way to which I know I am called. And that breaks my heart.

So I get quiet.

Or I cry.

I weep my repentance and swear to do better and deep down am filled with the premonition that I’m going to fail again.

Is this all life is: failure and heartbreak and failure again?

If I try harder, though.

If I really mean what I say, and if I grit my teeth, by golly I can love you with the love of God! This time I’ll do it!

If all it took to do what was right was the heartfelt desire to do so, I would be there. Trust me, I would so be there.

But it’s not just wanting. It’s not just saying something and really meaning it.

Because you know what?

I’m just human.

My human strength isn’t enough to even allow me to keep breathing.

Somebody else does that for me.

If life were up to me, try as I might, my heart would stop beating. The atoms that make up my body would cease to know how to have cohesion. I could not exist by mere force of will power.

I’m not cosmically powerful enough.

But there’s someone who is. Someone who literally spoke the universe into existence. Not coaxed it back into proper working condition, no, He spoke and it became.

I speak and things break.

God spoke and the universe became a thing.

That’s the kind of strength I need to make this ‘loving others’ thing a reality.

The exciting thing is, that strength is offered to me.

The Psalms are full of declarations that ‘The Lord is our strength!’

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” – Psalm 46:1

“Sing for joy to God our strength; shout aloud to the God of Jacob!” – Psalm 81:1

“My flesh and my heart my fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” – Psalm 73:26

These are awesome promises to claim. And trust me, I do.

But then comes a new day of inadequacy despite my best intentions and I begin to wonder if I’ve not only failed at loving others, but if I’ve also failed to access strength made available to me, and then I spiral down into guilt that leaves me feeling too ashamed to pray at all.

It’s been a tidy, predictable, awful cycle.

The other night at Midnight Worship we were singing a song (that I can’t remember the title to) wherein the chorus refrains, “I want to know Your heart,” and I suddenly lost my voice.

I am fully aware of God’s heart for me where I am.

I know exactly what I am called to.

But I’m not doing it, so am I in rebellion? Maybe sometimes. Am I a failure? I feel like that.

Pour in, pour out.

That’s what I was given as I cried out to my Abba in frustration and shame.

Pour in, pour out.

That might not make much sense to you, but I grew up in Remedy youth group at LBC, and “pour in, pour out” was one of our Core Values. It’s the idea that others have poured into us, we have been loved and taught about God, and from the overflow of that we can love others and pour into their lives.

And I realized as I stood there, surrounded by the voices of my peers earnestly seeking the heart of God, what I’ve forgotten:

I keep trying to pour out of a cup that’s not actually full.

As I have worked to keep my head above water this semester, time with God has fallen to the wayside, my contact with the people who keep me accountable and partner with me in chasing after God has drastically decreased, and I have neglected to get involved with any kind of small group. I attend church, sure, but it’s a megachurch where I can slip in and out without talking to anyone. Which I generally (aka, always) do.

If I’m honest, the reason I’ve made it to October 5, 2015 without totally losing it is running on overflow from summer.

That’s something I can fix. That’s something I will fix, starting this week.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not going to quit working to love people just because I don’t have me straightened out yet. That’s definitely not my goal or intention.

But I’ve learned that you’ve got to know the true cause of the problem before you can fix it, and I think maybe I’ve at least partially found mine. And that’s exciting! In an I’m-still-broken, healing-takes-time sort of way…

So I’m going to get back to the basics. Back to living life one breath at a time. Back to where God’s strength isn’t something I call on when I think something’s too hard for me, but where God’s strength is the lifeblood of everything I do.

All this to say, this post isn’t about how awful I am. It’s not about how great I am, either. It’s not actually even about my failures or about fixing my problems.

I share this because life is real.

Because I wear a mask, just like you, and I think I’m pretty good at it.

I share this because there is hope.

And I also share this because if you see me, I want you to be able to call me on this. I want you to be able to say, “Hey, Melissa. Whose strength are you operating on today?” and I want to have to honestly answer you even when the honest answer is, “…mine.”

I don’t have a tidy wrap-up for you.

But…let’s value honesty. Let’s value vulnerability, and let’s value absolute dependence on the God who loves us absolutely.

– Melissa
I Need You, I Love You, I Want You by Tenth Avenue North

to you, my __________

I miss you today. With the swirl of holiday joy about me, your absence is keenly felt.

But who is ‘You’?

You on its own is just an empty pronoun.

You are the ‘friend’ who wasn’t, who I had to walk…no, run away from but who still haunts my thoughts at unexpected moments. And I wish things had worked out differently. And I wish I could just text you to say, ‘hey.’ Safe doesn’t mean easy. Safe doesn’t mean desirable.

You are that feeling of absolute abandon, when the game ceased to be a game and became life and somehow that skinny child was a horse and somehow I really was a world famous horse breeder and somehow we really did win all kind of ribbons and trophies and acclaim without ever leaving our corner of the yard. Growing up has had its benefits. But imagination free of self-consciousness was pretty great too.

You are four legs and a mane and a tail and all the mass of muscles in between. Kind eyes and soft nose and a shoulder to cry on. You’re an idiot, and you’re afraid of everything, but this semester has been so long without you, and the three days until I see you again seems an eternity, and there’s a little pang in my heart when I know that you haven’t missed me. Not really. But there will be adventures together in the next month and I’ll pretend that another goodbye isn’t in our future.

You are laughter in the safety of camaraderie, that feeling of belonging among people, of simple blissful rightness. The too-late nights and the afterward wondering if we’d squeak in by curfew. The radio volume that should have deafened us but only made us giddy. I keep hoping I’ve tasted something here akin to our friendship. I’ve found friends, but not friends; not soul-siblings.

You are someone I’ve never met. Someone Mom used to tell me will love me more than Daddy does—and that’s gonna be pretty hard to accomplish. And let me tell you what, Christmas-time of all times reminds me that you’re not here. Don’t believe me? Listen to any Christmas song. If it’s not about a baby in a manger, then nine times out of ten it’s about you. You may not be All I Want For Christmas, but I do miss you, somehow, deeply, despite your unfamiliarity. And some days I look at the mess of me and wonder how you could even exist, how I could have a future that involves a ‘me’ being united into a ‘we.’

You are the stars. Pure and simple. A galaxy-filled sky to lose my eyes in and whisper my fears to. The campus is too bright to find you here. And Colorado was too full of…other things. I don’t even know what exactly. But I miss you and your light, and I’ll try to carve a bit of the next month to come and reacquaint myself to you. Do you remember me? Or have you been watching me all along, hiding in a seemingly dark sky?

You are my best friend. And texts and phone calls and Skype don’t begin to do our friendship justice. You remind me to keep my chin up and somehow know when my eyes fill with tears. Even though you shouldn’t possibly be able to know. You hear all my schemes and nod with silent willingness and get dragged into all kinds of mischief. Your loyalty blows my mind and pushes me to be a better person. And I don’t know how our story ends, because life seems intent on keeping us in different states for a while. But I know that someway it’ll all work out. I cling to that. I cling to the God that brought us to meet each other. And twenty-eight days is just enough time for us to get into real trouble.

All in all, I miss you. Achingly much. I guess all the emotions of the end of finals and the end of this semester and the idea of being home in just a few days decided that they wanted to express themselves in tears of longing. But I feel better. At least a little better. Even with the missing still there.

Maybe I’ll get to see you again. And maybe I won’t. Maybe sometimes there’s no room for maybes. Maybe I need sleep.

You seems such an empty pronoun.

But it’s so much more than that.

– Melissa

Past the Chemical Burn

I want to be able to fix other people. I want to be able to fix myself. I hate crying because crying feels like weakness and weakness feels like failure and failure is what I fear most in life. And this week I think I’ve done more crying than any other week since I got here.

But what if being broken is okay?

What if the pain isn’t as senseless as I perceive it to be?

Last weekend I was able to buy a small side table at Goodwill as a much-desired DIY rehab project. Because of the stress of the school week, I had to put the task on the backburner this week, but this afternoon I was able to get back to prepping the dear thing for paint. To accomplish this, I’m using a chemical-based paint/stain stripper.

And let me tell you what, those chemicals are intense. After being made abundantly sure of this while bare-handing the project, I went ahead and spent the money on gloves (figuring that the cost of having chemical burns all over my hands would outweigh the value of the money I didn’t want to spend on gloves) but even with the gloves on, a concentration of the goo on my hand burns and the gloves are now pockmarked with spots where chemicals have shriveled the cheap rubbery material.

While I may not appreciate the chemicals on my skin (which is an understatement, for the record), I do very much appreciate the effect of the chemicals on the table and the way that the old varnish has come away to expose the wood that I want to lay paint on. I’m not one of those weird people who believes that furniture hosts the spirits of the trees from which it’s made (if you personally believe this, I can love you past our disagreement, but disagree I shall) but, golly, I’m glad I’m not that table. To have my outer shell (however orange and ugly) stripped away by a corrosive substance…no thanks.

I try to avoid pain. I think most of us do. But as I’ve walked (sometimes staggered) through this week, pain has been present at every turn. Why?

Why is there pain?

Why is there death?

Why are there debilitating fears or soul-sapping depressions?

I mean, it has to do with living in a fallen world and having the privilege of freewill, but really, those aren’t the questions I really should be asking. The true puzzle lies more along the lines of:

Why would a righteous God choose to save a sinner?

Why would a perfect God love me despite my repeated mistakes?

Why does a just God bother with a sinful world at all?

I still don’t have all the answers I want to this week. I still don’t understand a lot of what’s going on in my life and in the lives of those around me.

But I have to remember what’s important. And I have to remember that God promises to work all things together for the good of those who trust him (even if I don’t ever see what that good is).

Normally I end with either a reference or a link to somewhere, but today I want to embed the video on my mind. Because it’s so central to all that I’m contemplating tonight and I think it pulls together what I find that I cannot.


Tomorrow (actually, it’s 12:03, so I should really say ‘today’) is a new day. Nothing is going to go away while I sleep, but hallelujah, His mercies are new every morning.

I’m glad for flowers’ sakes that they don’t have feelings. Because growing isn’t that much fun.

– Melissa E
Psalm 34:18