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/

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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.

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.

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