faith & hope & february

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I wasn’t asleep.

I was very much awake.

In hiding.

In tears.

Weary.

Scared.

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

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

It consumes you and your world and your hope.

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

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

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

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

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

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

God did not heal Mom right away.

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

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

He said, “Yes.”

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

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

I’m not hiding in the guest room anymore.

– Melissa

Advertisements

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