True Horizon

We vacation each year on a very secluded and sparsely populated section of the Gulf Coast, about 25 miles down a long, narrow peninsula, far away from everything. We don’t mind sacrificing the long drive to civilization for the pure, unobstructed views up and down the beach and out into the horizon.

I’ve always been so fascinated by the mystery of the horizon. As my father (a former seaman) has explained to me over the years, the “true horizon” is the actual point on the line at which you can no longer distinguish the earth from the sky. On most days, if you fix your eye on the clearest, sharpest part of the line, you will see a beautiful halo effect coming out from it. Where the halo is, the “true” horizon is.

On our last trip, with an impending tropical storm out further in the Gulf, we experienced very high winds and therefore, very rough water and high waves. I was fascinated to observe that the true horizon never disappeared – halo and all. It was right there, amidst the huge waves, just as it was on the previous days when the ocean was as smooth as a big sheet of glass. Regardless of the circumstances of the weather or waves, that mysterious, magical line was there and visible. And beautiful.

As I thought about it, I realized that the true horizon line at which Earth meets Heaven is in me, too. Some days, I’m the trusting, loving smooth-as-glass girl. And on others, I am one scary raging rough-water lady. But that place where I let go and disappear into Him is always beautiful.

You see, if we really believe what we say we believe as Christ followers, then we become that place where Earth meets Heaven because His spirit is in us. We are a place at which the beauty of His Creation disappears into the deeper and eternal beauty of Heaven.

The place where the truth of hope and healing found in the Lord heals the brokenhearted.

The place where the richest, most unexpected blessings are found in the midst of the deepest of suffering.

The place where the angels become our dance partners as we celebrate His blessings, presence and love.

The place where the peace that passes all understanding miraculously overtakes the things of this earthly life that seem impossible to bear.

The place where I end and where He begins.

Embers

I never should have said it out loud.

I said to my mentor, “I really believe I have finally figured out what joy really means. It’s not what I always thought it was. It’s not always belly laughing or dancing – sometimes, it’s just knowing. I think I’ve reached a place in my walk with God that no matter what may come, nothing can steal my joy.”

Just a few days later, on Sunday October 16th, he sent me a text early in the morning that said “Melissa, you came to my mind this morning. Here are some verses I believe God wants to seal in your heart. 1 Peter 1:3-9.” As I read these verses that morning, I reflected back in time over the previous two years. Years of breakthroughs and learning how to dream again. I read these verses through a joy-filled lens, and the words held me.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

A little more than 24 hours later, on October 17th, 2011, I got the phone call that would change my life forever. “Melissa, you have cancer.”

My Protector, My Comforter, My Healer knew that I would need those verses, so He made sure they were planted in my heart. I read those verses again, but this time through a grief-filled lens. And again, the words held me.

I had said it out loud, that nothing could steal my joy. It was so much easier to make that proclamation on the “through” side of breakthrough than on the “break” side. Or so I thought at the time.

Today marks one year from that day. I have thought and prayed about what to post today, because I could write a book about what the Lord has revealed to me this year. But He just keeps bringing me back to one central truth to share with you today.

That thing I said out loud? Well, it’s true.

I realize that years ago, when I invited Him into my heart, my soul, and my life, He took me at my word. So what I receive in return is an intimacy with Him so close that it’s hard not to see Him, even in the midst of cancer. A presence so deep that it’s hard not to feel Him, even when my heart is broken or my dreams for myself shatter in front of me. And a voice that is now so familiar that it’s hard not to hear Him, even when He quietly whispers.

I have come to understand that faith is not always like a raging fire in my heart. You know what I mean – those mountaintop moments when our felt connection to His presence is so thick and His goodness is so great that it’s almost too much to bear. But after the raging fire has been smothered by rain or snow, when only a faint glow from one single burning ember remains – well, that’s faith, too.

That one tiny, glowing ember that remains still moves mountains. I know, because it moves me.

Sometimes, it’s not too much. But it’s always just enough to get me home.

Speaking in Pencil

She called me today, heartbroken. Words had been spoken – cruel ones. The kind that leave a wound, then a bruise, and then a scar that remains to maliciously remind.These words had wounded a loved one, and I was overcome with conviction and repentance when she shared her deepest ache through sobs of pain at the effect of the soul-crushing comments.

You might be thinking that she is the grieving recipient. She isn’t. She is the grieving deliverer. Her cries were so gut-deep that I could barely understand her.

“Oh Melissa, I hurt the one I love so badly. How do I fix this?”

My heart aches for her. And for the one she loves. And for me. Because I have been that person. I am that person. While there is a population out there that would boldly proclaim that I have spoken encouraging words over them, there is yet another population (hopefully much smaller) that can describe the painful marks left on their hearts by my ruthless words. And usually to the ones I love the most. I don’t even like to think about it.

Even with the most sincere of apologies offered, and even with the truest of repentant hearts, the memory lingers in the heart of the wounded. The scar is left to remind, and from that point forward it becomes a battle within that the wounded must fight when someone or something unknowingly opens that scar.

We write on the slate of one another. We can trample a heart with

One.

Single.

Word.

He entrusts us with words. His words. Words to edify, exhort, and encourage one another. Words to build up, inspire, and to humbly lead. Words to offer hope, comfort, and words to heal. Words to proclaim the Truth of His love, mercy, and grace. Yet with the same mouth that we share His words, we shoot sharp darts that can brutally pierce the heart of another.

SometimesToo many times, I wish I could speak in pencil. That eraser would be so handy. As the magical word-remover leaves its evidence of black flecks where punishing words once were, we could point to the dust and show the unlucky recipient the proof that the word was no longer there.

“See, look, I didn’t mean it. It’s gone! We can just forget this ever happened…”

If only. Unfortunately, indelible ink doesn’t have a handy little eraser.

I have some good news, though.

As powerful as our words may be, they are powerless in the presence of the God of the Redeemed…the God of healing and restoration. No wound is too deep for Him to touch.

For our harsh words, there is grace and forgiveness to cover our sins. Period. Done.

And for the wounded — with faith, prayer, time, and forgiveness, God can heal a wounded heart. He has healed mine, and He has healed the hearts of those whom I have wounded with my words.

May we be reminded today, to pray His words:

May the words of my mouth and this meditation

of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord,

my Rock and my Redeemer.

(Psalm 19:14)

Big Eyes and Belly Laughs

In the waiting room of the hospital, a very curious little three-year old approached me, with her head tilted, and asked, “What happened to your leg?” So I explained to her that I had surgery and was still healing. We had a lovely conversation, asking each other about our favorite colors, favorite cartoon characters, and favorite games. Before I knew it, she crawled up in my lap. Her mother apologized and moved forward to retrieve her, but I assured her it was fine with me if it was OK with her. And I was so grateful that it was.

As Eva sat on my lap, I decided to try out one of our little family traditions on her. Mom used to do this with us, and in all of her years teaching children has had a 100% success rate with the giggle factor on this little gem. Some of you may have heard of this little song/game. I have no idea of what original context the song was written or when it was written…but it goes like this…

I had Eva hold her cute little hand out, palm up. I gently traced a circle on her palm with my finger as I sang, “Round round circle, put a penny here…” and then, slowly…very slowly, “walking” my fingers up her arm toward her shoulder, I sang “one step…two steps…” and then, unexpected to Miss Eva, I sang “tickle under here!” and tickled Eva until I heard the BEST SOUND IN THE WORLD…the belly laugh of a child!

Of course, you know what happened after that, right?

“Again, Miss Missa!” (She had a little trouble pronouncing my name – so sweet.) So over and over again we went, and each time, when I got to the “….two steps”, I would pause dramatically, purposefully making her wait until she was about to come out of her skin with expectation. Her eyes were huge with anticipation about the best part — the inevitable tickle-fest to come! She knew that after that second step up her arm was done, it was all about belly-laughing joy.

I drove home thinking about Eva’s big eyes and belly laughs.

Do I anticipate the next move of God’s hand with that kind of anticipation?

Eva knew the game. She knew after the first time that the outcome resulted in her joy. In her mind, it was simple: “Miss Melissa did it last time, so she’ll do it again.” And each time, she believed the outcome was going to result in her joy. She trusted me to deliver it. So every single time, her eyes grew big in anticipation of what was to come. Because she remembered the last time.

God has always brought joy from waiting, uncertainty, or darkness in my life. There has not been one single time in my life when I have sought Him and not found the doorway out of the valley and into hope. I’ll bet you can say the same thing. How quickly we are to forget it. Maybe it’s just me, but it doesn’t take long for me to lose my focus on Him and gaze at the struggle instead.

How quickly I forget that I’ve been here before.

How quickly I forget to look into His eyes and remember that He has never, ever let me down.

How quickly I forget that I can be confident in my current circumstance because of God’s past performance on my behalf.

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge —that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! (Eph. 3:14-21, NIV)

This morning I caught myself belly-laughing in anticipation of what God has waiting for me on the other side of the door.

Because I remember the last time.

Thanks for the reminder, Eva.

Walking Wounded

In the first twenty minutes of the movie Saving Private Ryan, an extremely graphic scene of the Omaha beachhead assault of June 6, 1944 is depicted. Although it was nearly fourteen years ago, I vividly remember seeing this movie on the big screen and will likely never forget some of the images in those first few minutes. The directors of the movie explained that the intensely graphic nature of the opening scene was so that the viewer could truly understand the reality of war and the raw nature of wartime violence and death, which was critical to the viewer’s connection with the main storyline for the film.

The images that I remember most from this powerful movie are those of the walking wounded in that opening scene. Like the soldier who lost his severed arm and searched for it, found it, picked it up, and carried it with him as he sought shelter from the enemy fire. Broken, dismembered bodies with one goal – survival. With severed limbs, trying to find refuge in the midst of warfare that they had grossly underestimated.

All of us have walked, are walking, or will walk the long journey from the valley of woundedness and pain to the refuge of hope. Like the walking wounded in this movie scene, those of us walking in emotional and spiritual woundedness seek shelter, but with broken hearts and crushed spirits. Like the walking wounded soldier, we, too have one goal…survival. With shattered dreams, trying to find refuge in warfare that we had grossly underestimated.

When we’re in survival mode, living isn’t really living, it’s more like just … existing. The difference between broken bodies and broken spirits is that we can hidea broken spirit. We can appear to have it together spiritually. But inside, we’re dying. And too proud to tell anyone about it.

If our wounded hearts are walled with pain, shame, and guilt, and our wills are walled with fear and anxiety, then where do we go for refuge and healing? Usually not to the One who can heal. Usually, to other people to fill the void that has consumed us, because even though we are wounded, we still crave love, joy, and peace. God created us to crave it. But we forget that there is only one True Source for our wholeness. We forget that He created us to crave it from Him. To seek it from Him. Sometimes I lose sight that although God gives me the amazing blessing of experiencing love from others here on earth sometimes, that it will never be truer, deeper, or wider than His love, His joy, or His peace available to and flowing through me all the time.

But there is good news.
Great news.
Wonderful news.
The BEST news.

The heart of the Holy Spirit lives in those who believe and call upon the name of God and His ultimate sacrifice, the risen Christ. The heart of the Spirit in me…and in you…gives us direct access to the healing that can only be found through the mind and heart of Christ.

God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man’s judgment: “For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Cor. 2:10-16, NIV).

As believers, we talk about the “power” of the Holy Spirit, and often. May we remember that the power of the Spirit comes from the heart of the Spirit, who always only wants the best for us. If we allow our heart to meld with the heart of the Spirit, the walls come down. We receive his heart toward us, so we can give it to others. The way we give to and receive love from others is radically changed.

Our goal becomes SO much more than to just survive.

We are no longer the walking wounded. We are alive, and we love without walled hearts. We live and love from wholeness.

The heart of the Spirit makes us whole.

My Offended Heart

Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm…” (Song of Solomon, 8:6)

A few years ago, my pastor asked me for advice on how to teach about finding contentment with being single.  My response?  I laughed. That sort of laugh when you find yourself somewhere you never in a million years thought you’d be.  It had been a long journey to contentment in this area of my life. 

You see, for my entire life, I have longed for a husband and family. Even though many would testify that I am a woman of strong and committed faith and have been for a long time, the truth is that I placed my pursuit of a husband much higher than my pursuit of God for many, many years.  To be quite honest, I hated and resented my single status, until about 3 years ago.

It was not uncommon for me to cry out the same prayer over and over again during the dark seasons of loneliness and depression that would pop up rather frequently. “Deliver me, Lord, because I can’t do this for one more day.

But one day, about 3 years ago, it was … different.  On that day, as I cried out that familiar plea, the Lord allowed me to see a woman crying out just as I did, as she looked at her husband.  She too cried, “Deliver me, Lord. Because I can’t do this for one more day.”

This old girl is rather stubborn and hard-headed, so I don’t have many “in that moment” transformational experiences that “stick”.   Usually, God has to knock me over the head several times before I really get it.  But not this time.  In that one single moment, my entire paradigm changed … and my heart changed.  I could no longer view myself in a category that is “less than” my married friends.  I realized that I am not unique. We all feel lonely sometimes. We all feel envious or jealous or offended by what someone else has sometimes.  And we’re all in this together.

In that one single moment, the Lord transformed my offended heart.

I stopped being offended by those who had what I wanted and began to trust the One who knows exactly what I need. Instead of being so focused on scanning every room I walked into for men without a wedding ring, I am now able to be fully myself and fully present in the moments of my life in the way that God has designed.

And y’all… It’s SO much better this way.

It was the beginning of a freedom that I never knew that I didn’t know!

The freedom in finally realizing that my heart’s true and deepest yearning was for the Husband – “the One” – that I already have.  Jesus.

Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm… (Song of Solomon, 8:6)

And as a bride vows to her husband on her wedding day, I have finally learned to allow Him to be the husband that He always has been.  He’s a really, really good catch, and I fall more in love with Him every day.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  God did not change or take the desire from my heart for marriage.  Quite the contrary.  But He has changed the desire and moved it to a different – and its rightful – place.  

With every ounce of who I am, I want Him more.  I can say with 100% honesty and enthusiasm that if God does not call me to marriage, then I am content and full. I used to say that because I knew it sounded like the “right answer”.  But now, I actually mean it.

I am so thankful that He heard and answered my prayer … “Lord, Deliver me. I can’t do this for one more day.” And that’s exactly what He did.

Are you struggling with an offended heart today?  I promise that if you will allow Him there and allow Him to breathe new life and new Truth into your heart, He will.   

My Wedding Day

I don’t often write about being single. Mostly because while my “singleness” is a part of my life, it’s simply not the main focus of my life or ministry. For today, however, I am choosing to talk about it. But this post is for everyone, so if you’re not single, I hope you’ll stick around.

I have an amazing, fulfilling life. I am surrounded by the most incredible and devoted Godly men and women who challenge me, love me, bless me, minister to me, and just generally “put up” with me every day. Moments of loneliness do come, but they are rare and usually short-lived. It wasn’t always that way, but God has transformed my heart over the years to bring me to this place.

Yet even with a fulfilled life, there is a very short list of things that occasionally make me “feel” single. One of those things is coming home from a trip to a quiet, empty house, with no one there to hug me and tell me I was missed. I don’t love that part of being single.

The other is being sick, and this is probably when I “feel” it the most. I really struggle emotionally and spiritually with being alone when I’m not well. No one to hold my hand and tell me it’s going to be OK, pray over me, drive me to the doctor, or bring me soup and meds. Several months ago, while driving myself to the emergency room, I lost it. In a feverish panic, crying out, “God, I’m going to die alone!” Oh, the melodrama of a single Italian woman with a fever!

And then came October 17, 2011.

October. My favorite month of the year. I love the crisp air, the colors, the sound of the leaves blowing, and the promise of the harvest. In fact, I’ve often said that if God called me to marriage, I would want an October wedding.

On this beautiful day in October, though, sickness would enter my life in a way I’d never known before. This wasn’t the flu. This was no sinus infection. This wasn’t going to be me driving myself to the store to get my own OJ and cold meds. This was way bigger than that.

About an hour after I got the news, I was driving across town to my parents’ house to tell them. That hour had been a whirlwind of information overload and emotional chaos. And as the surreal became real…

Oh my God. I have cancer. And I’m single.

I immediately started to pray, and I remember my exact words.

OK, God, this is going to be a weak area for me spiritually, so I need you to perfect my weakness in your strength. Like right now. Set me like a seal upon your heart.

From that moment on, as tough as this road has been, not for one day have I felt single or alone in this journey. Not for one second. His presence has been felt at every step. He is faithful.

I have also been lavished with love and the presence of my community. Each of my former pastors have visited me at the hospital and at home, my family has been present with me for all of it, and my friends have been present with meals and companionship. Since then, I have continually thanked and praised Him for filling loneliness with the prayers and presence of my community.

But God would show me something unexpected about my heart. He would show me that as wonderful as my community is, they are not the reason that I have never felt alone in this crazy ride through cancer.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I was working on the next chapter in my book and focusing on verses that I’ve read a hundred times before, and the familiar words jumped out at me in a way that had nothing to do with the subject matter of the chapter I was writing. And I nearly fell out of my chair.

Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her. There I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope…“In that day,” declares the Lord, “you will call me ‘my husband’; you will no longer call me ‘my master’ … I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion. I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will acknowledge the Lord” (Hosea 2:14-15, 19-20, NIV).

Upon reading those words, He captivated me with new truth. How had I missed it before? I haven’t felt single through this journey because quite possibly for the first time in my life, I have allowed Him to be my Husband. And just as that realization began to penetrate my heart, he allowed me to recall the prayer I prayed in my car two months before on that dark day in October…

Set me like a seal upon your heart, like a seal on your arm… (Song of Solomon 8:6)

His wedding vow had long before been spoken. But mine was spoken in the car that day when I prayed… Set me like a seal upon your heart. And I meant it. From that point on through this journey, I finally allowed Him to be the Husband that He always was.

I don’t know why I was surprised by this. After all, 2011 was the year of Dreams, right? And He has been courting me all along. Just months before in Africa, He promised that He wouldn’t relent until He had my whole heart. I was being prepared for my dream of an October wedding and didn’t even know it.

October 17th was the day I found out I had cancer. But that day was about so much more than that.

October 17th was my wedding day.

After He Was Strengthened.

I wonder what the angel said.

We aren’t specifically told that the angel was Gabriel, the same angel that told Mary she would give birth to the Son of God, but I like to think that it was.

I imagine the passion of a father racing across town to be with his son in the emergency room.

God, sending His angel Gabriel, to Gethsemane.

“Hey, Gabriel, 34 years ago I sent you to tell Mary that she, a virgin, would give birth to Jesus, the King of Kings. Now, I send you to earth again. Go to him, He’s in the Garden. Hurry. My Son is crying.”

I wonder what he said to Jesus. Well, we will never know for sure, because the Bible is silent about it. But we know whatever it was, it strengthened Him.

Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. (Luke 22: 39-44, NIV)

Wouldn’t you think that after Jesus was strengthened, He would have quickly dried his eyes, offered a brave smile, and enthusiastically resumed His mission? But it didn’t happen that way. Before He rose from the anguish, He cried even harder. So hard, in fact, that His own sweat turned bloody. This happened after He was strengthened.

My Jesus, after receiving encouragement, prayed even more earnestly and cried harder.

Me too, Jesus. Me too.

Perhaps we’re meant to learn that the richest hope permits the deepest suffering

Perhaps we’re meant to learn that the deepest suffering releases the strongest power

Perhaps we’re meant to learn that the strongest power produces the greatest joy.

In the deepest part of my soul, I long more than anything to live in the fullness of His power alive in me, and to further His Kingdom. But for tonight, from my personal garden, with a strengthened heart, I cry out even harder to Jesus:

My God, My Jesus, bind up my wounds, erase my fears, and deliver me from disease and pain. Breathe life into my dry and tired bones. But not before you teach me how to die, Lord. Not before you teach me how to die so that I can live.

Needle and Thread

I wonder who she was. What she dreamed about. Did she have a husband and children? How old was she? Was she happy? Was she struggling to understand her life’s purpose? What did she think about? Was she tired, drained? I wonder if her hands were blistered or crippled with arthritis. Did her neck and shoulders hurt at the end of her workday?

We know nothing about her; not even her name. Yet she holds a critical place in history. Not one of prominence or notoriety, but instead behind the scenes of a story that has been passed down through the ages and will continue to be for all of eternity.

For the rest, go to (in)courage, where I’m a guest blogger today!

Twirling.

The past few mornings have been light and cool, with just enough of a hint of Fall to tease me into the excitement I feel every year as the humid midsummer days relax into the softer beauty of Autumn. The release from one season into another.

But it’s not just the weather. I feel the seasons changing in me, too.

Is it true, Lord? Is this season coming to a close so that another can come?

I feel the cool wind on my heart. I see the leaves, fallen on the ground, tired from their exposure to months of extreme heat, making way for new growth on strong trees. I sense it. The time for harvest is coming. Soon. It’s almost here.

The past 10 months have tested, challenged, tried, and proven my faith in the One who is my God over and over again. I would not trade one day, one hour, one minute, or one single second. Through every moment, He has revealed something new to me about Himself. He has breathed new life into Scriptures that I’ve read hundreds of times. He has breathed new Truth into me. I am more hopeful for His preferred future for me than ever before.

Your love is extravagant,

Your friendship, it is intimate.

I feel like moving to the rhythm of your grace…”

To the melody of those words, and in anticipation of the new season to come, my inner child took over…

And right there, in my living room, without even thinking about it…

I twirled.

If anyone had seen me, I doubt that words like “graceful” or “lovely” would be used to describe the vision of me dancing in my living room. But I really don’t care.

I twirled anyway. Again and again and again.

And maybe, just maybe, from now on, when I sense the seasons starting to change,

Instead of walking into them,

I’ll twirl into them.

Because I can.

Because His love IS extravagant.