Monday, April 2, 2018

Empathy, Encouragement, and Endurance

A few months ago, there was a Christmas party for the leaders at church. Everyone got a special word from God that had been prayed for just for them. When I read mine, it didn't really resonate with me. I wasn't sure how it really applied other than the many tears I had been crying from being in so much physical pain. I thought maybe it was a nice way of saying that God saw my tears and my pain; that I didn't have to be ashamed of what I was going through. It was comforting, but didn't seem to completely fit because of that first sentence; particularly the words "gift", "offered", and "sacrifice." Those words had the ring of "it's not about you". Whatever it was about, it just wasn't clear to me. However, that word had been given to me for a reason; even if I didn't grasp it yet. I put it in my coat pocket with the intent of permanently holding onto those precious words; believing that it would eventually be revealed to me.
A few days ago, I was emptying my coat pockets when I saw it again. I opened it up and re-read it. It was like I was reading it for the first time and I TOTALLY understood! It is talking about my intense empathic gift which has seemed to be deepening over the last year or two. The physical pain that I've experienced has drawn me closer to God and has made me even more compassionate and understanding when it comes to the pain of others (whether it's physical, emotional, spiritual, etc.). I've been feeling, sensing, and discerning a lot more when I encounter people. I can't seem to help but cry with them if they're pouring out their heart (my pantry visitors at work can attest to that). There's been times I've tried to be strong and not show it, but I've actually had someone outright say "thank you for your tears." There truly is nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to weeping for/with people and allowing yourself to feel what they feel. To be present with someone in their hurt and brokenness can make your heart ache something fierce, but it's also soothing at the same time (especially for them). There is nothing more precious than seeing someone light up because they see that someone loves, accepts, hears, and understands them. The tears, the hugs, and the prayers that I get to be a part of is something that I fully embrace and that I feel blessed to be entrusted with. I am overjoyed to show the love and tenderness of Jesus in this way and to see that people are relieved, refreshed, and comforted. I praise God for this and give Him the glory! I'm in awe of what He does and how He stirs me for others; whether it's in person or personal prayers for them in private. It makes me incredibly grateful and awed that He would pick me for a gift like this and allow me to witness such miraculous healing power!

As I repeatedly read the words on my card, there was a quote that kept coming to the forefront of my mind. It's a line from "X-Men: Days of Future Past":
It's not their pain you're afraid of. It's yours, Charles. And as frightening as it may be, that pain will make you stronger. If you allow yourself to feel it, embrace it, it will make you more powerful than you ever imagined. It's the greatest gift we have: to bear their pain without breaking. And it comes from the most human part of us: hope.

God truly empowers and strengthens us when we walk through our pain and help bear the pain of others. We build endurance as we let hope fuel us for the long haul: 

Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.
We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. - Romans 5:1-5 (NLT)

Grace and peace to you, my friends! My encouragement to you is to accept the uplifting and encouraging words that people affirm you with. Even if it's a struggle for you to accept and embrace the ways God has gifted and created you, I hope that you will work through it for His Kingdom's sake. Don't allow Satan to steal and hide the truth from you about who you are! It is MORE than ok to acknowledge and embrace how God uniquely crafted you! In fact, it is downright necessary to do so! Denying the beauty of who you are will diminish your ability to serve in the ways that the Father has made you to serve; cheating yourself and everyone else out of countless blessings! Embrace and live out your special place in the body of Christ so that we all can glorify God together as one and hold each other up! God bless you!

Monday, March 26, 2018

Crazy Haired Jesus Freak!

I love how God shows up and allows me to be a part of something unexpected during ordinary tasks of my day! Today, I needed to stop by a mailbox on my way home to drop off some letters. The closest one on my route was at Walmart (the ONLY reason I ever go there lol). I parked the van and walked towards the store. As I was walking, I passed a gentleman as he was getting ready to load stuff into his truck. I felt that "holy nudge" (as the Newsboys call it) in my heart. I felt like maybe God wanted me to pray for him. I was about half-way to the mailbox, so I thought if I was really supposed to approach him, there would be a chance after I walked back. I dropped off the letters and started back towards my van.

The man was just starting to look for where he should return his cart. I came up to him and told him I would take it for him. He was friendly. He thanked me and let me take it. I noticed his patriotic hat, so I asked him if he had served in the military (because I make it a habit of thanking a veteran every time I see one). He said no, and that he just barely missed Vietnam. Then, I asked him if I could pray for him because I felt like the Lord wanted me to. He was completely open and responsive to it and I asked him if he had any needs or something weighing on his heart. He said he couldn't think of anything specific, so I asked if I could put my hand on his shoulder and just say a prayer of blessing over him. I asked for his name and I thanked God for him and prayed over his health, home, family, needs, etc. When I finished, he brought up his newborn grandson that is at Riley's. I prayed again; for healing and that this baby would bring glory to God for the purpose for which he was created and born into this world.

After that, we talked for a little bit. He said he was in his 60's and that it was nice to see young people willing to share their faith. He asked me how old I was and I told him 35. He said he wouldn't have guessed it and thought I was in my 20's. I was like, "yessssssss" lol. ;) I told him that my oldest child's birthday was today and that he was 15. I also shared that he was born hearing impaired and autistic. I encouraged him that just as God has used him for his glory, his grandson would be used for the Kingdom too. We agreed that there are no accidents, and I shared about the Activ8 youth conference at my church this past weekend; particularly about and how Jeremiah Carlson shared about his experiences in his life and that all of it is being used for God's glory. He emphasized that while there are mistakes, there are no accidents. None of us are accidents; even if we "happened" by "mistake". God plans everything. We're all meant to be here. He encouraged the kids that they were all God's masterpieces....created on purpose for a purpose. All things (good and bad) can and will be used for God's glory (Romans 8:28).
Crazy hair, and crazy about Jesus!

The funniest part about this encounter happened when we were discussing God's purpose for meeting today. He said he felt like God was using it to tell him not to judge a book by its cover. He explained that his generation doesn't always know what to think about mine (tats, piercings, etc.) and that he didn't know what to think about my brightly colored hair when I first walked by. I laughed and told him, "you probably thought, 'she needs Jesus'," and we got a good laugh out of that. I told him it reminded me of a Max Lucado piece that I read years ago where he talked about how he prematurely (and mistakenly) judged a family by how they looked. I encourage you to take a second to read it (it's short!). It's called "Label or Love?" where he says: "I'd applied the label before examining the contents. We've all used labels. We stick them on jars and manila folders so we'll know what's inside. We also stick them on people for the same's easier to label than to love." 

I also shared with him about a similar message that I saw on Facebook recently. It was a short video message from Joyce Meyer (again, take a minute to check it worth it and so funny!) where she talked about the way people judge others based on their tattoos, piercings, hair, etc. I told him about how my Mom didn't like my hair (though, ironically, she was the one that originally forwarded that Max Lucado article to me lol) and that my Dad didn't really care for it either....and that he jokingly asked me if I was a barbarian when I got my nose and tongue piercings. I pointed out the fact that nose rings have their place in the Bible. Read about the nose ring that Rebekah received when she was chosen as a wife for Isaac (and Joyce referenced Ezekiel 16 and talked about not being "baptized in prune juice" and that legalism isn't holiness). I told him that there's lots of styles of hair, piercings, and tats that I don't like either (I really don't fancy ear gauging) but that it's all just that.... different styles. Everyone has different ways of expression and personal preferences. I explained that God had told me years ago, "It's all about the heart, Melissa" and that it's something that has permanently stuck in my mind and helped me so much in my life. I reiterated that I have met many passionate people for Christ that have a creative/colorful hairstyle, or that have nose rings like me (including our youth conference speaker)."Crazy" hair, tattoos, piercings, etc. are just the "packaging" of a person. You have no way of judging the motives of someone's heart by their outsides! Like the Pharisees, a clean cup on the outside could have a very filthy inside; or a dirty and unattractive exterior could have a pure interior (Mathew 23:25-26, Luke 11:39) You just don't know...only God knows. We see the outside, but God sees the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).

I got a big hug from him before we parted ways and he said he'd be sure to talk to me again if he ever saw me. I told him about my job at the Salvation Army and encouraged him to stop by and say hello sometime. I shared about how much I loved my job and that I get to smile and welcome people in, pray for them, and just love on them. I also told him that there have been four drive-thru workers that I've been moved to prayed for recently and that only one of them refused. You just have to say "yes" to God and he'll let you be part of something when you cooperate!

Grace and peace to you, my friends! I hope you're as inspired and encouraged as I am! I couldn't stop thanking and praising God for allowing me to be part of it as I drove home! I really wanted to put this out there today because I love sharing moments like this (and reading/hearing about others' moments as well). Who doesn't love a good "God story"?! We need to read encouraging stuff like this; and to be inspired to be PART of these moments as well! It really isn't hard to obey a simple prompt from God. I have so many of these awesome moments that I could be blogging about, but I would be writing non-stop if I shared them all! I am so blessed to be a part of God's Kingdom work! I feel so honored that He would include me and choose me to interact with people like this! The good news is, He wants to include ALL of us! You can be part of it too! Just listen....and then do it! Keep on listening and loving well! Ask God to open you up to love better and bigger; to give you HIS eyes to see, ears to hear, and heart to listen and love others (watch "Give Me Your Eyes" by Brandon Heath!). Be receptive to Him and He just might let you have a peek at someone's beautiful heart when you step out of your box to connect with them! That crazy haired, tattooed, pierced hooligan may just be crazy about Jesus too. ;) She could be a crazy haired Jesus me! God bless you!

Monday, August 28, 2017

My Beautiful Aunt Linda

Today, we laid my Aunt Linda's earthly body to rest after a beautiful memorial service. As grieved as we all are, I know we all have peace. Just as the angels had declared that Jesus wasn't in the tomb, but had risen, we know that Linda has been raised to life. It's a beautiful comfort to know that she is with our risen Savior!
I snapped this at our Christmas get-together in 2009. 

The following words are the things that the Holy Spirit put on my heart to share at the service today. It was my honor and joy to be able to minister these words to others just as they were ministered to me when He had me typing and crying up a storm: 

As I have attempted to recall to mind the memories of my Aunt Linda, I realized that I didn't have the kind of memories everyone else would be sharing. Many of us who are gathered here have lived with her or near her while most of my interactions with her has been through family get-togethers and social media. I don't really recall many moments of one-on-one quality time. However, there are two prominent memories that stick out in my mind that I believe can speak for anyone who knew her no matter how much or how little they got to interact with her.

My first memory is of when I was a young child and I was told that she was going to have a baby. I remember that there was a strong emphasis on what a big deal this was. Every baby is a miracle, but her baby was that much more of a miracle child. If anyone ever had a mother's glow, it was her. The mere mention of her son, Zach, would immediately put the biggest smile on her face. She had once told me about how her co-workers had gotten her a doll that was made to look just like him. She adored that gift because it reminded her of her most precious real-life gift; her living "doll" with his Daddy's bright blue eyes. She truly treasured her husband, son, and family. Sometimes, people don't cherish their loved ones enough or as deeply as they should; but she did.

My other memory is about my necklace. It's a cheap two dollar necklace that I bought at a souvenir place while on vacation many years ago. It became a favorite of mine that I wore quite a bit. One day, it accidentally got broken. There were beads everywhere and I reacted with the kind of shock and sadness that Pocahontas did in that Disney movie scene where her mother's necklace was broken to bits. I hoped that maybe I would figure out how to fix it...if I ever had the time and know-how to do it. Realistically speaking, I knew I would probably never get around to fixing it myself. I can't remember how the subject came up (or if someone had just mentioned that Aunt Linda had the jewelry making skills to repair it) but she was more than happy to take a look at it and see what she could do with it. I don't recall how long she had it, but just like her mom (my Grandma) she was able to eventually get it done and get it back to me. Like Grandma, she apologized that she didn't get it finished sooner and tried to explain how it probably wasn't "quite right" or good enough. Again, just like with Grandma, I could never quite figure out what the supposed flaw was because it looked like new to me. I didn't care about any so-called imperfections or how long it took. All I knew is that I was loved because time was taken out for me and my problem. Aunt Linda was just like Grandma (and even looked so much like her too). They both had such willing hearts to love and serve others; always making sure things got done. They happily invested in their family and friends. Love, laughter, service, faith, and joy was a natural part of who they were and is why they are both so beloved and missed. 

I feel that these two memories summarize the Linda we all knew. We all love and miss her because she poured so much life into everyone around her. Since the day she gave back to me my remade necklace, I've never seen it as the cheap two dollar souvenir that it started out as. Every time I have put it on, it's felt like that Disney moment where Pocahontas also got her necklace back. What was so precious had been made precious and new once more, but it was more than that. Immeasurable new value had been added to it because someone cared enough to put the time into re-making it. That's what love does; it rebuilds, restores, renews, and heals. What was once broken is restored and what once was shattered is I made whole and new again. That's what I think of when I wear my necklace: "My Aunt Linda fixed this for me." That's
My re-made necklace
who she was. She modeled the healing grace of our Savior, Jesus Christ. She walked in love and poured it into everyone and everything around her. It pained us all to see life being drained and robbed from her after everything she did to pour life into everyone else. Our comfort is this; she has been remade! In heaven, she has been healed and made new. The body that had been broken is now restored, and what cancer had shattered is made whole and new again. Jesus fixed everything; right on time (His time) and without any flaws. She, her mom, grandma, Sherryl, and all of our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who have gone before us are eternally healed and whole. We will also experience this same joy if Christ is the Lord and Savior of our hearts. Until then, we must continue the legacy of faith and love the way they did. In this way, we will truly celebrate and honor their lives by paying forward all that they have poured into our lives.

Grace and peace to you, my friends! I'm including her memorial video at the bottom. Also, here's a link to one of Aunt Linda's favorite songs: I Can Only Imagine (I can't wait for the movie!!). The one thing I'm imagining right now is Aunt Linda and Grandma being with Jesus in heaven. In three days, it will be the 5th anniversary of Grandma's passing. It's so strange and beautiful that they both went to heaven during the same month, at around the same time, and because of the same reason. I hope and pray that everyone who reads this will get to experience this eternal paradise. The only way is through Jesus. If you haven't accepted Him as your Lord and Savior yet, don't wait another day! You never know when it will be your last!