Saturday, December 15, 2018

When It's Hard to Find the "Wonderful"

For many people, Christmastime is "the most wonderful time of the year." For others, those song lyrics are the last thing they want to hear because for one reason or another, it's hard to get excited about Christmas. Personally, every time my co-worker mockingly and randomly sings that line to me, I give him a "bah, humbug" kind of look.  It can be a struggle to have the Christmas spirit when you work at the Salvation Army and the "wonderful" time of the year is the most crazy busy time of the year.

As exhausting as all the busyness is, I know it's all worth it. Struggling families will be getting assistance and generous donors are ensuring that I still have a job to do as I process monetary gifts and take care of business. The ministry goes on because of this "wonderful" but busy time of year. God supplies all the strength and endurance I need to persevere through a long December; even with an ongoing cold & cough that is only now starting to taper off. I truly can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13). Jesus is the one that propels me onward. He keeps me looking forward to the mystery and hope of the upcoming new year as the current one wraps up. What a blessing it is to see the world through "Kingdom" lenses; an eternal perspective. Christ is my confidence! He gives me peace and joy even on the most weary days. 

The only thing that sometimes gets me down is when I become aware of the emptiness and sadness of others. Christmas and New Year's doesn't look bright and shiny to them. Fear has drowned out Hope because they have forgotten (or don't know) His name. The holidays have come at a bad time because they've just lost a job, a home, a loved one, or maybe more than one of those things at once. They may be dealing with a severe illness or injury, an addiction, or financial struggles. They may be a veteran struggling to overcome PTSD and are still fighting a war; the fight for the will to live. Some have buried parents, siblings, and even babies and children. Others have friends and relatives who are incarcerated; whether literally, figuratively, or both. 

The scenarios I mentioned all have names and faces attached to them; most of them are the people I listen to, hug, and pray with when they're coming in for help. You may not know the ones I know, but chances are you know someone who is going through this kind of pain and grief (maybe it's you). It's far too easy for Satan to use these tragedies for his gain; all he has to do is keep the focus on the problems rather than the One who solves them. He cleverly keeps our attention fixed inward rather than upward; on that next fix, hook up, lottery ticket, shopping spree, or alcoholic beverage. It's all about keeping you obsessed with filling the void; returning to empty wells or salt water that can't quench or satisfy. In fact, some of those wells are downright contaminated with poison; yet the compulsion to draw from them remains and the cycle continues. The negative emotions and depression deepens and digs its hooks deeper into your soul; becoming more and more of a stronghold and stumbling block.

The good news is that there IS "good news"; "tidings of great joy" for ALL people (yes, YOU too)! It's the Gospel message and the whole reason this season is truly "wonderful": Jesus. I can vouch for the fact that He is the only One that can rescue and restore a heavy heart and weary soul. He is the key to freedom from those strongholds! I've been to the empty and toxic wells as much as anyone else. Because of my own struggles, I can promise you that Hope really does deliver, because that deliverer's name is Emmanuel; "God with us." He is the way, the truth and the life, who gives us living water. Turn away from the kind of water that isn't good for your soul and turn to the one and only pure water source. Christ's living water is fresh, pure, and sustaining. HE is the answer you seek. Be a wise man (or wise woman) and journey towards the Savior who has come to rescue and restore you! Fall on your knees before the Savior. Humble yourself before the One who humbled Himself as well. Our Creator came to Earth in the very human form in which we ourselves are made. God came to be with us so that He could also die for/deliver us, and then live IN us through the Holy Spirit. He was forsaken so that we would never have to be. In your greatest need and brokenness, He is with you. Draw near to Him and He will draw near to you. You are not alone! What a most wonderful time of year it is indeed! HE makes it wonderful!

Grace and peace to you, my dear friends! Please, pray for those that are seeking, hurting, grieving, and needing to know the hope and joy that the Prince of Peace brings. In this season of giving, look for every opportunity to do the most good. Give spare change to the Salvation Army red kettles (or volunteer to ring the bell!!), adopt a family for Christmas, donate food to the pantry, smile at strangers, visit a nursing home, etc. As John Wesley said: "Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can." Don't waste a moment to make an impact! Be the hope of Jesus everywhere you go; through your words and actions. Love well! Additionally, if you are reading this and are desperate for the hope and peace I've shared about, please comment or contact me. I would love to listen to your heart, hear your story, and pray for you! God bless you!

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Do You Need a Kind & Life-Giving Word Today?

This morning's church service was all about the power of words. Our words have the power to hurt or to heal. We were encouraged to be "life-giving fountains" as described in Proverbs 10:11. We were also cautioned about speaking idle and unkind words over others (as well as withholding life-affirming words from those who need it). As Christians, we should be calling out the best in others; inspiring them to embrace who God created them to be. If we see something good in someone, call it out!

If you know me very well at all, you know why this sermon resonates with me. I'm all about trying to be a life-giving fountain and am honored every time that someone sees the kind of heart that I have for others. Everywhere I've ever worked, I've had customers ask me why I'm always smiling and they compliment me on being positive and encouraging. Over and over again, I assure people it's because I have the Father's joy in my heart and that I want them to feel loved, valuable, and welcome. I can't tell you how many times I have prayed for and held people who couldn't fathom why I would be so nice to them. I love seeing the looks on their faces as I just listen to them and acknowledge their pain; regardless of what they've done or how bad life is for them. They are always fearful that they've said too much and that they are going to be judged. Yet, they are intensely relieved when they don't see me recoil at their confessions or give them the kind of look that would make them feel small. They see that I am a safe person and by the time we're done having a moment together, they feel much better about themselves and their situation.

That is why I am composing this post today. I felt the need to offer up kind words today for anyone who is desperately needing them. Have you been feeling down? Has someone said something that has cut you to your heart and you don't know how to get past the pain? Have you been questioning whether or not you matter? Is something weighing on you, or do you just need a refreshing drink of water in the form of a splash of kind words? I encourage you to leave me a comment. If you don't want to share anything specific, just comment "kind word". I'll pray and ask what God's heart is for you and call out whatever good I see in you (I promise you there's SOMETHING....even if I don't know you or know you very well). There are also a few people that I'll be contacting directly today that are coming to my mind.

I also want to encourage you to be refreshing to someone else; maybe even to this family that I'm trying to help (click here to learn more and read about my heart for them). Regardless of what you do or don't know about them and their struggles, I encourage you to ask God how He sees them. I urge you to empathize and to think of them and their innocent young children. I further implore you to refrain from any negativity and judgment directed towards them (or even me) for any reason; those kind of comments and messages are not welcome. Words hurt... and it hurts just as much when it's being said about someone you care about just like it would hurt if it were about yourself. I guess what comes to mind is how the onlookers objected to the woman who anointed Jesus, wept at His feet, and dried them with her hair (Luke 7:36-50). They wondered: 'Does He not know about the kind of woman who is touching him?' They looked at her past history, her sin, and her bad choices. Jesus was looking at her present, her heart, and her choices moving forward. He showed her mercy, compassion, and kindness; whether she "deserved" it or not. Even if she fell back into old ways the very next day, would that nullify the Savior's love for her or make any kindness spent on her a waste? Absolutely not!! He's not going to shake His head in disappointment and do a "face palm". No matter what, the Father is still going to pursue that lost sheep; because that sheep is infinitely valuable to Him. If that sheep wanders off again, He will keep leaving the ninety-nine to go after it....that's His "Reckless Love". No regrets. You may "know" things that I don't, and I may "know" things that you don't. All that matters is what the Father knows, what He says, and what He wants to do in this family's life. This Kingdom work is going to matter in eternity; one way or another. If you don't want to be a part of it, you don't have to. Just remember that if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all. You may never know how much that idle word hurt someone; even if you were trying to say it "in love."

Grace and peace to you, my friends! Please, be aware of the power of life and death that your words have on others. Cherish the life-giving words that people have spoken over you and strive to do likewise. Additionally, forgive those who have spoken curses and painful words over your life (and seek forgiveness from those that YOU have hurt and are needing to forgive YOUR idle words). I'm not immune to this either! If I have been careless with my words with you, please contact me so I can make it right and seek your forgiveness! Let us remember that love covers a multitude of sins (Proverbs 10:12, 1 Peter 4:8). God bless you!

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!