Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Finding Answers in the Wilderness

It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; 
to search out a matter is the glory of kings. 
- Proverbs 25:2

"Did you find everything alright?" That's usually the question asked when you're checking out at a store and the associate is politely trying to make sure you have gotten everything you've come for. Usually, a person's answer is "yes," right? We go into a store with a list or a particular item in mind; and we don't leave until we have gotten what we've come for. Most of the time, we know where something is. We seek and find it right away. Other times, we're looking for something special that we wouldn't typically search for. It may take us longer to find it, but we're on a mission! Even if we don't find it at one store, we keep looking until we finally complete our quest. A seeker's mentality gets a finder's reward.

What about the non-material things? What about the treasure of wisdom that is worth far more than rubies (Job 18:18, Proverbs 8:11)? What about the things that aren't tangible; things you cannot buy, earn, or find in stores? How often do we go on an intentional and purposeful quest for that? How often do we find it when we look for it? 

I have been thinking about this concept because I "found" something that I was looking for. Over the years, I've learned to have that seekers mentality. I know that if I seek the Lord, I will find Him. If I desperately need answers, He will give them to me. That's what His Word says (Deuteronomy 4:29, Jeremiah 29:13, Proverbs 8:17, Matthew 7:7-8, Luke 11:9-10). The "catch" is being "all in". Being wholehearted and intentional. Just like shopping, you're on a mission; purposefully and intentionally looking for something (and not giving up until you've found it). It's also like when we were recently car shopping for my son. Of all the makes, models, mileages, prices, etc. you don't give up until you find the right one. There were moments where we almost settled for less, but a true seeker's heart will be paired with wisdom and discernment. Those are the things Holy Spirit uses to confirm to you that you've found what you're looking for. 

I've "found" a lot of treasure to start off the week! It began Monday morning as I was driving to work. I was feeling extra tired and weary; definitely not ready for a new week. I was praying and lamenting about how I was feeling; asking God, as always, for his provision, healing, and refreshment. I also wanted to know that I was seen and that things were going to be ok regarding Chris securing a new job this week. This is a whole separate story, but basically, I've been feeling that this week was going to be the end of our 40 days in the wilderness (July 8th was when he was let go, so that makes today, August 16th, the last day). I had recently read in Luke 4:1-15 about the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness and was struck by how it started and ended - FULL! Jesus was FULL of the Holy Spirit, and was LED by the Spirit into the wilderness. He was fasting; He ate nothing. HOW did he withstand 40 days of temptation? It was that FULLNESS of the Spirit that sustained Him. He had 40 days worth of attacks from Satan, but He overcame it! After those 40 days were over, He returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit; teaching and healing people. 

I haven't been able to stop thinking about this. You'd think I'd already be content and super excited for the upcoming breakthrough/shift that is on the horizon after everything I've been reading, praying, and fasting through. However, I wanted and needed more confirmation and revelation. Jeremy Avila actually kicked that off a few days ago at Friday Worship Night with "You gotta getta word!" Watch this one! It also includes an amazing word from Roxy where she mentioned Abraham's "yes" to God. If you need a word from the Lord, GET ONE! He'll give it to you if you seek and ask for it! Seriously, go watch that; it'll help you get started (check this out too for more ideas; this series is also great about explaining how to see and experience God more). I didn't even know at the time how much it would factor in with what God would show me!

Over this past weekend, God was busy bringing the pieces together before I even fully asked for it (it's so cool how He does that; He really does know what we need before we even ask...which was something I read in my Bible plan today too!). Saturday night, he even woke me up from a nap with Hebrews 11:1 in my head. 

Naturally, awakening to a verse echoing in my mind prompted me to read Hebrews 11 in its entirety. It's a faith builder full of testimonies of so many in the Bible who walked by faith. Some didn't even see the full promise in their lifetime, but "welcomed it from a distance." The last verses say that together with US, they would be made perfect. 

The full impact of Hebrews 11 didn't come until I listened to Dutch Sheets' "Give Him 15" post. I thought I was listening to Monday's post, but I was actually listening to Friday's post that I had missed but intended to listen to later. In it, he was talking about God's timing and about....Abraham. I was awestruck and blessed, and then I heard "see you on Monday" and realized that I had listened to Friday's (and like I mentioned earlier, Abraham was mentioned at our Friday Worship Night). I couldn't wait to listen to Monday's post, but it would have to wait for my drive home.

In the meantime, I was also exploring two numbers that had popped up on Sunday. One was a total of $15.15 and the other $80 even. Neither one seemed like coincidences. When searching the Bible app, I found the treasure I was looking for in Proverbs 15:15 and Luke 1:80 : 

All the days of the oppressed are wretched, but the cheerful heart has a continual feast.

And the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the wilderness until he appeared publicly to Israel.

Once again, MORE treasure! Bible Hub has some insightful commentary notes on Proverbs 15:15. It explained how the oppressed/afflicted is a mental state. A cheerful heart and good attitude fuels a person and they can draw upon it and feast upon it. Likewise, someone that lives off of a bad mindset will feast off it and wallow in self-pity. It paired nicely with what I was seeking about the wilderness. Like Jesus, John the Baptist experienced growth, transformation, and power in the wilderness. When they both appeared and started their public ministries, they were FULL of the power of the Spirit. They had been feasting on and drawing their sustenance from the Spirit throughout their time in the wilderness. By contrast, the Israelites did the opposite when they were in the wilderness for 40 years. They had an oppressed and anxious mentality. Their mentality left them powerless instead of powerful. They feasted on negativity and scarcity; hoarding manna and quail to feed their flesh instead of feasting on the Spirit of God. I don't know about you, but I want my time in the wilderness to look less like theirs and more like Jesus and John's. I want to emerge victorious, transformed, refined, and empowered! 

To put the icing on the cake, Dutch's Monday post was about.....Hebrews 11. You can't make this stuff up lol! In it, he talked about agreeing with our brethren in prayer and the synergy of the ages (not just present prayers, but the prayers prayed by those that proceeded us). He describes those last two verses about being made perfect together like this:

The last two verses of Hebrews 11 give us the amazing answer; they did not receive the fulfillment of their promises because God wouldn’t allow them to be “complete” without us. That is incredible! We, today, are a continuation of these individuals’ callings and assignments. The Greek word translated “complete” also means “to finish; to mature; to reach the intended goal.” Think about the ramifications of this: without us, God can’t finish what He began through those saints; what He started through them cannot mature or reach its intended goal until we grab the baton and run our leg of the race. That is mind-blowing!

God gave these individuals promises, but He often didn’t give them timelines. He did not tell them He would bring the fulfillment into their lifetimes, although I’m sure most of them expected Him to do so. The eternal God, who transcends time, speaks promises that are sometimes more reflective of His nature and relationship with time than ours. At times, He makes promises to people, knowing full well He will deliver on those promises through their children, grandchildren, or spiritual descendants. I wonder what I may be finishing for some pastor or teacher from a few decades ago? Or perhaps for even some flag-waving patriot warrior?

I went to Monday night prayer room feeling very "full". I wanted to "getta word" and He more than gave it to me! I entered the wilderness full, led by the Spirit for my/our own good, and I/we are going to leave it FULL; better than when we went in! I definitely feel like I/we will be leaving the wilderness this week and entering into a new season (or ministry?!) FULL of POWER! 

I couldn't help but share Hebrews 11 at prayer room through grateful tears. I also shared about how much the prayers of my grandmothers meant to me. I was told that my Great-Grandma Zerkel would often fall asleep praying for her family members. She would try to get through everyone's names, but sometimes didn't make it. I think about what she might have prayed for all of us and that she would go to sleep with our names and prayers on her lips. Maybe it was something as simple as blessing and keeping us. She always used to write that in birthday cards: "May the Lord bless you and keep you." Keep me? Am I going somewhere? What does that even mean? I never understood it. I didn't appreciate it until recent years when I thought about what that meant as she stuck that birthday wish and a crisp $1 bill in the card. She was a widow for most of her life. She didn't have much, but she loved and thought of us. That dollar bill, and those nighttime prayers, were priceless widow's mites. If a dollar was all she had, she'd at least make sure it was brand new. And those prayers? Still being answered today. He has blessed and "kept" me. I cannot be snatched from His hand (John 10:27-30, Romans 8:38-39).
Faith. Transformation. Prayers. POWER! The fullness and sustaining power of Holy Spirit is what gets us through our wilderness seasons. He leads us there to refine and prepare us for what comes after it. I'm ready to "getta word" for what's next as I leave the wilderness in the rear-view mirror!

Grace and peace to you, my friends! If you need need answers in your life, SEEK THE LORD....with ALL your heart! Go on that mission and don't stop until you've completed it and gotten what you came for! Don't waste time grumbling in the wilderness. Draw off the fullness of the Spirit and let it fuel and sustain you! Fast. Pray. Seek. You'll be transformed, renewed, and prepared for the purposes for which He's working all of this out for good (Romans 8:28). You'll emerge powerful and victorious; ready to advance His Kingdom in new ways! The faith and prayers prayed throughout the ages will continue on as we pass the torch to the next generation. May He "bless and keep" us all as we give what we have of ourselves to Him! We're creating a continued legacy; or choosing a new one if it wasn't passed down to us (just look at Rahab who was mentioned in that hall of faith!). God bless and keep you all!

Thursday, July 7, 2022

40 & Fabulous!

Forty is a big number; and an important one. It's a Biblical number; showing up 146 times in scripture. Think about some of the most notable mentions of it. The world was flooded for 40 days and nights (and we remember that time every time we see GOD'S RAINBOW of His promise and faithfulness to us). There's also the wandering in the wilderness of the Israelites. Jesus' days of temptation also come to mind. "The number 40 generally symbolizes a period of testing, trial or probation...the number forty can also represent a generation of man."   

Maybe that's why people say, "life begins at 40." I definitely feel this to be true for me as I reflect back on four decades of life. I've grown; and not just in height or girth lol. I've grown where it counts; in faith and love. I have definitely had storms, desert wanderings, and many temptations and failures. But, I've also experienced God's great redemption and favor as He continues to show Himself faithful even when I haven't been. His promises are always true; and I'm so thankful for that!

Paul said it best in 1 Corinthians 13:11-13

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
My mind and heart has matured; and will continue to do so for the rest of my days. I don't want to think or behave in the frequent foolish ways of a child, but I do want to have the pure heart and faith of a child like Jesus mentions (Matthew 18:3, Mark 10:15, Luke 18:17). I want discernment, discipline, and humility to be continually cultivated in me; and without losing the joy, wonder, fun, and creativity that are those good childlike things that we should hang onto. I want to learn from the past reflections, and look prophetically forward to what I can't see (but can see "in part"). In fact, there are probably nuggets from my past that still aren't "fully known" yet either! But, there will come a day (ultimately in heaven) where everything is clear and "fully known". It's the three things (faith, hope, and love) that "remain" with us throughout this earthly life that give us a picture of what we will "fully know" in eternal life. 

The pictures you are beholding now are a few snapshots of the past; as well as my Rainbow Brite birthday dress of today and my special makeup/accessories lol. That's right, I have no shame. I am unapologetically "extra"....and it's FUN! I have always loved rainbows (and obviously Rainbow Brite). I have also always liked unicorns, Strawberry Shortcake, and all things princess, sparkly, etc. At different stages of life, I've lost my own "sparkle", but have always been restored through Christ. Just like the time Rainbow Brite had to restore colors that were destroyed by the Monstromurk, God has brought back all the hues of beauty back to my life every time the enemy has tried to crumble my world and turn everything to gray and ash. As goofy as 80's cartoons can be (though STILL superior to the junk or remakes/makeovers of her and other favorite 80's characters), I can always see the spiritual truth at the heart of it. Is life always sunshine, rainbows, and sparkles? No. Jesus said we would have trouble in this world; but assured us of the GOOD NEWS that HE has overcome it (John 16:33). We live in a fallen world because of sin, but that brokenness is NOT our final condition! We can STILL have sunshine, sparkles, and rainbows (and spread all that around!) if we CHOOSE to; if we CHOSE HIM and abide in Him (John 15:5)! He who believes HAS eternal life (both NOW and LATER as John 3:16-17 says). THAT'S why I "smile all the time". That's why people call me "sunshine", "mermaid", "smiley", etc. I have that joy NOW, in part, and will have it FULLY in eternity! I'm excited for that day when all things will be permanently bright and beautiful. No more sin. No more death. No more crumbling world, pain, or darkness. There will be a day; and it's coming....SOON!

Grace and peace to you, my friends! Birthday or no birthday, this is a month of turning points, breakthrough, and celebration! I am excited for all God has, is, and will continue to do! Pray, fast, and persevere! It's time for the Deborahs to arise (she served 40 years as a judge, by the way). It's the "until" moment. Insert your name in her words, "Until I, Melissa, arose!" RISE UP, for such a time as this! Take your place! I definitely feel like I'm rising up in my destiny more and more as the final days draw near! Praise God! Amen! 

*SIDE NOTE* I'm collecting 40 items (at least!) for The Salvation Army food & diaper pantry for my birthday this month! See list below for most needed items. Or, if you would like to donate to the "mermaid hair fund" (so I can continue being a "blue beacon" for others and connect/minister/pray with them) you can Cash App $MKCunning and make a note of it. If you don't live in the area and can't bring physical items, you can also make note of it and do a Cash App donation and I'll buy the items and donate them. Thank you in advance for investing in God's Kingdom!

  • Diapers (Size 7 ONLY; this is a highly requested size that we rarely get....and my birthday is 7/7, so it fits lol).
  • Baby Wipes
  • Toiletries: Shampoo, Conditioner, Bar Soap, Hand Soap, Deodorant, Razors, Toothbrushes, Toothpaste, Feminie Hygiene
  • Laundry & Cleaning Products: Detergent, Fabric Softener, Dryer Sheets, Cleaning Sprays
  • Breakfast Foods: Cereal, Oatmeal, Pancake Mix, & Syrup
  • Pasta: Noodles, Ramen, Mac & Cheese, Chef Boyardee, Pasta Sauce
  • Baking Items & Mixes: Flour, Sugar, Oil, Cake Mix, Brownie Mix, Frosting, etc.
  • Beverages: Coffee, Tea, Juice
  • Canned Meats: Chicken, Beef, Pork, Tuna
  • Misc.: Peanut Butter, Jelly, Soup, Condiments, Snack Foods

Friday, May 27, 2022

"Go and make great things happen!"

When I heard that Mr. Tatman passed away I was sad. Then, I read his obituary and couldn't help but laugh out loud when I read, "Per Stephen’s wishes, there will be no services." I heard him saying that last part of the sentence in my mind as only he would say it (anyone that knew him probably understands what I mean). It makes perfect sense to me why he wouldn't want any services; he was modest, humble, and not usually sentimental (though, the guest book entries definitely show some of his softer side underneath the "tough coach/teacher" exterior). I know he probably wouldn't want anyone eulogizing him, but his impact was far too great not to. I'm sorry, Mr. Tatman. You'll just have to shake your head, and throw down an "F" from heaven in disapproval. I'll "pick that gauntlet up" (as you used to say) and write my best anyways. I am going to "give credit where credit is due"; which is another thing that you always said and emphasized frequently. Yes, I know that "less is more", but Mrs. Cook overrode you in that department because she taught me to write in detail. 

I first knew Mr. Tatman as the Dad of my newfound friend. Kate and I hit it off right away when they moved to Berne. When I would go to her house, I was told (and learned very quickly) to keep the noise level down and NEVER bother him; especially when he was watching the sci-fi channel. He had a presence that was initially intimidating, but that you couldn't help respecting. 

I also learned that he was very smart and incredibly funny. His humor is the kind where you don't always know if it's safe to laugh because he seldom cracked a smile in his delivery of the joke. You second guess yourself and wonder if he was really intending to be funny. A memory of this that stands out is when I was having dinner at their house. I'll never forget sitting around the table as a 4th grader; trying to fill the silence and make small talk with a man who was a mystery and larger than life. He was scary and fascinating to me. I asked him what he taught. Without even really looking at me, he abruptly and quickly rattled off something like "literature....Shakespeare.." I told him I would like his class. Once again, without looking at me, he promptly said, "you wouldn't like my class." I was rattled and couldn't think of anything else to say. I was stunned into silence (and a part of me was also stifling laughter at the way he said it). I also wanted to insist that I really WOULD like his class, but the rest of me was screaming "don't you dare try to argue with this guy!" So, I let it be. Yet, in my mind, I already knew that whether he meant that as a joke or not, I was going to prove him wrong. 

Fast forward to 10th grade English. I always hoped to impress him, but it seemed like it took a lot to really "wow" him; and underclassmen typically didn't do it for him. In fact, I once again made the error of thinking I could make small talk. I had casually asked once, "So, are you looking forward to the Christmas break?" Not looking up, he continued to straighten the pile of papers he was going through and said, "I look forward to nothing. Every day is equal." My sophomoric brain was just as dumbfounded as my 4th grade brain had been. He was simple but so complex at the same time; just like the sentences he taught us to diagram. 

One of my proudest accomplishments of that class is the fact that I got an "A" on my figurative language assignment for "A Tale of Two Cities". He had said that it would be impossible to get a good grade if we waited until the night before to do it (which I did). I had no affection or appreciation for that book at the time; much like he described his disdain for "Canterbury Tales" when he was in grade school. He had explained that he refused to read it and relied on what was actually explained and taught in class so he wouldn't have to read it. I realized that he was telling us the same thing and that all I had to do was pay attention to his lectures and the oral chapter assignments from everyone else. To this day, I still haven't read much beyond the chapter assigned to me ("Knitting") and the opening line of,  "It was the best of times. It was the worst of times." The movie, and content of the class, was more than enough to help me get a good grade and I truly enjoyed his class. It didn't hurt that I understood and used figurative language all the time, so the assignment wasn't as hard for me as it likely was for other procrastinators. My love for Shakespeare also grew. We read through "The Tragic History of Julius Caesar" and "Hamlet". To this day, I still love Shakespeare, and I hope to eventually read EVERYTHING he's written.

I hung on every word, story, saying, and funny thing that he said (I think I still have my English and Speech folder stored away somewhere because everything he taught was so valuable to me). I especially felt this way when I took Speech class; which was the result of a last minute modification to my schedule when I abruptly dropped choir (don't ask lol). It seemed to be an unplanned and accidental thing. However, as Mr. Tatman always said, "there are no accidents." 

It was DEFINITELY no accident that I ended up taking Speech. I was meant to take that class and I absolutely LOVED it! It's my favorite class of all time for so many reasons. I relished every piece of advice and criticism that he gave me. He made me want to be my best self; and still does. In fact, the following phrases of his are things that I tell myself, and others, quite often: 

"Always know your mark."

"Know your audience." 

"Everything is done on purpose for a purpose. There are no accidents." 

"Practice doesn't make perfect. Practice makes permanent. PERFECT practice makes perfect. You practice how you perform and you perform the way you practice." 

These pieces of advice have served me well in life. It's not just good advice for stage or athletic performance. This applies to EVERYTHING! You need to know what you're doing and who you're doing it for! Know your audience and hit your mark on and off the stage. Be intentional, purposeful, and fruitful. If you want your words/art to be understood, you have to understand the ones you're communicating your message to! This includes everyday interactions with people; and especially in your most meaningful relationships. If you don't communicate in a way, and at a level your listener can understand, they will NOT receive and perceive the message you're communicating in the way that you intend. Always make every effort to be clear in what you're saying. 

There is so much more I could say. I have so many fond memories of every funny moment and nugget of wisdom I mined from him. However, I know I have gone on long enough and I'll end with one last thing; the thing that marked me for life. It happened when I was gathering signatures for my Senior Memories book. His signature/advice was one that I absolutely had to have. I had no idea what he thought of me; or if he took me seriously whenever I told him how much he had impacted me (I think that was one of the few times I made him smile/laugh lol). However, I made one last daring attempt to approach "the reaper" (as he often called himself). I asked him if I could take a photo of him for my book, and the following picture is what I got lol. Secondly, I asked him if he would sign it....and he actually did! 

I've always been grateful for these words and have heard them in my head (and in his voice) over and over again throughout the years. It's impacted me so strongly! First of all, it's because he addressed me by my first name (he always called everyone by their last name). Secondly, his encouragement and affirmation inspired and fueled me to want to make him proud and to live up to my God-given potential and destiny. I told him I was going to dedicate my first book to him and the rest of my English teachers. He laughed and said I didn't have to do that. Again, I wasn't sure if this was because of his modesty or if he really didn't believe that he had impacted me that much and didn't want any credit (especially if he thought I was a poor result of all his hard work as a teacher). My doubts faded away for the most part, because I'd like to think that his words reflected something he saw in me. After all, he never said anything he didn't mean. He was always sincere. Maybe that's why he started out by telling me to believe in myself after calling me by name. He knew I needed to be reminded to have confidence in how God designed and gifted me. He then affirmed my worth and value as a person; saying that I was important and that what I brought to the world meant something. Then, he sealed it with the commission of "go make great things happen!" He even said it out loud because I sheepishly asked what the last part said. I had initially thought maybe it said "God" because the "&" looked like a "d" to me, so that's why I dared to ask. It still would have made sense if there had been a coma after "God" or an "s" after "make."  "God, make great things happen!" "God makes great things happen!" The first is a prayer, the next is an answer and declaration to that prayer. I say "yes" and "amen" to both!!

I truly hope my life thus far has been a fulfillment of the prophetic words that Mr. Tatman spoke over me. I've grown in my identity in Christ and have been doing my best to live on purpose with a purpose; for that audience of "one" that is Christ Jesus. I know my mark, and I get up each day hoping to hit it. When I miss the mark, He covers me with grace and forgives me; showing me a better way to practice my faith so that my imperfect practice doesn't become permanent. I continue to grow, transform, and ask questions; because none of us are "aces" (as he used to say when no one dared to ask a question). We should never stop learning and growing; taking in as much information as we can before trying to discern or toss anything aside. "You can't afford to discriminate," he would say. It's true. As the Bible says, we must be quick to listen and slow to speak (James 1:19). Being a good audience is just as important as communicating to one. Communication is a "two way street."

Grace and peace to you, my friends! May we all live out our greatest commission which comes from Christ (Matthew 28:18-20). If we are going to "go out into all the world" and "make great things happen" for His name, we have to be a good disciple before we can make more! May we all be good students, disciples, and sowers so that we can reap a harvest of good things (Galatians 6:9, James 3:18); just like "the reaper" is reaping in heaven right now for all he's sown (he's getting his own A+ from the ultimate teacher). Remember that Jesus has chosen you (John 15:16). You are NO ACCIDENT (Job 10:11, Psalm 139:13-14, Jeremiah 1:5)! He has redeemed you and called you by name: You are His (Isaiah 43:1-2)! He is proud of you! You're His masterpiece and He has commissioned you to do good works and not bury your talents in the sand (Ephesians 2:10, Matthew 25:14-30). "Go and make great things happen" for the Kingdom! God bless you!

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Releasing Worry & Trusting God: Whatevers!

In my previous two posts, I've talked about releasing worry and trusting God. The first post was centered on faith; remembering "manna moments" from the Bible, and from every day life, which help us stand firm. Knowing who God is, what His Word says, and reflecting on His faithfulness is the foundation for maintaining and building even more faith to anchor us (especially in the hard times). Though, even with faith, there are still intense emotions that we experience in the midst of it. Faith doesn't mean we can't feel. Powerful emotions often rise up. When they do, we can lean into them in a healthy way to learn from and process those emotions. As we do so, we release them to God and find His comfort and healing.

In my life, I've worked to overcome my "all or nothing" mentality and strive for balance. I've realized that sometimes I stand so firm on faith that I try to stifle and suppress all emotions. Other times, I spend too much time leaning into my emotions that I get stuck in them and spiral out of control into a very depressed state. Both extremes battle brokenness from a different angle. Neither extreme is good for us, and it can be challenging to find that healthy balance. 

I don't know about you, but I sometimes reach the point where I completely burnout and breakdown. I feel completely broken and non-functional; and I struggle to snap out of it. Then, I feel guilty for falling into a dark depressing hole of self-pity; which just piles up on top of everything else that I feel bad about. I tell myself to get a grip, but I've already blown past all the "checkpoints" that I've previously set up for myself. I'm no longer interested in praying, talking to a friend, or encouraging/willing myself to function or think/do positive things. I feel numb, apathetic, and dangerously close to the edge. I've reached "whatever" mode; where I'm like, "It's whatever. I don't care anymore." 

This is why I'm so thankful for the Holy Spirit. I seriously have no idea how I would ever see the light at the end of the tunnel if I didn't have the Holy Spirit to give my whiny depressed flesh a pep talk. When I reach "whatever mode", that's when I start hearing this in my mind: 

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. - Philippians 4:6-8

Do you see that? THOSE are the right kind of "whatevers". If I'm going to be in "whatever" mode, that's the good kind of "whatever" to dwell on. However, when I'm just too deep in that hole, I sometimes stay stuck longer than I should and neglect that first part of praying and giving thanks (which is very crucial!). Instead of being transformed by the renewing of my mind (Romans 12:2), I end up being like the paralytic John 5:1-15. Jesus is asking me, "Do you WANT to get well?" and all I have are excuses. That self-pity trap. It's awful! Yet, He STILL has mercy on me and tells me to get up and walk! Get UP and WALK! Sometimes, that's all I can do for a while. I get up and walk; taking one step in front of the other even if I don't feel like it. Then, He meets me in my every day walk and shakes things up! **PSST! Be sure to watch this episode of "The Chosen" where they bring this story to life. I cry every time for so many reasons!**

I had been trying to run through my list of "whatevers"; thinking on my "happy thoughts" and "manna moments" so I could start seeing the light again. I wasn't making as much effort as I could have, but I was still getting up and walking. I went to Sunday morning service and that's where Jesus gave me a boost of "whatever". It started when my son, Casey, commented on the coat that I was wearing. It was a coat that belonged to my grandmother and had her initials embroidered on it. He said it must have been a prized possession and that it was nice that I was honoring her. He made it sound a lot grander than what it was. I honestly don't know how much she valued the jacket, but it does have a lot of special meaning to me for many different reasons. So, when he said that, it felt like a warm ray of sunshine. His love and compassion is like a hug from Jesus Himself. Grandma always loved me that way too. When His love shines through people in that "whatever is pure" way, it lets a lot of light in. It brightens you up. And things only got brighter from there! We happened to sing "How Great Thou Art" and that both broke me and lifted me in the best way! I started writing it all out in my journal during worship. He downloaded so much into my heart; including several other songs that I added to my HeartSpeak playlist for this new month. I closed my eyes and I could remember my Grandma. I could see and hear her singing that hymn in church as I stood beside her. I thought about the legacy of faith in my family and how Casey is speaking Christ's love as she did; and he's speaking it because I taught him the language (the language I've learned through what's been passed down in my family). 
As broken and messed up as my life has been, I started thinking about all these gleams of life and light shining through. The mosaic of a stained glass window is beautiful, and when the light shines on the many pieces, it's even more glorious! In that moment, God was showing me that this is my story. No matter how bad or broken my past or present seems, He makes the broken things beautiful. Two verses came to mind. First, Colossians 1:17 which says that in Him, all things hold together. Then, John 1:5 which says "the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it." I felt held together; even with all my broken pieces. I felt illuminated and that I could finally turn my eyes towards the light and see. I didn't want to sit in the darkness and look away anymore. I wanted to be "well." I wanted to allow His light to shine in my darkness and swallow me up instead. The darkness can never overcome light. Light always overcomes darkness. 

Over the past couple days at church and prayer meeting, I've been inviting His light to keep shinning on me and in me. I've been going through my "whatevers"; my pre-made list of "happy thoughts" and memories that keep me anchored to truth and reminds me of all the warm sunshine that has (and continues) to light up my life. I will think about "such things". I will be transformed by the renewing of my mind. I will get up and walk because I WANT to be well. I'll be like King David in 2 Samuel 12:20. I'll grieve, but then I'll get up and move on. Like him, I'll take a shower, get dressed, and go worship the Lord. I'll even encourage myself, as he did in 1 Samuel 30:6, when I feel distressed. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13). "Whatever" may come, I know that I can "whatever" myself for good or for bad, but it's the good "whatevers" that I want taking up space in my mind. I will think on such things; and such things will renew my mind, build my faith, and give me life!
Grace and peace to you, my friends! I encourage you to make your own list of "whatevers". What things/memories are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy? What lights you up and always makes you smile? Make a list of them and put it in your pocket for a rainy day when you need sunshine. Get creative and make a memory board, collage, scrapbook, slideshow, etc. Showcase your "whatevers" so that you can access that burst of light and joy when you need it. Cherish the moments where God's love touched your heart through the hug, smile, or act of kindness from another. Think on such things. God bless you!

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Releasing Worry & Trusting God: Leaning In

Last month, when I posted "Releasing Worry & Trusting God: Manna Moments", I had no idea how much I was going to need it for myself! I have revisited it a few times; and not just because I was planning on making a "part two" post. My intent was to go deeper by exploring how to have faith when things are REALLY hard and not looking like it's going to work out the way we think. Trouble and conflict will always be present in life; and people and circumstances will frequently fail to meet our expectations. So, I was going to focus even more on the faith aspect of things by talking about people like Joseph, Job, and even Jesus. They all persevered through hardships because they knew and trusted the Lord as well as His purpose and timing. However, I was reminded (through my own current hardships) that focusing only on the faith aspect overlooks a very important part: the emotions in our heart. We can absorb the truth, change our mindset, and soak in His promises and white-knuckle it through the hard stuff, but if we don't address the heart, it's incomplete.

So, what do you do when your faith and emotions seem so entangled? What do you do in the MOMENT when things are fresh, raw, real, and overwhelming? How do you have faith when you're sold into slavery and eventually end up in prison for something you didn't do (Joseph)? How do you not fall apart when your family and livelihood gets wiped out and you're afflicted with physical turmoil too (Job)? How do you embrace being "strong and courageous" (Joshua) when you have to rise up to a monumental task or you're on the run from someone who wants to kill you (David)? How do you deal with sitting inside a prison wondering if Jesus really is the Messiah you thought He was (John the Baptist)? How do you cope when things don't look or feel very good and Romans 8:28 doesn't appear to be "working out for good" the way everyone tells you it will? 

Having faith doesn't mean that we can't feel. In fact, acknowledging and dealing with our deep feelings of fear, worry, sadness, etc. is what helps us build our faith even more when we face it and allow Christ to bring healing and wholeness. When we bury unpleasant and perceived negative emotions and trauma, we end up building up walls of protection and reacting out of an unhealthy and broken place.

The irony of all this is obviously timely. We haven't told many up until now, but my husband lost his job again; third time in two years. So, now my "part two" comes from the fresh experiences and perspective of an insider rather than a hindsighter or sideliner (if those even count as words).

On March 31st, I was at work and saw that Chris was calling my phone; and somehow, I knew in my gut what he was going to say. Yet, when he told me, I was calm. Maybe that was the initial grief stage of shock/denial, but I felt relieved. No more toxic workplace or dangerous and gas guzzling long commutes! I also felt confident that this recycled experience was old hash and we'd be fine. I knew that greater opportunities and blessings were ahead, so I was determined to be positive and full of faith. Yet, I knew my emotions would eventually catch up and I didn't want to deceive myself into thinking that they wouldn't. I know how grief works and that there would be more stages to come (anger, bargaining, acceptance). Those stages can also skip around and cycle. Yet, no matter how much you try to prepare yourself for an emotional roller coaster, it's never as easy as you tell yourself it will be. In fact, I think I've made it harder on myself by trying NOT to feel; even though I recently read a book about embracing emotions and processing/healing them through Christ. So, I suppressed my feelings as much as possible; because guilt would nag at me if I felt anything negative. I felt that leaning in to learn would lead to me giving in and sinking in (my all-or-nothing mentality rearing its head, of course). So, I would just pray and make myself re-read Psalm 34; concentrating on my word for the year (refuge) and remind myself that I already knew this year was going to be hard. "No shadow of shame is going to darken our faces....He's close to the broken hearted....He's going to rescue us....He's our Refuge." Those were/are the things I kept coming back to and soaking in. I also read Psalm 86 & 91  and thought about the things I learned in Chip Ingram's series "Finding God When You Need Him Most" that I listened to a few years ago. I was determined not to sink into a "swamp of sadness" like that foolish horse in "The Neverending Story" (which is the image that frequently comes to mind every time I think I'm starting to give into a quicksand of depression and despair). I even went back and re-read my "Manna Moments" post a few times; feeling encouraged and guilty at the same time as I "ye of little faith" finger pointed at myself for feeling even a smidge of fear, worry, or grief.

It wasn't until the Good Friday production of "The Passion" that I had a fresh revelation. Over every rehearsal and performance since I've been involved with 3:16 Community Theatre,  I've been ministered to and transformed in some way. It certainly was good medicine for me to be immersed in these performances these past couple weeks. Much like a recent Facebook post I shared, the REAL Jesus showed up through Jesse (the actor that played Jesus this year) and ministered to my heart! At one point, I was in the process of walking around "Jerusalem" before the show and felt so heavy-hearted because Chris and I had just learned that day that the job he was certain he was going to get wasn't meant to be. I kept telling myself that I needed to snap out of it and remember to "walk on the water" and keep my eyes on Jesus. I started praying in the Spirit; giving thanks, praising, and reciting parts of the Psalms to encourage myself. I just didn't have time for a fresh cycle of grief! I needed to "Paul and Silas" my way out of this with some chain loosening and wall shaking praise and prayers! But, if you're like me, even when you press that "emotion override" button to walk in faith, it can still feel awkward and fake because you still feel the hurt. That's when I felt God saying, "It's going to be ok, Melissa." I teared up and asked, "When?" Then, I heard that word, "Soon." I thought of that part in "The Chosen" (S2, Ep2) where Jesus says, "Ah, there's that word. Soon. It's the most imprecise thing in the world. What is soon? A few hours? A few days? Years? A hundred years? A thousand years? Ask my father in heaven how long a thousand years is. Then, talk to me about 'soon'."

As I thought about how long our "soon" would be, I wondered what I was supposed to do with all the emotions that I didn't know how to get rid of. I walked around and started thinking about Jesse and how he would grieve in the garden that night while we would sing, "Could you not tarry with me one hour? Could you not watch and pray while I carry the weight of the world on my shoulders....". It made me think of Dutch Sheets post about Jesus in Gethsemane; describing His agony and grief as He anticipated what needed to be done for us and how painful it would be. He had the weight of the world on His shoulders. He grieved deeply, but could (and did) say, "not my will, but yours be done."  Jesus experienced and expressed those difficult emotions and hurt to God AND still had faith at the same time. Faith and emotions can coexist! Much like when we're told that we can "be angry and sin not" (Ephesians 4:26). We are allowed to feel what we feel; it's just how we respond and heal that matters. .  

I wanted to kick myself for being so dull! How many times have I been the one to weep with people and encourage them to grieve; telling them to give themselves permission to do so? Yet, I had forgotten to give MYSELF permission to grieve because somehow I got it in my head that grief and faith couldn't exist together! I had to tell myself, "You're not weak because you hurt and mourn. Being strong doesn't mean you can't be broken. Brokenness DOES make me stronger."

Later that night, I mentioned my moment to my Chris. I said, "It's ok to hurt and to grieve. Faith doesn't mean we don't feel. Jesus grieved in agony in the garden...grieving in ours doesn't mean we don't have faith....I don't know what our 'soon' looks like, but I know our God and I know us. I know that I love you and am proud of you and that that remains true." It reminds me of the songs I've added to my HeartSpeak playlist this month. I know I can be confident that we can continue to be "Broken Together". We'll "Be Held", and find healing on the other side of "When We Fall Apart." 

THAT is the difference between "leaning in" and "sinking in". As a counselor friend of mine once said, "When we're broken, we're teachable." Brokenness really does teach us, grow us, refine us, and bring us fresh revelation and renewal. How often do we truly attain it any other way? How much stronger do we actually BECOME when we ARE broken and our exposed weaknesses have a chance to mend (IF we surrender to the One who can heal us)? We have a much greater opportunity to gain wisdom and understanding when we are going THROUGH pain and hardship because we're more open and vulnerable. Think about it. How open and teachable are we when we're in a state of self-perceived strength and wholeness? Our pride can get the better of us! We're at the peak of the mountaintop basking in victory and glory; forgetting that we were once in the valley and the struggle we went through to get to our highest points. Trouble in the valley seems so far removed when we feel on top of the world. But, that strength came at a cost. We had to go THROUGH the pain and hardship. "Through" being that key word. We walk THROUGH the valley; we don't pitch a tent and live there. He walks WITH us (and maybe some supportive brothers and sisters walk alongside us as well). THROUGH it, we acquire a new perspective that we might not have ever gained otherwise. If we are willing to sustain the pressing and crushing, that new wine will come! We can do ALL things THROUGH Christ who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13). Yes, listening to and leaning into that brokenness is hard, but it's far less painful in the long run. If we allow ourselves to feel and listen to the pain and emotions, as if they're dashboard lights on our souls, we can understand and let Jesus fix what's going on underneath the hood. Then, we can move forward IN and WITH faith after Jesus has met us in our pain and helped us release it and heal. 

I think the problem with leaning in (at least for me), is that I frequently become overly cautious about unpleasant emotions. I want to avoid getting stuck in a deep well of sadness and self-pity. Therefore, it causes me to toughen up too much and put on that strong brave face; often resulting in avoiding and suppressing the pain. I should probably keep these two verses in mind: 
Laughter can conceal a heavy heart, but when the laughter ends, the grief remains.                                                                                                                         -Proverbs 14:13. 
Sorrow is better than laughter, for sadness has a refining influence on us.                                                                                                                                       - Ecclesiastes 7:3.


Ignoring and suppressing emotions doesn't make them go away. That grief is still hidden behind that "brave face" and will leak out in other ways.This is NOT GOOD, and I KNOW that. In fact, I already learned and blogged this two years ago, so how could I have forgotten this so quickly; and ESPECIALLY after just READING a book about healing emotions?! My gosh, I really am a sheep; having to learn things over and over again. However, my Shepherd is so loving and patient. Growth and learning is a lifetime process. In this world, we will have trouble (John 16:33). Trouble happens over and over again; it has no end in this fallen world. So, we keep on learning and being tested; and hopefully, we find that we have "leveled up" and are gaining more XP (experience points, in case you don't speak gamer lol). For those of us in Christ, our hope is in that second part of John 16:33. We can take heart because Jesus has overcome the world and He doesn't waste our pain! It really can and does refine us! He really does work it out for good like Romans 8:28 says because of that important second part of that verse as well: for those that are CALLED according to HIS purpose! Yes, WE are CALLED to a purpose; HIS purpose. A purpose and plan beyond our pain and circumstances. He's always working it out for that Kingdom plan. But, in that moment where our faith and emotions seem messy and intermingled, it is OK to just be still and know that He's God; and that's enough. He'll sit with us in our pain and we'll just "be" and grieve for a bit.  

Grace and peace to you, my friends! Whatever we're facing, He'll heal and deliver us from it for His purpose and glory. Be still and know that He's God! Let your brokenness make you teachable! Allow Christ to help you discover the gems that are hidden in your pain and are waiting to be unearthed! Grief and tears aren't a waste of your time. Your tears are precious to Him and He collects them all (Psalm 56:8). Never forget that you are worth more than many sparrows (Matthew 10:31, Luke 12:7). Lean into the pain, but not too much to where you slip into despair. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you (James 4:8). Stay anchored in your faith with prayer and praise; it will shake and break chains/strongholds and set you free (and do the same for others as well who witness your testimony). Paul and Silas can attest to that! God bless you!


Experiencing God When You Get a Raw Deal 

Experiencing God in Times of Crisis

Experiencing God When You Feel Like a Nobody, Going Nowhere

 Experiencing God When You’re Troubled and Depressed

Experiencing God When You are Gripped by Fear

Experiencing God When You’ve Blown it Big Time

Experiencing God in Times of Confusion

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Releasing Worry & Trusting God: Manna Moments

Have you ever heard (or said), "Well, it's not just going to fall out of the sky?!" It's an expression that reminds us that what we want/need isn't necessarily going to be easy and just fall into our laps. While it's true that we can't expect idleness and laziness to yield good fruit, we often forget that working, worrying, and striving too hard isn't how we should expect to get our needs met either. No matter what it is that we are hoping for (everything from material needs to answered prayers), we should be counting on God as the provider of those needs.

Our God is the God who rained down manna from heaven (Exodus 16:4). Yeah, FOOD rained down from the SKY! HE DID THAT! He is the One to whom we also pray "give us this day our daily bread" (Matthew 6:11) and who IS the "bread of life." As He said in John 6:32-35:
I tell you the truth, Moses didn’t give you bread from heaven. My Father did. And now he offers you the true bread from heaven. The true bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.
The SAME GOD who made sure that the widow's flour and oil did not run empty (1 Kings 17:8-16), will provide a gas tank, food cupboards, and a checkbook that doesn't run empty! The SAME GOD who took a few loaves and fish and fed THOUSANDS (Matthew 14:13-21, Matthew 15:32-39, Mark 6:30-56, Luke 9:10-17, John 6:1-14), is the SAME GOD that works miracles for us today! He WILL provide for you; miraculously multiplying blessings with baskets leftover! We don't have to complain, worry, and hoard like the Israelites did with their manna. We must break off this "scarcity complex" and TRUST the One who will ALWAYS give us enough!

Notice what story follows the feeding of thousands of people in Matthew 14, Mark 6, and John 6; walking on water! Let's take a moment to think about this part in Mark 6:52
For they still didn’t understand the significance of the miracle of the loaves. Their hearts were too hard to take it in.
Are we too of so little faith? Are our hearts so hardened by all the miracles we have witnessed in our own lives that we cannot walk on the water? Have we not been provided for thus far? Are we not still here to live, breathe, and bask in His blessings every day? In the "bread of life" verse mentioned before, that moment comes right after the feeding of thousands and walking on water. John 6:22-29 says:
The next day the crowd that had stayed on the far shore saw that the disciples had taken the only boat, and they realized Jesus had not gone with them. Several boats from Tiberias landed near the place where the Lord had blessed the bread and the people had eaten. So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went across to Capernaum to look for him. They found him on the other side of the lake and asked, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, you want to be with me because I fed you, not because you understood the miraculous signs. But don’t be so concerned about perishable things like food. Spend your energy seeking the eternal life that the Son of Man can give you. For God the Father has given me the seal of his approval.” They replied, “We want to perform God’s works, too. What should we do?” Jesus told them, “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent.”

 Finally, remember Jesus' words in Matthew 6:19-34. He starts off by talking about treasure, your eyes being the lamp of the body, and not serving two masters. That's a lot to unpack in those verses alone, but then he follows it up with "that is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life...." We see, value, and serve the wrong things so very often; worrying about all the things that he goes on to talk about (food, drink, clothing, etc.) and that all of that worrying won't add a day to our lives! "Look at the birds....look at the lilies of the field..." He says. As we scroll through our social media feeds, we see that "these things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers" (v.32); but WHY should it dominate OURS when WE who believe KNOW who is taking care of us? Jesus said the Father already KNOWS our needs and that we are to live righteously and seek the Kingdom of God first above all else. Then, He will GIVE US all that we need (v. 33). “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today." (v. 34).

I encourage you, brothers and sisters:
Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you. - 1 Peter 5:7. 
Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. - Philippians 4:6-7.
Grace and peace to you, my friends! Reflect on your own "manna moments" in your life. Trust His faithfulness! Remember how He has always provided for you and brought you through! Count your blessings and name them one by one (as the old song goes). PRAY about EVERYTHING! Declare it over the things (like your gas tank) that you're worried about running empty. Stop complaining and start praying! He'll fill you up and make things last! Don't let worry dominate your thoughts! That flour and oil will last! Trust Him! You are worth more than many sparrows! Never forget that Christ is over all things and gives US all power, authority, and victory through His finished work on the cross (watch this Dutch Sheets "Give Him 15" video...I'm quoting my favorite part below). "ASAH" and God bless you:
When Jesus said “It is finished” (John 19.30) at the end of His time on the Cross, He did not quietly whisper those words, as is often thought. It was actually one word, and He shouted it! (Matthew 27:50) Nor was Christ referring to His death, as many think. Jesus shouted the word tetelestai if He chose to use the Greek word John gives us. However, He spoke both Greek and Hebrew, and was quoting from Psalm 22:31 when He made this announcement. If He actually used the Hebrew word from that verse, it would still have only been one word, asah. Either word would have been a declaration that Christ had finished the assignment given Him. The Greek word actually meant “to pay a debt in full.” The Hebrew word is also the word for “creating” something. Perhaps Jesus was announcing the new creation!

We do know that when Christ made this declaration, the ground shook, rocks split and people were raised from the dead (Matthew 27:50-53). His words rent the heavens, shook the earth, and broke the power of death. Now He wants to speak through you. Declare His finished work over your situation. Decree His victory over the nations. Read Psalm 2 out loud over America, Ukraine, the Middle East. Shout “asah” over unsaved family members, your sick body, your checkbook. Release the roar!