Pruning

Summer is drawing to a close. The months of bright, festive flowers that beckon and sing to the pollinators and picnickers is dwindling down. There will be a few days of heated fury and defiance, where summer rebels just a bit – blazing hot and fierce. Time is almost up, and it knows.

The garden knows, too, and begins the descent into autumn. The spring and summer flowering plants and bushes slow and droop, dropping dried blooms, except for those that flourish and delight in autumn, bringing fresh color and excitement to a waning garden.

With this changing of the guard comes a season of pruning.  Much needs to be done to keep the garden looking loved, cared for and peaceful. Garden shears, trimmers and trowels are still needed.

Upon close inspection, one sees the stems, leaves, vines, and small branches shut down, wither, and die back. The perennials need this season of pruning for survival; they need someone to cut away and remove those areas that are no longer serving them or the garden. At times the pruning seems brutal, harsh, and perhaps cruel as some parts are cut away so severely there is hardly any of the original plant left.  All is cut away that is not actively helping, nurturing, and stimulating growth in the plant. Those dead and dying off parts suck vital nutrients from the healthy stems, branches, and leaves. A good gardener knows that they cannot be left to compete with and deplete the healthy plant.

Bending close to check each branch and stem, the gardener determines where best to trim and cut away. At first glance, a stem or branch may look completely wasted away, yet a closer look reveals tiny, minute new growth attempting to push its way out. The gardener values this new growth, barely visible except to the one who actively seeks and delights in nourishing this fledgling sprout of new life. All that is above it will be removed and tossed away, allowing plenty of room and careful tending to encourage the new life.

Do you see how this imagery of a master gardener lovingly tending his or her garden applies so beautifully to how the Creator loving and intentionally prunes, tends, and cares for each of us?

The pruned plant may look bedraggled and worse for wear, hacked and shorn off, appearing vulnerable and fragile. But this is where the unseen work takes place in the root system below the surface.  With the dead and decaying parts pruned away, the roots are free to prepare and strengthen the fragile plant for the new life waiting for rebirth when the season is just right; when spring comes and the time for its new beginning arrives. The quiet season of strength building is vital for this plant and is vital for us, too. When the Master Gardener deems it is time, new life will burst up, break forth and take its place in the Garden of Life, amid humanity, where the plant and you and I will live out our purpose, delight those meant to encounter us and be deeply nourished from a root system well established and fed by the Master Gardener and His living water.

The pruning season is hard. It hurts and can leave us feeling like there is nothing left of us but stumpy, stick-like nubs that are ugly, barren and have no purpose. But we can’t see with the eyes of the Master Gardener, who sees these shorn off places as a thing of great beauty and Divine Purpose, because He knows what’s coming. He sees the pruned places for what they are; stealers of joy, a heavy weight of bad habits, bitterness and anger, idols we erected in our search for happiness and value, and greedy competitors that robbed precious energy.  I imagine Him smiling and laughing in anticipation of all that He is doing below the surface to the root system of our lives. Every nip, cut, snip and prune hold tremendous value and purpose. So, can we endure for a little while, during the quiet autumn of the pruning season, to see the joy, delight and surprise that will spring forth?

Book Promotion Divine Encounters…

I’m currently running a promotion on my eBook on Amazon, AND If you are a Kindle Unlimited member, please check it out, my eBook is listed as KU book.

If you have read my book in either format, I would absolutely love it if you’d leave a review of it on Amazon. It helps me as an author and it keeps my book from being lost in the sea of algorithms that is Amazon, hahaha! I so appreciate the lovely reviews that have been left so far. It only takes a few minutes 😉

Divine Encounters…is LIVE

Divine Encounters…IS LIVE!! Available on Amazon (Kindle eBook & paperback), Barnes and Noble (Nook), almost finished uploading to Kobo (eBook); available soon in Target.com, Walmart.com...

I’m in happy shock that it is out doing what it was created to do, sent forth with prayers and blessings to accomplish its purpose. This has been such an amazing journey; I hope I get to do it again! 😊 For those of you who supported, prayed, encouraged and gave feedback along the way, you made such a difference to me and I am very grateful. These are things I can hold and treasure up in my heart.

If you purchase and read my book, I would be so thankful if you would leave a review/rating. It helps me grow as an author and it keeps my book from getting lost in the algorithms and bottomless pit of Amazon books, hahahaha!

Ahhh…it’s time to rest my brain a bit now. I can call myself a published author and I still can’t quite believe that’s me.

Cheers!

Melissa

Coming very soon…

Hi everyone! I’m excited! My book is very close to being published; waiting on a proof copy of the paperback to arrive. Once I see it’s just how it should be, Divine Encounters…will go live on Amazon KDP (eBook and paperback), Kobo, Barnes and Noble Press and Google Play Books. Here is a sneak preview of the cover and blurb.

When it is out there and ready I will publish again with the links.

I can’t wait for her to be out in the world, doing what she was meant to do!

What do you Want?

“What do you want?” It’s a generic question most of us likely hear at least once a day, isn’t it? Maybe we are the ones asking.

It’s something I ask myself when plans, relationships and circumstances do not line up with my hopes and plans or when something blindsiding pops up and I don’t know how to react.  

As I let this question simmer and swirl in my brain, I realize that what I long for most I already have in Jesus. I already have it. Read those words again. This goes further than the physical wanting of food, water, and clothing. This question is begging and pleading with us to go deep on this one. You know that place; where putting words to the emotion, need, and longing is almost impossible; yet it is there and desperate to be heard. I believe this feeling is purposely put there by God to draw us to Him. It keeps us seeking Him because we know, on that deep, beyond words level, that we need Him. We may not be able to put words to it, but our souls know Him and long for everything He provides.

What is it that you long for most and feel like you don’t have? Is it security and safety? To be heard, known, and seen? Do you feel anonymous in a big, wide world? Do you want to know you are loved unconditionally and looked upon with eyes that adore every single fiber of your being? Do you want to know that you have a purpose; that you are NOT an accident?  Maybe you need to know you have worth beyond your wildest imagination; or perhaps you crave order and chaos in a world that is wildly out of order.

You have all these things! You are safe and secure. But, at times it is very hard to believe that. Things do not always work out in the ways we plan, hope, and strive.  Jobs are still lost, loved ones still pass, friendships still end, children still make choices that break our hearts and disease still knocks on our doors.

This is where faith, trust and hope live; in the parts of life that make no sense, are chaotic and frightening and hurt. This is where even the tiniest shards of belief must reside. Belief that nothing touches you, His masterpiece, without it first being filtered through His scarred hands; hands that were scarred to seal you to Him, to make eternal life with Him possible. He does sees you. He hears you and knows your every thought.

Zephaniah 3:17 tells you that “The Lord your God is in your midst; a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.”

What time, tender care and attention God took, as you were created, and the breath of life was breathed into your lungs. It is His breath in your lungs. You have a purpose. Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jesus can bring order, calm and peace into every situation. During the greatest pain and confusion life throws at you, He is right there, offering you His love, offering you Himself. His wisdom is available, as is His peace, if you ask Him.

Think deep about what it is you think you don’t have, what it is you long for most, and ask Him to show you that you have it. It may show up in unexpected, surprising places that delight you and bring you joy once you see that you have all you need because He is more than enough.

Sanctuary

Looking through my laptop this morning, I rediscovered this piece of writing. It is one of the first things that I wrote several years ago, when I started on a journey of healing, hope and restoration. As I re read this gem, I see that it was prophetic, in a way. This bit of writing was the starting point for God to speak to me and give me inspiration to write and hopefully bring healing and hope to others who might need to hear what He has to say. He had plans for me that I was unaware of at the time and it blesses me to look back, re-read this and see that He has been at work, preparing me for launching a book with His words out into the world. Only He knows who it will reach and how far the reach will be. So, just wanted to share this again. I hope you feel encouraged knowing that all the steps and paths and situations that come up in your life are in His control and He knows what He is going to do with it all. Here it is –

I sit in the sanctuary of my heart, still, waiting for You. I no longer fear what is and was in my heart nor try to deny it exists. You hold out Your hands to receive it – the damage, the sin, the struggles, the fear; the place where deep hurts and secrets dwell.  You are not afraid.  You smile as I hand them over; some quickly and with ease, others with hesitation and still others that take time, as I painfully and deliberately choose to release them to You, one finger at a time, one muscle at a time. What you do with these things of mine I am not entirely sure, but I do know You want them, every one and You, in Your abounding mercy and love, take them and transform all that I thought was lost, used up and devastated beyond hope, into a thing of rare and poignant beauty, so precious and sacred to You that Your Spirit hovers over Your redeemed and transformed work, nurturing it, breathing life, wisdom and power over it; releasing authority and boldness into it and forever changing me.

How can I be the same when Your holiness, grace, and sovereignty intercept me in my humanity, frailty, and poverty? Not possible.  To be in Your presence for but a moment leaves Your fragrance, Your taste, Your fingerprints everywhere!  How could this not be my greatest desire?  But…life, busyness and superficiality also vie for my attention and the battle is hard.  Yet, Your Spirit, which watches over the transformation is constantly at work even if Your voice seems distant.  You are still shouting Your delight over me, rejoicing above me and dancing all around me. Will I choose to still my heart and mind long enough to hear You speak in the wind, feel Your touch in its caress, catch Your scent in the flowers, dance before You with no shame? Will I be still long enough and choose to trust You enough to take my hidden hopes and treasured dreams and place them in Your outstretched hands? You placed them in my heart. You have given me visions, dreams, and desires too deep to name, yet You ask for them back.  Yes, I will give them to You. For You are good, You are faithful, You are truth. Only You can give wings to the plans You have for me. You say that “no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him.”1 I love You and want what You have prepared for me.  Because of Calvary, undeserved sacrifice, and mercy, because of love that freely flows from Your throne and pours into a scarred yet hopeful heart, I can sit here in peace and safety calling my heart Your sanctuary. Thank You for the treasure You revealed in what was once a lonely and desolate place. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

  1. 1 Corinthians 2:9

Roads and Rivers

Isaiah 43:19 (MSG) “Forget about what’s happened; don’t keep going over old history. Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new. It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it? There it is! I’m making a road through the desert, rivers in the badlands.”

This is a favorite verse of mine. I love the themes of hope, adventure, new beginnings, and provision.

I tend to revisit the past and analyze it to death. I become consumed with situations, words spoken that hurt (either by me or to me), and actions that I fear will happen again and again. Isaiah’s words say to forget about reliving all that and be alert and present. I do not want to miss the brand-new things God is planning to do. God is not saying, “I’d like to do something new” or “I’m considering it”; no! He says, “I am about to do something brand-new!” It is a promise! I can feel His excitement breaking through when He says, “Don’t you see it? There it is!” The Lord is wild about us and loves the plans He has so masterfully created for us. I imagine it brings Him such pleasure to surprise us with His purpose for our lives and to whisper into our spirits, “this is the way, walk in it.”

If I stay tangled up in the past or worrying over the future, I will miss what He is doing right this minute. I want to fully experience the road He is making through my desert; the obstacles He will move and the ruts He will smooth over. Imagine looking back and seeing how it all unfolded! Some days it feels like I can’t find the road because there are too many off shoots and rabbit holes that distract and keep me spinning. If I stop, breathe, and give myself space and permission to spend time with Him, He reveals the path and gives wisdom about how to get back to it. He helps me over the ruts, around the boulders and through the brambles. He reveals the beauty that is there.

How bleak to miss the rushing river of blessings and revelation that He is creating in the badlands I often roam! How quickly I forget that water is the source of life. Where there is water, there is often beauty, refreshment, life, and provision. Jesus is my river in the badlands of humanity. He is beautiful, my strength, my peace; He refreshes my soul and provides everything I need. He is the source of life, and He is enough. How wise I would be if I lived with this mindset every day. So, let’s be alert! Let’s watch and wait on the Lord to see what He will do in our deserts and badlands. There is joy and beauty He wants to show us on our journey. May we live in watchful expectation.

Living Blessed

My coffee mug has the word Blessed inscribed across the front. The letters are big and bold, like a confident declaration.

Sitting at my kitchen table, I watch the morning unfold in my garden. There are a variety of birds at the feeders that sing as they jostle for position. They wait their turn, sometimes with nice attitudes and other times, not. Other birds scratch and scritch among the garden debris, ferreting out whatever treasures are hidden in the rich dirt. Watching these birds go about their daily business, I think about the word blessed. The dictionary says it means consecrated; holy; sacred; blissfully happy or contented. These words are beautiful. I want to be these words, feel, and live in these words.

Living and being blessed often seems elusive; like a thought or elevated idea that is difficult to truly capture. As I pondered this idea, I began to see that the word blessed is not a higher thought on a difficult to achieve spiritual plane.

Imagine a typical day – you wake up and grab your coffee in your favorite mug. Perhaps you watch the morning unfold in front of you on the patio with a soft breeze floating past, all kinds of sounds and scents in the air. What if you decided to be grateful that you are alive; able to see, smell and experience nature going about its business in the Divine order of things? Is that not sacred, bringing bliss and contentment? What if you witness a startling and unusual act of kindness causing you to pause, tear up and have your faith in humanity restored, if even for a moment? Is that not holy? Is that intersection of the Divine and the human, not sacred ground? I wonder, if when I’m making dinner, listening to music, or chatting with Jesus on a walk in my neighborhood, those places become sacred, holy, and divine. Blessed.

But… what if the day isn’t full of things that make me blissfully happy? The car accident that totals the car, the child who makes a poor choice and you see no clear way out of it. Maybe cruel words were hurled in the heat of the moment, and they can’t be taken back. Perhaps there is a diagnosis you never saw coming. Is there room here to declare “I am blessed?” Yes.

Some blessings come after the hurt and wounds. The Divine often shows up in miraculous ways, turning devastation into glory, failure into victory, wounding into strength and the impossible into something to be remembered in awe and reverence, because there seemed to be no good ending, yet there was.  To live blessed, we need to be alert and seek it out. It won’t always show up immediately. Blessings may not be dressed up in blissful happiness and a cute outfit. Blessings may come dirty, scuffed up, straggling and a bit off kilter, but will come. I have seen them come in both forms – equally holy, sacred, consecrated. Blessed.

I want to live expecting blessings; bloom where I am planted and thrive, no matter what it looks like. Holy, divine, sacred, and blissful happiness is all around us, waiting with open arms for us to slow down and seek it. What is sought will be found.

Living with Hope

1 Peter 1:6-9 (NLT), “So be truly glad! There is wonderful joy ahead, even though it is necessary for you to endure many trials for a while.  These trials are only to test your faith, to show that it is strong and pure. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold – and your faith is far more precious to God than mere gold. So if your faith remains strong after being tried by fiery trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him, you trust him; and even now you are happy with a glorious, inexpressible joy. Your reward for trusting him will be the salvation of your souls.”

These are hard words to read during a painful trial that seems to have no end. Sometimes it blindsides us and we reel with feeling overwhelmed, unprepared, and out of control. Maybe this trial was caused by the result of someone else’s choices that we didn’t see coming.  Maybe it stems from our own bad decisions, and we are left stumbling through consequences that we brought to our doorstep. We have all been there at least once and it hurts. It is confusing and frightening. It feels like there is no way out from under the damage. We feel helpless. How desperately we want Jesus to take it all away!

A few things I have learned about trials is this; oftentimes God uses the trial we are walking through to change us. When we are living unchallenged, complacent, comfortable, and self-reliant, He may use a tough situation or circumstance to move us away from destructive patterns and steer us in a new and healthy direction. After a breast cancer diagnosis, my world collapsed in a matter of moments. Everything I thought I knew and understood was destroyed. Nothing made sense. Never had I felt so vulnerable, helpless, and terrified. No one could walk this path for me or take it away and there was no one, but God, who could carry me through this. I had a choice to make at that moment; allow despair and terror to reign in my world, or choose to put it at His feet, extravagantly hope and believe there was a purpose somewhere in this. I chose hope and it was my lifeline. I did not know His plans – would I survive? Through the two years of treatments and surgeries, hope and unexpected blessings, pain, and fear, I discovered that feeling helpless is NOT the same as being helpless. With God we are not helpless. He is always as close as our next breath and never leaves us to face trials alone. He is the source of all hope.

I truly believe He uses our pain and rough seasons to purify and beautify us and our faith, so that one day he will clearly see His image in us. Self-reliance, pride, and self-righteousness have no place amid a life altering trial. It is surprising and beautiful how compassion and empathy are born during difficulty, pain, and loss if we choose to trust ourselves to the One who created us.  He will make a way. We can be confident that God will separate something priceless from the dross of our experiences.

Imagine God’s joy and delight as He skims off the gunk and begins to see HIS image in us; something priceless!  I hope it makes you smile knowing the Creator of galaxies is so invested and in love with each one of us, that He takes all the time necessary to allow us to feel the heat of trials, so that He can one day bring forth, for the world to see, the radiant beauty of our life testimonies. We can be a beacon of hope, salvation, and love to a world full of hurting humans who need to hear a word of hope and see a life redeemed.

People Watching

Sitting downtown at the park with my Peets cappuccino, I settle in to observe people; one of my favorite pastimes. There is so much to learn through the countless ways people express themselves and interact with others.

There are several paved paths in the park allowing walkers and runners to take different routes each time they go around the square.  It is interesting to see the paths each person chooses to walk.  Some strictly follow the square path circling the park and do not deviate from that. Others choose a different intersecting path each time, making their jaunt around the park unpredictable to those observing them. Different personalities at play.

From my bench, I spot a group of 60-something ladies in their comfy walking outfits, white shoes, and brightly colored sun visors, walking 2-3 abreast loudly chatting about the choices their grown children and grandchildren are making. The ladies appear oblivious to the rest of the park goers as they march in serious conversation often peppered with laughter, stemming from a long-time camaraderie. These ladies must know each other and the inner workings of each family on a deep level to have earned the right to share their opinions. It’s entertaining to guess how they first met and the careful dance they did around each other until familiarity, trust, and love grew into the friendship they now share. I want friendships like this – women who have a place in my heart that is so woven and interconnected that we weather all kinds of storms and victories together, never hesitating to rally around each other with love, laughter, encouragement, and respect. I am grateful for the precious women that fill this spot. I say a prayer for those I’m blessed to call friends.

Across the square, there are 4 or 5 teens hanging out at one of the tables. Backpacks, phones, and food are strewn between them as they take selfies, gossip, and laugh at TikTok videos. One young lady appears to lead the pack. When she laughs, the others laugh and when she stands up to dance to a favorite song, all eyes are on her and a couple of them get up and mimic her dancing. She is the first to grab for the snacks and the others defer. Interesting how different personality types drift together; the leaders and followers, the outgoing and introverts all have a place. As I observe them, I wonder what God’s plan is for them. They each have unique gifts and talents. It is easy to watch a strong Type A leader and imagine them going far, but sometimes it’s the quiet observers, who take it all in and ponder, who quietly take the world by storm. I pray that they each find their place and people; that there is always someone in their corner who supports and loves them deeply.

Next to the water fountain an older man takes a break from his walk. He follows the same paved path for each turn around the park. This is not the first time I have seen him here, walking his predictable route. He walks with purpose, but at a slow pace. His comfortable shoes and tan slacks with a t-shirt are his usual outfit. As he sits a spell, I notice him looking at each person as they move past him, as if willing them to notice him and spend a few minutes shooting the breeze. I’m close enough to see his wistful gaze, as if he remembers other walks in this park, perhaps with his wife or a close friend that he has since lost. Are nostalgia and memories his close friends now? It gives me an ache in my heart for him. I imagine Jesus next to him on the dark blue bench bringing him comfort, peace, and a balm for his loneliness. The ultimate best friend. I say a prayer for this gentleman, asking for some joy, peace, and camaraderie.

As the morning moves along, the playground fills with moms and kids. Different parenting styles are evident this morning and I find it fascinating. There is the group on one side of the playground, who have taken up an entire section of the granite bench that encircles the play area. They are so orderly and neat! Snacks, tiny water bottles and juice filled cups are lined up carefully. Each child is told to get a big drink and stay hydrated before going on their climbing, shrieking, energy draining adventures. Most obey and take big drinks except for a couple of them, who cannot resist the pull of play. They peek at their moms, take the tiniest, fastest sip possible and dash off. These moms seem to enjoy their together time, but always with a sharp eye on all the shenanigans happening on the slide and big climbing tunnels. I hear warnings of “be careful, slow down, that’s too high and use your words!”, shouted from the bench, all the while still managing to maintain the flow of conversation.

Another pair of moms and kids occupy a spot next to the well-organized group. These moms have a couple of backpacks full of random snacks, toys and juice boxes spilling out. They are more carefree in their playground rules. I hear less shouts and warnings from these two. They are intent on their conversation and less focused on the playground interactions, which the children are quick to take advantage of while they can.

The children and their interactions with each other are fascinating! I love how the lone child there with his mom, is included in the games and treated as if he has been part of their group forever. Easy inclusion; no posturing and judging. Adults could learn a lot from that.

Looking at these little lives, I imagine the mark each of these children will leave on the world. I ask God to smooth out and make their paths straight; to open doors that keep them going in the right direction and for His hand of protection to be all over them.

Under the leafy trees next to the pathway lies a homeless man wrapped in his sleeping bag. His isn’t sleeping. His arms are behind his head as he looks up into the leafy foliage. A suitcase full of his belongings and life is settled next to him, along with a water bottle and a crumpled chip bag.  I watch as the park walkers notice him there. The reactions are varied. A woman with her coffee and small bag of something yummy from Peets changes direction and follows a different route. Is it to avoid passing him? Does she fear having to acknowledge him or worry she will be asked for something? Others pass him by without a second glance, intent on the path in front of them or their phones. I can tell they are very aware of him, but don’t want it to be known. Are they afraid of what they don’t understand and haven’t experienced? Is it fear? What if the person suffers from mental illness and acts erratic, what do they do then? How lonely and hurtful it is to be unseen.

Eventually an older man and his dog stop and engage him. The dog sniffs and wags as the man pets and interacts, maybe for the first time in a while. After their pleasantries and chat are finished, I watch the man’s face. He looks after the one who stopped and made him feel seen. His face reflects that joy of acknowledgement and it’s a lovely thing to see. Who knows what that simple act will do for this man and his life trajectory? We never know for certain what our interaction with another human being does for them, but we can rest assured there is an effect, either positive or negative; never neutral. I offer a prayer for provision, protection, and opportunity for his circumstances to change.

There are frequently lone walkers in this park. They seem to be tranquil and at peace on the outside, but I wonder what burdens lie on their hearts. A few take a seat on benches and watch the world go by. Maybe they are taking advantage of a few moments alone to recharge. Maybe they are on a break, getting in some steps or waiting to meet a friend.

As I sit, I wonder if there are fellow people watchers quietly observing me. Are they trying to divine what I’m about, what my facial expressions and body language are speaking and what my heart holds? I wonder if they can tell that I’m a fellow observer trying to glean insight into the human spirit.

Psalm 139:2-3 (ESV), says, “You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways.”

God is the ultimate people watcher. He sees, knows, and discerns everything we are about and all that hurts us and heals us. It makes me happy to know how carefully watched over and known I am. We only see what people choose to reveal and try to discern what it all means, but God…He knows our inner workings, sees past the persona we offer to the world and the parts we so desperately want to hide. To be fully know and greatly adored; that is relief, rest, and peace.