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?

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.

Taking up Space

When I hear the phrase “taking up space” it automatically sends out a negative vibe.  It speaks to being too much, useless, unnecessary and in the way. It calls up feelings of being unwanted and blocking or taking away from someone or something else of more value and importance; that what is being offered is of no consequence, and the need to be silent and unseen.

I wonder how many people go about their day feeling like they take up space. I have and sometimes still do; like the air we breathe in was really meant for someone else and our presence is a nuisance. It is hurtful, dismissive, and lonely.

So, what if we turned the narrative around and thought of taking up space as a positive and important part of living, the very thing we were created to do?

I love how God weaves unconditional love, purpose, and immense value into His narrative about each of us. It isn’t selfish or arrogant to believe what our Creator says about us! It is hard to live in this world and He knows that. He knows what it’s like to be us because He became like us, lived among us in a physical body with all the good and bad that goes along with that.  Fully man and fully God. He knows how rejection, cruel words, dismissive attitudes and being unvalued and hated feels. He knew and knows the way it wounds and taints everything when you are told or made to feel that the physical space you occupy is wasted, unseen and not accepted – as if you have no voice and will never be heard.  

I came across these Bible verses and believe they are a beautiful example of how important we are and how much the world needs us to take up space.

Luke 12:7 NLT “And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.”

Psalm 139:13-14 NLT “You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.”

Isaiah 40:31 NLT “But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.”

2 Timothy 1:7 NLT “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.”

Joshua 1:9 NLT “This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”

John 10:28-29 NLT “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me, for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else. No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand.”

Isaiah 46:4 NLT “I will be your God throughout your lifetime—until your hair is white with age. I made you, and I will care for you. I will carry you along and save you.”

Do you see how treasured we are and how very valuable? We were created to fill a specific place in this world; to use our voices. God commands us to be strong and courageous! He promises to never leave us, to carry us and care for us. He assures us we will never be snatched away, shushed, pushed to the back, ignored, or minimized in His sight.  We are seen, known, and deeply loved.

So, let’s find courage to take up space in a bold, strong, and kind way; to no longer apologize for our voice, our breath, our strength, and our calling. What if we help others take up space? We can focus on loving ourselves in all our quirky, weird beauty, trust God with the details and hang onto Him when the road gets bumpy. Watch what happens when we sing the song He put in our spirits to bless and enhance our spaces and the space around us. It will be a thing of beauty.

Anniversary

This simple word holds a lot of meaning. It’s definition is “the date on which an event took place in a previous year.” It doesn’t say that this event was particularly good, bad or otherwise, but it often represents something significant; something that is seared in your memory and that has long reaching effects on life going forward. Marriage is one of the first events that typically comes to mind, along with birthdates, first day of school, graduation, first job, death of a loved one.

For me, this time of year is the anniversary of an event that was completely unwelcome, blindsiding, shocking and heartbreaking. Nine years ago, on November 23rd, 2010 my Doctor told my husband and I that I had breast cancer. It was the day before Thanksgiving. I find that ironic. Thanksgiving, when we are supposed to count our blessings, be grateful, go around the beautifully decorated table and list 3 things and people we are thankful for that year. It is supposed to be happy, full of laughs, calm, restful; full of blessings and appreciation. That is not at all how I felt nor did my family.  It was a time of sadness, fear, helplessness, not knowing if I would be alive the following year, deep anger and many emotions that I still, to this day, do not have adequate words to describe. I was not thankful.

The next several years were full of chemo, radiation, Herceptin, anti nausea and various other meds pumped into me 24/7. There were prods, pokes, surgeries and so many scans and tests, blood work and scares and triumphs. And every year, the anniversary of one of the worst days of my life.

Yet…now that there is some distance from that first anniversary, now that the scares come less often as well as the blood work and tests, I find I am thankful. The scares and fears are still there on some level and will always be with me and I’m ok with that. What I learned through this experience and living through these anniversaries has taught me more about life and God’s love, compassion and mercy than anything else could have. I’m not in control of everything and it’s not my job to be.

There are those who say forget the past and all that it brings up, focus only on the good and positive. I agree on a certain level, however, I don’t believe in erasing those things God allowed into our lives for a specific season and purpose, because nothing touches us that He doesn’t first filter through His hands. Nothing. Life, death, pain, heartbreak, joy, triumph and victory. It all serves a purpose and will be used for good. I can’t say I know how it will all be used, and I won’t say it might not break our hearts, but I 100% believe it is and it will be used for good. The imagery of God’s hands filtering and sifting events, people and circumstances that enter my life makes me feel safe and valuable and protected.

This anniversary is one I will not forget. I will not try to stuff it all down or put it away. I let it come each year and I let the emotions that are attached to it flow. It isn’t easy and parts of it still hurt, but there are many parts of the memories that don’t hurt anymore, because I see clearly how close Jesus was to me. For that I can say that I’m thankful. He had and still does, have a divine purpose in all of this. This trauma brought me close to Jesus. It had to, because I had nothing else to cling to and no other hope but in Him.

So this Thanksgiving and the anniversary of my cancer diagnosis is a reminder to me that there is hope in Jesus for every single circumstance that is allowed my way. I don’t know what your anniversaries are and I don’t know the impact they have had on your life and the lives of those you love, but I do know that God was there on that first anniversary and He is here right now. He saw you then and He sees you now. You are not alone and He is working it all out. It may be hard, frightening, a wild ride full of joy and victory, love and loss and new seasons, but in the midst of it all there is hope, extravagant hope!

Psalm 119:114 NLT

You are my refuge and my shield; your word is my source of hope.

Jeremiah 29:11 NIV

“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.”

 

How do you fit?

I wonder, have you been at a church gathering and experienced the uncomfortable feeling of not quite fitting in with the norm when it comes to how you encounter Jesus? Do you feel like the tried and true formula of experiencing His fullness and love doesn’t quite work for you or that you never really arrive; are somehow found lacking? I have; often. You watch everyone nodding in earnest agreement, when the sermon urges you to follow the formula of reading the Word daily, for a specific amount of time, in a certain place, in a specific position, saying specific things and following a proven formula to bring you close to Jesus. However, your Spirit is not connecting with this and your attempts at following these rote formulas fall flat. It must be you, your mind tells you. Everyone else is nodding and looking sagely about them, confirming that yes, this is how it must be done. The closeness you felt to Him as you worshipped just moments ago seeps away, as doubt and failure cloud your thoughts. “Yes,” says Satan, “you don’t fit in the body of Christ; you can’t even follow a simple formula to fill that void. Look at all these others believers. They get it. They are doing it. They succeed, you fail. Maybe you don’t belong.” Lies.

In the teaching series by Larry Osborne, A Contrarian’s Guide to Knowing God – Spirituality for the Rest of Us, one of his comments leaped out at me and brought me to tears. It touched a spot in my heart that has been hurt. Larry says we can’t practice all the spiritual disciplines (Bible reading, time in prayer, memorizing scriptures, worship, thanksgiving, etc) all the time! All disciplines are not good tools for us based on our personalities. There is great value in listening to and obeying God in each season of our lives. He urges us to never allow spiritual tools to turn into rules. The freedom I felt fall over me at these words was incredible.

This is something I have wrestled with for a while. Hearing other people say what we must do to be a good Christian and strong believer is very crippling in our journey with Jesus. When you know in your spirit that you adore Jesus, seek Him and find Him in that soul deep place where He meets with you, but are told it isn’t enough, unless a formula is followed, it wounds and taints something that should be precious, intimate, beautiful and deep. A stench of doubt permeates the very thing I believe Jesus celebrates about us; our uniquely individual personalities, gifts, quirks, responses, that HE CREATED. He made each of us just exactly how He wants us; no one identical, no one better or more loved or more cherished or more valuable. We each have such a specific purpose and that is so beautiful.

I react and buck and kick at being boxed in to a formula for doing anything in life, especially when it comes to journeying with Jesus. I may not always outwardly thrash at the formulas (sometimes I do!), but in my mind and spirit I certainly do.

What Larry Osborne said resonated with me on many levels. Spiritual disciplines are wonderful, necessary and amazing ways we each get to use, as our personality dictates, to become closer to the Father. I love that some of us pour over His word, intently study it and soak it in; others worship, sing and dance to connect with Him; some pray without ceasing; some share Jesus with strangers and others sit silently in His presence for hours, just soaking Him up. Some of us need to be in nature with our senses fully activated, experiencing Him through sights and sounds, movement and the wind in our faces. It’s all good and it’s all ok. All ok.

Listening to God and being who He says we are is freedom.  It feels really good to know that my way of connecting to my Father is good, just right, pleasing to Him and completes me, when I follow how He is prompting me to connect with Him. For me and my personality (introverted, empathetic, discerning, observer), I connect most deeply with Jesus when I’m alone; in nature observing or hiking, biking, gardening, camping, swimming; listening to worship music; observing people and praying for them as He leads me; talking to Him throughout the day; meeting someone’s needs anonymously. This is me, and it may not be you, and that is fabulous!

So get out there and connect with Jesus in the ways He created you to do it. Be free in that and enjoy every second! There is only one you and I believe that Jesus wants you to celebrate that in all its fullness. He sure is!

Zephaniah 3:17

“For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”

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 can be hard words to read when we are in the midst of a painful trial that seems to have no end in sight. Sometimes the trial blindsides us and we reel with feeling overwhelmed, unprepared and totally out of control. Maybe this trial was caused by the result of someone else’s choices and we didn’t see it coming. Other times, the trial is born out of our own poor choices and we are left stumbling through consequences that our own actions brought to our doorstep. We have all been there at least once in our lives. It hurts, we are confused and we desperately want Jesus to take it all away. It becomes easy to feel helpless and to want to throw our hands up and say, “forget it, what’s the use, God?”, especially when the trial we are going through is one that God wants to use to change us and move us away from destructive patterns and steer us in a new and healthy direction. Remember, that feeling helpless is NOT the same as being helpless. With God, we are never truly helpless. He is always close to us. We are not without hope because our God is the source of all hope. He never leaves us to face our trials alone.

The authors of the Life Recovery Bible (NLT) offer these words that bring comfort to the pain and weariness that the trials of life bring us. “The refiner would heat the gold in the fire in order to separate the worthless and impure dross from the precious and beautiful gold. The dross would be skimmed off until the refiner could see his image in the liquid gold. God uses the fiery trials and tribulations in our lives to purify and beautify our faith so that one day he will see clearly his image in us. This truth offers great comfort to those of us who struggle to make sense of a past marked by suffering. We can be confident that God will separate something priceless from the dross of our experiences.”

Imagine God looking down on us as he skims off the gunk and begins to see HIS image in us; something priceless. Oh, that I could see something priceless from the mess of my life experiences! I hope it makes you smile, that the God of the universe, Creator of galaxies, is so invested and in love with us, that he takes all the time necessary, with infinite patience, 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; so that we can be a beacon of hope, salvation and love to a world full of his children who are hurting and need to hear a word of hope and see a life redeemed.

1 Peter 1: 3-5 NLT “Now we live with a wonderful expectation because Jesus Christ rose again from the dead. For God has reserved a priceless inheritance for his children. It is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. And God, in his mighty power, will protect you until you receive this salvation, because you are trusting him. It will be revealed on the last day for all to see.”