Autumn

We lover’s of Autumn have a sixth sense about us; a knowing when that first revelation of summer’s end has arrived.

It is felt on the skin in that barely discernable nip and twinge of air, charged with the slightest of chills; awareness that the atmosphere has changed just a smidge.

Autumn’s scent is unique and mischievous. Earthy and deep; wise, pungent and bold in the way brown leaf tips, restless trees and fading flowers bend and drop to the Earth, daring the one watching to stop them; to impede the ancient progress of a slow, yet lovely descent into quiet and rest.

That spritely spurt of wind, which tosses and dances fallen leaves and finished flowers round and round, is delightful. What is it about piling up crispy, browned leaves and then dashing them about; flinging them from orderly piles into random and untamed flurries of color? A new beginning; a tossing and mixing up of the old, lazy routine into something new; a plan to disrupt the status quo and wait patiently through the Winter, as that plan takes on form and substance. Somehow the chaos of it is lovely and energizing; part of the ritual. It is one more wild streak before the settling and simmering of Autumn moves on to the mystery and silent brooding of Winter.

The discerning observer will witness Nature’s response to the shift from the indolent, dog days of summer to Autumn’s call to let go; the song of quiet purpose and intention, as Mother Earth whispers it’s time to fold in, cozy up and allow rest to perform its miracles and the deep, sweet slumber of Winter to wait in the wings.

There is something inspiring and invigorating in this call to purposeful letting go; an anticipation. Is it the definitive color changes and that unmatched fall scent in the air that feels like a new beginning? Is it the crisp sensation of fall air as one breathes it in?

Welcome Autumn! Come and show off your colors and dare us to think about the dead or dying places that we need to let fall; not with sadness or fear; but with an anticipation that a season of silent regrouping, where new life starts to bud,  will soon break free with the coming of Spring.  It’s coming and it will be glorious!

Call Upon the Lord

Call Upon the Lord

The song Call upon the Lord by Elevation Worship has been on repeat for a few weeks now (lyrics below).  I cannot get enough of it. I play it over and over again. Its theme will never get old, out dated, or worn out. Call upon the Lord and He WILL rescue and save; He WILL bring peace and healing.

“We need no other hiding place. Our hope is safe within Your name.” This is so beautiful. When we are tired, worn out or weary, Jesus is our hiding place.  His covering blocks out the noise, chaos, fear and uncertainty that the world relentlessly shouts. In His presence, we don’t have to listen to it. Our hope for safety, to be rescued, for healing and restoration, for receiving forgiveness and offering it to others, is all safe with Jesus. He won’t crush our hope; He restores it.  He won’t dash or mock our dreams; He planted them inside us and expands them and opens doors that only He can; He doesn’t withhold and punish; He died in our place, so we could have life with Him forever.   The hope and faith that He hears me, sees me and knows me; every single situation, wound, heart break and victory, which fashioned me into who I am, kept me hanging on through some heavy trauma and pain I have experienced.  Knowing that what He began He WILL sustain; knowing that Jesus has a plan and purpose behind my wounds brings hope. Those wounds are now scars, because of His healing.  I’m not anonymous, forgotten or forsaken.  In fact, I am so deeply known that I am free! Jesus’ name heals.  He alone is strong enough to save. There is power in the name of Jesus.

At His name “every enemy will flee, as we declare Your victory!” Jesus is our victory. He defied death, defeated the enemy of our souls once and for all, and He offers life to all who call His name. He is right there next to you, as you read these words. He is the breath in your lungs, the beat of your heart. There is nothing about you He doesn’t already know. No secrets with Jesus. He sees you; He sees me. He alone breaks down every stronghold we erect to protect and wall ourselves away from pain. He knows why those walls were erected. He was there. He watched us build them. The pain you and I try to hide with our walls, break His heart. Your walls probably look different than mine. A wall could look like pride, arrogance, self-reliance, fear, needing to be right, promiscuity, coldness, being shut off from others, sarcasm, humor, obsession with our looks, weight and appearance, and the list could go on. Jesus knows better than we do, why we felt we needed those walls.  He waits to be invited into our lives. He is a gentleman.  He doesn’t force Himself. Jesus will meet every need we have, even that niggling, ever present pricking, that we don’t fully understand; He does. He is enough.

In my own life, I have experienced healing and restoration from things so broken and devastated, I honestly never thought any of it could be healed or restored. I heard Jesus speak to my spirit and say words so similar to these lyrics, “RISE! Your shackles are no more, for I (Jesus Christ) have broken every chain!” He has, He did and He continues to do it. I found freedom.  Those lyrics mean so much to me. I am not sure I can accurately describe the beauty of it, the freedom, the peace and safety that I feel way down deep. I’m not sure it is describable, honestly, because we have all walked different paths and experienced different wounds,  but let me assure you, once you let go and allow yourself to experience His healing, you will never be the same. Yes, you will come face to face with pain, disappointment and fear, because that is life on this planet. But know that Jesus is right there with you, as close as your next breath and will cover you with peace that passes all understanding, if you allow Him in. If you ask Him, He will give you wisdom and guidance to navigate everything life will throw at you.  He will take your ashes and give you beauty, He will give you joy for your sadness and change out that robe of heaviness for a light and lovely garment of praise. It really is supernatural, and guess what? It’s a gift!

I would be honored to hear your stories of Jesus’ saving, healing, shackle- breaking power in your life, if you would like to share.

“I will call upon the Lord, for He alone is strong enough to save….”

Call Upon the Lord by Elevation Worship

We need no other hiding place                        All of the heavens and the earth

Our hope is safe within your name                Announce the fullness of your worth

This we know, this we know                            This we know, this we know

You promise never to forsake                          And every enemy will flee

What you began you will sustain                    As we declare your victory

This we know, this we know                           This we know, this we know

I will call upon the Lord                                     I will call upon the Lord

For he alone is strong enough to save           For he alone is strong enough to save

Rise your shackles are no more                        Rise your shackles are no more

For Jesus Christ                                                      For Jesus Christ

Has broken every chain                                       Has broken every chain

Jesus’ name will break every stronghold

Freedom is ours when we call his name

Jesus’ name above every other

All hail the power of Jesus’ name

Corporate Worship – Glimpse of Heaven

I had the privilege of attending an amazing concert over the weekend with my family, our church’s youth pastors and their wives and many others from my local church. The concert was wonderful; full of excitement, dancing and shouting; a spirit-filled energy that infused my bones and awakened a deeper intimacy with Jesus. Music has always been a strong source of life, energy and spirituality for me. Music awakens and fulfills at the same time, a deep place in my soul; through times that have been so crushing and devastating to times of such victory I can hardly stand it. Music and Jesus are deeply interconnected for me.

As I stood with the thousands of others on Saturday night, listening to praises rising to God, I was filled with awe and brought to tears at the way all of us were united for one purpose – to praise and love Jesus; to receive healing, love, acceptance and joy from our Father.  Our Father.  I love the sound of that. I was struck that at the very moment of praise; turning our focus on Him in communion with the spirit, we were united.  It didn’t matter who we were planning to vote for, the color of our skin, our past, our present or our future, our socio economic status or our dress size; all that mattered was that we love God and He loves us deeply; no shame, sin, guilt, habit or hang-up could separate us from His love. He was right there in our midst and His presence was so potent and powerful that it raised the hairs on my arms and the back of my neck.  The Creator of the universe, and of you and I, joined us Saturday night at the Concord Pavilion and lavished us with so much love. I know healing took place that night; lives were saved, hope restored, relationships healed and grace! Oh so much grace!

At one point during the concert, I turned around to look next to me and behind me and was overwhelmed at the sight of arms, hands, faces raised up to heaven; smiles, laughter, songs, tears; all directed upward to our Father. I thought, “Wow! This must be a tiny glimpse of what heaven will be like; all races, all nations, all backgrounds standing, kneeling, bowing in the presence of the Most High God. I tell you, it was one of the most beautiful sights I have seen.

What-if…

We have been taught not to dwell on the “what-ifs” in life. That phrase has been given a bad rap, denoting negativism, unhealthy dwelling and rehashing of past regrets, mistakes, wrong choices and wrong roads traveled. I think every human alive can picture something in their past that caused them regret; saying “Wow, what-if I hadn’t…” If the what-if mentality is used to berate ourselves, dredge up old wounds and rehash unhappy parts of our past, I tend to agree we shouldn’t dwell there; unless we turn that statement into a positive and encouraging motivator for ourselves, as a chance to step out in faith and be a little risky. I don’t know that life was meant to be lived safe.

We all have dreams buried inside us. Sometimes those dreams are vague, ethereal ideas; a knowing in our soul that is our essence. It’s that feeling we get when we know we were made for this very thing we dream about. Instead of listing all the reasons why it will never work, you could never really do it, someone else could do it better, how about saying to yourself, “What-if I can do this and I am really good at it?” Hmm…what might happen? “What-if I step out in faith and take the first step and simply try?” “What if my soul sings with joy because I am finally allowing myself to do what God created ME to do?” “What-if there is someone out there who really needs me to step out and try?”

You might step out and you might not do it right the first time. You might get it wrong and have to re-start and re-think. There is not a thing wrong with that! But, what-if you did do it right? What-if just trying, brought you baby steps of success? What-if one day you look back, and instead of regretting that you never tried and lived in fear, you felt peace, freedom and so much satisfaction, because you are truly living out the special and unique spot God created just for you? I think that will be such a very sweet spot indeed!

So, what-if today, you decided to go for it, whatever that looks like for you? What might happen? The possibilities are exciting, exhilarating and endless! Courage and bravery, friends! You’ve got this, whatever “this” looks like for you!

“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace.” Numbers 6:24-26

Bike ride full of sensations and truth

I went on a bike ride yesterday morning. The first longer one I’ve been able to do in months, due to knee and elbow injuries. It was lovely and refreshing; full of an almost overwhelming amount of much missed sensations.

I am very much a sensation person. You know, someone acutely aware of the nuances of the wind, scents, sights, sounds or the absence of sounds. Sensations fascinate me and stir something up inside. Originally, I was going to make this a ride of new beginnings in the most physical of ways; starting off with a pre-determined number of miles as my goal, so as not to overtax my knee and elbow, which are still healing and tender in spots. That was the focus and I was going to get ‘er done. No fooling around, fanciful riding! I also decided to add in to the mix, a prayer for safety and that God would use this new beginnings ride as He saw fit; whatever that means. He did. I’m pretty sure I knew deep down that He would; when I invite Him into what I am doing, He always shows up. Always.

The morning was chock full of sensations; I mean full. There was a light to moderate, persistently cooling breeze with notes of a gently sweet flower – jasmine I think, with undertones of dew damp grass and that calming scent of the sea floating along, teasing and soothing. The light was lovely. It was fairly early, so it was a new light, just waking up from its sleep; all soft, gentle and tumbly;  pleasantly warm when it hit my bare skin. The birds were in rare form, especially some blue jays with the raucous calls they are famous for, along with the pretty little birds, finches maybe, who dart and dip all over my neighborhood, singing their hearts out to the new sun. Wind chimes played in the distance and I may have imagined the earthy smell of coffee, floating by, making me wonder who was up and what they were doing. I’m also intensely curious! Some leaves danced and twirled past on a side street, as the playful breeze flew in to stir them up and left again just as quickly. Naughty and playful!

By this time, I am on the bike path parallel to the canal, trying to take in all the blue and yellow wildflowers that dip and twist in the breeze as I fly past. I realize that I have not been paying close attention to how far I’ve gone, what my knee is feeling, who else is out and about. It has just been me, my six senses and such a feeling of joy and excitement over what sight, smell, sound,  or creature I might encounter next. As I pedal along, I am struck by how much beauty and joy I rob myself of on a daily basis when all I am focused on is the next accomplishment, the next item marked off my list (I really, really like lists!!), the next thing I think I need to do because someone else is doing it, someone else thinks it would be a good idea . I am comparing my desires, my dreams and my genetic make-up, that calls and beckons me to get outside and bask in sensations’, to someone else’s make up that does not or sends them in a different direction. I felt like I had a mini epiphany that allowed me, through sensations, to see that this is good, right, ok and to not feel guilty or less than, because I choose to do life a little differently than the next guy and to embrace that and love it and deeply nurture it, because it is the essence of me. It is the spirit of me that my God put inside me when He created me. He knew I was going to crave and need nature and sensations in a big, big way along with words, dreams , music, visions and the scent of the air more than other things, and that He delighted in making me this way. I don’t have to decide to do something a different way because someone else is doing it; I don’t have to stress because I like to exercise and nourish my body, my way. I think it was such a revelation to me, because as I was riding my blue bike, feeling sweat running down my back just to be immediately cooled off by the chilly breeze, I simply thought, “why hello, Melissa. This is me.” I could see all those parts of me and loved them. So many thoughts started pouring through my brain. I won’t go into all of them, because a lot of them make sense only to me and I think God wants some of those revelations and thoughts to be just between Him and me. But thoughts regarding weight, gifting, inclinations, my ministries, friendships, past decisions, my food choices and my thoughts around those were highlighted in a gentle, yet firm way, pointing out that they stem from what God thought of and got excited over when He decided He was ready to set me loose on this earth. Yes, I do have a lot to learn from other people, things to re-think and maybe go about in a different way, but the essence of me, my spirit, is me and it’s mine and I desire to intimately know, cherish and fiercely protect every part of it; not feel like I have to explain myself, convince others to see the essence of me or to defend it.

So, God did show up on my bike ride. Like I said, I knew He would, I just didn’t know what He would bring to the party. For me, it was something deep and shifting inside. I’m not sure I did a great job explaining and sharing it, but I’m ok with that, too, because a lot of it was just for me. Maybe you will get a little nugget or tidbit for yourself. That is my hope. That through this convoluted and a bit random blog post, a little treasure will hop off the page that God put here just for you.

He is speaking. Can you hear Him?

Have you ever heard the comments, “God is closer than your next breath?”  or “God is always speaking to us?” Do you believe that? Have you heard that “still small voice” speaking to you?

As I sat outside on the patio this morning, my mind started wandering. It drifted through past conversations I’ve had with friends about this very thing. How does God speak to me, to you? Is He? How will I know if it’s God? I don’t know that I have the right answer, but I have a lot of thoughts about it and wanted to share what’s on my mind. I hope in the comments, you will share your thoughts and experiences as well, since we all have something to teach and something to learn.

There are those who have audibly heard the voice of God; an actual voice they heard with their physical ears. I’m not one of them. I would love to be, but I’m not; at least not yet. I believe that because our Creator made each of us in such unique and specific ways, we can’t say there is only ONE way to hear our Father’s voice.  We all interpret life and what we see, hear and feel very differently, according to our gifts, abilities, personalities and physical make up. It makes sense that we would sense our Creator’s voice in many varied ways.

Others in my circle of friends, hear His voice through very specific and detailed dreams and visions, where God is clearly showing them something important about life changes that are going to happen, the direction certain relationships are going, how they need to proceed in a certain area of their lives. I hear God this way, too. Not daily or even weekly; not in a consistent, regimented way, but He has spoken to me this way. When I was first dealing with the possibility of breast cancer, God gave me very detailed and specific dreams about it, so that I would know some of what was coming. He knows me so well, that He knew I would need this preparation; an advanced warning, so to speak.  It was a tremendous blessing to me and I am so grateful for the dreams He gave to me. It showed me that He is involved in every single thing that He filters through His hands and allows to touch my life. He knew cancer was going to be part of my story. He gave me some advance notice, because He knows how I operate. This is love.

Nature is one of the things in life that I love the most. I crave it. It is an essential part of my being, of my make –up. I feel the most alive and in touch with my Father when I am outdoors. My senses come alive and I am captivated and touched by all the sounds, scents, sensations. I have had my deepest times of communion with God, while outdoors in nature; whether it is the forest, a meadow, a trail I’m hiking, sitting on the beach or puttering in my own backyard. It isn’t an audible voice I hear, but it’s what I sense; like a spirit deep knowing that He is there and He is speaking. The brush of a gentle, playful breeze that cools my neck and ruffles my hair tells me that He cares, is always and ever-present. I hear Him speaking to me in the pounding surf and lapping waves; fear and wounding are drawn out and away in the swell of the waves as I pour out to Him all that is in my heart. The peace and awe that fall over me in the midst of the Redwoods; that glorious scent of pine, ancient growth and strength remind me of His power and creativity; that He has everything planned out that concerns me and mine; it isn’t necessarily safe and predictable, but it is good and right and promised. Sitting outside under the stars and the moon, I feel His majesty and His Lordship cover me like protective wings. He created what I see above me which is hard to comprehend, but He also created me and loves me. To me that feels so safe; I am protected and fiercely guarded. My Father’s eye is never off of me. His eye is never off of you.

Maybe you don’t believe that you have “heard” Him speak to you, but I challenge that. I really do. He speaks all the time to His creation.  Keep an open heart and open ears.  Slow down and allow yourself to hear Him. Ask Him how He wants to speak to you. I promise you He does. He has words for you and so much wisdom He desires to pour into you. But our Father God is a gentleman. He waits to be invited.  Will you let Him in?

Beauty

Middle school. What is the first  word that pops into your mind when you hear the words middle school? Awkward , the fear of being different, of not having a “place”. Much of my thought life in middle school was taken up with concern over where I belonged. Who would talk to me today? Would my friends still be my friends? Was I pretty enough for a certain crowd to speak to me and acknowledge me? Maybe it all boiled down to wondering if I was enough?

As I lead my group of 8th grade girls once a week, I see this painful struggle. The desire to be loved and enough, just as they are; to be liked, sought out, pretty, hip and cool.  This struggle is just as real for young men, as they struggle to find their place in the world. It is  real for all of us.

At our middle school group last week, we talked about beauty; specifically inner beauty. So much is hurled at us about our outward appearance; our size, shape, eye color, hair color, skin tone, you name it; someone, somewhere has decided what is and isn’t ok. W ewant to measure up to what culture has defined as beauty and I think it is terribly flawed and destructive.

Think for a moment about something that is uniquely you. Something that is a different, that might stand out. Is it your laugh, smile, eye or hair color? Do you have a unique sense of style or quirky sense of humor? Do you realize this unique part of you is a gift from God that sets you apart as special? You are His creation. Can you look at your uniqueness and begin to love it?

Read Psalm 139:13-18 and allow it into your mind and receive it in your heart.

“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. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered! I can’t even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand! And when I wake up, you are still with me.”

God took such time and attention to detail to personally create you. Your shape, size, sound of your voice, color of your hair and skin were all planned out as He carefully invested time and poured His breath and love into the person that you are. He is crazy about His design! Ephesians 2:10 says “for we are all God’s masterpiece. He created us anew in Christ Jesus so that we can do the good things He planned for us long ago.”

More important to God, I think, is our inner beauty. I define inner beauty as the characteristics of Jesus; such as, gentleness, kindness, inclusivity, confidence, compassion, mercy, humility, forgiving, full of love and kindness.  These traits have the power to draw people to you, because they see Jesus shining through the vessel of your physical body. We all have a God sized space in our souls that longs to be known, loved and accepted. Only God can fill that void in our lives. The more we look like Jesus on the inside, the more beautiful we become on the outside.

Take a few minutes to think about the traits of inner beauty that you have been gifted. Are you patient and laid back or are you a confident, type A go-getter? Are you kind and merciful? Are you a dreamer or a realist? Are you a leader with a dynamic personality? Are you humble and gentle? Do you have compassion for those less fortunate? Are you an encourager? All these qualities are gifts given to you by a loving God who knows all of your strengths and  weaknesses. He doesn’t look on you with eyes of disappointment, frustration or annoyance. He created all of you and intimately knows your thoughts, struggles, fears; your areas of strength and weakness. In your weakness He is strong and He uses those areas to draw you closer to Him.

If you struggle to see yourself as a lovely, precious, beautiful creation on the inside and outside, I challenge you (this is for me too!) to ask God to be your mirror. Ask Him to reflect back to you, all the beauty and loveliness He sees when He looks at you. When He sees you, His unique and valuable creation, He sees all the potential He placed in you. He sees the time and effort He personally put in to creating you for very specific purposes. There is only one you and you are definitely enough. You are a gift, from our Creator, to the world and I pray you see yourself that way.

What would happen when you look in the mirror this week, if you refused to allow negative thoughts and words any space in your mind? What if you refuted every negative word, thought, or description of yourself that you harbor in your soul, with positive words and thoughts; you could only call out encouragement and goodness, as you protected your heart from caustic and castigating words?  Imagine what God is seeing in you and receive in your heart and soul, that what He sees, He is so incredibly proud of and so in deeply in love with. You are enough.

Zephaniah 3:17 “The Lord your God is with you, His power gives you victory. The Lord will take delight in you, and in His love He will give you new life. He will sing and be joyful over you.”