A Season of Hope ~ Week Four

Today marks the beginning, and the end, of the fourth week of Advent.

The theme today is Love.

I’ve written about love before. I’d like to say I’m an expert on the subject, as a writer of Inspirational Romance, but I’m not.

The only real expert on love is God, who gave us his Son. A son who came as a tiny baby born in a manger who 33 years later, would suffer and die on a cross to take away all of our sins.

IMG_20171224_212214.jpg

There are many kinds of love. The ancient Greek language has four distinct words for it – agape, eros, philia, and storge. Eros gets its name after the Greek god of love, and refers to passionate, intimate love – the kind of love felt towards a spouse. Philia is the love between friends – loyalty and community that binds us together as a human race. Storge is the love of parents for their children, or a patriotic love for one’s country.

And then there is Agape. Divine love. The one love above all others. God’s unconditional love for us. When Jesus gave his commandment to love each other, he speaks of this kind of love.

It is the hardest kind of love to give, because it requires us to be completely selfless. To set aside our wants and desires and to wish nothing but the best for everyone in our lives.

As we journey together into Christmas, hold on to that love. Spread it to those around you. Of all the gifts we will give each other, there is none more precious than love.

“For God so loved the world, He gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.”  ~ John 3:16

Advertisements

A Season of Hope ~ Week Three

Here we are, in the third week of Advent. This week the theme is Joy.

I won’t lie. It took a while for me to get to the point where I could write this post. Between sickness, a car battery that died when I was getting ready to pick up my kids from school, and a lot of sleep deprivation, I’d had enough. As I spiraled into a depressive state, all I could think of was how little joy I had in my life.

Oh, how wrong I was.

After a good cry (and we all need a good cry now and then), I stopped and forced myself to think about what I had in my life that I could be joyful about.

It wasn’t until I paged through my Bible that I found a passage which reminded me of a time when I felt joy. It’s the first entry I did, almost a year ago.

IMG_20171220_122119.jpg

In the spring, summer and early fall months, I am blessed to see the sunrise on my way to work. These moments, being witness to the dawning of a new day, always fill my soul with peace and comfort. It reminds me that through all of my trials, God’s joy in my life never ends.

I continued. I started to count my blessings.

My family. My friends. A roof over my head. Food on my table. And even though I might be sick, I could be worse. I have so much to be thankful for, but the momentary sadness overtook me to the point where I couldn’t see the joy beneath it all.

You’re probably thinking to yourself – “What’s this lady thinking? How can I be happy all the time? Even when I’m sad?”

Joy, real true joy, isn’t fleeting like happiness or pleasure. It is a constant, a flowing presence. It’s being content with where you are in life. Knowing that there is a purpose for everything. Knowing that God loves you, even when your world is falling apart.

We all just need to stop, to pause sometimes to remember that it’s there.

So if you’re feeling a little blue, go ahead and count your blessings, so that even when the day seems cold and dreary, underneath it all, you will find your Joy.

Just like the rising sun on a new morning.

A Season of Hope ~ Week Two

Here we are, the second week of Advent. The theme this week is Peace.

Less than two weeks remain until Christmas, and I don’t know about you, but it’s usually around this time when I realize just how much I need to get done. With a myriad of items on my to-do list, what fills my heart can hardly qualify as peace. It’s actually the opposite. With Christmas cards to send, gifts to purchase, cookies to bake, my life becomes a flurry of last minute activity.

And yet, like many people, I often neglect the one thing I should be spending the most time on – preparing my soul.

The readings at Church on Sunday were all about preparing the way for Jesus. The gospel is one I practically know by heart.

IMG_20171214_115021.jpg

My message today is a short one, and yet powerful. 

While going about your holiday preparations, set aside some time to prepare your soul. Cast away all of the sadness, fear and hatred that is holding you back. For me as a Catholic Christian, a good way to do this is going to Confession. For you, it might be an act of service, or an apology to someone you have hurt. Whatever you do, let God’s love guide you. Let his peace and mercy fill your heart. 

Then, when all of the presents are wrapped, the cookies baked, and the cards sent, you can rest knowing that another item has been checked off your to-do list.

The most important of all – readying our hearts to receive Jesus on Christmas day.

 

 

A Season of Hope ~ Week One

For the next four weeks I’ll be sharing my thoughts on the season of Advent. One part of Advent is a Christian tradition involving the lighting of colored candles on a wreath. Three purple, one pink, and sometimes, one white candle in the center. Like this.

adventwreath

 

Each candle on the advent wreath holds a particular symbolic significance. The first candle symbolizes hope.

The first week of Advent has been a difficult one for me for the past few years. I don’t know why, but I always have a hard time getting into the Christmas spirit. Stress and anxiety over purchasing the perfect gifts for those on my list gets the best of me. Between that and planning my daughter’s birthday, which is just a few days after Christmas, I get overwhelmed to the point where I just want to crawl in bed and not come out until spring.

You know, hibernate. Like a bear.

But every year, when December 1st comes and I flip my calendar for the last time, I pull this out of storage and smile.

IMG_20171209_091505.jpg

For those who may not be familiar with this particular Christian tradition, this is a Jesse Tree. This one in particular was made by my grandmother for my mom. My sister, brother and I took turns reading passages every night and snapping the felt images onto the tree, learning about our Bible history. When my son was two, my mom passed this precious heirloom down to me to share with my children. It’s a fun way for them to learn about stories in the Bible, and each year, as they grow, they have more questions about it. A few days ago, while reading about Abraham and Isaac, my son gasped when he realized that Abraham was about to kill his own son. It provided a good moment to share the similarity between that moment and God’s plan to sacrifice his own Son for us.

So, you may be wondering, why is this called a Jesse Tree? Who is Jesse?

Jesse was the father of David. The founder of the “House and Family of David” that Joseph, Jesus’s earthly father, came from. I’m sure Jesse thought he was just an ordinary man, that he never thought of what kind of impact he would have on our history.

But Isaiah knew. 

IMG_20171209_100215.jpg

He could have been speaking of David, or perhaps he spoke of Jesus, the one who was to come. The one whose birth in a lowly stable would cause the Angels in heaven to rejoice.

Whatever the case, it provides us with some valuable insight into God’s plan. That he didn’t just decide one day to send his Son to Earth to save us. He planned it for centuries, for generations.

Giving us hope.

So if you, like me, have been having a hard time getting in the Christmas spirit this year, remember that even the most ordinary days, and the most ordinary people, have their place in God’s plan. 

All we need to do is open our eyes and our hearts to see it.

Giving Thanks

received_10155870484834725

Yesterday was one of those days. While my children ran around the house like wild turkeys and my dog played the infuriating game of inside-outside, subjecting me to the  frigid late November air, it was difficult for me to count my blessings.

But I tried.

In an attempt to turn my heart around, I reached for my Bible. It had been a while since I did any journaling, and the pages were calling to me. Beckoning me to come and read a while.

There are so many passages on thankfulness, it was hard to chose the right one. In the end I chose  1 Chronicles 16:34 – two short lines that hold so much meaning.

“Give thanks to the Lord for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.”

In spite of the anger, frustration, sorrow and fear that pull us down every day, God is there, waiting to pull us back up. To wrap us up in his tender mercy and get us through to another day.

So, on this Thanksgiving Day, share with me what you are thankful for.

I am thankful for my children, who although they drive me crazy sometimes I love them more than life itself.

I am thankful for my husband for being the rock I can lean on when things get rough (and for always pointing me in the right direction when I need a little nudge).

I am thankful for my parents, for always being there for me, and most recently for gifting me with a hand-me-down laptop so I can pursue my writing dreams.

I am thankful for friends who although they live far away, they take the time to say hello and remind me that the miles between us might physically separate us, but in our hearts we are always together.

I am thankful for you, my followers, for helping me spread my message of hope and love to a world that so desperately needs it.

And most importantly, I am thankful for God, who is always there, and who never gives up on me.

Who never gives up on any of us.

A Blessed Thanksgiving to all of you.

~Melanie

Seasons

“To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven.” Ecc 3:1

received_10155792369629725

Monday night, I walked down the hallway in my home and paused in front of the thermostat. My toes and fingers ached from the cold and I shivered. Although I could not see my breath, I knew that when I stepped outside the following morning I would.

Frost was coming, and with it, winter.

Fall is a beautiful season in Wisconsin, but it has never been my favorite. Don’t get me wrong – I love pumpkin spice, cozy sweaters and changing leaves, but the cold days and nights of fall only serve to remind me that winter is coming. After leaves change into breathtaking shades of yellow, orange and red, they fall. The ground is covered with a patchwork quilt of warm hues and the trees above lay barren.

It seems as if the entire forest is dying.

Of course, anyone who lives in the Midwest knows that they are merely dormant. Enjoying a six month slumber to be woken by the warmth of spring.

And yet, as with all life, some don’t wake up. Some trees fall, or succumb to disease. Their trunks lay motionless on the forest floor, never to give birth to another leaf, another flower.

And yet, God comes along and makes them beautiful.

While hiking in Door County a month ago, I came across this.

IMG_20170922_105651

I couldn’t linger long because of my mold allergies, but seeing this, a single passage came to mind.

“He has made everything beautiful in its time” – Ecc 3:11

God took this dead stump and decorated it with mushrooms, and a tiny green plant. All to make me pause, admire His creation and think to myself, “How amazing you are, that you can take something seemingly worthless and make it special.”

Something beautiful.

Some days I feel like I’ve been cut to a stump, like I don’t have any purpose other than to just sit and be glazed over. To be overshadowed by more beautiful things like flowers, birds, towering trees, babbling brooks, and bright sunshine.

Then I remember, God has a plan for everything, in all seasons.

Spring holds the promise of hope and renewal. I am reminded of spring with the birth of a new baby in my extended family, or of  the rising of the sun on a new morning.

Summer gives us warmth and joy, like family reunions, vacations, and birthday parties.

Fall is the time to slow down, to prepare for winter. This brings to mind sunsets, or times when I may be struggling to remain positive. It is difficult when winter and its darkness seems imminent, but as with all things I know that this too shall pass.

Winter is the time to be still. To breathe. To pray. To prepare ourselves for the coming of spring, the joy of the Resurrection, and the repeating of the glorious cycle of life.

Whatever season you might be in, weather it’s a good one or a bad one, realize that God is with you, and he has a purpose for whatever you’re going through.

And in his time, in every season, he will make you beautiful.

 

 

Letting it all go

Two weeks ago, I was blessed to go to a place that I consider a haven for my soul.

Door County, Wisconsin.

For those not familiar with Wisconsin, Door County is a popular vacation spot in the late spring, summer and fall months. Some people have summer cottages there. Others camp with their families. I’ve heard of it referred to as “The Hamptons of the Midwest”.

While I do enjoy the things that bring most tourists to Door County, like shopping and wineries, the one thing that made me fall in love with this little corner of Wisconsin lies near the tip of the peninsula – a quiet place called Newport State Park.

It’s nowhere near as popular as Peninsula State Park in Fish Creek (which is also one of my favorites for different reasons), but what it lacks in popularity, it more than makes up for in beauty. Before becoming a state park in 1964, the land was described in 1946 as “the most outstanding state park possibility along the Lake Michigan Shore”. Those words couldn’t be more true.

The reason I love it so much?

Peace.

From the moment I turn off Hwy 42 into the small country road leading to the park, a hush envelops my soul. Then, after several minutes of driving, I see this.

IMG_20170922_095802

My heart quickens. My soul sings for joy.

I’m home.

A little bit farther and I would reach my destination. The winding road meandered through the thick forest and shadows of towering maples led the way.

The road ended at a parking lot. I grabbed my water bottle and a small snack, took a deep breath and emerged from my car. It took a while for me to find what I was looking for, but my heart did a little flip when I did.

Here it is.

IMG_20170922_103204

My bench.

Well, it’s not technically my bench. I don’t own it. But this particular spot holds a spiritual connection for me. It is one of the few places in this world where I feel closest to God.

So I took a seat. I closed my eyes. I listened to the waves. Opened my ears, and my heart, to God’s voice.

The feeling that washed over me was unlike any I have ever felt. So much so that mere words cannot describe it.

After a few moments, I stood, then walked down to the beach. I felt drawn closer to the waves, as if the answers to the questions deep within my soul lived in those waters.

As I walked along the damp sand, I spotted a few rocks, and my post from a month ago rose to the surface of my mind. So I picked up a handful of rocks.

IMG_20170922_103414

One by one, I tossed them as hard as I could into the lake. With each toss I shouted out something that had been troubing me. Fears. Worries. Anxieties. All cast into the waves.

And with each splash, I let it all go.

I took a deep breath, smiled, and turned to go back to my car. But something made me stop and look down. What I saw next made me laugh and cry at the same time.

A single seagull feather, sticking out of the sand.

I didn’t take a picture because my hands woudn’t stop shaking. See, this was no ordinary feather. It reminded me of a poem – one that has been written on my heart years ago.

“Hope is the thing with feathers,

that perches on the soul.

That sings the tune without the words

and never stops at all…” -Emily Dickinson

That feather, dirty and covered with bits of sand and grass, served as a beacon of hope.

Hope that no matter how much my troubles weigh me down, God is with me, ready to bear some of the burden. I picked up that feather, wiped it off and brought it home with me. Now I keep it tucked behind a picture frame by my desk, to remind me that when the world feels dark, when I feel like I can’t go on, there’s always hope.

All I need to do is gather up my troubles. My fears and my anxieties.

And one by one, to let them all go.

Keep smiling,

Melanie