Seasons

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

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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.

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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.

 

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

I am here

It’s been a while since I last posted. The last days of summer consumed me, and left me reeling. I can’t believe how fast those three months went by.

Right now, I have so much on my mind and in my heart. Prayers for those affected by storms. Prayers for those affected by wildfires. Prayers for anxious children that started school this week. Prayers for parents who watched with teary eyes as their children walked into school and the blissful days of summer came to an end.

And yet, when I try to put it into words, to offer encouragement to those who need it, I come up short. My own doubts and anxieties overcome me. So I keep praying. I try to follow my own advice and put it all in God’s hands.

For now, this is all I have.

If you want to talk, I’m here.

If you want to cry, I’m here.

If you want to scream, I’m here (just give me advance notice so I can get earplugs).

If you want a hug, I’m here.

Maybe not physically next to you like I want to be… to help you brace for the storm, or go for a walk with you until the hurt passes, or offer a cup of hot or iced tea and a zucchini muffin and just sit and listen.

But just like God promises to be there for us…

I am here.

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A Little Pencil

My heart is overflowing with a good theme…My tongue is the pen of a ready writer.”

Psalm 45:1

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This past month, I have made a lot of progress in my manuscript. I’ve passed the halfway mark and written 150 pages so far, which is far more than I have ever written in any story in my entire life.

For the first few weeks, words flowed out of my fingertips like the torrential downpours that ravaged southeastern Wisconsin earlier this summer. This metaphorical flood poured onto my computer screen, guiding my characters through a day together. Talking, laughing, and dare I say, maybe even flirting a little. (hehehe)

I’ve gotten to know the characters so well that they feel like old friends. They speak to me in my dreams, wake me in the middle of the night because I left a scene unresolved and they are dying to know what happens next. (I usually just tell them to stop it and be patient – after all, I need my sleep!)

In fact, these fictional characters pulled me into their story with such strength that I almost forgot why I started this story in the first place.

Not to be a famous, New York Times bestselling author, with book tours and signings all over the country. Rather, to spread God’s message to the downtrodden. To offer faith hope, and love to those who need it most. Just like I received it when I needed it most.

Then I saw a quote that a friend posted on twitter a few weeks ago.

 

“I am a pencil in the hand of a writing God, who is sending a love letter to the world”

– Saint Theresa of Calcutta

 

It’s one of those things that I don’t think of nearly enough. That my writing is not completely my own. Every word I write, speak or sing comes from God. Or at least it should. It is the biggest part of being a Christian, and it goes beyond attending Mass on Sunday and reading the Bible.

God’s message isn’t meant to be just listened to and held captive in our hearts.

God called his disciples – all of us – to spread his Word. Some spread it through actions like donating money and time to charity. Some spread it through song. Others who are comfortable with public speaking (not my forte!) give inspirational speeches and sermons.

And some write.

Whether it is a devotional, a blog post, a short story or a full length novel, there are so many wonderful authors out there whose mission is to share God’s message. I hope to one day join them when I become published.

Until then, I will let God guide me in what I write. When I don’t know what to write, I pray for His guidance. Even when I do know what I write, I pray that he will let me remain humble and not get carried away with the fictional world of my stories, so much as the message I am trying to convey.

There is a fine line between humility and pride in writing. I believe that in offering up what I write to God, and allowing Him to guide my hands, that when my words help someone in need I can be proud, knowing that God is proud of me.

So yes, I am a little pencil. I may be battered, sharpened often, broken, and sharpened again.

But through it all, I remain a pencil in God’s hand.

And in His hand, I will write great things.

 

Casting Our Cares

1 Peter 5:6-7 “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time, casting all your care on him, for He cares for you.”

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Six weeks ago, I was incredibly blessed to finally meet my new best friend from afar, Monica Mynk. For three days our families spent time together, talking, laughing, and enjoying each other’s company. One activity our daughters shared was fishing in the river behind the hotel where they stayed (we camped nearby). They didn’t catch anything other than sticks and leaves, but the constant rhythm of their casting those fishing rods out into the water had a calming effect.

Earlier that day, hours of exhaustion culminated in feelings of anger and frustration towards my children. Here I was, trying to enjoy the limited amount of time I had with my friend, and they kept demanding more of me. Rides they wanted to go on. Souvenirs they wanted me to buy for them.

We’ve all been there, either with our children, our spouses, co-workers, even friends.

At that point, there was only one thing I could do. Did I throw myself a pity party and dwell on everything that had gone wrong that day, and how my vacation was now ruined?

No. (Well, maybe for a minute or two before I came to my senses.)

I took a deep breath, and I put my anger, my frustration, my anxiety in the hands of God.

So many times in our lives, we try to fix our own problems. We play the blame game because it feels better than accepting responsibility for our own shortfalls. We wait for an apology that may never come. We hold grudges.

Ps 55:22 – Cast your burden on the Lord, and He shall sustain you

But God tells us, through the words of his servants David and Peter, that all we need to do is place all of it into his capable hands. To use a metaphorical fishing rod and cast all of our troubles into the calming waters of His love.

Those waters are never-ending. Deeper than the deepest part of any ocean. Ready and willing to take all of the negativity in our souls and transform it.

If we will only let Him.

I won’t lie. Letting go of my hurt is something I continue to work on, on a daily basis. Sometimes I feel like every time I cast something new into his capable hands, another anxiety surfaces. Maybe two or three. I feel overburdened, like no matter what I do, I’ll never be free.

We will be. Someday, when we are in his arms.

Until then, we need to keep on casting. We might not get something in return right away, but with patience we will reap the rewards. Not with a fish, or even a stick or a clump of leaves. For this casting isn’t about what you’re getting, but what you’re getting rid of. In the end, we are left with something truly beautiful.

A clean soul, full of forgiveness and God’s enduring love.

A Writer’s Journey

This post is somewhat belated, but as they say, “Better late than never”.

Several months ago, I decided to enter a local writing contest. The ACFW chapter for Southeast Wisconsin holds a conference every year and as part of this year’s conference, they decided to have a flash fiction contest.

I’d never written flash fiction before. And to be honest, the thought of writing a complete story in less than 1000 words scared me. I’m a rather verbose writer – I’ll admit it. The first draft of my flash fiction story topped 2000 words.

Ouch.

So I scrapped a few paragraphs, tried a new angle, and after weeks of editing and re-editing, I was done.

My inspiration? A story that I wrote fifteen years ago – or rather, co-wrote with another writer.  We each wrote for a character, sending e-mails back and forth as the story progressed. Then one day, the e-mails stopped. The story remained unfinished.

This is the end of that story.

And on April 1, at the ACFW WI SE Writer’s Conference, the winner of the contest was announced. I fully expected someone else to win. After all, I had only been writing seriously for a little over a year. This was the second contest I had entered.

My humble spirit wouldn’t let me believe that I could deserve such an honor.

I was wrong.

The moment my story was announced as the winner, I could barely contain my excitement. As I sat there, listening to Susan Baganz read my story, I kept thinking to myself that this had to be a dream. But her smile, and the applause of the other writers in attendance, told me otherwise.

Now, over three months later, I still go through times when I question my ability as a writer, despite that accomplishment. I go through dry spells during which I write nothing for weeks. I stare at my computer screen and think that I’ll never finish my book, and even if I do, will I write another?

Then I remember why I write. Not for money or fame (although they would be nice perks), but to spread God’s enduring love to the heartbroken, the downtrodden, the ones who don’t think anyone cares or will ever care.

So I keep writing, guided by God’s hope and love for me.

It will be a long road, but I will get there.

Until then, I will share my short stories.

So without further ado… here it is.

A Ray of Hope

 

Best Friends

“Ointment and perfume delight the heart, and the sweetness of a man’s friend gives delight by hearty counsel.” – Proverbs 27:17

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Friendship.

Some people have a wide circle of friends that they see on a regular basis. Some have a few friends that they rarely see, but when they do, pick up on the events of each others lives as if no time has passed.

And then there are the special friendships. The best friends. It can be someone you’ve known since kindergarten. It could be a sibling. It could be an online friend that you’ve never met in real life, with whom you share such an amazing connection that you can finish each other’s sentences.

But what about the best best friend? The one friendship that transcends all others?

The friend who never lets you down. Who is ALWAYS there. Who loves you – really loves you – no matter what. A friend who would die for you.

You’re probably thinking, yeah, I have a friend like that. My dog is pretty awesome.

Try switching those letters around a bit.

The one friend – everyone’s best friend, is none other than God. He is there for us, no matter what. He loves us even when we hate Him. He invites us to come to His house, whenever we want. When we sincerely pray to him, He hears us. And to top it all off, He died for us.

All of us.

Now, I will admit that sometimes just knowing that God is there for me isn’t enough. When I’m going through a rough time in my life, sometimes I could use a hug, a smile, an encouraging word beyond His words in the Bible.

That’s why God gives us friends here on Earth. To comfort us when we’re down. To rejoice with us when we’re happy. To be His physical presence in our lives, until we meet him in Heaven someday. And the really special friends bring us closer to God than we could ever get on our own. Their “hearty counsel” is truly the best gift of all, and the proof of His presence in our lives through them.

So, to all of the friends in my life, whether you’re near or far, acquaintances or the best of friends, know that I treasure each and every one of you for what you bring into my life. And may God bless you with abundant love, mercy, and grace.

And most importantly, friendship.