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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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Giving Thanks

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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

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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.

 

 

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.