Tag Archive | Hope

Waves

waves

Life is full of changes.

Some are welcome. Marriage, the birth of a long-awaited child, or a professional success that validates and fulfills us.

Some are devastating. Natural disasters that literally destroy everything we hold dear, the loss of family through death or relocation, personal or professional failure.

I’ve been through several in the past four months.

I try to focus on the good. My health, the love of my family, the difference I make in the lives of those around me.

Then comes a wave.

And it’s never just one. It’s always several, usually three in my case. (Why do bad things always come in threes?) Just when I think I’ve dusted myself off from the first wave, another comes along and pushes me back down again. I feel myself slipping deeper into the same hole, the walls slippery with mud, void of roots or footholds with which to climb out.

When I do succeed in climbing out, I try to brace myself, to mentally prepare for the next wave. To reach out to God to help me through the trials that come my way. 

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. 

Last month I entered the same writing contest I did two years ago. I felt I had grown as a writer, my manuscript was complete and I had a better overall feel for what I was writing. On Friday I got the results – I didn’t win. I wasn’t even a finalist. Granted, this was a nationwide contest, and the category I entered – romance – provided some really tough competition. My chances of being a finalist were slim at best.

But I was hopeful.

Yesterday, I got an email from the contest coordinator with the comments and critique from the three anonymous writers that judged my entry. It was a hard pill to swallow, to say the least. Criticism is always hard to take, and in this case, when I worked so hard, went through those five pages over a dozen times, and agonized over every last word, finding out that it wasn’t good enough felt like a wave.

And not just any wave. A ten foot wave that pushed me into dark, swirling depths. Took away my breath and drowned me in despair.

I reached out my hands, begged God to help me, to show me that my efforts were not fruitless. To pull me from the waves and to calm the water around me.

And he did, in the form of two dear friends and critique partners. They reassured me, told me it was just one contest. To take the good critique and use it to grow.

It wont be easy, but I’ll try.

My faith still wavers from time to time. I still wonder if this is truly my calling. After all, if this is what God has called me to do, would it really be this difficult and heart-breaking? Are the words of self-doubt Satan’s attempts to pull me away from a calling, or God’s gentle hand guiding me to something else?

Then I look at the framed certificate on the wall by my desk. The one that I received for winning a flash fiction contest a year and a half ago. I remember the joy in my heart when a fellow writer came up to me after my story was read out loud and told me that it spoke to her in a way nothing else had. 

Tucked behind the frame is the seagull feather that I found up in Door County last year. The one that reminds me to always have hope. 

I think of you – my loyal readers and the lost souls who come across my posts in the middle of the night. Those who garner a bit of God’s strength, courage and wisdom from the words that I write in His name.

So I take a deep breath, I put fingers to keyboard, and I write. I hope and pray for each and every one of you, that God will bless you on whatever journey you’re on. I hope you can pray for me too, and anyone who falters as the wind and water rush around them.

Perhaps, together, with God’s grace and love, we can find away to help each other through these waves. 

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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.

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

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