Monday, December 7, 2009
Friday, November 13, 2009
Thursday, October 29, 2009
The other day I was driving to go pick up Josh from work and listening to a playlist on my iPhone. The kids were in the back seat chattering away and I was feeling mentally exhausted. The song changed and “A Long December” by Counting Crows came on. Suddenly I was 17-years-old and driving my little, blue Geo Metro. Instead of a backseat full of children, I had a group of my friends with me. We are all laughing and singing along to the song. As the song continued to play, I felt memory after memory of high school wash over me. Friends I hadn’t thought about it years, the emotions of being in a new relationship with Josh, and the carefree ability we had to go where we wanted whenever we wanted. Everything seemed young and fresh and fun.
Again the song changed and this time “Babylon” by David Gray brought me to my first year of marriage. The coziness of our loft apartment in Federal Way surrounded me as I remembered listening to the song while I cleaned on my day off. I could picture our cats sitting on the couches and a fire in our little pink fireplace as the rain came down outside. Our marriage was new and sparkly and it felt more like make believe than reality.
With a third song, “Yellow” by Coldplay, I am engaged and visiting Josh in California. We are driving down the freeway and excited to see each other after a month’s separation; what seemed like an eternity to me at the time. We are in love and excited for what the future holds. We talk about what our wedding will be like and he tells me about how this song, that I’d never heard, always makes him think of me.
Then, I realize something about all of the memories that these songs are calling forth; they’re all softened by time, rose-tinted. The worries, fears and stresses that I was dealing with are minimized in the remembrance of the small joys I experienced. Laughing with friends, cleaning my house and planning a wedding replace the broken relationships of high school, the cancer my Grandma was battling during my engagement and the difficulties of the first year of marriage.
It made me think about how I view my life now and how I’ll view it in a few years. What song will bring me back to this time when my kids are young and I get to spend each day with them? I realize that the joy of hearing them play together, the sweetness of baby arms wrapped around my neck and the excitement of celebrating their small victories will someday minimize the stress of finances, neverending household chores and being frustratingly overwhelmed.
I silently pray, “Dear God, please help me to recognize and appreciate the things of today as I’m living it, instead of tomorrow when I’m remembering it. Help me to have a softened, rose-tinted view of my life and acknowledge the joys that surround me.”
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
It’s Christmas morning and I go to open the giant box that my mother-in-law sent us. As usual, she’s drawn little cartoons and written notes all over the outside of the box. I slit the packing tape with a kitchen knife, expecting to find a number of smaller packages wrapped in tissue paper with nametags attached to them. Instead I find…a Jack LaLanne Power Juicer. What?!
Now don’t get me wrong, this is a wonderful juicer. It can take whole carrots, oranges, apples, anything and turn it into a nutritious and delicious beverage. I’m sure that someone who is into juicing would have been very excited about it. I am not one of those people. I have never juiced anything in my life and it’s not something I have a desire to start doing.
Josh and I looked at each other in confusion. Huh? A juicer? By this time the kids are excited to open more presents, so the juicer gets set aside. An hour later, all the presents are open and it’s time to call people to wish them a Merry Christmas.
Janet answers the phone in two rings and the first thing she says is, “How do you like the juicer? Did you see that it came with the bonus accessory kit?” Stumped for an answer, Josh acknowledges that we saw the bonus kit and asks what made her think of getting a juicer for us. His mom explains that she had gotten one for each of his two sisters and us because they were a great way to get all your fruits and vegetables quickly and efficiently. Josh thanks her for thinking of us and then lets the kids chatter away to their grandma on the phone.
So this juicer has sat, unused, in my garage for the last two years. It’s dusty, neglected, and forlorn. It’s a fully functional appliance, but I don’t see any value in it. To me it’s useless. Sometimes that’s how I feel about the gifts God has given me. You look at a newborn baby, excited at all the potential gifts that God has placed inside them and eagerly watch as these gifts come out as the child grows to adulthood. I feel like I’m a juicer. My gifts and talents, in contrast to those of the people around me, seem efficient and good for your health.
I know you are…
I look at Josh and see the creativity and gifting God has given him for music. He can sit down with his guitar and create music that inspires people, evokes emotion and worships God. If I sit down with the guitar I can play three chords and those not very well.
I look at my friend Judah, who is the youth pastor at our church. He has a passion and a talent for art. He can create paintings that he then sells to benefit anti-slave trafficking charities. He decorates his home and office to create an atmosphere that is warm and inviting. He uses his artistic abilities to glorify God and create awareness about the injustices that occur in today’s society. If I wanted to paint a picture it would have to be a paint-by-number and no one would want to buy it.
I look at my friend Dee. She seems to excel at everything she puts her hand to: photography, quilting, decorating, and even raising chickens. She has this personality that invites you in and quiets your soul. She is a nurturer and a mother to so many people in her life. She inspires me just by being her.
But what am I?
Then I look at myself. I’m good at administration and organizing things. But that seems like such a boring gift. I don’t see any value in the gifts God has given me; like my juicer, I see it as useless. I see the gifts that my friends have and I wish God had given me that instead of what I’ve received.
Someone once said to me that it’s hard to recognize the gifts God has given you because they come naturally to you. I don’t see my gifts from God as a valuable contribution because I assume everyone can do it as easily as I do. I see the things that are hard for me and admire those abilities in others. I can easily recognize their gifts, but not my own.
Then I look once again at my husband and my friends. I look at them and compare them to me for a second time. This time I notice that the things that come easily to me are difficult for them. My husband is awful at time management and organizing things. He calls me his “wifetary.” The same is true for my friends. Where they are weak, I am strong. And it’s not just in the “boring” gifts I have of administration and organization. I find that another thing that comes naturally to me, opening my home and providing meals for people, is an area that they see as a gift in me.
I’ve always been told that it’s not good to compare our gifts and abilities with others because we all have unique and valuable things to contribute to the kingdom of God. But I think that in this instance comparison has helped me to see value in what I’ve been given.
It’s like when we were selling our home. The realtor did an appraisal of our neighborhood to help us establish the value of our home. The need for an appraisal arose because no two properties are exactly alike which means that there cannot be a set measurement of value. The value of my gifts goes up, for me, when I recognize how uniquely I am designed by God.
We are the body of Christ and we all have different functions to perform that lead to the betterment of the body. One gift isn’t better than another; it’s just different. I began to see that the gifts I had received from God, when He formed me in my mother’s womb, were important to Him and His plan for me to have. As I look around and see the abilities God has given to my friends and family I now glorify God for the creativity He had in creating us and for the unique way He made me.
God knew what was best for me; what would improve the life He has planned here for me on earth. Just like my mother-in-law, He wants to provide me with the tools to better my life. My mother-in-law saw the value in a juicer because, if used regularly, it can improve your health and give you energy. To me, the juicer was useless and there were other gifts I’d like better. Although I might still also feel that way about some of the gifts God’s given me, I realize that it’s important to use them and see the value in them as well as recognize how my contributions are unique.
Friday, October 16, 2009
My house has become a war-zone! It’s me against the germs! And unfortunately, right now the germs are winning.
The last three weeks has been filled with sickness. Snotty noses, fevers, sore throats…and the kids are not feeling well either.
When I feel like this, it’s hard for me to remember I’m the mommy. I just want to curl up in my bed with some tea and a good book and stay there. Instead, I have three children who need food, entertainment, questions answered and bottoms wiped.
Tuesday night I had a mental breakdown. I would be embarrassed for anyone to have seen the way I was acting; I was embarrassed that my husband had to see it. I threw a full-on hissy fit; there was crying, screaming and I think I actually kicked my feet. My husband took one look at me and quickly ushered our children out of the room. What was the source of my anger? The crib was broken and wouldn’t go back together. That’s it. My son doesn’t even sleep in that crib right now. But, it was vitally important to me that I fix it before my daughter could go to sleep in her room.
Much humbled, I came out of the room (after fixing the crib) and picked up our youngest to nurse him to sleep. My husband silently took our daughter in her room to put her to sleep, then (silently) came back out to finish his homework. I sat there, crying and nursing, knowing I had been selfish and immature.
An hour later when we went to bed I apologized to my husband for losing it and I started crying again. That’s when it hit me: I’m the adult. I’m the mommy. It doesn’t matter how sick I am, and how much I want my mommy. My children are reaching the age where they’re going to start remembering things. I am the mommy in their memories. I can’t act like the child I feel inside. I need to make sure their needs are just as important, if not more important, than my own.
So, I’m taking on the spirit of Philippians 2:3-4:
“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”
I know that although my mom and dad are miles away from me right now, I have a heavenly Father who sees my needs and is able to meet them even better than my earthly parents could if they were here. He will bless me, care for me, help me as I bless, care for and help my children that He’s given me…I’m really hoping we all feel better soon though!
Monday, October 5, 2009
It’s Thursday and I’m supposed to meet her at Starbucks in 30 minutes. The fear grips me as I say a quick prayer while I change my clothes and put on some makeup. Feeling guilty for not setting aside more time earlier in the day to pray and prepare, I kiss my kids and husband and head out the door.
Each week I meet with a young woman in our church to talk and mentor her. Each week I feel like I’m letting her down; wishing I were more spiritual and had more wisdom to offer her. But, she keeps coming back and seems excited for our weekly discussions. I try to steer the conversation to accountability topics: school, family, relationships, ministry, and her walk with God. I feel stiff and awkward, worried that I might accidentally slip and say something that a mentor shouldn’t say. I find that sometimes I don’t listen as well as I should because I’m desperately trying to find something insightful and challenging as a response.
Last week things changed. God began showing me the importance of being genuine, of being me. He showed me that He created me as a unique individual to fill a unique need. This young woman didn’t ask to meet with me because I’m some doctor of theology or great spiritual leader. She wanted to meet with me because I have a relationship with her and she likes to talk with me. My feelings of inadequacy don’t come from her; they come from my own insecurities.
So, as I walked to the local Starbucks that Thursday I pushed aside the normal feelings of guilt and focused on the fact that I was about to enjoy an hour of adult conversation with no children to interrupt. I quit reminding myself that I was a mentor and needed to play that role, and instead embraced the idea of just being me.
It was one of the best times we’d had in the nine months we’d been meeting. We laughed and chatted and lost track of time. Before we left I prayed for her about the things she’d shared, not because that’s what a mentor would do, but because I felt like I wanted to. It was so relaxing and comfortable to just be myself and not overanalyze everything I said or did.
This plays out in more areas than just my mentoring relationship. As a wife, mother, friend and Christian I’m constantly trying to appear to have it all together. I want my marriage, family, home and relationships to be perfectly in order and ready for inspection. I’m slowly learning that people don’t want to see the perfect Melissa. The perfect Melissa seems like she doesn’t need help, advice, companionship or encouragement. I’m also learning that in trying to be the perfect Melissa I’m alienating myself from those who are closest to me.
If I’m not being real with my husband, friends and relations how can they have an authentic relationship with me? They need to know the messes I’m dealing with, the struggles I’m having and the fears that haunt me. That way they can help me walk through it and rejoice with me when they’re really overcome, and not just covered up.
It’s a classic example, but still poignant, to compare the way I was acting to the Pharisees in Jesus’ time. In Matthew 23 Jesus rebukes the Pharisees by saying to them, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean.” I was working so hard to make sure that the outside appearance is acceptable, but I was neglecting the inside.
My husband has a tattoo that says, “Esse Quam Videri” which means in Latin “to be rather than to appear.” He got it to remind himself that he wants to genuinely be the man of God he knows he should be, not just have the appearance of one. Taking a cue from him, I’m working on making sure that the person I present to the world around me is the real Melissa and not the perfect, fake one.
Thursday, October 1, 2009
"He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.” (Ps 91:1)
While playing on the playground, by children often seek areas of shade to escape the scorching California sun. In the shadow of a tree or structure they find relief in the heat and can see again once out of the brightness.
To abide in the shadow of the Almighty means to allow Him to come between me and something else. I hide in the coolness of His presence and can see more clearly. Psalm 121:5b-6a says, “The Lord is your shade on your right hand. The sun will not smite you by day…”
These verses got me thinking about where in my life I need to seek out God’s shade. It also made me wonder about the times where I have felt like I was in darkness…could those have just been times when I was in God’s shadow, which was so big I didn’t realize what I was being shielded from? The closer you are to the shadow caster the bigger the shadow…
Thursday, September 24, 2009
I grew up attending a small Christian school. By 9th grade my entire class consisted of 40 kids, most of whom I’d known since pre-school. Each year the start of school was an exciting time: Would there be any new students? Would there be any cute guys?
With each new student there was a rush to introduce yourself to them, before someone else could tell them about you. We’d all grown up together and we could tell all sorts of stories that could either be flattering or fatal. As you know, the first impression is the strongest, so that story was very important.
Growing up in a TV generation, it’s easy to forget that people can have many shades to their character. In the modern sitcom each character has their label: the jock, the funny guy, the pretty girl, the nerdy guy, the mean girl, etc. Unless the series runs for a long period of time, these characters end up staying pretty one-dimensional. This is not real life though. People can be the hero and the villain, the jock and the science-geek.
Today I was reading John 11 for my devotions and I found a description of some familiar characters that surprised me. Like my relationship with my classmates, I have been familiar with these people for some time and I thought I knew them. Today I saw a different side of their character that prompted me to look deeper into their personal histories.
The story of Lazarus’ death and restoration to life is one that is familiar to every Sunday school child. Everyone knows how Jesus waited to heal Lazarus so that instead He could raise him from the dead. But there are people in this story who are well known for their other appearances in the Gospels: Thomas and Martha. They behave in this situation in ways that are contrary to what’s popularly believed of them.
Thomas is the doubter. He’s the one who wouldn’t believe that Jesus had risen from the dead just by the word of his fellow disciples. He said he needed to see Jesus to believe it. Now really, who could blame him? But, after His resurrection Jesus appeared to Thomas to prove to him that He was really alive.
Everyone looks down on Thomas because he had little faith. Here in John 11, a different shade of Thomas’ personality appears. Jesus and his disciples had just fled Judea because the people had tried to stone Jesus to death. Now, Jesus tells His disciples that they are going to return to Judea, to Bethany, to go to Lazarus. The other disciples try to dissuade Jesus from His purpose, but Thomas says these faith-filled words, “Let us also go, so that we may die with Him.” (1 Jn 11:16)
Ok, so they don’t seem so full of faith, because he’s expecting that they’ll die. But, he is the only one that is mentioned as being willing to follow Jesus into death. He believes in Jesus and what He’s doing so much that he will lose his life to follow Him. That’s pretty gutsy. A lot of people wouldn’t want to be compared to Thomas because he has a bad rap as being a doubter. But I wouldn’t mind being aligned with this Thomas, because he’s willing to die for Jesus.
What woman hasn’t worried that she’s being a Martha? Whole women’s retreats are created around minimizing the Martha in you and being more like Mary. Martha was the woman who chose to worry about getting dinner for Jesus and His entourage instead of sitting at His feet and listening to His teaching. Not only was she not spending time with Him, she got frustrated with her sister for not helping her. Thinking Jesus would support her cause, she turned to Him for help and ended up being told she was in the wrong.
Again, this is not a person most people would want to be compared to. But, as with Thomas, John 11 shows a new Martha. A number of Jews had come to Martha and Mary’s home to be with them at the time of their brother’s death. Yet when Martha heard that Jesus was coming she dropped what she was doing and went to meet Him.
Here’s where Martha shows incredible faith in Jesus, despite His not coming to heal her brother. Martha greets Jesus by saying, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give you.” (1 Jn 11:21-22) She knows that Jesus is capable of healing anyone and she only wishes He could have gotten there earlier. Moments later she proclaims her belief even more fully, “…I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.” (1 Jn 11:27)
How many people, having just lost a loved one, would be able to proclaim this? I know a number of people who have prayed for God to heal their family member or friend and then watched as that healing didn’t come. It’s not an easy thing to say the words that Martha said to Jesus after that happens.
Depending on the situation, people can appear in numerous ways: generous, selfish, friendly, prideful, etc. You never know the impression someone could get from you after sharing just one moment of your life. I know that within myself there are two people battling it out. There’s the Melissa that is of the flesh and there is the Melissa that is of the Spirit. I try hard to keep the latter one at the forefront, but there are times where the fleshy Melissa rears it’s ugly head.
This passage reminded me that those people who I have dismissed as being a certain way might actually be vastly different than my first impression. I need to be willing to be surprised by them and give people a second chance.
Friday, September 18, 2009
I feel like an amateur everything. I love to cook, but have no formal training. I love to write, but have no degree. I love to take pictures, but don’t really know what I’m doing. Everyone goes to school for these things to try to build a career in them…I went to Bible college. Does that make me a professional Bible scholar? Why is it that I feel so lost when it comes to my own walk with God then?
How do you tell the difference between hobbies and careers? Aren’t the people that make careers out of hobbies just the ones who defied people’s criticism of them?
“You’ll never make money doing that.”
Why does the focus have to be making money? Why isn’t the main question in people’s mind: “Do you feel that’s what God’s directing you to do?”
I feel conceited saying that God wants me to write or cook because it’s something that you have to have pride in to pursue. No one who tries to get published or start a catering business thinks they’re not good at their craft. But as a Christian I’ve been brought up believing that you’re supposed to be humble and give God all the glory.
As I’ve gotten older I’ve come to realize that humbleness is not self-deprecation and I give God glory by using the talents and abilities I feel He’s given me.
So, I’m going to push through this period of self-doubt and believe that God can use my talents to bless others.
How do you combat your periods of self-doubt?
Thursday, September 10, 2009
I hate when I’m oblivious to something. There was this one day I ran into a guy I knew from college. This guy was someone I’d always felt intimidated by. He always seemed so cool to me. He was visiting my neighbor and saw me through my window. My then 2-year-old son was running around in just a diaper and I fully felt my stay-at-home-mom status. I had taken a shower, thankfully, but hadn’t fixed my hair or put on any makeup.
My schoolmate and I stood at my door talking for about 10 minutes. During our conversation my son tried to run out the door. I caught him and held him on my hip while I finished the conversation. As I held him I began to notice the pungent smell of a dirty diaper. I got embarrassed that my friend would notice and quickly tried to end the conversation. After he left I changed my son’s diaper and put him down for a nap. I then went in my room, caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and noticed the most awful thing possible. Some of my sons diaper contents had leaked onto my t-shirt. How disgusting! I’m sure that this guy I’d thought was so cool had seen the poop emerging from the diaper and smeared across my shirt. And I just stood there like an idiot with a brown stain on my hip.
It’s so amazingly awful when you realize something about yourself that you know others already had knowledge of. Not only do you then feel embarrassed about the situation, but you feel even worse that people knew you didn’t know.
I’m sure that the guy didn’t think anything of it…because he really is a nice guy…but I hate to think that the only thing he remembers from our conversation was that I had stinky poot on me.
So what about those instances in life when you have poopie character on you and don’t realize it? Those “aha” moments when you discover a shade of your personality that has been hidden to you but evident to others.
Until I got married I thought I was a pretty nice person. I thought that I was a loving, giving girlfriend and a thoughtful friend. Then I got married and I realized that I liked things a certain way; my way. So I spent the next few years working on my control issues and bossiness and thought I made some real headway. Then I had kids.
Just like an onion, there’s always another layer to shed of myself so that I can get closer to the person God desires me to be. The image from C.S. Lewis’ book “Voyage of the Dawntreader” always illustrates this idea so poignantly for me. He describes a character from the book who has been turned into a dragon. This character has been not-so-easy to get along with up to that point and so it’s fairly appropriate that he’s now a dragon. The character, Eustace, has a vision where he sees a lion (Aslan) beckoning Eustace to follow him to a pool. Before Eustace is allowed to enter the pool he needs to undress. Being a dragon he only has skin on so he starts to brush away at it. At first only scales fall off, then an entire layer gets peeled off. After peeling off a couple of layers ineffectively, Aslan grabs Eustace and rips down deep to remove all of the dragon skin, revealing the human body underneath. It hurt Eustace some for this to happen, but in the end he felt much better after everything had been removed.
This is how I picture God dealing with me. I may be oblivious to some of the things that God needs to remove from me, but eventually it will all come off. It will be slightly painful and vulnerable process, but in the end I will feel better about who I am because I'll know I'm the person God wants me to be.