the house that God built for me… (moving miracle, part 2)

The house is sold. Now to figure out what to do next.

Georgina: We were going to rent our house out while we are in Gibraltar with my mum, but that fell through, so you’re welcome to stay at our house until we get back at the end of January.

Well, that’s unexpected. And a huge blessing. And a load off my mind. I have somewhere to stay in case I don’t find a place right away. Whew.

Every morning I look at the new listings, the price changes, the houses sold. It’s getting discouraging. I looked at a new build in Columbia that I really liked. It sold before I could get back home and make an offer. Sigh.

And then one morning a new listing popped up. It’s a new build in Spring Hill. I’m completely drawn to it and the price is really good. I tell my agent about it and he sets off to make an appointment to visit the sales office. But there’s a snag; the sales agent has been exposed to someone who has COVID and has to quarantine for 14 days, but we can still do a self-tour of the model home if we want.

So I headed south that Saturday to meet up with the agent to check it out. When we walked into the model home, I had a hard time concealing my excitement. This is it. I know it is. I loved the layout, the light, the features, the country setting of the neighborhood. And it was sixteen miles from my office.

Chris, my agent, made plans to talk to the sales agent and get more information. What he heard via email was a bit of a disappointment. All the lots in the first phase of building had been sold and that floor plan, the Primrose, would not be available to build until they started selling the second phase in February. After that, it would take 5-6 months to build. The sales agent would probably be back in the office on Thursday or Friday, and we could talk to her then.

All week I weighed the options. Was it worth it to wait for the house of my dreams? If so, what living arrangements could I make until it was ready for moving in? Is there something else that I could love just as much that would be available sooner? I devoured all the new listings every day and was constantly disappointed. The only ones that came remotely close to making me happy were also new builds, and I didn’t like them nearly as much as this one. By Friday, I had somewhat grudgingly picked out four properties that I thought might work and sent them to Chris to make appointments. When we talked, he suggested we talk to the sales agent for the one I loved first, and then we could discuss viewing those other properties.

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She was back in the office on Saturday, COVID-free, and my agent made an appointment for us to talk to her at 1:00 pm. I had a few people pray for me that morning as I got ready to go to the meeting. My goal was to try to nail down a lot in the second phase so they could begin building in February, and to try to get a better time line to help me plan what I would do in the interim.

I got there a few minutes early, but Chris had texted to say he would be 15 minutes late. I went in without him. The sales agent, Rose, and I introduced ourselves and the first thing she said was: You’re not going to believe this, but a Primrose just came open yesterday that is already being built. There are three people on a waiting list and I’ve tried everything to get in touch with them with no response from anyone. If you want it, it’s yours. It will be done in early February.

Whaaaaat? Are you kidding me? Please don’t call anyone else about it!!

I wanted to hug her so badly. Stupid COVID rules. (Don’t get mad at me—I still follow the rules whether I like them or not.)

At this point, I am completely stunned. I know my eyes are as big as saucers and tears are forming. I’ve never had a surprise party before, but I was sure this was what it must feel like to have one. I felt like I could actually feel my Heavenly Father laughing with delight over the perfect gift that He’d just given His daughter.

The good is gone; the best is here, all in God’s perfect, unfathomable timing.

Rose continued: The family that was building this one had actually wanted a larger floor plan but none were available for their time frame. Then someone else backed out of the larger floor plan, so they took it, and theirs came available. Now, they have already chosen all the finishes, so let me show you what they chose. Also, they did upgrade to the covered back porch, so that’s extra, and it’s on a lot with a view, so that is extra as well.

Um, I would have added the covered back porch anyway, and a view??? After staring at the two rows of houses behind me for the past six years, that’s a no brainer!

Lookin’ out my back door.

So she started showing me the finishes they chose and I’m like: love that… ooooh, love that… that’s perfect… sweet… beautiful…

Every. Little. Thing was perfect.

Sunshine on my house makes me happy.

I went into the model to take pictures and do a video tour when Chris came in. Being the protective real estate agent he is, he asked a million questions to try to uncover any technicalities or issues that might come up. Rose had straight-forward answers for everything. We left the office to go view the house—which is framed and has the roof on—and Chris actually admitted that he was impressed. We made an appointment to come back the next day and sign the contract. I would need to pay the deposit when the contract was done. Momentary panic and quick math in my head. I had paid cash for some things I had done to my house to get it ready to sell, and it had left me a little cash-poor. I could get it from my 401k, but that might take a few days. I wasn’t extremely worried about it; I figured that God would not have brought me this far just to dash it all against the rocks.

As I drove home, I called my dear friend who has absolutely been my rock, to tell her the crazy, miraculous story of the house that God chose for me. We wondered at the timing; had Rose not been exposed to COVID and been in quarantine, I would have pursued a lot in the second phase and would have had to wait until the summer. As I finished telling her the whole story, I mentioned that I did have one thing I needed her to pray about, and that was the down payment. Before I could finish telling about the potential bump in the road, she interrupted me: Is that all????

Well, yeah. I mean I know it doesn’t seem like a lot, but I do need the timing to work out and I’ll have to juggle a few funds.

Melissa, I will Venmo that money to you right now!

Whaaaat??

Stunned. Again. No thought like this even crossed my mind. I simply wanted her to pray.

I told her that I had to talk to the finance guy and make sure that gifts were okay, and that I didn’t even need the whole amount, just a small sum to tide me over. She told me to let her know when I found out if it was okay and how much I would need. When I got home, I called the guy to get pre-approved and asked him about the gift thing. He said that was perfectly fine. I filled out the application on line. Then I headed to my bedroom and hit my knees again. I couldn’t stop crying because of His great love for me. I felt so humbled to be the recipient of such love from both my God and my dear friend. I was pre-approved within a few hours. He actually apologized that it took so long because he took his kids trick-or-treating. Dude. I called you at 4:30 pm on a Saturday that happened to be Halloween. It’s fine.

The money was in my account by the next morning. Actually, more money than I had asked for was in my account. I spent the morning picking out Scriptures to write on the frames of the house. What a joy that was. I love sealing the Word of God into the foundations of my home. Marilyn, Cheri, and I did that when this house was being built. It has been a refuge for me; a place of peace where the Spirit of God dwells. I am praying for the family that’s moving in here; praying that they will feel the Lord’s presence and His peace and that if they do not know Him, they soon will. They are surrounded by His word and that is so powerful.

Unless the Lord builds the house, the laborers labor in vain.

Things are progressing on the sale of this house. Inspections are passed. Contracts signed. Closing is set for November 29. I’m packing and sorting and getting ready to put everything in storage and move into Georgina’s house. My contract is signed, deposit paid, the Word of God is imbedded in the foundation of new house. Peace floods my soul.

God always has a plan. Always.

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on selling the home you love… (moving miracle, part 1)

After my trip to northern Idaho in July, I was seriously contemplating moving there. I loved it—no humidity, people were so friendly, beautiful scenery, no mask mandates… it felt a little like heaven to me. But I just couldn’t stand the thought of leaving my friend Emily and her family, who had moved to Tennessee in part to be near me. No. I just couldn’t do that.

The day after I got home from Idaho, I messaged Em to see if she wanted to get together. Actually, I can’t, she said. We just bought a house in Bend, Oregon, and I have to get this one ready to sell…

I was speechless for days. At that point I’m just thinking what in the world is God up to? It was constantly on my mind, and then the phone rang one day. It was a real estate agent:

Hi, Melissa. My name is Chris and I’m with Keller Williams. We just sold the house two doors down from you and I was wondering if you’ve thought about selling yours?

Well, actually…

And where were you thinking of moving?

Idaho.

Silence.

Me: I bet you don’t get that one often, do you?

Nope. Can’t say that I’ve ever gotten that response.

We continued to talk for a bit and when he mentioned that something I said was a “God thing” I felt like the Lord was tapping me on my shoulder.

We made an appointment for him to drop by, see the house, and have a chat. In the meanwhile, I just kept praying for the Lord to show me the way. Even if I don’t go to Idaho, it’s a great time to sell, and I could move a bit south and get that hometown feel and slower pace that I’ve been craving for a while. And bonus, I could get away from the political corruption and crazy taxes of my current county; not to mention how great interest rates are right now. It just makes sense.

After we met, he sent me a proposal of what he thought the house would sell for, and a plan of action. Wow. This is $20K more than the larger house that just sold.

I keep praying: Lord, let me hear a voice behind me saying this is the way—walk in it.

We set a date to put it on the market. And at this time, I’m feeling that I need to stay in Tennessee, but move south of where my office is located in Franklin. You know, just in case they ever let us actually go back in to the office.

I stage the house, the photos are taken, the plan is set to list it on Wednesday, October 23, and have an open house on the following Sunday. It went live at about 9:00 pm that night. All I could think was that now that I have staged the house, I’m totally in love with it. Why am I doing this???

Sometimes “good” is the enemy of the “best”.

It’s just a whisper I’m hearing, but it’s there. I keep looking at all the new listings, but any offer I make would be contingent on the sale of my house. In this market, that puts me at an extreme disadvantage as houses are selling overnight. I anxiously await the new listings every morning, but I’m not seeing anything that feels like home to me.

Thursday morning comes, and my phone starts dinging: Request showing at 12:00 today. Reply Y or N… And the messages just keep coming after that, requesting more showings. I gathered Kitty up and got in the car, and then called a friend nearby and asked if we could hang out at her house. There were showings all day and Kitty and I finally got back home at about 8:45 that night. I confess I didn’t expect that; I had it in my mind that people wouldn’t show up until the open house. Boy, was I ever wrong.

Friday morning came and I had three more showings scheduled, but before I could leave the house, I got a message from my agent saying we had an offer and he would call me. We discussed the offer and countered. In my mind there was no way the counter would be accepted, but secretly I was cool with that because I love my house and if nobody buys it, I stay. Win/win.

Two more appointments in the afternoon, but they were both cancelled. I was so relieved. Kitty had not been a happy camper with all the upheaval to her schedule, and I just felt emotionally drained. But then the panic set in: what if the counter is not accepted and no other offer comes?? The panic only lasted for a moment because I did the one thing I knew would give me peace: I went to my bedroom, physically hit my knees, and cried out to God. I told Him that it did not matter whether I stay or whether I go, I just need to know that I’m doing what HE wants and I’ll be okay with either decision.

Peace like a river.

I got up, had some dinner, and eased into the quiet evening. Then my phone dinged.

We can cancel all future showings. They accepted the counter. I have it in writing.

Are you kidding me? I totally didn’t think he would accept it.

Neither did I…

I got the full asking price. We’re supposed to close on November 29. Wow. That’s fantastic, you know, except for the whole being homeless thing…

But God always has a plan.

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the choice

Yesterday I had a conversation with one of my dearest friends that was…I’m searching for the right word…Revelatory? Life-changing? Eye-opening? Shut everything out and ponder this for days? Yes to all, and maybe even more.

The fall

She and I are a bit more mature (face it, we’re middle-aged) and we’ve walked through some really rough times together. We tackle the tough stuff, laugh and cry our way through it and always, always, always turn each other toward God and His truth. Our relationship is one of those I treasure most in this world.

By the time you reach our age, you start to realize that you’re never actually going to have it all together this side of heaven. One of the questions we frequently face is: Why do I keep committing the same sins over and over and over again? And the way that question is usually spoken conveys a pack of lies that I think is very common to the belief system of all mankind: God must be so sick of me by now. He’s bound to stop forgiving me for this. He knows that I know it’s wrong—how can He still love me when I willfully keep doing the things I do?

So the situation at hand is that we both struggle with our weight; her problem was brought on after having two beautiful babies later on in life and facing some of the worst post-partum depression I have ever seen. Me? I was always the fat kid. Her youth was that of a beauty queen; mine, that of the funny, chunky chick who was likable but never had a date in high school, and very few since.

You may not agree that our weight issues have anything to do with sin; that’s okay—the principal applies to any sin, so just substitute yours into this story. As for us, we both believe that our bodies are the temple of the Lord and as such we should be taking care of them. And we also believe that gluttony, ugly word that it is, is a sin.

So the lament went something like this:

Yesterday, I was so good…I spent a lot of time with the Lord, I went for a long walk, and then last night I blew it. I had pizza and wine. I should have stopped at two pieces, but I didn’t. And today I went and got a cheeseburger and fries for lunch. Why do I keep doing this when I know that the Lord has spoken to me about not drinking, and about cutting out the fast food and junk that destroys my body? 

I could picture her beautiful face as she confessed it; eyes downcast… countenance of shame and despair… the belief that she had once again disappointed the loving God who had so beautifully created her… fear that He would soon give up on her. It’s a countenance I have faced in the mirror quite often.

I recognized that voice that was really doing the talking—it’s one I’ve listened to for years and years. And as I began to try to encourage her, I felt the Holy Spirit take over the conversation, because there’s no way I can take credit for the words that came out of my mouth:

That’s shame I hear talking, and not the voice of God. Let’s look at this: we were created for a feast—the wedding feast of the Lamb. God gave us tastebuds. We need food to sustain our bodies. These are facts and they’re good. Unfortunately with the fall of man, we have destroyed good food and replaced it with a lot of crap that does more harm than good. So you had a cheeseburger and fries today? Instead of beating yourself up and hiding (from God) in shame, can you just say, “Lord, I shouldn’t have done that. Please forgive me?” And then choose grilled chicken and veggies for dinner tonight?

What was the first thing that God said to Adam and Eve when He came to the garden and found them hiding in shame from their nakedness? He said: Who told you that you were naked? And THEN He asked them if they had eaten from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Look at the order of the questions: He didn’t ask them about the sin first, He asked them about their shame. Shame is what made them hide from God. The sin (action) is forgivable and God promises that if we ask, He will forgive. And the beautiful thing is that He never set a limit on how many times He would forgive. But the shame? That’s a condition of the the heart and that seems to be what God was first concerned about.

Pick a sin that you commit over and over and over again… After the third or fifth or hundredth time, you probably think that it is just who you are and you’re never going to get past it. God’s probably given up on you by now. So you stop asking for forgiveness. You stop seeking Him out. And relationship dwindles. Shame wins over relationship. It’s a cheeseburger on the throne rather than a loving God.

But, no matter how many times we commit the same sin, when we keep going to Him for forgiveness, that accountability and love and grace makes us start to see the yuckyness of the sin and it becomes less and less attractive to us. It loses its hold on us. And relationship wins over shame. A loving God is on the throne.

So are you going to choose shame over relationship, or relationship over shame?

Although our conversation continued, I’m stopping there. It doesn’t matter what the sin is—I deal with way worse sins in my life on a daily basis. But I’ve come to trust that feeling of yuck in my heart that makes me immediately say, “Lord, I’m sorry I said those nasty things.” or “Lord I’m sorry I watched that horrible show.” or “Lord, I’m sorry I hated that person.” …on and on and on.

And the feeling of beauty that replaces the yuck when I do that: priceless.

That’s relationship over shame. That’s freedom. That’s power. That’s a countenance lifted. That’s a heart of love and grace for others. And that is a beautiful life. The choice is ours; are we going to choose shame over relationship, or relationship over shame? It’s a simple concept, but it’s definitely a life-changing one.

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of snowflakes and worship

“I’m wondering what you are feeling in your hands?”

My hands? I looked down. My hands were busy folding and unfolding and making shapes out of the tissues I had been using to mop up the flood pouring forth from my eyes. It has become automatic that I walk into my counselor’s office, plop down on the couch, and reach for the tissues. I’m pretty sure that he pumps something into the air that activates my tear ducts. Either that or I just have a lot of issues to work through.

At the moment, the tissues were in the process of being folded into a lotus flower. A soggy, makeup covered—yet not without it’s own special kind of beauty—lotus flower.

“Maybe I will make a bird and it will fly away, ” I responded, wishing that it could fly away and take my tears with it.

Now self-concious, I put the tissues down and tucked my hands under my legs. But it was only a matter of minutes until they were back at their task.

What am I feeling in my hands? I don’t know. I can’t not play with my hands. I make things. My Christmas tree is decorated with all handmade paper ornaments. I make paper snowflakes. Lots of them. It’s like an addiction; I can’t stop. In the middle of making one, I am thinking about the next one. And I comment that this is a useless thing. He asks me if no one ever saw my tree or my snowflakes, would I still do it?

Yes.

And the realization hits. I feel alive when I make things. I love looking at all those useless snowflakes and thinking about how the next one could look. I love looking at my tree. And I wonder if God has as much fun designing snowflakes as I do. There’s Canada, so He probably does.

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“Is it useless to do things just for the sake of beauty?” he asks. I don’t think so. God made trees in the Garden of Eden that were beautiful to look at. God must love beauty.

“So, could this be your act of worship?”

“I guess so. I mean, I tried playing guitar, but snowflakes are easier…”

“So I think maybe you love beauty and you love sharing it with others.”

It’s strange, the doors that open through a simple comment that help us discover a little more of who we are. I’ve never really looked at what my hands do as being an act of worship, but I think he’s probably right. I think that’s why I feel alive when I make things—I’m doing what God made me to do. It’s what He does as well, and in the end, He says it’s good. So maybe it’s okay if I love the things I make as well. I wonder if He just keeps looking at all that He’s made and marveling at the work of His hands the way I marvel at those bits of white paper.

If you ascribe to the “love language” theory of what motivates us, then touch is mine. I experience the world through touch—I have to feel everything. Except reptiles and slimy things. I adore softness and texture, petting my cat—and petting people for that matter. I love rubbing the stress out of my friends’ shoulders. I love sculpting things and decorating stuff and making something surprising out of what people think is nothing. And even making a pretty little flower of of a soggy tissue.

Beauty for ashes. Or tears in this case. 

tree

“The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food.” Genesis 2:9

“Be praised for all Your tenderness by these works of Your hands
Suns that rise and rains that fall to bless and bring to life Your land
Look down upon this winter wheat and be glad that You have made
Blue for the sky and the color green…” —Rich Mullins

“…and snowflakes.” —m’lis

 

 

 

 

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redefining hope

I didn’t want to go.

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The theme of the retreat was HOPE, and I desperately did not want to go. I’ve been having a bit of a rocky relationship with Hope lately. Sometimes it seems cruel and mocking rather than life-giving and lately it has been mocking me relentlessly.

I had signed up a while back, payed the fee, planned to go, and was even excited at first. A long autumn weekend in the Pennsylvania mountains with newfound friends who shared common interests… getting away from work to bask in some time with the Lord… It all looked great. Then life just happened. Circumstances seemed to be out of (my) control and things I had been hoping for crumbled to the ground in tiny pieces. I seemed to be running non-stop and I just felt exhausted with no relief in sight.

So I prayed. I was out walking through my neighborhood when I asked God to give me a sign to confirm that He really wanted me to go to this retreat in Mill Run, Pennsylvania, and meet up with Him there. And there it was:

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A literal sign. I actually had no idea our common area was called “Mill Run.” At least God has a sense of humor about this. So I bought a sleeping bag, requested time off, and rented a car for myself and two friends for the trip.

The drive up was beautiful, and since David can sniff out any bakery within a twenty-five mile radius, we stopped at the charming Root-A-Bakers, somewhere in a small town Kentucky.

IMG_4234We were enjoying our lunch when I got a call from my doctor’s nurse, who, for the second time in a year, cheerfully told me I have a disease. Hashimoto’s Disease. Thyroid stuff. Not horrible, but enough to make me break down and cry in front of my friends. At least now I understand why I’m so exhausted all the time.

I dried my tears and onward we traveled. I must say that West Virginia is indeed one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever experienced. The calming conversation with my friends and the beauty of the land did much to soothe my weary heart and when we arrived late that night at Camp Christian, I was ready for sleep. In a dorm… In a bunk bed… No kitty to snuggle… Circumstances a bit bleaker than they were before I left Nashville… To my surprise I slept rather well, all things considered.

And then the morning came and I forced myself awake and headed to the cafeteria for breakfast and a little liquid courage. But there were people. And they wanted to talk. Before coffee. Before food. Before 10:00 a.m. Which doesn’t really work for me.

But I digress. This is about the pain in my neck calling itself HOPE.

Although I didn’t physically have my arms crossed in defiant rebellion, they were certainly emotionally crossed over my heart, daring God to try to break in.

Note to self: Never dare God to do anything unless you’re ready to handle the consequences. As the second session progressed, a distinct thought began to form in my mind: maybe there are two different kinds of hope. After all, my hope has never wavered in God, my salvation, and eternity; but the place it taunts me is where I hope for circumstances. That must be the kind of hope that Proverbs is referring to when it tells us that “hope deferred makes the heart sick…” (Prov. 13:12). As I shared my pondering with my breakout group, Anna and Amy, and then with David briefly after that, it happened: a tiny crack in the armor around my heart. Could God possibly redefine hope for me? All of a sudden, I was excited by the possibility.

I wish I could tell you that I have figured it all out in the days since that revelatory moment, but I can’t. I’ve processed with friends and with my counselor, and the best I can come up with is that I feel like I had a kind of spiritual surgery. I don’t know the details of what God did in my heart, but I know that He did something huge. I don’t need to know, because I know that God has a plan. I know that He puts desires in our hearts for a reason. I’m trusting in that and slowly allowing myself to hope in the potential, because the potential belongs to an Almighty God.

When I look back at the weekend that I had not wanted to happen and pictures of myself taken there, the smile on my face says it all. There is hope.

 

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when the dogwoods bloom

They bloomed early this year and my heart wasn’t prepared.

dogwood

My roommate and best friend, Jean, and I had planned on going to the Dogwood Festival that day. I never had to set an alarm for Saturday mornings; Daddy’s call came like clockwork at the same time every weekend. I loved waking up to the sound of his voice, but that morning, the call was different. “Honey, I don’t know how to tell you this…” he began. Seconds later everything in my life was upside down and my head was spinning out of control. Mama was gone—she died peacefully in her sleep—but she was gone.

I hung up the phone and started screaming. Before I knew it, Jean had booked me a flight to Knoxville and we were headed to the airport. Instead of kettle corn and handmade crafts and a celebration of those beautiful blooms that filled our little Arkansas town, I found myself staring out the car window at the dogwoods that grew wild amongst the dark trees of the mountains. They were like little white lights floating through a veil of tears as Daddy drove us home from the airport. A few days later, I found myself staring in wonder at the two dogwood trees that would stand guard over Mama’s final resting place, one at her head and the other at her feet. I felt that God had planted them there just for me.

I’ve now lived almost as many years on this earth without her as I lived with her. I’ve been through ups and downs, anger and laughter, and too many tears to count. Things weren’t always easy between us—there were times when I didn’t feel quite so loved by her. I wish I had known then some of the things that I understand better now. I wish my teenaged brain and heart could have better grasped the pain she was in, both emotionally and physically. Maybe I wouldn’t have erected such a wall of self-sufficiency and independence. Maybe I wouldn’t have started running, never wanting to look back. Maybe…

I don’t know. I do know there are still things that come up that I have to forgive, and things that come up that I desperately need forgiveness for. If only we could fathom the wounds we inflict on each other through ignorance and pain. I have a feeling Mama knows the full extent of both sides now, even though I’m still trying to figure it all out. She has the advantage of a heavenly perspective—I’m thankful for that. Thankful I can no longer wound her heart, and thankful that my heart is in the process of being healed as well.

She was a beautiful woman, but like most of us, all she saw was her flaws when she looked in the mirror—some of the same flaws I see in myself today. I remember how I used to wish my eyes were like hers—beautiful, silvery-gray with that touch of mischief and love and sadness that could say so much, and with the narrowing glare that was way worse than any spanking because you knew how much trouble you were about to be in if you didn’t change your wicked ways right then and there.

She was fiercely loyal. At the funeral, Mama’s friend Imogene told me a story about when they were young and she had fallen crazy in love with a guy that everyone knew was wrong for her. She said that mama just sat there sewing her wedding dress for her, all the while telling her she was making a huge mistake. She never forgot how Mama loved her through it all—the wedding and the divorce that came shortly after.

Mama impacted people with her unconditional love. When my best friend wound up pregnant at sixteen, Mama loved her through it. She didn’t judge her or forbid me to be friends with her, she was always welcome in our home and when that baby came, Mama loved him like he was her own grandchild.

Sometimes I stare in the mirror to see if I can see her staring back at me. My eyes have turned a bit silvery now and my cousin swears I have the “Aunt Shirley” look—that warning glare that I referred to earlier. Every time I post a new picture on FaceBook, my brother says how much I look like our “little mama.” I don’t really see it that much, though I’m glad he does. I confess, I hear her coming out of my mouth more than I see her staring back at me.

I think we often think of those who influence us in terms of how we have become like them. I’ve come to discover that there are things my mama was so good at that I just don’t even really want to attempt. She was an amazing cook—ask anyone who knew her, especially my brother’s football teammates from Western Carolina University. Offensive linemen can eat a LOT, and they loved my mama’s cooking. I don’t like to cook. I think subconsciously I’m afraid I can’t measure up, so why bother. Food is just fuel, and yogurt works for dinner as well as breakfast.

She had such a green thumb—her plants were amazing. Mine commit suicide if they see me coming. Maybe I slay them with that glare. Maybe it’s just been too painful to try; it would be hard to be surrounded by leafy reminders of her while I try to figure out who I am in light of—or in spite of—who she was. I think that’s why the pictures I have framed of her in my house are from her younger days, the days before I knew her and before things got difficult between us. I like the happiness in her beautiful eyes from those days.

I don’t know why it has taken me so long to process my relationship with my mother. I don’t know if I even fully grasp it now, but what I do know is that my heart is at peace with her and we will have eternity to make up for the years the locusts have eaten away. Twenty-four years later, I see the dogwood blooms and I remember the love that seemed hidden at times, but was always there. I’m truly thankful that God chose her to be my mother and I’m thankful for the little white blooms that will forever be a reminder of the beautiful life that was a gift from God to me.

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Shirley Morgan Reagan, February 23, 1942 – April 24, 1993

 

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getting past tragic

I went to see the movie The Shack last week. I read the book when it came out years ago and I remembered it to be a very different view of God than my Bible Belt upbringing had instilled in me. I loved the book, but I didn’t really have any expectations for the movie. I was in for a shock. I cried through the whole thing. Actually, not the whole thing. You would think that I would have bawled when the little girl was taken. Or when the dad broke down sobbing. But what actually made weep was the beauty of the love of God portrayed in the Trinity.

As much as I wanted to process my thoughts and feelings with my friend after the movie and impress him with my amazing spiritual depth, I could only be silent. I didn’t have words. Thankfully, he understood.

In the days following, God kept bringing people to my heart who are experiencing soul-crushing, tragic events. This one’s wife went a bit crazy and left him and even cut off her relationship with her children… That one has a brain tumor or maybe even something worse… Another one lost is job after twenty-seven years of faithful service. All around is suffering. Pain. Sickness. Tragedy. Like the dad’s situation in the movie.

And then there was Palm Sunday. The church service was beautiful and I cried. A lot. I cried at the reading of the Word from Matthew about all the people shouting and praising God as Jesus entered Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover with His disciples. This was their Savior and they were thrilled. But they didn’t have the foresight to know what was about to happen. My pastor talked about that adoring crowd and he speculated that there were probably some who were shouting “Hosanna!” in that moment and were probably shouting “Crucify Him!” only a short time later. That could be; we are often easily swayed by the crowds. Unfortunately.

But the thing that really caused me to stop and think was the way he described the betrayal and crucifixion of Jesus. He used terminology like the most tragic event in history. Tragic. That word that kept leaping out to me and I kept thinking, “yes, but…”

Yes, it was gruesome and horrible and He was innocent and it was unjust…but, in John 10, Jesus says, “Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father.” (vs. 17-18, NKJV). I kept thinking about it as the days passed and my pondering took me back to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. The first exhibit shows the beginnings of anti-semitism and there is a statement posted there that reads that Christians believe that the Jews were responsible for murdering Jesus. It is worded as if it’s still a fact and that all Christians still believe it today. It broke my heart and I just wanted to stand there and tell everyone who read it that those of us who truly love Jesus know that it was His choice. It wouldn’t have mattered if the crowd was red or yellow or black or white; it was always His decision and we do not blame the Jews. In fact, it was our own sin that nailed Him to that cross. 

He did what He did because he loves us so much. The event of the crucifixion was indeed tragic, but what it accomplished, to me, outweighs the tragedy by far. I just can’t label it tragic alone without including the whole story and the enormous good that came out of it.

I’m pretty sure that my pastor will tie in the victorious, beautiful part this Sunday, but it just made me think a lot about how we choose to see things. That’s really what The Shack is about, and the reason that we find it so difficult to get past the hard, devastating things in life is that our finite minds are not capable of seeing beyond the pain unless we choose a heavenly perspective. God gives us His word that He works ALL things for the good of those who love Him… (Romans 8:28). And that He will give us beauty for ashes (Isaiah 61:3). And that He will never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5, among others) But how much do we really believe this when all we can see is that life is just so hard?

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When we let God interpret our situations, we begin to see things differently. I have experienced heartache and tragedy, but the experiences have made me who I am today, which is hopefully a bit better than yesterday’s version of me. I am more compassionate because I have lost. I am more loving because I have been rejected. I experience joy more deeply because I have lived through such sorrow. I have more faith because I have seen God’s faithfulness in the hard times. I am more willing to take risks because I have seen the redeeming power of God.

I guess I am a pretty optimistic person, but that optimism is based on who God is—not on who I am or on this world or my circumstances. I think that goes so much deeper into the heart of it than the word optimism implies. When someone I love is experiencing pain, I really feel it with them, but I also do my best to open up the window to the bigger picture, to God’s redeeming power and His goodness. That’s a place where hope can live and grow into faith and love and healing. And that is not tragic at all.

 

 

 

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severe mercy

It’s been about 4 months since I was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes. It was a wake up call for me. Health-wise, I had been doing better than ever before in my life, or so I thought. But I had a real problem: sugar. In hindsight I should have seen it sooner… the constant thirst, the “coma naps” in the evenings that I could hardly wake up from… even the sheer number of relatives on my mom’s side who have the disease. But when those doughnuts showed up at work, I didn’t want to see it. And those Nothing Bundt Cakes lemon cupcakes…well, let’s just say that self-control was nowhere to be found.

sugar_830I remember talking to my dear friend Claudia when I got the news and she, in her infinite wisdom, called it God’s “severe mercy.” I knew she was right. He was giving me a chance to make a change before it was too late. I tackled it fervently. No more poison-laden desserts, no more cupcakes or doughnut holes, no more Reese’s, no more snacking all day long. Balance out good carbs with lots of protein. Take your super-expensive medicine like a good girl and try not to curse insurance companies and high medical bills.

I have my check-up this Wednesday, so I had blood work done in advance of that. I just got the results and I am over-the-moon thankful to God! I won’t bore you with the details—I had to Google everything line by line just to figure out what all those medical terms actually meant and what the acceptable range was—but let’s just say I’ve never been so happy to see the word “normal” in all my born days! I was in the normal range on every single item listed and I’ve lost about 27 pounds in the process. That presents a whole new wardrobe problem, but I am not going to complain about that.

I can’t wait to see my doctor on Wednesday. He is gentle and kind, loves the Lord, and I know he will be pleased with my results, and let’s face it, I desperately need to hear him tell me that I really am doing a great job. I pretty much live for approval. I wish that need in me wasn’t as overwhelming as it seems at times. But when you think about it, isn’t that what you’re supposed to live for if you’re a Christian—that when you see Jesus face to face, you’ll hear Him say, “Well done!”? I guess it’s human nature that such a desire should manifest on our earthly walk as well.

This idea of severe mercy has been on my mind a lot lately. Time and time again I walk too close to the edge. I entertain thoughts that take me off the path of what I know to be right and good. I say things I shouldn’t say and do things I shouldn’t do. I’m still that little kid whose mom says, “Don’t touch that stove!” a gazillion times and the don’t part of it drives me mad until I have to touch it and that just leads to a lot of pain in the end. How many times does God have to tell me to no before He finally lets me learn the hard way?

As kids we don’t fully understand the love that motivates the “no”; we can only process things from our perspective and no most often seems to be unfair or …because you don’t love me. We don’t see the consequences of our actions until we’re crying our eyes out over the blisters. As we grow up it becomes more of a choice to see or not to see. I chose not to see the detrimental effects that eating all that sugar had on my body. I ignored everything until I woke up one day with a disease. It was a spanking from the Lord, but a much needed one and one that was motivated by my Father’s gentle and infinite love for me.

I don’t want to go back to the way I was. I want to keep growing and learning and to become better. I’m human, so I know there is every possibility that I will mess it all up again. But I remain confident that God’s severe mercy will be there to put me back on the right path no matter how badly I stumble and fall. I’m so thankful for that.

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all the dreams we never knew we had

As Creative Director for Worthy Publishing, I get to work on a lot of books and products that I really love, but last fall something happened that had a profound impact on me. My publisher, Pamela, had set up a meeting to discuss an idea for a book that someone had brought to the table. You couldn’t even call it a proposal really—there wasn’t that much to it. But the subject was something that electrified my heart: my favorite singer/song-writer, Rich Mullins.

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I was serving at a ministry in Texas in 1990 when I first heard “While the Nations Rage” on the radio. I immediately went out and purchased Never Picture Perfect. In that grouping of music and lyrics, Rich took simple, ordinary life and wrapped it in poetry and truth and words so descriptive that they tore gaping holes in my heart and left me longing for more. He was able to transport ideas and people and Scripture to unexpected settings and effortlessly make them feel at home. There was so much contrast—the loftiness and the lowliness, the hugeness of God and the littleness of us, the prophetic and the irreverent. His music gave me permission to experience all the conflicts that existed in my heart without the accompanying guilt for being a little less than perfect.

Seven years later, tragedy struck when a horrifying crash took him from us. The most beautiful voice in my world had been ripped away. I was devastated because though we were strangers, still I loved him. I had counted on him to help me through the tough times and laugh with me through the good, and he had never let me down.

Pamela didn’t really even know who Rich was; she basically presented the idea out of courtesy to our team, all the while thinking it would be a quick “no” and we’d be on to the next proposal. But when she saw my reaction (which might have been a little bit overly excited) she did a double take, and the short of it is that she decided to pursue the book because she saw how much I wanted it. Now you may be a ‘Pamela’ and not even know who Rich was, or you may be someone like me, who was profoundly impacted by a voice that was only a short time on this earth. Either way, that’s not really what this is about.

This is about dreams.

When I got back to my office, I just started crying. Could this really be happening? Was I really going to get to work on a book about my hero – the man who painted my skies with his words and whispered stories that left me longing for heaven? I felt so humbled by God’s goodness to me as I realized this was a dream come true, but the strangest thing was the fact that it was a dream that I didn’t even know I had.

And then it dawned on me: my entire life has been this way. One by one, God has fulfilled dreams in my life that I never knew existed until they were well on their way to fruition. I used to read those kitchy little memes on Pinterest that said things like Your dreams don’t work if you don’t. And I pretty much bought into them. Pursue this… Work hard for that… Don’t give up until you get what you want. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that line of thinking; I’ve just come to believe something else is a bit more true and a whole lot better:

God is the author and fulfillment of our dreams.

The dreams I thought I had would have taken my life in such a different direction than the course God had planned for me. I wanted a husband who adored me and six boys who would wrestle and play hard and grow up to be men after God’s own heart. Instead, God gave me so much more than my finite mind could imagine. He let me see the world and experience different cultures. He let me live where Jesus lived and fall in love with Israel, the apple of His eye. He led me to show people His love from Israel to India. Now there are little pieces of my heart scattered all over the earth, making their homes in the hearts of people He has brought into my life along the way.

And now working on this book, I find myself invited into the world my hero knew as I am getting to know some of the people he loved and who loved him just as fiercely. I hear the stories and I see the pictures and I’m still not sure this is even real. I do not feel worthy to be a part of this dream and at the same time I feel so incredibly blessed to be in the thick of it. Sometimes I just shake my head in disbelief, or maybe amazement. I’m not really sure which is which.

I know now that God is the author of my dreams. It can no longer be me. I don’t want to have to figure it all out and make it happen—I mess things up way too much. Nope. It’s much better to let God do it. He who created my heart knows best how to make it happy and I find that I’m more than okay with that.

 

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that was unexpected

Things didn’t go exctly as I had planned. The plan was that I would take a couple days off before Thanksgiving, work on some projects and get the house ready for my friend who was coming. Then I would enjoy being thankful for my amazing life and maybe get in some shopping on the weekend. But not on Friday. I hate Black Friday.

On the Saturday before, I found out that my friend was not actually staying with me this trip, but with her sister instead. Happy for her, bummer for me.

Then I got the call at work on Monday from the doctor’s office. We got your labs back and you have Type 2 Diabetes so we need you to come back in. Whaaaaaat??? What just happened? Did a grenade go off in my office? It might as well have. I hung up the phone and started sobbing. Thank God that my office is at the end of the hall and around the corner so there’s no foot traffic to see me. Through the haze of my tears I managed to IM Marilyn. She came and prayed and gave me hugs and sympathy. I managed to pull myself together enough to drive home.

Tuesday was a bust. Basically a pity party all day long.

On Wednesday morning I took the elevator up to the doctor’s office along with the delivery guy from Jason’s Deli. He was carrying a ton of food and my first thought was, “There’s a Jason’s Deli around here??” My second thought was, “Uh-oh. I have a feeling I’ll be waiting while they all eat lunch.” My suspicions were confirmed after 50 nerve-wracking minutes in the waiting room. I finally got to go back to the exam room and the doctor came in and compassionately touched my shoulder and said, “Well, I wasn’t expecting this.” Me neither, buddy. But it sure explains a lot. The skinny: I’ve probably had this for a few years. No, diet and exercise are not enough. No injections though, thank God. Three medicines—two of which are advertised a lot on TV. Pretty sure I’m gonna grow tentacles or something from the side effects.

After three trips to the pharmacy, I found out that the first two meds are free, thanks to Publix and a discount card from the pharmaceutical company, but the third one is $715. Seven HUNDRED and fifteen dollars? What about insurance? That’s AFTER the insurance part. But if I want, I can wait to fill that one and go home and check the company’s website for a coupon. Yeah, I’ll wait. Home again, I found a coupon and headed back to the pharmacy to fight the pre-Thanksgiving, last-minute craziness once again and pick up my prescription only to find out that they had reshelved it, so I would have to wait some more.

At this point all I want to do is curl up into a ball and never move again. When I finally made it to bed and turned out the light, the sobbing commenced. You know it’s easy to be a strong woman when everything is going well and you’re healthy. But I just fell apart. I’ve never felt so alone in my life and all I wanted was for someone to hold me and say it would be okay. I wanted desperately to not have to be alone on Thanksgiving Day; to be surrounded by people I love and who love me back. But there was no one and no plan for tomorrow, so the tears kept coming. On goes the light, out comes the Bible. A few Psalms later, my heart began to feel the peace. I knew that God had heard me. That He is with me. That I’m not alone. I went to sleep asking the Lord to wake me up with a thankful heart in the morning.

He did. And with a thankful heart, I texted a few loved ones just to let them know I was grateful for them. Before I knew it, I was at a friend’s house, surrounded by people who are like family. Tons of hugs and lots of love and though there was a lot of food, I only took tiny portions and no dessert. And I’ve probably never felt more thankful on Thanksgiving in all my life.

The good news is that I’m starting to feel a lot better except for some side effects from the medicine. The doctor thinks that I can go off medication once we get everything under control. Yesterday was rough, but no “coma naps” as I like to call them…no running to the bathroom every few minutes and being so thirsty all the time…I’m sleeping through the night – wow…and now sugar looks like an evil monster to me rather than a delicious friend.

The truth is that I am not strong on my own; I’m more of a scared little girl. But God is strong and as He is, so am I. (1 John 4:17). It’s been a rollercoaster week, but I adore seeing God work in the midst of struggle and pain, and I’m so thankful that He showed up in a big way for me this week. Just as He always has.

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