He Makes All Things New

I lost my sweet mother a year ago last week.  This post about her life and journey originally appeared on the CompassionThatCompels.org blog in January, 2016. Compassion That Compels is an amazing organization serving women battling cancer, and it is very dear to my heart. Read on for more…

 

I just love Isaiah 43:19. It offers such beautiful promises in so many Bible versions, of course, but a favorite of mine is the ESV: “For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.

A pathway through the wilderness and rivers in the dry wasteland. Wow! It gives me chills! And He does exactly as He promised. I know this because I’ve seen it happen up close and personal – in my own family.

See, there were times that “wasteland” and “wilderness” could have been descriptors for my family situation. My Mom, while she was an amazing lady – fun, friendly, hilarious, quick to smile, quick to love – suffered and struggled, particularly with her health, both physical and mental. First she began displaying symptoms of bipolar disorder as a young woman in the late ‘60s, a time when it was poorly understood and difficult to treat. Her mental health cost her dearly in relationships with friends and loved ones, with her feelings about herself, and especially within our family. My relationship with her as a child was a struggle, and her life was anything but easy in those days.

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But struggles with behavior and mood weren’t her only problems. She and my Dad tried for many years to have children and miscarried three – THREE – times before I was born. By what she called a “miracle,” she at last gave birth during their ninth year of marriage.

As she went through this “miracle” pregnancy, she didn’t know that her health was still failing. Shortly after I was born, Mom learned she had ovarian cancer and underwent a complete hysterectomy followed by cobalt (!) treatments and more.

Instead of enjoying being a new mother, she faced a terrifying fight. Her life was in many ways like hacking through the wilderness, struggling with each step just to survive. I know there were times when she feared she wouldn’t survive and others when she was convinced that she wouldn’t.

Even when doctors declared the cancer was gone, she feared it would return. Each checkup with her oncology team brought new anxieties, but thankfully, even 20 years later she was still cancer-free.

Her fears persisted though, and one could understand why. In the years that followed, she struggled to find restoration in the relationships damaged by her emotional problems, and she continued to battle health problems – first a tumor (benign, thankfully), then hepatitis, kidney problems, heart disease, bypass surgery, diabetes… and so on.

At times she felt plagued. Maybe even picked-on. How could all this strife be God’s plan for her life? She feared her life would be cut short. She feared she wouldn’t even see her daughter grow up. But she knew God’s promise of restoration.

God makes all things new. He makes a pathway through the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.

Throughout all of this, Mom never lost faith. She trusted God. She praised Him. She believed in His promises and celebrated the promise of life with him.

Even when the physical attacks persisted, she fought with the ferocity of a lioness protecting a cub. She was intent on seeing her cub grow up and on seeing the renewal God promised.

I know she never thought she would see her fiftieth birthday, but she did. And then her fifty-first. And then more…

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Mom had sass!

She persevered. She persisted with an infectiously joyful spirit that never ceased to make everyone around her laugh.

That stood true even in her final days, when her physical heart was failing. Alzheimer’s had taken its best shot to rob her of joy and dignity, and it failed to bring her down as well. She praised God in the midst of every battle, knowing that He and only He could make all things new.

My sweet, sassy mother lived to be 70 years old. When she closed her eyes the last time, she had been free from cancer for over 43 years.

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Mom’s 70th birthday party

Even in those final weeks, she still celebrated all God had done and was doing in her life. He had healed her physical body of so many problems. He had given her decades of complete freedom from symptoms of bipolar disorder. He’d brought newness and healing to her relationships with family and friends – and even with me. Especially with me. The difficult relationship I had with my Mom as a child was quite simply transformed by a loving and merciful God to become something beautiful, something to be treasured, and I am so grateful. He indeed made all things new for her and for us all.

Recently, when I flipped to Isaiah 43:19 in my Bible, I was again reminded of God’s promises for renewal. A few weeks after Mom passed away last year I began writing down many of my prayers in a journaling Bible. I recorded these words: “God, I know you are doing something new in me… I feel it in my stomach, in the unquiet part of my mind, the part that feels distress… Lord Jesus, please go alongside me. Lead me in every step. May I know and discern your voice and no other with each step I take. Quiet my thoughts and my pride and help me take action… just what you would have me do. I trust you, God… I give you my fears… my selfish wants and desires… Protect me, guide me, and anoint my journey. Praise you!”

He answers this prayer for me every day. In each day and in every moment He cuts through the wilderness for me. He creates rivers through every wasteland. He does indeed make all things new.

 

Compassion That Compels is a ministry and nonprofit with a simple mission to reach every woman battling cancer with a Compassion Bag, reminding them they are never alone. To donate, or to request a bag for someone you know, visit CompassionThatCompels.org.

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On Feeling Helpless – Lessons Learned on the Water

 

Helpless, powerless, stranded, fearful – no one wants to feel this way. Especially me.

“He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless.” Isaiah 40:29 (NLT)

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Beautiful day on the Mulberry River

Recently, my husband and I found ourselves stuck. On a beautiful Saturday afternoon, we took a canoe trip down the Mulberry River in Arkansas. It’s a stretch of river we have canoed more than once (my husband has canoed this stretch literally dozens of times over the years). The weather was perfect, and ordinarily that would mean many, many canoes on the water. For whatever reason this day, though, we were by ourselves.

It’s a surreal feeling to be totally alone on the river. When all goes well, it’s peaceful, serene and beautiful, but there’s still strange sense of unease. And when things go wrong, the solitude can quickly lead to discomfort, anxiety, even terror.

After three hours of peaceful paddling, we suddenly struck a big rock in the middle of a rapid. My husband had taught me to do the opposite of my instinct and to lean into the rock instead of away; it’s what keeps you from falling out of the boat. We were wedged against the boulder, though, and as we struggled to hold on and stay in the boat, we could hear the hull of the boat crack against the pressure of the rushing rapids. Moments later, we were both in the water.

The next minutes were crucial. We fought to stand up in the rushing water, using our paddles like crutches to help. The rocks on the river bottom were so slick that any movement of my foot felt like I would slide under. I knew that if either of us lost our footing and had to swim our way out, we’d have to again ignore our instincts by flipping over on our backs to float down the river. See, one of the greatest dangers in that environment is “foot entrapment” – getting a foot wedged in between the rocks on bottom and being pulled underwater – so “nose and toes up” becomes a safer (albeit frightening) way to float the rapids.

As my husband tightly held onto our gear and things, he slowly and carefully waded through the rocks and rushing water toward a small, rocky embankment in the middle of the river. As I watched him go, I clung to the boat’s hull as it was wedged against the rock, and I held a paddle wedged in between some rocks on the river bottom, praying to remain upright.  I couldn’t take a single step without help.

Minutes later, after leaving our gear on the rocks, he carefully made his way back to me, and he held onto me as I tearfully slid around the boat’s hull and over the boulder that held it in place. He helped me walk through the worst of the water until I could stand on my own using only my paddle as a brace. As I waded toward the rocks in the middle of the river, he slowly headed back to try and dislodge the boat.

When I made it to the rocks, I sat down and looked around. There was no earth – only rocks and tree limbs sticking out of the water, and there was rushing water on all sides of us.

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While it looks like shoreline, these rocks and limbs were just sticking out of the middle of the river. The water was on all sides of us and moving quickly.

 

My phone was in a dry bag clipped to my life jacket, so I got it out and scrambled to find our GPS location on the map and took a screen shot. I was grateful to have enough cellular signal such that I could post what was happening. I feared that the boat would be impossible to move or so damaged it wouldn’t float, and before either of us braved trying to swim through the rapids and then hike out, I wanted to ensure that someone would know where we had become stranded and where we were headed.

I posted a message on Facebook just before 7 pm, then tucked the phone back into my dry bag and clipped it back on my life jacket as my husband slowly made his way back to the rock embankment with the boat. The boat! I had never been so happy to see a canoe. Thankfully, somehow he had been able to dislodge it, and while it was damaged and leaking, it was still floating.  We dragged the boat to the safest spot we could reach, got back in, and got back on the water.

It took over an hour to finish paddling out and make it to Campbell Cemetery, where my husband’s vehicle was parked. In the hours before we wrecked and the subsequent hour we spent paddling out, we never saw another boat on the water; we had been completely alone.  And in those moments when I sat on the rock alone watching him struggle to free the boat, I felt completely powerless. There was water all around us, and the sun was getting lower every second. If he got into trouble, I wasn’t sure I could make it to him (or vice versa), and I couldn’t envision how we could get through the water to make it to shore to try and hike out. If we had to swim out, I feared the rocks would either trap or injure one or both of us. All I could do was sit there helplessly and pray.

All I could do was pray.

Just before dark, we pulled the boat from the water, made our way to the truck, and posted that we were safe at last. We also very gratefully changed into dry clothes and realized that the only casualty of the whole ordeal was a bit of (repairable) damage to the canoe, one empty can koozie that had floated away, and a twisted ankle from when I fell once trying to make my way to the rocks.  We were lucky and blessed to be safe.

 

The chaos on the river that day brought many lessons to my mind, starting with my husband’s reminder to lean into the rock instead of away from it. Isn’t it so common that we want to lean away from the toughest things in our lives? Sadness, fear, grief, shame – each are obstacles which I struggle to avoid. Sometimes I deny they exist at all. I lean as far away as I can, never confronting them directly, an action which does exactly what happened on the river – it swiftly dumps me into the abyss. Once I’m there, I can’t take a single step without help.

When I instead “lean into the rock” by trusting God and relying on Him to help me, only then can I make my way to safety. It’s slow sometimes, and it’s definitely not always my comfort zone, but it gets me there in one piece.

“As you come to him, the living Stone — rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him — you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house…”
1 Peter 2:4-5 (NIV)

As I drove home, I thought a lot about how it felt, sitting there on that rock. I detest the sense that I can’t handle things alone. I prefer to be self-reliant and hate asking for help almost as much as I hate admitting that I hate asking for help.  But I couldn’t handle it alone. No one could. We had to stay calm, lean on each other, and trust God to guide us out of the water.

“Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed.”
Psalm 107:28-29 (ESV)

 

As I crawled into bed that night, I continued to think about that sense of weakness and powerlessness I felt, sitting on those rocks with nothing but rushing water on all sides. Even typing the words still makes my heart race. But I know that neither my weakness nor my powerlessness are too much for God, because He uses them to draw me ever closer to Him.

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”
2 Corinthians 12:9 (NIV)

 

 

17 Things I’d Say to My 17-Year-Old Self

How many times have you said, “If I knew then what I know now, I would [blank]…”? I have to admit I’ve thought about this sort of thing a lot.  No, a lot. If I could go back in time to the ’80s and talk to 16- or 17-year-old Melody, what would I really tell her? Not just “eat your vegetables” or “finish college earlier,” but what would I actually share with her that could change the future for her?

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This is (Seriously) Melody – ’80s style – junior year of high school

So, I’m writing this letter to my 17-year-old self, and as I begin I’m not even sure of all the things I’ll say. I might not even finish in a single letter, really.  And maybe it’s silly, since I obviously can’t invent a time machine and go back and actually talk to her, but I’m doing it anyway. Because I have things to say to her I really wish she had known back then. So here we go.

Dear 17-Year-Old Melody,

Hey, girl. It’s been almost 30 years since we’ve connected in person. It’s me – the 46-year-old version of you. Mel, we’ve got to talk.  Pay attention to the things I’m going to share with you, and I will change your life. Seriously. Don’t be offended when some of these sting a little (and they will); I promise you won’t be sorry if you listen.

Here are 17 things that will change your life for the better over the next 30 years (perhaps even longer). Buckle up, and let’s get started.

  1. Know what you know and what you don’t. First (and sorry if this hurts a little), you don’t know everything. There are going to me many times when you think you know everything, but you do not. Recognize that now, and save yourself big-time pain later. Approach everything as if you have something to learn.  Live with curiosity.  In all things. Never assume you know more than others. About anything.

    “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” – Mark Twain

  2. Trust God with your life, and get to know Him better right now. This is the most important thing you can do. I can’t stress that enough. Talk to God. Use Bible studies to learn more about scripture. Read favorite verses in multiple translations. Look for the intent behind the words. And stop listening to others when they say, “The Bible says…” before filling in something you or someone else is doing wrong. They mean well, but they’re often wrong, so go look it up for yourself. (Case in point, the Bible does not say “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” That was William Congreve in The Mourning Bride. And that’s just one example.) Your life will be so much more fulfilling the moment you learn to trust Him and listen to His voice in all that you do.
  3. For the love of goodness, stop thinking about “the one”. Just stop. That guy you’re seeing is not “the one”. In fact, no boy you’ve met thus far is “the one”.  And further, stop worrying about it, because your validation does not come from the man by your side. “The one” is really the least important thing you can think about right now. Seriously. Meet some people, go on some dates, but save the spot on your left hand and the one deep in your heart for someone who comes much, much later. (Rule of thumb: If you wonder if he’s the right one or not, he’s not.)
  4. Wear sunscreen with the highest SPF factor you can buy. That’s probably about SPF 15 right now, but within 10 years you’ll be able to buy SPF50 or higher regularly. Use that. Tanning is terrible for your skin, and you will love the way you’ll look in a few years when others start to have skin like an old handbag. Premature wrinkles are no fun. Also, in a few years, you’ll discover something called a “spray tan”, and one session you’ll get a better tan than an entire summer baking in a tanning bed. Safely.
  5. Exercise a lot, but keep it simple. Walk, run, bike, canoe, kayak, surf, skate. Have fun, and keep moving. Just say no to fads like “step aerobics” that will be hard on your joints and will make you wear silly-looking, hip-baring ’80s-style leotards and sweatbands in neon colors. Especially just say no to the silly leotards.
  6. Dream big. So, this is super important and I know that no one is telling you right now: You can do and be anything. Seriously. Whatever your dreams are right now, go bigger. Don’t assume anything is out of reach. The world is bigger than you know right now. And don’t assume that your dreams will be easily realized. Everything Dad tells you about the need for hard work and a strong work ethic is 100% true. Avoid shortcuts. Take the tough road. Don’t give up!
  7. Be relentless in your pursuits of knowledge and adventure. Learn everything you can about everything that interests you. Your favorite class in college will surprise you (hint: it’s a science!). Ride a motorcycle. Study photography. Fly in a hot air balloon. Learn to paraglide. Regret nothing. Don’t be reckless, but embrace adventure in all things. You are going to have a great time.
  8. Ohwiththesmokingalready! I know you’re already playing with cigarettes – yes you are! Don’t lie. (I’m you, remember?) Stop monkeying with the stupid cigarettes. You’re going to want to smoke all the time when you’re 18 or so, and it’s stupid and stinky and you look ridiculous. Never start that disgusting habit, and save yourself countless dollars over the years… and more. Just don’t.
  9. Travel. As much as possible. Pay for it by saving every penny you would have smoked or used for something frivolous (like that white leather jacket with the fringe you’re going to think is so cool in a couple of years… It’s stupid. Seriously. Just don’t.) You’re going to study abroad in England later, but don’t stop there. See Europe and the Caribbean and Iceland and more. See every continent. Meet the people. Try the local cuisine. Avoid the guided tour. And stay as long as you can.
  10. Run from debt. (Your parents are right about this!).  Buy your first car with cash and save the money you’d make in payments to buy a better car and better and better and better and so on. Never have a car payment. Never carry a credit card balance. Never take out a student loan. There are better ways. You just have to sacrifice. You CAN do it!
  11. Forgive. Forgive your mother. Forgive your dad. Forgive your friends and enemies and acquaintances and everyone else who has ever or will ever wrong you. It’s terrifically important. But also know that forgiveness doesn’t mean you have to let any person remain in your life. It’s okay if your boundaries mean someone can’t be around anymore; what’s not okay is holding onto anger or resentment toward them.
  12. Spend lots of time with Mom and Dad. Write down their stories. Laugh with them as much as possible. Let Dad teach you to play banjo and guitar and bass and everything else you can think of, and let Mom tell you as many stories as she will tell.  Drink in every word and every moment. No matter how many years you have with them, it will never feel like enough.
  13. Your actions teach others how to treat you. Learn this now. Be kind and generous and assume positive intentions from others always, but understand that not everyone is inherently good. When someone treats you poorly (especially in relationships), pay attention. That little niggling feeling you get may be uncomfortable, but it’s there for a reason. It’s a warning, so heed it as such, and never, ever feel guilty for not allowing someone to treat you poorly.
  14. Eat the very best food you can all the time. Avoid fast food. Cook more often. Research recipes and take lessons on how to cook cool things. Have a sense of adventure about food. Explore the depths of your culinary palate. Become a snob about it and refuse to eat things that are just trash for your body. And stop with the sodas right now. They’re poison. You love ice water, so stick with that.
  15. And speaking of food – avoid diets. Seriously. And there are going to be some doozies that come your way, and friends and family alike are going to tell you how great they are. Grapefruit diets and cabbage soup diets and calorie counting and low-fat and low-carb and high-protein and high-fiber and nothing-bigger-than-your-fist diets. Ridiculous, all of them. Learn what the American Diabetes Association recommends, and eat that. It will never steer you wrong. Do that and stay active, and you won’t have to worry about “dieting” ever again.
  16. Volunteer. When you feel at your lowest, the best strategy you can employ is to take the focus off self. Go find an individual, a group, or a population of people, and do something small to make their lives better. When it’s not about you, you’ll feel better. And it will be some of the most rewarding time of your entire life.
  17. Speak the truth in love. Never be afraid to say “I’m sorry” or “I don’t know, but I will find out” or “I love you.” Also don’t be afraid to say no. It’s okay to stand up for yourself, and it’s okay to care for yourself first. (Actually, it’s imperative that you care for yourself first. If you aren’t a whole person alone, you won’t have anything left to share with others.)

That’s it for now, girl.  I might have more to add later, but start with these few, and you won’t be sorry. Promise!  Now don’t be afraid, go have a great time, and I’ll see you in a few decades.

XOXO,
Melody

 

Because I am a Princess, That’s Why.

Tough week here, I’m afraid. I needed a bit of a reminder to be strong. And I got it when I flipped through my journaling Bible (my #LegacyBible) and landed on a page I did a while back for Joshua 1:9.  Which is a scripture I dig, incidentally…

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Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous… Joshua 1:9 (ESV) 

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9 (ESV)

Fear is one of my greatest struggles. It’s both a motivator and a de-motivator for me. It has sometimes driven me to rush to poor decisions, and at other times it has paralyzed me and prevented me from taking timely or badly needed steps.

Fear is also a lie. It’s the enemy’s way of convincing me I’m not savvy enough or smart enough or brave enough or tall or short or thin or beautiful or rich or educated or experienced or whatever enough.  And all of those things are lies.

How do I know those are lies? They’re lies because He told me so. Because I am a princess, that’s why. I am a daughter of the One True King, whom He promised a crown of beauty instead of ashes. (See Isaiah 61.) And because I am fearfully and wonderfully made in His image, that’s why. As long as I stand with Him, I am enough, and He has promised to give me exactly what I need and exactly when I need it. (See Psalm 139:14 and Philippians 4:19.)  And because worry is waste, that’s why. I may sometimes fear and fret over things, but I do so knowing fully that each moment of worry is pointless. (See Luke 12:22-25.)

He has it all, and He only calls me to believe and to be brave. (Joshua 1:9, yo!)  We. Need. Not. Fear. 

He calls me to be strong and courageous. He calls me not to fear. And He promises to be with me (and you) wherever we go.  How amazing is that?

XOXO,
Melody
Bible Journaling How-to:
This #LegacyBible page was completed (and easy-peasy) with high-viscosity acrylic paints, die-cuts, washi tape, and stickers from from Illustrated Faith. I used dots of several colors of the Illustrated Faith paint on the edge of a paint card and smeared it all over the page, being careful not to let it be so thick I couldn’t read the words anymore. When it dried, I embellished with stickers, a die-cut used as a tab at the top held in place with “Amen” washi tape, and a few other random stickers from the Illustrated Faith line.

*Please share this post with anyone you think would enjoy it via the links below anytime.

Three Simple Survival Tips for a Rough Mother’s Day

I’ve spent many Mother’s Day shopping trips standing front of a wall of cards perplexed.  Brow furrowed, I’ve stood there overwhelmed by a selection of “you’re the greatest mother ever” and “you’re my very best friend in the world, Mom” cards, not knowing what I could pick that would convey my sentiments well.

See, Mother’s Day was sometimes difficult when I was younger because my relationship with Mom was… well, challenging.  Mom had bipolar disorder and schizoaffective disorder, which made her moods and behavior often unpredictable. In fact, she wasn’t even diagnosed until I was an adult, so for many years I had no idea what caused the emotional issues. Sometimes we were close, and sometimes it felt like she was a different person entirely.

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Me with Mom when I was around 11.

I loved her tremendously, and I’m forever grateful that she was my Mother, but there were times as a child and a young woman when I struggled to even have conversations with her. And choosing a Mother’s Day card that celebrated her as a “best-Mom-ever” mom or a “you’re-my-best-friend” Mom felt… well, insincere at best.

 

Other years, I’ve stood there in front of the wall o’ cards feeling sorry for myself. I’ve shopped for the obligatory card for my Mom or mother-in-law or friend with a new baby (or all of the above) and have felt the sense of emptiness and sorrow inside, knowing there would likely never be a Mom’s Day card addressed to me. (I’ve known since I was 12 years old that I would be unable to have children of my own, which led to some tough Mother’s Day celebrations, especially when many of my friends were having babies for the first time.)

Frankly, there were years I really wallowed in some oh-poor-Melody self-pity. But I am certainly not alone in feeling some anxiety around the Mother’s Day holiday. So many of us struggle – from difficult relationships, wounds from past family hurts, the loss of a mother/sister/grandmother or child, to the forlorn sadness around being unable to become a Mom – the holiday meant to be a happy celebration of motherhood can have a few barbs that poke and sting at our hearts there.

After all these years, I’ve learned a little about getting through the holiday without tears, without hiding in my bedroom, and without eating an entire chocolate cake in sorrow (usually – don’t judge!). I’ve learned that the keys to getting through a tough Mother’s Day for me are these three simple things on which to focus (instead of focusing on the tough parts):

  1. Focus on gratitude. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 challenges us to “give thanks in all circumstances,” and for me that means even when I’m blue. My mother was complicated and imperfect, it’s true. (Aren’t we all?) But she was my Mom, and no one will ever love me exactly the way she did. There was tremendous redemption in my relationship with her as I got older, and when she passed last year after a long bout with Alzheimer’s and heart disease, I was blessed to have the knowledge that she was in love with being a mother to me. She was indeed my biggest fan. I am forever grateful for my Mother and all that she brought to my life because even the toughest of times served to make me stronger and show me that her love for me was unconditional, as was mine for her.
  2. Focus on getting moving. When I’m sad, my body does not naturally crave sunshine. Or exercise. Or anything other than the couch (or my bed), maybe a little Netflix, and a steady diet of breakfast cereal three meals a day followed by copious amounts of chocolate and Coca-Cola on ice. (F’real.) And while it sounds like those things will make me feel better, they just serve as a vehicle to propel me even further downward into a sadness spiral. What actually works, on the other hand, is to get moving. A walk, a bike ride, or even a little time at the gym can get me out of the sadness spiral really quickly.  Try it.  Seriously.  Get up, get busy, and maybe even go outside. (I know, I know, it’s hard and it’s the last thing you want to do. Try it. Even just for three minutes. Just get up and move, and see what happens.)
  3. Focus on something other than self. The single greatest detriment to a good Mother’s Day for me is to focus on all the things that make it a tough day for me.  And there are many of them. But licking my wounds on Mother’s Day won’t make it better for me, and it won’t make it better for anyone else either. What might actually make me (and others) feel better is to do something nice for someone else. Maybe go and visit a girlfriend who is herself likely to have a rough Mother’s Day. Look for opportunities to do something quick and unexpected to lift someone else. Why not a simple, random act of kindness? Pay for a stranger’s coffee in the drive-thru, or overtip the waitress who brought you your breakfast, and just see how it feels.  For me, it’s truly amazing to experience how much healing power is held in a simple act of kindness to someone else.

 

This Mother’s Day, I will be going through the day without my Mom, which is (of course) both heartbreaking and completely surreal. I’ll also be going through the day without the child my husband and I are raising (he’s visiting with other family). That’s another tough situation for so many women, in fact – serving in a Mom role to a child or children but not actually being the Mom. (In my case, I’m technically “step-grandmother-slash-legal-guardian”, but in reality my daily routine is about doing all the Mom things without ever actually getting to be one.  And believe me when I say no one has invented “Step-Grandmother-Slash-Legal-Guardian Day”.), but…  But. BUT.  B U T !

But I simply refuse to let it be a bad day. I refuse to wallow and spend the day being sad because Mom isn’t there or because the little guy is gone or because I can’t have biological kids of my own or because of anything else. Focusing on what’s missing doesn’t help. It just. Doesn’t. Help. Instead, I will get up and get out of the house. I’ll enjoy the sunshine (and if it rains, I’ll enjoy that too). I’ll think about Mom happily and I’ll smile and be grateful for her. I’ll think about the little guy and be thankful that I get to take care of him. (He’s awesome, and I’m blessed by him every day.)

I’m making the best of this day, and I invite you to join me. And if you find yourself behind me in line at the coffee shop, you might just find me paying for your coffee.

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Mom and me in happier days, long after our relationship had seen tremendous healing. I am so grateful I got to really see the beauty in her true heart and got to laugh with her regularly. She was awesome, hilarious, and precious, my Mom, and I was blessed to be her daughter.

Photo Faves – How to Shoot the Moon

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Christmas Eve Blue Moon – December 24, 2015

I always wanted a great shot (or two or nine) of the moon. Oddly enough, though, no matter how dramatic and beautiful the moon looks outside, it seems the moon is always just a huge, glowing blob of nothingness in photos, isn’t it?  Well, this was always the case in my photos, until I did a little research.

I love photography, but I never officially studied it. I got a great camera, and then a greater one, read a little here and a little there, and then I took about 670 billion photos for practice (give or take).  Finally, I followed the advice I found in a great little “Digital Photography” book by Scott Kelby. (I love this book because each page provides a great photography tip for getting just the right shot, including how to get a detailed photo of the moon.)

I took these shots of the 2015 Christmas Eve blue moon from my front yard. (Yes, from the yard.) I used a Sony Alpha a550 DSLR camera with the longest lens I have. You absolutely must have a tripod, but my tripod is currently broken – completely jacked up – so I had to “wing it” a bit.

See, I learned a couple of great rules (and how to break them) from Scott Kelby’s book , and they are the only reasons I managed to get these shots. They are:

  1. A tripod is essential for a sharp shot of the moon’s detail. But when one’s tripod is jacked up, one’s camera’s built-in timer will save the day.
  2. Go super-fast on the shutter. The challenge of shooting the moon is not that it’s dark outside and the camera can’t see the moon well. It’s actually the opposite. The moon is super bright, especially in relation to the blackness of the sky around it, and the shutter speed has to be super fast or the whole shot will be blown out – nothing but a big blob of white.

So, to grab these shots, I walked outside and lay down on my belly and put the camera on the ground in the yard. (Yes, I was on the ground in December. Like a crazy person. Or a drunk person.)  I lined up the shot and zoomed in as far as I could, then lined up the shot again because I lost sight of the moon.  Then I grumbled a little and might have cursed.  Then I found the moon and got it in focus. (I was pretty sure, at least. Very nearly sure. Sure-adjacent perhaps.)  Then I set the camera on shutter priority and tried roughly a 1/1000th of a second (-ish) shot.  I also set a 2-second timer on the camera so when I pressed the shutter, it didn’t fire until my hands were clear and couldn’t shake the camera. (Tada! Like having an invisible tripod.)

Then I simply pressed the shutter and stepped away from the camera.  (OK, wiggled away. I was still on my belly, after all.)

Two seconds later, there was a click, and voila! Like magic, I had my first moon shot with sharp detail showing craters aplenty. Woohooooo!  I was pretty stoked.  And cold.  So I headed inside to check them out.

As I studied them, I found that these shots gave me such a close-up view of the moon it inspired me to do a bit of research so I could know what I was seeing a little better. For instance, the three side-by-side blobs are the Seas of Serenity, Tranquility and Fertility, respectively.  The one above them all by itself? The Sea of Storms. (Interesting, isn’t it, that the storms are far, far away from tranquility and serenity? Just sayin’…)  And that thing down south that looks like the moon’s bellybutton?  That’s the crater called Tychus, which is almost three miles deep and over 50 miles wide (which is seriously deep as bellybuttons go). And those spokes that branch out in all directions from it are up to 900 miles long and more. Imagine an asteroid impact that makes a hole that deep and wide and sends projectiles rolling 900 miles in each direction… it’s a biggie!  So. Cool.  (Unless you’re standing where the asteroid hits, I guess.) But I digress…

 

So, now that I have these fairly close shots of the moon’s surface, I realize I want to get even closer. Santa brought me a telescope for Christmas last year, so the next step is to figure out how to use it with my camera. At least then I won’t be lying on the ground in the middle of December…

 

Bible Journaling Faves

A few months ago, I discovered something called “Bible Journaling.”  Well, in reality I guess it was people at work at DaySpring.com who did the discovering when they met Shanna Noel of Illustrated Faith (amazing). But when my colleagues brought it to my attention, my first thought was, Oh yeah… I’m in for that.

What is it? Basically, it combines writing and art with Bible study and is a great way to experience the Word instead of just reading it. In its simplest form, I read the Bible and then reflect on what I’ve read with some creativity on the pages of a journaling Bible – maybe some written words, maybe some stickers, maybe some splashes of paint. What I find is that when it’s all finished I have both a better understanding and a stronger connection to what I’ve read than ever before.

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My title page – Jeremiah 17:7-8

Here are a few examples of entries in my current journaling Bible:

  • My title page. Based on Jeremiah 17:7-8, I used colored pencils and some watercolor pencils to draw this tree and river scene that brings to mind the Scripture to which it refers: “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord… He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.”

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  • My “do not fear” page: I wrote this entry shortly after the 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris. The Scripture in which God promises that we will not fear the terror of the night was a real comfort to me.

 

These two pages were ones I did to feature one of my favorite photos of my Mom just a few months after she passed away. In Revelation 19, God promises that there will be no more mourning and tears, and “death shall be no more.” I “tipped in” (meaning taped into the Bible with washi tape) a vellum sheet with the photo of my mother, and on the back I wrote a prayer of gratitude for my mother… in all her messy glory. She wasn’t perfect, but she was mine and I loved her.

And finally, this crazy page was about a favorite Scripture in John, when Christ says, “It is finished,” just before He died on the cross.  It’s actually a Scripture that I wrote about for a Good Friday devotional article for DaySpring (my employer) based on a sermon that really touched me a while back.  (Check it out! The article is “When He Said, ‘It is Finished,’ He Was Talking About Me.”)

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When He Said, “It is Finished,” He Was Talking About Me

Want to see more Bible journaling entries?  Check back later. It’s basically my new addiction, so I promise there are more to come!

-Melody

 

Fresh Starts for Spring

I spent some time planting this weekend. The weekend weather was mild and beautiful, and it was a perfect time to grab some starter herbs and vegetables and poke them into planters filled with potting soil. I love to play in the dirt just as much as I did when I was a little girl.

SONY DSCToday, I started organic mint and basil plants in pots and a big container of special heirloom tomatoes called Arkansas Travelers, which the man at the farmers’ market in Fayetteville told me were the “famous Arkansas pink tomatoes.” I planted it all while daydreaming about fresh, homemade pesto and mojitos.  (Mmmmm…)

 

I also spent a little time in the flower garden poking petunias into the ground by the dozen. I love that they “creep” as they grow, spreading blooms like a blanket across the ground.

Tonight, after a little rain, I snapped some photos of the petunias. I love the bright, happy colors, and I love the promise that there will be more and more as the season goes on.

 

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I spent a lot of time digging in the dirt on my hands and knees, which left me lots of time to give some thought about what else I might plant… for myself. I have a few strong cravings in my life right now, and I’m giving real thought to how to feed them.

My thinking is this – I need to plant a handful of simple things in my life, like:

  • Some seeds of bravery, refusing to shy away from new things that might seem scary.
  • A spirit of surrender, trusting God with my plans and my future.
  • A focus on healthy self-care – approaching everything I do from the perspective of taking care of myself physically, spiritually and emotionally.

I want change for the better, and I want to see bright, beautiful new things spring up as a result!  Who’s joining me?

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Bright and beautiful.

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