Monday, June 5, 2017

Conversations Over Chicken Salad, Watermelon and Sweet Tea


What's more southern than chicken salad croissants, watermelon and a large glass of sweet tea? Not much!

There's also nothing more delightful than to open your home to women who love to gather in true, southern style.

Excitement dripped all over the red carpet in my den as women arrived in anticipation of our Summer Book Club 2017. The book selected is Secrets Over Sweet Tea by Denise H. Jones. She is a true southern author with a flare for unencumbered realness.

Set in the quaint town of Franklin, Tennessee, Denise grabs your attention from the get-go. As Scarlett Jo Newberry (the larger-than-life pastor's wife) sports a flashy neon wardrobe on her prayer walks around the neighborhood, we observe her uncanny ways of uncovering secrets hidden behind closed doors and hearts. This little town is buzzing with intrigue, sadness, humor and much needed healing.

Why a Summer Book Club?

After the fall and spring seasons of intense Bible study, I like to lighten things up a bit in the summer. I choose a book which is a fun read, but also directs us to the Word and steers the conversation.

A Summer Book Club provides the opportunity to use spiritual gifts like hospitality and encouragement. I love crafting an atmosphere where calm and peace melt away the stresses of the day to day, and I enjoy watching the stress leave as people walk in.

Inviting women into a safe place to shed their facades, offers a sense of release to be real with one another. This brings me joy.

The presence and power of Christ filling the room, inviting us into deeper intimacy with Him as we open His Word and pray for one another, always leaves me in wonder and awe.

We need each other to bounce life off of. We need someone to hold us accountable along our salvation journeys. I cannot think of a better way to equip and encourage than to open up our homes to those eager to learn how to love God deeper and serve Him better.  Why not start a Summer Book Club yourself? Southern style, of course. Bless your heart.

By His Grace Alone,
Melanie

If you would like to order Secrets Over Sweet Tea, go to reclaiminghearts.com or christianbooks.com.


Friday, April 28, 2017

Serving Up the Perfect Blend

"How do you like your coffee?"

"Khaki."

"Khaki? What does that mean?"

"Oh, you know some sweetener and just enough cream to change the color from black to khaki."

That's what I tell people when they ask how I like my coffee.

When I order coffee in the drive-thru, they usually ask if I want them to put in the additions. Sometimes I say yes, but only if I have first figured out how many creams it takes to make their brand of coffee khaki and how many sweeteners it takes to serve up the perfect blend.

The right temperature, plus the right ingredients, stirred with the right strength?

Mmm.. makes me smile every time.

Another perfect blend was poured out and served up when...

some girlfriends and I met this morning at Panera. I was expecting just two of us, but another joined, and it couldn't have been sweeter. While the aroma of coffee wafted across our table, the sweet aroma of friendship permeated our hearts with giddiness of joy. We were like little girls who haven't seen each other for days, laughing and catching up.

Connected as sisters in Christ, we are also connected as wives and moms, lovers of the Word and seekers of His heart. Our conversation quickly turned to deeper things. The spiritual, eternal. Things that will not be shaken. The things that will stand firm 'til the end when Jesus returns. As each of us shared our lives and heavy hearts, we discovered we have this burden in common - a brokenness for this generation of children, teenagers and young adults, as well as their parents, struggling with the evil bombarding them on all sides and at such deep levels. 

Believers, not just non-believers, are struggling with:

  • Children dealing with gender identity issues.  
  • All ages involved in pornography. 
  • The drinking of alcohol and justifying it. 
  • Marriages disintegrating before our eyes.
  • Depression and anxiety, even in little ones.
  • Suicide being rampant among teens and college students.

We further shared our concerns over how technology has and is luring our children away from their innocence, drawing them into screen addiction earlier and earlier. Social media, cell phones, I-pads, computers, even drones... You name it, our kids (and we adults) have it. It has opened a door to evil like never before, and we the parents have invited it in.

Now don't get me wrong, much good has come from technology too. I get that. But enticing children before they are able to process what can show up on their "secured" screens is playing with fire and refusing to admit you smell smoke. And I'm just as guilty as the next parent.

We must protect ourselves from the evil coming through the doors of our homes, schools and churches. Yes, we trust in the One from Whom our Strength comes from, Who is our Shield and Protector, our Help in times of trouble. But Jesus also expects us to act on our faith and battle the evil infiltrating our minds and the minds of our children.

The questions is, "What are we doing about it? How do we address these deep, dark issues with our children and each other in a godly, loving manner, not with judgment, but blended with grace and Truth?"

This is where we, the Church must take the lead. We must be teaching straight-up Truth from the pulpit and throughout our age appropriate classrooms. We must sense an urgency and act accordingly.

We, the parents must take responsibility for teaching Truth to our own children and not just leave it to church staff and volunteers to bare the load. Truth must be taught in our homes, around the dinner table, in the car, and at play. When we get up in the morning and when we lie down at night, our minds must be set on things above (Colossians 3:2), constantly being renewed (Romans 12:1-2) in the Truth of the Word, all the while pouring Truth and grace into our children. Train them in the principles and ways of God. (Proverbs 22:6)

Let the word of God dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord (Col. 3:16 ESV).

We must also live Truth and grace out before our children of all ages because parenting never stops. We are our children's safe space on this earth as long as we live. It's our responsibility to pray for protection over our homes, and to guard our hearts against the evil of this world coming at us at a record pace with the Truth of God's never-changing Word.

Being honest enough to bear one another's burdens, hurts and struggles brings us closer together, strengthens our fellowship in the Lord and our stand against the enemy. It brings us to our knees in prayer and praise and petition; another perfect blend served up before the Lord. 

My friends and I ended our time together agreeing to pray for each other, our marriages and our children ranging in age from 3 to 27. Specifically praying for their hearts to be guarded and protected from the enemy's snares and entrapments. For a covering over our families of grace and love, and to give us wisdom in how to teach our children well, when and where to set boundaries for them and for us, and to love and encourage them with our words and actions.

With the right temperature (attitude), mixed with wisdom and stirred with the love of Jesus, we can serve up a life-blend of grace and truth - an aroma of worship that's pleasing to the Lord, satisfying to the soul, and an aroma that will make the enemy flee.

Would you like a cup?

My Pleasure,
Melanie










Tuesday, April 4, 2017

What Can The Final Four Teach Us About Resurrection Day?

I love sports. I love competition.

And, I love my SC Gamecocks!

Both our men and women's basketball teams made it to the Final Four, with our Lady Gamecocks winning the 2017 NCAA National Championship game.

#GamecockNation is so proud!

March Madness was filled with amazing surprises, busted brackets, unbelievable buzzer endings, tight scores, great athlete stories, and so much more. There were even coaches giving God glory for their successes. How awesome is that?

The day after the confetti has fallen and the trophy has been given, some hearts go home filled with joy while others leave with heartache. But through it all, all teams can hold their heads high. Each accomplished great things in getting to the Final Four; some making it for the first time in their school's history.

Now let's take a look at another Final Four which changed history and lives forevermore.

We are quickly approaching the final four days of Jesus' life in The Women of Easter book study by Liz Curtis Higgs. We are moving through the last weeks and days leading up to the crucifixion and Resurrection Sunday. As I reflect on the history making final four days, from the Last Supper through Resurrection Sunday, I am reminded there were those who walked away after Thursday and Friday (Jesus' death and burial) full of defeat, heartache and deep sadness.

Who wouldn't be sad? Your closest friend, Teacher, Miracle Maker, Healer, etc... someone you've done life with 24/7 for three years is gone. The One you knew to be the Son of God, the long awaited Messiah, murdered on a criminal's cross and buried in a borrowed tomb. How devastating!

All hope seemed lost. Their joy deflated. Only fear and questions remained.

Little did they know, Sunday was coming! Behind the scenes was a ferocious fight for freedom like nothing anyone had ever seen or imagined. Soon, the Champion would emerge - conquering sin, death and the grave. Jesus would resurrect, having bridged the gap between the Father and His children, and opening up an eternal new way of life called Redemption; salvation by grace, through faith in Jesus Christ.

Sin has lost and LIFE has won!

The Final Four gives us much to hang on to:

- Never give up hope. In Christ alone, our hope is found. 

- Even when we don't have answers, Jesus is still the answer.

-When fear, worry and doubt creep in, proclaim the name "Jesus" and they will flee.

Want to know more about Jesus' amazing Final Four days? Go to the "Fab Four" Gospels.

Matthew 26-28
Mark 14-16
Luke 22-24
John 13-21

Can't wait to celebrate The Champion on Resurrection Sunday!

Lift up your heads! Easter's coming, people!

My Pleasure,
Melanie




Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Five Tips for Writers Who Think Everything Has to Be In Order In Order to Write


I know my writer friends out there are yelling at the screen right now, "Just write! You'll never have everything in order; just do it!"

I struggle with sitting down every day and putting words to paper, or digitally speaking, words to screen. I feel guilty because the daily needs my attention: laundry needs folding, dishes need drying, closet clutter needs organizing, dinner needs to be cooked. Not to mention, my family needs me, and I love being available for them.

Then, there's the plethora of thoughts and ideas swirling around in my head. A sort of wrestling match, sending this writer into the chaos of deciding what to write about. It's difficult to call all thoughts to a halt in order to pin down one idea to be developed into a blogpost, an article, or book project. If it was left up to me, I obviously would never get anything written. 

Writing requires discipline, and we all know most creative people aren't what you'd call very disciplined or structured. Our minds are always thinking and creating. (Note: I'm speaking in generalities of course.)


Good intentions do not get the job done. I may have good intentions of doing laundry, but after stepping into the laundry room I decide it has to be reorganized before I can even turn on the washing machine. In order to wash the clothes, the laundry room must be in order.

I may begin to prepare for dinner and notice the dry rack beside the sink is full of dishes needing to be put away. I have to have my kitchen in order before I can begin a meal.

So, when it comes to writing, it's no wonder I struggle. Writing is my intention, but if my writing space is in disarray I must put everything in order in order to write.

A clean space provides calm so I can work.

Once I'm in the zone, though, I'm all in. I've been known to not even realize someone has walked into the room, called my name several times, fixed their lunch, eaten and washed their dishes. I'm totally locked into what I'm doing, and it would take a freak of nature to get my attention. My family has learned it's futile to speak to me when I'm blogging, emailing, or writing. I don't hear them, therefore I don't respond. I know; sad, but true.

Here are 5 tips for those like me who think everything needs to be in order in order to write:

1. Just write.

Write thoughts, ideas, fragmented sentences... whatever comes to mind. Just start.

2. Enjoy the process. Don't rush it.

Ideas will eventually settle into something concrete. 

3. Don't edit as you write.

Editing is the last of the process. If you edit as you go, it can hinder thoughts and slow the process down. 

4. Good writers are always reading. 

Read a lot. Reading other writers' works always stirs up ideas and ways to communicate better. 

5. Take frequent breaks.

Every 45 minutes or so, move around, go for a walk, do a household chore. Stepping away clears the mind and reenergizes the spirit. Walking away will bring us back. 

Everything does not have to be in order in order to write. If it were not so, no words would ever be penned.

I'd love to know what tips have helped you. Please comment below.

Happy writing!

My Pleasure,
Melanie







Monday, March 27, 2017

National Adoption Month - In Sweet Memory of Baby Judah



All my life, my parents loved to share mine and my sister's adoption stories with anyone who would listen. Even as our mom was nearing the end of her life, she loved to tell everyone around, "I had to buy my two girls."

Because she had dementia, she told our stories to the same people over and over, but I didn't care. I never stopped her. I just let her grin and tell as I swelled with pride of belonging and being deeply loved by the wonderful parents God chose for us.

I love to hear other adoptee stories. With every adopted child I meet, I feel a strong connection. Each story is unique and filled with great anticipation and intrigue. From open adoptions to closed adoptions, every story is worth telling again and again.




One of those precious stories belongs to Judah Kelly and his forever family, Scott, Mandy, Becca, Jared and Lizzie. Ten months ago, baby boy Judah brought long awaited joy and light into this sweet, loving, blended family of five. (Blended because three children and their dad were left behind when their mother passed away from cancer, and later the dad would remarry.) Their new mom, Mandy, adored her instant family, but longed to experience a newborn to hold and love as well. After several heartbreaks when adoptions fell through, Baby Judah came home to his new family. Soon after, my daughter had the privilege of photographing Judah, and I got to tag along.


The Kelly family was ecstatic over this little guy and how the Lord had granted their heart's desire with the honor of being his parents and siblings. He was the precious piece God created to make their family complete.

Then, on Tuesday, March 20, 2017 around 1:00 am, baby Judah, along with his nine-year-old sister, Lizzie, and his parents, Scott and Mandy, were gently escorted into the Father's presence as a devastating house fire took their lives, leaving behind his older brother and older sister.

For 10 short months, baby Judah brought the sweetest of smiles, deep belly laughter, and even deeper joy to his forever family. His forever family gave him the gift of family, unconditional love and so much more. I remember the smile on his mother's face as she held him the night Scott was ordained as a deacon, and how it was so contagious you couldn't help but smile back through tears.

Today is my 55th adopted day, and I choose to celebrate it by remembering Judah, my newest, littlest adopted friend:


Through tears today, we remember you, precious baby boy, along with your parents and sweet sister, Lizzie. We celebrate your life and the impact your family had on so many people, especially those in our church family. Many prayers were lifted on your behalf even before we met you.

We celebrate your entrance into heaven where only the fullness of joy exists. Knowing you're there though, doesn't mean we won't grieve hard for you. But, because of Christ, we are not without hope. We are clinging to the One we trust to do what's best to bring Himself the most glory and us a greater good. 

Your family hurts, but God will heal. Oceans of tears will continue to fall, but Jesus will catch every one of them. Many already miss holding and rocking you, but God's gentle arms will hold them tight and rock them, too. 

You have arrived at your final home, little one, with your Heavenly Father who has, and is adopting, a much larger Forever Family. He created you, loves you beyond compare, and chose to tell His story powerfully through a brief chapter - yours.

Until we see you again...
Hug Jesus for me! 

My Pleasure,
Melanie

Photography credits: Madison Shull Photograph (Facebook)

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

When Life Hits Us Hard, God Hugs Us Tighter


Have you noticed every time the book of James is delved into, tragedy, hurt and pain come roaring in like a lion? Should we be surprised? The enemy is roaming the earth seeking whom he may devour, and what better time than when we are side-swiped with a tragedy to tempt us to turn away from God, the One who made us, knows our hearts, and loves us most.

Several years ago, my husband's men's Bible study group studied James in depth. Many hearts endured heavy pain and suffering during that time. Now, as our pastor is preaching through the book of James, trials and tragedy seem to be magnified. The enemy is roaring at our church family with much pain and sorrow. Just when we settle into the heart of the Word, seeking to understand truth in times of suffering, the enemy cranks it up a notch, sometimes several notches, placing more pain and suffering onto our already heavy hearts.

Spiritual warfare is real. The battle for our minds is intense. But, we belong to Christ and will not be shaken in our faith. Jesus is our Rock, our strong tower and our source of strength.

This morning, our church family's heart shattered over the deaths of four precious family members lost in a tragic house fire: a dad and a mom (both strong Believers and leaders), a bubbly little girl who made you smile every time she bounced into a room, and a precious, adopted 10-month old baby boy. We also deeply hurt for the two siblings, ages 12 and 16, who escaped the flames and a mother-in-law who is in the Augusta Burn Center.

How do we even begin to process this horrible event? What do you say to the family members and friends? How do we cope?

In my quiet time this morning, the focus verse was Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth (Psalm 46:10 NIV).

As I continue to mull over the writer's words, I believe God is already, in this very moment, comforting and holding our broken hearts in His gentle, but mighty hands, and He is catching each and every tear falling from our eyes. I also believe we're being called to be still and know who God is, and to remember He is a good Father in ALL things. This is what needs to be foremost on our minds to battle the darts of doubt and fear the enemy may throw at us.

I quoted in my last post, God is attracted to the brokenhearted. (AnnVoskamp) If there's ever a moment to run into the arms of Jesus, it's when we experience the unimaginable, the unbelievable weightiest of heartaches. When we draw near to Him, He draws even nearer to us, cradling us in His loving arms like a tender-hearted daddy comforts his child.

How do we still our shattered hearts?

With the Word. Psalm 46 is a great place to camp out during any time of trouble to focus on Who God is:

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble (vs.1 ESV).

Because God is our refuge and strength...

Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. (vs. 2-3)

The weight of grief can feel like the earth is giving way under our feet, that our sorrow is more than we can bear, like we are drowning in the roaring foam of the sea. But, our God is here holding us up and giving us strength, courage and grace in the midst of it all.

As we still our broken hearts, may these words of our heavenly Father bring comfort, peace, and strength:

"You are My servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off"; 
fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God;
 I will strengthen you. I will help you, 
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
For I, the LORD your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, 
"Fear not, I am the one who helps you"
(Isaiah 40:10, 13 ESV, emphasis mine).

With a broken heart, I cling to Christ.

My Pleasure,
Melanie





Saturday, March 11, 2017

Broken Hearts Attract the Broken Heart of God - Reflections from The Broken Way by Ann Voskamp

Never be afraid of broken things because Christ is redeeming everything. ~Ann Voskamp

Soaking up The Broken Way by Ann Voskamp has stretched my thinking about how and why our hearts break. It has changed the way I pray for people and myself. My actions and responses toward others have taken on a fresh perspective by viewing brokenness in our lives as a necessity to becoming Christ-like. The difference in the brokenness of a Believer and that of a non-believer our response to it.

Ann, without the fanciful 'e', (how she describes her name) gets me and I love getting to know her. Maybe because my middle name is Ann, also without the fanciful 'e', or because I've been in the depths of depression and despair. I've also learned how healing comes through the sacred art of giving and receiving forgiveness and grace. The brokenness Ann wrestles with gives all of us courage to stand tall and to not be afraid of the broken places in our lives.

There really is comfort and peace knowing Christ is redeeming ALL things broken.

Much has crashed around me (and in me) in recent months. As I'm walking the devastating path with a friend through the ravenous pain and heartache of divorce, my heart breaks as well. In listening to countless others pour out their pain through floods of tears, my heart aches for them - my sisters in Christ. So many hurting. So many hearts broken. And still others with unspoken broken. (Ann's words)

A reoccurring theme throughout The Broken Way is this: We cannot really love one another without really suffering with one another.

In my experience, the Church has long avoided real suffering with Her real people. Many people put up barriers to keep people out of their stuff while some avoid other people's stuff so as not to have to have to get involved. I know I'm guilty of both. How about you?

Beautiful masks, bearing the phrase, "I'm fine!", are the Sunday fashion of choice for many. Passing by someone going in or out we may ask, "How are you?" and their pat answer is, "Fine. How 'bout you?" But are we or they really fine? By our not being honest with each other, the Church is losing impact on the community around Her. Didn't Jesus say we will be known as His disciples if we love one another?

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:34-35 NKJV).

Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2 NKJV).

I've learned through my own broken places that it's in the exposing of the dark spaces where the light of Christ shines brightest to root out, redeem and restore as His Light of compassion is absorbed. But if we aren't willing to also bring the Light of our suffering into the suffering of others, how can we claim to really love one another?

When the Holy Spirit is released to search deep into the dark places of our hearts, He exposes the sin roots entangling our hearts, stifling our joy and influence for Christ. When roots of sin are exposed, opportunity is given for faith to be tested and strengthened. Exposure reveals Who we truly believe Jesus Christ to be and how we see ourselves. It can be sobering and soothing all at the same time.


Broken open hearts attract the broken open heart of Christ. He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds (Psalm 147:3 NKJV).

No one understands brokenness like Jesus. Anything we've gone through, He has gone through it on levels we will never comprehend. For example, grief. Nothing shatters a heart like grief. Whether it's grieving a loved one who's passed, a marriage that's ended, a miscarriage, a prodigal son or daughter, a relationship of any kind. A loss of anything sacred, stings. Grief is deep and grief is real.

He is despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3 NKJV).

Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows; (Isaiah 53:4 NKJV).

Have we carried the griefs and sorrows of the entire human race? It's impossible and a brokenness beyond our comprehension. It's all I can do to carry mine and those in my inner circle. But, by not bleeding our brokenness into the brokenness of each other, we are not functioning as the Body of Christ. He also knows we cannot bear the heavy heartaches alone, so He calls us to release our suffering into His suffering so He can carry it for us. What compassion! What amazing love!

From grief to relief. That's the Jesus I know, love and serve.

Our hearts reflect real Christ-like compassion when we co-suffer with others. Don't ever be afraid of your brokenness or the brokenness of another because Christ is redeeming all broken things.

How are you walking The Broken Way today? Are you co-suffering with another believer? I'd love to hear from you.

Oh, and I highly recommend The Broken Way to read and definitely to live.

My Pleasure,
Melanie