Thursday, July 30, 2015

Winding Down and Gearing Up

Very little time is left as many prepare to go back to school, ending the lazy, slow, sweet summer days. We have arrived at this weird, in-between place of winding down and gearing up.

Summertime means lots of things to different people, but for most it brings adventure, smiles, and a little extra sleep. This summer has been a little off kilter for our family, but still has managed to bring on the good stuff: family beach trip, a break from piano lessons, more time with good friends, lots of reading, and unstructured time to rest and refocus.

But, moving into the summer of 2015 also marked many milestones achieved and many changes ahead.

Our son finished his Master's Degree today and will graduate in August. In a couple of weeks, our daughter will be moving into a condominium as she begins her junior year in college. And, we anticipate the selling of my parent's home, hopefully before the end of the year.

As the breezy, hot, lazy days of summer linger, we can become nervous and anxious about what the end of summer means and what is waiting for us up ahead. A new school year brings lots of unknowns for parents, students, and teachers, but whatever summertime means for you, we all wind down and gear up at some point.

I like to think of this in-between time as the close of one chapter and the beginning of a new one. The name of this book is, "My Story, His Glory." Our reading is really our living the detailed life adventures God is writing with our lives. Turning the page means we're moving past what is behind and moving forward to what lies ahead - the good future He has planned for us. (Jeremiah 29:11)

Hopefully, we're sitting on the edge of our seats in great anticipation of the wonders He has in store, praying and seeking Him with all of our hearts. (Jeremiah 29:12-13)

Wherever we are on our journey, we can rest assure that we have an omniscient (all-knowing), sovereign God who goes before us, who knows our future, and is paving the way for more life abundant, full of joy and grace.

Gearing up requires faith - a must to walk our spiritual journeys with a calm spirit, a clear mind, and a pure heart. It's imperative we are aware of the anxious thoughts that drift in to interrupt our peace of mind, causing us to shift our focus off of the things of Christ and onto things that cloud our vision, which may cause us to sin.

The key is abiding and trusting. Abiding in Christ and in His Word. (John 15) and trusting Him with all our hearts. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

You will keep him in perfect peace, Whose mind is stayed on You, Because he trusts in You. Trust in the LORD forever. (Isaiah 26:3-4 NKJV)

So, as we are smack dab in the middle of this in-between weird place, let's wind down by reflecting on what God has done in us and through us this summer, and let's gear up for the page turn with excitement and anticipation for what He will do in and through us this year.

My Pleasure,

Monday, July 27, 2015

What Time Is It?

Can you read the time on this microwave?

It's 11:11.

Several years ago, I was introduced to a magazine being circulated in our area called 11:11. As I read through a copy of this publication given to me by a friend for awareness sake, I found it to be unsettling in my spirit, and totally opposite from what I believe as a Christian and know to be biblically true.

Over the past several years, studying the amazing meanings of numbers and what they represent throughout Scripture has made me much more aware of them when they show up in everyday life.

For example, the numbers 3, 7 and 10 represent perfection and completion. 10 is representative of Jesus Christ, 3 represents the Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), and the number 7 also marks many time periods of completion and perfection throughout Scripture.

The number 11? Well, it represents chaos, confusion, and lies.

You can imagine my "ah-ha" moment as I thought about the 11:11 magazine.

The father of lies, confusion and chaos is Satan. He's crafty and lures us into his tangled web of lies by mixing a tad of truth with a whole lot of false information, causing doubt and confusion. He entices us with something that, on the surface, sounds good, and makes us feel good, drawing us in to take a "bite".

If we aren't grounded in the Word of God, abiding in Jesus Christ who is Truth, it's difficult to identify the enemy's crafty recipe for deception and destruction, much less be prepared to resist it.

A couple of times a week, the moment I glance at a digital clock whether in our home or in the car, the time is 11:11. I know what you're thinking, "Mel, that happens twice a day. So what?"

When I started seeking the Father's heart as to what He had for me to do with this deep desire to write, He used the 11:11 magazine to challenge me to print Truth; to show what Truth looks like when lived out in real life. It was a humbling thought and huge undertaking, but in obedience, I began a new chapter in my story for His glory. This huge step of faith became Living Real Magazine. Real life. Real faith. Real people. 

Many times since the beginning of Living Real, God has confirmed through people, His Word, and yes, the digital numbers on a clock, that I'm where He wants me to be.

Just this past week I was editing articles for the fall 2015 issue. As I finished editing, on two separate days, I glanced up from my computer to check the time on the microwave, and it was 11:11.

I know it sounds crazy, but this happens all the time.  I'm not a clock watcher, nor am I waiting around for the numbers to change to 11:11.

Our sweet, holy, personal, intimate Lord, who loves us ever so deeply wants us to be aware of His loving presence at all times. He chooses to speak to us through specific details in our stories throughout our day, and if we're paying close attention, we will recognize Him.

Noticing the 11:11 on a clock is confirmation that I'm combating the enemy's chaos, lies and confusion in this world with the Truth of Jesus Christ, giving me confidence, in a simple sort of way, to press on - affirming my calling to battle the 11s in our lives.

It also makes me smile!

Call me crazy if you'd like...

"...nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know Whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day." (2 Timothy 1:12 NKJV)

How is God affirming you?

My Pleasure,

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Feeling a Little Restless

For the first two days of this week I've been a little restless, a mite unsettled.

Maybe it's the triple digit temps and high humidity. Who wouldn't be restless in this heat?

Maybe it's all the unknowns hanging over our family. Life changing decisions can be daunting.

Maybe I'm bored, even though I have much to do.

Whatever it is, I'm definitely a prime candidate for the Bible study called Restless that I'm preparing to teach this fall.

What causes our spirits to be unsettled?

Sometimes something just doesn't seem right, but we can't put our finger on it.

Other times it could be a relationship that's unsettled, like struggling with an aging family member, a spouse who is on edge, a rebellious child, or walking on eggshells around a co-worker who could go off on you at any moment. Any host of things can cause our boats to rock.

My restlessness seems to be a result of a loss of focus and motivation. I'm supposed to be editing articles for the next issue of Living Real, but just can't settle in to get it done.

Maybe focusing on something else for a while might help.

I love to create a welcoming environment, whether it's in my home, or for a gathering elsewhere. So to take a little of the edge off, I got out of the house for a while to gather my thoughts and look for some creative inspiration.

I weaved in and out of the displays strolling through Hobby Lobby (one of my favorite stores). Since it was over a hundred degrees outside, I moseyed over to the Fall decor in hopes of jumpstarting some "cool" creative thoughts.  A good find could provide some much needed motivation.

Fall is my favorite season of the year. It brings vivid colored leaves, cooler temperatures hinting that winter is on its way (Yay!), the smells of cinnamon and pumpkin spice, football of course, and the countdown to Christmas - my absolute favorite holiday of the year!

I found a few good deals. (Don't worry Rick. They were 40% off!) I brought them home and tucked them in the closet so in a month or so, when I pull them out, I can get excited all over again.

Then, for just a small measure of pleasure, I added mini lights to my coffee bar. Simple, but very effective.

Hospitality is one of my spiritual gifts and when we use our gifts, something settles in our spirits.

Living with purpose and acting on that purpose brings a calming and a sense of peace.

Thank you, Jesus, for these little perks of pleasure that remind me I am serving You and living on purpose when I make my home welcoming for my family and friends. Help me to stay focused on You - the One who truly calms my restless heart, and to live out my purpose in all You've called me to. Amen.

Now, back to editing.

My Pleasure,

Monday, July 20, 2015


Our mouths were watering for a doughnut of choice and a flavorful cup of coffee, but as we drove into the parking lot, the workers were closing up shop.

What? Dunkin' Donuts closes at 9:00 pm on a Friday night? You've got to be kidding me! 

We frantically looked around and discovered an IHOP (International House of Pancakes) opened for business right down the street. We got back in our cars and wheeled on over to the next parking lot.

Ten women in dire need of caffeine and sugar do not need to be told, "We're closed."

As we sat sipping our coffee and eating our sugary treats, we began talking about our first session of the "Into the Deep" Women's Summer Experience taught by Denise H. Jones of Reclaiming Hearts Ministries.

We were challenged all weekend to go deeper with God - to trust Him to uncover the deeper truths of His Word, to take the next step into a deeper faith, towards deeper transformation, and striving for a deeper affect on people and our culture.

Exhilaration only comes with the unexpected.

Since I was not expecting to go to IHOP, I have reworded its acronym: Into His Omni Presence. (Omni meaning all.) We can experience the deeper, exhilarating wonders of God when we allow Him to be all present in our lives, surrendering our wants and desires to His better plan.

I remember as a child, my daddy would step into the deeper part of the lake, where it was over my head, and invite me to jump. Because I trusted my daddy to bring me no harm, I jumped. Sometimes I went under and surged back up to the surface with a startled look on my face. But in just moments, my surprise turned to exhilaration and I would yell, "Do it again, daddy! Do it again!"

For God's children to experience the exhilaration of pure, holy joy, we must first learn to trust Him wholeheartedly, and jump into the deep - realizing that His plan for us is good in all things; never causing us harm, but always giving us a future and real hope. (Jeremiah 29:11)

Many Christians I come in contact with are only skimming the surface of what God has for them. Some have their toes in the water and others are still sitting in fear by the water's edge refusing to go in at all. I sometimes want to scream, "Get in. You'll love it!"

But then I remember that God is constantly inviting us all from wherever we are to go deeper still.

During our teaching sessions, Denise took us deeper into the fishing boat scene in Luke chapter 5.

Peter, James, and John had been up all night fishing without even a sand trout to account for. Knowing their predicament, Jesus invites them to cast their nets in deeper water.

They did. They acted on faith. The result? There were so many fish that the weight of their catch began to break the nets. With more than they could handle, they called more friends over to come help them, spilling the joy of their faith over into their fellow fishermen's lives.

Our going deeper benefits those around us.

Peter didn't have to go deeper, though. He could have just waited for the next day's fishing excursion, but instead, he decided to trust Jesus with his lively hood and cast into the deep.

Exhilaration was the state of mind as the fishermen brought in the catch, but Peter also had a new state of heart. He saw Jesus as someone he wanted to know better, to go deeper with. Deeper in trust. Deeper in faith.

He asked Jesus to command him to step out of the boat and onto the water.

Jesus invites him to come deeper, and Peter steps out of the boat and onto the water in faith. Say what you want about Peter's doubting and sinking, but he was the only one who got out of the boat, and Peter's faith continues to benefit generation after generation, and will continue to until Jesus comes again.

Leaving everything behind, Peter surrendered and followed Jesus out into the deep with His whole heart. He only began to sink when he took his eyes off of Jesus and put them on his circumstances. When he called for Jesus to help him, Jesus didn't hesitate. He lifted him up.

Jesus is always inviting us to go deeper, to trust Him more, to walk with a stronger faith, discovering more about Him through the details of our lives.

What are we waiting for? Exhilaration awaits!

My Pleasure,

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Laid to Rest

"Laid to rest" means to bury.

July 12, 2015 marked 10 years that we laid to rest my hero, my daddy, signifying the completion of his earthly life. Removed from a visible place of physical significance and laid to rest with respect and dignity, he now resides in heaven, never to be forgotten.

Not only do we lay bodies to rest, but we lay objects, ideas, and even conversations to rest.

On Friday, July 10, in our great state of South Carolina, we laid to rest all three:

- An object which flew on our State House grounds for over 50 years
- An idea, which for some, symbolized racial hate
- A conversation as to whether or not the object should be removed

If you don't know what I'm talking about, you may have been laid to rest. For goodness' sake, check your pulse!

Our state immediately was thrust onto center stage in all of the news headlines following a horrendous massacre by an evil filled young man inside a church as people prayed and studied the Word of God together. The hate which had taken root in his heart and mind spewed violently from his mouth as he pulled the trigger, gunning down nine innocent South Carolinians...

after experiencing, for an hour, the exact opposite of what he believed people with dark colored skin were all about. 

In the moments following, the media circled SC's treasured city of Charleston like buzzards, smacking their lips in anticipation of more chaos and death to come.

Little did they know, Charleston is different from Baltimore and Ferguson. Notice I didn't say perfect, but different. There were no riots, no destruction of property, no unruly protests or ignoring the authority of the police force. Just the holding and hugging of those burdened with heavy grief, peaceful prayer vigils, and even hearts displaying grace and forgiveness.

Someone told me a few days ago that a group of pastors in Charleston, shortly following the incident, walked up to a group of protestors seeking to fuel more hate and, with great courage, shut them down.

The media and the world witnessed a community rallying together with prayer, hugs, tears and deep Christ-like love.

You see, this wasn't the scene the world was expecting. My state sought to show sympathy in the midst of tragedy, compassion in time of crisis, and the immeasurable love of God to those hurting. Anyone expecting anything different dropped their jaws in awe and wonder.

THIS is the South Carolina I know and love!

As the Confederate flag conversation ignited again after this senseless tragedy based on race, the conversation was heated on both sides, fueled by passion for and against the removal of the flag.

But when all was said and done, just 21 days after the massacre, our state did the right thing. 

The Confederate flag was removed.

Not because the flag killed anyone, but because for many people it has been an offensive, hurtful reminder of a heart disease called hate.

South Carolinians as a whole agreed to stay calm, to remain civil, and to show the world that the destruction of people and property never accomplish anything good.

Evil was stopped in its ugly tracks for at least a few moments as, in silence, the flag was removed from a place of honor. Have we overcome all evil? Of course not, but we moved a symbol of offense from a significant place of honor to a resting place with dignity and respect. It now resides in The Confederate History museum, never to be forgotten.

An object, idea, and conversation were laid to rest in SC, but God calls all of us to lay our own sin, including hate, prejudices, and unforgiveness at the feet of His Son, Jesus Christ.

To be forgotten.

That's real freedom and real peace!

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus. (Hebrews 12:1-2a NIV)

My Pleasure,

Monday, July 13, 2015

Sunday Scribbles

So much ink spilled onto note paper as the layers of Truth unfolded before me.

One of the points made from Philippians 4:1-7 in the sermon was:

Rejoice: filling with joy even in the midst of pain

My scribbles led to reflecting on what I've learned through counting. Counting gifts.

To be filled with real joy, we must empty of self.

Our spiritual journey is all about leaking self to fill with Christ.

The more self spills, the more Jesus fills. 

As He fills, joy increases.

He must increase, but I must decrease. (John 3:30 NKJV)

Christ was and is our example of how this works.

Christ leaked out ALL of himself, to take on ALL of our sin.
The wages of sin? Sacrificial death. Jesus, our selfless, sacrificial Lamb.

Hands and feet pierced with spikes, wearing a thorn of crowns mocking His kingly status, hanging in shame on a cross marked with our deserved suffering, our deserved pain.

All for a Love beyond compare.

Bearing our sin burden, His blood spilled, emptied out to fill us up.

Spear thrust into His side.

Water spilling out after death.

Self leaks through suffering.

Life-giving water flows into deserted places. 

In emptying self, joy fills.

...looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2 NKJV)

Jesus knew His suffering would only be for a little while, therefore, He endured. Our suffering is only for a little while, therefore, we can endure! For the joy set before us is salvation complete - forever in the painless, tearless, sinless, glorious presence of our Lord and King!

My Pleasure,

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Enjoy the Ride

For Mother's Day, I asked for a bike.

On Mother's Day, I received a picture of the bike I asked for, meaning, we were going shopping for a bike.

A beach cruiser.

I don't live at the beach, but I wanted a simple bike, with no bells and whistles, to ride for pleasure and exercise.

One of my simple pleasures growing up was riding my bike.

With the wind blowing through my hair, the sun shining on my face, the pumping of the pedals faster and harder, I was determined to reach my goal - to coast along that familiar stretch of road where I could relax a little and just enjoy the ride.

 The day finally arrived to go bike shopping.

My husband and I shopped around on the eve of July 4th and found a pretty lavender cruiser. Yes, the kind Mrs. Gultch rode in the Wizard of Oz.

I added the wicker basket and cup holder, but was told by my husband that the addition of a "Toto" would have to wait.

I. love. my. new. ride!

The pushing through of life can be like the pedaling of a bicycle. We push harder and pedal faster in the hopes of coasting - just for a little while - to reach that moment where we can catch our breath, relax, and rest.

In reality, we hardly ever catch a break, much less, coast.

Here are some examples:

- Just when you think it's time to coast, something implodes. With the urgency of a firefighter, you rush in to put out the flames. Before you know it, you walk away from the last smoldering ember realizing the day has also melted away. You conclude you're too exhausted to even relax now.

- You've finished up a report early. As you hit SEND and begin to exhale a sigh of relief, a new email pops up in your Inbox. It's from your boss. Attached is the next report deadline - tomorrow morning! You say to yourself, "So much for leaving early today."

- At home, you've just finished mopping, and you're ready to relax with a tall refreshing glass of southern sweet tea and a good book, only to turn around and knock the glass off the kitchen counter. It's like a slow motion moment on television as the tea and shards of glass are splattered onto your once spotless kitchen floor, and your book remains on the coffee table waiting to be read another day. You say out loud, "Are you kidding me? When will I ever catch a break?"

Although distractions like these may keep us from coasting, we must never allow them to keep us from enjoying the ride.

 Living real life as a joy ride is a choice.

We must choose to give up our unrealistic expectations of how we think life should be.

Life is not wearing a size 0 sparkling white wedding gown, cozying up to our prince charming of perfection, riding off into the picture perfect sunset in a giant, pumpkin shaped golden carriage, drawn by six bleached white horses wearing baby blue plume feathers between their ears.

Life is a joy ride with unexpected twists and turns. Kind of like riding a roller coaster in the dark. Scary and exciting all at the same time.

God never allows the ride to start without Him by our sides and in our hearts.

God has put our joyride together, and He knows what's coming down the pike. He knows the fingernail marks He'll need to endure as we press into Him, the ear-piercing screams and the times we'll hold our breaths in fear. Our ride is teaching us to trust, lift up our hands, and with pure uninhibited joy, surrender to the Joy Giver.

God sifts through the hard only allowing the unexpected into our lives as He deems fit for our own good and His ultimate glory.

Read the life stories in the Bible about Noah, Moses, Abraham, David, Joseph, Rahab, Esther, Ruth, Job, John the Baptist, Mary and Joseph, John the Beloved disciple, Paul, etc.

Every life God creates has the potential of choosing to love and know Him well. Each of these listed, and many more since, have trusted Christ with the very details of their life. That deep rooted love, knowledge and trust has led multitudes of people to risk it all to proclaim and spread the redeeming love of the Father. It's a story worth telling.

So, instead of pedaling harder and faster only to be disappointed in your own expectations, join the story God is writing with your life. Relinquish the glory pen and surrender it all to Him.

Let go and enjoy the ride.

My Pleasure,

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Some Sand, Sun, and Salt

A week at the beach always provides me with sweet refreshment.  Rest and relaxation mixed with a little sand, sun, and salty ocean air set the perfect stage for self reflection and spiritual renewal.

Stepping out of the familiar, fast-paced rhythm of our daily and into a new slower, methodic rhythm can reenergize our souls.

Under the canopy of the ocean breeze, I reveled in the low-key, lazy days. As I hunkered down with a good book, I breathed a little deeper and sat a little longer at the water's edge soaking in some sunshine and much needed Vitamin D.

Because my energy was depleted and my drive to move forward was in a lull, God provided just what I needed to put me back on track. As I surrendered to the easy flowing rhythm of the simple life, my dreams and goals slowly began to resurface.

Since returning from vacation, I've been drawn to several promises I found tucked inside a very familiar passage of Scripture.

Nestled inside the frequently quoted instructions from Paul in Philippians 4:4-9 are 3 simple promises: (Promises are highlighted in red for emphasis, NIV)

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. 
The Lord is near.  (vs. 4-5)
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, 
with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts 
and your minds in Christ Jesus. (vs. 6-7)
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable,--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me--put it into practice. 
And the God of peace will be with you. (vs. 8-9)

Packed in these five verses of life instructions are powerful promises for the Christian to cling to:

- God's presence is with us.
- The peace of God will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
- The peace of God will be with us.

We don't need to worry or be anxious. We can rejoice always, give thanks in everything, and think on things most excellent because we live in the presence and with the peace of our Lord.

On many occasions, Scripture gives account of Jesus retreating to be alone with His Father to practice what He taught. He separated Himself from the daily to replenish His spirit, His strength, and His mind. Why would we be any different? To live like Jesus, we need to retreat with the One who IS NEAR and gives us the strength to press on toward the goal - the goal of becoming more like Christ - and the peace to trust Him in all things.

I hope you are able to retreat this summer. Make sure you have some alone time to replenish what has been emptied from you. Take time to read for fun, to study and meditate on the Word of God, to write some letters, meet up with friends you haven't seen in a while, pray, listen, and just rest.

Go off the grid - no social media for an extended period of time. You will be refreshed and ready to face the future with purpose and power because of time well spent in the Father's presence.

You may even decide you need to retreat more than once a year!

My Pleasure,

Monday, July 6, 2015

Facing Life's Disappointments With a Heart of Thanksgiving

Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:16 NIV)

All of life is grace - a gift we cannot earn or achieve; a gift we cannot contain with our hands; a gift that is constant and flowing all at the same time. Grace is always all good even in the midst of circumstances that we deem all bad.

Life is full of disappointments, hurts, grief, and hard times. But it's when we walk through these dark times that God tweaks our vision to see His hand more clearly.

A few months ago, our daughter, Madison, spearheaded the idea of joining a mission team and going halfway around the world, taking the Gospel to the children - the children her best friend, McKinsey, fell head over heels in love with on her first trip to Kampala, Uganda. But because of a tragic car accident, McKinsey went on to heaven before she could finish her nursing degree and return to Uganda to become a full time missionary.

Over two hundred t-shirts later, careful preparation with all t's crossed and i's dotted, shots, passports, funds raised, and much prayer, the time finally arrived to begin packing.

The first thing we were going to pack was her passport. But as we began to search, the passport was nowhere to be found. It had only arrived a couple of weeks earlier and had not left our house. With the house turned upside down, inside out, it seemed to have vanished into thin air.

Time was not on our side when we made this devastating discovery. We did everything possible to get her another one, but to no avail. So, this past Thursday, three of Madi's best friends and Kinsey's mom boarded a plane without our daughter. She was left behind.

How do you explain to a 20 year old that this deep disappointment is a grace gift and a part of God's good plan?

You don't. Well, not at first. The tears are a natural response to the heartache and must be allowed to flow for healing to begin. A mother's shoulder is a safe place for our children to cry and to receive sweet comfort, no matter their ages. The disappointment and sadness must be allowed to be felt and expressed, but carefully guarding against anger and bitterness taking root in a fragile, broken heart.

It's always in the hard and dark times of life where we learn the most about how great God is, and that He always has our best interest at heart. It's always harder to practice the faith we claim to have, believing and trusting in our good and faithful God, when the details of God's grace story include disappointments. But if we never faced suffering and hard times, we would never grow in our faith, nor would we ever think we even need the strength of Christ to face every day.

The lesson I see as we are less than a week out is that none of these close friends or Kinsey's mom would have even considered this trip if it weren't for Madison planting the seed and working so hard to make this trip a reality. What a blessing. The fruit of her labor is that they were able to go.

Learning to look for God's hand in the hard lessons of life are not learned in a day. Sometimes it takes many years, or even a lifetime, to understand the deep love of God for His children to the point of complete and total trust. I'm praying that my adult children learn this lesson early, and to be grateful in all things.

We may never know all of the "whys", but we can cling to God's promises, His protection, His faithfulness, His love, mercy and His amazing grace.

My Pleasure,