Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A prisoner of Hope...

I spent Christmas on a cruise ship.  Now, that is one statement I never thought I'd make.  But now I can say I did.  And I can also say that I made it through my first Christmas without Tony.

We departed on December 23rd, the 9 month mark from Tony's passing.  As we left the port, I couldn't help but notice a ship at the dock with the name "Atlantic Hope" on its side.  The entire ship was bright orange, it could not be missed.  I wondered what it held inside, but that really did not matter, its name was enough for me...Atlantic Hope.

Peering out the window from my room on the ship, I began to ask God whether this time on the great open sea would bring just that...Hope on the Atlantic.

By dinner that evening, I started to question what in the world I was thinking when I said I wanted to go on a cruise for Christmas.  Certainly, I had not considered the herds of people who would be joining us on board, herds who spent most of their time grazing at the unlimited selection and quantity of food.  I mean, who really needs access to pizza and ice cream 24 hours a day?

But it was too late.  I was stuck.  And so was my wonderful mom, dad, and brother, who love me so much to follow me on my wish to "do something different" for Christmas.  We made the best of it.  We snickered at Daddy being called Santa.  He finally had to take his Santa hat off when parents started asking him to explain to their kids why Santa was on a cruise when he was supposed to be making toys at the North Pole!

We spent Christmas Eve in the Bahamas.  We ventured all through Atlantis until we finally made our way to the sliver of public beach access.  And they call that Paradise Island?  We got our white Christmas, though, complete with white sand and foam from crystal blue water.  God gave me a big belly laugh when I had mom pose for a picture, and she was almost toppled over by a wave.

By this point, I had all but forgotten it was Christmas Eve, until Michael and I strolled down the streets of Nassau with Christmas music blarring all around.  I was really missing Tony and really missing home.  That night we got all dressed up for dinner, took a nice family photo, then attempted to endure less than stellar evening shows on board.  I had enough by 10 p.m. and darted to the room.  I felt as if I was a prisoner on the ship.

It was then I opened my Bible to Zechariah 9:9-12, verses on the prophecy of Christ's coming:

"Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey... He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth. As for you, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will free your prisoners from the waterless pit. Return to your fortress, you prisoners of hope; even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you. "

There it was, "prisoners of hope." 
I had always thought of being a prisoner as a bad thing, of being confined, of being at the mercy of another to set me free.  But a prisoner of hope, that doesn't sound all that bad.  And as I thought about it further, that is exactly what I was - a prisoner on this Atlantic Hope, from which I could not escape.
I spent Christmas Day laying out on the "serenity deck," a kid-free zone on the back of the ship.  My view on all sides was the Atlantic Ocean, nothing else.  I was surrounded by it.  And I was surrounded by Hope.
I could not escape it.
What a great place to be on a day when the Ultimate Hope entered the world.  And a prisoner of that Hope I will gladly be for the rest of my life.  For in that Hope, I find freedom, and joy, and life abundant, and all that I could ever need to persevere under the trials of this life.
I ended Christmas day witnessing a beautiful sunset.  I sat in awe as, yet again, I peered out my window.  It looked as if the sun was melting into the Atlantic, like the Light of this world becoming one with the ocean of Hope.
So, Hope for the Holidays, I have found it in the "life unexpected" moments.  I am so very grateful that it has carried me through these last 6 weeks.
Now I move forward to my new word, my new focus, for 2011, "Restore."
Dearly loved, with Hope,

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

HOPE for the Holidays: Mary

My first name, Mary, comes from my grandmother, my dad's mom.  She passed away a couple of years before I was born.

I am proud to carry her name, hearing so much about her growing up.  If I could go back in time to meet any one person, it would be her.  She, too, was a Christ follower.

She, too, travelled a hard road.  I didn't know about the woes of her first marriage, prior to her marrying my grandfather, until after my own tragedy.  The circumstances were quite different from mine, yet the aftermath very similar.

Her life was turned upside down.

And yet, it became beautiful again.

And I am beginning to see hints of beauty in mine too.

Sure, I'm still knee-deep in my grief and I've still got a long way to go.  Yet, God is at work orchestrating and arranging amazing things in my life, as only He can do.

I leave you with my favorite verses of the Christmas story, the words of Mary in Luke 1:38:
 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.”

I, too, am the Lord's servant and am open to whatever He has in store for me.

Dearly loved,
Mary Melissa

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Christ without the "mas"

Stick a fork in me, cause I am done.  I am so over Christmas.  I am.  I just am.

Call me Scrooge, call me whatever you like.  I'm just saying.  At least I'm being honest.

I walked away tonight from yet another service project I have delved into this holiday season.  I'm grateful for the opportunity to serve others in need.  It is at the very core of what God calls us each to do.

But as I looked into the faces of helpless women and children, I realized that there is no amount of goodwill to make up for my loss.  There is no amount of goodwill to make up for whatever they've lost.

There just isn't.

Because it is not human goodwill they, nor I, need.  No amount of Christmas cheer.  No amount of anything of this earth.

Instead, it is Christ we need.

Christ alone.  Christ without the "mas."

We hear so often the cheesy phrase, "Jesus is the reason for the season."  Well, for me, Jesus is the reason that I live and breathe, regardless of the season.

And to be honest, He doesn't need presents, and songs, and over-eating, and parties, and all the Christmas craziness to be celebrated.

He really just wants our hearts.

And He's got mine, that is for sure.  I can say beyond a doubt that I am more in love with Christ this Christmas than ever before.  Kind of ironic for me to feel that way during a year where I can't even bring myself to muster a Christmas song.

He knows my heart.  That's the best gift I could ever offer.

Dearly loved, and celebrating Christ,

Monday, December 13, 2010

Hope for the Holidays: A Day of Service

"Serving people always takes priority over selfish ambition."

Those are the words of Tony, written on his list of personal goals.  I was reminded of them yesterday as I reflected on our Day of Service in honor of his birthday.

I must admit that I actually made it the entire day without any tears.  I wondered if that was okay.  Shouldn't I be sad, shouldn't I be a mess, because I'm celebrating his birthday without him?

My mom comforted me with her words..."maybe because the day was such a reflection of Tony's spirit, it brought you joy and happiness instead of tears."

And a true reflection, the day certainly was.

About 40 of us gathered that morning at City of Refuge, despite the freezing temperatures.  Bruce, the Executive Director, painted an inspiring picture of the vision and mission of this organization Tony believed in- to provide life-changing services for the lost, the last and the least in Atlanta.  We went on a brief tour of the facility and then divided into groups to sort food and scrub a large section of concrete flooring.

Yes, that is what we did.  We sorted food donations into boxes.  These boxes are all some families have to eat for an entire month.  For some, it is their Christmas "feast."

The floor that was scrubbed will soon be stained and sealed.  Tuesday it will hold hundreds beds for homeless women and children in need of emergency shelter from the cold.

Sure, our work wasn't glamorous.  It certainly wasn't your typical birthday celebration.

But we practiced what Tony so strongly sought after in his own life.  We practiced prioritizing service over selfish ambition. 

And God met us there.  He even told us "hi."  As we finished up serving, snowflakes began to fall.  That is surely a rarity this time of year in Atlanta. 

Tony's birthday wish is now complete.  And I am truly grateful to the friends and family who gave of themselves to make it possible.

Dearly loved,

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Birthday week...

It's Tony's birthday week. 

Well, his actual birthday is not until Sunday, the 12th.  I did not know there was such a thing as a birthday week until I met Tony, but I have come to love it.  Apparently it is a family tradition to celebrate the entire week before a birthday.

This should be the time we help him usher in his 36th year. 

Instead we remember his 35 previous years.

I made a really big deal out of his 35th birthday last December.  We were gearing up for his intensive MBA program at Emory where he would not get to see his family and friends very much over the following 16 months.  He actually spent his birthday at orientation for classes.  I planned a series of surprises, based on a list he gave me of things he would like ~ dinners with small groups of friends, skating with the Sansburys, a big family bowling party, and a special date night for us.  He requested no gifts, but to sponsor a family  for Christmas instead.  So I had his family bring toys for 2 adopted boys who had a very nice holiday, thanks to my selfless husband.

The best gift of all was the countless voicemails he received with the absolute worst voices singing "Happy Birthday."  Good belly laughs for Tony and payback for friends and family who endured his silly songs on their birthdays over the years.  Oh, to have him sing to us again!

The final item on his birthday wish list that had yet to be fulfilled was a day for his friends and family to serve at a homeless shelfter together. 

Well, my love, your list is going to officially be complete.  Over 50 of us will be at City of Refuge on the morning of your birthday to put together boxes of food for the last, the lost and the least in Atlanta.  Several others will be serving in their own communities. And I know your servant's spirit will meet us there.

I have been clinging to Hebrews this week, so I leave you with these verses that remind me of Tony:

Hebrews 10: 19-25: "Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching."

Dearly loved, happy birthday Tony,