Monday, January 31, 2011


I've been thinking a lot about the word "home" lately.  With a new job and an incredibly long commute, it seems I am coming face to face with another reality of my grieving need to move out on my own again.

Part of me is excited about getting established in a new place; most of me is scared, just plain fearful.  My home will never look and feel like it once did; an important part of that home is no longer on this earth.

I cannot begin to express my gratitude for having my parents home to turn to in my great hour of need.  The night after Tony died, I arrived there with only the clothes on my back.  And by the next day, my dad made sure I had a bed and a room set up.  My parents did whatever it took to prepare a place for me. Just as they had for 22 years before I "flew the nest," they once again gave me a home.

To me, home means that I have a place to call my own, that there is a level of acceptance and comfort, that it is a refuge from the trials and strains of life.  Home ensures that there is room for me.

I was overcome with tears recently while reading these words of Jesus from John 14:1-4:

“'Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.'”
I've read these verses so many times; and honestly, I always pictured some cheesy Barbie dream house mansion nestled on a large puffy cloud with long-bearded, long-haired Jesus waving from the front door. 
It wasn't until I intimately knew one of those rooms' inhabitants, my Tony, that my view changed.  Jesus reminds me in these verses that there is a home for me in heaven; and it's home because there is a room with my name on it. 

And in that assurance, I find comfort; I rest.  I don't really need to know what my room will look like; I know it is more than I could ever fathom or comprehend on this earth.

It is my greatest desire that everyone chooses, by faith in Jesus, to have a room with his or her name on it too. There's certainly plenty of room.

Dearly loved, and longing for home,

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Desperate...for God

I've been reading "Forgotten God: Reversing our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit" by Francis Chan.  One question he brought up really challenged I live desperate for the Holy Spirit in my life?

Am I desperate for Him every moment of every day, regardless of my circumstances, regardless of whether I feel I need Him?  Do I awake each morning and go through my day completely dependent on God, and God alone?

It seems that each time in my life when there is a major change, I find myself coming back to the words of Moses in Exodus 33.  God called Moses to lead His people to the promised land; and I just love their bold exchange in verses 33:15-18:

"Then Moses said to him, 'If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?' And the LORD said to Moses, 'I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.' Then Moses said, 'Now show me your glory.'"

Moses was desperate for God.  He knew his life depended on Him.

So in this new season I find myself meditating,  "God, I am desperate for you."  And, I pray this is my constant request from now forward, no matter if I am in a season of change or a season of stability.  I boldly ask the Holy Spirit to reign in me, to work in me, to move through me, to do things in me and through me that I could never accomplish on my own, to make less of me and more of Him, to make the impossible possible in my life.  I want to live a God-sized mission, God-sized dreams. 

I am desperate for God.

Desperate.  And I don't ever want to change.

Dearly loved, desperate,

Saturday, January 22, 2011

It's my birthday...

And I'll cry if I want to.

I certainly did 6 years ago when I turned 25.  I cried because my life was not where I thought it "should" be at that ideal age I had always aspired to be.

My prospects for a husband...none.
My hot-shot career...70+ hour a week, non-profit mania.
My cool digs in the city...settled in the suburbs.

Man, if I only knew how care-free my life was back then.  That year turned out to be a life-changing year- I met some of my very dearest friends.  I took a less-demanding job at Brenau; and my house became a haven for my first small group through my church.  I also met Tony that year, though it would be a year and a half later before we dated.  All in all, a very good year, really no reason to cry about its onset.

This year, now this year I have a pretty good reason to bawl my eyes out.  And no one would blame me.

My biggest birthday fan is not here to celebrate with me.  My Tony rang in a new year of my life more than even my family.  He started planning months in advance to pull off just the perfect birthday week.  The first year, we had only been dating a couple of months, and he quite honestly almost scared me away with his extravagance.  I had no idea how crazy he was about me!  Over the 4 birthdays we were together, I had everything from a chocolate surprise party with friends, a special date night with Tony in a tux, flowers, flowers, and more flowers, snowmobiling in Colorado, and for my 30th last year, he arranged a family surprise party as well as a girls night with all my closest girlfriends, including a surprise from 2 from out of town, to start a new birthday tradition - Korean Kareoke.

Yep, that's right, Korean Kareoke; I have not laughed so hard with my girls since college.  And my sweet friends have made plans to do it again - I can't think of a better way to celebrate a very hard birthday.  Oh, and I'm also celebrating with pedicures with mom, a massage from KK, a family party, not to mention the hundreds of Facebook posts.  Wow, I feel so loved.  I am so blessed.

So, yes, a few tears may come, they may not.  I'm sure to laugh a lot too.  I'll just take life as it comes, as God provides and leads, for surely that is the best way to live.

Dearly loved, at 31,

Monday, January 17, 2011

The mountain...

I could see Stone Mountain covered in snow from a distance today.  It is a sight I have never seen in my almost 31 years as an Atlanta native.

Folks have been so respectful about not mentioning Stone Mountain around me.  And I am grateful.  I still find it hard to tell my story to those who don't know what happened to my Tony.  By the look on their faces, it is also hard to hear.

I was in a holding area at the Stone Mountain Park Police station when I was told the news about Tony.  Shortly after, I walked outside and I immediately shielded my eyes from the granite mountain towering before me.  This landmark of my hometown, my Atlanta, was no longer a welcome sight. 

I rode away from the mountain that day, resolved I would never go back. I was even entertaining crazy thoughts about having to move from Atlanta because the mountain could be seen from everywhere. 

Turns out, I had to face it much sooner that I wanted.  The funeral home ended up being right at its foot, with a clear shot of the top of Stone Mountain.  I was sick to my stomach when I realized we were so close to it, after we had made the final arrangements.  It was too late to change.

And God saw my pain.

The day of Tony's memorial service, there was a cloud covering the entire mountain as I arrived with my family.  It could not been seen, not even a faint hint through the dense fog.  I was so relieved.

After what was an amazing, God-inspired memorial to my husband, I walked outside to see the sun shining.  I intentionally looked back up at the mountain again as we were driving away; it was now in clear sight.  I turned to my mom and said, "The mountain doesn't haunt me anymore."

As my step-father-in-law so eloquently reminded us during the memorial, Tony loved Stone Mountain.  It would pain him to know it brought such horrible memories to mind.

Still, I may never go back there.  But it is impossible not to see it from afar as it towers the horizon of my city.  I see it almost every time I drive down I-85 from my parents house to Atlanta.

Some days I gaze upon it and smile as I think of Tony.  Some days I look on it in confusion and despair.  Some days the Lord knows I just cannot stand seeing it, so it is hidden behind the clouds.  Some days it shines forth with reds and oranges from the sunrise or sunset; other days it is gloomy, dark and gray. 

Regardless, it is always there.

I will never forget it.

Yet, my prayer over time is that it spurs inside of me bold moments of faith and hope, instead of harsh memories of tears and utter helplessness.

Jesus says to his disciples in Matthew 17:20, "Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you."

Lord Jesus, I know Stone Mountain cannot physically move, though some days I wish it would.  Instead, I pray you use it to remind me that nothing, NOTHING, is impossible through faith in You.  I leave this mountain and how You use it in my life in Your capable hands.  Amen.

Dearly loved, Atlantan,

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Leaving Brenau, following my dream...

"I just want to do the God thing for my life. I don’t want to live a mediocre life. I want to live the life of my dreams. I want to live a life constantly challenging myself, and growing, and learning. I want to love to learn. I want to live a life as an example. I want to leave the world better than I found it. I want to learn how to love, and how to be loved." - an excerpt from Tony's journal - Jan. 2, 2002

I came across this journal entry a few weeks ago as I was preparing to announce the above decision - to leave Brenau to pursue full-time ministry.

Really, it speaks for itself.  I have Tony to thank for that.

Some are shocked that I am leaving a place I love so much.  Some are not.  Some completely understand my decision.  Some wonder what I am doing.

And my simple answer...I'm following my dream.

Even before Tony went onto glory, I have always answered the question, "What would you do as a career if you had no financial, relational, or geographic constraints?" ...very easily, ministry.

Now I didn't know for sure what all that ministry would entail, who I would minister to, where I would go, what I would do.

But the idea of waking each day and working at a place whose sole mission was to further the Kingdom of God just always gave me goose bumps.

Now, I am fully aware that we as followers of Jesus are to further His Kingdom no matter where we work or what we do.  But God does call those who are drawn into full-time ministry.  And I am fully confident that all my past experiences have led me to this new opportunity.

I will be the assistant to the campus pastor at Buckhead Church.  The position is a perfect mix of my administrative skill set and my relational bent, all thrown in with some blogging, some social media, some special projects, and so much more.  Truly, God scripted just the right job description in just the right environment.

I am so excited.

And those 4 words really don't do my excitement justice.

It is one more way God continues to restore my life through yet another "life unexpected" moment.  I wasn't even looking for a new career path, yet God dropped it in my lap anyway.

For all my Brenau family, please know my departure has no reflection on my affinity for my alma mater and the countless relationships God has placed in my life there.  It is certainly bittersweet to leave a place that has had a profound impact on my personal and professional development, starting way back as a soft-spoken, shy freshman over 12 years ago.  I left Brenau the first time as a graduate compelled to give back to an institution who invested so much in me.  I leave Brenau a second time with those exact same sentiments.  Thank you.

I believe Psalm 40:1-5 sums up my heart so well:
"I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the LORD and put their trust in him. Blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods. Many, LORD my God, are the wonders you have done, the things you planned for us. None can compare with you; were I to speak and tell of your deeds, they would be too many to declare."

Dearly loved, and always a Brenau girl,

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Snow days...

Ahh, snow days...even a hint of those words usually makes my heart skip a beat.  I just love an unexpected break from the bussle of life.  And I'm like a little child in awe of the bright white reflecting from the window as I awake to a winter wonderland that first morning after it snows.

I say usually because these days, seemingly unending, this week have made me miss Tony even more.  Sure I love being home with my family, but what I'd really love is to have some extra time with him.

We enjoyed our fair share of snow, that's for sure.  I recall running out to play in it our first winter after we were married, the only time Tony ever threw anything at me.  He hit me with hard-packed snowballs, I retaliated with soft-packed ones that exploded right in his face.  I'm pretty sure I won.

I had never been out west to see snow until after we were married.  He planned a week-long vacation to Colorado so I could learn to snowboard.  I failed miserably.  Still, he set aside his dissappointment to take me on a birthday excursion I will never forget - snowmobiling. It was as if we were in an enchanted forest, snow up to my knees, trees towering above, breath-taking views.  I loved it.

We were given a special gift of several snow days this time last year, just shortly after our move into our new home in Atlanta.  I recall being so excited when even Emory cancelled classes one day so that we could spend that time together.  We spent most of the day snoozing, until we would hear the sound of squalling tires outside.  We peered through the blinds to watch our neighbors trying to drive up the hill to get out of our neighborhood, covered with a solid sheet of ice.

And we'd laugh.  Truly it was not our finest moment of "love thy neighbor" but laugh at thy neighbor instead.  Back to sleep we would go, until the next car came sliding through.

I hope these precious moments are frozen in my memory forever.

Dearly loved, and hoping the snow melts soon,

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

He restores my soul

"He restores my soul." ~ Ps. 23:3

Oh 2011. I have never anticipated a new year like this one.

I woke up on New Year's Day proclaiming, "I'm still standing."

And I literally stood on 1-1-11 so long that my feet hurt and my back ached. I spent that day, and the following 3 days, serving over 21,000 college students at Passion in downtown Atlanta. And through those very, very long hours, God's spirit constantly whispered, "I will restore you Melissa."

I take no credit for my ability to not only still be standing, but to also be serving. It is my Jesus, my Jesus alone who enables me.

He alone is greater and stronger and higher.

And those exact words were sung the very first song of the conference. Picture all of Phillips Arena packed out with 18 to 22 year olds crying out to God with everything in them. There are no words.

I sat in awe, tears welling in my eyes, as I bowed my head and thanked my God that He loves me so intimately, so personally, that He meets me just where I am and restores me with not just simple whispers or tiny hellos but with indescribable moments, truly glimpses of heaven on earth.

Earlier that day, I was so touched, as was the rest of my team, to work alongside men being restored out of homelessness, as we collected thousands of socks and towels for local organizations in Atlanta, one of which will be City of Refuge.  My friend Karen and I even started a cheer with one of the men, "Socks and towels," something I truly never expected to find so much joy in.

That was just day 1. Day 2 brought a confirmation of my prayer for restoration in 2011. There in the "Go Center," part of an arena set up with organizations working to restore the poor all over the world, was a huge hello from the Lord - free-standing red letters as tall as me - RESTORE.

It was like those letters were covered and made red by the blood of Jesus. His pain for my restoration.  His pain for the restoration of the broken people of the world.

The last 2 days were truly a blur. I recall lots of laughter shared with old and new amazing friends, lots of crowd control as we directed seas of college students, and lots of moments blown away by Jesus.  I will never forget the late evenings after worship when the students were instructed to leave in silence, complete silence.  And 21,000 college students took God seriously enough to obey.  That, to me, gives me hope that a generation is rising up to go further and farther than ever before for the name of Jesus.

I left Passion utterly exhausted, yet so incredibly grateful to have poured out all of me for God's glory.  I crawled into bed last night, opened my Bible to the concordance and searched for the word "restore."  And I came to this passage, my prayer for 2011, from 1 Peter 5:10-11:

"And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen."

Dearly loved,