Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A Page is Turned...

“There comes a time when you must quit talking to God about the mountain in your life and start talking to the mountain about God.” - Mark Batterson, author of The Circle Maker

"Melissa, how are you these days?" That's the most common question I'm getting recently. So much so that I thought I'd just make it the subject of my latest post.

This quote above sums it up so well. So very well.

I came across it this summer as I furiously read the book I quoted above. It's timing was perfect.

I can honestly say... it's a new day, a new season. A page has been turned in my story.

And the theme surrounding it's fresh, new chapter is ... freedom.
I have never felt more free in my entire life.
Only Jesus.

He's orchestrated pivotal circumstances over the last 6 months that have led to this freedom. I am so in awe. I am so incredibly grateful. It brings tears to my eyes to just think about how faithful my great God is. He is IT for me. He is IT.

As I've written before, I've had many a conversation with my God as I drive down I-85 South from my parents' house. I know the exact point when Stone Mountain is in clear sight. My drives over the last few months have been at either sunset or sunrise. The sky around the mountain is stunning. Just stunning.

Since passing the 3 year mark of Tony's death this past March, I've noticed a shift in my words, my very attitude. I used to assume the role of victim to the mountain that was so instrumental in shattering my very life; I was quite honest in telling the Lord how I felt about it. Some days I wished an earthquake would just swallow it up.


Now I find myself in a posture of gratitude. I look at that mountain and can't help but tell it about my God. My very personal, gentle, healer God, who has never once abandoned me on this very hard journey. My great God who continues to restore me and my very life.

I am redeemed.
I've been set free.
I am dearly loved by the Creator of the Universe.

I am overwhelmed by what He has done and will do in my life. That's how I'm doing these days.

Dearly loved, talkin' to that mountain,

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Everything She Had

I shared in my last post about how for one Ugandan widow, the story of Jesus washing his disciples feet came alive as we washed hers. Our team experienced the Scriptures come alive as well.

We wrapped up our Sunday afternoon with these precious women by taking photos outside the small school house. The widows immediately wanted to see their photos, to see themselves; we gathered around my iPhone, I zoomed in on each of their beautiful faces. We communicated through laughter and smiles. I thought about how often I quickly delete or untag myself from photos I don't think are "good" of myself. My sweet new friends were just happy to capture the moment, to see themselves; they did not critique their imperfections. 

I have a lot to learn.
This was just the first lesson.

I felt a gentle tap on my shoulder. As I turned around, I was greeted by a warm smile and an arm extended. In this sweet widow's hand were a bag of eggs.

She spoke in English, "You are my friend. I want you to have these."


We hugged; I thanked her. I wasn't sure what I was going to do with them, but I knew I just needed to accept them. I later learned that eggs are not easily accessible or affordable in this community. She had given me a precious gift.

That was just the first one.

The next day, a beautiful widow named Angela visited us. We were surrounded by children who we were enrolling in the 410 Bridge Child Sponsorship Program. She smiled and proudly presented us with sugar cane from her garden. Another simple, yet precious gift. Our team took a break; we watched as our driver cut the sugar cane up into bite-sized pieces. We became the brunt of laughter as we learned from the children how to chew it to get the best taste. It was fun; it was delicious!

It was the best she had to give us.

In the days following, anytime we were in the village, a widow walked to find us and bring us a gift from her garden or farm. Avocados, casava, and more eggs. They were each such kind, sincere gestures.

Still, I had only begun to grasp their profound significance.

It all came together for me on one of the last days in the village. We had the honor of visiting a few widows homes. We planned to pray with each of them and give them a couple mosquito nets to cover their beds at night. I had no idea what to expect.

Our bus took us down a dusty dirt road. Several members of the village's 410 Bridge Leadership Council accompanied us. These village leaders are incredible, and their vision for their community is contagious. God is doing a mighty work through them.


One by one, they pointed out widow's home after widow's home.

I was overwhelmed. This community has been ravaged by HIV and the affects of limited access to clean water.

We divided up into small groups. I followed my teammates up to the first home where we were greeted by the gentle smile of a little girl. It was a welcome distraction from the poverty that lay in front of us.

We greeted the gracious widow and she invited us into her tiny house made from mud and what looked like bamboo sticks. She was proud of her humble home where she raised 4 grandchildren on her own. We walked back outside and presented her with the mosquito nets. She embraced us and thanked us in her language.

I began to walk away, heart-broken. It was at that point I noticed her small garden to the side of her home.

I thought to myself, "This is how she provides for herself and her grandkids. This is what she lives on."

This is everything she has.

I thought about all those gifts we had been given throughout the week, from all our new friends who were widows. They most likely have a garden just like this one.

And they gave away the very best of their gardens to our team. They gave to us out of the little they had to live on.

These very verses came alive in that moment:

"As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” (Luke 21: 1-4 NIV)

What a beautiful sacrifice, what a fragrant offering. I am forever grateful.

Dearly loved, for widows,

Special thanks to my roommate for our Uganda trip, Tammy, who took these amazing photographs.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

A Fragrant Offering

The night before I left for Uganda, I made a last-minute trip to Trader Joe's. I picked up a couple of my favorite lavender soaps and salt scrubs.

It cost me $15.
The return on my investment...priceless.

It was Sunday afternoon when we opened our supply bag in the Ugandan village of Kaihura, about a 4 hour, bumpy ride to the west of capital city Kampala. I was instantly greeted by that sweet, familiar scent of lavender.

I walked into a small school room, dimly lit by only it's windows. What is the size of a traditional classroom in the States holds up to 80 students here. This Sunday afternoon, it was filled with 40 of the most beautiful women I've ever met.

They were all widows, specially invited to gather together. Some were old, some younger than me. We spoke different languages. I spoke through a translator. We didn't really need to speak anything at all. Our faces told our stories, every line, every wrinkle, every smile, every scar.

Every tear.

I had prepared a few notes, written down a few verses of Scripture to share with them. But, God scripted my words. I began by telling them I was a widow too. Suddenly, the miles, the culture, anything that made us different, melted away. We connected in that moment.

It was bittersweet, yet beautiful.

I shared my story of losing my husband; I shared how our great God had walked with me in every season, a time for mourning, a time for healing, and a time for moving forward. I encouraged them that no matter what season we are in, our God is the Defender of Widows. He is FOR us.

Then I asked if anyone wanted to share their stories.

One by one, these precious women raised their hands. They stood to their feet, and they told me the most heart-breaking details of how they lost their husbands, how some had lost children, how they felt abandoned and forgotten by their very community. After the first few, I honestly didn't know if I could hear anymore. God prompted me to look each one in the eyes and just listen.

It was as if for the very first time, someone allowed them to share, someone gave them honor and a place to be heard. Someone gave them a voice.

I was taken back to 3 years of a prayer that would keep me up some nights: "God, I wanna be a voice for the widows."


I ended our time in prayer and in sharing my life verse, Ephesians 5:1-2, where we are called to be dearly loved children of God. I recited in their language, "You are dearly loved."

Then, we had jugs of water and basins brought in. Two incredible ladies from our team joined me; we kneeled down, lavender soap and salts in hand, and 3 by 3, we washed each widow's feet.

The aroma will forever remind me of this unforgettable moment.

As we finished, one of the widows stood up to thank us. She told us that she had always heard of the story in the Bible of Jesus washing His disciples feet, but she never thought anyone would do this for her. She said that we had made these verses in the Bible come alive.

Come alive.

I could not have asked or imagined that response; it was Jesus, only Jesus. I'm so humbled to have been a part, to have the Lord take a simple act of love and transform it into such a fragrant offering. To Him belongs all the glory.

I extend my sincerest thank you to our trip leader, Sherry Kovak, and 410 Bridge staff member, Amy Todd, who orchestrated the details to make this experience possible. I will be forever grateful.

More stories to come...

Dearly loved,