Tuesday, May 6, 2014

True Womanhood

"In the church today, there are growing numbers of childless women. Many of these are the women who smile and give a casual "I hope so," when you ask them if they're planning to get married (if they're single) or start a family soon (if they're married). They're the women who would love to have a ring on their finger and a man on their arm. They're the women who may be in the thick of fertility treatments or suffering the silent grief of miscarriage. They're the women who have long ago given up hope of ever carrying a child, much less seeing one graduate from college."  (quoted from article below)

I read an article posted on Facebook by a dear friend.  It is titled, "Every Woman a Mother".  As Shawn and I continue the struggle to become parents, it touched my heart.  And so, I'm posting this article for all hurting women.  Whether you're waiting for a husband or a child - this is for you.  True womanhood is not earned by becoming a wife or a mother.  True womanhood is earned by chasing after God.

"It is hard to be a "childless" woman in a world that sees womanhood reflected in motherhood. But mainly this is hard because our definitions are all wrong." (quoted from article below)

Did you hear that?  You don't have to be a mother or wife to be a true woman!  So all of you spouse-less or child-less women out there (myself included), be encouraged!  The definition of a true woman is one who chases after God, without abandon.

If you're hurting - read this.  It helped me and I hope it helps you!  Sending my love to all the hurting women!

Click on this link:
Every Woman a Mother

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Neglected Blessings

There's always that ONE day every so often where everything seems to be going wrong and nothing in life is good.  Yesterday was that day.

But the sun rose this morning and a new day dawned....along with a new attitude and new perspective for myself.  Thank goodness!

So today, I want to reflect on the many blessings that I neglected to see yesterday, and therefore neglected to pass on to you:

I am so very thankful for my loving and wonderful husband who supports me and loves me every single day.

I don't know what life would be like without my 2 best friends.  Jess, my sister and Erin, my college friend often make my life worth living, and fill my days with laughter!

My life is full of little blessings in the forms of Karen, Colin, Derek, Calleigh, and Austin.  

I am blessed with 2 amazing church families who have loved me and my husband through all of our pains and sorrows and mess-ups.  And within these church families are people who have taken us into their own families and allowed us to just be ourselves.  THIS is a blessing, indeed!

We have an awesome youth group full of crazy, wacky teens who make us laugh every time we get together.  From the competitiveness of the young men to the laughter of the young ladies - there is never a dull moment!

I am thankful to be able to exercise.  I just completed a very difficult workout today that I didn't think I'd be able to do - but I did!  So thankful for a body that can move!

We have a HUGE house with more space than we can fill.  This makes for more cleaning for me, but it also means we can host large groups of people comfortably!  So, are you the next visitor?  haha

This past year, I've made a real effort for Shawn and I to eat healthier and exercise.  It's hard to eat healthy when you make lots of home visits and get served desserts, but we're trying.  This last year has taught us that fresh and natural is so much better than processed...and I feel better every day because of it!  We're blessed to be healthier!

I have friends all across the country, even the world (shout out to Dana!!!).  Through mission trips across the country and to Belize, I've had this wonderful opportunity to see a small glimpse of what heaven will be like.  All nations, tribes, and tongues will gather before the throne to worship our God...and I've been given a small taste of that here, in this life!

This list could go on and on.  But let's just suffice it to say that yesterday's burdens are in the past.  Have I moved past them?  No.  That's a work in progress.  But I've moved on to today and the blessings that come with it.  I'm so thankful for the many people in my life who have blessed me in multiple ways...and if you're reading this - then that means you've been a blessing to me!  Thank you for your friendship....and don't forget to remember your own blessings!

Thanks for listening to yesterday's struggles and today's blessings!

Friday, May 2, 2014

The Island of Misfit Toys

Today has just been one of those days when I need to sit down and write.  Why?  Because writing helps me process my thoughts and emotions...and I've had a lot of thoughts and emotions lately.

This life is just really hard, isn't it?  Each one of us has our own problems to deal with, and I'm no different.  Today, and the last few days, I've been thinking a lot about how much of a misfit I really am in this world.  I've never wanted to be normal - but to be a misfit?  That's not something I've wished for.

It used to really bother me in my 20's when I was single and it seemed like everyone else was getting married.

I really struggled with the absence of a career after moving to Iowa.  I just assumed that people here would see me as lazy and unmotivated.

I still struggle with the fact that I'm a 32 year old woman, married for 6 years and I'm still not a parent.

People look at me like I'm from Mars when I tell them that we don't pay for cable and we don't own  smartphones.

In a world where beautiful yards and flower gardens are all the craze, there is nothing I would rather avoid than flower gardening.  And many people think I'm weird for that.

Unlike the average female, I absolutely despise shopping in any form, except grocery shopping.  I wear the same clothes for years, just so I don't have to go shopping for new ones.  And when I do buy new ones, I will only buy the ones on sale.

But the more I grow in my faith, the more I realize that these things don't really matter.  This uncomfortable feeling I've had about myself for my whole life is just silly.  And quite honestly, it's from Satan.  God never intended for us to feel like misfits.

And so, I've been learning lots lately.

It's okay that I'm not a mother yet, and this is especially important with Mother's Day just around the corner.  It's a great day for mothers - but a day of complete misery for those who have tried and haven't been able.

It's okay if someone thinks I'm lazy because I don't have a "real" job.  I'm slowly learning how to respond, in a godly manner, to those people who like to subtlely (or not so much) suggest that they would like to know what I do all day.  That just doesn't bother me anymore because my husband and I have come to the conclusion that staying home is best for us and for his/our calling.

It's okay that my hormones are so screwed up that I'm losing my hair, strand by strand everyday.  Now let's be honest - this one really does bother me.   I am absolutely terrified when I throw away these huge hunks of hair everyday and visions of a middle-aged bald woman come to mind.  Go ahead and laugh - but you know it won't be pretty.

It's okay that I don't want to spend hours outside amongst the flowers.  It's okay that I've begged the deacons to keep the "front house" landscaping to just 2 bushes so I don't have to weed and care for the flower beds around the porch.

It's okay that I still wear that 10 year old black skirt to church at least twice a month because it's my favorite.  I'm getting used to people commenting about my lack of sandal/flip-flop wearing in the summer and I'm getting used to ignoring the people who exclaim over the fact that I still wear tennis shoes when it's 100 degrees outside.

And it's okay that I don't own a smartphone.  (Although, I'm trying to convince Shawn that we should get them soon!)

It's okay that some people don't like me.  To be honest, this one is new to me.  Dealing with people who are angry or upset at me or possibly hate me is something I never thought I'd have to handle.  My whole life, I've jumped hurdles and vaulted over mountains to maintain the peace with everyone.  I absolute despise confrontation.  I cannot stand enmity between people.  But yet, in this calling I have as a pastor's wife - I've learned that this is no longer possible.  There will be those who will hate me because of what I stand for.  There will be those who will be angry because I won't behave as they feel a pastor's wife should behave.  There will be those who will get up and walk out of a building as soon as I enter because they have decided not to like me.  I feel the curious gazes and stares from strangers in a community where everyone knows everyone, except me.  There will be those uncomfortable pauses in conversation when people realize that my husband is a pastor, and so they better start being more careful of how they behave and act in front of me.

All these things have happened or will happen.  And every one of these things has troubled me.  Some have rocked me to my core.  I don't want people to think ill of me.  I've never wanted to be the outcast or the stranger.  I've never wanted to be the one who others guard themselves against.  I've never wanted to be the one who was rejected.

But that is who I am.

And the longer I live in this world, and the longer I struggle with my own sin and the sins of those around me - the more I realize that being a misfit is just fine.

I loved watching Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer with my first graders at Christmas.  It's just an awesome movie.  When the Island of Misfit Toys made its grand appearance, the kids would always get sad and pity the toys who were stuck there.  But you know what?  I was never sad for those toys.

Maybe that's because I already realized then, what I'm telling you now.  I belong there, too.  I am a misfit.

But, there's a place I'm headed to where all the misfits go.  All sorts of dysfunctional, hurting, broken people will be there with me...and I'll bring along my own dysfunction.  But just before I enter the gates of this wonderful place - all of my dysfunction, all of my brokenness will be fixed.  It will be completely gone.

And in that moment....I'll no longer be a misfit.

Everyone knows someone who has already traveled to this wonderful place.  Tonight, I think of my two children, of my father-in-law.  One of my children is celebrating a first birthday today, and I know without a doubt that this child of mine is not a misfit.  This child fits perfectly in the heavenly home that has been provided.  And someday, my misfit self will finally get to go there too.

So, today has just been one of those misfit days and there will be so many more to come.  But I'm finding that it doesn't matter anymore because I know where I do fit in.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Things I Learned in 2013

  1.  Avocados are the world's best food ...well, after blueberries and peanut butter.
  2. Things can always get worse.
  3. Healthy eating is actually MORE fun than eating the regular American diet.
  4. I'll never be too old to miss my mom and dad and I'll never be too old to get ridiculously excited when I know they're coming to visit.
  5. Everyone should have an Ebates account and make money for buying things.
  6. Someone has claimed my husband as her honey bunny and her sweetie pie...and that's okay!
  7. My husband is the greatest man I know (I didn't JUST learn that this year, though!)
  8. I am an aunt to a teenager - yikes!
  9. The plans that I have for myself very rarely match up with the plans that God has for me.
  10. My Fitness Pal website is one of my new best friends - we met in January 2013. *smile*
  11. The heart must be soft and pliable towards people, but it must also be tough-skinned to withstand the pains that come from lost friendships and rejection.
  12. Iowa has the coldest winters I've ever experienced but Illinois has the hottest, most humid, summers I've ever experienced.  I like them both.
  13. The Ackley ambulance service has a very impressive response time and Des Moines Children's Hospital is great!  Things to remember for the future...
  14. Unforgiveness will kill a person.  Forgiveness is an absolute necessity in the Christian life.  Learning to forgive those who have wronged you, especially those who haven't asked for it, is one of the hardest, yet most important things I've had to learn.
  15. My Grandma Boyce is the best visitor ever.  Being a very early riser, she gets up and does dishes, sweeps the floors, cleans the windows, whatever she can find to do until the rest of us wake up at the normal time.  She's awesome...for more reasons than just the cleaning!
  16. I still struggle with admitting that I'm wrong.  (Just ask Shawn.  *smile*)
  17. I love making homemade tortillas!
  18. The ravioli di portabello dinner at Olive Garden is delicious!  This was a huge discovery for the fettucine alfredo addict that I am! 
  19. Speaking of Olive Garden, I also found out how amazingly delicious their Chicken Gnocchi soup is!  Thanks, Susan!
  20. There aren't many things better than a hug from a close friend you've been missing.
  21. I vowed at the beginning of last year to learn how to make homemade bread and pie crusts...I never did.  Oops!
  22. I have finally figured out the very best places to stop when traveling from Iowa to Illinois.  I'm all about saving time when in the car for that long!  So when you (yes - YOU) come to visit, just check with me first!  haha
  23. I'm finally secure enough in myself to tell everyone in the world that I absolutely despise having to care for flower gardens and landscaping.  I love gardening, but I draw the line there! I know lots of women who just love it and find great relaxation this way but I would be thrilled to have a yard full of pretty rocks that required no work whatsoever.....really.
  24. I REALLY wish I had a smartphone to Facetime with my sister....every.single.day.
  25. Playing the piano is one of the most soothing things for me.
  26. There are some days when eating a doughnut really will make you feel better.  haha
  27. Les Miserables is THE best musical ever.  I have no idea how I survived thus far in my life without it.
  28.  Salt and pepper grinders are my new favorite kitchen toys.
  29. The Trinity Hymnal version of "All for Jesus" is the BEST version - hands down.
  30. You're never too old to play at the City Museum playground in St. Louis, especially the wire cages suspended several feet above the ground!  *smile*
  31. I never get nervous when I play the piano at church...unless the organist is gone and I'm on my own.  On those Sundays, I make every mistake imaginable.
  32. I like doing the dishes.  Wierd, I know.
  33. I have an irrational fear of leaving the oven burners on and burning the house down in my sleep.  My sweet husband always goes downstairs for me (because I'm also a baby who doesn't like being downstairs in the dark alone...pathetic, I know) to make sure that they're off.  They ALWAYS are but he knows I won't be able to sleep until he checks.  One of the many reasons I love him...
  34. Concerning fire, I have an irrational fire that our propane tank or gas heater will blow up without warning.
  35. I hate burn piles because...you guessed it....I'm afraid they'll spread and burn the house down.  I'm beginning to see a pattern here....when it comes to fires, I'm absolutely terrified.
  36. Some days it's just easier to wear your bulky snow boots to church than your nice heels...and those days are becoming more and more regular.
  37. Some events in life are seared into your memory, whether you want them to be or not.  Other events you beg your mind to remember, but they slowly fade away.  
  38. Never pass up a chance to tell your loved ones how precious they are because one day, you may wake up and find out it's too late.
  39. Landscaping and flower gardening, I despite - but snow shoveling is actually fun for me.
  40. Winter is still my favorite season, even after moving to Iowa.  Everyone kept telling me that I'd change my mind after moving but you just can't beat the crisp air or the beauty of snow.  I loved it in Illinois and I love it here too.
  41. It is really fun to read the same book as your sister, and talk about it over the phone everyday.
  42. Extended time away from Facebook is a good thing.
  43. I really don't like butternut squash, but spaghetti squash is awesome.
  44. D-Con = awesome.
  45. "Mama said there'd be days like this"....and there definitely were.
  46. No matter what happens in my life, there is nothing that can take away my joy because no one can take my Christ.  I have learned that all other things can be stripped away, but as long as one Thing remains - I'll be alright.
Well, there you go!  I just gave you a small glimpse into this strange head of mine.  I had a good time compiling this list over the last little while and I hope it brought a smile to your face and helped you laugh just a little bit! 

Obviously this comes very late, but Happy New Year to you all.  I'm excited to see what lies ahead in 2014.  Thanks for reading...

Friday, February 7, 2014

Precious Memories and Letting Go

As I sit down to write this post, my head is swimming with memories.  I feel compelled to write, to honor this man whom I had the privilege to call my father-in-law.  He passed away just days ago.  And I'm beginning to realize that whether I'm ready or not, I have to start letting go. 

Sitting by his hospital bed and later his Hospice bed at home over the last several weeks, waves of memories flooded my mind.  My time with him was so brief - just under 7 years - that I don't want to forget a thing...and yet I know that I will forget some things.  And so, I wanted to share a few of my favorite memories of Dave Willis, a man who fought the good fight and finished it well.


I remember visiting Shawn after we were engaged and getting very sick during our visit.  I came close to passing out and knew that I couldn't drive home.  Shawn insisted on driving me and Dave was kind enough to follow behind with Shawn's car to bring him back home.  I was mortified that my father-in-law had to see me sick, which was silly because his only concern was for me.

I remember Dave's excitement the night of our wedding rehearsal and dinner.  He gave a speech that was both funny and wise, sharing with his son and soon to be daughter-in-law the blessings of marriage.  I remember that after our wedding, the pictures took forever, partly because Dave was having so much fun that he was making everyone laugh.  I have one precious picture that features me and Shawn with Dave's head popping out from behind my shoulder just as the camera snapped.

I remember calling Dave on the way to our honeymoon to tell him that we had almost arrived.  When he picked up the phone, he asked who it was. I said, "Melissa," and he asked, "Melissa who?"  He was, of course, waiting to hear me say, "Melissa Willis".  *smile*

He bought me blueberry syrup and chocolate peanut butter goodies just months after Shawn and I were married.  Why?  Because he quickly learned that I was addicted to both blueberries and peanut butter.  I remember opening a box at Christmas from the Chocolate Factory filled with peanut butter chocolates...and I remember his look of pure pleasure as he watched me enjoy one, and then another, and then another.  I remember his laugh when I told him that this was a really bad gift because I couldn't put them down.  He just said, "Well, you do LIKE peanut butter, don't you?" and then he laughed some more.

Putting up the Christmas tree at Dave and Linda's house was always fun, but there were rules.  The first ornament to go on the tree had to be the "Jesus" ornament.  Dave was always the one to put it on the tree and it always went near the top.  As he put it on, he would always say something like, "If this isn't the focus of Christmas, then you can't really have a Christmas."  He would put up a St. Louis Cardinals ornament and maybe another Christmas ornament and then sit down to watch the merry decorating from Linda, Shawn, and me...as he smiled on.

Dave's smile on the night of Shawn's graduation from Covenant Seminary is something I will never forget.  He was so proud of his only son and so incredibly proud that he was going to be a minister of God's people.  But he was always the first one to say that Shawn was a devoted follower of Christ despite his upbringing, not because of it.  Humility at it's absolute best...

I remember the moment we visited Dave and Linda just before Christmas in 2010 to tell them that I was pregnant.  Since this baby would be their first grandchild, we decided to have a bit of fun and wrapped up a few baby bibs in a Christmas gift for them.  When Linda opened the gift, he paused and then shouted out, "Really?"  He was so excited.  Yet minutes after finding out that he would be a grandpa, he reminded us all that he loved me for who I was and I didn't need to give him a grandchild to make him love me more.  He said, "This baby does not sum up the reasons why Linda and I love you."  On Christmas Eve, just days after that statement, we found out we were going to lose the baby and I've always remembered what he said.  We celebrated Christmas at their house the next day, and I remember his hug and his reminder that the baby was not the reason he loved me.  And this happened not just with one baby, but with two.  Precious memories....especially now with the realization that I will never make him a grandpa on this earth...a pain so real that I can actually touch it.

I remember stopping at their house before moving to Iowa.  They wanted to come help us move so badly but Dave was sick and Linda had just finished her chemo/radiation so they both needed rest.  I remember the pain in his eyes as he told his only son goodbye and apologized that they couldn't help.

He and Linda came for Shawn's ordination service the next month.  I sat beside he and Linda at the service, and I'm so glad I did.  When Shawn "took the knee" and the elders laid their hands on him and prayed for him, I looked at Dave to see how he was doing.  He was so proud and so emotionally bound by love, that he just reached over and grabbed my hand to hold.  Afterwards he said, "Well, there you go.  My son's a pastor."  He had tears in his eyes and he didn't even try to hide them.

The next time they came to Iowa for a visit, he brought his camera.  He was so eager to know and understand our lives here that he was constantly asking questions and taking pictures.  Just a few days ago, I went through all of his pictures that he downloaded to his computer from his camera, looking for pictures to put in a video presentation for the visitation and funeral.  It wasn't long before I saw the folder labeled "Visit to Shawn and Mel".  When I looked inside, I was blown away with the number of pictures he had taken....of everything!  He took pictures of the house, the churches, the cemetery, the fields, the gravel roads, the garage, the garden, us.  He was no stranger to country roads or fields but these were the fields and roads that his son lived around and he WANTED to know them.  Such love...

Fast forward a few years to 2013.  Dave was diagnosed with incurable Stage 4 cancer just a few days before Christmas.  Shawn and I went home as soon as we were able.  The nights spent in the hospital by his bedside were absolutely priceless.  You see, my one-on-one time with Dave was very limited because Shawn and Linda were always there.  I believe on those hospital nights, that Dave and I went a little deeper in our relationship and truly began to understand each other.

We spoke of his illness and how much he loved Linda and Shawn and me.  He kept apologizing for being sick and only stopped when I told him that he wasn't allowed to say that again.  I remember leaving his room at about 3:30 a.m. to go tell the nurses that they could shut off his oxygen because my strong-willed father-in-law hated the tubing and wouldn't wear it.  We had a long conversation about that dreaded oxygen and eventually he agreed to wear it...."for just a while".  *smile*  He ended up wearing it through the night, and even smiled a few times!

I remember how much he loved us.  I always told him before I walked down the hall to stretch my legs or use the restroom...but he was always happy to see me when I came back to the room, even if I was only gone for 2 minutes.  Towards morning, he would anxiously watch the clock and keep asking, "When did you say Linda and Shawn would be here?"  Oh how much he loved his family...

I remember going to their house alone just before he was discharged to come home for Hospice care and preparing his bedroom for his arrival.  As I moved things around, cleaned, and re-cleaned, I remember thinking to myself that the time I had to care for him was growing very limited....and suddenly, it was all I could do to keep myself in the house rather than drive to the hospital to be with him.

I remember telling him goodbye just days before he passed away because Shawn and I had to go back to Iowa.  Shawn and I hugged him and told him that we loved him, and he said, "I love you guys."  Simple words but those were the last words he actually ever said to me.

We came home just 24 hours before he passed away.  When we went into his room that Wednesday morning, Linda told him that we were back home.  He looked right at Shawn and said, "Happy".  This man lay dying in his bed and all he cared about was his family - Linda, Shawn, and myself.

Later that afternoon, his pastor came to visit and we sang hymns in his room.  Now, you have to know how much Dave loved music to completely understand this.  He was no longer able to sing but he made sure to tap out the beat of each song with his hand on the bed.  He LOVED music!

Without a doubt, the greatest legacy that this man left behind was his awesome faith.  He was the first to admit what a wretched sinner, saved by grace, he was.  He knew his sins and knew them well, as we all know our own sins, and he strove to overcome them daily.  He found forgiveness and grace and extended the same to those around him.  He loved the Lord, loved reading his Word, loved singing his praise, loved worshiping with God's people.  He reminded me, during those last few days of living in his cancer-ridden body, the ultimate joy that a person can have in Christ, despite the pain of this life.

There are many more memories of Dave that I'll always cherish.  He loved his Lord first and foremost.  Second to that, he loved his sweet wife more than his own life.  Third, he loved his one and only son, Shawn - and adopted me into that same love.  I learned so much from this man.

And now I know that he is with Jesus in glory, knowing that perfect rest that I can only dream of.  And I know that he has met his 2 beautiful grandbabies.  Regardless of the emptiness he left behind, I am SO glad he is now a grandpa and I'm SO glad that he is finally with his Jesus.

Thank you, Dave, for loving me as strongly as you did.  You will be missed.  I wish we'd had more time but I'm so incredibly happy that you're with our Lord in perfect peace!  Enjoy your rest.  And give hugs and kisses to my babies for me...

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Merry Christmas from the Willis'

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of darkness a light has dawned.”
~Isaiah 9:2

 Dear Family and Friends,

Merry Christmas!  It’s hard to believe that another year is gone and behind us!  As I sit down to write this, we have 5 days left until we celebrate the birth of our Savior and the birth of hope into this world.  As we near the end of 2013, this is a good time to reflect on all that’s happened this year.  I think about Isaiah 9:2 and how well it sums up the conditions of mine and Shawn’s hearts right now.  This year has been a most difficult year for us and we have struggled greatly with many things, but yet we remember at Christmas, more than ever, that our lives do not remain in that darkness!

The most difficult part of this year has been the continued wait for God’s answer regarding children.  At the beginning of the summer, we prayerfully decided to move forward with adoption and “accept” (as best as one can) that we would not have biological children.  Almost immediately after deciding this, we both strongly felt the Lord leading us to actually wait a bit longer before starting the adoption process.  To be honest, it was a very frustrating time for me as I had just reached the point of “almost acceptance” that I wouldn’t be getting pregnant and was finally able to say, “Okay, Lord, we will adopt.”  And to have God pull us back from that after finally reaching that point of acceptance seemed nothing but cruel.  

But over these past few months, we have unmistakably seen His hand at work.  Our OB-GYN doctor left the office and we were forced to find a new one.  In God’s providence, we have found a wonderful and capable doctor to take over for us.  After meeting with him, he assured us that there is every possibility for us to get pregnant AND stay pregnant.  He was able to answer all of our questions regarding the difficulties we’ve had in the past.  And as crazy as that sounds, ALL of this happened within 2-3 weeks after our decision to adopt!  God has a way of putting our plans on hold, doesn’t He?  And so, we continue to wait and follow the Lord’s leading.  We don’t feel that God has “released” us to move forward with adoption and yet we continue to grieve month after month when we don’t get pregnant.  In light of this, please pray for us as we wait upon God’s will.  Our desire is to walk the path He has laid before us and to walk that path with faithful steps.  Please pray that our steps would not waiver and that we would unfailingly trust in God’s providence in this most precious area of our lives.

We will soon finish up our 3rd year of ministry at Faith and West Friesland Churches.  We continue to see daily how the Lord is calling us to serve these two churches and we pray for the strength to serve Him well.  Just like any other ministry, we’ve experienced many ups and downs this past year.  God has not granted an easy year to our churches, but yet He continues to remain faithful in every way.  Please pray for Faith and West Friesland Churches as we move into another year.  Pray that Shawn and I would be rooted and established in love as we continue to minister to and serve the people in Iowa.  Pray that the churches (us included) would continue to grow in our knowledge of Christ and our desire to serve Him and each other.

We are continuing to learn that God is not only a God who provides us with joy in our happy times, but He is also a God who comforts and holds us close when we encounter life’s most heart-wrenching moments.  Praise be to God!

Rather than walk you step by step through the blessings of this past year, I'm going to consolidate several different events into a summary for you:  

January – Shawn turned 37.  I embarked on a “healthy lifestyle” journey at the beginning of the new year and have lost almost 20 pounds in 2013.  I continue to enjoy exercising and searching for healthier ways to cook for myself and for Shawn, while still avoiding a “rabbit food” diet.

February – We celebrated 5 years of marriage!  My wonderful husband planned a surprise get-away for me, and whisked me away to a hotel!  He even ordered chocolate-covered strawberries for me – my favorite!  Isn’t he great?  Also in February, I conducted a 40-Day fast from Facebook.  It was time well-spent with my Lord and I was truly blessed from it. 

March – We hosted an Easter Dinner at our house and served 23 people, including my parents!

April – My parents came back to visit, and brought my Grandma along too!  It was a wonderful visit!

May – We got about 10-12 inches of snow in early May.  Did I say we live in Iowa?  haha

June – My sister and her 3 kids came to visit for a week.  While here, Austin had a seizure and became unresponsive.  In God’s goodness, we got him to the nearest ER in time and he was soon air-lifted to Des Moines Children’s Hospital where he received excellent care.  He has suffered no lasting effects from the experience.  My sister’s week long stay turned into a 2-week stay as we waited for him to be released from the hospital and recover somewhat before traveling home.  The next day, Shawn and I traveled to St. Louis, Missouri with our Iowa Mission Team to work with the refugee population in South City St. Louis.

July – Our churches put on a Vacation Bible School.  Shawn was the teacher for the oldest group and I dressed in character each day to teach the children their Bible lessons.

August – I turned 32.  We took a much needed 2 week vacation.  One week was spent with family.  The other week, we spent alone in St. Louis.  While there, we had a visit with my awesome friend, Erin and her husband, Todd.  We hadn’t seen each other in over 2 years and the time was well-spent with lots of laughter.  We were also able to meet a long-time friend from our old church, Brooke.  She’s the perfect person to bring out a smile and we were encouraged after her visit.  She’s awesome!

October – My Uncle Jerry, Aunt Cheryl, and cousin Kristine came to visit for a weekend!  Shawn was very happy about this because he got to watch the St. Louis Cardinals play a very important game in their hotel room!  (For the record, he was also just happy to see them and the game was just an added bonus!) 

November – My parents and Grandma visited in early November.  I am so blessed to have a wonderful Grandma!  Long before the rest of the house was stirring, she was up sweeping my floors and doing my dishes.  I’ll never be too old to be spoiled by my Grandma!  In November, we also hosted a Thanksgiving Dinner.  My parents and my sister and 3 kids were able to come for the extended weekend.  It was a great time of laughing and relaxation, to be sure!

This year has not been without its difficulties, and at times it has felt as if nothing else existed, but you can see that God has truly blessed us in every way.  We are learning more and more every day that God does not promise us a life of pain-free ease but rather, He promises that there will be trouble and hardship but we will never be alone.  Shawn and I have experienced this first-hand and we are grateful for God’s continued blessing and provision in our lives.

We send our love and thank God for each of you!  May the new year bring each of us more opportunities to serve the Lord and seek His will!

Merry Christmas! 
Shawn and Melissa 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Where Life is Good

I had the privilege of going to AP auditorium tonight to hear Andy and Aaron Kampman speak.  What an awesome night it was!  I'm so glad I went!  They spoke about the blessings we have received from the Lord (among other things that they spoke on) and how we are not to keep those blessings to ourselves, but rather we are to pass them on to other people.  As Thanksgiving approaches, I couldn't help but write on here really quick.  It's been a long time since I've blogged and I'm writing this late at night...so I won't be proofing it like I normally would.  Please overlook the grammatical or spelling mistakes that I might forget to proof!  And know that this will definitely not be as well written as previous posts because it's just spilling out!  *smile*

I enjoyed the entire evening, but one thing in particular has captured my heart....and I can't stand to NOT write about it....so here I am at 10:30 on a Saturday night, blogging...because I won't be able to sleep until I do this!

DISCLAIMER:  This post is not for everyone.  Some may be offended and some may be confused.  If you are among those groups of people, please read this with an open heart and realize that this is a blog post about ME and my failings...but it may apply to you as well.  I encourage you to open your heart and be captured by this - just as I experienced earlier.

The Kampman's spoke about the blessings we are given in this life and explained that these blessings are NOT meant to be kept to ourselves.  Rather, they're to be shared with others...and he mentioned how often we fail at this.  Then one of the men spoke in a very quiet voice and addressed those in the audience who had been burned by the church, in one way or another.  He spoke about the fact that many people have shown up at church services all across this country, searching for the hope that we claim to have.  And when they entered the church doors, they were shown everything BUT love.  Maybe they were shunned, stared at, ignored, whispered about, spoken loudly about, embarrassed, or maybe even asked to leave.  This happens so often!  And then, one of the men said, "If this has happened to you, if you've been burned at church, then I want to apologize for that.  That is NOT what God's love is and that is NOT what God intends!"

When he said this, I was captured.  I immediately started thinking - "Have I ever done this?  Have I ever made a person feel unwelcome in God's house?"  I certainly hope not - but the answer would sadly be that YES, I have done this before.  Probably more times that I've known.  Have you?

When a stranger, or just an un-churched person, shows up at church, what is our first reaction?  Is it "What is SHE doing here?" or is it "It's SO good to see them in church!"  You see, our reactions guide our actions.  If we respond in shock that this person has even shown up, we will respond in the same way - in judgment.  But if we are just happy to see that person, nothing will stop us from walking right up to him/her and welcoming them into God's house.

And let me take it a step further.  How do we treat those in our midst who are our brothers and sisters in Christ?  Do we treat them as one created in the image of God?  Do we forgive wrongdoings?  Do we judge our fellow Christians, as though we are somehow superior and living a faultless life?  Do we look down on those who are different or maybe on someone who doesn't think the same way we do?  Again, what is our response?  What is my response?

We are given blessings in this life for a specific reason.  That reason is NOT to keep those blessings to ourselves and hoard them up so we'll have the good life.  That reason is so we will SHARE these blessings with others.  How can I, how can we, share these blessings if we're too busy judging?  God forgive me, God forgive us - for the times we have spread judgment, hate, anger, or ostricized a person because we saw ourselves as the superior Christian (whether in front of a non-Christian or a fellow brother/sister).  God forgive me, please.

I encourage you to think about your own life.  This revelation has hit me upside the head - just like I needed.  There are many times when I'm welcoming to strangers or to brothers and sisters in Christ, especially when it's easy.  But what about when it's NOT easy?  What about when we don't know the person, or what about when we know that this person is mad at us, or what about when we know this person is living in blatant sin?  Do we, do I, love that person anyway or do we treat them as the inferior?

And so I end by saying, "If I have ever made YOU feel unwelcome in God's house or in my life, please forgive me.  Forgive me for the superior attitude that a sinner like me has shown.  Forgive me for NOT being willing to look past your sins when my sins were obviously right in front of me.  Forgive me for failing to love you as God has commanded.  Forgive me."

This song, "Does Anybody Hear Her?" says it much better than I have.  Please listen to it.  It brings me to tears every time I hear it....because it's so true.  "Lofty glances from lofty people, who can't see past her scarlet letter....and they've never even met her."

I praise God for His blessings....and one of the greatest is love....and one of the other greatest is forgiveness.  Where there is love and forgiveness - life is good.

Thanks for listening,