Posted in Life Lessons, waiting, Word, Writing

The Gentle Gardener

One morning shortly after my divorce, as I woke up, I had this vision. I clearly saw a pair of rugged male hands reaching down, digging in, and clasping together underneath a wilted plant. Actually, the plant was beyond wilted—it was dried by the sun, and what had once been some kind of small growth was now beginning to fly off in the wind. It was that dry. It was almost entirely dead. Its roots, however, were entirely alive. As the hands came down and clasped together, they carefully pulled the plant out of the soil – carefully keeping its roots intact. The “Gentle Gardener” as I have sometimes described the owner of the hands, removed the plant from the ground with the roots sticking out between his loosly clasped fingers. The process of extracting the plant took some time, as the dry ground was caked around the roots. Some digging, pulling, and scraping went on for what seemed like an hour. As the hands lifted together and transported the plant, I noticed the hands, up to the wrists, were now caked with soil and there was dirt caked under his fingernails. Some blood began to pool and dry around a scrape. The gardener was fully invested in this process.

Then the scene in my vision widened out – as in a movie. I noticed that the whole field that the plant had been pulled out of was a dry, cracked land. I would call it parched. Thirsty. What once may have been a field of beautiful wild flowers was now barren.
At this point, I surveyed the entirety of the landscape. I began to have a new realization: I could no longer see the plant, nor the hands, nor the roots – because I was the plant, and I was being intentionally moved. But to where? Suddenly panic set in. What if I fell from this height? Was I destined for the fire pit, the compost pile, or – hold on, what’s this? As the hands came down and I descended, I (now as the plant) peeked over the edge of the hands that carried me. I saw the greenest grass, flowers were budding, new trees danced and swayed, and a bubbling, flowing mane of water caressed the soft curves of the land.
Water! My parched soul rejoiced! But the water did not come to quench me for a long time. Replanting was painful – physically agonizing. As my roots settled into the earth, something strange happened at the surface.
Nothing.
Nothing happened. Not for a long while.
While my roots underneath the surface reestablished a bond with the earth, I remained dry and cracked and thirsty above.

While all around me everything was glorious and full of life, I kept my head down and tried to hide my ugliness.

And then something else happened.

I began to cry.

I began to ugly cry. The kind of tears that run hot and wild. The kind of tears that arrive as a whimper, then become a sob, then a wail. I cried for a season – and then another – and suddenly, I was no longer seeing from the perspective of the flower, but from the viewpoint of the Gentle Gardener. Or was
I? Had I grown to this height?
Yes! I had. He had planted me in the center of his beautiful garden. I had not started as a
seed, but as an acorn. He saw that I had fallen on the side of the fence that did not have the proper environment for growth. Furthermore, I was not watered by the river, but by my own tears. My eyes were so swollen from crying that I did not notice my growth until I had become a glorious Oak. Tall and mighty.
Beautiful and sturdy. Arms outstretched toward the sun. Birds nested in my branches. Squirrels gathered and scattered my acorns. Bunnies frolicked in my shadow. I provided oxygen—I gave life where once I was almost dead.
The last I saw of the hands they were clean and glowing and applauding me.

Perhaps you’re in a dry season. Perhaps you’ve been in this season for a long time. But perhaps it is a season not of dying and thirsting, but of crying and learning and growing. That is where I have been lately: in a crying, learning, growing season. Let me encourage you to trust the Gentle Gardener.
Cry. Let your eyes swell shut if you must – but when the season ends, you’ll find you’re just what you ought to be – glorious, life-giving, quenched. And best of all, your arms will be outstretched toward the sun once more.

Posted in waiting, Word, Writing

Wait Lifting #3 – Finding Hope to See in the Dark

For the past few weeks I have been immersed in a hands-on education in waiting. I’ve written more on this subject here (Life Lessons – Patience),  here (Waiting Room), here (Learning to Wait), and here (Minding Your Ps [Pauses] and Qs [Quizzes]).

Today I want to write about my latest discovery – how to find hope when you’re waiting in the darkest places.

“Why, my soul, are you so dejected?
Why are you in such turmoil?
Put your hope in God, for I will still praise him,
My Savior and my God.”
Psalm 42:5

Have you ever been in a really dark place in life? What was it? Write it down, type it out, or just hold it for a moment in your mind.

Got it?

Right now my dark place is a job search.

Do you have your list? Now what? If you’re anything like me, walking through dark places makes me feel a bit lost, lonely, irritated, angry, disappointed.

How do you trust God with disappointment? How do you trust God in the dark? Just how?

As I mentioned, my latest “moment” has been walking through trying to find a job. I have a really great lead right now, but it’s March 10th and this has been ongoing since January 1st. Just how do I avoid depression and hopelessness when the bills continue to go unpaid?

For me, hope is a candle in the dark. When I place my situation and my hope in God’s hands, I can be in the darkest of places and still walk straight ahead as if I could see, because in the darkest times, he leads me.

My grandmother was legally blind. She could only see a couple of inches in front of her. We would go to the grocery store and she would hold products up close to her glasses and read the labels from inches away. But wherever she walked, I would lead her. She never slowed down. We went all over the place – the mall, restaurants, parks, concerts, ballet recitals, the grocery store. I would take her arm gently and she learned to follow me. That meant she had to trust that I was watching for curbs and obstacles in her path. I would say – “Step up, now” or “Curb” or “Steep incline.” When we watched movies or my daughters’ ballet recitals I would tell her what was happening in vivid detail. She never missed a thing (this is partly why you can read my words and feel like you can see what I’m describing – I learned to describe so that even a blind person could see).

And this is what God does with us. When we learn to trust his voice or his direction even when we cannot see the way ahead, we can keep moving forward.

My sheep hear My voice, I know them, and they follow Me.
John 10:27

So trust. Let him lead you by the arm in the dark places. Let him describe in detail what your heart cannot see.

I don’t know what next week’s job interview will bring.

What I DO know is that I’ve followed his voice. I’m letting him lead. I’m trusting that he knows where he’s leading me. I trust that he’s led me to this particular job and through this particular job interview process. I know his voice. I have followed.

I never said it was easy. In fact, it’s the hardest thing to trust in what you cannot see. This is faith. THIS is where the Light meets the dark.

Just try this week. Stop. Look. Listen.

Are you waiting because it seems dark, or are you going to trust God to lead you out?

Let me know how it goes.

I’m praying for you.

Love, Melissa

Posted in Love, Poetry, waiting, Writing

I’m not the only one thinking this…

Not all words are meant for publication.

Words like these that come at the urging of melatonin and a cup of chamomile tea usually find their way into my journal, but not onto my blog screen.

Maybe these will. Who knows.

Who knows how to navigate this long, strange corridor of a queen bed for one?

What’s the remedy for how to adequately express the words in my head, aloud, when no one will hear them and laugh or sigh or contribute some of their own?

My journal won’t do. It doesn’t speak or express or feel.

Neither the screen.

Nor the silence around me.

What do you do with a giving, unconditional love no one will receive?

How many years should I keep reaching out in the dark, hoping to find a hand to hold, but none is there?

Perhaps these sleep-aid induced ramblings should file themselves away like good soldiers – single-file – left, right, left – back into my mind.

But for all my questions and inquiries, I know for sure that prayers pass through tissue and brain matter, past heart muscle and wall spackle, and reach the ever ready ears and mind and heart of God.

And I know one day I’ll reach my hand out and find one to receive mine. And I know it won’t be long. And I know without a doubt it will have been worth the wait. And I know the waiting will have prepared me for one who is also praying and hoping and reaching out in the dark for the amazing love stored neatly in the storehouses of my heart.

Please tell me I’m not the only one who ever has these thoughts.

I just know I can’t be the only one…

Posted in waiting

Wait Lifting #2 – Minding Your Ps & Qs

My life lately, it seems, is a series of lessons on how to wait patiently. You can read the first blog in this series here. This week’s edition is about minding your Ps (Pauses) and Qs (Quizzes).

Pauses

Waiting isn’t intended to be a long-term state of being, rather, a pause between things. This being said, most of us tolerate the wait for a ride at the theme park with greater patience than, say, a traffic jam when we’re expected at a big meeting. Eventually the line will move, the traffic will disperse, and the pause will be over. It helps to have something meaningful to do while we pause. Talking to a friend or making friends with the people around us helps bide the time in line. Listening to the radio or a meaningful podcast helps bide the time in traffic.

What awaits us at the end of the pause usually affects how tolerant we are of the delay.

Practice this with your next pause: find something meaningful or productive to do.

Quizzes

I’m also finding that when I think I have mastered my ability to gracefully tolerate a pause, life will throw in a little pop-quiz. When I’ve learned to wait well in one area, something else will happen to cause me to test my waiting skills in another.

You know what these quizzes look like:

  • A layoff
  • A sick kiddo
  • A rescheduled appointment
  • A breakup
  • A class that doesn’t make
  • A job rejection letter
  • A manuscript rejection letter

You can make your own list.

Please notice I didn’t say that God gives these pop-quizzes. I’m sure He has done so at some point(s) in time. I’m just saying these are moments we can use to measure our growth in the art of waiting well.

No one likes to wait for anything. Especially in an online check-in world. But please remember: good things really do come to those who wait. I might as well learn to tolerate the wait well.

Posted in waiting

Wait Lifting #1 – Learning to Wait

Lately I’ve been working through the delicate art of waiting gracefully. Instead of just struggling through it myself, I’ve decided to share this journey here, with you.

My hope is that at the end of this blog series we will both find ourselves with some of the weight, AND the wait lifted.

As I was driving home today, my mind flashed back some 15 years to the first of many times I sat and waited at the food stamp office. I took a number, sat there with my 3- and 7-year-old daughters, and waited to be seen. It was two years after I unexpectedly lost my husband to divorce, and consequently my home, my vehicle, my job, and my savings. And now there I sat – at a place I never imagined I would ever be.

Dora the Explorer was blasting over the TV. I recall she was going on a berry hunt and Swiper was definitely swiping. The low ceiling sagged at one corner, so we moved just in case it gave way. An old woman slept in the corner while her 3-year-old granddaughter sat at her feet eating an endless amount of goldfish crackers.

We sat (mostly figeted) for over an hour before we were called up to the little window where I was told to fill out several more forms and then wait until I was called back up to turn them in. When they called my number an hour and a half later, we were in the restroom. I waited another half hour before I went up to the window and found out my number had been crossed off earlier as a no-show. Tears formed in my eyes. I didn’t want to be there; no one ever wants to be there. The lady told me I could either wait until she could fit me back in, or I could come back the next day. And so we waited.

A month later we got our food stamp and medicaid cards. I always budgeted that money. We had many nights of store brand mac & cheese with dented cans of green beans, and many mornings of store brand coffee out of the clearance bins. If I was lucky, they’d have vanilla coffee on clearance. My fave!

It was during that season of lack that I learned how to “make due” in hard times. I am glad for that season now. We don’t need fancy fixins. The girls still remember that day and so many like it. The girls got so used to it that they knew just what toys to bring while we sat and waited.

During that season I started back to school, so I’d do my homework while we waited for hours. During that season I learned to look around that waiting room and make sure to give the other moms a helping hand with their kids on bathroom breaks. I learned to ask someone to listen for my number and to tell other moms that I’d listen for theirs.

Most of all I learned compassion. I loved listening to other people’s stories and I loved giving them hope by encouraging them not to give up.

If you’re ever tempted to look at my life now after graduate school and think – she’s got it all together, please know that I remember what it’s like to spend hours in a welfare line.

If you’re in a place of waiting now and you can’t stand where you are, please look around. Other people need your story. Other people need your encouragement, even if it’s only a smile. Please remember: A smile is a full sentence. A hug is a full conversation. Other people waiting need your help. And the more we help each other, the more we’ll find our wait – lifting.

Click here for the next blog in this series.

Posted in Uncategorized

Waiting Room

“Take courage my heart, stay steadfast my soul, He’s in the waiting.”
-Bethel Music Take Courage

I hurried into the hospital’s maternity waiting area and sat down. It was past 9 pm. My husband and I had driven an hour through Dallas traffic to get there. Our two daughters, ages 2 and 6, were tucked in at their grandparent’s house. We had two, but I was hoping for three. I sat down with a sigh as he rushed to the desk to get some information. Then he hurried back through double-doors down a long, sterile corridor and out of sight.

Forget a theme-park. This was the happiest place on earth. The waiting room was large, but crowded with giggling Aunts, cooing Grandmothers, cigar-trading Papas and excited friends. They all stood around a window longing for a peek at the newborn babies. I sat back and took in the scene. I smiled that so much happiness was contained in one room.
I sat for over an hour and waited. And waited. And waited. And waited.

Two ladies sat across from me. Mother and daughter, I correctly surmised. They sat down, light blue balloons in hand, and clucked back and forth for a moment, then turned to me. “The first grand baby in our family was just born a few minutes ago. We are waiting to see him.” She drawled out height and weight stats and then asked, “Oh, and which baby are you here for?”

“My husband’s.” I stammered. Tears formed at the back of my eyes.
They looked confused.
“Oh, er, I mean, uhm, my husband is here to check on his girlfriend…who is having trouble with her pregnancy.”
The tears flowed hot down my cheeks as if it were April, 1848 and Niagara Falls, once frozen, began to thaw and burst forth again.

I was handed tissues and words of sympathy as the world blurred. I wandered back through that corridor to find my husband holding her hand and listening to the baby’s heartbeat at her bedside.

Funny how you never forget the faces of the people God sends to sit down beside you and comfort you.

That is waiting.

Four years later I walked into the maternity ward at 38 weeks, checked myself in as scheduled, and was shown to a room. This time there was no husband.
A cesarean section had been ordered for me a week earlier, but I convinced the doctor to wait a week so that I could be the backstage mom for my daughters’ huge ballet performance.
I was not about to miss tutus, pointe shoes, and red-headed, hair-sprayed buns.
It took several tries and several nurses to get an IV placed in me that day. It took seventeen sticks in my back to get the epidural in place once I was in the operating room. Seventeen.
Not that I minded. I was way too excited.
Gavin Michael was set to arrive just as soon as everything was in place. As soon as I was numb from the chest down, I felt pressure, then heard the softest, faintest first cry of my baby boy. He was 9 pounds, 10 oz, 19.5 inches long, and had the biggest umbilical cord any of the doctors or nurses had ever seen.

That is awaiting.

Wait and await are both transitive verbs, that is, they are verbs that need a direct object. Their meanings are similar, but slightly different.
Wait means to hold on, stay, or delay action until a later time.
Await, while similar, usually comes with hope or expectation attached.
Okay – grammar nerds – I realize I’m not using all of the definitions of wait or await here. Stay with me.

In the first story, I was waiting for my husband to go see the girl he got pregnant, assess what was wrong with the baby, and hurry back. I was there for moral support and because I wanted to save my marriage. (Needless to say, the ride home was quiet.) Waiting usually happens at doctor’s offices and train stations. It comes with sighs and moans and multiple glances at your watch. It means something is coming (direct object), but implies frustration. Waiting needs patience and sometimes courage.

In the second story, I was awaiting the arrival of my son. I was happy to go through whatever it took for however long it took to get him into the world. I was eagerly expecting his arrival. Awaiting usually happens when something amazing is coming. Awaiting implies faith and hope have joined you for the ride.

What if, instead of just waiting around for something to happen like John Mayer and his crew were Waiting For the World to Change, we were more like Richard Marx and were Right Here Waiting? If you missed the 80s, you missed that. What if we eagerly awaited a job, a marriage, a reconciliation, a new home, a new baby, a change of heart in someone, instead of getting so frustrated?
Let me add a couple of words to stand in for the “a” in await: alive or active.
What if next time, instead of waiting for a new job, you came alive while you waited, breathed that life into yourself, your job search, your friends and family? What if next time, instead of waiting for your spouse to change for the better, you prayed for them and actively worked on yourself while you awaited their change? What if they have actually been awaiting changes in you?

Practically speaking:

  • Give yourself some “waiting” room. Give yourself permission to slow down and enjoy the necessary delay.
  • Await (anticipate) the amazing things that are coming instead of dreading the sterile hallway in the meantime.
  • Walk in grace with yourself and others. Sometimes, like in the first scenario, life is just hard and completely unfair.
  • Be happy for others when they get what you hoped for.

To answer the questions you all are asking in your mind:

  • The baby in the first scenario turned out just fine. She is a beautiful, healthy, cheerleader and a wonderful half-sister to my two oldest girls. I’ve always had a soft-spot for her in my heart. 
  • I healed and moved forward.
  • My son is amazing as well. He’s a musician, basketball player, comedian, and has the greatest, most loving heart and soul.

Waiting, or awaiting? Your choice.