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Loving the Four Year Olds

I was told by a wise someone when I first began working in a mental health environment that to deal with difficult people and/or difficult personality types to look at them as though they were a four or five year old. Especially for those that act out like crazy. Look at them past what is going on in the moment as a child needing attention, love, acceptance…needing something. A child from an environment that perhaps didn’t regard them or teach them manners or respect or an envirnonment that just didn’t love; maybe where there was no peace.

We have much patience and our love is more unconditional for the four and five year olds.

That mindset has always helped me deal and form connections with many different types of people and love them all nevertheless. That mindset allows me to stay graceful in some very strange situations and it allows me to see potential and precious things within the hearts, often hearts masked by the effects of a hard, hard world.

I believe that the way this wise someone told me to see people is the way God sees all of His children. It is the way He saw me. I am one of those four years olds some days…thankfully not as often as I once was.

I am grateful for those that loved me anyway and those that loved me through. I am grateful for love and I have come to believe that most everything and maybe absolutely everything that people come to this counseling facility to get help with, can be healed most through LOVE! Our heavenly Father’s love first but also our love; both unconditional and both free flowing. Love changes you. Love means sometimes putting our own selves out there. Speaking the TRUTH of GOD’s WORD and allowing both that Truth and also that Father’s love through us to give people an environment that grows them up. Not all at once sometimes but more like a plant growing silently…growing and developing sometimes even unnoticed but then one day you turn around and there it is…standing in front of you with such beauty and such purpose. Hidden no more in sometimes the most unexpected people and places.

Yes, loving some is sometimes a challenge and sometimes messy but always the rewards of seeing someone set free and bloom are beyond breathtaking.

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Matthew

The first time I knew for sure that I had seen the face of Jesus was when I met a boy named Matthew at a Romanian Orphanage. I had been warned of the “horrors” and told that if I didn’t want to see him and others like him that I could stay outside of their special room. I had been warned to say nothing of the experience while still in Romania because it was illegal for me to even be allowed in this particular orphanage and to speak of it put their workers in danger. Internationals and especially Americans were no longer allowed to be in these places. They are not allowed to adopt these children. Americans are allowed in the mission organization orphanages but not the government run facilities. I just happened to be hosted by a wonderful woman that once worked there and she arranged for my visit after a few days of long conversation over morning coffee.

Nothing just happens. It was a part of a great plan.

The orphanages are dark, old, and ill equipped…but their workers love the children and do the best they can with what few resources they have and within what they are allowed by law to do. Many sacrifice food and other things we would consider necessity to supplement the milk and food of these that they have grown to love so.

As I arrived at the orphanage I prayed that the Lord would help me to be able to look into the face of anything and anyone with love and without flenching. I remembered past experiences with people that had been victims of accidents and crime and having a hard time looking into their eyes. I didn’t want that to be what I left with and what I left them with.

Matthew was a little boy with a head so big that he could not sit or stand and could only lay to the side. In America we would call that hydrocelphalus or water on the brain. In America we would have treatments and special hospitals and special therapy. In Romania these children are immediately deserted and put into orphanages where they will spend the rest of their lives or until their eighteenth birthday. In Romania even the mentally challenged are set aside and out of the orphanages to fend for themselves at the age of eighteen..unless a mission organization agrees to take them in.

Matthew lay in his little crib all day, every day. He could not speak and his eyesight was poor. His head was much to big and it caused everything to be much too unstable to allow for us to hold him. He was rotated from side to side every few hours but his head had grown and flattened. His head was twice as big as his little body that had not grown much at all. Matthew’s body look to be about 3 months old. Matthew was three years old.

I remember walking up to him and I all I wanted to do was touch his face…so I did. And he smiled. It was then I saw Him…it was the face of Jesus! I knew it, for sure. I didn’t cry then like I did for so many days afterward and as I do to this day when I think of his smile. His beautiful face. I had a hard time pulling myself away. He was by far the most beautiful child I have ever seen. I was not allowed to take pictures so in the moments I had with him, I memorized his face and his body. I can see him today as though it were yesterday.

I have often wondered why God would allow a little boy to just lay there but I kind of know. I pray that every day someone can see what I saw and I know that one day I will see him again.

Since that very moment I have been able to see the face of Jesus in so many people. God allows it. Sometimes I am in awe and kind of taken breathless and speechless. I wonder if they even know what I can see in them.

The Bible says of Jesus almost what I was told of little Matthew –  In Isaiah 53:2: “For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.”

Oh that I could go again and take you to that orphanage to see the face of Jesus in a little boy named Matthew!!! Since I can’t do that yet…I just look around.

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Just a thought…

When Jesus told Peter, “If you love me, feed my sheep,” Peter had just denied Jesus. Can you imagine Peter’s feelings of guilt? I’m sure he considered ending all ministry.

How I hear that today: Jesus says to us, “If you love Me, FORGET the mistakes and failures of the past and focus on what I asked you to do!” (Of course, I’m not talking about short-circuiting repentance)

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Judas Come Home…

I have given a lot of thought over the years to Judas. Maybe because I am the daughter of a man who was also my pastor, who committed suicide. By doing so, my dad betrayed so many…yet mostly God. To me Judas is not just the person who betrayed Jesus with a kiss.  Out of the necessity of trying to figure my own life I have always sought to know him as more. Recently one morning I felt the Holy Spirit speaking to me and showing me something new and really unexpected about this from these verses.

“Then when Judas, who had betrayed Him, saw that He had been condemned, he felt remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, 4 saying, ‘I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.’ But they said, ‘What is that to us? See to that yourself!’ 5 And he threw the pieces of silver into the temple sanctuary and departed; and he went away and hanged himself.” Matthew 27:3-5

Oddly enough, I had never considered that Judas felt such deep sorrow that he made an attempt to repent. The only problem was he repented to the wrong people, the religious crowd. I began to consider what would have happened if Judas instead of going out and killing himself had went to Jesus as He was dying on the cross and pursued forgiveness from Him. What would Jesus do? Would He have forgiven Him? Will God forgive anything and everything? These were all questions that were swirling in my mind. I do believe Jesus would have forgiven Judas if He was given the opportunity, but Judas could not forgive himself so he took matters into his own hands and killed himself.

I knew the Lord wanted to show me more; in a sense I felt Judas had something else to say to me. So I continued to pray over this and I also talked to friends about their perspective on Judas and within days someone walked up to me and handed me a book titled, The Gospel According To Judas by Ray S. Anderson. I did not even get past this first sentence in the prologue when I read what was to be only the first of what Judas was telling me.

“I saw it in the men’s restroom in a restaurant in San Francisco, printed in block letters with a blue felt tip pen across the top of the mirror:

JUDAS COME HOME – ALL IS FORGIVEN!”

When I read that phrase it was like someone stuck a red-hot sword into my heart. All the memories- but not of anything to do with my dad…these were memories from my own Judas moments that came into my mind. I remembered the feelings of having betrayed my God…the rejection, loneliness and the feeling of not having a place I could call home. I also began to think about all the many people I knew and know who have also betrayed or lost face in the church or suffered rejection or shame and eventually left.

Then I heard a whisper from heaven saying tell them…tell the Judas out there, “Come home all is forgiven, I love you.” That little phrase really broadened my revelation of the Father’s heart and love toward all of us. It makes me want to go to everyone I know that has run way for any reason, even as I did, and tell them “Come home, all is forgiven, the Father loves you.” This is what Judas was trying to tell me – how big the Father’s heart really is.

In the epilogue of the book Ray gives us a wonderful picture of the love and grace of the Lord.

“My choosing of you counts more than your betrayal of Me!” Through His grace I discovered that the calling of God by which we become children of the kingdom does not rest upon our faith alone, but upon His faithfulness toward us.”

Judas please come home, I know how you feel, but all is forgiven and the FATHER LOVES YOU!!!

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Just Showed Up For My Own Life too

Three years ago I watched a documentary about the AIDS epidemic in Africa. Honestly at that time I had no interest in Africa, AIDS or the people affected in the world. It was not in the radar of what I knew as my life, but that day God sat me down and sat me still and He touched my heart. Although it wasn’t a religious video or even one of social justice, I couldn’t turn away from what I saw and heard from Him that day…the burden. I told my family afterward that I would be going to Africa on a mission trip one day.

Over these last years I have thought about that statement and that day often. Then several days ago I watched a music video by Sara Groves. It was a video set to her song I Saw What I Saw and it was a message about how her life was changed and how it really began by a visit to Rwanda. When I saw it I started crying. I was bawling like a baby. Couldn’t contain my feelings. I know what God has placed in my heart and seeing that video brought it all into the open, if just in my own room…it had become a burden and was this true desire I was feeling?

Today I watched another documentary from the Nomad Film Series. It was titled- Just Showed Up For My Own Life. This documentary, about Sara Groves as well, chronicled both that visit to Rwanda but in much more detail and Sara ministering in Louisiana during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. I am completely undone.

I have over these last years asked God to give me a heart that felt love, real love. God has taken my heart filled to the brim with so many prejudices and judgments and apathy and I can feel Him replacing it with His heart of deep longing and love and “homesickness” for these nations of Africa but also for individuals; also for this nation…the poor and broken-hearted of this nation and this town. I have cried all day for the orphans and the widows; for the elderly; for the women and for the men. Those living in poverty and a kind of trauma that I can’t even understand. His people, His children. Then I find myself praying that He would give me a nation and to help me perceive the need in the one in front of me today.

What God has placed in my heart is beyond my understanding. I guess I write it here because I have to believe there is someone out there that knows something at all about what I am feeling. I admit I don’t get it exactly and I admit it might sound crazy. I don’t even know the simple things I need to know so yes it is so beyond me…but for whatever circumstance I find myself or whatever season of my life I am in, this is. This is a new reality that has always been there in God’s plan for me. It is now a part of my own life. It is risky and yet I know the risk of not showing up for this part of my life is so much greater. I see documentaries like this and read books and listen to missionaries speak and I just want to see and know a people with that kind of love, faith, healing, joy that these people seem to know. I want to walk with Jesus there- maybe so I can know more of how He wants me to walk with Him here. One of the consequences of great prejudice seems to be great responsibility. I have to own that. I want to quit crying and yet I don’t want to ever quit. It is now my burden, my desire and my prayer.

I have been meditating on this scripture today. It has blessed me:

Isaiah 41:9-10 (New International Version)

9 I took you from the ends of the earth,
from its farthest corners I called you.
I said, ‘You are my servant’;
I have chosen you and have not rejected you.

10 So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

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Mind of Christ

I often journal my prayers. This morning during one such prayer, I simply wrote the following…”Father, Show me how to love like you love. What will that look like in my life?” As I finished I began reading in the Bible where I had left off the day before. The passage was Mark 10 but I could go no farther than verse 45 because as I read this verse I began to hear God answer.

45For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

My eyes were drawn to a little note I had in the margin “see Philippians 2:3-7” and so I turned to it.

3Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

Wow- I saw it, heard it, felt it. I got it. God was answering my question from His Word and so from His heart. Jesus came not to be ministered to, but to minister. If my goal is to love like Jesus, to be more and more like Him then am I not asking for the “mind of Christ?” And if this is what I am asking for, if I receive it then what am I expecting? What I feel the Father showed me is that to receive the “mind of Christ” and to learn to love as He loved and live in a way that pleases Him will cause a change to be made in me that is very visible and unmistakable but in that change… I will be made only a servant, of no reputation on this earth, just like His Son.

Oh that I would embrace such service and honor it as the ultimate gift passed down to me by a loving Father; shared with me by His precious Son, Jesus.

 

Posted in prayer

Blessed are the Poor

Have you ever just had one of those days where despite problems everything fell into place in a way that you just knew God was in control and you felt like something was going to happen? You may have to much on your plate and have not even gotten through half of your “to do” list but even still a sense of peacefulness has fallen. Looking at the clock, you wonder if time has stopped or something. Have you ever asked God to allow your steps to be His steps and to prevent you from straying from those steps…even if just for today…and then been totally surprised by His steps and that He answered your prayer? This has been my day and I am very aware that if I don’t follow exactly I will be off the path that was created. I feel urgency in my writing and in my heart.

I began the afternoon with a need to pray but not really knowing what for. I know to pray for the needs of others and the church and myself but today I sensed that this was not the day to pray for the usual. This was a different need. Since I didn’t know that need, I began praying the scriptures. I just opened my Bible randomly and began. The scripture for this time was Isaiah 61:1-3. Wow…I love Isaiah.

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion- to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.”

I meditated on the words anointing and poor but all my mind could see was love. Why love? Doesn’t even mention love. Maybe since I have had God’s love on my mind lately. I understand the concept of anointing and anointing for power to preach… but I began to think that maybe something like love could change a person much easier and more completely than preaching-even good preaching. (umm sorry to some of you ; )I wondered if it was necessary or helpful to be anointed to love— in a radical way? To love like God loves? Could God’s radical love flow through you if you didn’t feel particularly anointed to love? Or is everyone equally gifted in this area since after all, God is love. And what about the poor? Who are the poor? Why even call out the poor? It can’t be just an economic description although we can’t ignore that. It almost has to be the poor spiritually, the poor emotionally, the poor physically? How does God want us to take care of the poor? There are just so many. In fact, could not most people be found poor in some area of their lives…so are we not called to care for what would seem everyone? Everyone!! All of them? What is He saying?

As I finished prayer, I picked up a book that has been a source of devotion for me for the last weeks by Henri J.M. Nouwen titled Here and Now. This was part of what I read:

“Jean Vanier, the Canadian who founded a worldwide network of communities for mentally disabled people, has remarked more than once that Jesus did not say: ‘Blessed are those who care for the poor,’ but ‘Blessed are the poor.’ Simple as this remark may seem, it offers the key to the kingdom. I want to help. I want to do something for people in need. I want to offer consolation to those who are in grief and alleviate the suffering of those who are in pain. There is obviously nothing wrong with that desire. It is a noble and grace-filled desire. But unless I realize that God’s blessing is coming to me from those I want to serve, my help will be short-lived, and soon I will be ‘burned out.’ How is it possible to keep caring for the poor when the poor only get poorer? How is it possible to keep nursing the sick when they are not getting better? How can I keep consoling the dying when their deaths only bring me more grief? The answer is that they all hold a blessing for me, a blessing that I need to receive. Ministry is, first of all, receiving God’s blessing from those to whom we minister. What is this blessing? It is a glimpse of the face of God. Seeing God is what heaven is all about! We can see God in the face of Jesus, and we can see the face of Jesus in all those who need our care. Once I asked Jean Vanier: ‘How do you find the strength to see so many people each day and listen to their many problems and pains?’ He gently smiled and said: ‘They show me Jesus and give me life.’ Here lies the great mystery of Christian service. Those who serve Jesus in the poor will be fed by him whom they serve: ‘He will put on an apron, set them down at the table and wait on them’ (Luke 12:37). We so much need a blessing. The poor are waiting to bless us.”

Amazing. God put a whole new light on a piece of His Word for me; a whole new light in my heart. Is He beginning to answer my prayer and change my heart? A heart that has seen too much, heard too much and stopped really feeling some things long ago. Is He changing my skepticism, negativity and frustration with such a needy world by giving me a vision of the possibilities- the possibilities of sharing His love and sharing in His love and sharing Him? Even sharing His love with Him. Even sharing in His love by sharing Him. Strange thoughts to me.

Then it was as though God Himself were asking me these next questions…Melissa, how do you view the family that walks right past your house every day because they can’t afford the gas or the car to put it in? How do you view the homeless with their signs and cups? How do you view those that are so anxious and stressed that they won’t allow themselves to slow down and see Me even as they sit fidgeting in church? How do you view the prostitute, the drug addict, the gang member? How do you view the lonely? How do you view those in nursing homes or those in their own prisons of disease- those with Alzheimer’s or Aids? How do you view those that have just been beaten down through prejudice and hate and neglect? How do you view the housewife that seems to have it all but keeps herself so busy that she doesn’t have the time to really check her heart? Melissa, how do you view Me?

You know, I am just trying to get to the end of a very busy day and on to the next prayer meeting, but today I can hear God’s voice calling me to go by the nursing home to visit someone I haven’t checked on in a while. Someone I really only know as acquaintance but someone still so familiar to something within my soul. Because of old age and illness, I will probably never really get to know this person, but somehow we connect and she has something for me that I desperately need. I’ll leave work and make it happen and you know I honestly can’t wait because I know in my heart I am meeting Jesus there.

Isn’t it wonderful that those that a part of the world would consider profoundly lacking in some way are actually chosen by God to be bearers of a profound grace of God’s presence? Shouldn’t that give us all Hope? And as I run to that nursing home should I not be singing praises knowing that I am getting ready to have just a glimpse of the face of Jesus, my own Savior?

You know, I don’t have it together so please, please don’t think that I even think I do because here is the real test that is yet to be taken. If I ever pass it maybe then I will know for sure I have a revelation and understanding of a love that has changed me. Radical true love…God’s love flowing in me and through me. The test- If I knew that Jesus were not going to be there today…if it was just going to be a lonely lady in a tattered and soiled nightgown that would cling to me physically in desperation and cry out horribly when I leave but then would never ever remember my visit or my name on this earth or in the next, would I still drop everything and sing praises and go?

Posted in Journal

Granny’s Eulogy (reprinted in honor of her on this Grandparent’s Day)

What a glorious day! I am so happy for granny today. She is with my grandpa, J.P., (Pete to most) the man that she loved so much. She is with my little sister and I am sure they are having a great conversation about us. Don’t I miss the good, strong coffee and those long talks and the lemon pound cake? She is with her sisters and her parents and so many others that have gone before…but mostly, she is with her Lord and Savior. She has seen Jesus. She now has a perfect mind and a perfect body and she is going to need it to carry her crown to that throne because I am quite sure that she would never have expected the amount of stars that I just know are in her crown.

There is just no way I can talk about Granny and not talk about Grandpa too…As most of you here know when I was fourteen we gathered at this same place after my father died. My granny’s love- well really the love of both of my grandparents was one way that God redeemed my strong desire for and need for love after my dad’s death. Before his death, I had never really known my grandparents, but circumstances and the amazing kindness of some very special people allowed them to move next door and they became not only everyday role models for my teenage years, but nurturing and strong companions. For those few precious years, I had the greatest childhood. Despite everything that had happened, I knew I was extremely blessed. My grandparents made me feel love that was unconditional but also I felt like the love we shared was more special than anyone else’s….I just knew that I was the favorite. Now, that may or may not have been true. From the stories I have heard lately, I am quite sure they made everyone feel this way. I sure hope so. My grandparents were the best…

When I think of them today, I do not think of their wealth because they never really accumulated any. My grandparents were the least materialistic people I have ever known. That being said it is funny that the last conversation I had with granny was about shopping. Last Tuesday afternoon as I sat with her in the hospital room after a very long silence she suddenly turned to me and said, “you know, If I had any money I would go shopping.” “You would? What would you buy?” I asked. She said, “I think I would buy something to wear.” So I said, “Well if you had any money, I would let you take me shopping.” To which she laughed. She loved shopping at Wal-Mart.

Also, when I think of my grandparents, I do not think of education because they did not degrees. But they always supported our dreams regarding higher education and granny never whined about the many, many long graduation ceremonies we inflicted on them like grandpa did.

I do not think of their religious activities because although they loved and feared God and although granny was a member of my beloved Poplar Springs Baptist Church, often they just did not go to church.

I think of their smiles and their sense of humor and joy of living. They loved to laugh and passed that joy to me freely. There was always laughter in their house and in their hearts…even until the end Granny smiled and joked. So funny. But mostly still when I think of them, I think of their unconditional love for me and for others. Love for their family and their ability to befriend and help take care of not only us but people they met in their everyday life. Sometimes complete strangers. My granny showed me what it was to love freely, unconditionally and forever. To not hold offense…by her love for me and by her love for others. She and my grandfather did not always speak their love, but they always without exception lived it.

Now that Granny has gone home, it is our turn to show what we learned from her. Did we learn what she taught us about that kind of love? Did we learn what she taught us about strength? One of my most vivid memories of granny was on the day after my father’s funeral. I was standing in the kitchen and I started to cry. This little woman put her hands on either side of my face and said “Stop that crying and be strong for your mother.” For many years I didn’t know what to make of that although I responded “yes ma’am” and tried hard to obey and for some reason I felt oddly comforted by it. Then I had kids of my own and came to realize that a mother will do whatever it takes to protect her child from pain. It is instinct. That was my granny loving and protecting her child. She was completely heartbroken that my mom was having to go through such pain. My granny loved her three girls. She was a strong woman and mother. There have been those that could not see her strength because they got wrapped up in the fact that she did not drive and had to depend on others. However, she was one of the strongest women that I have ever met and there is tangible evidence of that in not only her own life but also the daughters that she raised…they are all women who faced adversities in life and did so not only with strength but also grace. True overcomers.

These three lived what they were taught as they cared for granny. They have truly honored their mother and father and they honored God in this process. It was not always easy. It was hard to sit and watch someone you love so much slowly move away from you. It was hard sitting in silence without that mother that was once so full of conversation. It was hard not being recognized or remembered by the woman that once made you feel so special. Watching this person of such strength be childlike and in need of constant care was very hard . . . but what a joy when she would look up at you and smile or laugh at the story you were telling. What a delight when she would remember your name. It was hard, but in caring for Granny these women took what they learned from her and have shown us, the next generation and our children about love that is unconditional and forever and what it means to be a family. I have truly been blessed to know my granny and am still being blessed in knowing these women. They have taught me love.

The amazing thing about Granny’s kind of love is that this is also God’s love. God’s love is free. It is unconditional, forever, family and each of us His favorite. He is faithful and He loves you so much and He loves me so much that He will sometimes stop the world or allow circumstances in your life that will put a beautiful, gentle granny right next door to show you just a glimpse of that perfect love.

Nellie Josephine Crowe Burgess…she was my granny. She was my delight.

Posted in Journal

God’s favorite

God’s heart is so big and so full of love for each one of us that only I can fulfill the desire of His heart in the place He has prepared for me and only you can fulfill the desire of His heart in yours. I am His favorite…but you are too.