In less than 2 weeks I will be standing in front of some 300 men with no extra agenda on our end except to entertain them with some of the best singers and players around, to lift their spirits, and to remind them of their worth as a child of God.
I am lying here next to my daughter who is blissfully sleeping. I am watching her chest slowly rise and fall, hearing her heavy breath escape her beautiful lips. She is hardly. ever. still. I’m smiling because I rarely have time to behold her in all her little glory. In fact, she’s been going 100 miles an hour since moment one of her birth. She’s so full of verve. She beholds life, wide eyed, in all it’s glory. She soaks it all in and then runs to the next moment with even greater expectations. Her middle name could be “go” instead of ”Faith.” Her faith is instinctive. She is an inherent believer. Right now this little one believes in magic and in wonder; in love and in restoration; in trust and in hope. She is in Eden. She is our little glimpse of the “kingdom”. I think all of our children are in fact. Our little archetypes of grace
To read more please go here to http://deeperstory.com/may-we-all-believe-again/
Our church’s message from January 5th, 2014.
One week from yesterday I will join thousands of women as a part of IF:Gathering. I will be at IF:Austin with over 1000 women and we will be joined online with thousands from all over the nation and the world at IF:LOCAL. I am so honored to be a part and I have to tell you that I’m also a little apprehensive. I’ll be honest as to why. Let’s back up for a second…
2013 was an amazing year and I came across some amazing art. I wanted to pass along some of my favorite pieces from the year.
In no particular order…
Civil Wars – The Civil Wars
This whole album was brilliant for me (and Ben). We actually bought the CD and listened to it in it’s entirety, over and over on our drive from Nashville to Hot Springs, NC for the Wild Goose Festival in June. Only note is that I prefer the original recording of Civil War’s “From This Valley” from MercyLand:Hymns for the Rest of us. The new version is a tad over produced for my liking.
What a movie! For me this is Disney at it’s absolute best. Wonderful story with suspense, surprise, great and unique characters AND it’s like a broadway musical in animation. Both Hutch and Haven loved it as well. This will be a cherished favorite for years.
Macklemore and Ryan Lewis – The Heist
I have grown to love and appreciate the art of rap (probably because Ben is such a fan and can do a mean karaoke version of most 90’s rap songs – but I digress ). This album was full of insight, empathy, lyrical challenge to the listener and great dance tracks. I just loved it and listened to it a lot. My kids love a lot of it too so we were even more thankful when Kidzbop came out with a couple kids version of Thrift Shop and Can’t Hold us. But the kids still prefer the original. can’t blame them…
The Underground Church – Reclaiming the Subversive Ways of Jesus by Robin Meyers
This year I was a horrible reader. I had no follow through. I finished all of 4 books which is very unlike me. I started a hundred and just never finished due to my lack of prioritizing my life. Ugh. I will do better in 2014 because reading is so fulfilling and life giving to me. Robin Meyers has been one of my favorite authors and every time I made time to read this book I was madly underlining things. So when I finally finished this book on New years Day I was so elated. It is full of all that I hope to be as a follower of Christ and all I hope our church to be as well. I can’t recommend it enough to EVERYONE. It’s needed for challenge or reassurance or probably both. I will read it again in 2014 and quickly this time.
Justin Timberlake – 20/20 experience album and concert
Oh Justin. Chalk it up to my love and respect of great performers, great pop music, skilled dancers, flawless vocals, excellent musicians, and all around love of enjoying watching others enjoy themselves and that equals my affinity towards JT. He is all of those things. This album is great. The concert was equally as good. (My birthday/anniversary present from Ben was very, very close tickets in Nashville – points for BEN!) enough. enough.
Lee Daniel’s The Butler
This film was everything I needed it to be. I have a heart for the underdog, the outcast, the less than…so in this film, which tells the story of one man’s long journey of justice slowly but surely being fulfilled, I was brought into the story with him, wanted justice even more after watching, and enjoyed celebrating what has come to fruition in our nation. Say what you will about it, but I was more than pleased.
Hunger Games: Catching Fire
These books (which I read in the beginning of 2012) were some of my favorite fiction in years. I was excited about the first movie and after watching was left disappointed but my love of Catniss wouldn’t change. But this new movie was epic. Catching Fire can stand on it’s own as a great movie, without need of loving the book and tolerating the movies. Great suspense and drama and special effects. It’s a must see for me.
I LOVE this movie. I think it’s brilliant and hilarious. I usually am not a fan of kids movies and I see more kids movies than anything these days. This movie was just great. I think the storyline was interesting and the emphasis on moving forward as life throws new experiences and dangers at you and being open to change and anything new, will get me every time. Yes. Yes. Yes.
Wake me Up - Avicii – trust everyone’s experience no matter their age. Feel all of life now. “I didn’t know I was lost”.
Oceans (Where feet may fail) – I really am not a fan of most Christian music. I know. I know. I think that is because it’s all I mostly listen to in researching music for the church/my job. I have to search and search for songs that are both wonderful lyrically, musically interesting, and corporate. sigh. I wish I was a better song writer. ha. All that to say this song took a while to grow on me but I have to tell you now I LOVE IT. I need it. Our church loves it as well. Get on the band wagon. trust me.
Say Something – A Great Big World and Christina Aguilera - oh. Pure vocals from both artists. Clear, crisp. the lyrics just pull you in and make you long as well. It’s a little transcendent for me. I have felt this towards both other humans and towards God. I can’t wait to have the opportunity to use the song.
Stay – Mikky Ekko, Rihanna – I appreciate angst, pure longing and passion. I think this record has all three. When they performed it live at the Grammy’s I finally loved Rihanna as a live performer, and it was mesmerizing. The best songs are just that. Simple. Honest. Captivating.
All of Me – John Legend I have always loved John Legend. I have followed his beautiful, quirky and funny wife on instagram and their love story. This is the song he wrote for her for their wedding. Love it.
Living the Questions: The Wisdom of Progressive Christianity by David M. Felten and Jeff Proctor-Murphy
The easiest way to explain my love of this book is that it gives a wonderful, concise overview of where I am now in my spiritual journey. It’s easy to read, descriptive, explanatory, moving and challenging. Even though I whole heartedly know that labels run out, I think this gives insight into the heart of the progressive faith.
So cheers to more reading, listening, more art… more beauty in 2014!!
Best – Melissa
Well it is here, it is simple, and it is big. The dream that is, the vision. IF:Gathering. It is a GATHERING of women whose common goal and common ground is simply wanting to make a difference in this world for the Kingdom. That’s it. That’s IF. So in February we will come together in Austin – to laugh, to dialogue, to share wine and break bread, and to pray. It will not be about the line-up or the Christian celebrities on the docket, it’s about you and it’s about me. It’s about how when we choose to come together and to dream then we will realize our impact will be better and our impact will be more WITH each other than it is by ourselves.
About 50 of us gathered for an IF experiment in Austin at the beginning of September and it changed us, it encouraged us, and it influenced us. IF:GATHERING is the result.
First take a few minutes and watch this video message from Jennie Allen to give you a little more insight. https://vimeo.com/75729261
Again there are two options for you ladies in February.
IF: Austin and IF: Local
IF : Local
We don’t want to limit this gathering to a venue in Austin. We are throwing open the doors, and inviting you to join us via webcast. Gather with your friends, neighbors or others in your community and join us virtually. You will have the opportunity to register October 15th. Then in the next several weeks and months, we will send you ideas and resources for our time together.
IF : Austin
Austin Music Hall, February 7th-8th
1) For the Austin gathering, we are eliminating the set ticket price, and asking you to partner with us, by giving what you can to the vision of IF. We ask that you join us in praying for God to provide the funds for us to turn the lights on!
2) Registration for IF:Austin and IF:Local opens Tuesday, October 15th at 11:00 AM Central. However, women who are subscribed to our email list will get to register on Monday. Sign up to get early access (Link: http://ifgathering.com/
3) This vision will not happen if we do not have financial partners. If you believe in this vision, then we ask that you pray about giving to support IF : Gathering. (Link: https://purecharity.com/if-
So that’s it. IF is for the cynic, the saint, the doubter, the believer, the dreamer, the wanderer, the artist, the thinker, the mom, the wife, the sister, the daughter, the hipster, the reader…. IF is for you – ladies. I hope you will consider joining us. I can’t wait to see the results of what we can do together… for our world, for each other, and for our God.
I look forward to sharing a table, a conversation, a prayer, and a glass of wine with some of you in Austin in February.
If God is real, then what?
I have asked many questions in my 34 years on this earth.
Why is the sky blue? What’s actually in a gummy bear? Why does my Memaw smell like peas?
My questions changed as I became a young adult.
Why do I have to be home by 9? What’s wrong with drinking? Why can’t I marry a black man?
My questions continued to change in college and in fact became very directed at the church or those in the church.
Why do you think you’ll lose your salvation? Why do you think I need to speak in tongues? How can we throw around the Bible and it’s verses, such as, “I’ve never seen the righteous forsaken and his children begging for bread” ON THE SOIL OF AFRICA? Would God really create someone to love someone of the same sex and then in the same breath condemn them?
Then as the years have passed, life happened and my questions grew as I grew.
Why does God allow suffering? Does God allow suffering? Is God all powerful, loving and good? Can God be all three equally?
Now these are just a glimpse of my struggles, my thoughts, my doubts, and even my desires throughout the years.
Good news for me and maybe you. EVERYONE has them.
Now we might not share all of the same questions but whether or not we’ve voiced them aloud, we do each have our own.
Right now it seems that WOMEN are finding their voices more than ever before. Women are choosing to be bold, courageous, and humble enough to own our doubts as much as our deepest convictions. Also I think, for some, we have even realized that our doubts are a healthy part of our faith and our spirituality. We are recognizing the tensions in our world and maybe even moreso within our own minds and hearts.
I wonder if you have found your voice or if you want to find it. I wonder if you would love to be a part of a community of WOMEN willing to own the tension, willing to ask the questions, willing to take part in being an answer?
Then welcome to IF.
This vision started by Jennie Allen and is also strategically driven by Lindsey Nobles is finally coming to fruition. It is coming to life because it has captured the heart of not just myself, Jessica Taylor, Lauren Chandler, Jen Hatmaker, Esther Havens, Tara Jenkins, Rebekah Lyons, Bianca Olthoff, Angie Smith, and Ann Voskamp but its purpose is striking a chord in the souls of countless other women.
These women are not necessarily on the same page with every issue – be it social or theological but we ARE willing and wanting to unite together…despite our differences and more importantly because our differences showcase the diversity and beauty of not only ourselves but of those who make up the body of Christ.
We exist to gather, equip
and unleash the next generation
of women to live out their purpose.
We are gathering and uniting a team of women, who already lead our generation, and unleashing them to lead in their spheres of influence. Together we will create a community and foster an ethos – connecting, encouraging and collaborating together.
We are creating a blueprint for intentional equipping – reaching women with tools that are holistic, strategic and deep. By providing easy online access to a like-minded community and relevant resources, we will release women around the world to live out their purposes. // Online · 2014
A fresh, deep, honest space for a new generation of women to wrestle with the essential question: IF God is real… THEN what? This 2-day conference brings women together and wrestles out how to live out the calling God has placed on our lives. // Austin, TX Feb. 7–8 2014
By partnering with organizations like Food for the Hungry, coming alongside women around the world, fostering relationships and utilizing our God-given gifts, our hope is that this movement will not only transforms hearts but leave a tangible impact on the world.
This is just the beginning ladies. I hope you will join us, join the conversation, find your voice, your purpose and choose to use it for good in our world. We need it. We need you. This world needs WOMEN that will use our minds, our intuition, our feminine wiles, our passion, our integrity, our creativity, our gentleness, our boldness, our lives to bring about the Kingdom. I’m in. Are you?
Cindy Morgan – Hymns and Spirituals
Andrew Greer – Angel Band:the Hymn Sessions
Justin Timberlake – The 20/20 Experience
Johnny Swim – any of it.
To Bless the Space Between Us - John O’Donohue
Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime – Phyllis Tickle
A Better Atonement – Tony Jones
Rob Bell – he spoke at Vanderbilt and it was pretty intriguing.
More and more artwork by my little artist, Hutch.
Change in my body because I’m being intentional about working out again.
The Rachel Zoe Project
(can’t help it)
It had been a while since I had experienced a thin place, a moment where heaven and earth seemed connected and there was no doubt but to believe.
I was asked last summer to get involved with the ministry of Timothy’s Gift (www.timothysgift.com). TG is a ministry to inmates offering relief, hope and redemption through friendship, entertainment, and seminars. I was originally asked to help put together a “U.S.O. style” Christmas program -for a 12 day tour. T.G. wanted to take talented artists in to lift the spirits of the prisons during the most depressing time of the year for inmates, Christmas. The task seemed difficult. You could not sing anything too nostalgic, nothing that reminded them too specifically of going home or loved ones, it needed to bring laughter and funny songs, songs that they would be familiar with and then also remind them or tell them the story of Jesus, the story of LOVE. After recruiting the talent from GracePointe Church (which is FULL of talent I might add) I began the specifics of the program. By the Fall, I had resigned myself to the fact that I needed to go on this tour as well. We turned in our information to Ron Miller (founder and organizer of TG), which then of course had to be background checked and screened. Finally we were all approved and set to leave. 12 days, 19 prisons, 9 people (3 of us rotating in and out).
The day before we left Haven was diagnosed with the flu. She was horribly sick and I fought myself all day about leaving her for 5 days while I went on my part of the tour. After many conversations with Ben, my mom and Ron, I decided I needed to go. We left the next day. During the 7 hour drive to FL, I second guessed myself for most of the trip. Should I have left my family??? After frequent calls to Ben and my mom, Haven seemed to be recovering slowly but doing well. Finally on WED morning we went to the first prison.
I will give you the average scenario of the prison. We pull up to chain link fences and gates with 3 rows of barbed wire lined top and bottom. To say these were highly secure prisons, is an understatement. We would punch in our codes and scan our fingers and then wait for the guards approval to enter which could take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour. We’d enter after they had thoroughly checked each one of us individually and all of our equipment. We were given body alarms to attach to our belts, just in case of emergencies. Once inside, we’d head straight to the chapel and were usually greeted and offered help by a select few of approved inmates. We’d set up in about 30 minutes. Finally the 150 or so inmates would enter. Some of them were rugged looking, some weary, some young, some old with need of canes, some clean cut, some laughing… but all dressed in blue.
We would begin with a welcome and a familiar song. Most of them, because they had volunteered to be there, were enthusiastic to sing along, to clap, to laugh. Others had to be won over but it seemed after 30 minutes or so,every time, it worked. The first half of the set was light, playful and even funny. The laughter that filled the room was infectious and healing. They seemed to know that we were there for THEM. There was an attitude of level ground instead of the usual looking down on to them that they are so often used to. Then we introduced our resident Artist, who shared her story of doubt and questioning God and finally the reassurance she found that God will cover her – all of her, including her questions, anger, and doubt. She told them that she would paint an angel that God had placed in her heart and that she would leave the painting with them to remind them that they too are covered. We then moved into sacred Christmas songs.
Finally, I sang the song “love me” (by JJ Heller) over them and it was in this moment that I knew I had made the right decision in coming on the tour. If you don’t know the song, you can listen to it fully here http://youtu.be/PgGUKWiw7Wk. The lyrics describe a young boy alone and also a woman who’s husband has left her, both desperately searching for someone to love them for them…
I tried my hardest to find each and every one of their eyes as I sang the last verse…
He’s waiting to die as he sits all alone. He’s a man in a cell, who regrets what he’s done.
He utters a cry from the depth of his soul, “Oh Lord, Forgive me. I want to go home.”
Then he heard a voice, somewhere deep inside and it said, ” I know you’ve murdered and I know you’ve lied.
I have watched you suffer for all of your life. Now that you’ll listen, I’ll tell you that I
Oh I love you for you. Not for what you have done or what you will become. Oh I love you for you. I will show you the love, the love that you never knew.”
I quickly tried to tell them that this is exactly why we’ve come but I was cut off completely by a standing ovation of applause accompanied with weighted tears. They probably had not heard these words since their mistake or if they had, from very few. But this is why we came. We came to tell them and remind them that they are loved. I told them of the idea of the Kingdom of God being like a table and that they are still welcome and have a place waiting at that table. That they are not their mistake and that they have a future they can step into. A better future. We had prepared 2 stations to administer communion. I would invite them to come, because Jesus invited them to come. I asked (as I have learned from my friend, Ian Cron) them to hold out their cupped hands in order to receive the bread we will break. I wanted them to receive instead of take and to be reminded that life, all of life and their life is a gift. Then they would dip that bread into the wine.
They started to come quickly, needy for love, for a gift, some more broken than others, but every last one of them comes on their own and receives. It’s the first time, maybe in all of ministry, that I recognize the truly sacred gift it is to share the good news that YOU ARE LOVED to someone who so desperately needs it. It was holy moments, with tears shed, wine spilling, bread broken, life shared.
I remember one man specifically. He was very tall and muscular and reminded me of Michael Clarke Duncan’s character in the movie The Green Mile. This man walked into the chapel looking very hard and intimidating. Eventually he cracked a smile and I knew we had him captive when he threw his head back in laughter at one of the songs and then proceeded to clap along. He came to my line of communion. He towered over me and cupped his very large, strong hands… hands that may have raped, or murdered, or stolen… he looked into my eyes as I looked up into his tear stained face, “His body broken for you” I said. I used one hand to place the piece of bread into his hands and cupped the underneath of his hands with my other. As I looked into his eyes I BEHELD innocence trapped deep inside. It was in that moment that I looked and beheld not a 40 year old criminal, but a child. I feel I saw a glimpse of how God sees us, beautiful and broken but with the hope and promise of redemption through LOVE. I will never be the same and I hope I can say the same for that man.
So, now I believe more than ever before. I believe that we are all made in the image of God. That we are all the beloved. That we are all broken to varying degrees. I believe that we all have hope. I believe that the CREATOR is LOVE and that LOVE will never fail. I believe that I am to tell all with my life, my work and my words that poignant truth. You are loved. You are of great worth. You have a place at the table.
My life is changed. My ministry renewed. My focus is steadfast. I believe again.
Here’s to an impactful 2013… peace to you, Melissa