God

I believe…once again

I believe…once again

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

 

my calling as a co-creator

my calling as a co-creator

After now having two children, I have lived the privilege of being a co-creator with God. I have literally lived out an aspect of the creation process. I now have a clearer understanding of the beauty of the Creator’s work. I have watched my own body grow and change in order to create to co-create two unique masterpieces ( I guess that my husband Ben had something to do with this ☺ ). This first hand account, twice over, has given me perspective of not only God’s creative nature but mine and the responsibility that comes along with that. Now if I can apply this to music or art, I have a more weighted appreciation for creativity in this aspect. I feel it is both an honor and a duty to use this artistic creativity to love God, others and myself well. I resonate with the quote where Harold Best says, “Dear Creator, now that you have shown me your way, I shall try and show you mine.” This quote shows the beauty of and the strength found when the artist knows her place as the created and her duty as a creator. She then can move forward humbly and diligently to do her work and to do it well. She knows and finds her freedom in the Ultimate Creator, in whose image she was created. She then uses that freedom to give others a glimpse of that Creator as well. I also am reminded of the quote by St.Ireneus, “The glory of God is man fully alive.” For me personally, I am fully alive when I am creating and using that to either love God, others or myself well or when I am pointing others to love God, others, or themselves well. For me, creating or more specifically recognizing that I am co-creating is when I am fully living and it’s also when I am answering one of my highest calls.

Back to School.

Back to School.

I am here at Lee University literally at this moment, sitting in the Conn Center listening to the singers and band sound check for the chapel service that will start in about 30 minutes.  So many memories… it has grown so much.  The campus looks beautiful. They now have a Chick-Fil-A, Einstein Bagel and Dunkin Donuts on campus… nice. There are about 2000 more students now and they almost look like children.  I mean little children.  Was I this young? Ha – Well I’ve been back a couple of times to sing at Lee since I left.  Once with TRUTH, then with Avalon and then on my own with the Lee Singers a couple of times. (Once a singer always a singer ! )  So I’ve been back before but it’s been a few years now.  Every time I came back to Lee it was with excitement and a lot of nervousness because this is a MUSIC school.  Well technically it’s a liberal arts university but this school is known for it’s music.  So when I left school (with 22 hours left to graduate) to join the artist group TRUTH, it was a big deal to come back and sing for this school.  When I was attending Lee, I went to see the Avalon/Crystal Lewis Gold Tour in the Conn Center.  I was a huge fan.  So years later when I joined that group, Avalon, and we went back to sing at Lee for a Sunday night Concert, it was a big deal for me.  I was both nervous and excited to go back and share my ministry with this audience.

 

Now let me jump back to the present.  I am not back at Lee to do a concert or even just to visit, I am back at Lee to finish my undergraduate degree.  I have only 2 classes that I need to take on campus and I am doing that this fall.  I come back very humbly now and with a slight smile on my face.  This is not because I think it was a poor decision to leave Lee 12 years ago to pursue my dreams but because I realized I will now be the “old” student.  This summer I turned 33 years old.  I am calling this my “Jesus year”.  I mean that in a very honoring way and again with a smile that Jesus’s 33rd year was very important and transformative for not only him but the world.  So I am hoping this year for me will be both transformative and affect my “world” of influence. Now again, I know in the grand scheme of life that 33 is NOT OLD.  I also want you to know that I, personally, celebrate my age.  At this point I have welcomed each birthday and I feel very settled in who I am and what age I am.  I am not scared of the aging or the process, in fact I welcome it.  So I come humbly back to school because I came to the realization that this time when I return probably no ones knows much about Avalon, if they do I’m sure it will be “Oh you were in the group that was popular in the 90’s.  My parents LOVE Avalon.” –Ladies and Gentlemen that was over a decade ago and wow I am facing the reality that I have lost my cool factor – as far as coolness goes with being an “Artist” or a “Contemporary Christian Artist” at that.  So now I feel a little like Rodney Dangerfield in the movie BACK TO SCHOOL.  I loved that movie (I should mention it’s rated R for all the right reasons)  It also stars a young Robert Downey Jr., Sam Kinison and Sally Kellerman.   Thornton Melon “Rodney” is going back to school to show some solidarity with his son, who is attending as well.  Eventually, Thornton falls in love with a woman and with school again and also performs an incredible dive called the “triple lindy”.  You should rent this movie.  I feel a little like Thornton today, a little out of place but also expecting to fall in love with school, music and learning again.

 

Seriously I am really thankful to have the opportunity to finish.  We had to introduce ourselves the first morning in class and tell what we planned on doing when we graduate.  Most said go into ministry, teach, lead worship, play professionally, I decided to not mention what I have done or now do and decided to say after I graduate I will continue on to grad school.  Which is honestly why I am doing this.  I am planning on continuing school to earn my Masters of Divinity.  So that’s the plan.  So I appreciate your thoughts, any podcasts you recommend for my drive on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and gas money :) – ha.  I appreciate my church, for allowing me the time to do this as well as honor my commitment as full time Pastor of Worship and Arts.  I appreciate my family for our flexible schedules and grace for Mommy being gone once a week.  I appreciate my mom, CiCi, for taking my place with my kids while I am gone.

 

So here I am.  Ready to learn.  Ready to be disciplined with my schedule, time, and commitments.   Ready to be intentional to stretch myself and grow.  Ready for all life has for me.  I’m ready to go back to school.

 

Back to School...

Worship…

Worship…

Over three years ago I began my journey as a Pastor of Worship and Arts and I had to settle on what it meant to worship, how to lead it, how to cultivate it and how to live it. I use to only think of worship as that time spent singing on Sunday mornings before the message. Worship was simply the time to prepare our hearts for the Word and thus for God to really speak through the pastor. I realized after living some life and allowing God through my circumstances and experiences among other things to broaden my views; of God, of the world and of the essence of worship. Worship, around my first college years, became a “lifestyle” or at least that’s when the tag line came to be popular. This meant to me that my life should be praise, all the time, every breath. Although I think this was a move in the right direction and one I am glad I made because it brought me to the direction and place I am now in, I quickly and humbly realized that this view of “worship” was unrealistic. Then after a few more years I began to recognize worship as my response to God and thus my response to the life God gave me.
I fully agree with Harold Best’s quote,

“Worship is the continuous outpouring of all that I am, all that I do and all that I can ever become in light of a chosen or choosing god.”

I believe my life; from my first breath once I open my eyes in the morning and become aware of another day to my time at the breakfast table with my family or playing on the trampoline with my kids to times of laughing with my husband to reading a great book or listening or making great art all the way to participating in a “worship” service on Sunday mornings – I believe that it’s all worship. My gratefulness, my frustrations, my doubts, my praise, my awareness, it’s all my intentional response to God and I can only hope as life continues and I mature and grow that my intentionality will simply become my second nature.