Wednesday, 21 December 2016

will you offer a vacancy?

The other evening, a few girlfriends I've been doing a study with had a little Christmas get together at my house.  Since we all came feeling frazzled, tired, and a bit overwhelmed with so much yet to do, I promised that they would leaved feeling pampered, loved and reminded of what really matters most about Christmas.

My one friend has a gift for finding the perfect song for any occasion, so I asked her to bring one to share that evening.  As expected, she chose a song that was just beautiful -- the kind of song that raises goosebumps and goes straight to the heart of you, leaving you speechless for a few long moments -- as if responding with words might ruin something.  

There was one line in particular that I have not stopped thinking about since:

"The only thing my heart can offer is a vacancy."

The song is called "Be Born in Me" and the speaker in the song is a young woman named Mary, chosen by God to receive the great blessing and great burden of bringing the long awaited Messiah, Jesus Christ, into this world. Her vacancy became the fullness of life offered to all humankind.   

What a strange and wonderful thing to offer of yourself -- a vacancy, some empty room in your heart and life. In a world that tells us we should always be fulFILLed, never lacking, never empty, personally satisfied at any cost, it is a strange thought that having a vacancy in your heart might be a good thing; that it might actually be a gift to offer.

But vacancy is a gift that comes with a price.  A heart that is able to offer a vacancy has been emptied of something, sometimes by choice but often not.  Perhaps we've intentionally chosen to give up or let go of something, in order to make room for something better.  Perhaps we've chosen to open our hearts wider, making space to actually feel more pain or more joy,  or to make room for new friendships, or to respond to a need.  But perhaps the vacancy we feel is a result of loss, not by our choice at all.  Maybe we've experienced a loss of someone dear to us or a loss of health.  Maybe it's been the loss of a career or a marriage or a dream,  or the loss of identity that results from such changes. Loss creates a vacancy, one that can feel extremely painful or lonely.  

But could it be possible that a heart-vacancy also allows for new possibilities, for an infilling that could not happen otherwise?  As the Christmas story is told, on the night of Jesus's birth, there was no room at the inn. There was no vacancy.  The world had not prepared a space to receive the Greatest Gift of all.

I can't help but wonder if much has changed since that first Christmas?  I can't help but wonder about myself. 

In all the blessings I've received, in a life abundant with love, family, friendship and grace, am I will to experience an emptiness?  Am I willing to offer a vacancy in my heart and life for Jesus to come and be born in me?

My hope for all of us this Christmas, is that we will make room.  That we will not be satisfied and over-filled with good things, at the risk of missing out on the Best thing, the Giver of Life Himself.

Merry Christmas.  Hugs and love to all of you.

P.S. If you have a few moments, make yourself a warm drink, snuggle into a quiet place and enjoy:  Link: "Be Born in Me" by Nichole Nordeman & sang by Francesca Battistelli

words and images (unless otherwise cited) © copyright Melody Armstrong 2016

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Christmas Reflections

x o x o 

I love this season of Christmas.  I can barely wait each year for the afternoon when our family exchanges ornaments and decorates the tree; for the way we laugh and retell the stories, and one by one weigh down the branches with memories new and old.  I treasure the simple, unexpected moments of togetherness when all of us end up laying around in the living room with the tree lights low, the music playing and the easy conversation that flows.  I love the huge family and friend gatherings with great food, little kids running around and the pleasure of being with those we care about.  Even the kitchen chaos has had a festive feel to it lately... like last night when each of us on crazy schedules came tumbling in at different times, ate our dinner, snacked on ginger cookies, watched the gingerbread house take shape on the table (thanks to Brooklyn), and dipped into the candies meant to decorate it. These are the moments I love and cherish so much.  They are such wonderful gifts.

But there is one gift I cherish more, and sometimes I forget.   It's only when I stop and intentionally set aside some quiet moments to reflect, to pull away from all the hustle and noise, pressure and distraction, that I remember. 

Amidst all the wonderful gifts, there is something infinitely more....the most immeasurable, indescribable, invaluable gift of all: God's gift of Himself to me -- to all of us. He is the gift of fresh, new beginnings; the gift of forgiven mistakes, forgotten pasts, and clean slates.  He is the gift of freedom for our souls. He is Christmas.

A couple thousand years ago, at just the perfect moment -planned before the beginning of time- God did the impossible.  He became small. The creator and mastermind behind all that we might wrap our wildest imaginations around, willingly inserted Himself into time and history, in the form of a helpless baby, born to a peasant girl who was engaged to a carpenter.  And His birth was announced to the shepherds, of course.  God lit up the heavens with stars and angel-choirs singing -- a show for the lowly and lonely and overlooked. 

This is what God always does.  He comes to those of us that want and need him most. He becomes small enough to be born in us,  if we choose to make any room at all for Him in our own soul's manger -- right there in the mess of it all.  And then the Miracle grows in us.  God fills us and spills out of us.  We get to be transformed daily, if we choose, because the creator is lovingly at work within us.

And just like the virgin Mary, who said "yes" to being a vessel wherein Christ could dwell, we have the same choice to make.  Are we willing to say yes, even the tiniest yes, to having God dwell in us?  Are we willing, even when we don't know what it means, when we're afraid, when we doubt, when we're confused and lost in our messy lives, to say yes?  

If we are, if we're willing to make any room at all for God in us, I can't help but believe that we might finally experience a widening of our imaginations and catch a glimpse of Christmas' true meaning and best gift.

Merry Christmas to you all.

words and images © copyright Melody Armstrong 2016

Monday, 21 November 2016

aspiring to humility

I've been wanting to write about humility for several weeks now but have been stalling.  The truth is, thinking about humility theoretically is good, but it is not enough.  Writing about it is not enough.  Every moment I spend time pondering the extraordinary quality of humility, I feel called to turn my thoughts into action, to move from the cerebral to the practical.  And while humility is a quality I want my life to be defined by, I realize that there are no short cuts to becoming humble.  From my experience, the best opportunities to actually practice humility hurt.  We can practice humility when we've been wronged or treated unfairly, when we've been misunderstood, when we find ourselves clinging to the applause of some or shrinking at the disapproval of others, when we are faced with the choice to assert ourselves or put others first.  All of these opportunities and many more like them seem to have one thing in common: they come in times of difficulty.

a modest or low view of one's own importance; humbleness

Humility is beautiful, but it is not weak.  Humility is not to be mistaken for low self esteem or an inferiority complex.  In fact, the portrait of humility I find in the Bible, especially in the person of Jesus, requires immense strength of character and an ongoing commitment to choose love every time. The bible issues a wild challenge to every follower of Christ:
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:  Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death --even death on a cross!  (Philippians 2: 5-8  NIV)

Humility requires of us.   

It requires forgiveness, mercy and kindness.  It requires self-control and a willingness to step down in order to elevate others.  It requires speaking softly or not at all, when it feels more natural to raise our voice and be heard.  It requires listening, caring and for most of us, it requires a lot of practice in consciously choosing to do the hard thing.  

I wish it were otherwise, but the practice of humility does not come naturally to me. I constantly struggle internally with things that work against humility:  insisting on my right to be heard; my over-concern with what others might think of me; my desire to set the record straight, to be understood and accepted; my tendency to put myself on centre stage rather than being content as supporting cast. 

And so.... I've been praying A LOT.  I've been asking God to help me change my mind, to help me choose to think and respond differently than what comes most natural.  The bible has a really cool term for this whole process, it is called the "renewing of your mind."  In Romans 12:2 Christ followers are encouraged in this way:
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is --his good, pleasing and perfect will. (NIV Romans 12:2)

There are different ways to understand the phrase "pattern of this world" but I think the easiest way is that it simply represents the road that most of us travel naturally and easily:  the ME-first road.  In this verse, I think believers are being challenged to choose the hard way -- the way that requires a different model of thinking, literally a new mind on the matter.  And as for what is God's "good, pleasing and perfect will," that can be answered easily:
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.  And what does the Lord require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8 NIV)

Oh goodness!!  Even as I read and write in this moment, I let out a heavy sigh.

I have such a long way to go in this process.  And the hardest part of all is that practicing is really hard.  Am I willing to commit to this kind of rigorous training?  Is the outcome, a life characterized by humility, something I am willing to keep in my sights?

If I truly want to walk daily in humility, I know it means facing difficult things.  It means summoning the courage to invite opportunities, submit to this growing process, and to remind myself:  Don't just think about it.   DO IT!

(come visit me on instagram at "whisperingsoulstreams" and please take a moment to share my blog with others by clicking one of the share icons below)

words and images (unless otherwise cited) © copyright melody armstrong 2016

Saturday, 8 October 2016

happy T H A N K S G I V I N G 2016

 i am THANKFUL for...
(in 2 minutes or less...ready...set...GO!!!)

1. Jesus' unconditional love for me incredible husband and kids 3.Tuesday night sleepovers with mom and our Wednesday's together 4. lifelong friendships that grow deeper each day 5.the way my heart dances when I hear my daughter's laugh 6. long chats and laughs with my oldest son 7. that far away look in my younger son's eyes when he's making magic on his guitar  8. my husband's hilarious e-mails...such a funny guy 9.watching and playing volleyball 10. soft sheets and a warm bed to sleep in hubbie's warm feet when i sneak late into bed 12.long walks in the woods or by the river 13.the sound of water...rushing, crashing, trickling, splashing, lapping, rippling 14.morning mochas on the front porch listening to the birds or the rain, or the silence 15. good health to enjoy this life 16. our worship times at church...just gives me goosebumps to enjoy God's presence in this way 17. writing in my journal or re-reading old ones 18. favourite authors...books, words, poetry 19. watching my kids hug and laugh with one another 20. morning prayers all huddled in a hug at the front door sister and brother 22. car rides in the malibu with the whole family and the top down 23. scented candles and long baths with a breeze blowing in the window 24. soft jazz  on the piano or saxophone ...and big band music 25. impromptu parties with great friends and delicious food 26. everything artistic...i love when creativity just spills out and you can't do anything but surrender to it all 27. the respect my family shows one another...what a gift 28. times out on the boat with friends and family 29. long hugs...especially from husband and kids...the kind I have to reach up for now! 30.capturing magic with my camera 31. keeping gratitude lists around the house so that I can add to them any time I like....and then re-reading them

and so on, and so on, and so on....

Happy Thanksgiving to all my Canadian friends this weekend. May your own list of thankfulness grow throughout this coming year...and may your heart lean closer into the One from whom all blessings flow.


P.S. Come join me over on instagram:  whisperingsoulstreams  and take a moment to spread the love by clicking on the "share" link below.  

words and images © Melody Armstrong 2016

Friday, 7 October 2016

for those grey days

for those grey days
inside and out
when you have to look a little harder
or a lot harder
to find the hope...

may you know 
in the 
deepest, most hidden place of you
that God's heart
is beating 
for you...
in you...

and that his breath
will be there for you
when your chest
feels too heavy or empty
to find
your own

love and hugs to you
on your difficult journey....

Come join my over on "whisperingsoulstreams" instagram or take a moment to click the link below to share this post on Facebook.  

words and images © copyright Melody Armstrong 2016

Thursday, 6 October 2016

quiet autumn mornings

wishing you
a few quiet moments 
to be still
and let childlike wonder
at all autumn's offerings
surprise and delight you
and warm you right through

words and images © copyright Melody Armstrong 2016

Friday, 30 September 2016

the first day of fall

"What I mean by the first day of fall is that day when you suddenly understand with your whole body that the season has changed.  When the air feels snappier against your skin and the sky's blueness turns wistful, and the humming of insects shifts pitch, and you just know like you know your own name that summer is over."(Marisa de los Santos in Belong To Me) 

how is it possible
that the first day of fall
has come and gone?

I find myself
clinging to the hope
that fall will linger 

that sunlight
will still find leaves on trees
to bath in 
glistening gold

i catch myself
calling "noooooo"
to the wind
as I watch leaves whirling 
lifting into the air
and away

leaving trees
a little 
every day.

words and images (unless otherwise cited) © copyright Melody Armstrong 2016

Monday, 12 September 2016

things i love about fall

i love...

1. a mix of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg & crabapples bubbling on the stove. 2.long walks in the nearby woods 3.picking crabapples 4. kicking piles of leaves into the air and watching sunlight catch them on the way down 5.lingering rays of sun on the front porch 6.being enraptured by fall's beauty through the lens  

7. long walks with people i love 8.  making jelly and apple butter 9. soft worn-out blue jeans and brown boots, fresh air infusing our bedroom while we sleep  
11. out-door parties around the fire pit and homemade pizzas bubbling in the pizza oven 

12.ginger squash soup simmering 13.volleyball start-up  14. back-to-school pics on the front step 15. snuggling up to my husband under our feather duvet 16. savouring that "new beginning" feeling 17. watching kids with basketballs, volleyballs & skateboards on the driveway  18. sunflowers smiling against blue sky backdrop

 19. cool,damp mornings hugging and praying and waving at the doors 20. low golden sunlight streaming 21. geese splashing wildly in the river as they take off into flight 22. crunchy leaves under my feet 23. favourite wool hats  24. saving seed pods for next spring 25. cozying up in front of the fireplace

that's what about you?

words and images © copyright Melody Armstrong 2016

life between the highlights

Stubbed toes.  Rusty ladders.  Slimy steps.  Chipped nail polish.  

There is so much living that happens between the highlights. We all know it's true, yet we sometimes believe that ours is the only life that is ordinary, mundane, uneventful or filled with heartache.  We are dazzled by the vast number of "likes" on our friend's Facebook pages or Instagram accounts.  We believe they are proof that everyone else in our circle is experiencing life more fully, taking more exotic vacations, accomplishing more items on their bucket list, eating healthier, raising all-star children, achieving their purpose-driven the dream.

But what about all those in-between moments where some of the really important stuff happens --the ones we would never post for the world to see? Where disappointments stretch our character? Where misunderstandings give us opportunity to  forgive? Where we learn about humility through illness or injury? Where we struggle and strive and learn to dig deeper? Where our dependance on God grows moment by moment?

I want to share with you some of my in-between moments as a sort of sequel to the post before this one entitled Summer Sweetness and Seasons of the Soul [link here and one from last summer called Summer Gifts and Dreamy Spaces (link here).

I wrote my "Summer Sweetness" post over the course of a day and a half alone at the lake. Normally I just love the idea of a couple days alone in such a beautiful place with time to myself to do whatever I want: think, swim, walk, write, day-dream (and clean with no-one messing it up behind me.)  But what you won't know from reading my post is that I actually felt so lonely this time when my family was leaving.  I cried when they pulled away.   I just felt strange and weird and out of sorts -- with tears that seemed way too close to the surface.   I'd had a misunderstanding with my daughter that we hadn't really resolved well; I was feeling disconnected from my husband - sensing that his thoughts had shifted out of holiday mode and back onto work and real life; I'd felt disappointed earlier that morning that I was the only one who wanted to go for my "birthday"waterski  - when the lake was so glassy and it was our last opportunity before we took the boat out for the summer.

So that was how my "alone" time began -- kind of gross, but I knew it was just temporary weirdness.  It didn't take long before I settled into the peaceful solitude of my surroundings and sat down to write.

Then there was the rat. Yes, you heard right.  RAT!!  I won't go into all the gory details, but suffice it to say that later that night after I'd gone to bed with my bedroom doors open to the top floor deck, I'd heard a nighttime visitor scurrying just a few feet away.  Though I jumped up and flipped the light on, I didn't see anything.  But sure enough the next morning, (which also happened to be my birthday) I discovered evidence left by the critter that assured me it was bigger than a mouse.  YUCK!  It had also left evidence all over the main deck as well.

I am an Alberta girl who knows nothing about rats, but I do know about mice.  This was not a mouse.  So, I had a problem to solve.  As a result, I spent the morning of my birthday researching and looking at disgusting pictures to find out if I was actually dealing with a rat.  Then after lunch I drove into town to buy the only three rat traps I could find.  Which, by the way, are huge.  Again....yuck!!

To make a long story short, and to save you all the suspense that must be killing you, I set the traps with peanut butter, one on each level of the house, and by the next morning, I'd caught myself a pack- rat the size of my foot with a long hairy tail.

Life between the highlights.  Not glamorous.   Often not so humorous.

I guess one of the main reasons I write in this blog is simply to celebrate the grace that lines each of our moments - the highlights, lowlights and every bit of living in between.  It is a very precious gift to be able to see God at work in our lives, no matter how things appear.  This is what I ask for daily.  My earnest desire is ALWAYS to see and recognize God's grace and then to share that grace and hope with others.  This is what I love to do. Yet, you may be surprised to know that I experience a lot of angst about my writing.  Yet another part of my own story of life between the highlights.

Almost every time I sit down to write,  I worry that my posts will sound trite or cliché.  Most days, I agonize over every line; rarely does my writing happen effortlessly.  Instead, I grapple with wording and often scrap posts altogether because I am afraid of how my words will be taken.  At times, I find writing about joy and beauty the most difficult of all topics.  The whole time that I am trying to encourage and share beauty with my readers,  I am thinking about all the ugliness that so much of the world faces every single day.  I think about the secret heartache of people I rub shoulders with at the grocery store.  I think about the vast, indescribable suffering of people on every surface of the globe.  I worry that my words will make people scoff or feel even more cynical about the hurts and disappointments of life.  I worry that my joy will highlight someone else's pain.  Or if I write about hurt or sadness or struggles, I worry that I'm not qualified because I have such a good life overall.  I worry that I will sound like a princess who takes her own perfect life for granted and only obsesses over minuscule first-world problems.  I worry that I will sound completely naive or insensitive to the tragedies occurring all around me.  I worry.  And that gets in the way of me following my calling.

A dear friend recently challenged me when I shared these feelings with her.  She is the one who, back when I was a teenager, helped me fall in love with writing and poetry and who still encourages me to write from the heart today.  She said simply and pointedly:  "Try not to judge who needs it and who doesn't.  Let the Lord have his way with your writing.  There's a million message he can bring through your words. "

Let the Lord have his way.  If I believe that I'm following my calling when I sit down to write, then why can't I simply trust that my writing will land where it needs to and touch those it was meant for?

Trust.  I am learning to trust God with all of the in-between parts of my life.I want to practice noticing and celebrating God's gifts of grace that come during all the seasons, especially those between the highlights when life is tough, or ordinary, or confusing, or overwhelming.  I have a hunch that as grand as the highlight moments are, it's the in-between stuff that matters most in the end.

words and images © copyright Melody Armstrong 2016