Journal Journeys Excerpt #1 – Greatly Helped

Each of us is on a journey.

Most of the time we don’t know exactly where we’re headed and even if we do, we’re often unsure of how to get there. We often feel lost, lonely, and labeled. Discouraged, disqualified, and disappointed. Worried, weary, and winey. We suffer sadness, setbacks, and sabotage. 

Yet we keep going despite uncertainty. Falling forward. Learning and leaning in, hurting and healing. Holding steady through storms. Yanking back the clouds to eagerly absorb the sun-soaked, brilliant moments. 

Our lives, our journeys, are composed of both the breathtaking and the breaking.

Since becoming a Christ-follower at age 18, I have kept a prayer journal to scribe such travels. The pages have provided me with a secondary outlet to pour out prayers alongside my spoken utterances.

As the years have unfolded, the journal pages provide proof of God’s handiwork, documentation of God’s faithfulness in my life, and in the lives of others, and provide a tangible way to see the countless occasions God has answered prayers.

Even when circumstances seemed utterly hopeless, and when his seeming silence was bewildering, God was still there. Scanning the pages, I see that the no’s were merely delayed yes’s—a hold-out for his best when I would have happily settled for good. 

My current prayer journal

The written wrestlings within these pages—sometimes through tears, often amid doubts and questions as I struggled to know God and understand his ways—don’t declare me faithless or damaged. Rather, they offer assurance that I am a beloved child of God attempting to understand her Father’s ways, to grow closer to him, and to trust and love him more deeply. Thanksgiving prayers soak the pages too, recording the times I’ve been surprised and delighted with the extravagant love of God.

For the next few weeks, I’ve decided to share some entries from my prayer journal in hopes the sentiments may offer solidarity, reverberate inside your own heart, provide a way to express some of your own pleas and desires, and kindle hope. I’m calling this series, The Journal Journeys, and I hope you will enjoy traveling through the pages with me.

I’m certain that reading these prayers aloud will be a vulnerable, intimate, and emotional experience. But I’m hoping they will offer a measure of comfort and encouragement if you are grappling as hard as I am to lay hold of hope and process faith in your journey with God.

The first excerpt I have chosen refers to a season of struggle in our life but seems appropriate to begin with as it speaks to our current situation with COVID-19. You can watch the video or read the entry below. At the bottom of this page, I have included a song for you to meditate on. So looking forward to journeying with you!

Click here to watch The Journal Journal – Excerpt #1

January 5, 2016

Dear Lord,

We have been greatly helped by you. You have not forgotten us. You have made the impossible possible, and have brought us through the hardship of this very difficult time. 

We have not been privy to an explanation as to why. No understanding as to what to do next. No future knowledge except to live each day at a time, one foot in front of the other, moment by moment. 

“You have also given me the shield of your salvation; Your right hand has held me up, Your gentleness has made me great. You enlarged my path under me, so my feet did not slip.” Psalm 18:35-36

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My prayer journal – today’s excerpt

I like the verse above because not only have you saved me, but it shows your continued help in my life. Through great disappointment and disillusionment, your right hand has held me up. You dealt gently with me.

When the way was dangerous, like a precipitous path, you enlarged the path under me so my feet did not slip. You kept me safe. You didn’t whisk me off the path. No, I still had to pass through, but you made a way—you made it possible to pass through. 

And maybe we have passed through now. Maybe we are just coming out on the other side. I can’t pretend to have much of a clue what you are doing, but I feel as though a change may come. 

So now, because you tell us to ask (Matthew 7:7), I ask you to help us—as you have continued to do—to find our way. Help us to be wise, to know what to do, to make wise choices. 

Your will be done,

Amen.

Listen to song: Goodness of God

journal pic

 

The Beaver Dam Chats

On a hike around our property this week, I found a beautiful, sheltered spot overlooking a beaver dam—a sun trap, cushioned with pine needles and moss and soil, inviting me to sit, encouraging me to stay awhile.

I accepted the invitation and reclined on the earthen mattress beside the water, still from my seemingly hopeless wandering. For once, I had no need to hurry. Nowhere I needed to be, like the summers of my youth. A child again, still under the sky, water lapping the mud barricade, breeze flickering last year’s leaves, the sun warming all that had grown cold.

Reclining on a pine needle mattress beside the beaver dam.

If I stopped here, you might believe everything was absolutely idyllic, like the social media newsfeeds offering snippets of perfect. The truth is that trudging to and from that quiet spot, I was pouring out my heart to God, unloading until empty all my disappointment, loss, and pain. The sole purpose of this hike was to have a conversation with the only One able to offer true comfort for the kind of soul ache that settles in dark & deep, lodging in your throat and then your heart, attempting to suffocate joy.

But with God, nothing is impossible, and joy in the midst of pain is no exception. The same is true of peace. I don’t know how he does it, only that I’ve experienced it time and time again since our proper introduction thirty years ago. His love is like the sun-infused spot I found, a sheltered place of comfort, peace, and rest for the weary soul. A place to just be no matter what state.  

My view from the sunny spot beside the beaver dam.

Every time I’ve let him, he has done the impossible. From healing me from the giants like depression and chronic back pain to pulling me out of lesser pain and struggles of various kinds. I’ve found him trustworthy, fully able to handle any words I’ve spilled to describe my tears and hollow aches and to heal my ailing soul. Sometimes instantly, sometimes through a long journey of the soul. This time was no exception.

Maybe you’re familiar with the kind of pain, loss, and disappointment I’m describing. Maybe you’re experiencing it right now. If so, know that I am praying for those who might read this blog and find themselves in a dark or painful place right now. It is my deepest hope that you too would cry out to God amid all the pain you can barely speak of, the disappointment you can hardly articulate, and the loss from which you fear you will never recover. In doing so, that you too would experience his peace that cannot be understood but that is undeniable.

One last thing. At first sight, beaver dams don’t look very pretty or organized, in fact, they look a little messy and half-hazard. But they are a picture of strength, hard work, perseverance, and maintenance serving to hold back a tremendous flow of water. Maybe our lives are a bit like that. They may look messy, disorganized, all the stuff cut and piled on half-hazard. But maybe, despite that random pile-up, they end up a marvel of strength, perseverance, and beauty, able to hold tight against any pressure applied.

beaver dam
The beaver dam on April 1st.

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. 

~ Philippians 4:6-7

I invite you to join me for “The Beaver Dam Chats”. Starting tomorrow, for the next seven days, I plan to hike over to the spot I found on our property beside the beaver dam and read aloud from my devotional book Soul Focus – Trials. I’ll be posting the readings on instagram at melaniestevensonauthor. Look forward to seeing you there!

Click here to order your copy of Soul Focus – Trials

 

Our Easter

This Easter is unlike any Easter I have experienced in my lifetime. Most people living at this point in history have never had their lives disrupted by a pandemic and had to celebrate without loved ones. Many I know have lived comfortable, predictable, safe lives. Now, many of us are figuring out first-hand what it feels like to not feel in control (we were never really in control) and not feel safe.

It’s not comfortable. It’s not easy. And we aren’t accustomed to it.

Despite how difficult the COVID-19 adjustment has been, I am inspired by the myriad of ways those around me are helping others during this crisis. Some of you are making meals for the sick, some are shopping for neighbors, family, or friends in need, others are keeping us well-informed. Some are sending encouraging text messages or emails, others are setting up prayer meetings or zoom calls, and others are checking in on their friends on the daily.

Our medical staff is using their training to care for and heal the sick, and the teachers have pivoted to teach and support our children online. Neighboring children are writing colorful chalk messages of hope on the pavements. My son’s in-laws are making fabric masks and helping collect items for the food bank.

As unique as we are wired, we will also uniquely go through this time. We will use our various giftings in individual ways, and it will be marvelous to witness humanity rising to the call. But let’s also remind ourselves that just because one person isn’t doing what you’re doing, or what I’m doing, it doesn’t mean they aren’t doing what they should be—or need to be—doing right now.

This is a collective hardship and we will each approach it differently. What appears a looming mountain for one may look like a rolling meadow for another. That might mean that doing a load of laundry and making dinner was what they could do today. If another is highly productive during this time, for them, keeping busy may be their way of coping.

For some, this break may feel like a much-needed vacation—a wonderful improvement from their former harried pace. For others, it may seem like not much has changed. For others, this may stir up feelings of unease and anxiety.

Let’s not judge one another based on our own ideas of what we deem right but accept and help one another. Let’s celebrate the myriad of ways we will traverse through this and the limitless creativity that will be exhibited by our fellow humans in the process. Let’s be kind and patient with each other’s shortcomings, and the ways we find we can—or cannot—cope. Let’s ramp up the love and care for one another and overlook the rest.

Mariana, Kiki and Monty at Cottage
We have been blessed to have my son, daughter-in-law, and grandson with us during this time.

This Easter, and this week, as we care for those around us, I hope we will also take some time to pause and reflect on the One who taught us how to love and who offers hope. One who came to heal us both on the outside but more importantly on the inside. One who gave his life to give us life. Who conquered death and rose from the grave to give us a fresh start. And though the way we celebrate may look a bit different, the reason we do so remains unchanged.

Ting
Cozy, quiet morning reflections.

“And walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” John 15:13

 

 

25 Benefits of Trials

It’s easy to grow fearful in times of uncertainty. It’s easy to lose hope as we suffer through lengthy hardships. Events such as the COVID-19 pandemic remind us how fragile our lives really are.

Like any trial, we often cannot see an end in sight and this one is no exception. When we are staying at home, social-distancing, viewing reports of daily escalating numbers, suffering through mandatory business closures and potential loss of livelihood, we worry we won’t manage.

My mum used to say of trials, “This too shall pass.” And it will. When it does, things won’t be the same. We will have a new framework out of which to operate. I imagine we will have a more thankful mindset, a greater appreciation for others as we joyfully reconnect and fully embrace our renewed freedom. Trials arrive unexpectedly and loom large, but we can move through them with grace, peace, and even joy.

Monty at the cottage
Cuddling my grandson – one of the ways I’m savoring this slowed pace.

Continue reading “25 Benefits of Trials”

A Love Like No Other

It’s not like you’ve imagined. Probably unlike anything you’ve been told, taught, or experienced. Being with Jesus isn’t a prescribed program or a series of have-to’s. It’s not a checklist of holy duties or a list of rules to follow. It’s not polishing yourself shiny or hoping you’ve been good enough.

It’s so easy that some find it hard.

Jesus extends his arms, pulls us in, and wraps us in HIS holiness, offering us forgiveness, rest, peace, joy, love—all the things we’ve been striving for but couldn’t manage on our own. His is a put-your-feet-up, cease-striving sort of love that beckons us to just BE. Be ourselves in his company. Be still. Be undone. Be made new. Continue reading “A Love Like No Other”

Story Tellers

Everyone has a story.

Each story is sacred and beautiful and composed of both broken and glorious moments. We carry these stories like artwork scrawled into our souls: a vast array of imprints and scars, beauty and brokenness. Like fingerprints—like us—no two stories are the same.

Stories are made to be told. To be heard. To be understood.

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Yesterday, I had a book signing in our local mall. My favourite part about book signings is the people and the stories they share. At signings, or other times when I explain the theme of my devotional (Soul Focus: Trials), I’ve had the privilege of hearing various stories from other’s lives—precious and profound stories. Continue reading “Story Tellers”

Trials

SoulFocus_Book_Trials_071619
Released November 12th, 2019!

We all endure trials. Some so intense, lengthy, or heartwrenching we fear we won’t make it out alive. We cannot live very long without facing hardship, such is the nature of life on earth. 

This past week, my new devotional, Soul Focus, on the theme of trials was released. It’s close to my heart because this book was birthed out of my own period of pain, and is the fruit of over ten years of devotional writing, blogging, and prayer journaling.

It’s an offering of comfort whether you find yourself in the midst of a trial or are facing the mourning process that comes after. Inside, I offer personal examples as a reminder that you’re not alone.

It was written with the intention to kindle hope during times when it seems your prayers are unanswered, when you wonder if God has stopped listening to you, or when you fear he has forgotten you. I have included journaling pages throughout for personal reflections as you journey through this month of daily encouragements.

Tonight, I’m hosting an event at my church for Soul Focus entitled, An Evening of Hopeful Stories. Three others and I—in an act of vulnerability and sacred solidarity—will share our stories of struggle. I’m hopeful that all who come will feel greatly encouraged and leave with renewed hope. 

If you’re nearby, the doors are open! If far, I hope you will be reminded that God hasn’t left you to navigate this trial alone. He is with you. He has never left you. 

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6

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An Evening of Hopeful Stories:
November 18th at 6:45PM, Knox Galt, 2 Grand Ave S, Cambridge, ON