To All The Teachers and Students Heading Back to School

After six months of navigating COVID-19, and a sudden pivot to at-home learning last March, this week in Canada some are returning to school. There are a host of new rules being implemented, and I suspect this stirs up a diverse mixture of emotions in both students and teachers alike. It’s always a little anxiety-provoking when navigating unknowns.

I wanted to send along some encouragement to every teacher and student this fall, whether you are learning at home or in an actual classroom. This new normal may take some adjusting to and you may not get everything right. Things won’t be perfect, mistakes will be made, but despite the challenges I believe you will beautifully rise and adjust to the new circumstances.

At my daughter’s school, the children are required to wear masks all day and there are numerous new protocols. There is certain courage that is required amid all this change, both for the students and educators. It’s because of this, I wanted to write a few words in the form of a blessing to cheer you on.

Fall Blessing to Teachers and Students

This fall, as you navigate new circumstances, may you have all you need in every situation. May your mind and soul be still, free from worry and anxiety, and may you feel God’s presence and peace surrounding you amid any uncertainty. May you be enfolded by God’s love and care, knowing that He will never leave you or forsake you throughout anything you face.

When things are difficult and you feel discouraged, may you turn to God’s ever-open arms of comfort. When there is a decision to be made and you feel uncertain, may He give you much-needed wisdom and guidance. When you feel unsteady or make a misstep, may you feel His arms surrounding you and providing stability. When you feel confused or lost, may He help you navigate your way.

May you be filled with patience for those around you who, like you, are doing their best to navigate the newness and who may at times grow weary of it all. May you offer compassion and kindness to those in your midst and freely extend the grace we each so desperately need.

May you walk in God’s rich joy ever at your disposal. May any feelings of uncertainty or fear be replaced with poise and peace. May you have an overflow of each to give back to others, aiding them in their fearful moments. May you sprinkle hope—like well-watered seeds springing up all around—that yields rich deposits of beauty.

“Most of all, love each other as if your life depended on it. Love makes up for practically anything. Be quick to give a meal to the hungry, a bed to the homeless—cheerfully. Be generous with the different things God gave you, passing them around so all get in on it: if words, let it be God’s words; if help, let it be God’s hearty help. That way, God’s bright presence will be evident in everything through Jesus, and he’ll get all the credit as the One mighty in everything—encores to the end of time. Oh, yes!” (1 Peter 4:8)

Bless you this fall, teachers, students, and home educators, and throughout your entire school year. May you stay healthy and well. Be assured that you have everything you need in Christ.

Peace to you,

Amen

P.S. And don’t forget to smile, great big enormous smiles, the kind that reaches your eyes so that despite those masks, those around you can see you’re smiling and be warmed! xo

Charming Dogs, Chasing Dreams & Changed Minds

Three months ago, during one of those talks about our future, my husband and I agreed that our 12-year-old Shih-poo, Angel, would be our last dog. Angel (aka mom’s shadow) is our second fur baby since we were married. Two of our kids chose this wee bundle after our not-so-wee Afghan Hound passed away.

Our Shih-poo, Angel, always beside me, seated here at the foot of my lounge chair.

Sheeba, our first “baby” pre-kids, loped and draped through twelve years of our lives. With utmost patience and delicacy, she endured three dribbling and babbling humans clutching and crawling over her. She remained a faithful and unwavering companion through several of their growing up years until one heart-wrenching day; she grew too tired for this world.

Our Afghan Hound, Sheeba, with 5-year-old Elanna.

Two months ago, our 11-year-old daughter, Keira, declared she wanted a dog of her own. I use the word “declared” loosely since Keira lays out ideas rather like one might a freshly washed sheet, unfurling it to let the air catch, then allowing its billows to softly settle before smoothing it, ironing out the wrinkles if necessary. There is no force to it. Just airy, unassuming precision.

Aware there could be some push back, Keira drafted a presentation on two sheets of colorful bristol board. She invited her dad (the only real opponent to her plan since I had caved to the dog suggestions early on and promptly joined the ranks of coercion) to sit on the couch to spell out the master plan. One sheet boldly depicted the word “Care” and the other “Cost”. Below each, she listed any possible objections or questions her father might conjure and the response to each.

One month ago (as cited on the master plan under “Cost”), Keira started Sweets & Treats, a bakery serving our neighborhood, and her chosen means to save up to purchase her puppy. The first week, she went door-to-door to ask if any of our neighbors would like to buy some baking. Things went surprisingly well. Word got out, and as other neighbors caught wind of what she was up to, they contributed to the cause. By the third and fourth week, she didn’t need to knock on doors since the orders were steadily arriving through her Sweets & Treats Instagram account.

Sugar cookies from Keira’s bakery, Sweets & Treats.

Two days ago, and two-thirds of the way to her goal, Keira, her dad, and I had the pleasure of spending an hour with the expectant mother, a 6-year-old Saluki. I doubt I need to describe the smile that had settled on Keira’s face as she stroked the smooth coat of the gentle dog who, after soundlessly greeting us at the door, had climbed up on the couch and curled up directly beside her. With its similarity to our Sheeba, Ralph and I instantly warmed to this sweet dog.

A picture worth a thousand words.

In that little courtyard, with the sun dancing through the leafy canopy and the long nose of the Saluki mother gently resting beside Keira’s leg, our hearts were warmed. There are moments in life where we glimpse heaven and wrapped in the calm, quiet beauty of this moment amid creation; this was one of them.

We drove away, our thoughts and conversation circling the visit with the Saluki. We talked of little else, both in the restaurant where we stopped to enjoy an outdoor lunch and on our drive home. I can’t help but thank our determined last-born for her subtle yet strong determination. A soft smile has replaced Ralph’s initial “no” at the first mention of another dog, and it’s fair to say that we are nearly as excited as Keira at the prospect of another member of our family.

The Saluki mother during our courtyard visit.

It’s a well-known, somewhat humorous phenomenon that dogs and their owners often resemble each other. In the case of Keira and the Saluki, the resemblance is uncanny—in appearance but also behavior—both exhibiting a peaceful and deliberate demeanor and subtle yet loyal affection for those she loves. Through Keira I am reminded that determination is an asset.

Sometimes a task, project, or dream seems difficult or impossible. We have no idea how we are going to achieve it, and those around us may be handing us a solid “no”. Our resources few, things may look bleak and our dreams far from reach. But have you noticed that when a person sets their sights on a goal, is determined to achieve it, and gladly shares their dreams with others, those around them see its merit and begin cheering them on?

If strangers delight to offer their encouragement to see you reach your goals or dreams, imagine how God gets behind your efforts. Nothing is impossible with God. Not the prayers of a young child for a dog of her own, or the whispered words of an adult asking their Father in heaven for a hand. He sees us in our need and delights to help us.

“Nothing is impossible with God.” ~ Luke 1:37

“To accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream; not only plan, but also believe.” ~ Anatole France

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.

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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

 

An International Women’s Day Blessing

I wrote this blessing for a dynamic group of women who are courageously and purposefully living out their calling while championing others in their midst. It is inspiring and contagious and marvelous to witness. I thought to share the blessing here as an encouragement to you. As we celebrate International Women’s Day, may we be ones who help others rise and ‘stand’, particularly other women.

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Standing together, fittingly, on International Women’s Day. The hosts had these words made for us as an encouragement to STAND. P.S. I’m all in even though I am not holding one!

An International Women’s Day Blessing

When you look at yourself or look over your life—past and present—may you be blessed with a sense of God’s great love and approval over you. May you know you are thoroughly accepted in the Beloved, that He is pleased with you and cheering you on. 

…to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved. ~ Eph 1:6

The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.” ~ Zeph 3:17

Be blessed you as you tread through the hard places—the lonely or unpopular places—as you extend yourself for others and for Christ knowing he is with you. When you grow weary or feel lost on the journey, may God impart wisdom, strength, and hope from his vast storehouse. May you ever answer his whisper to trust him and continue onward in faith even when you cannot fully see. 

But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. ~ Isa 40:31

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. ~ Heb 11:1

I bless you as you pour yourself out in the places, and for the people, God has given you, giving of your time, resources, energy, and love to profit others. May you find time to be still and hear from God and then mobilize to do only what he has asked, refraining from the temptation and distraction of too much. 

“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” ~ Ps 46:10

Wherever you find yourself, may you know that you are equipped by God and his Spirit for everything you face, that you are never alone, and that he is always with you. May he flood your fears with his peace, turn ashes into beauty and mourning to joy, so that you are encouraged and can celebrate that you are victorious in Christ.

…to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy 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. ~ Isa 61:3

…in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. ~ Romans 8:37

May God protect you from jealousy and the sabotage of the enemy who seeks to stir up strife. May you have peace in your relationships as you love and serve others, continually freeing yourself by forgiving your offenders, just as the Lord richly forgives you, and praying for your enemies.

But I tell you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who mistreat you and persecute you, that you may be sons (daughters) of your Father in heaven. ~ Matt 5:44-45 

May your life shine as a beacon to others, a safe harbor, imparting hope for their journey and a welcoming embrace to join the fullness of God’s rich kingdom. May you live filled with God’s peace, joy, hope, and love, and lavishly pour it over all those around you. 

I bless each of you in the name of Jesus Christ.

Amen 

 

 

The Mystery Club

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Mystery Club Cottage Weekend – 2020

This weekend, a precious group of our friends gathered at our cottage for a couples’ weekend. This isn’t just any group, and this isn’t the first time we’ve weekended together. We call ourselves the Mystery Club and have been together for years.

Formed in January 2003, during the SARS outbreak, this group of twelve (six couples) began with the idea of creating mystery events for each other. One couple would oversee the evening, and the rest of us would show up at an arranged location knowing only how much money to bring and the appropriate attire to wear.

Our first event was dinner at Marche and an evening at the Senator, a Toronto Jazz Club. Since then, we’ve planned numerous events for one another. We’ve attended a play at a local theatre, participated in our own Amazing Race at the local mall, braved a group Swing dance lesson, and occupied a studio at the Cambridge Centre for the Arts to paint our own original masterpieces.

We’ve engaged in a retro movie/games night, an African themed dining extravaganza, a ‘Nine and Dine’ golf event, and an evening of outdoor skating where one of our members nearly passed from this life due to a head injury while couples skating with yours truly (there remains a bald patch on the impact site where no hair grows!). Continue reading “The Mystery Club”

30 Things You Need to Hear Today

Dear Fellow Sojourner,

I’ve made a list of some things I want you to hear… you know how I love lists! Maybe it’s the additional introspection of recently becoming a grandmother that incited the list (in case you’re wondering, I’m warming up to the name Nana).

Holding Monty - 11 days old

It could be that I’m a mom and can’t help but bequeath my vast wisdom to my children, and grandchild! Of course, the obvious is that my blog’s purpose is to offer encouragement to those—you included—who may stumble upon it. Whatever the case, I’m hoping this list will provide a few important life reminders that we can all stand to hear from time to time.

Here goes, in no particular order except the last one!

  1. Stop stressing.
  2. You have overcome 100% of your worst days.
  3. You will get through this.
  4. Don’t be so hard on yourself.
  5. Stop worrying about what other people think of you. 
  6. Start caring about what God thinks of you.
  7. Don’t ignore your pain. It has tons to teach you.
  8. Write down your worries then hand them over to God.
  9. Pray all the time, even about the smallest things.
  10. Courage is not the absence of fear, it’s walking forward despite the fear. 
  11. You don’t have to feel happy all the time.
  12. Feelings aren’t always an accurate representation of reality.
  13. You’re going to make mistakes. 
  14. Forgive always—yourself, others, and, if necessary, forgive God.
  15. Look for beauty. If you can’t find it, create it.
  16. Cheer for, pray for, and bless others—especially those you dislike.
  17. Be thankful for everything—even the hard bits.
  18. Comfort rarely builds character (or anything for that matter). 
  19. Be patient. Change doesn’t happen overnight. 
  20. Talent only goes so far. Nothing replaces effort.
  21. It’s better to try and fail than to never have tried at all.
  22. Just start.
  23. Don’t judge. Everyone is scaling an invisible mountain.
  24. Be kind to everyone, including yourself.
  25. Don’t underestimate the power of a kind word.
  26. Give hugs. Receive hugs.
  27. There’s only one you.
  28. Keep going.
  29. Find things to celebrate!
  30. Trust God.

Now you’ve read the list, why not start at the top and pick one a day to focus on during the next 30 days! And if you’re looking for me, well, I’ll have my hands full.

Holding Monty 2 - 11 days old

Oh, and in case you were wondering, you’re amazing! Imagine what God thinks of you! xo

Click here for a copy of my daily devotional, Soul Focus.

Click here for a copy of my novel, One More Tomorrow

Trials

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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

____________________________________

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

A Roomful of Love

71051079_388729618467623_1034085484717932544_nThis past Tuesday, a life-long dream of mine came to fruition. My debut novel was released. The very same evening a supportive crowd of approximately eighty family and friends gathered to celebrate my book launch. 

The scene was surreal. The room was full of people from all different facets of my life all gathered in one place. I was flitting around the room working hard to bury my nervousness.

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It’s one thing to write a book, but quite another to release it to the world. All the while I was tapping out words on my laptop, editing streams of sentences, and pouring over various details, I was secure in my creative bubble. Now the book was launching and would be in the hands of readers, I felt a little exposed. 

The evening flowed beautifully and the enthusiasm of the gathered crowd encouraged me. I explained the book’s inception, my writing process, and offered details about the characters and themes. I enjoyed reading excerpts and left time for questions. 

My publicist had encouraged me to take a moment at the launch to look around the room, soak it all in, and ponder the gravity of what I had accomplished. I was attempting to do that between conversations, photo ops, and a trip to the bathroom to pray! I finally managed to take that moment just before I began to speak. I scanned the room, seeing the faces of the seated guests, and smiled. How is it that they all came here for me?

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What struck me the most wasn’t so much my accomplishment, but how blessed I am to have these dear souls in my life. When you really think about it, what would anything big in our lives be without others to celebrate with? To laugh with, cry with, to be silly with, or to accompany us through the hard bits of life? The people in the room represented love to me. A packed roomful of love. 

And there was something else. When I finished speaking, I exited the room to make my way to the signing table. Seated just outside the room was our pastor. Having had another engagement that night, he had come late to the launch and sat outside so as not to disturb the presentation. I can barely explain how much comfort and support his presence offered at that moment, but seeing him seated there was so beautiful. 

It struck me as a picture of Jesus. I envision him sitting nearby, his steady, comforting presence celebrating in our midsts and cheering me on. And truth be told, he was there. His presence among my friends, weaving through our conversation, amid my whispered bathroom prayers, and on the empty stool as I read from the book he helped me write. And like my gathered guests and their show of affection, my book would be nothing to celebrate without my Saviour. 

We can do a great many things in this life. We may write a book, receive a special award, earn multiple degrees, reach all our goals, but for me, it would be empty and futile if I didn’t know Jesus. His sacrificed life saved me. His offered love changed me. His spirit helps me. His presence comforts me. 

He gave everything and in doing so gave me life.

I’m thankful for God’s grace, and all the dear people he has seen fit to tuck into my life. Those I’m honoured to journey with and celebrate life’s events alongside, and with whom I’m privileged to help bear a burden or who help carry mine. As hard as this life can be, there’s much beauty in our midst. Sometimes we just need to take a moment, look around us, soak it all in, and ponder its gravity.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)

 

A Word of Encouragement for You Today

spring flowers

Life is full of disappointments, hurts and hardship. When our lives don’t unfold as planned, it’s easy to become discouraged. Below are a few thoughts to encourage you to not give up, to keep going, to persevere through whatever you are facing today.

I pray…

That you would always keep your joy and wonder.

That you would continue to dream big.

That you wouldn’t allow others to dilute your dreams,

Or let obstacles or disappointments crowd out those dreams—

Even when you must scale the mountain or take the long route around.

If some scoff at your goals—say it’s a long shot or that it can’t be done—smile, disregard their lack of faith, and keep going.

Someone needs to persevere. It may as well be you.

Nothing worthwhile comes without dogged effort. No effort is wasted.

Fight fear with faith.

Be brave; bring courage with you wherever you go.

Keep trying hard things.

If you fail, you’ve learned something priceless.

Love.

Be patient and kind to yourself and others.

Forgive quickly so you remain free.

Choose to remain positive—

Don’t allow the negative voices or treatment of others to detract from what you know to be true and good and right.

When hurt, embrace the hard work of healing.

Avoid comparison.

Use your unique skills, knowledge, intellect, voice, talents, and resources to help those around you, to influence and change the world for good, and to glorify God.

Keep your sense of humour. Don’t take yourself too seriously, but be serious about your intentions and integrity.

Remember life is not a sprint; it’s a marathon. Not everything will happen instantly.

Keep your eyes on the finish line, but enjoy the scenery on route—

Life is composed of all the moments made while you move forwards and reach your goals. Don’t miss or mistake these moments that matter for distractions;

The main event is never really the main event; it’s all the bits between.

Be thankful for everything. Even the hardships—they make you beautiful, strong, and mature.

God is your help and is cheering you on.

He has a plan.

Trust Him in everything.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the LORD. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” ~ Jeremiah 29:11

________________________________________

  1. What discouragements are you struggling with today?
  2. Bring them to God, hand them over to him in prayer, and find his comfort, help, and peace in your time of need.

12 Treasures I’ve Learned from My Spiritual Mom

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My spiritual mom and I at a birthday celebration with “The Prayer Ladies”.

I call her my spiritual mom. We aren’t linked biologically but through the things of God. She’s been a constant in my life for over ten years, and we’ve shared many conversations and events. Without meaning to, or possibly knowing she has, Nancy has taught me many things. I thought it would be insightful to share these priceless morsels. It may sound like I’m bragging, but bear with me. I’m hoping one or two might be meaningful to you!

Continue reading “12 Treasures I’ve Learned from My Spiritual Mom”