Hashtag. I Lived.

It’s taken me 7 months to share this photo publicly.

I suppose I wanted to take some time to really ponder, to really reflect what this picture represents.

I get teary just thinking about it.

I made this sign and carried it to the top of Stone Mountain this past March. (Actually, let me clarify that my sweet friend Sue offered to carry it for me.) I got the inspiration for the words, “I Lived,” from the OneRepublic song blowing up the radio then. More so, I wanted to make a statement when I got to the top of that mountain representing one of my greatest fears, a literal mountain that I needed to conquer in my life and in my faith.

So I made it to the top, and with the background of my hometown Atlanta behind me, I made my statement.

I lived.

It tells my comeback story. It points to the impossible that my great Healer God has made possible in my life. I can’t tell you how many times I was ready to give up after having my life, my heart, my every hope and dream shattered on this mountain.

Yet, God never let me give up.
He never let me.
He is relentless like that.

I do recognize I did have a choice in the matter. I could have chosen to let tragedy very well destroy my life.
I chose to lift my hand up to heaven instead.
I chose to enter into my sorrow, to a storm so intense, to a pain so deep. Jesus, only Jesus, could meet me in it.

And He did.
And eventually He led me through it.

These last few months have been a season of treasuring what God has done and continues to do in my life.

Often in the Old Testament, God calls His people to create a memorial so that they could remember what He has done for them.

Then Joshua said to the Israelites, “In the future your children will ask, ‘What do these stones mean?’ Then you can tell them, ‘This is where the Israelites crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’  He did this so all the nations of the earth might know that the Lord’s hand is powerful, and so you might fear the Lord your God forever.” – Joshua 4:21, 22 & 24

“Then you can tell them…” I love that line.

I’ve got the biggest memorial in all of metro Atlanta, the very mountain that I swore I’d never be able to look at again. I’ve got almost every spot around the city where I can catch a glimpse of it memorized; I’ll even catch it at times from my airplane window.

Stone Mountain is now my memorial mountain.

It reminds me of the great work God has done in me.
It reminds me that I lived.
It reminds me that I didn’t just survive tragedy, I lived in the midst of it. I lived to see the other side of it.
It spurs me on to keep living.

Dearly loved, grateful,

To Speak Love Through My Eyes

“He will call us to pour our lives into the cracks around us, and sometimes into the cracks far from our doorsteps. But wherever he calls us, we pour, not wishing for a larger crack or a more noticeable one, or even the one we were expecting.” – Jeannie Allen, Anything

I’ll never forget the first time I looked into the eyes of women living on the margins. I was on my knees in a tiny school room in the middle of Africa, washing their feet. Though we spoke different languages, we communicated through our eyes.

A year later, I was back in that same community in Uganda. This time, I bent over to look into the eyes of these same women. Our team brought ribbons to braid and tie around their foreheads. This small act symbolized the crowns of beauty our Heavenly Father gives for the ashes of our heartaches, our losses, the broken pieces of our lives.

No words were necessary. Eye to eye was all that we needed to speak love.

To speak love through our eyes.

Last month, my friend Susanne and I had the incredible opportunity to lead a group at a local women’s shelter through an 8-week conversation about faith. Meeting women marginalized in my very own city just further solidified my desire to serve women both locally and abroad. Though we spoke the same language, my favorite part was just seeing them, really seeing them, not for what they had been through but for how much the God of the Universe cares for them.

I’m one month away from embarking on a trip to a place I never imagined myself going. I’m heading to Israel with a team from our church to serve women pushed to the margins of society, many who are treated like property.

We’ll be in the very land where Jesus walked. Of all the stories in the Bible that inspire me, none bring to me to tears like the ones about Jesus and the women He loved and healed, the women He made a point to see with His eyes.

I don’t write all this to make much of me. I write all this as a thank you to the One who continues to answer the earnest prayer of a grief-stricken widow in more ways that I can ask or imagine. That prayer came 5 years ago this month; it came through darkness and utter pain so deep that I never thought I’d survive it.

Just 5 months after my entire life and heart shattered, I asked my Great God to give me a glimpse of something, anything to look forward to in my life. I asked Him give me a purpose in my pain.

And He has answered…and He continues to answer, over and over again.

I want to speak love through my eyes to women on the margins, anywhere, everywhere. I want to pour my life out as a fragrant offering to the One who gives me life, the One who loved me first.

I realize this isn’t the life that anyone would sign up for; it’s not the American dream by any means. But it’s my dream, my unique, God-given dream. It’s my “anything” as Jeannie Allen talks about in her book quoted above. My heart’s desire is to get to the end of my days on this earth and know that I have not wasted the opportunities given to me.

Dearly loved, for women,


That 7 Year Itch

About a year ago, I was standing in the security line at Hartsfield, preparing to board a plane by myself to visit friends. I don’t mind the airport alone because it allows me to unashamedly engage in one of my favorite past-times: people-watching and eavesdropping. This particular day, I wish I could have unheard and unseen what transpired in front of me.

There was a couple, probably in their 50s, bickering for the entire 20 minutes we were in the security line. I fully realize I have no idea the path they are walking or what they are facing. But I didn’t need a back-story to be heart-broken for the way they spoke to one another, even worse looked past one another. It was all I could do to not say something.

I know I carry a unique perspective on marriage that few on this earth will ever know. That said, it hurts every time I hear about marriages ending in divorce, married couples who just don’t respect each other, who seemed to have fallen out of love. I mean, Kermit and Miss Piggy are supposedly calling it quits too. Seriously?

I always heard about that illusive “7 year itch” in marriage when couples begin to tire of each other. I’ve never wanted to believe it. Sure, marriage is hard work and comes with it’s share of ups and downs. If Tony were still here, we would be in that 7th year. I tell the Lord often that I’d love to have another shot at marriage. I suppose that’s what I’ll call my 7 year itch. I long to do life alongside an earthly love again. I feel I’ve learned so much from my short marriage and even more from loosing it all.

So, in the meantime, I’ve written down a few things I want to do differently if I get to do marriage all over again. I share these humbly from my young-widowed point of view:

  • I want to tell my spouse thank you more often for providing.
  • I want to find more opportunities to speak life into and over him.
  • I want to set aside my need to be right for the sake of his leadership.
  • I want to rest securely in who I am in Christ and not rely on him for my purpose and identity.
  • I want to take more risks and worry less about security in earthly things.
  • I want to be curious and seek every day to learn something new about my spouse.
  • I don’t want to allow my rigid need for sleep or physical comfort to keep me from precious moments of quality time with him.
  • I want to say the hard things in love; I want to be more open to learning better ways to communicate.
  • I want to see the everyday ordinary of marriage as a gift: the cooking meals, the grocery shopping, the waking up together, the house chores.
  • I want to keep my hands open to what God desires to do through us, instead of trying to control our circumstances and our future.
  • I want to seek to let go of anything (job, financial strains, emotional baggage) that consistently drains us for the sake of protecting our marriage.
  • I want to see laughter as an essential part of our marriage every day; I don’t want to take myself so seriously.

For now, I want to trust that God will connect the dots of my future, remarriage or not. I want to rest in knowing it’s not up to me to figure it all out.

Dearly loved, a big fan of marriage,


The Next Step

I’ve learned a lot about myself over the last couple of years. One thing in particular is that I’m a do-er. I’m not a brain-stormer. I’m the person in a creative meeting who’s always thinking, “that’s a great idea, but how are we gonna do it?” I have some incredible colleagues who do their best work at the 50,000 foot view of ideas and possibilities. I am at my best at sea level cranking out a “to do” list.

I seem to want that when it comes to knowing my future too.

I wrote in a recent blog about feeling “empty-handed.” This first half of 2015 has seemed like a constant stream of letting go.

In January, I turned 35 and let go of my idea of “where I thought I’d be at 35.” There’s something about those years divisible by 5 that seem to be mile markers for me.

Then in March, I felt it was time to finally face that “skeleton” in my closet, my fear of climbing Stone Mountain. I conquered it, I let go of it’s power. I also let go of very precious marbles representing years of shattered dreams.

Last month, as it came time to put my house on the market, a house that holds 10 years of memories for me, including most of my marriage, quite honestly I was just tired of letting go.

I was lamenting over my seemingly empty hands recently to a wise friend when she said to me, “Melissa, perhaps it’s time for you to ask God for a new vision.”

Vision. There’s that 50,000 foot view again. Sigh.
I felt exhilaration at what “could be” and sheer terror at how I was going to “get there” all at the same time.

I wish I could say that as I began to ask God to show me what was next, that his answer was immediate, that it was everything I could ever dream it could be, that it came wrapped in cotton candy and tied with a big pretty bow. I wish I could say that He showed me a great big picture of what the rest of my life holds (or at least a 10-year plan).


Instead, I reluctantly began to pray for a new vision. Honestly it was more of a complaint session, turned into a wrestling match. I kept telling God what I wanted, that I wanted to see what was ahead; I kept getting silence and a reminder that I am to walk by faith, not by sight.

So, I literally got on my knees beside my bed one night and I laid out everything before my God, my entire life, everything I hold precious, every hope, every dream. I was so desperate to hear from Him that I was willing to let go of anything.


It was not easy, but it was honest.
And it was freeing.

And weeks later, it led to the next step I needed to take.
And just last week, yet another.
This do-er is gaining clarity on what’s ahead.
It’s a one step at a time kind of clarity.

I’ll take it.

“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” ~Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I know eventually I’ll look back to see the whole staircase.
For now, I climb and trust my Great God for the journey.

Dearly loved, stair-steppin’,

Walking With Grieving Friends

I was reminded this past week that there are a lot of hurting people in our country, particularly those walking through grief. My heart goes out to Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. As they mourn the victims of this senseless shooting, I can’t help but think of those left behind, in the wake of tragedy. Because of my own experience, my mind races to the loved ones of the victims, trying to empathize with what they are going through, asking God to intervene and comfort them as only He can.

A couple years ago, when a friend was walking through his own tragic loss, I was asked to put together a list for those walking alongside the grieving. I based it on how my closest friends and family rallied behind me in my darkest hour. This certainly isn’t an exhaustive list, but here’s some things that really helped me.

Some general info:

  • Loss of a loved one can be one of life’s most stressful experiences. It’s exhausting; it’s overwhelming. Had you told me on day one that I’d be here to tell others how to help their friends through it, I would have never believed you. It’s a day by day, often hour by hour, journey. God’s provision of family and friends literally carried me through; they got in the “trenches” with me and would not let me give up.
  • The first stage of grief tends to be a fog. My counselor explained it as God literally “bubble wrapping” the brain because the pain is too intense otherwise. Over several months, that bubble wrap slowly peeled off, leading me into the other phases of grief.
  • Know this is a long journey. For anyone who loses a loved one, most grief books say to allow for a year to get through the “firsts.” For those whose loss is sudden, unexpected, and/or complicated, sometimes that means additional time. If it was a long-term illness, grief can start the day of the terminal diagnosis. Of course, these are just guidelines. There’s no “formula” for grieving and everyone does it differently.
  • The greatest thing my best friend did to help me was to educate herself on grief and what I was going through. No, she had not lost a spouse, but she did everything she could to understand. A few resources I found helpful are here.

In the immediate:

  • Pray. I mean, really pray, not just use it as a hashtag. I have countless stories of my friends who sent me just the scripture or song I needed, or told me they were praying for me at a specific time, when I could truly sense God bringing me comfort and peace. I saw it as God working through my friends to tell me “hi”…. that He was WITH me in the darkest moments.
  • Until the “dust” settles, reach out in ways other than a phone call. Texts, email, Facebook messages, cards were all good because I could read them (and if I chose to, respond) in my own time. My phone was blowing up those first few days as I planned the memorial and took care of urgent needs; I had to have friends and family manage my calls for me.
  • Acknowledge the loss for what it is: it sucks, it’s heart-breaking. It’s not something we can make sense of this side of heaven. I wanted to sucker punch folks who tried to over-spiritualize it or give Christian-ese responses. I knew Tony was in heaven, I didn’t need to be told that God got an angel, that he was in a better place, that I would see him again, that God has a plan, that I’d get married again.
  • Don’t be afraid to tell stories. I was able to stand for 3+ hours at the receiving line for Tony’s memorial because of person after person who gave me examples of how their lives were impacted by Tony. I kept all the emails and cards from those who told me stories about him. They brought such comfort, and even a few good laughs, and, in time, have translated into a legacy I now carry forward.
  • Listen; you don’t have to have the right thing to say. I appreciated those who let me ramble on about Tony. I needed folks to just sit with me, sometimes saying nothing at all. Sometimes I asked for advice, but more often, I just needed to get out frustration/anger/sorrow without anyone trying to “fix it” or be shocked by what came out of my mouth.
  • Be sensitive about questions surrounding the day the loved one passed away or the cause of death. The details surrounding Tony’s fall were extremely sensitive. My parents and friends protected me from the trauma of “retelling and reliving it” by only discussing details if I brought it up and said it was okay to talk about it. It took me over a year to even walk through that day with my grief counselor.
  • Offer to help in specific ways, but be okay if you’re not taken up on it. I was in such a fog, I didn’t always know what I needed. However, I do remember the folks who helped do yard work, pack up our home, be a sounding board for financial decisions, bring food, and take me out to dinner. Stand by your offer in a non-pushy way; and offer again a few weeks or months later, and again after that.

In the months to come:

  • Make “work hours” a safe space. My 8 hour work day was a welcome escape from grief where I could actually do something that felt somewhat “normal” and productive. My colleagues gave me permission to have a melt down or to talk about Tony if needed, but they did not purposely interrupt my day by repeatedly asking me how I was doing.
  • Recognize each loss is unique. I was the only one who lost Tony as a spouse. However, I found myself drawn to those friends who had been through their own grief journey (and there weren’t many at my age). Being around them, even if we weren’t talking specifically about grief, provided an unspoken “knowing” that they understood pain and sorrow while also giving me hope that God had carried them through.
  • Plan some fun or relaxing outings but allow for flexibility. I often only accepted invitations to do things with friends who would be okay if I cancelled at the last minute. But I seemed to pull myself together if I knew I was going to do something I would enjoy. Grief is so unpredictable. Be that safe friend who is okay with laughter or with tears or with random ramblings that don’t even make sense.
  • Make note of anniversaries and dates. It stills means so much to me when my friends reach out on Tony’s death date, his birthday or even our wedding anniversary. For my friends who have lost parents, I know that a text or note on Mother’s Day or Father’s Day can be such an encouragement.
  • Interrupt the loneliness when everyone else is back to “normal.” I had hundreds of people who came to my rescue in the days after Tony’s death; I had far fewer who offered their presence 6 months in. What helped the most was that random weeknight when a friend invited me to dinner or just sent a text to check in. Even better were weekend plans. Specific for widows, losing a spouse means no longer having a constant companion to “do life” with, even the most mundane tasks. I slowly learned to be okay with the loneliness, but I’m still so grateful for the company of friends.
  • Realize that you can’t fix this. Grief is a journey I had to face; no one could endure the pain and hardship for me. But I did not face it alone. I count my family and closest friends as my greatest cheerleaders. My best friend equated it to the story in Exodus of Moses and Aaron and the defeat of the Amalekites. As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning. When Moses’ arms became tired, Aaron and Hur held up his arms so that his hands remained steady until sunset. The Israelites overcame the Amalekites and Moses built an altar and called it “The Lord is my Banner…for hands were lifted up to the throne of the Lord.” (Exodus 17:15-16).

Will you join me in holding up the arms of the grieving?

Dearly loved,