If Only . . .

If Only Picture

I’ve been thinking about regret a lot lately.

Out of all the negative emotions I’ve experienced in life, regret is the most hopeless feeling. It is dark and heavy and sends my mind in circles.

I should have . . .

I never should have . . .

If only I knew . . .

Why didn’t I . . .

For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death. — 2 Corinthians 7:10

If our choices were the result of sin, at least we have repentance and the hope and freedom that comes with it. But what if we thought we were doing God’s will? What if we were earnestly doing the best we knew how? What do we repent from then? From ignorance? From blind faith?

I can’t find a bible verse that has an encompassing answer of how to deal with this kind of regret. I wish there was because holding onto one sentence of scripture that addresses something I’m struggling with gives me peace. The only thing I can do is pray. And when I do, it all comes back to a few simple things.

Trust God.

It seems like the ones who struggle with regret the most are those in the middle point of their lives. It’s not the beginning of their story, but also not the end. We don’t know what the future holds, how God will work it all out to good. But we can trust that He will, one way or another. And even if we are at the end of our story, we don’t know how God will use our past to affect the futures of the ones we love or had influence over.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[a] have been called according to his purpose. – Romans 8:28

Learn from Our Mistakes.

It’s never easy, and not always fair, the way we learn from mistakes, especially the ones that involve relationships. My oldest child is in some ways a wonderful experiment, and the younger two benefit from the mistakes I have made in parenting her (although not always in a way they enjoy!)  I can’t get caught up in the guilt, though. If I want my kids to learn from their mistakes, I need to model this by learning from mine and moving forward – not in circles.

We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check. – James 3:2

Focus on the Good.

Sometimes the windiest roads have the most beautiful scenery, and the twists and turns allow us to slow down and take it all in. Most of us have more to be thankful for than we have to regret, we just need to remind ourselves, each and every day, what those things are.

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, 7 rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. – Colossians 2:6

I can do that. Trust, learn, be thankful. It’s not easy, but it’s a whole lot better than living in the ghost town of regret. After all, God has gotten me this far. I just need to keep turning the pages.


The Power of a Name

box-148831_1280What is in a name?

Everything . . . but not all things.

I recently came upon a Facebook post stating that a person’s name is God-given and very important, creating their identity. This got under my skin, and I almost kept scrolling. For nearly my entire life, I have hated my name, not because of the sound of it (although I never cared much for that, either) but because of its meaning.

When I was seven-years-old, my mom had a baby name book she was looking through to decide the name of my youngest sister. Being curious, I looked up Melanie. The book defined it as, “Dark, from the darkness.” I tearfully approached my mom about the terrible name she had given me. She assured me my name was beautiful, and that it was special because I had been named after my grandma, Melba (who insisted on not sticking that outdated name to her granddaughter.)

Maybe it wouldn’t have affected me so much if I hadn’t already felt different. Here I was, the only one in the family with brown eyes; hence, dark. Both my sisters had blue eyes. I would come to find out the reason my sisters’ coloring was so different from mine was that our gene pool wasn’t exactly the same. I had a different, and completely absent, father.

Different. Dark. To me, both were synonymous to bad, even evil.

As silly as it may sound, I carried that branding of who I was with me through my childhood and into adulthood. Every time I faced a trauma, a little voice inside my head would confirm it was my lot due to who I was: darkness. Good things happen in the light, not in the dark.

When it came time to name my own children, I chose names with good, purposeful, meanings. Hope. Christmas. Princess. My daughters would carry light in their names. They would have names that pointed back to God.  As for me, I shrugged off my name and disconnected myself from it. Or, at least, I tried.

So when I read that Facebook post, I really wanted to keep scrolling, but something in me challenged me to look up my name again. No baby name books are needed in the age of Google. When I put my name in the search bar, the same definition came up: Dark. But it didn’t stop there. The definition went on to note, “This was the name of a Roman saint who gave all her wealth to charity in the 5th century. Her grandmother was also a saint with the same name.”

A Roman saint named Melanie? Who was named after her grandmother of the same name? But saints are . . . good. They are holy, from God.

The Facebook post encouraged people to look up both their first and middle names. I had never looked up my middle name (which was also my grandma’s.) I typed “Jean meaning” into Google and the results brought tears to my eyes.

Jean was a Hebrew baby name meaning Gift from God.

Melanie Jean = A Philanthropist Saint, Gift from God.

That’s a long way from dark.

It’s such a little thing, the definition of a name, and yet it can mean so much. It got me thinking about identity, and how we define ourselves. The most powerful lies we believe are the ones that are born from a kernel of truth. Yes, Melanie means dark, but it has a history greater and more beautiful than simple darkness. And believing that Melanie was bad, I had never looked up my middle name, never even thought about it.

A kernel of truth had entwined with the circumstances of my life to create a lie about myself that I believed: I was darkness, different, and somehow “bad” or unworthy no matter how much I did “right.”

Why do we accept something ugly, that doesn’t feel right, as truth, without digging deeper?

Even as Christians, when we know God loves us, and has redeemed us, why do we still put labels on ourselves and on others that don’t reflect who God is? What if we broke open all those boxes we have put each other in, and dug for the truth, instead of accepting the lies?

Darkness just might become light, and then we could see the gifts inside.


A Blue House

I didn’t know my daughter graduating from high school would be such an emotional time for me. She’s not moving out on her own or attending a college far away. Unlike a good friend of her’s, she’s not going off on a two year mission trip. It’s simply the end of her childhood education. And I was fine, I really was. But in all the hustle and bustle, there was one thing I wanted to do for her, something that my grandma had done for me: put together a photo album of her through the years to give her as a graduation gift. Doing so is what made me realize the right of passage was much more than a piece of paper with her name on it, more than a cap and gown.

It was a daunting task, thanks to my procrastination. In the wonderful world of digital photography, it’s quite easy to enjoy pictures without printing them, which is basically what I had done for the last 11 years or so. And then there were the boxes of pictures I did have from her early years, and all the memorabilia. Sorting through it brought those years vividly back to life. I was frequently sharing items with my husband, showing him the pictures and keepsakes from the time before he entered our lives.

Then I came across the drawing. It was of a house, with an American Flag sticker in the corner. It didn’t have a name or date, but I remembered when it was drawn, and by whom.

blue house

It was only a few months after my divorce from my first husband. The girls and I were living in an apartment. They had come back from a visit with their dad, who still lived in the house we had shared, the only home my girls had known. The one I had given up when I left him for sanity, for safety, for a future filled with peace instead of fear. Katie was upset, almost angry, because at the apartment there was no backyard to play in. No play structure. No perfect lawn with sprinklers to run through in the heat of summer. No strawberries to pick from the garden.

It stung. I couldn’t explain to her why we didn’t have those things, just like I couldn’t explain why I had left. I did my best to comfort her, to give her hope. Someday, I told her, we would have a house again, and it would have a huge backyard.

She took in my promise like a new food, testing it against what her four-year-old mind already knew. “What color will it be?” she asked.

“What color do you want it to be?”

“Blue!” she exclaimed, her eyes bright.

“Then blue it will be.” I paused for a moment. “Do you want to draw a picture of it?”

And she did. With those chubby little hands and a box of crayons, she carefully sketched our future home. I put the drawing on the refrigerator in that first apartment of ours. It was my promise to my daughter. It was what I was working toward, and it found it’s place on the refrigerator of each home thereafter during those difficult years. I taped it on the yellowish-brown fridge of a drafty duplex with heating bills I couldn’t afford in a not-so-good part of town. Next it was displayed on the refrigerator of a tiny, second floor, low-income apartment that didn’t even have a balcony. That’s where it stayed the longest, while I juggled college and work, court battles and visits to the therapist.

The blue house drawing fueled my resolve when I felt too tired to go another day. It gave me strength when I watched my daughters put yet another Eugene Police sticker on their backpacks. They were too young to fully understand that the stickers were not a cool status symbol, but a sign that something bad had happened and the police had shown up. It fueled my perseverance as I strung together an odd mix of part time jobs to survive. It was a constant reminder of why I was fighting beyond my own abilities to give them a better life.

Eventually, it all worked out. By our next move I was married and we were building a house. The photographs I printed for my daughter’s album included ones of my girls standing in the framework of that house as it was being built, beaming in what would be their rooms, and a photo of them sitting contently on a boulder in their new backyard.

Ironically, we didn’t paint the house blue. That color was not in style, so the house was painted more of a khaki color. I was a little disappointed, but then I realized something. The apartment we were living in when my daughter drew that picture — it was blue. The color wasn’t about the perfect house, it was about what she considered home. The color of our new house didn’t matter. It was ours, and we were safe.

Because for me, that’s really what it was all about: being safe, yet free. My children being free from fear, safe from the hateful venom of an emotionally abusive, alcoholic father. Having a home to call their own, a soft place for them to land, no matter what. I wish I could have sheltered them, somehow, during those tumultuous times. I hope that they don’t remember the days when I broke down sobbing as much as they remember the days I told them long silly stories to make them laugh.

For better or worse, those years of struggle and heartache are part of who my girls are. My mother-in-law described my oldest daughter best with the words on the necklace she gave her for graduation: Grit with Grace. The phrase fits her perfectly. I think, I hope, she got a bit of that grit not only from enduring some hard years but because she watched me fight for her and our future, and not give up. I hope she realizes that though she has the grace that is beauty and elegance, the most important thing is that she has the Grace that is the free and unmerited favor of God.

Because that’s Who really got us through it all, who brought that drawing to life and gave us freedom. Despite my mistakes, regardless of my hard work, we wouldn’t have survived without God coming through for us more times than I can count. He gave us more than a home, he gave us a whole new life. He gave my girls a dad, one to love and protect and provide for them the way a father should.

As I watch my daughter read, “Jesus Calling for Graduates,” and write in her journal, as I watch her work through her struggles and setbacks with not only grit, but grace, I think she does get it. She knows who our Hero is, and why despite anything else she may do, following Him will always lead her home.


Fear is a Thief – But Love Redeems

My daughter just had her first piano recital. It didn’t turn out quite the way I expected, but it was a night we won’t forget.

Sarah is 7-years-old and started taking piano lessons last June. With about a month off in August for summer break, she’s had a total of five months of lessons. In this short time she has made impressive progress, and absolutely loves playing the piano. After spending her entire life being dragged to countless sporting events for her two older sisters, Sarah has found her “thing.” When she learned her first piano recital was in December, she was initially nervous, but then quite excited. At long last, she had an event for the family to watch.

We arrived 15 minutes early at the church where the recital would take place so that Sarah would have a chance to practice on the unfamiliar piano before it was time to perform. Her eyes widened when she saw all the people gathering in the sanctuary, and her little body literally began to shake.

“I can’t do this, mommy!” she hissed. I attempted to reassure her, but she only became more anxious. We left the sanctuary and found her piano teacher, Mr. Stram. He could tell by one look at Sarah that she was terrified. I hoped he would have the magic combination of words to ease her fears. But he didn’t. She was still scared, and nearly in tears. He assured her that she didn’t have to play, and told me that if there was no joy for her in playing, then we shouldn’t force her. We were to signal him if she changed her mind while we watched the recital, and then Sarah could go up front and play.

Our family of five sat and waited for my mom and mother-in-law to arrive. Beside us was the single wrapped rose I had bought to give Sarah after her performance. “Who is that for?” Sarah asked. I explained that I had brought it to give to her after she played. “So I can’t have it unless I play?” she asked, her brow creased. I assured her that she could have the flower whether she performed or not, but I would really love to see her play. Sarah looked sadly at the rose, her bottom lip quivering.

The pianists performed by age, starting with the youngest. When it came time for Sarah’s spot, Mr. Stram paused and glanced our way. The look of terror returned to Sarah’s face, and she shook her head no. Unfazed, Mr. Stram announced the next pianist. Sarah sat back and lowered her head, and giant tears streamed down her cheeks. “I’ve never had so much pressure in my life,” she choked out.

“It’s okay,” I said, “you don’t have to play.There’s always next time.” I put my arm around her and held her close.

The reassurance from our family as we sat in the pew with Sarah seemed to have little effect. The silent tears continued. “I want to play,” Sarah said, her little voice full of pain, “but I just can’t.” My heart ached for her, and I understood what she meant. Fear held her in its dark grip, and she was paralyzed by it. I knew fear well, especially the fear of getting up in front of people and having all eyes on you. My heart ached for her, and for my powerlessness to take her tears away.  So I did the only thing I knew to do, the only thing that I could do as we sat in that pew, watching other people’s children get up on the stage and play.

I prayed. Silently but whole-heartedly, I pleaded with God. I asked Him to help Sarah overcome her fear. As the recital went on, and Sarah’s tears continued, I asked Him how this moment could be turned into something good even if Sarah didn’t get on the stage and play. I didn’t want the bitter pain of regret to be what Sarah remembered about this night.

Then an idea came to me. We would wait until the recital was over, after everyone had left the sanctuary, and I would ask Sarah to get up on the stage and play just for our family. She would still have her performance, and it would be good practice for future recitals.

Near the end of the concert, Sarah’s first-grade teacher – who is also Sarah’s favorite teacher of all time – walked into the sanctuary with her daughter. Sarah’s entire demeanor changed. She nearly bounced out of her seat and smiled, then pushed her way out of the pew to run and give Mrs. Mercer a hug.  

“I thought it began at 4:00 p.m.” Mrs. Mercer whispered to me as she found a seat in a pew behind us. Both Mrs. Mercer and her daughter are piano students. I didn’t know if they were supposed to play, but I could see the disappointment on Mrs. Mercer’s face. My own dismay in the evening was replaced by empathy. Sometimes things just didn’t go as planned, no matter how much we planned, or how good our intentions.

Sarah pulled on my arm. “I think I can play after the next person is done,” she whispered.

“O.K.,” I said, a bit surprised by her change of heart. It seemed the sight of her favorite teacher had bolstered Sarah’s spirits.  “Just give me the word and I will raise my hand so Mr. Stram knows.” I wasn’t sure if she could play out of sequence, but it was worth a shot.

The next pianist finished. “Ready?” I asked.

Sarah shook her head, and sat back in her seat. “Maybe after the next one.”

We had the same conversation three more times. Finally, the recital was over. Mr. Stram invited everyone to the hospitality area for refreshments, then came to our pew and signaled Sarah and I over to him. “I was thinking,” he said, “how about if after the sanctuary is empty, your family moves to the front pew and Sarah plays just for you.” Sarah nodded her head excitedly up and down and I smiled, relieved that Mr. Stram and I were on the same page. He made his way back up to the front, and Sarah followed him. She pulled on his sleeve. He bent over and she talked animatedly. The next thing I saw was Mr. Stram conversing with Mrs. Mercer. She smiled and nodded, and then took a seat near the front of the sanctuary. The room was nearly empty now, and I picked up on enough of the conversation to understand that, at Sarah’s request, Mrs. Mercer would also be staying for the private recital.


Our family moved to the front pew. Sarah jumped up on the stage and sat at the piano. In her brand new dress and with her back straight as a fine arrow, she focused on her sheet music and played, beautifully and flawlessly, for a small group of people who adored her. After she was done, she grabbed her music and jumped off the stage and ran to me, a huge smile on her face.

“Do I get my flower now?” she asked, her eyes lit up like stars. I handed her the single pink rose, and held back my tears. Sarah beamed with simple joy, and maybe a bit of pride. The tears, the fear, and the disappointment were gone. Love had stolen the show, and its performance cannot be outdone.

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them – Romans 8:28



Title: Ninety-Nine

Authors: Elisheba Haxby and Jess Rivas

www.ElishebaHaxby.comAbove the Sun

Genre: Contemporary Christian Romance

Amazon link:

Buy here

Back cover/Amazon summary:

Darkness has shrouded Tamara’s life as long as she can remember. After one more “love of her life” shatters her heart, she’s on the run, desperate to flee the pain—and the state. A hundred miles of driving and something strange is happening. The number 99 is haunting her.

When an unexpected breakdown leaves her stranded in Vancouver at the Highway 99 Diner, it feels like a sign, but will she find a new beginning or the same old patterns? Stuck for a time, Tamara faces the reality that running doesn’t lead to freedom, but cost far more. Will she allow the truth to set her free, or go the way of the familiar and risk losing it all?

Read it? Yes

Why it’s worth your time:

The characters make this story. They have gritty, heart-breaking and realistic lives that draw on your empathy, whether you can relate to their struggles or not. Tamara, a waitress at the Highway 99 Diner, is likable and yet frustrating. I was reminded of Scarlett O’Hara from Gone with the Wind and Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games. I loved her and yet some of her decisions frustrated me to the point of wanting to throw the book down . . . but I couldn’t stop reading. Joe, the cook at the diner and Tamara’s friend, makes mistakes yet is endearing – the kind of guy any woman I know would want in her life. Even the mysterious regular customer, Levi, has his secret struggles. The way the number 99 brings them all together will give you chills.

Don’t plan on getting anything done or going to bed once you reach the last third or so of the story. Trust me, you won’t be able to put the book down at that point. This is the kind of story that stays with you long after you have finished the last page, and has the power to change a life.

My favorite line:

“The fury twisted and fought within me like a feral animal clawing from the inside out.”


A Parent’s Prayer

My husband and I have been taking a class based on the book Grace Based Parenting by Dr. Tim Kimmel. One of the topics covered early in the book is different parenting styles. One of the most popular styles among Christian parents seems to be “fear based” parenting. With “fear based” parenting, the parents are literally afraid of everything, and therefore try to protect their kids from the world. Dr. Kimmel states that he would rather raise strong kids than safe kids. This might initially sound like you’re giving up safety and feel counter-intuitive, but reading it reminded me of an experience I had a few years ago.

One night I couldn’t fall asleep because I found myself anxious about my then 4-year-old daughter, Sarah. We had put her in a loft bed sooner than I felt comfortable with, but did so in order to create the space needed for her to share a room with her older sister. Sarah had been sleeping in the loft bed for nearly 9 months without incident. But for some reason, I couldn’t get the fear of her falling off the bed out of my head that night.

Frustrated, I prayed to God to please keep her safe, and to not let her fall out of her bed. I got up to go the the bathroom, and on my way back to my bed I clearly heard a voice in my head say, “But what if I did?” My heart stopped. “No, God. You wouldn’t do that.” I shook the thought and the voice away, convinced that it could not be God. Moments later, I heard a scream and then crying from down the hall. I ran to my daughters’ room to find Sarah on the floor, sobbing. Her older sister was beside her, comforting her. “Sarah fell out of the bed,” Katie said.

I picked Sarah up and looked her over, and asked her if anything hurt. She shook her head no. There were no bruises. There were no broken bones. Not even a scratch. Sarah described what she remembered. She had woken up as she “bounced” down the steps to her bed. But, she said, her blanket had kept her safe. She had been wrapped up in her blanket, much like a little burrito, and those layers had cushioned her fall and protected her from any injuries.

As I tried to fall asleep that night, I pondered why God allowed this to happen. My daughter was fine, but I had prayed that she would not fall. Why would God allow that to happen? It finally dawned on me that God may have allowed it to happen, but He had protected her. Wrapped safely in her blanket, he had provided a safety net for her fall.

It changed the way I pray. I no longer just pray that God will protect my children from the world, but instead I pray that He will be with them through it all. Bad stuff is going to happen – we live in an imperfect, sinful world and each day presents its hazards. The important thing is not that God protect my children from anything bad ever happening, but that He be with them through it all. I pray that my children will put their trust, their hope, in Him. With His comforting Spirit wrapped around them, they will survive the bumps and grow stronger in the storms. There will be times that they will be hurt – either physically, emotionally or mentally. But with Jesus, nothing can harm their soul. They are His.

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:38-39


The Tale of Two Dreams

(originally posted on http://www.onewomanfalling.com, May 27,2016)

The last several weeks I haven’t been to any waterfalls, and I’ve done only a small amount of writing. I’ve been spending my time at track meets and softball games. You see, my two teen girls have been immersed in their spring sports, and my focus has been on encouraging them and being at their events to support them. While I may not have had time to hike to waterfalls, watching my daughters pursue their passions has definitely taught me about the value of our dreams.

We had two sports going on in our household: track and softball.

Katie (a junior) did track, and Natalie (a freshman) was on both the track and softball teams. This was Katie’s first year of track in high school, and while she hoped to do well, her main focus when she started was on keeping in shape and gearing up for cross-country season.

Natalie did softball throughout middle school and loved every moment of it. But when she did track during her last year of middle school she found that she had a natural ability at the long jump. Now in high school, track and softball season are at the same time. Natalie didn’t want to give up either one, so she decided her main focus would be softball, and that she would primarily focus on the long jump on the days she went to track practice.

Everything changed with a new track coach. Katie, who considers her running ability to be, as she puts it, “the one thing I’m good at,” listened with an aching heart as the coach told her younger sister that not only were Natalie’s long jump skills impressive for her age, but that she had a natural runner’s build, amazing raw talent, and with the proper coaching she could count on being drafted by a Division I school by her senior year. That alone was what parenting books like to call a ‘teachable moment” in Katie’s life: how to be happy for someone when they receive by mere luck or genetics something you have longed and worked toward.

Natalie at first shrugged off the accolades of the running coach. Then halfway through the season she was placing for both the long jump and the 400 meter race. At the same time, her softball skills didn’t seem to be improving. She was torn. In her dreams up to that point, she longed to go to college on a softball scholarship, as unlikely as it seemed. Now she was being told she may make her way to college on the track field.

natalie batting

“What do you want to do?” I asked her. “Because in the end, what matters is that you enjoy what you are doing.” Natalie’s response: “I just want to be good at something.”

Don’t we all?

My chest ached as I watched her play her last softball game of the season. I could tell by her lack of focus on the field that her heart was no longer in it. I grieved the death one of her dreams. My prayer is that she will find as much joy in running as she does in sliding into home base.

Katie in the meantime suffered with what we believed were shin splints the entire season, but her run times persistently got better. Her coach told me that he had seldom seen someone who worked as hard as Katie. Did she have the potential that he saw in Natalie? Probably not. But she gave her whole heart to running. Katie started out the season running the 1500 and 3000 meter race, the natural choice for a long-distance runner. But she noticed that her split time (i.e., the halfway mark) for the 1500 was significantly less than the winning time of her teammate for the 800 meter race. At the next meet, she took a chance and ran the 800 instead of the 3000. She won.

katie running

Eventually the pain in her legs forced her to give up all races except the 800 meter, but focusing on that one race proved providential. She placed second in district and made it to the state championships – in an event she never even intended to race!  She dreamed of standing on the podium and accepting a medal, but it was not to be. A week before the state meet we found out her “shin splint” was actually a stress fracture. My driven daughter had been running on a broken tibia most of the season.

Natalie also did well at the district meet, and placed third in the long jump. She was just one placement away from going to state, an impressive accomplishment for a 5’1” Freshman who took track as her second choice sport.

natalie jumping

At the end-of-the-year of sports awards ceremony, the track coach boasted of Natalie’s raw, natural talent. He said, “if she would just believe in herself” her potential was stellar. When he spoke of Katie, the one word that came up again and again was courage. Courage to keep going, to push through the pain. Courage to not give up.

Our dreams. Some have to die so that others can live. One person can speak hope to us and change our direction. Sometimes if we want something bad enough hard work will get us there even if we don’t have “natural” talent. Our drive pushes us through the pain. If we can just believe in ourselves, we’ll reach our full potential.

And love and courage carries us to the finish line.