I’ve Moved!

Hey friends!

Thank you so much for following my blog! But the time has come for me to move over to a new domain. Some of you may know that over the years I have had two blogs, and I wanted to consolidate everything into one. I invite you to follow me on my new Wixsite!

https://melissamontenegro.wixsite.com/website/

Here’s a preview of my latest post:

Sometime today my prayer went from “What about me?” to “Lord, take it all. May my hands be empty at the end of this day not because I am in need but because I have given everything I have to you. This world can try to take what I have, but they will find that their efforts are in vain when they see that my hands have noting in them. And my hope is that they will still see me whole because that is what happens when we empty our hands into the hands of Jesus. He fills our hearts with his love.” This thing, this paradox of emptying ourselves so that he can fill us – I don’t think it can be anything short of a miracle.

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Leave it to the Professionals

I’ve been fooled into thinking I can “do it all.” In fact, there’s an old adage that says “You can do anything,” and in a mile a minute world, we almost believe that if we don’t do it all, we are inadequate. We’re not good enough. I’ve felt this a million times myself, and it wasn’t until recently that I realized my limitations are not weaknesses. They’re just realities.

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For the past few months I’ve been dealing with an office move. Throughout the entire process, people asked me “Aren’t you excited about the move and your new office?”

Their question was often met with a grumble and a mumbled, “I’ll be excited when we get in there.”

The long process, like other moves, wasn’t without bumps in the road – packing boxes, painting, rewiring electric, setting up internet and phone lines, unpacking boxes of things I still needed before the move, having new carpet installed, and of course, the big moving day itself. It was a Thursday, and I started it with a great session with my spiritual director. On the way to the new office, I stopped for a coffee, so I was feeling pretty good. I was ready to attack the day, and I was actually starting to feel excited.

Things were going fine until we realized that some of my coworkers’ desks couldn’t fit up the stairs to their offices. There was frustration, anger, upset phone calls to the moving company and suggested solutions swirling around the room. My blood pressure started to rise, and I started to feel the peace and calmness leave my body. Then it happened. Someone suggested taking the desks apart, and all of a sudden one of my coworkers walked in with a drill ready to start the disassembly. I wanted to laugh…hard. But I kept it in, and I realized something: There was nothing I could do. If the solution was to disassemble the desks, I knew I could not be a part of it. I guarantee if I tried to do any kind of disassmbly, there would be extra screws or missing boards when we tried to put it back together. I made the only decision I could: I realized there was nothing I could do, and I excused myself from the room.

In that moment, the peace returned. Two things happened:

1. I realized that there was nothing I could do about trying to move a desk up the stairs. At the same time, I recognized that just because I couldn’t do something in that moment, it didn’t make me less of a team player or less of a person.
2. I decided to leave the moving of furniture up to the professionals. Even if there was nothing I could do, there was something they COULD do, and I needed to get out of their way.

Somewhere along the line, I realized that this is true in my own life. Sometimes there’s nothing I can do about a situation in my life. And I have to leave it up to the professionals. Just because I don’t have an opportunity to use my strengths and talents doesn’t mean that it’s not an opportunity for someone else to use theirs. I realized, too, that there is so much peace in placing a lot of those worries and stresses into the hands who is pretty much a pro at everything. When life gets rough or when I feel like I can’t fight for or against something any longer, I’ve found peace at the foot of the Cross where Jesus handled everything. Throughout my life there have been a lot of things that I just couldn’t handle it, and my peace returns when I realize that God the Father can handle everything. And I have to trust that he will.

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Layers of Ink

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Molti Strati

It’s an Italian term I learned this weekend at a writers conference. It means “many layers.” Given the fact that it’s an Italian term, it could easily refer to lasagna or tiramisu or even my dreams of a multi-flavored gelato. But in the writers’ sense, it mean that a story needs several layers with multiple plots, characters and settings.

Rivers of Ink Conference speaker, Wendy Kendall, hosted a workshop on how “the plot thickens with layering.” It really got me to thinking. Is anything in life single layered? It seems to me that everything good and exciting in my life has multiple layers. When you’re eating a delicious trifle or slice of chocolate pudding pie, don’t you dip your spoon all the way to the bottom of the dish to get a tasty bit of everything? Archaeologists excavating on site are motivated to dig just a little deeper even when it seems they can’t go any further because of what may lie just beneath the surface. Likewise, the best stories make you want to turn the page because you can’t wait to learn what happens next.

Somewhere in the middle of taking notes, it dawned on me that a lot of my writing is single layered. I have one plot, a couple of engaging characters and one constant setting where they roam. I left that room feeling encouraged to develop more layers, to peel back that main plot and expose the rawness of what lies beneath. That’s where the good stuff is, after all. I want my readers to want to know my characters, what makes them cry, what makes them tick. Ultimately, I want the reader to be invested, and when they reach that last layer, I want them to want more. I want them to seek out that character for the chance that there’s one more layer to be examined.

Isn’t that what we do with the people and the stories we love most? We hunger for more and more. We hope to have just one more taste, one more plot, one more twist in a character’s life. But I realize, too, that my greatest desire is also my greatest challenge. In real life, I don’t open up easily. I don’t expose those deep down layers to people who are not invested. But I know that the layers are important, that they exist and that they ought to be delved into. In fact, people who know me well urge me to “go deeper.” How can you go deeper if there’s only one layer?

Not long after the conference, I went to a paint party fundraiser for a family friend. It, too, required layers of paint. I went home with a new masterpiece to hang on my wall, and I couldn’t help but notice…it wouldn’t be what it is today without all the different layers of paint.

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Undoer of Knots

Allow me to set the stage for you. It’s a beautiful sunny morning, and the temperature is sitting right at 65 degrees. There’s a light breeze and you live only a mile away from work.  You also had the good fortune of waking up early. The path to your office is equipped with a sidewalk, so you make the decision to get a little exercise and walk there. You plan on listening to your favorite tunes on the way, dig into your purse and find this:

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What now? If you’re anything like me, you grumble a little but eventually untangle your earbuds and get along with your day. But I also recognize that these tangles, these knots can really keep you from doing what you’d like to be doing…at the very least, they slow you down.

A while back I decided to pray the Undoer of Knots Novena. I decided to start this past Sunday so I could end on August 22, when we celebrate the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary. My plan had been to pray every day before leaving work in the chapel. But today I felt a strong urge to pray after Mass in the Marian Garden. When I feel those urges, I have to obey them, so I took my Rosary and my novena and marched on to the garden.

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Somewhere in the middle of my prayer, I got an image of holding on to one of Mary’s fingers – just like a child does. But it wasn’t child me holding on to her. It was adult me, and she was so much bigger than me. Then, I got the image of her untying the shoelaces on my shoes (which if you know me, is an odd image because I never wear shoes with laces because I hate tying them). She knelt down, and I placed my hand on her shoulder. Se untied the knots and took my shoes off – and I was able to run and play. I was free. It was so moving, so real and so touching. I realized how much I love her and how much she loves me. I left the garden feeling like I didn’t have to walk alone.

I wish I could say that feeling lasted the entire day, but it didn’t. Sometime in the afternoon I found myself in a fit of anger, an anger that I have only felt a few other times in my life. But somewhere in the middle of raising my voice and getting worked up, I heard a voice saying “someone once held her, too, and said, ‘Look at my beautiful child. I’m so proud of her.'” The statement wasn’t about me. It was about the person I was angry at. I immediately felt sorry for the anger, and I felt my hands handing a tangle of knots over to my mother once again. And she took it.

It was real. The knots are real. We get into them, and the longer we stay in them, the more tangled they become. It is a reality that I will make mistake after mistake. Others will make mistake after mistake. We can try to untangle them on our own, but there are loving hands that are willing to take them for you and set you free. The question is, will you hand them over?

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Breakfast

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Fridays make me happy. So does sitting in my favorite coffee shop with a notebook and pen, ready to capture what’s going on around me and inside of me. Today I sat at my usual seat and was blessed to witness a father taking his two daughters out for a special treat. He had ordered Italian sodas and the sweet giggles and authentic love flowing from the table beside me warmed my heart. One of the little ones recounted a dream she had the night before, and a big smile crossed her face as her daddy focused his attention on her. In that moment, I was reminded of my Heavenly Father.

How often do I make time to have breakfast with him? He shows a genuine desire in spending time with me. He listens – with great interest…to every word. I imagine that those little girls were excited for Italian sodas with their dad. Am I equally as excited when God invites me to a meal?

I want to be.

And there’s no better time to accept that invitation than right now. As I sat sipping my cinnamon spiced coffee (don’t hate…it’s delicious), I remembered that time is so precious, and after a minute is spent, we don’t get it back. The what if’s and regrets don’t change that. As I watched this family, I realized that I want my minutes to matter, and that’s best done with people I love. Every minute we have is a blessing, and every precious child of God is a blessing, too. It doesn’t matter what they’ve done or where they come from. The love of the Father is unconditional, and he looks at every one of us, offering us so much more than breakfast and so much more than a sweet Italian soda.

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Divide

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I never was very good at math as a kid.

I excelled in literature and I could read and write all day long if you asked me to, but when it came to numbers and equations I had little to no interest in accomplishing much more than the minimum.

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I remember one of my favorite movies, Mean Girls where the main character, Kady, says she loves math because it’s the same in every language. And maybe that’s exactly why it doesn’t appeal to me. I like the variety that language offers. I like the way that opening a book is a new adventure and themes can be interpreted in a million different ways. And I love how different genres of the written word can touch people in infinite ways. All these thoughts flew in and out of my head during an overnight trip to Portland.

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What’a a trip to Portland without a trip to VooDoo Doughnuts?

It was by far one of the best road trips I’ve taken, and when I ask myself why it was so great, I list dozens of things that made it the perfect “un-storm.”

First of all, the planning was minimal. Rather than having to map out exactly where we were going and when, we kind of just went with the flow.  It felt a lot like when I sit down with a piece of paper and pen in hand with no idea of where the ink will take me but I know that the story will be great once I flip the page. There was no need to map out a theorem to get me to where I needed to be. Everything just went from one place to another seamlessly.

Second, the climax was there…and then some.  The purpose of our Portland trip was to go to an Ed Sheeran concert. He did not disappoint, and James Blunt as the opening act was like icing on the cake. 2+2 will always be four, and that’s the end. But while you may be able to predict the plot of an exciting book, there’s always the possibility for an unexpected twist.  When I entered the Moda Center, I knew I was going to hear some great music, but nobody told me that Ed Sheeran could light up the stage with nothing but his guitar to accompany him. No one told me to expect an incredible rendition of Feeling Good. And no one told me that the opening act would be a delightfully humorous man with a British accent.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, I made this trip with people who are like me but who can offer different perspectives on what we saw. I can’t tell you how relaxing it was to travel with two other introverts who I knew would not interrupt my sleep with whispers of “hey…are you awake?” Our conversations weren’t just about the weather and how great the food was. We were able to talk about deep topics that matter, and it was enlightening to be around them discussing ideas without worrying if there were a few pockets of silence here and there.

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McMenamins Gardens…you are lovely!

Maybe what I’m getting at was that it was fun to explore a place that I’ve been to before in a way that I haven’t seen it before. Until this weekend, I hadn’t tasted a VooDoo doughnut, and I hadn’t walked the gardens in McMenamins – Edgefield. And I always knew that Ed Sheeran is a talented musician. I appreciate a good artist who doesn’t need the bells and whistles, but then I realized that Ed Sheeran IS the bells and whistles. Sure he has a good voice, but he also possesses the ability to WRITE great lyrics, play a guitar (or 10) and make people feel like a song is all about them. In short, he doesn’t have just one formula to get to an end result. He makes the audience feel like he knows their individual journeys and he communicates that through notes and lyrics. He makes people feel special, and that is more than I can ever expect from a bunch of plus and minus signs.

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Warning Labels

I saw this question somewhere and thought it was funny:

To invent your own life's meaning is not easy, but it's still allowed, and I think you'll be happier for the trouble.

Of course I know that people aren’t objects that can be accurately labelled in any way. But I also know that everyone I’ve encountered and gotten close to have certain quirks and expectations (Don’t speak to me before I’ve had my morning coffee; Be on time; Don’t ask me why I’m still single; Remember my birthday and special occasions; ) that warrant a warning label. They don’t define a person, but I like to keep them in my mind as tidbits to remember in order to maintain harmony in relationships.

If we were all forced to wear warning labels, I know what mine would say:

Don’t move my cheese!

Just like the warning signs placed in front of cages at zoos that say “Don’t poke the bear,” my warning label can be interpreted in a few different ways.

1.) Just as there is the literal sense of not poking the bear, there is also a literal sense of not moving my cheese. I have a place for everything and everything in its place. Sure, magazines are strewn across my coffee table. It’s table talk. You don’t need to organize them onto a bookcase. There’s a reason why I keep my skirts on a shelf in my closet. I don’t need to explain that reason. Of course you can borrow my stapler. Please put it back where you found it. In short, don’t move my stuff. If you do move my stuff, put it back!

2.) Don’t move my cheese…I don’t do well at all when people say they’ll do something for me, with me, beside me – and then don’t do it. Don’t make plans with me and then cancel because you’ve found something else to do. That hurts. Don’t commit to doing something for me and then back out. That’s inconvenient and makes me think you’re unreliable.

3.) But the most significant meaning of “Don’t move my cheese” stems from the Spencer Johnson book, Who Moved My Cheese, on how to deal with change. I DO NOT deal well with change. After I’ve been putting my cheese in a certain drawer in the fridge for years, it’s as if the world is coming to an end when someone decides it now goes on the refrigerator door.

I’m clearly at a crossroads in life. I’ve been walking down a pretty predictable path for quite some time, and now that I have to pick a new route, I feel myself becoming more and more anxious. I’m wondering if I should stand here forever and not make a choice or if I should turn back around to go to what’s familiar.

Of course the right answer is to make a choice at this fork in the road and move on. But that doesn’t make it any easier to let go of what you’ve known for so long in order to explore something new…to “find new cheese.”

I know the next steps will be difficult. I know I’ll yearn for that block of cheese that brought me so much comfort. But at some point I will remember…dairy makes my tummy hurt and I’ll move to something else…like cherry pie. All will be well. ‘Til then, I have a suggestion: If you borrow my favorite skirt, put it back on the shelf where it belongs. XOXO

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