Here’s to the Parents

I love May – the bustling activity, the outdoor gatherings, the blooming gardens, the excitement over the end of school, and the promise of summer adventures. Simultaneous exhaustion and thrill. My current season of life with babies and young school-age children means that I feel a sense of accomplishment for getting to the end of the year. We made it. Perhaps you feel the same, but perhaps you also haven’t gotten the affirmation you earned. Today’s post is for the parents who did their best this year (or any year!)

Here’s to the parents who got their kids to school on time (most of the time)

Here’s to the parents who color-coded their calendars by kid

Here’s to the parents who didn’t

Here’s to the parents who could’ve made a fortune working for Uber

Here’s to the parents who forgot what time practice started and showed up a little late

Here’s to the parents who bought Happy Meals, packed sack lunches, and purchased snacks

Here’s to the parents who stirred supper on the stove while calling out spelling words

Here’s to the parents who stayed up late washing that special shirt

Here’s to the parents who made grocery runs on the way to school because they forgot something needed for a project

Here’s to the parents who made sure their kids had breakfast 

Here’s to the parents who sent their kids with a kiss and a prayer

Here’s to the parents who prayed for their kids’ teachers, knowing the kind of morning they’d already had

Here’s to the parents who honored their kids’ teachers

Here’s to the parents who are teachers

Here’s to the parents who cried with their kids

Here’s to the parents who didn’t know the answer but learned it with their kid

Here’s to the parents who resisted the urge to shout out the answer

Here’s to the parents who grew

Here’s to the parents who signed hundreds of slips of paper

Here’s to the parents who lost slips of paper and gave themselves grace

Here’s to the parents who know they aren’t perfect but do their best to point their kids to the one who is.

He sees you. He knows where you failed, he knows where you succeeded. He loves you and he loves your kid.

“fear not, for I am with you;

    be not dismayed, for I am your God;

I will strengthen you, I will help you,

    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand…For I, the Lord your God,

    hold your right hand;

it is I who say to you, “Fear not,

    I am the one who helps you.” (Isaiah 41:10,13)

Then You Will Know

Introduction: When Annalyse and I both had toddlers, we met weekly for a playdate. While the children bustled around the house making messes in various rooms, she and I talked about God. We didn’t follow a set devotion or Bible study. Instead, we shared how God was speaking to us through where his word and the circumstances in our lives intersected. During those playdate years, I learned so much from Annalyse, who holds a BA in Biblical studies. Our friendship is now long-distance, but she continues to bless me and others by taking her love and talent for Biblical/Historical research and weaving it into a relatable story with modern application.

Deeply researched and brilliantly presented, this new novel from Annalyse Mower puts us in Pharaoh’s shoes at the time of the great Biblical Exodus. Creepy? Yes. But, it challenged me to truly put myself at the feet of the Almighty God and realize that nothing, and no one, can stop the love he has for his people.

If you struggle with the problem of evil and suffering in our world, I especially invite you to read this alongside the story of Jesus, the ultimate Passover lamb. -Molly Poppe

Then You Will Know: The Crushing of Pharaoh

Chapter One

Take heed, O unrepentant nation. Beware, you of hardened heart. He can humble you – I know that of which I speak.

I am the son of the gods, the incarnation of Horus, in league with divinity: they heed my voice. I was chosen as the best from among my brothers, each a perfect and beautiful prince. I came from the lineage of warrior kings who live in immortal memory. My sons were many and my dynasty was assured. I was strong of arm, swift of chariot, mighty of army: I built cities of gold; I led conquerors and ruled kings; nations trembled before me.

Egypt was a perfect jewel, a heavenly oasis in the desert. It pleased the gods to give us all that was good, to build us into the mightiest nation on earth. My empire was sovereign; faraway nations trembled at my name. Tribute flowed from the north and the south, turquoise and copper from the wilderness. No other kingdom enjoyed strength like Egypt’s. I ruled the world.

But then, the Troublemaker arose.

He was weak. Despised. A traitor to the people who had opened wide their bosom and nursed him with the best of their land. He was given the choicest of everything and the fool threw it away for nothing – for nobodies. He aligned himself with slaves and followed the leading of a prideful delusion. It would be his destruction: I would see to it. It could be nothing else. The God of slaves could not conquer the sun-god, the king.

For I am Pharaoh.

——————————

Derisive laughter echoed from the room’s painted plaster walls, careening off marble columns to assault the ears. It circled the knot of dusty, threadbare slaves before me like a horde of demons. They cowered closer together, their lips tight in pale faces, their hollow eyes darting nervously from face to snarling face in the crowd behind them. Good. They remember their place, despite this one misjudgement. I felt my spine harden. It will not happen again.

Only two stood firm, like men. They were almost equal in height, but the one on the right wore the same threadbare clothes and stooped shoulders as the terrified mob behind him. I sniffed. Slave. The man beside him, however …

My lip twisted in a slight, mocking sneer and I raised my hand for silence, disgust pleasurably warm in my depths. As the court stilled, menace thickened the air. The slaves’ anxiety accentuating my unparalleled power was a sensation to be savored. Delicious.  The mob shifted nervously, cringing, their wide eyes glinting like rabbits in the shadows. Except for their leaders. The two men stood still – an old slave and his foreign brother. The younger of the two stood tensely, his knuckles white as he grasped his staff. But he met my gaze.

Traitor.

“Who is Adonai, that I should obey him and let Israel go?” My booming condescension pushed the slaves into a tighter huddle, eyes on their filthy feet. Power surged through me with its familiar tingle and I sat, mighty and upright on my throne. “I do not know Adonai and I will not let Israel go.”

The simpering slaves deflated and I turned from them unceremoniously to beckon for wine. A tentative, unexpected voice arrested me.

“The God of the Hebrews has met with us.”

He dares to answer? I turned to face the speaker, my soul dancing with bemused incredulity. The two leaders clustered tightly together, the Traitor whispering into his older brother’s ear. Both were pale and pretended they could not feel me gaping. After a moment the slave spoke again, his gaze fixed on the wall behind my head; the Troublemaker stood beside him, rooted and upright as the dictated words echoed through the room. His shoulders tremble, though.

“Now let us take a three-day journey into the desert to offer sacrifices to Adonai our God, or He may strike us with plagues or with the sword.” The slave’s weak, choked voice failed as doubt filled his face. He knows, as the others do – they have no hope.

Kenamun, my royal steward, approached the dais. After offering a formal bow he ascended the steps, his eyes carefully on each marble tread. When he reached the top, I perceived a smothered jeer and his derisive amusement goaded my own; I rolled my lips to stifle the undignified chuckles bubbling in my throat and instead took a deep swallow of wine. “What is your God’s vengeance to me, slave?” The traitor’s spokesman wilted and took a tremulous step back toward his brethren. I smirked and raised the cup to my lips again, its sweetness sliding over my tongue and down my throat, and eyed the audacity before me. “Moshe -” contempt dripped from the name “- and Aharon, why are you taking the people away from their labor?” I rested my elbows on my knees, basking in the anxiety that drank in my every movement. “Get back to your work.” The low growl danced on the menacing chuckles of my men.

The Hebrew slaves behind Moshe and Aharon bowed deeply and retreated, fleeing the confinement of my Great House and the guards who pursued them like dogs. Seething foremen collared some of the slower-moving elders and shoved them toward the door. But still Moshe and Aharon stood. I raised myself from the throne and ambled to the edge of the dais, my arm gesturing toward the sounds of construction and labor that seeped through my walls. Whips, groans, and straining ropes permeated the mud bricks.

“Look, the people of the land are now numerous – and you are stopping them from working.” My oozing sarcasm hardened into disdain. I rule this world. Did you really believe you could sway a god?

Aharon’s face blanched and he inclined his head, slowly inching his way out of the reception hall. Satisfaction tickled my innards and I allowed my arm to fall. Good. You remember this. Moshe remained stationary and defiant, his lips twitching with unspoken words.

“Yes?” I leaned toward him with glinting eyes. “You desire an audience with the son of Amun … prince?” The ridicule electrified my veins – powerful, warm, intoxicating – and made my head giddy. Moshe’s lips snapped tight, eyes hard in his pale face. His humiliation simmered pleasurably in my core and I sighed with contentment. And now you bow.

But he did not.

Instead, he strode from the hall without a backward glance, his shepherd’s staff clicking off his paces. My complacency turned cold and anger pricked my skin. He defied me. Before my men, he dared to defy me. Seething offense made me quiver as hot resentment kindled in my chest. With a grunt I flung my cup against the wall, its wine trickling in scarlet rivulets to puddle at the base.

“Captain!” Exasperation tore my throat.

Mahu, the captain of my bodyguard, came running, his plain sandals slapping the plaster floor as his short sword bounced against his thigh. “Your Majesty.” His low voice was steady, despite his run. He dropped to one knee with head inclined.

The flick of my fingers lifted him to his feet. “Gather the foremen and slave drivers. Tell them that they are no longer to supply the slaves with straw for the bricks; let the people go and gather it for themselves. But their quota remains unchanged.” Arms folded across my chest, my brow was furrowed with offended irritation but wicked delight stirred my soul. Sunshine from the doorway streamed into the reception hall, invigorating the colors on the floor with yellow light – but in my eyes, they had been stained by the Traitor’s presence. He will bow. My voice was smooth, low. “The Hebrews are lazy. Let us give them something else to think about.”

————————

Mingled double-pipes, harps, and laughter stroked my ears, their music enhanced by the comfortable heaviness of the wine. I took a deep breath, the savory air flooding my tongue with saliva. My private courtyard was bright with flickering lamps, and the shimmer of dancers’ lithe, glistening bodies bewitched my eyes and intoxicated my senses as I relaxed into the merriment’s gentle caresses. Beyond the walls, the frogs and the Nile whispered lullabies to the deepening dusk. All was ma’at – the world was balanced, its harmony upheld by my might – and I was pleased.

The twinkles of light rippling across my dark wine satiated my soul, and I tilted the cup to better admire the gleam of its silver. A good world. Lifting it to my lips, I quaffed deeply and nudged the companion on my right. “And how is my son, Iuty? He is a true prince of the blood, is he not?”

The tutor politely inclined his head with a gentle smile. “He is indeed, your Majesty. A strong youth. I can hardly get him to leave the archery range for his other studies. But he is intelligent, like his father. He shows great promise for one so young.”

A lazy grin seeped over my countenance and I nodded. “Good. He should! The son of the King of Upper and Lower Egypt!” Chuckles danced over my thick tongue and I shook an unwieldy finger at Iuty. “Do not let him distract you into neglecting the arts. I would have him surpass me just as I have surpassed my father – both as a warrior and an artist.” My cup swayed as I drew it toward me and I carefully monitored its progress. “But let his first excellence be the battlefield! May he exceed even me … if he is able.” The wine drowned out my amusement at my own wittiness.

Again Iuty inclined his head politely, the quiet smile still in place. “Of course, Per’ Aa.”

I stared across the table at the girls gyrating to the music, a fire burning in my groin. “And when the time comes, make sure you teach him to fight hand-to-hand. He will need a good sparring partner.” I extended a wavering finger toward the tutor. “You are your father’s son. He taught me well – and you too. Do the same for my son.”

“To the best of my ability, Per’ Aa,” he murmured. “I will always do my best for your son.”

I nodded, enjoying the unbalanced sensation in my head, and slapped a hand on his shoulder, sloshing the wine in my cup precariously. “I know, my friend. That is why I chose you!”

My lecherous view of the lithesome beauties was spoiled by the decrepit figure of my father’s relic stumping toward me. The old man offered a bow stiff with arthritis and, without awaiting my leave, lowered himself into the open place beside me with a sigh. I ground my teeth and turned my head to avoid the stench of his advancing age. “Vizier Rekhmire.”

“Majesty,” he wheezed. He nodded to Iuty before beckoning to a nearby slave bearing a tray of honey cakes. “The only thing I can eat anymore … everything else is too hard to chew,” he panted through a congenial, toothless smile. I nodded, sparing the trouble of a reply with another gulp from my cup. Take what you want, old man. Just do not make me watch you chew it.

Rekhmire snuffled a few bites. “Is it true, what I heard about the court today?” He searched my face with watery eyes as he wiped the crumbs and spittle from his chin.

“That depends on what you heard.” My sight found more interesting fodder than his wrinkled face, and I let myself devour the tight, firm figures of the dancers.

He leaned close, his foul breath now intolerable with the sweetness from the cakes. “Has Moshe returned?”

I rolled my eyes as I lifted the cup to my lips. “What would that matter?”

Rekhmire gawked and puffed out his cheeks in over-dramatic shock, accepting a proffered cup of water from Iuty. “I have been in the Great House many years; I have seen many things.” He nodded to himself with a slosh. “Moshe – he was a great man. Would have done great things, if he had not … but that was before the … and now …” His tongue tied itself around words better left unsaid and he devolved into silence, still nodding while he sipped his cup and watched the girls.

I snorted without shifting my gaze, twitching with the irony. “And now he has aligned himself with slaves.”

“Slaves?” Rekhmire’s focus flew to my face, the wrinkles in his forehead shifting like sand. A light dawned in his mind and he took a deep breath. “Yes, the slaves. With Moshe, it is always the Hebrews.”

With a sigh, I glanced over my shoulder in his direction and fastened my look on the flickering lamp suspended above his head. “Apparently the slaves’ God demands a sacrifice. He demanded their release, to allow three days’ travel to perform His rites.”

“Hm.” Rekhmire sucked his gums. “And will you let them?”

Surprise choked me, wine burning my throat, as Iuty exploded. “Let them? My lord Vizier! Are you mad? Why should his Majesty release our slaves?”

Rekhmire surveyed us calmly. “I did not say he should. I asked if he would.” His normally weak eyes shone with a disconcerting light. “Have you made your decision, Per’ Aa?”

I shook my head and wiped the wine from my chin, my voice heavy with condescension. “Certainly not. Who is their God? Why should I let them go? Their quarrel with their God is no concern of mine.” They would never have made this request of my father. The remembrance of Moshe’s mocking defiance knotted my gut and ruined my enjoyment of the women. “They will learn that a greater warrior than even the mighty Thutmose holds the throne!” The declaration was loud with conviction and wine, and I raised my glass for a refill. When the cup was brimful of comfort again, I relaxed back against the cushion. “Besides, I have ensured that the slaves will have no more leisure for worrying about any maleficent deity – other than me.” Iuty joined in my merciless chuckles but Rekhmire remained strangely silent. I eyed him over the cup’s rim. “I did not realize you had so much love for the slaves, old man.”

His stooped shoulders startled and his eyes darted, his mouth slack with surprise. I grinned into my cup and glanced toward Iuty, himself hiding a smirk. Rekhmire swallowed and shook his head slowly. “No, not so, Per’ Aa. Not love. But,” he inched his way toward me, his foul, whispered breath offending my nostrils, “as your Vizier, I would caution you about the man Moshe. He is … there is …” I sighed impatiently and Rekhmire concluded, “he is not an ordinary man.”

Old fool. I scoffed and turned back to the naked dancers, my voice disdainful. “Then it is well that I am a god.”

Then You Will Know is now available for purchase on AmazonBuy now

story

My Children’s eyes reflected the flashing lights as they stared, wide-eyed at the display. Whistles and mechanical gears filled our ears. The older gentleman darted around the converted barn with the joy-filled energy of a child on Christmas, turning knobs, pushing buttons, flipping switches, breathing life into the tiny machines.

Every train had a story, “This one my wife and I built together when we were first married. We lived in a trailer and didn’t have any extra space.” He indicated the miniature train track, set into a coffee table, glass top covering the intricate village. “We could eat pizza on it or play trains!”

Walking over to another, larger display, he pointed out the wooden lid, propped open. “This one was discovered in a nursing home, fifteen years after its owner died. They had been using it as a buffet…cutting cakes on it and such. Didn’t discover it until they were doing renovation and the contractors lifted the lid.”

Hundreds of toy trains, hundreds of stories to be told. 

I love stories. Upon meeting someone, I love to hear them share theirs. Where they came from, what motivates them, and who they love. It’s what I love about this blog – people sharing their stories and how God is working in their lives. 

Stories carry memories, they bond strangers, heal hearts, bring laughter and tears. We love to read or watch a good story. We recount them to our friends, tell our children, write them down.

On this night, a little over two thousand years ago, Jesus told an important story around the dinner table. The story of a people in bondage, rescued through a tragic victory, their freedom bought through a spotless lamb. The Hebrew people were told to celebrate this story every year so they could remember the deeds of the Lord especially in their darkest moments. In a goosebump-inspiring-moment, the disciples reclining at the table were with true and better Lamb of God, the Son of Man, who would die less than twenty-four hours later in a beautiful, tragic rescue, saving His people (everyone who calls on His name) from their bondage (sin).

The story of Passover, foreshadowing the victory of Christ’s death and resurrection, is the story worth telling over and over again, with increasing joy every time as we realize more and more our broken humanity and the depth from which we have been raised up through Jesus’ sacrifice. This weekend, I pray you take the time to listen, to read, to experience the story anew and share it with even more intensity of joy than our train collector sharing his treasures.

Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name;
    make known his deeds among the peoples!
Sing to him, sing praises to him;
    tell of all his wondrous works!

psalm 105:1-2

Soli Deo Gloria

gentle invitation

“You don’t look like swimmers to me. You look like a bunch of Ooompa Loompas,” the coach said, glaring at the nervous group of dripping teens. Just a minute before he had called us all out of the water, disappointed by our form or times or something. I looked down at my own post-puberty hips and full thighs, feeling completely exposed by my racing swimsuit. Compared to the tiny, fit swimmers around me I felt like the only Oompa Loompa. After another 20 minutes in the water, I mumbled an excuse and escaped to the bathroom where I waited until my parents pulled up outside the aquatic complex, confidence broken.

One of the girls on the team had Olympic-qualifying times. At one swim meet, I swam the wrong stroke during a medley event – twice. Swimming was not a natural gift of mine, nor did I feel supported to put in the effort to try.

However, one day at the pool, Coach Emmet called me and a few other c-team swimmers over after practice. “I’m starting a conditioning program,” he said, “I want you to join me to run before practice twice a week.”

I had pretty much given up on my ability to advance in swimming, but still, I convinced my parents to bring me to practice early so I could join the group of runners. After a few weeks, I could complete the entire mile without stopping, and soon after that, I was finding time to run on other days of the week as well, increasing both my mileage and my speed. Eventually, I left the swim team, but I continued to run. In my adult life, I have completed three marathons, and for my 30th birthday last year, I ran a 30K (18.6 miles). Running is a source of stress relief, exercise, and friendship.

Coach Emmet knew I was not cut out to be a great swimmer, but instead of calling me out for being a disappointment as many other coaches had done, he simply invited me to a higher view of self and inspired me to do better. His quiet invitation changed my mental spiral of discouragement into a positive outlet.

Today, what is your spiral? Disappointment in self or others? Lack of ability or resources? Continued failure or repeated sin that you cannot seem to break free from? Jesus came to gently lift us out of our spirals with a gentle invitation:


 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matt. 11:28-30

Awake.

Do you choose a yearly focus word? I’ve started the practice in the past few years, and have found it to be a simple and enjoyable activity if nothing else. At the end of 2020, I felt like I was sleeping through life. Not literally, of course–I have three kids six and under–but, a combination of the troublesome times and my current season of life brought feelings of always missing out: on opportunities to connect with my kids, on chances to build and grow friendships, on times to rest. And more than that, I was asleep to my own needs and to my faith.

As I thought about a word, I kept being drawn back to the parable of the ten virgins in the Bible. If you aren’t familiar with this story from Matthew 25, Jesus tells of ten women who were waiting for the bridegroom of a wedding, although they did not know how long they would need to wait for him to appear. Half were prepared, and half were not. 

At this point in my life, I felt like the unprepared virgins: caught up in people-pleasing and in doing what I thought I should be doing. I was muddling through life, clinging to my own schedule, and planning to one day get it together. I needed to awaken to small moments, unafraid to drop everything in order to spend the time given to me well. So, I chose Awake.

For a few months, everything went well.

a sweet friend bought me this wall art to help me focus on my word all year long

But, making something the word of the year doesn’t guarantee it will happen. As the year wore on I stopped reflecting, stopped looking, stopped trying. I found excuse after excuse: I’m pregnant, I have a toddler going through a sleep regression, it’s been a hard year, my children wear me out, I can’t sleep, I don’t have the energy to exercise or to eat right, to remember what makes me feel alive. I wish I’d chosen Asleep so I could feel like I did it. Check the box, I conquered my word.

However, is it about conquering the word? Or using it as a tool?

Now it is December and the end of 2021 is creeping closer with each passing day. A time bomb in my head keeps whispering, “Only a few more weeks to pull it together.”

As I write this, I’m watching A Charlie Brown Christmas with my daughter for the fourth or fifth time this week (or as she refers to it, “Shnoopy movie”) and attempting to reflect on the year and perhaps recover my lost word. This time, another Bible story is brought to mind: the disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus took Peter, James, and John with him to a quiet place, told them to stay awake and pray, and then left them for his own prayers. But, you know what? They didn’t. Twice, Jesus came back to check on them and found them asleep. I used to blame the apostles for this – how could they not know? What terrible friends! Isn’t staying awake a pretty basic task??  However, as I have grown older, my years have brought empathy and compassion for the exhausted friends in the garden.

I promised God I would stay awake this year, I would pray each morning and evening, I would not ignore his requests for my presence with his people. Instead, looking at the year, I realize he is going to find me sleeping in the garden on a rock right next to Peter.

For the apostles, physically following Jesus was exhausting. No home base, always working, learning, and trusting. For me, motherhood of littles in a pandemic is exhausting. Sleepless nights, early mornings, the constant demand for attention and needs to be met. Peter, James, John, Molly Poppe, we all lost sight of the eternal rest promised and gave into the shallow, earthly rest of the moment.

Jesus finds us sleeping, and yes, it makes him sad – that fact is unavoidable – but he keeps on praying. FOR us.

Almost immediately after finding the disciples sleeping, Jesus went to the cross: the spotless lamb, untarnished by sin, exhausted by the weight of the world, he stayed awake until his work was finished. Until his death covered ours. And now, sitting on the right hand of God, earnestly, out of deep love, he prays for his sleeping disciples.

And here is the truth I missed earlier. I chose a word so I could do better and be better. Instead, I am reminded that my weak striving will only result in failure if I’m not rooted in THE Word. Staying awake without him is impossible.

So, here’s to 2022. I have not chosen a new word yet, but my prayer is whatever I choose, I might be found in him.

A Weary World Rejoices

by Emily Schatz

Christmas is a couple days away. At this point in the year, I start reflecting on the past 12 months and think back on events that have happened, favorite memories of the year, and ways that God has been working throughout all those things. We’ve had so much happen in one year. A move across country, living with my parents, starting a new job, buying a house, and many smaller moments throughout. When we moved, I told my husband that it would be amazing to be in our first home by Christmas, and by God’s grace we are now in our own house celebrating our first Christmas as St. Louis residents.

Advent and Christmas are my favorite times of the year. I have wonderful memories of Christmas as a child that I pray our girls get to experience too so they remember the goodness of the Christmas season. When I think back, some of my favorite memories are going to Christmas Eve Worship together as a family, the smell of bacon and eggs walking into grandma’s house on Christmas morning. Remembering the chaos of running around and playing with my cousins brings a smile to my face. All the food. Y’all the Jung family can make some good food. 

When we first had kids, I had all these dreams and expectations of what Christmas would be like as a young family. Now, add in the social media comparison and my reality is not like what we see online. I had dreams of smiling children in front of the Christmas tree, making cookies in Christmas jammies, a family newsletter with our Christmas card, and having a perfectly decorated house. I envisioned us going for walks to look at Christmas lights and doing Christmas devotional readings as a family.

Maybe some families have this, but our reality has been a bit different. What is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year has been a time full of ear infections, fevers, colds, sleepless nights, and doctor visits. Truthfully this momma has been overwhelmed with expectations put on by myself, but also, I’ve been filled with anxious thoughts worrying about a million things on my to do list.

Add in the darkness setting in earlier, gifts to buy, work to get done… and you’ve got a recipe for one weary mom. 

Then last week, I walked into the sanctuary of our church before midweek service to take a moment before the night events started taking place. The cross was lit, the trees were up on the altar area, and there, on the middle of the altar, lay a manger. A gentle reminder that this season isn’t about my expectations of what Christmas is supposed to look like, but about a baby that was born in Bethlehem. That baby is the Prince of Peace, Emmanuel, Christ the Lord. The one who would grow up to perform miracles, healings, and teach the people about the kingdom of God. The one who lived a perfect life, died on a cross for sin he didn’t do, and defeated death three days later. The God who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Our God who is living and active.

As I gazed at the cross I felt this calm, peaceful stillness settle into my bones. Jesus doesn’t have expectations of what my family Christmas season looks like, you know why? Because it doesn’t matter if we make all the cookies, watch all the movies, send out the cards, or have a decorated house. What matters is the posture of our hearts. 

The words from the first verse of Savior Of The Nations Come rung in my heart that night.

Marvel now, O heav’n and earth that the Lord chose such a birth.

Wow! The literal Almighty God, creator, author of life, lover of my soul chose to come to earth in this way in the birth of the son, Jesus. 

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;

On those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.

For to us a child is born,

To us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.

And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. 

He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever”

(Isaiah 9:1-2; 6-7)

The world right now is literally dark in terms of the night being longer and then there is the news that seems to constantly be reporting things that are heartbreaking, but the darkness does not overcome the light. 

Just look outside at all the Christmas lights. Even in the darkest night, the darkness can’t overpower the light. It only makes the light shine brighter. Jesus is the light of the world. He came as a baby that night in Bethlehem. Even on Good Friday, when people thought the darkness won with death, Jesus overcame death and the grave that Easter morning!

Rejoice weary world! 

Our savior has come, and he is coming back again for the final victory!

None of the things we enjoy at Christmas time are bad. I’m not saying to throw out all your cookies or to skip family pictures this year. What I’m saying is don’t put your expectations of peace coming from those things. Don’t put an expectation that those things are your light of the season. No. Only Jesus can be that light. Rejoice as you see the lights of the season and know that those remind you there is no darkness too dark for Jesus to help you through. When you make those cookies or take those photos, thank God for the people He has surrounded you with. When you send those cards, send the message of the joy of the birth of our Lord. 

The joy of the Lord is my strength. 

We haven’t sent out Christmas cards or written a newsletter, but I love getting cards with updates from families in the mail. We have toddlers who love to pull ornaments off the tree, so our house is a bit of a mess with Christmas decorations everywhere. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Our children’s simple joy of reading the Christmas story together is enough for me this year. When we take pictures on Christmas morning, we might get one with everyone smiling, we might not.

I know one thing though; we will be focused on the light of the day, Christ the king is born.

Hallelujah! Rejoice!

Merry Christmas, friends. God’s peace be with you as you celebrate the light of the world.  

a grateful prayer

for fingerprint and noseprint smears on my living room window

for scratches and worn places on the kitchen table

for a child who crawls in bed to snuggle at five a.m.

for sleepless nights and the opportunity to provide comfort

for dirty dishes in the sink after an evening of friendship and laughter

for endless laundry provided by healthy, active boys

for cold weather and the excuse to curl up with a good book and hot coffee

for the uncomfortable feeling at the end of pregnancy that promises a baby will arrive soon

for never-ending appetites and the chance to develop better cooking skills through practice

for silence

for times when your answer was no because it taught me to wait for something better

for difficulties and hardships that reminded me to put my hope in you alone

for goodbyes that brought hellos

for endings that brought beginnings

for peace despite tears

for joy despite longing

for longing fulfilled

for surprise packages and doorbells

for canceled plans bringing needed stillness

for canceled plans bringing sadness and providing an appreciation for those that don’t

for broken plates and glassware

for chaos and dirt and mess

for loud voices and laughter

for imperfect table settings

for coloring outside the lines

for hard-earned wisdom shared

for lessons learned

for commiseration and empathy

for shared joy

for your body

for your blood

for your forgiveness and grace

for your Spirit

Thanks be to God

Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 

1 Thessalonians 5:18 (ESV)

Rooted

by Emily Schatz

When my husband and I left for our honeymoon in 2018, we drove from Seattle, Washington down to Sonoma County, California. We spent a beautiful week in a small bed and breakfast in the middle of wine country. While on our drive, we stopped in Northern California to visit with some church friends of my husband in McKinleyville.


I had never been to California at this point in my life, so I was very excited for our drive down the West Coast. Northern California, where we stopped, is full of curvy roads, small towns, and the biggest trees I have ever seen. The beautiful Redwood forests we drove through were spectacular. Trees so tall you couldn’t really see the sky. Bigger around the trunk than you can wrap your arms around twice. Deep rich colors of brown and green.


While we were driving, we saw a tree that had fallen over and some of the roots had come with it. They were long and strong. It made me think about how they had to sink deep into the ground to be able to support the tree and it had to be healthy and strong to nourish such a large tree.


We hear the word root all the time in our life. My husband and I talk about how we are excited to finally plant our roots here in Missouri, meaning we have a plan to stay here long term. We hear about roots when people talk about gardening or when they talk about their family history. We see the idea of roots in the Bible as well.


This passage has been sitting on my heart for the last few weeks and I wanted to explore it a little bit deeper with you readers.


Ephesians 3:16-21 states, “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love may have power, together with the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ. And to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”


There is so much to unpack in this. The author of this letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul, is writing down his prayer for the believers there. The first time I really sat down with this passage, the phrase “being rooted and established in love” stood out to me. It made me pause and think to myself, where are the roots in my life? Where are my roots planted and getting nourishment from? What is that nourishment bearing in fruit in my life?


Our roots should be established in Jesus Christ. When our life is rooted in our faith in Him, love is the fruit that is produced. Paul writes in Galatians that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. When we have a life that flows from the nourishment of faith, we can start to see how wide and long and high and deep the father’s love is for us, and for all people.


A sacrificial kind of love that went all the way to the cross. A love that washes other’s feet. A love that heals the sick, blind, and lame. A love that forgives. A love that saves. A love that restores and nourishes the soul. A love that conquered the grave. A love that left a tomb empty because our Savior was alive. That’s how wide and long and high and deep our God’s love is for us. It’s a love that is life giving.

This brings to mind the hymn titled The Church’s one Foundation in which the first verse says,
“The church’s one foundation
Is Jesus Christ, our Lord;
We are a new creation
By water and the Word.
From heav’n he came and taught us
What perfect love can be;
Through life and death he sought us,
And rose to set us free.”

Wherever you are today, whether you have roots as deep as a Redwood in the California forests or you are as new as fresh planted tree, know this. God’s Word is the nourishment for your soul. Keep your roots established in Him and see the fruit that comes from it. This doesn’t mean that life is going to be easy, but it means we will have an unshakable foundation to which we can live and move and have our being. From that solid foundation we can then support the body of believers with love, service, and grace. God is good, friends. Plant your roots with Him.

Come As You Are

Emily Schatz

I’m standing in our new kitchen, drinking a cup of coffee, and typing on our island counter as I look around at the sea of boxes. The office in the basement isn’t set up yet. Our bedroom is a mess. The number of boxes needed to be unpacked seems to grow by the day. It’s a little overwhelming, while at the same time exciting. We bought our first house. In this housing market, it was only by God’s hand that our offer was accepted. Every time I look around, I am grateful to God that He has given us this space for us to call home.

As soon as the ink dried on, what seems like, the thousands of papers you sign to buy a house, I was ready to walk in and start making it our home. Visions of dinner parties, wine nights, children running around the backyard as Phil and I sit out on our back patio filled my mind for weeks while we waited for our closing date. The reality is a little less glitz and glamour. Every unpacked box we sift through and unpack we find ourselves asking, “Do we really have this much stuff?”

boxes and boxes and boxes

We had new couches delivered the day before we moved in. I can’t tell you how exciting that was for me. I think that’s when you become an adult – when you’re excited about big furniture purchases. Again, I imagined hosting friends, having long conversations hanging out in our living room. Truly, if I could host people at our place every day I probably would because I love the feel of the living room.

But, there’s a difference between hosting a party and hosting your best friends, right? When we host a party we clean the house, we sweep the pile of clothes or laundry basket into the closet and shut the door. We tend to make all our furniture neat with pillows placed in exactly the right spots. We have food platters, cheese and sausage boards, and drinks nicely displayed on the counters waiting for people to come. More than likely we are dressed in our better clothing. We want the appearance of being organized, tidy, and fun.

When I host my best friends it’s completely different. They don’t need an invitation. My best friends can come over whenever and don’t even need to knock on our door. They come right in. They see the mess of toys on the floor from our kids. They see the piles of laundry that need to be done, or are done, but haven’t been folded yet. They can grab food and drink out of the refrigerator and do not need me to set it out for them. When we host best friends, there’s no need to put on anything for special for them because they know us deeply and love us in all the mess of life. Both literal mess and figurative mess.

The same is true with God. Our lives are messy because we are sinful people.

Have you ever heard someone say that they can’t go to church because they’ve done too many bad things for God to forgive them? Have you heard someone say that God is mad at them?

Have you heard someone say they feel as though they’re not put together enough to come to church?

I have heard it many times from many people, It breaks my heart in two each time. I want to shout from the rooftops, “There is nothing too big for God to forgive and help you through!”
And yet, even as a life-long Christian, there are times when I feel like I need to put on a mask to walk in the door at church. There are times when I water things down for God because I feel as though he will be ashamed of how I acted. Those are the days when I place a strained smile on my face and walk through the doors. Those are the days I push everything I’m struggling with aside as I talk with a friend from church and answer, “I’m good” when they ask me how I am.

Have you been there too?

Maybe you’ve been fighting with your family on the way to church and then walk into the building with everyone thinking that you all have it together. Maybe you’ve been away from the church for a long time because you felt the sin you’ve been struggling with over and over needs to be gone before you can go back.

Friends, the church is not for perfect people.
It’s for the broken.
It’s for the lost.
It’s for the heartbroken and needy.
It’s for the lonely.

The church is the family on earth God has given us to rally each other, love each other, hold each other up.

The church is a place to come as you are because we’ve all got sin. We’ve all got baggage.
And Jesus invites us to come, confess, be forgiven, and be given his grace and mercy. Matthew 11:28-30 says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Jesus wants your piles of mess. Just as you would let your best friend come into your house and see the dirt, laundry, dishes, boxes…Jesus knows and sees all your mess too. And he invites you to come and rest with him. He wants those long conversations. He wants you to rest in His Word and in His promises. He’s done all the work already on the cross and in his resurrection.

The church, at it’s best, is the place you come to and know you don’t have to sweep your mess into the drawers and closet. No. It’s the place where we come to be given the gifts of God and to be supported by our family. That support might look like a meal for someone who is sick. That support might mean helping hold someone accountable. That support might look like babysitting for an overwhelmed mom in need of a break. That support could be listening to someone who needs to share how they really are doing and not just answer with another, “I’m good. You?”

The church is so very beautiful when done this way. The gifts we are given in baptism and communion. The grace we are given in confession and absolution. The support we given in the fellowship of people. It’s all meant to show the glory and love of God. There is no good enough to be there. There is no need to wait until you’ve got it all together.

If you haven’t been back to church in while. I invite you to go back. To return to the love of the Father’s house.

You’ll be welcomed just as you are.

Age

During the homecoming weekend of my sophomore year in college, a group of men in their early thirties asked if I would let them onto the freshman girls’ floor of which I was Resident Assistant. After obtaining permission from my director, I let them walk around, cautiously listening from my room to their conversation. They loudly reminisced about stupid things they’d done during their college years on that floor (many of which involved bodily fluids). I was annoyed and couldn’t wait for this strange encounter to end. But, after all, they were old.

My brand-new boyfriend and future husband and I in our homecoming maroon and gold circa 2010.

This summer my husband and I took our three children back to the same Alma Mater for a quick walk around (it only takes up a square mile) to reminisce and explore the outdoor changes. We couldn’t go indoors (thanks, COVID) but still got to walk our children by the frisbee field, chapel, and the bell tower where we shared our first kiss. Our stories were a little less risque than the guys who tromped onto my freshman girls’ floor, but I realized as we walked away from the campus: we are now the “old” ones. Yet much to the chagrin of my nineteen-year-old self, I am ok with that.

“Not to be dramatic, children, but you are alive because of this university”

Age is, of course, relative. Some might consider my husband and me to be young, barely having crossed the bridge into our thirties. As my children grow older and enter elementary school, however, I feel distanced from young parents bringing home their first newborn, tired-eyed and unsure.

The western society in which I live glorifies youth. We put serums on our eyes and work our bodies to hide the signs of gravity. We consider it a compliment to be told, “You look like you’re just out of high school!” forgetting that no amount of filters or botox can change that each morning we wake up a little bit older.

In contrast to a youth-obsessed culture, however, Proverbs 20:29 reads, “The glory of young men is their [physical] strength, and the honor of aged men is their gray head [representing wisdom and experience]” (Amplified Bible).

We are all somewhere on the line between that first gulp of air and our last, quiet one. We don’t know the scope or sequence of our days, but we can lay our lives into the care and trust of the one who created us, simply living each day to the fullest. As I grow older, I am trying to surround myself with the women who see aging as a blessing. Women who embrace each season with its different gifts and challenges, and from whom wisdom seems to fall like leaves in autumn. Although we may lose our strength, or find it more difficult to maintain, with each passing day, we can glorify God with our minds by sharing where our life experience meets his scriptures.

In this in-between time of youth and age, I am also learning to embrace God’s unique gifting to me. For example, in my early twenties, I strived to be an extrovert, believing that constantly surrounding myself with people would be the only way to gain friends and have a meaningful life. However, more time on earth and more interactions with wise mentors gives me the confidence to embrace my love for people while acknowledging my need for quiet reflection. An evening of journaling and reading leaves me more energized than a night out with friends. I still enjoy the night out with friends – I just need a little recovery time. I am so thankful for the wisdom, and subsequent peace age has brought me.

What has aging taught you about yourself? If you’re a list maker, I encourage you to sit down with a blank pad of paper and your favorite writing utensil. If you’re a verbal processor, take a great listener for a walk. If you’re a deep thinker, find a lake to sit by as you ponder. What strength do you have right now as a result of your youth? What wisdom do you have as a result of your age? What does the balance tell you about where you are on your earthly journey, and how can you glorify God through your current place?

Heavenly Father, we thank you for our time on earth. Please give us the peace to accept where we are currently and the wisdom to embrace our future. Thank you that Jesus Christ walked in our mortal shoes, feeling the weight of a perishing body, giving up his life so we can spend eternity with you. May we bring you glory in every phase and every age. Amen