30k by 30

On March 6th, 2021 I ran 18.6 miles. No, it’s not a new fad race distance; it was my birthday party.

The idea began with an innocent conversation at the breakfast table. “What was that race I did with you mommy?” my oldest asked.

“You ran a 5K, sweetie,” I responded while spooning scrambled eggs onto the baby’s tray.

“Oh, yeah, because I’m five. Next year I’ll run a 6K,” he responded. I acknowledged his idea with a smile and went back to my steaming cup of coffee.

An hour later, I stepped out into the clear, 65-degree morning for a quick two-miler. As my feet crunched gravel on country roads I mulled over conversations from the past week: acknowledging the fragility of life, lamenting current events, naming personal disappointments and sorrows. My heart ached for circumstances out of my control. I needed to remember the purpose of striving.

My son’s words echoed in my head, and I wondered: could I run a 30k on my 30th birthday? If I could conquer this somewhat crazy goal, and God used my efforts for his glory, then maybe even one person could find hope to conquer their own challenge.

Later that day, I started looking into my crazy idea. I had about six months before I hit my next decade which, according to most training plans on the interwebs, was plenty of time for a decently in-shape mom to get off the couch and get in some Ks.

If you read the first sentence of this blog post, you already know I completed my goal (so much for suspense).

s/o to Pastor Michael for the artistic sign!

And while I don’t want to diminish the incredible feeling of crossing the (imaginary) finish line, the time spent training is where God worked in my heart, bringing me to my knees and lifting me into his care. I journaled throughout my experience and, through reflection, compiled the top 30 things I learned. Just kidding, no one has time for that. Here are my top six wisdoms-in-progress:

  1. Tell someone

About a week into my training I told my longtime and very dear friend about my goal. She frequently checked in and always spoke kindness and encouragement over me despite my roller coaster of self-doubt (which probably got pretty old pretty quick). Although she lives several hours away, she surprised me at mile ten on race day, and at mile fourteen, Melissa laced up her running shoes and inspired me through the last 4.6. Through her generous spirit, I realized that no matter how big or small a goal might be, we need to open up to one (or several) people. It will be hard. It will push us to actually follow through on what we say. I promise it will be worth it. 

Surprise!
  1. Find a tribe

In February 2020 I was six months postpartum with my third baby and hadn’t run consistently since becoming a parent six years ago. When my across-the-street neighbor learned of my pre-child marathon days, she invited me into their weekly running group. Although intimidated by marathon running mothers, I nervously laced up my Brooks and walked across the Trail of Memories one Saturday. They did not laugh when I stopped at three miles, and the community running eventually pushed me to five, and then eight. When I shared my 30k by 30 plan, once again no one laughed, and Victoria even chirped, “I’d love to train for and run it with you!” (she did!) They told funny stories during hard miles, offered their own equipment as a loaner until I could get my own, and opened up their homes for post-run celebrations. (While a tribe can be any group of like-minded people: a mom’s Bible study, a church community group, a book club, or a softball team, I realize that finding an in-person tribe can be difficult right now. Our running club met outside year-round and is a naturally socially distant activity, but don’t give up if your only tribe options are online… see my next point)

Cheers to many more long runs with this lovely group.
  1. No step is too small.

The other day I had an opportunity to run for fifteen minutes. Pre 30k, I would have turned up my nose, whined that I didn’t have more time, and served iced coffee and chocolate at my pity party. While training, I realized even walking my kids to school instead of driving built muscle, perseverance, and desire for more: a domino effect that ultimately helped me accomplish a big goal.

  1. Look around.

The town where I live is only 1.78 square miles, so during distance runs, I got to know the neighborhoods very well. I recognized new paint jobs, flourishing gardens, and where extra prayer might be needed. Now, as I walk my children to school or enjoy an afternoon run, my eyes are looking for opportunities to pray and praise.

  1. Invest wisely.

At the advice of my running group, I purchased running “gadgets,” and my body thanked me for proper nutrition, hydration, and a muscle roller. Investing in the care of my body meant I was better able to serve my family and friends as well as enjoy the training.

  1. Rely on God 

In the last weeks of training, I continually fought the fear of not finishing. What if I let all these people down? What if I got injured? I relearned the beauty of casting my burdens and fears on the Lord, taking them to him in prayer and resting in his promises. “Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; But we trust in the name of the LORD our God” (Psalm 20:7) 

fresh air

This January my husband and I made lists of achievable, yet challenging, goals that would push us beyond our limits in a good way. I loved the process and I am seeing progress.

One of my goals is to bring more joy and slower satisfaction to my morning by using my french press daily (instead of the Mr. Coffee percolator). On quiet mornings I clean out the previous grounds and measure in the days’ coffee while waiting for the water to boil on the stove: a slow and awakening process. Ideally, with a fresh steaming cup of joe, I sit down at the kitchen table to read scripture and journal for thirty minutes before the children amble down the hallway, hungry and talkative.

Midway through January, my toddler set her internal alarm clock to 4:45 a.m., turning my gentle mornings into groggy automation. Like poorly placed dominoes, my first actions of the day clinked haphazardly instead of creating beautiful ordered patterns.

The downward spiral leached into other parts of life as well, and my goals and dreams suddenly felt bossy and restrictive: run more, screen less, read more, shop less, listen more, talk less, be more aware, whine less, wake up earlier, complain less, play more, be less distracted. Although worthy strivings, the breathe-in in breathe-out script started to feel as overwhelming as groggy trips to the refrigerator and halfheartedly wiping smeared banana off the wood floors.

My ache for caffeine still throbs in chaos, and stubbornly I refused to put Mr. Coffee back on the counter, so the morning coffee routine survived.

Eventually, our mornings evened back out, but it wasn’t until then that I realized the gift of fresh air. It isn’t an inductive Bible quiet time, a three-mile run, or a sun salutation yoga routine. It’s two minutes tops of stepping outside in my pajamas and unceremoniously dumping coffee grounds onto next spring’s flower bed with unbrushed hair and half-open eyes. But, I inhale deeply of the fresh morning air and praise God for the goodness of a new day, a tiny bit refreshed and ready to return to the madness. It’s not perfect and it’s not a magic pill. It’s a gift that I embrace wholeheartedly.

This is free grace. An unexpected grace. I didn’t research the importance of fresh air in the morning and budget time out of my day to make it happen. I simply realized I liked the taste of french press coffee best and was too lazy to take care of old grounds before the morning, and God took care of the rest.

This is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and gave His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. This is amazing grace: a beautiful fresh breath of air that carries us through, lifting a weight off of our shoulders we didn’t even know we carried, sitting in the old air of a house shut-up in the winter. Lost in our chaos. While we were still sinners, Christ died for the ungodly, adopting us as sons and daughters. The most beautiful, precious gift of fresh air.

silent storytelling

As the prelude begins, we walk, barefoot, to the front of the church and assume the resting stance. A brief pause, and then we begin dancing. Although I had only practiced once a few days before, the muscle memory takes over and the motions become fluid and delicate, mirroring the other dancers. We wear matching red and white mu’umu’us, floral hairpieces, and star-shaped cowrie shell chokers, celebrating the specialness of the occasion about which our hands tell the story. I wasn’t even in high school the first time I joined this ensemble, candles flickering, strong voices intoning memorized lyrics, and the smell of pine mixed with a bit of must. A rich tradition: the Silent Night Hula.

Since college graduation, my participation in this tradition has dwindled, limited by the time and expense of flying across the ocean to spend Christmas with family.

This year, however, we needed to hold family close, being reminded more than ever of the temporal nature of our earthly existence, so we quarantined, masked, tested, and flew. This year, we marked x’s on the dance area, 6 feet apart. This year, we added liturgical facemasks to our traditional outfit. This year, small family clusters in cloth masks donned face shields and held battery-operated candles. But they sang, and we danced.

I wanted to cry at the beauty and sadness swirling through the sanctuary, but I couldn’t. So many tears have been shed already, so I just kept dancing to the muffled voices.

Hula is storytelling. Ancient dances share history and ancestral knowledge (read more here), and especially before the unification and transcribing of Hawai’ian language, hula carried the stories through generations. Although hula is typically paired with a chant or song, the movements convey special importance beyond being simply an illustration.

Silent storytelling. Muffled voices. Silent Night.

And here’s where I realized the gift of the hula especially for times like these: when almost everything is taken away we can still tell the story of the holy infant so tender and mild. Of the dawn of redeeming grace.

Jesus, Lord at thy birth.

My home church on Christmas Eve

Toy Story

I don’t like the new Toy Story movies. Ok, I enjoy them as movies, but something about them just feels off to me. I finally hit the nail on the head a few weeks ago: Andy grew up. Ok, ok, I know, that’s the whole premise of the movies, but I didn’t realize that’s why they bothered me. Until Toy Story 3, I could dig in the basket underneath our tv, pull out the worn DVD case, and pop in one of Pixar’s earliest classics. I could enjoy a well-worn plot and hear the old familiar lines, “You are a Toy!” by Tim Allen and Tom Hanks. No matter how many times I watch the movie, they are frozen in time and I get lost in the comfortable entertainment.

But the new installments ripped away that comfortable feeling. In Toy Story 3, Andy grows up and gives his toys away… forcing me to recognize that I grew up and left my comfortable home, my parents, and lifestyle to forge a life of my own (soon joined with my sweet husband). At the time, I was excited, a little naive, and also a little… well… young. I couldn’t wait for the next life stage, forgetting to slow down and enjoy the one I was in.

In Toy Story 4, Woody realizes that he no longer is the beloved toy, and has to completely change his trajectory. (Spoiler alert!) He leaves the life he knows and forges a new one with Bo Peep.

I think my whole life I have had this false belief that my memories were not just memories, but bookmarks of time to which I can eventually return. I kept those bookmarks saved so that I can go back to those beautiful barefoot frisbee afternoons at college in the Triangle, back to summers at home with morning daycare and long afternoons on the beach, back to those first moments as a mom, a newborn snuggled to my chest with no other children demanding attention.  Back to our wedding. Back to the best (and worst) times in life. I could just pull the worn DVD out of its case and relive it.

But I can’t. Life is linear. As much as we like to watch time travel shows and movies – it’s not reality. 

Certain parts of linear time appeal, while others bring stinging tears: I’m ok with turning 30 but I’m not ok admitting that I won’t see beloved places and people again on earth. I love the ages that my children are now, but I miss their newborn smell and simpler days. I’m thankful for the wisdom that age has brought, but I’m embarrassed by the way I acted in my youth and I want to go back and fix it.

God is above time. God is not limited by time. And although I struggle with my humanity, it is comforting to know that I am held by a limitless being. That my sorrows over lost time and past time are held by the eternal one.

Christ beside me, Christ before me.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Hebrews 13:8

My talented brother-in-law carved “Woody” into my Toy Story loving son’s pumpkin.

fixed point

(This post first appeared on my personal blog, running30by30.wordpress.com)

At the beginning of this week, the trees along my running routes boasted the most brilliant colors I’ve seen all season. The final bursts of reds, oranges, yellows, and a few greens seemed an otherworldly neon which seemed to grow brighter each day. Thursday, while playing outside with my kids post-run, I took pictures of the trees surrounding my house, wondering what brilliance the next day might hold. But on Saturday, my long run day this week, the view held only a few straggling leaves in brown or a muted burnt orange. Although I didn’t know it at the time, Thursday was the climax of color: the fixed point in time at which the leaves started to fade.

On Saturday, March 14th, my husband and I enjoyed a wonderful night out (our first real night out since our youngest daughter’s birth). Our school auction was 1920s themed with flapper-style dresses, fun décor, and plenty of laughter. We knew the world was changing, some countries had stay-at-home orders in effect, and the whispers of a quarantined America were growing louder. But while the big band music played in the background, how many of us knew for sure that it was the last time we’d see our friends noses and mouths not through a screen? The last time we’d gather in a large group, or the last time we’d talk with someone without calculating just how far apart we were standing? Where were you the night before? What’s your fixed point in time?

Today, our pastor’s sermon centered on the coming of the kingdom of heaven in Matthew 25, and these words stood out to me:

Therefore, keep watch, for you do not know the day or the hour.

Matthew 25:13

One day, we will be on the other side. The timing will be made clear, and we’ll recognize all the signs leading up to Christ’s glorious return. We’ll have seen the colors in all their brilliance. But, just as the final days before our world’s turned upside down in a pandemic, or the ever-growing-brighter leaves, we won’t know it until it comes.

My oldest swinging amidst the brilliant colors.

Season Change

We are over a week into September, and if you haven’t seen a picture of someone in a flannel shirt or sporting their first PSL* of the season, are you even breathing? 

Tired of summer’s bold and sticky attitude, wanting cool, crisp air, and all the muted color schemes, hardcore autumnophiles pulled out their cute sweaters and drove through Starbucks on September 1st, proclaiming the oncoming fall season no matter what the thermometer said. Others politely waited until after Labor Day before purchasing white fairytale pumpkins and eggplant-colored mums to place outside their front door. Some might still be waiting for September 22nd and the autumn equinox.

Despite the variance of start dates, the general public typically doesn’t fight the onslaught of fall decorations as much as the no-Christmas-before-Thanksgiving protesters. Fall seems generally welcome; in many areas, the coolness lends itself to long days and evenings outdoors without the need for ridiculous layers of clothing. Fall foods tend to be full-bodied and flavorful, celebrating bountiful harvests before plants go dormant.

There’s almost nothing more breathtaking than grapevines in Napa, California in autumn.

To be honest, fall is something I’ve only experienced in my adult life. I grew up on an island 1,375.30 miles north of the equator (which is pretty close), where fall meant that the sunset usually happened closer to 6:30 instead of 7:15, and the weather changed from 87 and sunny to 85 with a chance of rain.

And this past week my friends in Denver skipped autumn and went straight from “summer” (on Monday the high was above 90 degrees Fahrenheit) to “winter” when they woke up to big flakes of falling snow.

What are your feelings about fall? Are you sipping a PSL while reading this in your flannel, or are you mourning the fresh tomatoes and days at the pool of summer that summer brings? A dear friend of mine (ok, ok, fine, a podcaster that I listen to a lot) says of seasons: “be content where you are. Lean into what’s happening around you, and don’t assume how you live now is how you’ll live forever” (Kendra Adachi, The Lazy Genius Way). Regardless of how we feel about a season, we have to live through it.

My family loves to celebrate fall with jugs of Louisville apple cider and apple cider donuts from a local market.

As we move into a new season I am reflecting on the words of King Solomon and the classic “seasons” chapter:

(Ecclesiastes 3:1-14 ESV)

A Time for Everything

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;

a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;

a time to kill, and a time to heal;

a time to break down, and a time to build up;

a time to weep, and a time to laugh;

a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;

a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing**;

a time to seek, and a time to lose;

a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

a time to tear, and a time to sew;

a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

a time to love, and a time to hate;

a time for war, and a time for peace.

The God-Given Task What gain has the worker from his toil? I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man. I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before him. 

My three fall takeaways:

  1. Recognize this season – What is happening around me right now? What is beyond my control? How can I live despite the challenges?

2. Rejoice in the good things of earth that God has given (even if it’s as simple as an apple cider donut).

3. Remember that the beauties of earth point to greater joy ahead where the sorrows will be no more.

*Pumpkin Spice Latte – the token emblem of fall in America for many (international friends, please enlighten me as to your thoughts on this)

**did he know about social distancing?

If You Are Invited to a Potluck in Hawai’i…

(A Celebration of Diversity)

If you are invited to a potluck in Hawai’i, then you should probably say yes.

If this is your first time, then you might be surprised by the amount of food crowded onto the tables.

If you are overwhelmed by the amount of food, you might want to start by narrowing down a specific food with which to start.

If you like chicken, then you’ll probably want to head for the foil pans of chicken katsu, chicken long rice, or adobo.

If you decide on chicken katsu, then you’ll probably want some tonkatsu sauce to go with it.

If you prefer pork, then you might look for ti or taro leaf wrapped lau lau, or scoop yourself a nice helping of kalua pig (kalua pork).

If you go with the kalua pork, I suggest you pair it with a side of mac salad.

If the mac salad filled up the last bit of room on your plate, you’ll probably need to grab a second one so you can help yourself to the kielbasa and sauerkraut hot dish or green bean casserole before you get to the rice cooker table.

If you are confused by the large number of rice cookers present, then you will probably be surprised when the potluck runs out of sticky rice later.

If you are a rice enthusiast, then you might want a scoop of both sticky rice and fried rice.

If you see a deli-size container of what might look like chunky salsa, you’ve probably stumbled upon some poke (poh kay) (but unless you’re one of the first people in line, it might just be an empty container).

If raw fish freaks you out (and I won’t spend too much time convincing you so that I don’t have to share) then you might be more interested in some spaghetti.

If you are surprised to see hot dogs in the spaghetti, don’t worry, that’s normal.

If you like hot dogs, then you’ll probably enjoy a nori-wrapped spam musubi.

If the musubi reminds you of sushi and you’re looking for something with a little heat, look on the tray from Genki Sushi for spicy tuna rolls and get some wasabi to go with it.

If your mouth is on fire from the spicy tuna, you might want to go back for some dessert.

If you like healthy desserts, you probably will scoop a helping of mango, pineapple, or papaya.

If you want something both refreshing and fun to look at, then also scoop up a few lychee or dragonfruit.

If you have a helping of fresh island fruit, you might want some mochi to go with it.

(If you have only had mochi ice cream, then you might be surprised to see the tiny squares are not melting (my favorite is butter mochi.)

If you want something deep fried, you will probably grab a Sata Andagi or Malasada (just make sure they’re hot).

If you’ve finished your plate, then you’ll probably want some POG to wash it down.

If you’re full, but just noticed another table full of vibrant purple Okinawan sweet potatoes, a box of pizza (hopefully with garlic balls from Big Kahuna), and shoyu chicken, then you’ll probably want to be invited to another potluck.

Author’s Note: This list represents only a small portion of the vast culinary culture of Hawai’i — many fantastic cultures and foods were not mentioned. I have tried, and eaten, all of these foods at various potlucks in Hawai’i, and as a self-identified foodie, I believe we can find some of the best connection and appreciation for others by eating together.

“Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” – Revelation 4:11

“Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” Psalm 34:8

Present.

Note: This devotion first appeared in the Adult Leader Rest Area devotions at the 2019 LCMS Youth Gathering in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It has been edited to reflect the Campfires and Marshmallows audience in the time of COVID-19. I pray these words are an encouragement to all who read them.

Emmanuel. A beautiful name of God that often gets packed up in a little box on December 26th and set up on a basement shelf, waiting again to be opened on the first Sunday of Advent. We are so eager to welcome God With Us into our homes and churches as a cute little baby about whom we sing on candlelit evenings while soft snow falls in the background. Perhaps the promise of a fresh start in January gives us the freedom to welcome Christ into our lives. “I may not have it all together now, but you should see my New Year’s Resolutions this year…” And isn’t there just something so precious and innocent about gazing at a brand-spankin-new human that calms performance anxiety and the need to impress?

But where is He now in the middle of a worldwide shut-down? When the reality of our failings bring to mind God With Us in the cleansing of the temple. Filled with righteous anger and zest for purity to be restored, God With Us clears His Father’s House with a less-than-gentle approach. Is this the image that we fear? Our unholiness faced with His perfect presence?

David tackles this fear in Psalm 139, “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?” (verse 7). He wrestles with the fact that no matter where he goes or how much darkness surrounds him, he cannot escape the presence of God. While terrifying, David exclaims, “such knowledge is too wonderful for me” (verse 6). David embraced the fear and knowledge of God With Us because he understood the attributes of God’s behavior.

David understood “The Lord of Hosts is With Us; the God of Jacob is our fortress” (Psalm 46:11). No matter what, God is With Us. Think back on this week. Is there anything that causes you to cringe? Moments you think, “this would have been perfect if she hadn’t…” or “everything has gone smoothly except that I forgot to…” or even, “I can’t wait to get away from my family and rest from all the craziness we’ve endured.” Guess what? God is With You through it. And if everything is smooth sailing right now? God is With You through that, too. As an adult, we often feel the pressure to have it all together “for the sake of the young.” We need to have the right words to say when approached with a big question, and we certainly can’t be seen snapping at anyone else out of exhaustion. The pressure is enormous. But what happens when we are late to the dinner that we emphasized needed to be timely? What happens when we are caught crying from exhaustion or emotion? What happens when we don’t have the words to say? God With Us. We run to Him, we run to our fortress.

David spoke to God because he knew God’s presence was near. And thousands of years later we can rejoice that we live in the time of God With Us – God Made Flesh – who “dwelt among us…full of grace and truth” (John 1:14) and who has sent his Holy Spirit to remain with us.

David pleads, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!” (Psalm 139:23) David trusted that God’s knowledge of him was not a scary prospect, but rather one of peace. God knows us intimately, and yet he still chooses to be God With Us.

Sometimes this is difficult to accept, which is why we are given a community of believers. Dietrich Bonhoeffer speaks to this, “Therefore, the Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him.  He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself without belying the truth.” We need community because God’s presence is in community. God With Us presents through the kind, encouraging word, or needed correction from a trusted voice. While the world may look different, and human interaction has changed, I pray that you experience this deepest sense of community despite social distance. I pray you can be this community to others. Above all, I hope you know as David did that you are deeply known and deeply loved by God With Us, who is present with you at all times, through his Word, through his Sacraments, and through his people, no matter what.

Landing

Two years ago, my husband and I took our two young sons, ages 2 ½ and 10 months, to a conference in Phoenix, Arizona. My parents attend the same conference every year, so we looked at it as a working family reunion of sorts. My husband elected to fly out on the (cheaper) redeye with only a personal item, but in an attempt to keep bedtime consistent, the boys and I would leave earlier in the evening, meeting my parents at their hotel. After a somewhat hurried trip to the airport, we discovered the earlier flight was delayed. Good news: my husband could wait with me at the gate. Bad news: our flight would now only leave an hour before his. So much for keeping bedtime.

What trouble could these two possible get into? Playing on the hotel bed after our harrowing adventure.

When boarding finally began, I was worn out and ready to fall into the hotel bed. However, we still had a 2-hour flight and a 10-minute shuttle to the airport hotel ahead of us. And, despite the hundreds of flights I’ve traveled in my lifetime, flying still makes me a little nervous. My heart raced through takeoff and initial turbulence, but when the pilot indicated we had reached cruising altitude I settled a bit. I settled into my seat to read “Curious George Goes to the Hospital” another twelve times and pass out the remainder of the stickers and Cheerios from my carry-on bag. Finally, we began our descent into Sky Harbor airport. I could see the flashing lights of the landing strip and felt myself relaxing. I counted down the seconds until touchdown, “5-4-3-2…” But all of a sudden, when it seemed as if we were just feet from safely landing, the engines gunned to life again and the plane shot back up into the air, immediately turning sideways in a sharp turn. My heart raced, and I heard others in the fuselage questioning out loud–“What is happening?” I did my best to appear calm for my sons’ sake as we circled above the airport for a terrifyingly long seven minutes. Finally, the flight deck came over the loudspeaker to inform us we had been too close to another landing plane and had been directed to circle for another few minutes before trying again.

My boys are seasoned flyers! Here is Titus (6 months) sitting on my dad’s lap on his first airplane ride.

Difficult seasons often bring false endings.

This has been a hard year–we’ve said our earthly goodbye to two very special people and to two very special places. My husband’s work responsibilities tripled as he taught three math classes and organized the accreditation process in addition to his normal administrative duties. Worn down, tired, and ready for some reprieve, we looked to the calendar for hope. We counted down the days until the end of accreditation and our end-of-school-year family trip.

And then the world flipped. Social distancing, remote learning, COVID-19, quarantine, and questions without answers fill every day. We try to remain calm for the sake of our kids, but inside we beg for answers and assurance. While my role as a stay-at-home mom has not altered much, my role as a prayer warrior and friend changes every day: family members have lost their jobs, fear for their safety, or are working triple overtime in the medical field or police force.

About two-thousand years ago, eleven friends huddled together. The world as they knew it had shattered, and they were filled with fear. John 20:19a reads, “On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders…” They knew what Jesus had said before his death (Matthew 16:21, “From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”) but those words must have felt so distant after the horrifying events of the weekend. They had counted down the days and were waiting for answers, everything feeling surreal and a little too real at the same time.

Watching worship on mommy’s laptop

It all feels a little bit surreal and a little too real at the same time. It’s almost like we’re circling above, watching the pandemic play out, unsure of when and how we’ll be able to land from this crazy ride.

It’s Holy Week. Every year I look forward to this time of worshipping with my church family as we recall the events of Passover, Good Friday and the Resurrection. The symbolism, songs, and celebrations push me to meditate on the every-day reality that Christ’s death and resurrection bring: hope. But I know the ending of the story. I walk out of the Good Friday service sorrowful because of my sin, but the promised hope of the Sunday sunrise service (and hot breakfast!) keeps the sorrow from overwhelming me. But this year, Easter will look different for all of us.

This Easter, we’re huddled in our rooms, gathered together in groups of less than ten, disappointed, confused, lonely, angry, full of anxiety and fear. Our Jesus feels absent.

But there’s hope. John 20 tells us, 

“Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb …“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).

Jesus didn’t say, “stop crying, Mary” or “why didn’t you trust me?” but instead asked Mary to share her sorrow with him.

Two years ago the plane landed safely and without any other complications. We went on to enjoy a wonderful conference filled with family and sunshine.

Right now we’re unsure of exactly when and how the circling plane of COVID-19 and effects will land, but this we do know: our God is faithful. This Easter, with all of the extras stripped away, I want to come near to Jesus and tell him why I am crying. And I want to see, as if for the first time, that He came. He died. He rose. He will come again. 

She Will Be Called

Although we grew up seeing one another at various family get-togethers (our dads are high-school besties), my friendship with Annalyse didn’t truly develop until my brand-new husband and I house-sat for Annalyse and her husband. We started meeting regularly for Friday night dinners (pizza for the guys, Pho for the ladies) and soon discovered we were both pregnant with our first child. Five years, five kids (between us), (probably) hundreds (ok maybe exaggeration) of playdates and bowls of Pho later I’ve gotten to know a bit of her heart, and friends, it’s beautiful. Annalyse wrote this novel while struggling with her own infertility: she connected with Sarai and longed to know more about how God worked in and through this woman’s struggles. Now her oldest is almost 5 and Annalyse wants to share these words with others, male or female, to bring hope by recounting God’s goodness through all generations. This is a different type of storytelling, and we’re excited to host Episode 1 on the Campfires and Marshmallows blog today. You can follow Annalyse’s blog at  https://annalysemower.wordpress.com to receive each episode delivered to your inbox (it launched February 21st!) and watch the story unfold.

Episode 1

CIRCA YEAR 2066BC – MESOPOTAMIA

This was why I had come, and yet I could do nothing.  Even as their voices raised and tempers flared, I could do nothing.

“Father, they are clay!  These ‘gods’ are nothing but dirt!  Powerless. Senseless! How can you resist the one true living God for fear of statues?”  My husband, Abram, motioned with an outstretched hand to his father’s shelves laden with the inventory of household gods.  Terah was shaking. I was shaking.

“You fool!”  Terah exploded.  “Do you want to curse this whole family?  Dare you come to blaspheme the gods in their own workshop? You were ever taught to respect the gods!”  Terah shook his idol-filled fist in Abram’s face, inches away from his nose. “Are you so quick to abandon the gods of your fathers for a strange being…the first time a demon addresses you?”

Abram’s eyes were locked on the human form in his father’s hands.  “It is not the first time.” The air was sucked from the room, and Terah and I gaped in the darkness, breathless.  Abram raised his fierce eyes to meet Terah’s. “He spoke to me first in Ur, just after we buried Haran. I denied Him then.  I thought He had abandoned me to my own stupidity.” His voice sank almost to a whisper. “I will not test Him again.”   

Terah shook his head violently.  “Do not speak your brother’s name to me.  I will not have his memory defamed by a blasphemer!”  His screams echoed in the small room, the mud walls magnifying the sound.  I instinctively cowered – but Abram stood tall.  

What has happened to my husband?  I thought, my mind spinning.  Always so reticent in the face of conflict…he abhorred it with every bone in his body.  Yet there he stood, inflaming our father’s rage with careless, impious words. “Abram…” I whispered, creeping toward him.  I reached out to tug the sleeve of his tunic but Terah threw his hand out at me. I froze. His eyes never left Abram’s face. 

“These gods you deny.” He extended a hand toward the shelves.  “Have we not been blessed by them? They have prospered our business – we have never been so wealthy!  The afterlife is nothing…all we have is now. Would you curse your family in the days of plenty? Indeed, you are already cursed!” His palm closed and his finger pointed at me.  “Surely this persistent unbelief must be the cause of your wife’s barrenness!”  

It was not meant for me.  I was nothing but a woman, too weak to persuade her men…but the words slapped across my face and brought tears to my eyes.  I gasped before I could stop myself and turned my eyes toward Abram. His jaw flexed as he ground his teeth together to keep silent.  

Terah sneered at him, basking in his victory.  He kept his gaze locked on Abram as he collected a broom from the backroom, then turned his back on his foolish son, rage emanating from his body like heat.  The conversation was over and Abram had lost.

Abram refused to concede.  “How, Terah? How does clay that lines the bank of the river suddenly gain the ability to see and hear when molded by human hands?”  Abram stepped to Terah’s shoulder, trying to force his face in front of his father’s. Terah threw his whole focus into the task of sweeping.  His silence only caused Abram’s voice to grow in strength and intensity. “Human hands, Father. We have no power to give life. If you could give life, would you not have saved…”

Terah jerked upright, staring at the wall.  His frame shuddered, and I could see the redness of fury seeping up his neck toward his face.  I had often seen my father enraged, but only once like this. The beating he had given Nahor, his oldest son, in his bloodthirsty rage had left his firstborn with a life-long limp.  

Terah’s breath had quickened and rattled loudly in the small shop.  He will kill Abram.  Terror coiled in my stomach.  He may kill me.  But Abram was unafraid.  He brought his mouth half a hand’s breadth from Terah’s head and shot his words into his ears. “How is it that this clay has senses and power when that left on the banks does not?  How do I run the risk of being cursed by something under our power, which we formed with our own hands? Is not the creator greater than the created?”

Terah spun on Abram, his open palm cracking against the side Abram’s face.  “I am not great enough to understand the ways of the gods! It is not for me to grasp…no more for you.”

Abram laughed derisively and rubbed his cheek as a red welt raised before my eyes.  “You put so much faith in a piece of clay worked by your own hands, and yet you question how I can have faith in the God of the universe, whose power I felt and who chose me?!?”  He grabbed a statuette from the shelves and held it out towards Terah. “Father, it is just clay!”

Terah began to tremble again.  “You fool!” He growled between clenched teeth.  “You defile the gods by your touch.” He snatched the statue from the apostate’s hands and spit on him.  “These clay gods are more powerful than your god will ever be.”

The blood drained from my face.  I opened my mouth but found I was mute.

Abram grew silent, like a gathering thunderbolt.  He glared down at Terah, who watched him with scorn.  I did not understand what this God had done to so radically change my husband, but I knew Terah’s challenge had lit a wildfire in his gut.  It was not my place to trifle with the affairs of my husband and father but common sense dictated I intervene. Intervene!  My mind screamed.  Before he kills him!  But I could not move; I could not speak.  I was frozen and, as always, helpless.

The three of us stood immobilized, tied by the palpable hate.  Suddenly a sound like lightning crackled through the room. I startled.  Pieces of the clay figure in Abram’s hand trickled through his fingers, the idol crushed by his iron grip.

“What kind of god can be destroyed by a man?”  He asked quietly, letting the final clay shards fall to the dirt floor.

Before either Terah or I could move, Abram picked up a larger wooden idol and drew it across the shelves, smashing some statuettes on contact and sending others to their doom on the ground.  

“What kind of gods allow their servants and representatives to be destroyed by a mere human?”  He shouted above the din as the temple statuettes were reduced to rubble. “What kind of guardians cannot protect themselves?” The entire inventory of clay dog statues was demolished.  Nothing was left but clay carnage.  

Abram was in a frenzy, wild with frustration.  What can he possibly hope to gain by this display?  Terah and I stood motionless, aghast at the simple and systematic destruction of what our people trusted in – had trusted for generations.  It was a hope my father had peddled to great profit, now all swept away in the fury of an overzealous man. A faint, elusive thought danced across my mind and turned my stomach.

What if Abram is right?

“What kind of gods would allow me to wreak such havoc without stopping me?”  Abram cried, beating the wooden statue against the ground until the head finally splintered and fell away.  He tossed the body among the rubble and wiped his forehead with the edge of his tunic. His breath was ragged and heavy, but the light in his eyes remained undimmed.  “If your gods are so powerful, Terah – why did they not stop me?”

We stood and surveyed the shop. Dust danced in the air and made me cough.  The shelves that had been laden with armies of clay figures now stood barren.  One shelf hung at a precarious angle, partially broken by Abram’s pounding. The once-impressive supply of household gods, prayer statuettes and guardians now littered the floor, covering it like a layer of thick dust.  A few of the wood idols were splintered and broken like the one Abram had used as a weapon. The rest were strewn about like sticks blown by a strong wind.  

Abram had in one evening destroyed several months of labor, a year’s worth of profit, and what had been left of my dwindling faith.  I saw nothing here to inspire fear or worship. My stomach turned as I realized I had been correct all along. The gods do not care about us.  We were alone, in charge of our own fate and vulnerable to the abuse of life.  The power of the gods was nothing more than this rubbish heap, to be thrown into the middle of the street and trod on by citizens and dogs alike.

Abram was staring at Terah expectantly.  He had not destroyed his father in malice, but rather to free him from the claws of his useless religion.  He had tried to save his father.  

Terah did not see.  His whole body shook with anger and his face gradually darkened to purple.  “Get out!” The scream tore from his throat. “Get out, you blasphemous son of a whore!”  He spit in Abram’s face. “I want you out of my house. For my daughter’s sake alone will I allow you to gather your things…but do not take three days.”  Terah turned his back on us. 

Abram stood speechless.  Shock was etched on his face.  He had tasted his God’s presence and it had made him drunk.  It never occurred to him that others might not imbibe as readily.  His eyes softened and his hands started to shake. The zealous terror softened into the husband I recognized.  He realized his mistake…but too late. “Father…”

Terah spun on him.  “OUT!” He bellowed, his finger pointing at the door.  Every feature in his face was strained with fury, his eyes wide and bulging.  His scream burst forth from his depths, causing the very walls of the shop to shake.

The sound was cut off prematurely.  Terah gasped, gulping for breath. He sagged against a wall, his hands clawing at his chest as if to free himself from bonds.  His body trembled slightly as the reddish-purple hue of his face drained instantly to sickly grey. Eyes still wide, Terah slumped to the floor.

“Father!”  Abram rushed forward and dropped to his knees next to the prostrate form.

The tears streamed down my cheeks, unbidden and surprising.  I did not love my father. He had not loved me. I was simply a sign of his wealth, the daughter of his concubine.  But I still wept, not even realizing it until I felt the collar of my tunic soaked. Terah lay on the floor motionless.  His face was pallid, unseeing eyes staring at the ceiling.

Abram raised his eyes to mine, agony disfiguring his face.  “Run!” He choked on his tears before catching his breath. “Fetch Shesh-kalla and Lot!  And the physician! Bring the physician!” He returned his gaze to the stony features of Terah’s face, his hand resting on the still chest.  I turned and stumbled out of the shop, crushing the shards of idols under my feet.

Abram’s scream of grief followed me as I fled, echoing down the street.