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.

 

Preparing a Place

“Would you like to go for a run tomorrow?” He asked me, casually, over dinner. His parents and my grandparents sat across from us, and looking out the window, I could see the outline of the Yampa Valley Flat Tops in the Rocky Mountains. We were nearing the end of our week together in-between summer work (he, at my grandparents’ ranch, me, at summer camp) and my student teaching/his return to Chicago. We hadn’t enjoyed many moments with just the two of us, so I agreed, and we set a time (early, before his irrigation chores would begin).

Running was normal for us. We’d completed two marathons (and all the training!) together and enjoyed especially the challenge presented by the altitude and hills on the ranch.

Putting chips on our shoes for the Water Tower marathon (our second)

The next morning, we started our normal route, enjoying the semi-easy downhill run into the woods. Nathanael suggested we take a longer route which circled one of the lakes and ended with a long, semi-steep uphill portion. I felt confident after working all summer at Lutheran Valley Retreat’s 8,000 feet, so I agreed. Unfortunately, however, even after a summer of working and running at altitude, I was not ready for that hill. My side of the conversation lagged, as my thoughts turned to frustration that I couldn’t keep up. Nathanael, however, encouraged me, sharing his favorite memories of our relationship, and vowing to love me always, even when I’m huffing and puffing or dirty and sweaty. Me? I was thinking of other, more colorful, words to describe the cowpies littering the trail.

Finally, after what seemed like forever, we reached the top of the hill (aptly, the road adjacent bears the name “Huff and Puff”) and I took the opportunity to catch my breath. Nate knelt down to tie his shoe, so I put my hands on my head, taking deep breaths and walking in circles. Slowly I felt relief in my burning lungs… still partially irritated that Nate didn’t seem to be having a problem. But surely, it wasn’t taking him this long to tie his shoes…I turned and lost my breath for a completely different reason. There, at the top of this gorgeous hill, looking over the valley we both loved, was my 21-year-old beau holding a diamond ring and asking me to marry him. I finally spoke: “Are you serious?”

Running across the finish line at the Wisconsin Marathon (our first!) We joked, “you should pretend to propose so we get free stuff!”

If you’ve ever been engaged or been close to someone who is, you know that many a conversation for the next 6 months or so will include two questions: “Can I see the ring?” and “What’s the story?”

Girlfriends of mine can recount fabulous tales of day-long dates visiting the couple’s favorite hangouts and ending with a party surrounded by their closest friends and family. Others have told of a ring slipped into a glass of champagne at a fancy restaurant or the simple question, “so you wanna look at rings or something?” during a ballgame. Two years ago, I had the blessing of helping my brother-in-law plan the perfect – surprise – beach sunset engagement for my sister (oh yeah, it was gorgeous). Engagement stories tend to capture us, and especially around Valentine’s Day.

The Bible tells us that we are Christ’s bride and that one day he will come back for us. Tenth Avenue North’s lead singer Mike Donehey has an excellent video describing the Hebrew betrothal process (click here) and the beautiful metaphor that Christ sets up for us when he tells us that he’s preparing a place for us.

But here’s where the beauty ends and the fall into sin rears its ugly head. See, I love my engagement story. But what I don’t usually share is that two weeks before, I’d been complaining to a friend that I wasn’t engaged yet. Despite the two years of internships and college left before we could marry, jealousy of my engaged friends overtook my heart. And do you remember the part of the story where I was thinking about cowpies? Yeah, that’s not so pretty either.

I am the bride of Christ but how often, instead of joyfully and patiently looking to the future, am I too busy looking around in jealousy? Or, instead of enjoying his presence with me through the hard, long, uphill battle of this life, am I staring down at my shoes and thinking about poop?

Side note: please don’t misunderstand me here. Sometimes hardships and pain and suffering really, really suck. I also know many beautiful and wonderful men and women who are still waiting for their spouse and aching in the process. I’m not trying to belittle either of those experiences. I’m only speaking of my own natural navel-gazing tendencies when I should instead be looking to my savior.

After the run (I did eventually say yes), Nathanael and I spoke to our closest friends and family, sharing our good news, and then Nathanael had a bottle ready of my favorite sparkling wine and a blue-raspberry ring pop (very important).

See, weeks before, while I was complaining, Nathanael was communicating long-distance with his sister, choosing the perfect ring through text message and coordinating how to secretly send it with his parents, along with the wine and ring pop, in a sealed, unmarked box. The night before, while I slept peacefully, he was up late, restlessly writing and re-writing his uphill speech. During the run, while I was thinking evil thoughts about his apparently much more well-adjusted lungs, he was carefully running with his hand next to his pocket, to make sure the precious cargo didn’t fall out.

Devil’s Causeway – taken just a couple of days before he proposed.

Friends, my husband certainly isn’t perfect, but he points me to Jesus Christ, who is, and this story is an excellent example. Even when we complain that he present enough or fulfilling us, Jesus is preparing a heavenly place for us (John 14:3). Even when life is good and we’re resting peacefully and unaware, Jesus’ legion of angels is unresting in the daily spiritual battle against the devil (by the way, he already lost, but he’s looking to ruin our lives along with his). Even when life is a struggle and we’re running uphill, in a bad mood and possibly thinking about synonyms for cow pies, Jesus is pouring out his love for us, protecting his precious cargo (our hearts) (Philippians 4:7). And he’s promised to have our favorite wine waiting at his feast of feasts (Isaiah 25:6-9).

Dear friends, these words aren’t empty promises. They are real and true. I don’t know where your story is with Jesus, but I hope you know that you are so, so loved by a really rich guy with enough diamonds to make Kim Kardashian’s ring look pretty small.

Isaiah 25:6-9 “On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine—the best of meats and the finest of wines. On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth. The Lord has spoken. In that day they will say, “Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us. This is the Lord, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.”

John 14:7 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.

Philippians 4:7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Sleep in Heavenly Peace

Raise your hand if you have ever served as a summer camp counselor. I 10/10 recommend taking the opportunity if ever given to you – no other experience will break you down to the core and help you build confidence, faith, trust, perseverance, encouragement, and strength. I could go on, but it’s best that I stick to the story (is it ironic that camp also taught me the art of storytelling?):

Although I love the outdoors and spent much of my high school and college weekends hiking, before working at camp I had only truly camped (like, in a tent and everything) once in my life. Within my first week at Lutheran Valley Retreat in Florissant, CO, however, that sad fact was fixed multiple times over. I mean, they even threw us out in a field with nothing but a couple of tarps, 10-gallon buckets, and sleeping bags.

Our week of training was not indicative of the entire summer, however, as most of my group assignments were to retreat groups. I spent my time belaying high ropes and rock-climbing experiences, working groups through the challenge course, and supporting adult leaders in their Bible study, campfire, and worship times before heading back to my cabin (ok, shed) for the night. But about halfway through the summer the camp director threw a curveball and assigned me a group of 2nd – 4th-grade students. And they wanted to camp out. In the woods. I thought another counselor would be able to join me but I ended up by myself (well, and with the 6 girls from my cabin) and I was terrified all night long. The entire night I marveled that the camp would trust such an inexperienced human to sleep in the dangerous woods, left alone to fight off the wild animals and protect six sassy and sweet students.  Every sound in the wilderness was a mountain lion. Every time the wind moved the tent I was certain a bear had come to eat us (had I cleaned up all the s’more supplies carefully enough?) I was not at peace. 

Our little tent in the woods

When you’re not at peace it’s hard to fall asleep. 

Your brain ponders injustice or failure and you toss and turn. 

Another time, I was fighting with my husband. Angry and feeling justified in my anger (I wasn’t) I kept rehashing our argument, convinced of my blamelessness. I wasn’t at peace until I realized my fault, apologized, accepted his forgiveness, and forgave his fault as well. 

Yet another night I went to bed as a failure of a mom. Exhausted by my third pregnancy, I drank more coffee than recommended. Impatient with my 2-year-old, I raised my voice in anger. And, I didn’t give my 4-year-old the attention he so desperately needed that afternoon and missed the opportunity to listen to his sweet voice tell stories. My guilt washed over me and deprived me of the rest I needed. I wasn’t at peace until a new day of better memories occurred.

When have you lost sleep for lack of peace? Have you received bad news late in the evening? Waited up for a loved one who didn’t come home at the promised time or call at the expected hour? Been caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place when making an important decision?

While thinking about this lack of peace, I read Psalm 4. Check out verse one:

Answer me when I call to you,

    my righteous God.

Give me relief from my distress;

    have mercy on me and hear my prayer.

King David (author of Psalm 4) experienced many peace-sucking, distressful situations in his lifetime. Camp out in the wilderness with a bunch of people placed in his care? Check (oh, plus the fact that they were hiding from a crazy king who wanted to kill him…) Receive bad news at a late hour or a long wait for someone to check-in? Check (his kids had some major issues.) Marital problems? You could say that. Sinful, guilt-ridden days? Oh yeah.

But for all of his flaws, sins, and problems, David knew what to do when he was in trouble. He turned to the Lord. And at the end of Psalm 4 he explains why:

Psalm 4:8

In peace I will both lie down and sleep, for you alone oh Lord make me dwell in safety. 

Despite whatever was happening around him, whatever he had done that day, David rested in the peace of God.

My infant daughter knows a thing or two about resting in peace

Americans (and probably others as well) are lacking in sleep. We’re depressed, anxious, exhausted, overcommitted, and overwhelmed. We need to rest. We need peace. But this seems elusive unless we know the Prince of Peace.

Do you know a person of peace? Being at peace and resting in God is easier said than done. I’m sure those people have occasional restless nights, and I’m sure they experience seasons that knock them over, but the secret is that they come back to the keeper of their soul.

I want to leave you with a familiar Sunday school story:

Jesus suggests to his followers one day that they cross to the other side of a lake. They’re in the boat and everything’s going well until, “Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat.” (I haven’t personally experienced this, but being on a boat with waves crashing over it sounds pretty terrifying and definitely NOT peaceful) “But Jesus was sleeping.”

Jesus SLEPT through a crazy, terrifying storm?

I’m no Biblical scholar, but I’m pretty sure I know why he was sleeping. He held the same secret as King David (except better than King David). He knew who was in control. He slept because he trusted his father, and he already knew the last part of the story: 

“The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.

The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!”

Jesus is the ultimate peacemaker. He doesn’t just keep the peace; he makes peace. So he can sleep in peace.

What about you?

Good News

Do you have any moments that are burned into your memory? Where the words spoken and the actions performed are so clear that you can practically smell the freshly cut hay or just-baked Christmas cookies in the background of your mind? I have a few… some lovely, and some I wish I could erase. One that often comes to mind, especially this time of year, is the moment I told my husband we were pregnant with our first child.

We’d been married about six weeks and were living in a one-room cabin on the western slope of the Rocky Mountains. My husband spent almost every summer as a ranch hand on this beautiful 1000-acre property, and this year he brought his new bride, the ranch owner’s granddaughter, with him. Life on the ranch was idyllic: waking with the sunrise, following my husband around and assisting with various chores (mostly just trying to look cute and flirty to distract him from moving water or spraying weeds), and helping my grandma rearrange furniture or sort through vintage treasures in the ranch house. However, about two weeks into our working-honeymoon I started to feel nauseous (I’m sure you know where this is going). Suddenly, little trips into town with my grandma were no longer as fun, and I’d fall asleep as soon as I’d unpacked the groceries that suddenly looked absolutely disgusting. In the back of my mind, I knew what was going on, but fear of the unknown kept me from acknowledging it.

The Sonheim Hilton

Finally, one sunny afternoon, Nathanael came in for a late lunch. I ate a few crackers and attempted to sit up with him at the table, but felt relief when he got up to go back to work. I collapsed on the bed, ready for my second nap of the day. Instead, I got up and reached under the bed for the pregnancy test—purchased two weeks prior and hidden immediately with the false reassurance that avoidance brings. The test didn’t indulge my denial, and within milliseconds two pink lines appeared: ready or not, we were parents.

Although fear of the future and insecurity still gripped me, suddenly a thrilling excitement took over. I ran outside. Nate was still loading tools into the ATV and only a short distance away. Breathless from the altitude and first-trimester exhaustion, I burst out, “You’re a daddy!” Although he must have known this was coming, he put down the tools and immediately pulled me into his arms, spinning me around, full of joy (and friends, I am proud to say that I didn’t puke, even a little).

The view from our cabin, taken from just about where Nathanael was when I ran out to tell him. 

Reflecting on this moment makes me wonder – what was the interaction like when Mary broke the news to Joseph? The Bible only tells us this of their interaction:


“This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet, “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel — which means, “God with us.”

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.” Matthew 1:18-24

What a way to begin a marriage. How did Mary break the news? Did she run to his house right away to share, or did she wait and gather up the courage? Was Joseph upset? Was he excited after his dream or did he still harbor frustration and jealousy that the bride, for whom he’d been preparing and waiting, was carrying a child that did not carry his genetics?

Babies are a wonderful gift, but every story is different and sometimes the conceiving and carrying of them carries grief and heartache. In some seasons I have prayed every day for wombs to conceive and carry longed-for children. I have wept with and held the hands of dear friends when a child is taken too soon. I have begged the Lord to have grace for my imperfections, to send his angels to guard my children, and, trembling, placed their futures in His knowing arms.

In our story, Nathanael and I hadn’t planned to start a family so quickly, and I worried often that we were too young or too newly married or in too much transition to provide for our baby, both physically and emotionally.

But Mary and Joseph hadn’t even gotten married yet! And talk about transition- they had to haul themselves to a completely different town for a crazy census that meant the only place Mary could give birth was next to an animal’s feeding trough. And my insecurities about raising my child probably pale in comparison to the anxiety of raising the King of Kings. 

Yet Mary and Joseph knew they weren’t in this alone. God didn’t plop this huge responsibility in their lap just to watch them fail. And in a crazy turn of events that could only be divine, the child they would raise together would later die to save them from their sins.

One week before our sweet boy was born; still clueless. 

What responsibilities cause you anxiety? Where do you fear your own shortcomings? What hurts or tragedies are gripping you in this season?

Hear this today: you’re not going it alone. 

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

‭‭Hebrews‬ ‭4:15-16‬

Draw near to Him today. He’s with us in the doubts , fears, hurts and tears. And one day he will whisk us away to eternal joy with Him. He will draw us to His chest and spin us around in joy (and friends I am proud to say that we won’t puke, even a little).

Once in royal David’s city

Stood a lowly cattle shed

Where a mother laid her baby

In a manger for His bed:

Mary was that mother mild

Jesus Christ her little child

He came down to earth from heaven

Who is God and Lord of all

And His shelter was a stable

And His cradle was a stall;

With the poor and meek and lowly

Lived on earth our Savior holy

For He is our child-hood’s pattern

Day by day like us He grew

He was little, weak, and helpless

Tears and smiles like us He knew

And He feeleth for our sadness

And He shareth in our gladness

And our eyes at last shall see Him

Through His own redeeming love;

For that child so dear and gentle

Is our Lord in heaven above

And He leads His children on

To the place where He is gone

Not in that poor lowly stable

With the oxen standing by

We shall see Him, but in heaven

Set at God’s right hand on high;

When like stars

His children crowned

All in white shall be around

Thanks.

At the risk of sounding completely ogre-like…by this time in November, is anyone else a little tired of the grateful heart campaign? I mean, how many Facebook hashtags have you seen while scrolling through today with the same theme: #31daysofthanks #attitudeofgratitude and the classic #blessed. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not against being thankful, but I also want us to be honest with ourselves – are we being thankful because it’s the cool thing to do in November, or because that’s truly where we want our hearts to be? And – do we need to hashtag and social medialize it? (truly asking this question)

A couple weeks ago, my sons found an old book on our shelf, one leftover from my childhood: Precious Moments, Through the Year Stories. We opened up the well-loved hardback and flipped to the “November” section. One of the poems has stuck with me. It begins:

I heard Mom say as she scrubbed today,

I’m thankful for brushes and brooms

I’m glad to clean my cozy house

That’s filled with cheerful rooms

After we finished reading, I put the kids in bed and started to write the rough draft for my blog post this month. I wanted to write about having a grateful heart and for the hidden blessings for which I struggle to be grateful, just like in the poem… for messy rooms and dirty dishes. For laundry and tired eyes. Although some days I am grateful for these, my words still felt disjointed and a little #blessed, trying tooto hard to be thematic for the month of November.

And that’s when I remembered the last stanza of the Precious Moments poem:

I heard mom say in her prayers tonight

I’m thankful for problems today

If life never got a little bit rough 

I might forget to pray

I don’t know who this person’s mom is, but I want her to be my mentor. Because if I’m honest? My attitude is what keeps me from attaining a grateful heart. Many days I’m a whining, crabby mess. I want life to be comfortable, I don’t want to clean up messes, and I definitely don’t want to be grateful for difficulty (even when my perceived difficulties have nothing on true suffering). I want to do the photo challenge and take pictures of my messy dishes, and post about how I’m blessed to wash them, but knowing me, I’ll probably try to make sure it’s only the dishes that match, from meals where we ate the recommended servings of vegetables and a non-processed-food main course (with dessert of course, because I’m not a savage)… 

Sound ridiculous? I agree.

Despite our plethora of blessings, this has been a difficult season for our family, both mentally and physically, and I’m super good at feeling sorry for myself on the days when I just can’t hold it together.

So, I got up off the couch, poured myself a big glass of buttery chardonnay and decided to try again…to list out some of the heart attitudes that I need to lift to God:

That sleep deprivation and my own unrealistic expectations are simultaneously a nasty combination and a lousy excuse for trying to keep my temper in check.

That no matter what I tell myself about the miracle of birth I still look in the mirror, step on the scale, and attempt to try on clothes that I know aren’t going to fit and worry that I’ll never “get back” to a “good weight”

That my desire to be known and loved sometimes feeds the demons’ attacks on my heart.

I’m not thankful for my sin, that’s for certain. I know that the Bible never excuses my sin. But there’s a very real spiritual battle occurring at this moment, as angels fight demons (see 2 Kings 6). 

So what does this mean in the context of giving thanks?

Well, I’m thankful for a church that confesses our sinful hearts and belief in our Savior together regularly. I’m thankful for fellow believers who hear my struggle and, instead of judging, say “me, too sister” as we bond together to fight against the pull of evil. I’m thankful for the knowledge that this world and its depression, anxiety, negative comparison, hurt, anguish and sorrow are not the end.

I’m thankful for Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, who overcame sin, death, and the devil to bring us new life so that we can Raise a Hallelujah in the presence of our enemies. 

Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name make known among the nations what he has done

Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts. Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.

Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always. (1 Chronicles)

I love how when you take pictures in our church that the image of Jesus, arms outstretched, presides over those gathered together. 

Golden Ping Pong Ball

When we moved to Concordia, the opportunity arose for me to stop working and stay home with our children. Although I LOVED my job in Denver, since we were moving to a new place, I jumped at the chance to be full time at home with my children while they are still young.

However, moving to a single-income family meant that we would need to observe a more strict budget. Please don’t misunderstand me – we are extremely blessed. We are not hurting for money, and my darling husband (and many thanks to Dave Ramsey for this!) is an incredible budgeter. But, it does mean that we do have to say no to things and opportunities sometimes.

Two of my greatest blessings. I thank God for the special times I have with these precious boys.

Concordia hosts an amazing Fall Festival (“street fair”) every year, complete with fair food, good old-fashioned country contests, a Biergarten, and, of course, carnival rides. As you may know, especially if you have children, carnival rides are expensive. Concordia offers the option of a four-hour unlimited ride wristband, which is a great deal, but, my husband and I determined these to be not the best use of our money for a 2-year-old and 4-year-old. (Disclaimer: Although we believed this to be the best choice for our family, some families do purchase wristbands for their 2-year-olds and 4-year-olds, and we support them!)

The Saturday morning of the fair, our family collected our 2-year-old’s participation ribbon for the baby health contest and watched our 4-year-old pull the pedal tractor. After a brief corndog and Biergarten burger lunch, we made our way down Mainstreet for the Ping Pong Ball Drop. I told Z to watch out for other kids and to do his best. I couldn’t see him for much of it, but it looked like he was kindly and respectfully collecting balls without shoving. I was proud of him. However, when he walked toward us, proudly showing off his four ping pongs, I burst into tears (so glad this pregnant, hormonal momma was wearing sunglasses!) In his little bag was a golden ping pong ball – which he could exchange for an unlimited ride wristband to use that afternoon.

You see, although I logically knew that it didn’t make sense for our family to buy wristbands, and even though I knew that the other components of the fair would be blessing enough, deep down, I want to give my children everything, no matter the cost. I want them to be filled with joy and blessings because I love them.

And – if I can just lay out my heart right here on the internet – sometimes I carry the guilt that my choice to stay home is what deprives us of some of those “yes”es.

But in the moment when we explained to him what the golden ping pong ball meant, my heart overflowed in thanksgiving and worship of our God. I cried out of joy because I knew the joy this would bring my son, and I praised God for providing this unexpected opportunity. 

Zadok didn’t receive a golden ping pong ball because he is a good kid (although he can be!) And he certainly didn’t receive it because he has perfect parents (we are far, far from that!) And he didn’t receive it because he is a regular attendee at Sunday school or because he can say the Lord’s Prayer. No, he received the golden ping pong ball because CFM Insurance decided to bless 150 kids out of celebration for their 150th birthday, and Zadok just happened to be one of those children.

In the same way, God, and here’s where I’ll really start bawling again, in his great mercy has lavished upon us so much more than we deserve. Just as my son didn’t “deserve” to ride the carnival rides and yet received the wristband, God has given us so much more than a golden ping pong ball. We received the gift of eternal life with him. The Apostles Paul and John summarize this incredible blessing so beautifully:

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! 1 John 3:1a

But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. Titus 3:4-6

Friends – deep down, the Father wants to give his children everything, no matter the cost. He wants them to be filled with joy and blessings because He loves them. And he already has. He’s given us everything – in Jesus Christ his son. He made us His children. He didn’t count the cost, but instead willingly laid down his only son so that we could be co-heirs. We have everything awaiting us and I’m sure it’s way better than four hours of unlimited carnival rides. Oh, and the best part? He hasn’t just given this away to 150 people. This incredible gift is for anyone and everyone. He’s already saved us, all we have to do is acknowledge our need of Him. 

As my son hopped from ride to ride that afternoon, overflowing with joy, I couldn’t help but smile as well. I pray that we may be filled with Golden Ping Pong joy – knowing that our prize awaits us in the presence of our treasure Jesus Christ.

Z had a bonus ride ticket and got to bring his little brother on the helicopter ride.