Awake.

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

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

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

For a few months, everything went well.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Weary World Rejoices

by Emily Schatz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For to us a child is born,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rejoice weary world! 

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

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

The joy of the Lord is my strength. 

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

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

Hallelujah! Rejoice!

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

a grateful prayer

for fingerprint and noseprint smears on my living room window

for scratches and worn places on the kitchen table

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

for sleepless nights and the opportunity to provide comfort

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

for endless laundry provided by healthy, active boys

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

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

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

for silence

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

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

for goodbyes that brought hellos

for endings that brought beginnings

for peace despite tears

for joy despite longing

for longing fulfilled

for surprise packages and doorbells

for canceled plans bringing needed stillness

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

for broken plates and glassware

for chaos and dirt and mess

for loud voices and laughter

for imperfect table settings

for coloring outside the lines

for hard-earned wisdom shared

for lessons learned

for commiseration and empathy

for shared joy

for your body

for your blood

for your forgiveness and grace

for your Spirit

Thanks be to God

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

1 Thessalonians 5:18 (ESV)

Rooted

by Emily Schatz

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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

Come As You Are

Emily Schatz

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

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

boxes and boxes and boxes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have you been there too?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’ll be welcomed just as you are.

Age

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heart Gardening

Last summer we grew our first garden. My sweet husband built a couple of small raised beds in the sunniest, most out-of-the-way-of-rambunctious-children spot of our yard and filled it with rich midwest dirt. We took it easy: one basil plant, four cherry tomato plants, four Roma tomato plants, and two cucumber vines. This little garden produced enough to keep us busy eating, weeding, pickling, and watering.

Then this spring, in full Molly form, I decided small success meant I could grow by leaps and bounds (despite the fact that we did not add any square footage). My unrealistic expectations were exacerbated by the ample seedlings available at the local greenhouse, and we returned with three different tomato varieties (with multiple plants of each), two serrano pepper plants, cilantro, two basil plants, three cucumber vines, and four watermelon vines. Did I mention that we still intended to use only the original two beds?

When we placed the tiny little plants in the garden, everything looked neat, even, and promising. I felt proud of my spacing and planning thinking, I’m providing for my family! I’m basically a homesteader. However, as the summer heat grew, so did the plants. The tomatoes, overcrowded, developed a leaf fungus from the lack of airflow which destroyed the foliage and produced far fewer tomatoes than we hoped. Right after planting, the first trimester of pregnancy hit full force, and I did not find time or energy to trellis the cucumbers, leaving nowhere for the vines to grow. The watermelon vines tangled with the cucumbers and often we wouldn’t find the produce until too large and bitter to be of use.

By late summer, except for inconsistent watering, I avoided the garden. Disappointed and overwhelmed by the amount of work to be done, I simply picked and watered where needed and shielded my eyes from the chaos. The yellow-spotted leaves on the tomatoes looked hideous and vines creeped everywhere possible. Ashamed of my choices, I avoided acknowledgment and care.

Until last week. I armed myself for battle, donning mosquito spray, a five-gallon weed bucket, and a trowel. I pulled off every fungus-infected leaf, leaving the few good ones on the plant to collect sunlight. I removed three non-producing plants, leaving more room for the surviving ones to spread out, and weeded the space around and underneath. I still have more work to do, but the garden no longer looks as hideous, and the remaining plants seem grateful.

The first and biggest garden haul was much more promising than the rest of the summer.

As summer freedom turns to fall rhythm, I’ve realized how much my garden reflects my life. Afraid of insignificance, I committed to too much. I made promises to countless friends and family members. I told myself I would write more and start building a career. I looked up new recipes and planned countless adventures with my children. Outwardly we were busy and efficient, but inwardly my mind became crowded with weeds.

The more tired and overwhelmed I felt, the more I compared myself with others and came up short every time (ironically prompting me to do more and commit to more). 

How is your heart in this transitional season? Are you seeking significance? Do you say yes because you’re afraid of the consequences if you say no? Do you want to be everyone’s friend and confidante? If you nodded along to any of these I empathize with you deeply. We strive so hard, sewing patches haphazardly onto our vests. When we look over our shoulder it seems everyone else has more patches than we, but instead of the panicked look in their eyes, they’re in a happy little circle, laughing and enjoying one another’s company. We start to reflect the J. R. R. Tolkein quote, “I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.”

Paul writes of feeling stretched, convicted by his own striving in Philippians 3. By all outward appearances, Paul had it together. His garden was the picture of pedigreed heirloom plants, all neatly ordered in well-manicured rows. However, even though his social media accounts would have boasted #nofilter and #blessed, he writes,

“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him”

This past week, after the relief I felt from cleaning out my garden I realized I needed to clean out my heart, too. Over and over I’d heard God’s nudging, telling me to lay down my ambitions, to recognize him as sovereign and holy, to see my own brokenness, to recognize that I cannot do it anything by my own strength. I asked God to reveal to me where my own selfish desires were crowding the good he had planned for me and waited.

Usually, I write these posts after I’ve learned the lesson and changed my ways, but today I’m drawing you into the weeding and pruning. I am saying no, I am laying down perfection, but I am not yet harvesting the fruit of this process. I am still waiting for God’s divine trowel to wrestle the weeds and overgrowth away. If you feel thin and stretched, overgrown or overcrowded, please join me in the blessed relief of letting go.

Heavenly Father, we know that striving is not wrong. You call us to say our best yes and to divine work. However, sometimes we strive too hard and say too many yeses instead of finding our fullness in you. Remind us that we do not have to work to receive the blessed gift of your son, Jesus Christ. Weed out our “too much” and replace it with your peace. May we always be found in Christ.

Unchanging Faithfulness

I am honored to introduce Emily Schatz to the campfire this week! Emily and I attended the same University (THE Concordia University Chicago), and I was always struck by her calm cool and devotion to the Lord no matter what life threw her way. Today, she is an incredible mom to two gorgeous girls and devoted mentor to many youth. Emily is truly a woman seeking to see and share God’s heart. Please enjoy her heartfelt words today, and may they encourage you as you live in your season.

A Season of Change

Our family has had many changes in the last four months. These changes include leaving my job, relocating our family from Colorado to Missouri, and moving in with my parents. Then I started a new job, and to add even more change, now our family is getting ready to close on our first house. Change is inevitable. We find it everywhere. We find it in every season of our lives.


Sometimes change is hard.


Sometimes change is needed.

Sometimes change is God’s grace disguised.

Sometimes change is welcomed with open arms.

Moving back to my childhood home in Missouri has felt like an extended vacation. I have lived far away from my parents for years working as a Director of Christian Education. (For those that don’t know, a Director of Christian Education is a Lutheran church work position that handles all aspects of Lutheran education in the church for all ages. Typically, many will work in youth ministry, but DCEs are a jack of all trades.) I have worked in the suburbs of Seattle, Washington and the Denver Area of Colorado, so it’s been a while since my Midwest heart has been home for any longer than a week at a time.

To be honest, it was a bit scary. My husband and I felt the pull to move back home for many reasons, but the desire to be close to be family was top of the list. This momma wanted to be by her support team. But, any big move is a massive leap of faith. What will my husband do for work? Where will we live? Can we make it work so I can stay home with our girls? All these questions arose.
So, my husband and I prayed. We prayed for an opportunity to come home. And we waited for what seemed like ages. When we visited our family in St. Louis for Christmas, there was no doubt in our minds. It was time to come home.

“God will provide.” My husband told me. God gave me a good one, this husband of mine. Always reminding me when I try to do things myself to lean on the Lord.

When we headed back to Colorado, we started to take steps to see if we could really do this. My husband’s job offered him the opportunity to work remotely from Missouri. I told my job I was leaving, and we sold our condo. Good Friday morning we headed out in the moving truck and headed toward the sunrise.

Honestly, after we moved there were weeks wondering if I would ever take another job working in a church or to even have that opportunity come up in the St. Louis area. The Lord heard many prayers from me asking what was the point? Am I supposed to be doing this youth ministry thing, because right then, I wasn’t so sure. Then, like God does, he answered my doubts with faithfulness, tender love, merciful grace, and reassurance.

Two doors opened for me to go back into youth ministry. Truthfully, I wasn’t sure how I felt about jumping back in so soon. I was enjoying being a stay-at-home momma. I had been weary and I was just starting to feel restored.

When we walked into my current church for a site visit, both my husband and I felt filled with peace that could only have come from the Holy Spirit. I clicked with the staff. I was excited about the vision the Pastors had for the church’s ministry. I hadn’t felt this excited about church in a while. After taking some time to really discern God’s will for our family, I accepted the position of Director of High School and Young Adult Ministry with this church. It’s been the most refreshing change I’ve experienced in years. Even through my doubt and being afraid to take another chance, God showed up, faithful as always.

All these changes have been full of up and down emotions. Yet, we’ve seen God’s hand in every single moment. In the low points, it’s not always easy to see why we go through certain seasons. Now looking back, we can thank the Lord for every moment that He showed our family His generosity, His love, His forgiveness, and His unchanging faithfulness.

God has placed a verse on my heart for the last few weeks as I’ve reflected on all these changes. Lamentations 3:22-23 says, “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Those words ring in my mind and soul as I’ve begun this new chapter in my new church.

There is a piece of fabric that I have entwined around a cross that sits on my desk at work next to my computer.

There is a piece of fabric that I have entwined around a cross that sits on my desk at work next to my computer.

Last week as I was sitting at my desk working on plans for the upcoming months, the fabric caught my eye. You see this strip of fabric has been with me from the beginning of my time as a DCE. The day I received my first internship placement this fabric was part of a larger piece. As it was prayed over, a strip was pulled off for each DCE in my class. Every time I see it I am reminded of God’s unchanging faithfulness in my life. He’s been with me through each job change, through each move, through each up and down life has brought me.
Looking at the fabric wrapped around the cross reminds me how I want my entire life to point back to my savior. Things like how I act, what I say, how I serve others, how I parent, and how I disciple my students; I want all these things to point to the one who restored my soul. The one who rescued me from sin and death and instead, through the waters of baptism, gave me faith and eternal life.

You see our Lord doesn’t just sit up in heaven and ignore us. He is active in our daily lives. He is with us through every moment. Grieving with those who cry. Dancing with those in joy. The Holy Spirit is a comforter for the heavy hearted and a cheerleader to those who spread God’s gospel message. Jesus is for all. He is active in baptism and through the Lord’s supper. Those means of grace give us a glimpse of the joy of heaven.


You will face many changes in this life, but you will face them with a God who never changes. He is always with you. He hears your prayers and God is always faithful.

Rest in the truth of the unchanging faithfulness of our risen Lord Jesus today.

May the peace that passes all understanding be upon you in whatever change you find yourself facing today. Bring that change to God and know that he is with you through it all.

Steeplechaser

Halfway through an eight-miler, our feet crunching the gravel roads, my running partner pointed out that although a mile out of town, we could still see our church’s steeple. “I like to see how far away I can get and still catch a glimpse of it poking out above the trees,” she continued. St. Pauls’ Germanic steeple towers above almost everything else in town, gently giving dimension to the skyline. It’s a good thing Victoria is a distance runner, because we have to get pretty far away from town to no longer turn and witness its beauty.

Many, many years ago, according to Business Insider, runners “would often race each other from one town’s church steeple to the next. The steeples were chosen because they were easy to see from long distances…The countryside would also require runners to jump over various barriers over the course of their race. These included stone walls and small rivers.”

Modern track and field competitions modernized this race by using hurdles to simulate the walls and a water pit for the creeks and rivers, naming it “Steeplechase.”

Although I never competed in track and field, I often engage in my own steeple game. Running through life, I get stuck in a path of self-pity or selfish pursuit. How long can I pound down this pavement of self-pity and selfish ambition while still peeking back and seeing the steeple? I can always stop and run back, I tell myself, I’m not that far gone yet…my self-righteousness must not be too bad if the steeple is still in view behind me.

Yesterday I read Psalm 25. A beautiful prayer, which I encourage you to digest in entirety, but I want to highlight a few sections specifically.

David pleads in verse four, “Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your path” and then in verse ten recognizes, “All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.” In contrast to my own selfish plans, God’s ways are full of love and commitment.

But praise be to God we are not left alone to right our footsteps: “The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant. My eyes are ever toward the Lord, for he will pluck my feet out of the net.” We are promised that our sins are already forgiven through Christ’s work on the cross, and we are given the Holy Spirit as a helper when we are caught in the path of self-centeredness. What a gift!

If you run through Concordia, be sure to look for the steeple and remember the steadfast promise waiting for you in love.

Vickie Pottschmidt is a lovely person to run alongside 🙂

Knowlton, E. (2016, August 17). Here’s how steeplechase – the wackiest event in track and field – came to get its name and water jumps. Business Insider. https://www.businessinsider.com/olympic-steeplechase-history-explainer-2016-8.

Silence

I am excited to introduce Nancy Gowen to the campfire community. My (Molly’s) writing teacher, mentor, and mom! Thank you for sharing your gift of words with us today and welcome the the Campfire.

The silence was deafening. All that deep quiet, intending to give a sense of peace and tranquility,
nearly exploded in my head and made sleep elusive. The mountain was dark and the cabin completely void of noise, but I was not calmed by it. I finally got out of bed and put in my earbuds to listen to a podcast to drown the quiet.


A combination of life events evidently caused tinnitus, a constant whoosh of noise in my left ear. I’ve had it for years and it is hardly perceptible until I listen for it, or I am in a noticeably quiet place. Being in that much quiet was painful.


Thinking back on that situation makes me wonder about the noise we “hear.” Is it background noise or is it disruptive? What is that hum, barely noticed in the milieu of life? Are we tuned in to the noise of the daily or have we learned to ignore it? I remember the long-long-short-long whistle of the trains behind my childhood home, the constant buzz of cicadas in summer while living in a farming community, military aircraft practicing over the house and whining sirens from first responders coming into and leaving the hospital across the street. Have you had similar sound experiences that you have become accustomed to?


The ear doctor told me that I had better hearing than most of his patients, which seems kind of paradoxical. With constant distraction, do I really hear that well? Apparently, the noise is superficial, or perhaps my brain has accommodated for it. Rather than lament its annoyance, what can I learn from this noise?


Elijah heard sounds that seemed to carry God’s signature, but it was the still small voice that spoke His word. Here is Elijah, waiting on God to speak, and God used a quiet noise to get his attention. (I Kings 19:11-13)


Jonah had to be swallowed to hear God’s voice. Noah and Abraham waited years to hear the plan. Jeremiah couldn’t hear God for all of his complaining.


Henri Nouwen wrote many books about prayer and in most of his books, he connects prayer with quiet listening. He suggested that in order to really hear God, a closet was a good place to start (and this was 25 years before War Room was published!). Nouwen writes, “the real ‘work’ of prayer is to become silent and listen to the voice…” (Life of the Beloved) He also understood that we are easily distracted people. Have you ever prayed the Lord’s Prayer all the way through without losing concentration? To stay focused, Nouwen recommended repeating a short Bible passage repeatedly, perhaps 2-5 words long. With practice, we learn to hear what God is saying. I want my whooshing ear to be the silencer of other background noise, or maybe to hear that background better. Maybe that’s the Voice. Maybe I just need to talk less and listen more.
Maybe it is time to find a good closet.