“You don’t look like swimmers to me. You look like a bunch of Ooompa Loompas,” the coach said, glaring at the nervous group of dripping teens. Just a minute before he had called us all out of the water, disappointed by our form or times or something. I looked down at my own post-puberty hips and full thighs, feeling completely exposed by my racing swimsuit. Compared to the tiny, fit swimmers around me I felt like the only Oompa Loompa. After another 20 minutes in the water, I mumbled an excuse and escaped to the bathroom where I waited until my parents pulled up outside the aquatic complex, confidence broken.
One of the girls on the team had Olympic-qualifying times. At one swim meet, I swam the wrong stroke during a medley event – twice. Swimming was not a natural gift of mine, nor did I feel supported to put in the effort to try.
However, one day at the pool, Coach Emmet called me and a few other c-team swimmers over after practice. “I’m starting a conditioning program,” he said, “I want you to join me to run before practice twice a week.”
I had pretty much given up on my ability to advance in swimming, but still, I convinced my parents to bring me to practice early so I could join the group of runners. After a few weeks, I could complete the entire mile without stopping, and soon after that, I was finding time to run on other days of the week as well, increasing both my mileage and my speed. Eventually, I left the swim team, but I continued to run. In my adult life, I have completed three marathons, and for my 30th birthday last year, I ran a 30K (18.6 miles). Running is a source of stress relief, exercise, and friendship.
Coach Emmet knew I was not cut out to be a great swimmer, but instead of calling me out for being a disappointment as many other coaches had done, he simply invited me to a higher view of self and inspired me to do better. His quiet invitation changed my mental spiral of discouragement into a positive outlet.
Today, what is your spiral? Disappointment in self or others? Lack of ability or resources? Continued failure or repeated sin that you cannot seem to break free from? Jesus came to gently lift us out of our spirals with a gentle invitation:
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matt. 11:28-30
Today we welcome Guest to the fire, Melissa Koonce, my neighbor and friend. She recently messaged me and said she had story to share. I LOVE when people do that. I LOVE the story that Melissa has for us today. Melissa is a nurse and a wife and a mom and a volunteer and a light for all of us.
Another trip around the sun. As I sit and reflect on year 43, I am reminded of God’s amazing grace.
I spent the first quarter of year 43 in God’s preparation for the storm I was about to endure. I started giving him the first 30 minutes to an hour of my day. Well, what I started doing was talking to the holy spirit as he walked with me on my morning walk. It was always dark and very early so I’m sure the neighbors didn’t notice me “talking to myself.” I spent the whole walk unplugged just talking everything through. I always started by thanking him. I thanked him for all the good things and then asked him to help me with the hard things. At first, I didn’t have any out of the ordinary hard things to pray about.
He was preparing me.
At the very end of this period, I spent some time with an elderly patient at my hospital. He shared with me a very long story (so long I didn’t really have the time to give him, but I sat down and listened.) He explained his life and that of his family. He, his son and granddaughter believed in God and went “over the line” and were richly blessed. Meaning, they shared freely with others the word of God. His wife and his daughter believed in God, but never went “over the line.” They had blessings, but not as abundant. They kept the word of God to themselves. At the end of his long story, we were both in tears. He said, “I don’t even have to ask you if you are a Christian honey, I can see it in your eyes.” More on this later.
The second quarter of year 43 was hard. The storm came and swept everyone up into their own tornado. Every one of us! It was so overwhelming! That kind of overwhelming that you know you aren’t strong enough to handle the storm and you fear you might not make it. The kind that brings you to your knees. One morning while walking with Jesus I wept and didn’t know what to even thank him for or ask him for. I wasn’t thankful for the storm, and I didn’t know what I even needed to get through the storm. I was desperate and I wept and said, “I give this all to you Lord. I cannot bare the pain anymore.”
THIS is what God was preparing me for.
He prepared me to be able to lean on him, give all my worries to him, and have faith that he will see me through.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication and with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. Phil 4:6
The moment I said those words, “I give this all to you Lord,” and I meant it, a weight was lifted off my chest. I have never felt so at peace before in my life. I have always believed and had faith. I have always gone to church. I went to a Lutheran grade school. BUT… I had never had an intimate relationship with God. There was one other time I can remember that I prayed, and my prayer was immediately answered. I don’t know why it took me so long to catch on, but God’s timing is always perfect.
Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you. 1 Peter 5:7
He works all things according to His sovereign plan, for the good of those who love him, and for his glory. Romans 8:28.
From that moment on, every day I thanked him for the hard. I had faith he would turn it into his good, in his perfect timing. I also cried many tears to water the seeds he had planted. We made many family changes that set us up to be a united strong family unit, so we could brave the storms together instead of fighting our own battles. Things as simple as family dinner, game night, and family meetings. We had let life get in the way and we were busy…too busy. God knew we needed it.
and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me. Psalm 50:15
In quarter three, I started seeing God’s blessings. It felt too slow, but it was happening. God was answering my prayers in his way and in his timing and I knew he would. I did wish at times it would have happened faster, but I had faith that he would make it wonderful, and he was. During quarter three the clouds were parting, and I realized how powerful my prayers were. How powerful they were because I wasn’t just asking God to make things better, I started every morning by praising him for the lessons he was teaching us and for what he was preparing us for. Then I prayed that he would continue to wrap his arms around us and help us to do his will. I also started sharing with friends my experience with prayer and having an intimate relationship with God along with the Christian podcasts and devotions I was listening too. Something I never used to do, because you never know how people feel and I didn’t want to make anyone uncomfortable. This is where I went “over the line.” Do you remember the patient I spent time with in quarter one? THIS is what he was talking about.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Proverbs 3:5-6.
In quarter four, God abundantly blessed my family. The storm was ending, and God’s light was shining through. The number of blessings he showed to my family were undeniable gifts from him because we were faithful. We did not ask for or pray for all of the gifts we were given. We simply trusted that if we were faithful, in his timing we would be blessed. We not only endured the storm, we grew in it. He made clear our path.
Praise God from whom all blessings flow.
In this short yet very long year, I’ve learned that the key to dealing with difficulty lies in trusting the one who is in control of all things. No hardship can overpower God’s provision for enduring it. That’s because we walk with the holy spirit. Our peace and joy come from our relationship with God, not from our own circumstances. God showed my family his amazing grace.
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound That saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I am found, Was blind, but now I see.
‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, And grace my fears relieved. How precious did that grace appear The hour I first believed.
Friends, I urge you to spend time with God first thing in the morning. Talk to him. Put him first and form an intimate relationship with him. Get into his word and absorb his words into your heart. Then go over that line and don’t ever look back. God’s amazing grace is waiting for you on the other side.
God wants you to live in his grace, rely on his strength, and put your hope in his unfailing love. Ps 147:11
Devotional & Sermons:
In Touch Ministries by Dr. Charles Stanley – mobile app – This is my favorite. He has 2-3-minute daily devotions and has daily sermons. He is very easy to follow. This is a MUST have!
The Bible Recap By D-Group – Reading the bible in a year
The Healthy Christian Women podcast by Dr. Melody Stevens – For following Christ centered health
The Strong Confident His podcast by Kim Dolan Leto – For following Christ centered fitness
Today we welcome guest writer Brooke Lange to the fire. Brooke is a sophomore at Concordia University Nebraska studying Psychology/Behavioral Science. These thoughts were first shared on the campus website blog http://www.cune.edu.
When I was in my early stages of growing up, Valentine’s Day was the cause of much joy, or at least a slight release from the painful monotony of winter. I would eat lots of sugary, heart-shaped foods and exchange a plethora of store bought Valentines with other elementary schoolers, which pretty much checked all of the boxes for what constituted a good day for third grade Brooke.
The way we celebrate Valentine’s Day is not too different from the way we typically celebrate holidays: Eating food and giving people things. Except this day is different because the expressly stated purpose for celebrating Valentine’s Day is not always one we want to celebrate: Love.
More specifically, romantic love.
Romantic love is like writing a research paper, in the sense that everyone seems to go about it at different paces and using different (occasionally questionable) methods.
But at the same time, it is not like writing a research paper. Although it may cause the same amount of stress, loving and being loved by someone is unfortunately not as clean cut as a paper due at midnight.
With love, there are no clear deadlines or rubrics. Valentine’s Day can feel like it challenges that notion. It can cause all these other neat types of love in our life–like the love we have for our friends and family and dog and campus squirrels–to feel deeply, painfully, insignificant. It can feel like a deadline; one that passes year after year, one that if you have not accomplished the goal of being in a relationship, you have somehow lost.
We can become so inundated with the idea of a relationship we should have, that we can lose sight of a lot of other, arguably more important things.
My last Valentine’s Day was spent a few months out of a breakup. So, as you may be able to infer, I was sad. I spent the afternoon crammed in a dorm room, eating pizza with a few of my friends, and talking about our years and lives and how we had changed and why we were thankful for each other. I don’t think I recognized it then, but it’s what I really really needed at that time. In fact, I think it was love.
And I think that might have been love as much as the way my sister and her husband beamed as they exchanged vows, slow dancing with someone you really want to slow dance with, when my grandparents stood arm and arm with each other in their kitchen and told us again how they first met.
And I think that might be love as much as love is difficult but necessary conversations, a professor willing to critique you because they know it will make you better, when coworkers bring snacks to share, a parent who takes a call late at night, being there for the people who need you, allowing yourself to be chased by a horde of children for hours on end, just because they think it’s fun.
Romantic love is love, and it’s important. But there are also a billion different ways throughout your life that people show love to you and you show love to other people. Those should not be disregarded. Those interactions form the basis of our being, they bring us joy, they’re what drive us to make the decision to wake up and try again to love other people better.
I don’t know how you’re spending Valentine’s Day this year, but I do hope you realize that there are people who love you and people you love. Love has a way of ebbing and flowing; everyday it challenges our growth and teaches us things about ourselves. It is indisputably complicated, sure. But it’s necessary.
But I will sing about YOUR STRENGTH. I will rejoice in your love EVERY morning. You have been my place of safety, the place I can run to when troubles come. I will sing praises to you my SOURCE of STRENGTH. You, GOD are my place of safety. You are the God who loves me. Psalm 59:16
It wasn’t a polite request. I wasn’t dressed in my Sunday best repeating the printed prayers in the bulletin. I wasn’t cozied up in my over stuffed chair with my coffee, my journal and my bible. It was dark and the room was cold. The increasing tightness in my chest and swirling thoughts in my head had pushed me to my bold middle of the night demand. No waiting until morning…
GIVE ME A WORD.
Something, anything that will move me from this place of confusion and discouragement. Not tomorrow, not next week not after I run through the list of my ideas for solutions one more time…
1:30 am – Why is it always the middle of the night when the worries of the day invite themselves back into my mind – demanding a solution? When all I want is sleep. When what I really NEED is sleep. When I know that if I don’t sleep I can pretty much count the next day as loss.
Maybe, just maybe….. that it is in the dark, when my resources feel empty, when my thinking is foggy, when I am most vulnerable… maybe it’s in this time that God knows I’ll be ready to pay attention. Maybe its when my mountains that feel conquerable in the day in my personal strength become hopelessly impossible with what I have to offer in the middle of the night. Maybe it is what is necessary to move me to the recognition that I don’t have what it takes. That I will never be or have enough to fix or answer the questions in my world. Maybe the darkness and the cold and the middle of the night wake ups are actually God’s beautiful invitation to seek the thousands of promises for peace and power and provision that I “claim” all day long… and ask…
“But do I really believe them?”
Thousands of them. Over and over and over again – repeated truths of love, hope, provision, strength , peace. Promises from our all loving, all knowing God. Spoken so many times so we cannot possibly miss them.
But gosh… I do.
I quickly read them, sing them, text them to friends that need encouragement…. and then at 1:30 a.m. I hear God saying…
“…but do YOU believe them. In this question, with your issue, in your pain?”
And in the dark and the cold… I make a demand.
GIVE ME A WORD.
and I do what many of us do in the middle of night when we cant sleep.
I pick up my phone.
But I don’t go to social media, or email or my business website….
I click on my Bible app and go straight to the verse of the day. I don’t have time nor do I want to wait another minute for the swirling to stop, and the tightness to leave my chest and sweet sleep to return… I need a word right now. And my generous, faithful God shows up and meets me right where I need him.
But God, I will sing about YOUR STRENGTH. I will rejoice in your love every morning. You have been my place of safety, the place I can run to when troubles come. I will sing praises to YOU my source of strength. YOU GOD are my place of safety. You are the God who loves me! Psalm 59:16.
In one verse I felt God take my face and turn it off of my unanswered questions and turn it towards …..
HIS STRENGTH. He didn’t remind me that I had what it took. That I could continue going it alone. He reminded me that He. Is. Strong. PERIOD.
Strong enough to hold every one of my questions. To carry them in his capable arms. No need for me to feel the weight when he had what I did not.
I sat up in my bed, reading the promises over and over…. HIS STRENGTH, HIS STRENGTH. My responsibility is only to
…. sing about HIS STRENGTH.
I rested my head down on my pillow and drifted off to a settled, deep sleep. HIS STRENGTH.
The gift of the dark…was a desperate searching for the light that was met with the soft glow of the peace of God’s truth. Open arms ready to give what I didn’t know I needed.
The morning light brought with it …
the same unanswered questions.
the same health diagnosis of loved ones.
the same relationship struggles.
yet a new perspective, a new hope, a new peace.
Oh darkness…. did you know you could usher in such a sweet gift?
Oh friend… did you know YOUR darkness could be a doorway to your greatest gift? The greatest gift?
If you have a few minutes at the end of this read…. Here are some promises from Psalm 18 and an invitation to ask yourself… Do I believe them… in my unanswered questions, in my darkness, in my sleepless nights?
YOU GOD make me strong. God is bedrock under my feet. The castle in which I live. My rescuing knight.
Saves me from my enemies.
He hears my voice- my cry goes to his very ears.
He rescues me from strong enemies-those who hated me and were too strong for me.
Lord is my support.
Cause my lamp to be lighted and to shine
Illumines my darkness
By Gods strength I can crush a troop and leap over a wall.
He encircles me with strength.
He makes my feet like hinds feet ( able to stand firmly and tread safely on paths of testing and trouble) He sets me ( securely) upon high places.
Trains my hands for war, YOUR right hand upholds and sustains me.
YOUR gentleness ( gracious response when I pray) makes me great.
YOU enlarge the path beneath me and make my steps secure so that my feet will not slip.
Rescued me from the contention of the people.
Placed me as the head of nations.
For the word of the Lord holds true, and we can trust everything he does. Psalm 33:4-5
Today we welcome guest writer Jonah Lange to our fire. With two published poetry books to his credit he is now enjoying the world of short stories. Jonah has a BS in psychology/social science and will continue his education pursuing a degree in career counseling. We are delighted to welcome him to the growing circle of story telling friends around the fire.
Loyal to the King
The message was important. That’s one of the few things he knew about his task. He was to deliver it immediately to the kingdom just south of where he lived.
He didn’t know why he’d been chosen for the task. He was no one of particular importance in his city. The local ruler had just come, given him the message, and told him to hurry to deliver it. With little time to think or consider it all, he rushed on his way.
The way to the kingdom was a rough one. There were high hills, low valleys, and the threat of running into some unfriendly creatures. As he made his way through, he was constantly looking left and right to keep an eye out for any trouble.
He hoped the message he was delivering was a favorable one. Though the ruler of his town was respected, he also had a reputation for being awfully harsh with his subjects. It had been out of fear as much as anything that he was going to deliver this message.
Suddenly, he tripped over a tree root. Stumbling down the hill, he lost his grip on the important message that he’d been given. Hopelessly rolling out of control, he only thought that he might be fortunate enough for the message to end up near where he’d stop.
Eventually, he ended up at the bottom of the hill. Though dizzy, he trudged back up looking for the message. When he found it, the seal had been broken and the message lay open before him. He was shocked to see what it said. He was bringing a message of his own execution.
The man was shocked at this. He didn’t think he’d done anything that would warrant this; however, as his loyalty was to the town and to the ruler, he went on with it, thinking that if the ruler saw it better for the town for him to die, then he’d honor that decision.
Before long, he reached the kingdom and walked up to the king’s palace. There were two guards at the front. One talked with the man about why he had come and the other went in to tell the king. Eventually, the man delivering the message went in with the guard that he’d been talking with to deliver the message of his death.
The guard brought the man up to the door of the throne room. He told the man to wait while he spoke with the king. After a few brief moments, the guard brought the man in and had him stand before the king.
“I can see that your journey here was a rough one,” said the king.
“Yes,” said the man.
“And, as the seal is broken, I assume you know what it was you have delivered to me.”
“Yes,” said the man, preparing himself for the worst.
“Well,” said the king “I’ll let you know that you were not the only man sent to deliver such a message. Others were sent and went the quickest, yet roughest, way as you did. Similarly, the seal broke on their messages. Upon seeing it they fled. Others did not take seriously enough the message that they were given and went a longer, safer way. They made it here, but upon seeing that their messages were still sealed, I knew they did not give it the importance that they should have. But you have come before me today, sweaty, dirty, and scratched up from your journey with the seal of your message broken and with full knowledge of what it says. Thus, I see that your loyalty to me, as I gave your ruler that message to deliver, is great.”
The king then stood up, walked over to the man, and put his crown on his head.
“As you were willing to take on death for loyalty to your ruler and for the good of your people, you have proven yourself worthy and a true servant to others. I therefore make you king of all the land. May you continue to be a man of loyalty to all you serve.”
As I looked back over the Sign Up Genius I use for friends to commit to a week of sharing around this virtual campfire I noticed in 2021 there were some gaps. BIG ONES. Season 3 of this blog felt like we were barely holding on and as the writing captain I was ready to jump ship. And I did …. for weeks on end. The longest – 7. I thought season 2 /2020 was hard to keep the fire going but 2021 actually proved worse. Interesting. Concerning, really. The realization that something that had once held so much joy had turned into a….
You know –
the feeling you have when you just don’t care.
A missed week would have never happened in Season One. If I knew that no one was scheduled to share I would personally find a way, a time, a story to share. I would prioritize writing over dinner or laundry. I felt a responsibility to show up every week because I promised we would. And then the every week felt too much.
Thank God for New Years.
And Fresh Starts.
And new mercies every morning.
And God’s word that always gives me what I need.
As I turned the calendar to 2022 I turned to the words of the book of Hebrews. Tom and I have been reading a chapter a day for our after dinner devotion time and I’ve been going back on my own. The voice of the unknown writer of this book seemed to be yelling.
“Goodness – turn it down” – I thought.
The words leapt off the pages of Chapter 6 in an effort to get my attention.
“But we long to see you passionately advance until the end and you find your hope fulfilled. So don’t allow your hearts to grow DULL or lose YOUR ENTHUSIASM, but follow the example of those who fully received what God has promised because of their strong faith and patient endurance.” Hebrews 6:11-12 TPT
As I thought about this blog and the dimmed desire for keeping it going – I realized it wasn’t just a blog thing. It was an over all numbness that had grown in all areas of my life in a sneaky, subtle way. It’s the way the enemy works. Often discouragement can come from one tragic event but in my case it seemed to slide in, unannounced and settle in making itself comfortable enough so that I didn’t even notice. My heart felt a bit dull and my enthusiasm for life in general a bit dim. Not stay in bed all day dull and dim…. just dull enough and dim enough that the energy needed to find writers to fill slots or write myself was gone.
The words of Chapter 6 were like a blast of cold air on my warm, cozied up in my comfort zone self.
Can you hear the longing?
“But we long to see you PASSIONATELY ADVANCE UNTIL THE END.”
Can you hear him begging me to not settle for a dimmed, dulled version of myself or my fellow writers?
“So don’t grow dull or LOSE YOUR ENTHUSIASM…”
Can you hear him prodding me now more than ever to shine bright with all the enthusiasm I have?
“Follow the example of those who fully received what God promised because of their strong faith and patient endurance.”
I could feel the writer pointing my face in the direction of the many that have endured life and pushed through the temptation to coast.
And the tough love felt so good.
Like a good coach that won’t let the team member play small.
Like a parent that will not let their child out of a responsibility.
Like our loving God that needs us to stay in the game…
Til the end.
I have two friends that became widows this year.
One because of cancer.
The other because of Covid.
Neither planned on this.
I know they would give anything to have another day with the men they loved.
The two men used their lives to shine and they each stayed as bright as possible until their life on earth came to a close.
Its people like them that I look too. Its their wives that now must chose daily to keep on that I remember. I recognize the true gift of each day I have been given. I shake my head of the fog that wanted to lull me into complacency. I boldly dismiss the lie that it’s just not worth the effort to push past comfort and the safety found in not creating, not stretching, not sharing, not growing.
The hope we have is too good. The promises we’ve been given too precious. The strength we receive so needed.
Shine bright friend, the world so needs what you have to offer.
“We who have run for our very lives to God have every reason to grab the promised hope with both hands and NEVER. LET. GO. Hebrews 6:18 MSG
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.
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.
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.
Merry Christmas, friends. God’s peace be with you as you celebrate the light of the world.
Today we welcome Guest writer Brooke Lange. Brooke is a sophomore at Concordia University Nebraska majoring in Psychology and Social Science. She is one of the best question askers I know and always challenges me to think out side of the box. My life is better because she is in it.
A few weeks ago, as people were preparing (in several senses of the word) to embark on Thanksgiving break, there was a lot of talk of “here.”
I hate it here.
Here lies my motivation to do schoolwork.
*I don’t want to be here anymore.
We haven’t been very fond of “here” lately.
I (and maybe you too) have a tendency to think that the goodness I want in life is just outside of the bounds of Here, that if I just moved There or was There in my relationship with that person or if I got a job There, then There will become my Here and finally, I would be at peace.
When we believe that we are prone to the circumstances of Here, that we are mercilessly thrown from one place that is not quite where we want to be to another that is not quite where we want to be, life can feel helpless – joyless even.
David Foster Wallace addressed this circumstance in his commencement speech given at Kenyon College, This is Water.
“It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same thing that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.”
I’ve seen that fire before. It’s the feeling that comes in sparks, usually during Events Engineered to Ponder Life, otherwise known as weddings, funerals, graduations, confirmations, and bar mitzvahs. The ones that make me think about all the people who have gotten me Here and how far people have traveled to come Here. This Here, if approached correctly, invokes a great sense of comfort and joy that is almost overwhelming. The connectedness of my life to what the people in my life have done on the behalf of my well-being in Here, makes the physical Here, no matter where it happens to be, seem sacred.
Unfortunately, life is not all Events Engineered to Ponder Life – often it is not that. But we can take our own physical Here and mental Here and recognize the work and the changes and the sacrifices people had to make only for us to be Here, in both senses of the word.
Here is fleeting. We may frequently return to the same places, but who we are changes constantly. Find what makes your Here good and beautiful and sacred. Hold on tightly to it and use it to make Here a good one. It’s all we can do.
*Overheard while walking through that nasty Nebraska wind. It’s not that deep.