The First Mother to Encounter Jesus

Move slow. Don’t worry.

I repeated this to myself as I hiked wooded trails a few days ago. I stopped for a moment and took a deep breath, filling my senses with cedar and pine. I don’t remember ever being able to smell the forest so strongly before. The day was clear. Dry. Warm. There might be snakes…

Move slow. Don’t worry.

I started walking again, frustrated at the low-grade anxiety that had been present for a year and a half now, creeping in at any given moment. I am weary of it. Weary of waking at night in a panic from frightening dreams. Weary of the invasion of “what ifs” that distract during the day and keep me from being grounded in the reality of the moment. What ifs like, “What if my kid gets sick…really sick?”, “What if my husband gets in a car accident today on the way to work?” What if something happens to me and my family is left grieving? Weary. 

A weary world rejoices.

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I realize I’ve started walking fast again…

Move slow. Don’t worry. Move slow. Don’t worry.

As I walk, I pray for peace and joy. ’Tis the season. Peace…serenity. Joy…Exuberance for life. Am I exuberant for life? No. I’m worried about life. Always worried. “Trying to get ahead of the curve” my spiritual counselor called it when I sat in his office the day before. Trying to plan now for what might be coming. Trying to be prepared for disaster. Sounds good. Sounds responsible. Sounds exhausting. Sounds impossible. 

Move slow. Don’t worry. Peace and joy. Peace. Joy. 

Where is Jesus in the worry? Where is the peace and joy? Where is the freedom from fear? I need to encounter Jesus. I need him to speak into the waves and wind of my soul and bring peace.

Be still.

As I walk, I think on these things. I cast all my cares on him because he cares for me (1 Peter 5:7). I look down at the bruised needle prick in the crook of my elbow. Blood drawn that morning to check my nutrient levels, hormones and thyroid. The doctor is looking for the why behind the sleeplessness, anxiety and elevated blood pressure. I try to explain I am a mother of four. That is why I don’t sleep. That is why I am anxious. That is why my blood pressure slightly simmers. Makes sense, she says with a smile.

Still the nurse comes in with her needles and vials. She tells me she is a mother of three. She looks so young. Did I look that young when I was was a mother of only three little ones? She did her job efficiently, chatting cheerfully about her three-year-old and eight-month-old twins. Twins? Holy moly. I wondered if she worries. She didn’t look worried. She didn’t have dark circles under her eyes. She had the alertness of a good night’s rest. How? 

Peace. Joy. 

Another mother comes to mind. One that had more reason to worry than any other mother that has have ever lived. The mother of Jesus. The first woman to encounter Jesus in Motherhood. Also, so young. Fourteen maybe fifteen-years-old. My daughter just turned twelve. She smiles shy when grown-ups talk to her. Arms and legs longer than she can handle. Smooth brow with no lines etched from decades of worry. No bags of sleeplessness under her green eyes. So young. So…unworried. How? How could this young Mary not be afraid?

The angel told her not to be afraid. A messenger from God with some startling news -and his command was all it took to wipe away worry? She asked one question. How? How could it happen? She was a good girl. A woman of good repute. A virgin. How could a new life grow full in her belly?

By the Spirit, the angel told her. Oh. Ok then. 

Peace. Joy. 

“…blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” Luke 1:45 - Mary believed God’s words were true. She believed the reality of the truth. She did not create other scenarios in her head and then fret over what might happen. She believed all the things that the angel said and then what? Praised God. She sang a song of praise. She believed then she praised.

Move slow. Don’t worry. Peace. Joy. Believe. Praise.

I stopped walking and took another deep breath. Cedar. Pine. Belief. Praise. 

What do I believe? Do I believe that I can really get ahead of the curve? Do I believe that disaster is waiting to consume me? Do I believe that God is good? Do I believe that he cares for me?

“My burden is light,” Jesus said. It doesn’t feel light. I feel weighed down by the four little women I am raising. Every time I jolt awake in the early morning hours and stumble through dark hallways to their rooms to make sure they are still safe in their beds and breathing, it feels heavy…so heavy. Where is peace? Where is joy? 

Believe. Praise. 

I cast my cares on him, then I pick them back up again. Could I leave my cares here on the trail with the cedar trees and the falling acorns? I don’t think so. They are too important to me. If I leave my cares, who will worry about my loved ones? So I pack them back up, tucked in close where I can find them easily.

How could Mary not be afraid? I would have been terrified to birth and raise the Son of God. I would have fretted about a premature delivery (no NICU then), proper nutrition (how would I know if his iron levels were good?), the best education (Yale? Harvard? Not even options), protecting him at all times, maybe with bubble wrap (not even a thing yet). These are just some of the worries, the cares and concerns that empty the heart of belief and silence the lips from praise. 

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Not Mary though. She believed and then she praised God. Praise preceded by belief. She believed there would be fulfillment of God’s promise, and then she herself was filled full with the promised Messiah. The miracle of salvation, carried in the womb of a teenage girl, extending grace that has produced thanksgiving in many to the glory of God. The “light and momentary affliction” of her ruined reputation did not outweigh the glory of God’s Son. She had eyes to see the unseen and knew it to be an eternal gift from God (2 Corinthians 4:7-18). She understood something I can’t seem to remember when my eyes first open blurry from sleep. The wonder of the glory of God. The joy of his mercy. The gift of his salvation. The person of Jesus. The reality of hope shining light into the darkness. She knew that God was making all things new, and she had been chosen to participate. She would play a most important role. The words of this young teenage girl are incredible.

And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,

and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.

For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

for he who is mighty has done great things for me,

and holy is his name.

And his mercy is for those who fear him

from generation to generation.

He has shown strength with his arm;

he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;

he has brought down the mighty from their thrones

and exalted those of humble estate;

he has filled the hungry with good things,

and the rich he has sent away empty.

He has helped his servant Israel,

in remembrance of his mercy,

as he spoke to our fathers,

to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”

The doctor just called. Blood work came back. Slight elevation in the white blood cells. Nothing to worry about. Continue to monitor blood pressure. Come back for another test in a month. No big deal. No need to panic. No need to over-dramatize. You are in good health, says the doctor. No need to worry…

Believe. Praise.

Can I believe the truth? Can I trust the reality of today? Can I accept the truth without fear of what is to come? Can I praise God for his mercy today and trust his goodness and care for whatever may come tomorrow?

I want to. I really do. 

Belief precedes praise.

Dear Momma,

What keeps you tangled in fear? What care weighs you down, threatening to crush you, to take your breath away? What concerns race through your mind as you lie in bed at night? What has you walking the dark hallways of your home in the early morning hours? What doubt keeps your lips from praising God?

My prayer for you and me today is that we will believe the truth of who Jesus is and what he has done on our behalf. May we sing God’s praises with Mary. I pray our souls will magnify the Lord. May we trust his care for us in the trenches of motherhood, as we love and serve the ones he has entrusted to us. May the generations whom we have birthed call us blessed, because he who is mighty has done great things for us! May we call his name holy, and pray for his mercy to be poured out on all the generations who fear him. May we praise him for his strength that brings about his plan and purpose when the darkness threatens to overwhelm us. May we praise him for the gift of hope he gives to all who suffer and hunger for goodness. May we rejoice in the God whose pierced hands bought our salvation and whose wounds bring our healing (Isaiah 53:5) I pray for belief. I pray for peace. I pray for joy. 

And as I do, my soul does indeed magnify the Lord. May yours as well, my Friend. 

I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul makes its boast in the LORD; let the humble hear and be glad. Oh, magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together! I sought the LORD, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed. This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him and saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them. Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!     Psalm 34:1-8

And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?…your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.        Matthew 6:27, 32-34

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.     John 1:1-5, 14

Tiny Caterpillars And Other Holiday Guests

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We planted a vegetable garden earlier this fall, and this past week we harvested it. What a wonderful feeling! My daughters were giddy as they weeded through the green leafy veggies, separating the keepers from the ones that had holes nibbled through them by tiny caterpillars. We filled up a crate, our fingers numb from the cold that would be bringing the first frost our way in another day or two. 

As my husband and I soaked and rinsed the veggies later that night (and picked those tiny caterpillars off of leaves), we found ourselves talking about the cycle of the seasons. We were chatting about how it seems that there is a rhythm both in the day-to-day as well as the yearly cycle. There is a time for work and a time for rest. A time to plant and a time to harvest. Whoops! Pretty sure our thoughts are nothing new. Our conversation was really more of a cognitive realization as we considered what our life has been this year. It has been a year of establishing routine and structure both in our home life and our work life. Last year was a year of big changes that included planting a church and moving to a new home to accommodate our family which grew by two more adults.

The work has been good, requiring us to wait as God planted dreams and callings in our hearts, and then labor to care for what He’s entrusted to us. However, something neither of us is good at is celebrating. We tend to be the all work and no play kind of people. We are both begrudgingly aware of this, and have been working - as only workaholics can - to try to make time for more fun. 

God has been very gracious to show us clearly His kindness in providing for this seasonal rhythm. Usually, the approaching holiday season has me cringing as I know it is going to add more work on top of my already heavy load. But, after our conversation, I realized that maybe it’s not the work that wears me out as much as my attitude toward the work. This harvest and celebration season is a good gift from God that provides much needed rest from laboring.

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What I have been considering lately, is that harvesting is still work. It takes time, planning, patience, and it does take lots of effort - but it is a different kind of work. It is work that is laced with the joy of reaping what you have been sowing, watering and waiting for. I can’t help but be reminded of those weeks right after a baby is born. There has been the work of carrying and growing that little one in your belly. The literal labor followed by delivery. Then comes the harvest. This beautiful season you have been waiting for when that tiny life is laying in your arms, with her head on your chest. The work has not stopped - if anything it has kicked into high gear! But it is a new kind of work, the kind that is undergirded with joy and celebration. 

In the past, the holiday season has been…annoying. I know! What kind of grinch-like monster am I, right? It always feels like I kind of have to endure everyone else’s holiday crazy until January and then we can all calm down and get back to real life. But what if instead of enduring the holidays, we could really see it as joy-filled work? Our job for the next six weeks is to celebrate! That doesn’t sound so bad. 

How might a better understanding of this work change our attitude? I think it would change it a lot. The burden of the work might be lighter if it’s done with joy instead of begrudging sighs and eye-rolls. 

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And we Mommas are the one’s to lead the way. We are leading our families in celebration as we make the plans, set the table, wrap the gifts and put our hands to work in order to finish about a thousand other tasks. Our attitude about the holidays will set the tone for those gathering with us during the next six weeks. If we are whiny about the obligations, the kids will be, too. If we are angry about the work, the husbands will be, too. If we focus on the wrong things, our loved ones will, too. So, it’s up to you and me, Dear Momma, to decide how we will live out this season of celebration, and in turn lead others to do the same. 

As believers in Christ, wouldn’t it be fitting to celebrate well? If we’re honest, Christians don’t always throw the best parties. It’s easy to take ourselves a little too seriously, and indeed the message of Jesus is the weightiest and most important. But, it also carries with it the light-hearted task of rejoicing in all God has done in us and through us. 

So, what does your harvest look like this year? Maybe it is the arrival of a baby - congratulations! You’ve spent nine months this year planning and waiting for this harvest. What a wonderful gift to celebrate! Maybe it is the provision of work and much needed income for your family. Thank God for his faithfulness in providing! Maybe it is healing from a sickness, or a marriage or friendship that has been restored. Praise God for his healing, forgiveness and redemption!

Maybe you are looking at this holiday season and there is no harvest this year. Maybe the enemy has eaten holes in your life, and nothing survived. The next six weeks will be difficult as the people around you celebrate while you mourn the barren field that produced grief instead of joy. The temptation will be to hide your sorrow in things like drinking, eating, shopping and so many other temporary fixes that are available in excess this time of year. My dear Friend, please don’t hide your sorrow. No, the office Christmas party is not the time and place to spill your grief, but there is a time and place to do so, even in this season of celebrating. I would ask you, who are your people to whom you can go? Are you connected to a body of believers where there are pastors and counselors who can share your burden? If you think there is no one, I beg you, please don’t believe that lie! There are those who would gladly share in your suffering. Find a place, find a tribe and you may find that there is a harvest of hope to celebrate after all. Jesus sees you. He knows your sorrow. He has relief from pain to offer you that no drinking, eating or shopping can give.

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My prayer for you and me at the beginning of this holiday season is that we would start from a place of joy and gratitude and allow our work to flow from there. I pray that we will not begrudgingly give, share, and participate in the season, but that our hearts would be sincere, overflowing with gratitude for all that God has done. I pray that our worship of Jesus would compel us to include others - even the ones we don’t like so well - at our holiday tables. I pray for peace and joy to be real inside of us and not just words scrolled across our holiday decor. And above all, I pray the love of God would soothe our sorrow and connect our hearts to each other and to himself. 

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; …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. Ecclesiastes 3:1-13

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 1 Peter 1:6-9.







Controversial Jesus

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Halloween is approaching, bringing with it candy and controversy, both of which get stuck in our teeth and make us queasy. 

Being a pastor’s wife and a mom of four, I am asked every year by other mommas how our family handles Halloween. I feel my shoulder muscles clench every time as I try to determine if this question is being asked by a mom really struggling to know how to handle it, or a mom looking for a heated debate. While I’ve experienced both, nine times out of ten it is a mom who is sincerely doing her best to navigate this suspicious holiday in a way that honors Christ faithfully, and is unsure what that looks like for her family. I’ve been that mom!

Whether we celebrated or not, Halloween was a holiday we all experienced as children. There are few who didn’t at least know about it and somehow get their hands on some candy corn. (Also, can we just stop and do a slow clap for the person who first came up with the idea to add peanuts to the bowl of candy corn? You are brilliant, my Friend.

You may have been the kid whose family embraced the celebration and went all out with the costumes. You may have been the kid whose family went to church for a “Halloween alternative”. Maybe you were the kid whose parents shut her away on Halloween night with a Bible and a Psalty the Song Book cassette tape (yeah…I just went there) and pretended to not be home. 

I was the one in the middle. I went to a Halloween alternative at my church referred to as a “Harvest Party”. I wore costumes every year representing women of the Bible like Mary (white robe with blue head wrap) Ruth (same costume as Mary), Ester (same costume with a golden crown added). I asked one year if I could go as the witch of Endor, but apparently not all the female Bible characters were welcome to the party (Jezebel never showed up either).

So, how does my family handle Halloween now? Well, at first we did the church thing because we were on staff and we were expected to help set up and run the event. Then, one year we weren’t required to be at church, so we bravely stayed home with a bowl full of candy and turned on our lights . The most amazing thing happened. All of these neighbors that we had never met came to our door and asked for candy! We met dozens of people with whom we knew we should be sharing the love of Christ, but never had time to talk with because we were always at church events. 

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That year, we made the decision that we would participate in Halloween with our neighborhood. The next year, we set up a table of candy, a cooler of bottled water and chairs, because lots of sugar + walking your kids all over the neighborhood = really tired and thirsty parents. Our neighbors next door and from across the street would hang out for awhile. Eventually, we started ordering massive amounts of pizza and basically became the Halloween party house. We decided sitting in our front yard needed to be a year-round activity for our family. Instead of hiding in our house in the evenings, we started sitting in the driveway while our kids played. Neighbors would bring their chairs out and we grown ups would chat while the kids played together. It became a normal part of our week.

Participating in Halloween with our neighbors changed the way our family viewed our place in our neighborhood. We knew it was not by accident that we lived where we lived, that God had a purpose for us being in that place at that time.

We also realized that when Scripture talks about Jesus eating, drinking and having a great time just hanging out in the community, that is exactly what it meant (Mark 2:13-17). Did he join in on being with everyone? Yes - both religious and non. Did he participate in sin? No. 

So, what do we tell our children? The truth. Halloween is a celebration of death and as believers, we don’t celebrate death. Jesus came to give us life (John 10:10) and has called us to share this new life with others (Acts 1:8). As believers living in a broken world, we cannot escape death. It is all around us and one day we will experience it. Until then, God has called us to share the life of Jesus with those who are lost and dying, and Halloween is a wonderful opportunity to do just that. How do we do it? We don’t make it weird. Let me just state that Jesus wasn’t weird. He was different, but he wasn’t weird. If he’d been weird, no one would have invited him to their party. He joined in, not to participate in sin, but to lead people to himself. This is what we are to do as Christians. We join in. 

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So, my kids dress up (nothing scary or pertaining to death), we hand out candy, we go collect candy (not everyone has kids so if we want to meet some neighbors we have to go to them). 

When our kids see the super scary decorations we explain that those things celebrate death and, while we won’t put those things in our yard, we still want to get to know those neighbors and hear their story.

 This helps us to be more intentional about looking for neighbors we know when we are out and about, and invite them for dinner or host block parties. Really, the point is to connect with our neighbors any time of the year - Halloween is just a really easy starting point because it’s the one day of the year that knocking on people’s doors is socially acceptable, and not awkward.

Our families have God-given purpose in this world and we do not need to be afraid. One of the things I must teach my children is to walk faithfully with Jesus, on mission with him, in a dark and scary world (John 15:18-21; John 16:33). Hiding in our houses and churches tends to teach them the opposite-that Christianity is clean and safe. It’s not.

What being on mission with God in this world looks like for your family is entirely up to you. I would encourage you to search scripture. Start with Matthew 5:13-16 and then let 1 Corinthians 10 mess with your head a bit. Ask God to give you wisdom to navigate the world in which you live with boldness, because you have the light of truth and this dark world desperately needs that light. Let’s not hide it! 

My prayer for us today is that we would be salt and light in the places where we are living. I pray that we will not give our children a false Gospel that implies we don’t associate with non-believers, but rather may we be faithful to teach them the true Gospel that tells us we were all at one time non-believers, and are justified only by Jesus’ death on the cross. I pray that we will rejoice in the freedom from sin and death that we have through faith in Christ, and share it generously with those who are still living enslaved to sin. 

And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” Matthew 9:35-38 ESV

 For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.

Luke 7:34-35 ESV