Freedom from Anxiety: a new perspective of Psalm 23

This is the sermon transcript from Sunday, October 15, 2017 at Monroe Free Methodist Church. If you’re interested in listening to the audio visit: http://www.monroefmc.com/resources/sermon-audio/


This morning I want to invite you to re-imagine Psalm 23 and how life might change if we actually believed its words. What would happen if we allowed Jesus to shepherd us? What if we trusted him to lead us to wide open pastures of safety? What if we released fear, totally and completely? What if we allowed him to serve us as his honored guest? What if we believed that his love is in constant pursuit of us?

It would change everything.

St. Augustine wrote in the 4th century, “When you say, ‘the Lord is my Shepherd’ no proper grounds are left for you to trust in yourself.” The call, then, of Psalm 23 is to set down our right to be afraid and our right to go wherever we want to go, and instead to follow the Shepherd. We will only be protected and cared for if we allow Jesus to lead us.

The past two weeks I have been meditating on the words of this Psalm thanks to the song we sang earlier this morning. (I hope you’re enjoying it as much as I am.) The Lord has graciously led me to a new understanding of what the words mean for my life, the ways He is offering me protection and freedom. This line has been particularly meaningful as I face my own fears: “You prepare a table right before me in the presence of my enemies. Though the arrows fly and the terror of night is at my door, I trust you, Lord.” Perhaps some of you can relate to struggles with anxiety, a fear that is nearly paralyzing. Over the past few weeks I have been facing my own anxieties. Nightmares crop up in my dreams and my body reacts with itchy hives reminding me of the stress it’s under. Now, hear me, friends, I am not saying any of this for sympathy but to share my journey toward peace and to invite you to move in that direction with me.

What if you and I were to picture the Lord preparing a great feast in our honor and inviting us to sit at the table? And what if as we sat down and picked up our forks we looked out the window and saw the Enemy – the thing each of us fears most? Maybe your fear is a person or maybe it’s a fear of failure or a fear of being exposed as a fraud or a fear of death. When you see your Fear, the first reaction might be to begin to tremble or to take cover under the table or to run and hide or maybe even to fight that Fear Enemy. But the truth is, friends, you don’t have to engage your arsenal of defense mechanisms when you’re seated at the Lord’s Table. The Lord wants you to sit down and enjoy his hospitality and his presence, to notice the Fear outside the door – yes, but then to release it to his care.

We read of the Lord as Table Host in three separate passages this morning:

  • Isaiah 54:6 “ the Lord prepares a feast for all peoples”
  • Psalm 23:5 “ you prepare a table before me”
  • Matthew 22 “ the parable of the wedding banquet

The Lord is the ultimate example of hospitality. According to the imagery drawn for us today in these passages, we learn that the Lord’s hospitality includes these four elements: an invitation, provision of food, generosity, and safety.

The invitation of the Lord is filled with desire. He pursues his guests, even the undeserving ones ,like the wedding host did in Matthew 22 and as verse 6 of Psalm 23 says. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” The word mercy used in that verse is the Hebrew word “hesed” meaning a “love that never quits.” According to my Life With God Study Bible, “This is a love that doesn’t just follow, but always pursues us. To perceive God’s love as pursuing rather than begrudged deepens our ability to trust.” What if we believed that the Lord’s invitation to his table isn’t out of pity but out of genuine desire to be with us?

Secondly we see the Lord’s hospitality as including a lavish meal. He “prepares a table” (in Psalm 23:5) and makes a feast of rich food and expensive wine (in Isaiah 25:6) and sets out the choicest meats in Matthew 22. Part of hospitality is simply providing for the needs of the guests, but the Lord goes above and beyond with the best spread of food – all of your favorites, because he knows you like a Shepherd knows his sheep.

Thirdly, the Lord anoints our heads with oil, bestowing on us the gift of honor. I learned in the Bible Background commentary that in ancient times, fine diners were sometimes anointed with oil by their hosts. This was a luxurious and generous gift, first of all because the oil itself was expensive. But consider for a moment the dry desert climate of the those living in Old Testament cultures and think of effects it had on their skin. The oil was a way to lavish honor on a guest by offering their complexion a fine sheen. Plus the fragrance present in the oils gave the guests and the room a pleasant aroma. The anointing was a way to say, “You are a valued guest. Let me demonstrate my love for you through this small but meaningful indulgence.”

Finally, when we respond to the Lord’s hospitality to join him at the table, He will provide safety and security for us. When we look out the window and see the enemy ready to attack us or we are faced with our crippling anxiety, we can look into the eyes of our Shepherd-host and know we are safe at his table. As I was pondering my own fears and what freedom would look like for me, I pictured the story of the passover in Exodus 12 where the Israelites are told to stay inside their homes and to paint the blood of the passover lamb around their doorframes. Verse 23 says, “When the Lord goes through the land to strike down the Egyptians, he will see the blood on the top and sides of the doorframe and will pass over that doorway, and he will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down.” I imagine my freedom looking this way – me sitting at the Lord’s table, enjoying his delicious meal, and his loving company, and his generous anointing, and noticing out my window the thing I fear most. But instead of being swallowed by the Fear, I acknowledge my emotions and I let it pass by my door. I am safe at the table of the Lord.

Now that we are beginning to understand the Lord’s hospitality and what Psalm 23 invites us to, what’s our response going to be? I think the answers lie in Philippians 4:6-8, some of my favorite verse in Scripture. “4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Friends, the fears or concerns in our life “are to be addressed not by worrying about them, but by developing habits of prayer and rejoicing.” (Life with God Bible)

So our first response to the Lord’s hospitality is to rejoice always – for the Lord, our Shepherd is always worthy of our praise.

Secondly, we have to make our requests known to the Lord. We must tell the Lord about our anxiety and fear. This by itself disarms the stronghold on our lives.

Third, we must be thankful. We must be aware of the Lord’s presence in our lives, pay attention to his hospitality – how he welcomes us, notice his generosity to us, and see his pursuing love. A few weeks ago I was in Meijer and saw milk was on sale for something like $1.29 a gallon. My first response was to say, “The Lord loves me so much sometimes.” Now I know that’s kind of silly, first of all because it’s just milk, but secondly, because the Lord loves me so much all the time. But I’ve taken a liking to saying that phrase more and more, recognizing all the little ways the Lord shows his love for me. It’s like he’s bringing me home flowers, showing me his committed pursuit in the form of small gifts that are my favorite things. We must all be on the look for the little ways the Lord is loving us.

Finally, after we respond to the Lord’s hospitality with rejoicing and requesting and thanksgiving….GET THIS…He gives us the Peace of Christ to guard our hearts and minds. He Loves us so much sometimes. :)

 

Friends, as you go today, let me declare the words of the Message paraphrase of Philippians 4:7-8 as our benediction.

Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.

Jesus and the Woman at the Well

In her Lenten Reflections booklet, Ruth Haley Barton says,

During Lent we are called to enter more intentionally into prayer, self-examination and repentance for the purpose of restoration and renewal. As painful as it is to be exposed at this level, awakening is evidence of God’s Grace.

Using the story of Jesus and this Samaritan woman we’re going to explore awakening to God’s grace. I want to invite you to join me in the process of restoration and renewal of our souls and to experience the belonging Jesus offers us. 

Last Sunday we read the verses 16-17 of John 3, which say “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

In Chapter 4 of John we see Jesus putting his teaching about salvation into practice. Without using words Jesus shows his disciples that THIS is what he meant by loving the whole world, giving love and belonging to this woman, this Samaritan woman, this abandoned Samaritan woman.

Most of the sermons I’ve heard about this Samaritan woman describe the forgiveness of Jesus and the sinfulness of the woman. But there is no mention of forgiveness or promiscuity here – we have read that into the text. Perhaps this woman’s story is different than that. Perhaps her story is more like ours than we’d like to admit. Though the details may be unique to her story, I believe each one of us is longing for relationship and acceptance, just as she was. And I believe that Jesus offers the same belonging and salvation to each of us as he offered to the Samaritan woman.

This woman had been married five times and she has been abandoned five times…abandoned through death of a spouse or divorce, likely due to her barrenness. The ability to bear children in ancient times was seen as the primary purpose of a woman, carrying on a male’s lineage was the entire point of marriage. If this woman was incapable of this “basic biological function”, she would surely be rejected. Thus when she meets Jesus at the well, she is thirsty for more than water. This woman is in need of acceptance, of relationship, of belonging.

My own story is not unlike this Samaritan woman’s. As a young married woman, I wanted nothing more than to have children. I had framed my future and my sole purpose in motherhood. Thus, I was completely shaken when my body’s functioning wasn’t “normal” and healthy. I, too, was barren. I spent five years of sorrow and darkness and questioning my worth and belonging. My friends were having children, women’s retreats would gather and discuss their kids, and I was on the outside. My infertility was even used as a weapon against me when some people questioned my effectiveness in church ministry if we didn’t have children. How could we possibly connect with the community without kids? These types of statements were both cruel and untrue. Though we knew these words were not of God, the shaming from outsiders was hard to bear.

Gradually my darkness began to transform me. I turned to God with more intensity than ever before. Gently and graciously, He began to unravel the strings I had tied up in my worth as a mother. He began to reveal to me the truths: I was valuable… apart from whether I had children or not. Kids would not fulfill me, my husband could not fulfill me, a job or ministry could not fulfill me. Jesus told me I was loved and I had belonging in him, no strings attached. This is the message of salvation for each of us – love and belonging.

So back to Sychar…there’s Jesus interacting in the most unlikely places with the most unlikely people. Meeting at a well was somewhat scandalous in itself, for wells were often the place where love-matches were made. Jacob and Rachel, Moses and Zipporah, and others like them met their spouses at a well. Jesus’s Jewish heritage came with an unspoken rule to not interact with their rebel-cousins, the Samaritans. And as a man, Jesus was ignoring all sorts of social protocol by interacting with a woman, going as far as to ask her to share her drinking vessel with him. He was risking his reputation in order to share the refreshing streams of God’s love with this thirsty woman.

Even in the Exodus passage we read about how physical needs drive us to God. In chapter 17, the Israelites are complaining and arguing with Moses about how terrible their living conditions were. They were so overcome with their selfishness and their thirst that they went as far as to complain that they were no longer slaves in Egypt! Moses was afraid their rage was going to result in his stoning. (Talk about “hangry”!) In verse 6, God provides the miraculous water from the rock at Horeb and Moses commemorates the occasion by naming the location Massah and Meribah which mean “Test and Quarrel.”

But the thing about each of us, and the Samaritan woman, and the Israelites is our thirst is so much deeper than a dry mouth. Our physical symptoms or outward actions are often an expression of an inward spiritual need.  How often do you find yourself acting out in anger or impatience when the real problem isn’t really your kids or your husband or the barista or the guy in the car next to you. The real cause of your turmoil is something inside you. The stress or selfishness or jealousy causes us to act out, and those feelings are all rooted in a need to be filled with the living waters of Jesus. When we look inside ourselves and begin to dig through the mess we’ve created – the broken relationships, the poor self-image, the fear about money or anxiety about future plans – we find that at our core we need belonging. We try desperately to fill ourselves and take away the ache of belonging…that dream job, the perfect house, that friendship, the 401K, the fairytale wedding, the marriage, those kids, that college degree…none of it works, friends. All of this can just mask the problem unless we let Jesus walk us through the process of releasing our desires and our inadequacies and to be filled with him alone. It’s terrifying, I’m not gonna lie. But what I know for certain is that Jesus wants to save us from ourselves. He wants to give us living water that wells up to eternal life. By believing in him and following him, we find the belonging and we find salvation. And we, like the Samaritan woman, can’t wait to share this truth with everyone we meet.

This woman kept asking more and more questions of Jesus. “How can you be asking me for a drink? Where do you get this living water? Are you greater than our ancestors? Will you condemn me for the life I’ve lived? Where should we worship you? Are you really the Messiah?”

And she believes him. She knows he must be the Messiah and runs to tell everyone in her city that very day. The truth sets us free, friends! And this woman was changed from a shamed barren reject of society to a missionary for the good news about Jesus.

So how does Jesus want to save you? What shame or struggle does he want to free you from? What does he want you to release to his care so he can fill up your real need, your need to belong.

This is salvation, friends: to find acceptance and belonging in Jesus.

 

Enduring Presence,
goal and guide,
you go before and await our coming.
Only our thirst compels us
beyond complaint to conversation,
beyond rejection to relationship.
Pour your love into our hearts,
that, refreshed and renewed,
we may invite others to the living water
given to us in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

source

 

Sermon given at Monroe Free Methodist Church based on the texts for the 3rd Sunday in Lent

 

An Advent People

This morning I have the privilege of ushering you all into the New Year…the new liturgical year, that is. At Monroe Free Methodist Church, Pastor Kevin and I have chosen to follow the Revised Common Lectionary and today is the beginning of Advent, the start of the new Church year. To begin, we’ll spend some time breaking down these “church-lingo” terms, then I’ll share a bit of my personal story, and finally I’d like to challenge us to become an Advent People.

12_07_13 Advent Candle

Ok, so backing up a bit…the Lectionary. What in the world is it? The root of the word is “lection” which simply means “reading.” The Lectionary, then, is a predetermined way of reading through the Scriptures. Back in the 60s, the Catholic Church made the groundbreaking decision to begin following an organized plan or reading the Bible. The Revised Common lectionary came about in the 80s and 90s when a long list of non-Catholic Christian Churches tweaked the original reading schedule. Each week we read a Psalm, an Old Testament passage, an Epistle (the biblical term for “letter”), and a Gospel (the biblical term for one of the four books teaching on the Good News, the life of Jesus.) Many Presbyterians, Lutherans, United Methodists, Mennonites, Anglican and Free Methodist churches follow the lectionary together. That’s one of my favorite parts about the lectionary – knowing that on this Sunday I’m reading the same passages that many other churches are across the country, and around the world. The reading unifies the Church across space and time.

The cycle of readings begins in “Year A” with Matthew and it’s correlating Old Testament, Psalm, and Epistle. Then, we start over again with a new set of passages for Year B (using Mark), then Year C (in Luke). Thus…we travel a three year journey through the whole story of the Bible. Though not every verse or chapter can be read during this time, we as a church are able to get a better taste for the beautiful story of God’s redeeming plan for creation, a story that spans Genesis to Revelation. 

Following the Lectionary is not required of our church. It is a decision Kevin and I have made out of conviction; conviction that our personal plans for sermons will never surpass the wisdom of God. Sure, we could be determining our sermon series based on our own agenda, but we’re pretty sure our creativity would run out, our biases would show through, and we could easily steer the church on our own insight. In reading the Lectionary, we trust that the Holy Spirit works outside of time, believing that even (and perhaps especially) predetermined Scripture readings are exactly the message God has for us today. We choose to submit to the authority and study of the men and women who’ve gone before us, as opposed to sticking to our favorite books of the Bible or using the trusty “open your Bible and blindly point” method. It’s exciting to watch how God has used these pre-planned Scripture passages to weave together sermons at the proper time. He is so faithful.

Ok…so now that we understand the Lectionary a bit better, there’s this concept of the Church Calendar (also known as the Liturgical Year or the Christian Year). This is yearly progression through the life of Christ, a calendar of seasons – of feast days and fasting – adhered to by nearly every Christian church. We begin now with Advent, then follow the arc of scripture through Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, and Ordinary Season. With each changing season, we are offered the opportunity to reflect on how God worked in us and we’re invited to become aware of his leading into the coming season.

Which brings us to today. The cool thing about today?! It’s the first day of the New Year in Year A! So if you’re just hearing about this for the first time, you’re getting in on the “ground floor.” (But don’t worry, we’ll come back around to Year A in 2019).

Today we are entering into the season of Advent, the four Sundays leading up to Christmas. The origin of this Christian season dates back to 480 AD and perhaps even further…to the times of Peter and the Disciples. The word “advent” simply means “to come” and so this season is an opportunity to prepare and to wait with baited breath for the arrival of the newborn King. We wait, as Mary did, for Jesus Christ to be born. We wait, as the prophets did, for their long-awaited Prince of Peace. But as followers of Jesus on the “other side” of his birth, we have a different invitation to wait. Knowing that the celebration of Jesus’ birth is imminent, we now wait for his second coming. We wait for the day when Christ will come to bring his perfect peace to earth as it is in heaven…for all eternity. We wait with hope and angst for the day when he will make all things right, restoring relationships, repairing sick bodies, aligning healthy governments, abolishing poverty. We wait with excitement and perhaps dread, for his day of judgment, knowing that our trust in him brings salvation but that a detailed account of our lives will acknowledge the moments when we failed to follow faithfully. But we wait.

After years of following Jesus, I only recently began to embrace the seasons of the Christian calendar. A few years back, a friend who I deemed my “spiritual mother” invited me to join her intimate small prayer circle. Each Wednesday evening, five of us would gather in a chilly, candlelit sanctuary for an hour of stillness. We prayed the vespers service together, reading Scriptures and praying written-out prayers. Spending this type of quiet time together was new to me, but became deeply transformative. Together we were experiencing the life-changing lessons contained in the liturgy and the communion of saints.

And it was there that I met Advent. Along with my dear vespers sisters, we read Ruth Haley Barton’s Advent Reflections to guide our focus during this season of faith. Ruth’s writing and urging, combined with the lectionary Scripture passages offered the opportunity for self-examination, for refocusing, for shifting my perspective. Yes, this is the very same devotional guide we’ve offered to you. (Which, side note…the orders are in, and we have two extra, if you’re interested!)

Advent is such a beautiful, yet challenging time in life of the Church. It is at this time of year that we are reminded of our need to wake up to the coming of Jesus in our lives, to become an Advent People.

This Advent-waiting is so difficult because we are invited to sit in this in-between space: a space where we are no longer experiencing the comfortable, oh-so-familiar life, yet neither have we seen the resolution of the waiting…the answer, the direction, the “ahhhh yes” everything-is-turning-out-just-fine moment. We are in the time of holding our breath, left to wait. We can choose to gasp for air, fight for our lives, flee the fearful expectancy. Or we can seek the Lord Jesus Christ in this uncertainty, looking for his movement, listening to his voice. Because even in the waiting, especially in the waiting, there is Jesus.

When I first started observed Advent in 2013, I was in the middle of one of my darkest winters. It was our third year of infertility and that combined with other life circumstances made the dark winter nights a reality in my heart. But during that time, I prayed this prayer:

Lord Jesus, As hard as this is to admit, I thank you for this long time of advent in my life. This journey of infertility may continue for many more years, I don’t know, but the grace, the blessing has come and is coming in the ways I’m learning to seek you. I imagine where my focus would be right now if I had gotten “my way”…and it’s not likely to be totally on you. Teach me now how to keep company with Jesus, how to kindle communion with Him, that it may be an inextricable part of me in years to come.

Advent is so much more than a countdown to Christmas. It is an invitation to wait with God on God in our everyday lives. The process of Christian growth – of spiritual formation – is slow and ongoing and, quite frankly, beyond of our control. Friends, my challenge for our church is to become an Advent People: a congregation who responds to God’s invitation every day; a people who hold vigil with Christ each day – keeping the candle burning in our devotion to prayer and to scripture and to one another; a humble group of Jesus-followers becoming increasingly willing to change, willing to step out of the control seat and willing to let God do his transformational work.

Come! Let us walk in the light of the Lord together! (Isaiah 2:5)

Camp with Middle Schoolers

This week I had the awesome privilege of being the evangelist for the Young Teen Campers at Somerset Beach. I cannot adequately describe what the Holy Spirit did at camp this week. Far beyond anything I asked or imagined, God was on the move, and lives (especially mine) were changed. More than any other year of camp-speaking, I connected with this group of young teenagers and young adults (the counselors and worship team).

Explorer Camp 2 / Young Teen Camp 2

Even though I didn’t have the chance to meet with every single person, it was the work of the Spirit binding us together in corporate worship and Scripture memory and the life-altering work that only God can do. Not only did I have a blast hanging out with them – dancing and singing, splashing in the water, waiting in line for meals – but I was completely blown away by their tender hearts, their receptivity to the Gospel of Jesus. And these kids are sharp. Like, WOAH. Their insightful questions truly impressed me. (I’m fairly certain our culture significantly underestimates the intelligence and the comprehension and the capabilities of 11-13 year olds. These students could easily rival college coeds or grown-ups in theological discussions.)

Explorer Camp 2 / Young Teen Camp 2

The overarching message of the week was The Image of God. We began Sunday night by a fun competition where cabins wrote down lists of adjectives that would describes someone’s image – the way they perceive themselves or believe others see them. Words such as weird, silly, jock, bully, perfectionist, athletic, skinny, fat, dumb, smart covered the pages.

By way of introducing myself I shared these very honest bullet-pointed insights into my own image:

  • I have been following Jesus as a Christian since I was 5 years old.
  • I am a pastor.
  • I am mom to 7 month old Kirsten.
  • I have been married to my husband Kevin for 8 years.
  • I am a runner & yoga instructor.
  • I am a worship leader & grad school student.
  • I love baking cookies & coffee dates & reading & taking walks.
  • I am good student & a responsible leader.
  • I am a trustworthy friend & I give honest advice.
  • I am a people person and feel other people’s emotions very deeply.
  • I struggle with perfectionism and negative body image.
  • I struggle to not overeat or overexercise.
  • I care too much about what people think and try too hard to make everyone happy with me.
  • I am indecisive and a roller coaster of emotions.
  • I have a quick temper and a bad attitude far too often.

I preached on the words from Genesis 1:27, looking many of them dead in the eye as I said,

You were made in the very image of GOD. Your life has incredible worth and you have a purpose.

Throughout the next seven gatherings of morning worship and evening vespers, we broke down unhealthy images and reconstructed our mindsets based on the Image of God.

  • Mean Girls & Bullies –>
    • God’s Chosen People (Colossians 2:14-15)
  • Self Harm, Eating Disorders & Substance Abuse –>
    • Temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
  • Perfectionists & Cheaters –>
    • Obedience to God (Genesis 4:2-11 and I John 3:11-24)

Explorer Camp 2 / Young Teen Camp 2

On our final night together, I was prepared with responses to their really tough questions. My plan was then to move into a lesson and lead into an opportunity for salvation. The Lord had a much more beautiful plan than mine, however, for as soon as I was “done” with answering questions, hands began to raise left and right. I spent the next 20 minutes fielding deep, theological issues these young teens tossed my way.

  • Who wrote the Bible?
  • Did every story in the Bible really happen?
  • Are tattoos bad?
  • Can a Christian believe in evolution?
  • What happens if a baby is baptized and then dies – will they go to heaven or hell?
  • What happens to someone who commits suicide?
  • Is heaven and hell real?

And my favorite question of all:

  • How can I be saved?

IMG_7097

Throughout the week the lessons had progressed. We are made in God’s image. We become God’s chosen people by believing on the Lord Jesus. When we commit to following God we become Temples of the Holy Spirit and should live in Obedience to God’s commands. On this last night, I was thrilled to answer that question, the question that starts a life of pursuing God, of living in the very center of our chosen-ness, becoming fully who He created us to be.

Salvation is simple: Confess with your mouth Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. Romans 10:9-10

This is the first step and absolutely essential. This is a life-changing moment. But it doesn’t stop here. Every day it’s surrender, believing God has the best plan in store for you. It’s living in obedience to him and out of love for others.

After having an opportunity to pray, we worshiped and closed the session. Many students flocked to the counselors and Wellspring members and to me to talk more. These kids had further questions on the tough topics we’d discussed. And then there was one boy left, the quiet one who’d subtly passed me his piece of paper with the words, “How to be saved?” He came up to me with hardly an expression on his face but with the most tender heart and asked me to pray with him. I led him to Jesus right then and there and we hugged. I told him how thrilled I was for him and how exciting this moment one. I asked him if he had a church to go to and implored him to share this decision with his pastor and to get connected with someone who’s a step or two ahead of him in following Jesus.

This morning at our closing session, the kids were shouting out things they loved about camp. This meek young man said with the most enthusiasm I’d seen from him all week,

I accepted Christ!

The crowd cheered for him! Rejoice!

These students have memorized Scripture with joy and self-motivation. They have asked tough questions and processed tough answers. They have shown me that God’s spirit is alive and working in the lives of middle schoolers and the future leaders of the Church are being shaped and discipled right now. I have glorious hope for the next generation of Christ followers.

Thank you, Somerset Beach, for asked me to teach these young teens. What an eternal privilege it was.
Explorer Camp 2 / Young Teen Camp 2

The Dance of Grace & Trust

As my daughter creeps closer and closer to six months old, I get more excited and more freaked out. You see, I had a goal of having her solely breastfed for her first six months. In those early weeks I thought, “there is no way in heck I can survive this for SIX MONTHS.” But a wise friend told me (even before I had my baby girl), “It’s hard, just take it a day at a time. Don’t set up big goals, set tiny ones. I’m going to nurse her this week.” Nursing got easier and easier as I developed the procedures that worked for us and as I figured out what accessories I needed or didn’t need. And here we are….the end of full-time breastfeeding is in sight.

I can NOT wait until her daddy can feed her and I’m not her only source of sustenance and we can watch her experience new foods and sit at the table with us. I have a freezer full of pumped breastmilk and we taught her to use a bottle around 8 weeks. I kept offering to Kevin that I could share the feeding with him and a bottle. But he knew how well things were going and how much I had desired this gift. So he waited.

And I’m so stoked that we made it. But I am sad to see this special season of breastfeeding intimacy transition to something new. It’s been so sweet; most of the time I take it for granted. Lord Jesus, I am so thankful for this gift that was not a given. Thank you for bringing in my milk and allowing her the skill the nurse well and plumping her right up. I am so thankful.

Another paradox of motherhood, right? 

But here’s the real confession: I’m freaked out by what may or may not happen once I ease back on nursing.

I know my fertility will (maybe, probably, perhaps, who knows…) return once I’m not breastfeeding ’round the clock. I know I could conceivably get pregnant (…conceivably….ha. that’s punny…) in the coming months. And part of me thinks, “FOR THE LOVE, I just want to be normal again! I don’t want to be pregnant or nursing or a storehouse of uncontrollable hormones!” (I suppose that last one happens regardless…) I can’t fathom going through that whole ordeal again, so soon. Pregnancy was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Pregnancy is no joke.

But the other part of me thinks, “What if I can’t get pregnant? I’m not getting any younger and I have endometriosis and a whole bunch of other fertility issues and time is of the essence. And what if?” How long do we wait this next time before calling it quits?

So yeah, I want to get pregnant like right now…in the next few months. I would love to have babies close in age. And we always said that once we started a family, we wouldn’t prevent pregnancies until we’re “done.” I don’t want to live once again in the fear of monthly cycles and wondering and waiting and trying to not get all wrapped up in the hope and expectation for the future.

It’s hard to believe that I could move from one worry to another so quickly, despite the glorious answer to prayer dozing in her crib down the hall. 

And so I pray:

Holy Father, giver and sustainer of life, grant that I may know your perfect peace and trust in your infinite wisdom. Keep my mind fixed on the work of your kingdom and content with the gift of “today.”

Amen.

Kirsten Grace – Month 3

My dear sweet Kirsten Grace,

Happy 3rd Month Birthday! This has been such a fun month with you. When people ask “how’s the baby” I find myself saying, “She is so much fun!” The first few weeks were just about surviving…how to feed you, how to soothe you, how to sleep with one eye open. But as we’ve learned a new sort of normal, the true joy is settling over our home and into the depths of our spirits. You are growing and learning and developing such a sweet personality and it is truly so much fun. Kirsten Grace Month 3

My favorite moment of each day is walking into the room where you’re started to wake, leaning over the edge of your cradle and saying, “Good morning, baby girl!”…and watching the world’s biggest grin cover your face. There is no feeling like that love.

And it got me thinking about our gracious God and how he must feel about us, his children. It doesn’t matter how much we fuss and cry and wrestle with our sin natures the day before, his mercies are new every morning! I believe He cannot wait to see us when we wake. He is thrilled to see if we’ll smile back at him, to watch what new thing we’ll do that day.

Your daddy and I just adore doing life with you, Kirsten. It’s a crazy dance we do, this life as parents, in full time ministry, in marriage. No two days look the same. I have come to accept that my time alone with the Lord may not (read: almost never) come first thing in the morning with my cup of tea and the rising sun. Rather than feeling frustrated by the fact that my schedule is no longer my own, I am learning to seek the Lord at any available interval. She’s asleep and the laundry’s going and it’s 11am? Prayer. She’s content and I have time for yoga and worship? Yes, please. Daddy is home and willing to stick around so I can get in a run? Thankful for the open air devotions.

Sweet girl, if there’s one thing you know about your momma I pray you know how much I love Jesus.

Speaking of your faith, the most momentous event of your third month was your baptism and dedication on Palm Sunday, March 20th. In the Free Methodist Church, we believe in infant baptism as a sacrament, an act of God’s grace in which we are participants. Parents can also choose to dedicate their child, allowing them to select their own baptism as adults, but after much prayer and consideration, we decided we would baptize you. There is a spiritual, mysterious element to any sacrament (i.e. baptism, communion). We show up, we partake, we receive. But the work is done by God’s Spirit.

Thus, we wanted to invite the sanctifying of the Spirit to begin now, putting action to the meaning of your name Follower of Christ by the grace of God. When you are old enough to make a personal commitment to follow Jesus, you will get to participate in an affirmation of your baptism. This will allow you to assume responsibility for the vows we made on your behalf: that your life be lived in consecration and dedication to the Almighty God.

We invited Brian Kono to perform your baptism and dedication ceremony. Brian is a ministry professor at Spring Arbor and was a mentor for both your dad and me during our college days. He is a playing a large part in guiding me through my path to ordination, and he and his wife Angel have become our good friends. Superintendent Bruce & Jerilynn Rhodes were there for this service, along with our church family, five friends (representing many) from Albion, New York, and a portion of our family. We know that those who couldn’t attend – both family and friends – were there with us in spirit, standing in solidarity with the congregation’s affirmation to partner in your spiritual growth.

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Arvidson Great Grandparents, Eccles Grandparents, Mom & Dad & Kirsten, Uncle Brian and Beth
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Tara Thom, Kirsten Liddle, Eccles, Catherine Thom, Ashlyn & Sheryl LeBaron

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iml5mRmcnqQ]


This month Kirsten Grace Eccles:

  • make wonderful eye contact, following us all around the room.
  • loves light & screens (tvs, computers)…oh boy
  • smiles so big! (Her left eye squints in the cutest fashion!)
  • has become quite vocal, giggling, gurgling, and screeching on purpose
  • sometimes stop in the middle of nursing to look up and chat with momma
  • continues to be a star at Panera during many discipleship coffee meetings
  • does really well wearing cloth diapers (mommy & daddy love them too!)
  • seems to be keeping a full head of hair and bright blue eyes (like her Uncle Brian & Aunt Ashley)
  • sings along during church
  • is in a bit of a “momma-attachment” phase
  • enjoys car rides
  • is staying steadily strong and healthy with exclusive breastfeeding (momma is so thankful!)
  • has taken many walks along the River Raisin her carrier or the stroller (can’t wait for warmer days)
  • still loves her baths
  • has slept through the night (7 or 8 hours) on a couple occasions, but mostly keeps a consistent 15-20 minute nursing around 3am and then again at 6am, going back to sleep until 8:30am. (Glory!)

Now for a month’s worth of sweet moments caught on camera:

These first few photos were captured a few minutes before her second church board meeting last night. The sunlight was streaming in the bedroom window and momma just couldn’t resist. (Yes, she was a few minutes late for the meeting. worth it.)

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headband made by Andrea Ortell

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loves sucking on her fist, hasn’t consistently favored any fingers or thumb

 

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Spent all of month 3 sleeping soundly in the cradle made by Great Grandpa Arvidson for Daddy in 1986. And thanks to Amanda Loomis, our neighbor and dear friend for the lovely quilt. 

 

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Waiting for Dr. Aza Khaghany at her 2nd Month Appointment on March 3rd. She HATED the immunizations, but we all survived. (Mommy didn’t even cry!) Kirsten was 23 inches (up from 19.5″) and weighed 11lb 7oz (up from 7lb). Yay!

 

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We visited with the Shepherds a few times. Anastasia is her new friend, and now a big sister to Zoe (born just two days ago!)
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Kirsten goes to work with momma and daddy quite frequently. Here she studies St. Athanasius
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We voted in the Presidential Primaries on March 8th and then walked in the 70 degree temps.

 

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With Mom & Dad at worship practice

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Family Photo on Kirsten’s 3rd Month Birthday

After today’s photo shoot, Daddy read Kirsten his favorite childhood book: If I Had a Little Airplane. She really loved it.

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“I know, isn’t a great book?!”

Kirsten Grace – Month 2

Dear Kirsten Grace,
Sweet daughter of mine,

I am so thankful God chose to give me a gift I could never deserve. Each day His goodness keeps unfolding like a glorious flower, petal after petal, in the beauty of who you are. I pray I will never cease proclaiming His glory, never forget to live out eucharisteo joy over your life. He created you, knit you together in my womb, purposely piecing together every fiber of your being. You are fearfully and wonderfully made, sweet girl.

Jesus Christ is crazy about you. He loves you just as you are, not as you should be.

That quote from Brennan Manning’s All is Grace (by his friend, Brother Dominique) is shaping my perspective of my own life right at this moment. I pray you grow up knowing deep in the center of your being the truth of those words.

*Kirsten Grace 2 months old

This month has been so much fun. Your personality is forming and we are getting to know you more and more with every passing hour. The grins are real now. You stop in the middle of nursing sometimes and just gleam that gummy smile up at me, staring right into my eyes. It’s transformative, really. I can’t fathom the depth of the connection God has given us. I love you, Kirsten, and I tell that you that a million times a day. I pray you believe me, today and always.

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I have made a conscious effort to be present with you, soaking up our moments together, knowing time races by too quickly. I believe it when others tell me how quickly you will grow up. Spending five years waiting for you gave me five years to grow up a little more myself. Perhaps because of that time, I’ve developed a deepened sense of being, convicted that what people need most is the gift of presence. I don’t want to spend my time documenting your life as much as I want to be a part of your life. I apologize in advance if you’re disappointed that I don’t have every momentous occasion written on my calendar. But I do hope you’ll remember that mom and dad were with you, loving you, loving each other, doing life together.

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February 26

In your second month these are some noteworthy moments:

one. You have officially been to Panera more than most people ever have. Wendy and Megan know you by name and are excited every time we walk in. (Yes, we’re on first name basis with baristas too!) Want to know why you’ve been to Panera so much? Because your mom and dad do ministry in an every day place like Panera Bread. I have had three coffee meetings a week for the past three weeks with individuals who are willing to share their lives with me. That time together is totally worth a $2 cup of coffee. (Plus, I can drink coffee again…hooray for no acid reflux!) Depending on who I’m with, we talk about dating and marriage and music and Netflix and education and the Bible…and it’s real life discipleship as we seek to become more like Christ in those seemingly mundane moments.

two. You started sleeping in your cradle on Feb 18, just a couple days shy of 8 weeks. I wrap you up in your Halo swaddle sleeper after nursing you. You might be asleep, you might be awake, but it’s the same time every night and you just go to sleep. No crying. I won’t jinx myself by saying anything more about that little gift.

three. You don’t cry in your carseat anymore; it probably helped we loosened the straps on your shoulders. Yeah this parenting thing is figure it out as you go.

four. We have been exclusively cloth diapering and loving it! I can’t really express why, but your dad and I both are genuinely stoked about our decision to use cloth. (We use BumGeninus all-in-ones in case anyone’s wondering. And side note, a huge thank you to my Albion friends for asking what I really wanted off of our registry and actually going in on a group gift to buy all of our diapers – and a few extras. Seriously, thank you.) The clean up isn’t bad, thanks to your dad’s installation of the sprayer on our toilet, and I’ve gotten into a pretty good washer routine. Plus, your little bum is happy with it which is really the most important part.

five. You still love bath time! I take you right in the shower with me most every day and it works wonderfully. I leave you in the bouncer right outside the shower in just your diaper while I bath myself. Then, I dry off my hands and step out to bring you in with me. You love the warm water and don’t mind it running in your face. You started getting some baby acne during the couple days when I didn’t bath you so back to the routine that seems to work! You happily watch me do my hair and makeup when we’re done because you get to bask in the warmth of the overhead bathroom heater.

six. You’ve been staying in the nursery every Sunday morning while mommy and daddy lead the church service. Only once were you wailing so incessantly that I had to go rescue you before the end of the service, leaving the last hymn unsung. The congregation seemed to understand just fine. :) (And side note, special thanks to the long list of volunteers from MFMC who care so well for you each week. Second side note, thanks to the guys who ran HDMI all the way to the nursery so the workers could watch the service!)
seven. We’ve been going for lots of walks in carrier Lynne made. (She is a brilliant seamstress!) Sometimes you scream and struggle for a moment, but inevitably you fall to sleep all snuggled in next to my heartbeat. It’s good exercise and fresh air for us both (although I keep you covered up because it’s still a bit too nippy for you to be exposed.)

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February 1

eight. You ate from a bottle for the first time on February 23rd. I had been considering a bottle for a while but have no desire to rush it. We still plan to nurse exclusively, leaving the freezer stocked with momma’s milk for whenever Dad or someone else is home with you for a few hours if I need to be away. It’s a relief to know how easily you took the bottle – whether I was holding it or Daddy.

loved watching your Dad give you a bottle today. It was incredible to see him experience that connection for the first time. I couldn’t wipe that smile off of his face if I tried. We both think you were a little confused by the fact that mom is over there, but I’m eating. what the heck? But you didn’t let that stop you.

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February 26

nine.  You got to go with us on our first Family Valentine’s Pizza Date. Every year since college, your daddy and I go on a hunt for a new pizza place. We decided all those years ago that Valentine’s would be a family dinner date, so along you came. We ate a Nick & Nino’s and because we went at 4:30 like the old people that we are, we scored half price appetizers. Best chicken tenders ever, btdubs. We even saw Alisha – the receptionist from my chiropractor’s – and she was so excited to see you! She rushed over to give you a cuddle.


And here are a few more fun shots from this morning’s 2 month old photo shoot. We had a blast with you. I think you like the click of the camera!

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Your hair is long enough for a little spout!
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Big stretch! And WORTH THE WAIT. Amen. Thank you, Amanda, for this most thoughtful gift.

bonus footage from your second month:

January 30th
One of our many Panera trips

 

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Being a Pastor’s Kid means napping next to us while we plan worship services. (January 31)

 

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Sunday, February 7, hanging out with daddy after church.

 

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This was your first time in the Boppy, practicing your neck support (February 9)

 

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Sometimes you nap on my lap while your Daddy and I play chess on the couch and try to keep the cats from batting the pieces. It helps that they’re magnetic. (February 13)

 

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This is my view every night as you fall into sleep. February 16

 

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I love the intensity of your blue eyes. February 18

This particular Sunday (February 21) you had an inordinate amount of energy left after a long morning at church. We snapped some adorable photos of you in the sunlight of your bedroom. I can’t get over the red glints in your hair, your rosy lips, and those bright blue eyes. Plus, can we talk about that baby tunic-style top. I’d totally wear that. (You hit the nail on the head, Kenz.)

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that little tongue of yours. So cute.

And during your second month this has become your typical day:
nighttime
9:45pm In bed to nurse
10:30pm Asleep
3/4:00am Awake to nurse
4/5:00am Back to sleep

daytime
6/7:00am Awake to nurse and get up for the day
7-8:30am Spend time with momma in the living room, in my swing or on her lap, while she does devotions & then yoga.
8/9:00am Bath time with mom or dad. (Bathing is my favorite.)
10am Nurse and read my Jesus Storybook Bible with momma
10am-Noon is morning nap time, for at least an hour, maybe two. Sometimes I play for a bit.
12pm Nurse
1-3pm is afternoon nap time, for an hour or two. Sometimes I prefer to just chat for a while.
3pm Nurse
3-5pm awake and play or nap again
5pm Nurse
5:30-8:30pm Nap and play or Nap and fuss
8:30pm Nurse. Nap on momma’s lap until bedtime nursing.


 

And with that, dear child of mine, I leave you with this prayer from I Thessalonians 5:23-24

“May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul, and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus. He who called you is faithful and he will do this.”

Love,

Momma

My Postpartum Self

My dear sweet Kirsten,

This is the first letter I’m writing to you as I look at your sweet little face, asleep and expressive right beside me. Last night was the hardest night yet, mostly because you’ve been such an amazing sleeper and eater. I think the most difficult part of your crying is when there seems to be nothing left to do to soothe you. The painful screaming just cuts open my heart. I was actually weeping with you last night, so sad that I couldn’t comfort you.

2016-01-07 22.12.45 But besides those rare moments, you are an incredibly “good” baby. You are an answer to my prayers in more ways than just your presence in my life. First, I prayed long and hard that you and I would learn to breastfeed well. I have heard so many painful and frustrating stories from friends, and I just wasn’t sure I could endure that struggle. Once again, God was overly gracious to me and you were an excellent nurser from minute one. We have been a great team, you and I. In fact, your pediatrician was thoroughly impressed with your health at your 10 day appointment. You weighed 7lbs 1/4 oz (we just ignore that quarter ounce because really?…) at birth and left the hospital at 6lbs 9oz. Just a week later you were up to 7lbs 3oz! What? You were surpassing your birth weight so quickly? and you’re breastfed? by a first time mom? Doctor really couldn’t believe it. And neither could I. That appointment went so well that rather than having us come in weekly for your weigh-ins, the Doctor said just come back at 30 days! Go you, Kirsten!

You have the silliest involuntary facial expressions. I crack up laughing sometimes and I can hardly wait to see you using those muscles on purpose.

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You have officially had two diaper blow outs. The first was a week ago and just a quarter-sized ring wet through your clothes and onto my jeans. But this morning…oh, this morning…after our longer-than-ever night last night it was as if you just had to put the cherry on top. Daddy and I were sitting in bed; I was nursing you and he was reading. You were eating and eating and pooping and pooping. I took a moment to lay you on your daddy while I got out of bed and I asked him to change you. That’s when I saw it! My sheets and my nightgown were soaked through with a huge amount of your poo! And of course I had conveniently just spread the mess to the duvet cover when I laid you on your daddy. Wow, way to go, Little Girl. We got you to the bathroom and cleaned you up. The bed was stripped and sheets were washed..and now I am officially a pro at putting on a duvet cover. I should make a youtube video or something. :)

And then there’s me, your momma. How am I doing, you ask? Thanks to be to God who poured out more incredible blessings. After my long marathon of labor and six+ hours of pushing, I managed to be controlled enough during that last push that I didn’t tear or need any stitches. What?! Another specific answer to a long-prayed prayer? Thank you, Lord. I was sore and moved cautiously those first 3 days after delivery. The sorest part of my body, though, were my arms and shoulders from all that pulling myself up during various pushing tactics. Oh and that TDap shot. ouch.

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By day 10 I felt really great and went on my first 3 mile walk down Keegan. It was a beautiful day and your daddy kept you cozy at home while I spent 45 minutes alone with God. Glorious. I went on another walk that week and the three of us walked laps at the mall last Saturday (since it was bitter cold outside). I have accomplished three different (highly modified) Jillian Michaels workouts, mostly doing strength training – weights and squats. I am avoiding all ab work because unfortunately I did end up with a diastasis. If I avoid making it worse with planks or crunches these next few weeks, I may be able to keep from permanent damage. I pray this is the case because all of yoga is core-based and I need (really want) to be back firing on all cylinders eventually.

Breastfeeding is the most amazing weight loss plan, though. Wow, I didn’t really believe I would be this lucky. I went into labor at 174 pounds, up 34 pounds from my original weight. (right on target. yay!) But even this 174 was distributed through my arms and legs, keeping me from fitting into almost any of my pre-pregnancy shirts and pants very early on. I thought for sure this would hang on for months after delivery. Nope. I came home 164lbs. By Day 8 I was 157lbs and this morning (Day 18), I was 149lbs. Never in a million years did I think I’d see the 140s again so quickly. I am able to wear all of my pre-pregnancy shirts already and most of my workout/yoga gear. My pants situation is a little different because right before I got pregnant I got rid of my “bigger” jeans – those 8s I was so acclimated to. I was smaller than ever and wearing 4s and 6s. Thus, I needed some “in between” pants. I went to goodwill last week and found four pairs of size 10s and was amazed I was already wearing 10s. And now this week, they’re already too big for me. Holy Moly. I’ll take it, though!

I have been managing about 6 hours of broken sleep a night which I appreciate. I tend to feel great and energized all morning and if I don’t get at least one nap before 4pm I’m kind of a mess, physically and emotionally. Know your limits, Mel, and respect them.

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Thank you, Father God, for healing my body so quickly and getting me back on my feet and feeling more beautiful than ever. My perception of my body has changed completely, and even if I never look exactly the same (I can’t imagine ever looking exactly the way I did before carrying and delivering a child), I am so, so thankful for the body I’ve been given. I am going to care for myself with respect and gratitude. And for now, I’m going to keep eating like a horse because ohmygosh breastfeeding makes you ravenous.

Advent Waiting: Mine and Mary’s

In December 2013, I wrote about Advent and shared my confession of our own season of waiting. I thought it appropriate to revisit that post as I await the birth of our long-awaited child.


From “Advent: a Reminder to Wake Up

The difficulty is in this time of liminal space (as described by Richard Rohr) in which we are no longer experiencing that which we are comfortable and oh so familiar; yet neither have we seen the resolution of the waiting, the answer, the direction, the everything-is-turning-out-fine moment. We are in the time of holding our breath, left to wait. We can choose to gasp for air, fight for our lives, flee the fearful expectancy. Or we can seek the Lord Jesus Christ in this uncertainty, looking for his movement, listening to his voice. Because even in the waiting, especially in the waiting, there is Jesus.

Dear One, I am waiting with an ever-increasing desire for your arrival. But this morning I prayed this prayer of confession –

Lord Jesus, As hard as this is to admit, I thank you for this long time of advent in my life. This journey of infertility may continue for many more years, I don’t know, but the grace, the blessing has come and is coming in the ways I’m learning to seek you. I imagine where my focus would be right now if I had gotten “my way” and it’s not likely to be totally on you. Teach me now how to keep company with Jesus, how to kindle communion with Him, that it may be an inextricable part of me in years to come.

I look forward to celebrating Advent with you in the years to come, teaching you about the birth of Jesus, the anxiety of Mary and Joseph, the obedience of the wise men and shepherds. I will walk you through the weeks leading up to the day we celebrate his incarnation, teaching you about the discipline of waiting and leading you to look for Jesus especially in those times when we hold our breath. In my hopeful waiting for you to become a part of my life, I pray I will become more and more connected to Jesus. I desire you deeply, but I want my Christ-seeking to always be at the forefront of pursuits. And I want you to know that about me.


I love how true all of those words still ring, two years later. Little Girl, you are my most treasured gift, the one for whom I’m prayed all my life. I have no idea why God chose to say “yes” after all these years, but we are rejoicing! And here I am, approaching the 3rd Sunday of Advent 38 weeks pregnant. Yes, I understand Mary’s journey a little more dearly. Yes, in some way, I am living the Advent. I am in the waiting and expectation of Christ Jesus’ birth; oh what cause for baited breath and celebration! And I am also smack dab in the middle of the waiting and expectation of your birth; not only the when will she arrive but how will Christ Jesus will use your life to change and sanctify me.

I am praying fervently for the labor and delivery work we’re going to do together, Child. I am praying for those moment to be holy, filled with the presence and peace of the Holy Spirit, beyond human understanding. And as I pray I find tears filling my eyes, for I recognize the great gift it is to partner with God in creation. To bring life into this world.

As we await Christmas and celebrate the birth of our Savior, I will share in Mary’s Song for the way the Lord has worked in my own life.

Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.

Luke 1:48b-49

Broken for You

On my morning walk before church I prayed. I was anticipating Holy Communion and asked God to examine my heart and cleanse me. I wanted to be a temple worthy to take part in the body and blood of our Lord Jesus.

And He met me. Right in the middle of struggle. He had heard my desires for surrender.

My child,” the Lord said, “just as Christ’s body was broken that the world may have life, so your body is being broken that you may bring life into the world. Your physical being is my temple. You’ve laid down your life for my kingdom. And so I have asked you to surrender, that my will be done in this world. Through childbirth you will continue in sanctification, setting aside your abilities, your appearance, your desires, in order that I may breathe deeper life into your spirit. Your body is a vessel of the daughter for whom I have great plans. Bear her with grace.”

“Father,” I said, “as Jesus prayed in the garden, ‘if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.’ I asked for years to be given this gift of motherhood. And then I surrendered my desire. But it became a new sort of selfish. And of that, too, you are breaking me. Use my body for Kingdom work. I’m laying down my pride, proclaiming my desire for you to use and transform and break my body that She may have life. And for those whom she will lead to Life eternal.”

And even as Christ Jesus was resurrected his body bore the scars, remembrance of his sacrifice, proof of our redemption. “So, Father God, remind me in the years to come of the good my body has done. As it shows signs of this life-giving, transformative, Spirit-seeking time in my life, may it be a remembrance of His sacrifice and mine. For your good.”

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.