A Hope For Our Children -Alex Sommerville

But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!
— Romans 5:19

What gift shall we bring? Christmas is in two days and thoughts of gifts are on our minds. If you're like me you're wondering if everything's wrapped, if you got something for everyone on your list...there's a little anxiety but there's also anticipation! My son is almost two and he's full of energy so I am really looking forward to our morning family time this year, knowing he will probably be very interactive with all our family and love the excitement of opening gifts. 

What is your idea of the greatest gift to your child? Move past Christmas and think long term.

Unconditional love?

Endless joy?

The ability to think for themselves? 

Support for whatever and whoever they want to be when they grow up?

Health and good living?

Success and a family?

The list goes on. You may have a baby growing in your womb, an energetic toddler, or a son or daughter who is out of the house and married with kids....but all of you have desires for these blessings that may oftentimes feel inexpressible. We hope they won't make the same mistakes we did and we hope they will never abandon what we teach them. We hope they'll always be treated fairly and that they'll always be in good health. But the reality is so much of this is out of our control. Life will always be full of ups and downs because of two things. 

The first is that we didn’t believe God’s promises and we put ourselves in the place of God. 

The second is that because we chose that path the world is broken and a mess. 

In Genesis, we read that God made the world and it was good. Man and God communed. They were together in ultimate paradise. They was no toil in their labor, no pain, no suffering, no disease, no ill-will for mankind. Children weren't in the picture yet, but if they had been, they would be perfectly obedient! 

It is not far into the story, though, that Adam and Eve questioned God and chose themselves over Him. The communion was broken and they became separated from God. Why wouldn't they believe Him and trust His word. Sound familiar? I see this in myself, and now I see it in my child: 

Noah, let's get buckled up....no.

Noah, please eat...no

Noah, time for bed....no

Noah, stop hitting....no

Noah, do not jump off the couch...no

Noah, don't climb on the rocks without mommy........

Even when I am lovingly teaching my son things that are good for him, he still disobeys me.

Aren't we all stubborn? We want to do things our way, this is the tragic human condition. We just learn to hide it as we get older and be more subtle, but the truth is that we are all slaves to sin (Romans 6). 

God wants good for us, we choose our way. He wants to embrace us, we turn and embrace countless other idols.

But God is the perfect parent, isn't He? What a joy to remember and stir our wayward hearts:  

O Lord, you have searched me and known me!

You know when I sit down and when I rise up;

you discern my thoughts from afar.

You search out my path and my lying down

and are acquainted with all my ways.

Even before a word is on my tongue,

behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.

You hem me in, behind and before,

and lay your hand upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;

it is high; I cannot attain it.
— Psalm 139:1-6

The beautiful part is that He knows our flaws but loves us still. Christian scholar, Timothy Keller says it like this, 

“To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.”

When our children are thrown into life's difficulties, or even just their own struggle with sin, God’s promise to know and love them does not change because He sees Jesus in their place. He sees His perfect Son who came to earth and died for us, that the curse of sin would be broken. 

 

Mamas, the greatest gift you could give your children, and not just this holiday season, but for as long as you parent them, is a hope greater than your parenting and provision, greater than all the things the world says will satisfy them, greater than themselves. Give them the hope of Jesus. 

May you rest today in this encouragement of God’s promises through Christ, and boldly point your children to Jesus. 

 

QUESTIONS FOR APPLICATION/ REFLECTION:

1. Do you think of your child's rebellion as primarily rebellion against you or against God? Why is it important to see and emphasize the latter in order for them to see their need for Jesus?

2. How can you intentionally point your children to Jesus in some specific ways over the course of the next few days? 

3. Have you ever felt loved but not known, or known but not loved? How does the coming of Christ offer us the opportunity to feel loved and known simultaneously? How can we model that to our kids?

 

 
 

Alex Somerville is a stay-at-home mom in Holly Springs, NC. Going on three years of marriage with her handsome husband, she has learned so much about God's redemption and love. They have a little boy who is almost two and loves playing in their backyard with their seven chickens and two cats. Alex finished her M.A. in Intercultural Studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary the year before Noah was born, and is passionate about latino culture, coffee, calligraphy, and connecting with fellow moms! Just recently, her and her husband started Somerville Coffee Co. where they roast delicious coffee for their local community! You can find their coffee at somervillecoffee.com and connect with her on Instagram via alexandra_som. 

 

 

Meaning to Mundane -Leli Holmes

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
“when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch,
King who will reign wisely
and do what is just and right in the land.
— Jeremiah 23:5
And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
— Luke 2:8-20

My dream growing up was very simple--to have a family and stay home with my children. God had a different timetable than I did, and I found myself in the workforce for many years waiting to have a family. Two weeks before my daughter arrived, I stopped working and began to prepare for her. My dream was finally falling into place perfectly…until it didn’t.  My plan did not include a birth complication that sent my firstborn to the NICU and then home on two months of oxygen, or the incredibly stressful first few weeks followed by loneliness, or the questioning of my professional value as the years grew the gap in my resume. I no longer won awards or received raises; instead, I earned a lot of tantrums, blowouts and spit-ups. I found myself sometimes envious of the mothers that still went to work in cute outfits living with a double income when I was carefully budgeting under one. Don’t get me wrong-- I love being home with my kids; but when we wait for something for a long period of time, we develop lofty expectations and are disappointed when results don’t measure up. 

The Jewish people were living in poverty under harsh Roman rule. According to their interpretation of the prophesies about Christ, they were expecting a king who would come in and kick out the Romans with power and majesty. But, their king was not what they expected. He came as a tiny, weak baby born to parents who had no social status in the poverty of a manger. This was not a birth story of nobility and pageantry. The cast of characters were not the wealthy and influential. They were the poorest shepherds and their livestock. The setting was not a palace, but a filthy, cold stable filled with feces. And yet it was the perfect setting for Him to display His Glory.

 

As mothers we are knee deep in all of the messes and all of the thankless hours and sleepless nights.  Have you ever had the thought… this is not what I was expecting? Which of us has not been disappointed by circumstances or perhaps even the nature of our children and thought…”this is not what I had in mind, Lord.”? Which of us has not questioned the significance of our work around our house cleaning up the same messes day after day?

 

I know personally I am on my knees much of the time letting God know…this is the hardest job I have ever done; it seems impossible, so I need You to fill me with Your strength and wisdom just to make it through bed time where I am bouncing kids in and out of bed amidst the endless requests for water or hugs. Or, dealing with the willful child that seems to out-argue me every time? Or, the fact that every day can feel like Groundhog Day as I clean the house and my littles follow and unclean behind me.

 

But the little ones under our care are important parts of His kingdom, and the mundane, messy, repetitive tasks we accomplish every day are a gateway through which we can teach them and point them to Christ. What an amazing and weighty gift-- to be responsible for reflecting God’s glory to the next generation! And we see in the story of Christmas that the “less than we expected” is exactly what he uses.

 

God specializes in writing scripts that often surprise us. The setting of Jesus’ birth story in the mire and the muck must have come out of nowhere to the Jews and yet how amazing that God used the lowest and the poorest, the filthy and the gross as the setting for the greatest story ever told, the birth of His Son in human form-- a testament to the fact that the things that God values are profoundly different from those of the world. Be encouraged today as you do the seemingly mundane tasks, that you never know the script God is writing for you; trust the Author of the greatest story ever told that you are an important and integral part of His amazing redemptive story.

 

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION/ APPLICATION:

  1. In what way has motherhood been less than or different than you expected?
  2.  How does the setting that God chose for the birthplace of the savior of the world bring significance and value to your daily chores that might seem insignificant?
  3. Invite Him into these seemingly mundane tasks today and ask Him to see them through His perspective.
  4. Spend some time praying and surrender your unmet expectations.  Praise Him that He often works in ways that do not make sense to us in order to better display His Glory.
 
 

Leli is a momma to three littles living in the Lowcountry of South Carolina. She is learning from her children every day and together with her husband embracing the beautiful chaos that makes up their lives. She blogs regularly at Big Beautiful Chaos to share her passions....cooking from scratch, writing, graphic design and adventures or misadventures into the dangerous world of DIY, but more importantly to provide a window into her imperfect family to offer hope and generate some laughs and encouragement to fellow travelers on the journey of parenting small children. 

CHILDREN OF GOD -BRITTANY SALMON

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
— John 1:9-13
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.
— 1 John 3:1-2

      Earlier this year, something incredible happened to our family. We grew through the gift of adoption.

 

As I sat in the hospital rocking my son, flesh of someone else’s flesh, I felt the most incredible joy looking at his face, making note of every feature. We counted his toes and kissed his forehead. We noted every baby wrinkle and learned the sound of his (very loud) cries. You see we were strangers, and yet we were family. Adoption is beautifully bizarre in that way.

 

Nurses, enjoying seeing a family united, would frequently come in and tell us how beautiful he was. They were in awe of his big feet and fawned over his full head of hair. Curiosity and a genuine desire to see Jude thrive pushed them to come in with cups of coffee on their breaks to chat and observe this unlikely yet holy union. For the next five days we cocooned in a NICU hospital room, rocking him, changing diapers, tending to his every need. His tiny room didn’t have a bed so we arranged a room at the Ronald McDonald house that we never ended up using because we didn’t want to leave his side. It was as if we were making up for lost time.

 

Thus, through the bravery of a birth mom and a ferocious love from his parents, Jude became a Salmon. He was born with one name, but he left the hospital with another.

 

And because of the incarnation the same can be said of you.

 

Adoption is the foundation of our redemptive story; it is the chorus of our song. You see, the story of redemption begins with humanity being born with one family name, and then adopted into a royal one.

 

Christ, the incarnate deity, came down to his own people, took on human flesh, so that we could become children of God. He traded his throne for a dirty manger so that you and I could be called sons and daughters. He came to his people, lived a life free of sin, and yet he was mocked, beaten, and crucified. He went to the depths of hell and overcame the grave, so that you and I could forsake our sin-stained names and put on Christ’s holy one. And because that precious baby chose to come to earth to be Emmanuel, God with Us, our lives are completely changed.

 

That is our Christmas story, our adoption story.

 

But it doesn’t end there. Christ’s incarnation didn’t only change our legal standing with him, it completely changed how we relate to God as Father.

 

You see, when I look at Jude, I never think of him with his biological last name. I don’t see him as kind of a Salmon and kind of something else. I see him as 100% fully mine. His new name doesn’t just change his position legally, it changes his entire life relationally.  He has access to everything my biological children have access to. There is no place on this earth that he can run to that will help him escape my love. There is no poor choice that is capable of severing my deep affection for him. He is my son. Forever and always a Salmon.

 

Oh child of a King, there is nothing that can ever separate you from the love of your Good Father. No sin committed, no matter how far you run, you will forever and always be His child. That secret you’re hiding? He knows about it and He loves you still. That sin you’re wrestling with? He overcame the grave so that in Christ you can withstand temptation. That furnace of suffering you’re walking through? He came to this earth so you wouldn’t have to walk it alone. That guilt that you carry so heavily on your shoulders? He has taken your judgement and stands before the Father and says, it’s already been paid for. She’s mine. 

 

See what kind of love the Father has given us that we should be called the children of god; and so we are.

 

Oh to be sons and daughters of the One who is called Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, Provider, Protector, Healer, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, our ABBA FATHER. Jesus, our baby in the manger, did that for us. You see as we anticipate the celebration of Christ’s birth, we also celebrate how this baby made it possible for us to be adopted children of a Good Father, a glorious King.

 

Joyeux Noël adopted ones, praying you find rest in your identity as children of God this advent season. 

 
 

QUESTIONS FOR APPLICATION/REFLECTION:

1. Have you ever thought about being adopted, or grafted into Christ’s family? How does it make you feel? 

2. Do you view your adoption into Christ’s family as more of a legal change or a relational change? Why? What difference does this perspective make?

3. How does your experience of being a mother give you a fuller understanding of what it means to be a daughter of God?

4. How can you as a parent use your position to make this doctrine easier for your little ones to grasp? 

 

 

Brittany Salmon is a wife, mother and advocate for adoption. A graduate from Cedarville University, she received a MA from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and a MA in Teaching from North Carolina State University. She writes on faith and family over at www.thesassysalmon.com andwww.instagram.com/brittanynsalmon.  When she’s not writing or chasing her children, she enjoys reading, eating Chick-fil-A and spending time with her tribe.

 

Far As the Curse Is Found -Emily Euliss

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.
— Revelation 21:3-6
No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.
— "Joy to the World" by Isaac Watts

 

This year I’ve shed many tears and come face to face with death and disease and the stark reality that things are not as they should be. But that was not the way I entered 2016. In fact, I rang in 2016 by kissing my husband and cheerfully telling him it was a good year to have some more babies. Yes, Babies. Plural. Because less than a year after welcoming our first child, Paul,  we were blessed by not one but two more little forms on the ultrasound. Identical twin boys. When the shock began to fade, the excitement and planning began and increased with every complication-free week that passed. Twins frequently come early, especially the kind I was carrying with a shared placenta. So when I was still pregnant at 34 weeks, my anxiety over pre-term birth started to recede.

 

However, just a few days later our twins, Joshua and Nathan, were born at 34.5 weeks after a horrible labor and birthing experience that stood in stark contrast to the beautiful, dignifying water birth of my first. I wasn’t even allowed to visit my babies in the NICU for their first 48 hours of life because there were concerns that I might have a stomach virus and put other babies at risk. And two days after their birth, not long after we were finally reunited, I watched my newborn son Nathan die.

In a matter of hours, my twins went from facing “normal premie issues” to a fast and furious array of confusing symptoms taking over first Nathan’s body and then Joshua’s. I watched a medical team working over Nathan’s lifeless body as I prayed and screamed and cried out to God not to take him. And then begged God to please, please bring him back.

 

 Holding the twins in the NICU. Nathan is in the blue hat; Joshua in the white.

Holding the twins in the NICU. Nathan is in the blue hat; Joshua in the white.

I watched as Joshua’s body began to mirror the same symptoms that so rapidly led to Nathan’s death. We learned Nathan died from E. Coli Sepsis and Joshua fought the same bacterial infection, but because Nathan’s symptoms manifested first, we were able to react faster with Joshua’s care. By some merciful mystery, Joshua was spared and the high doses of strong antibiotics did their job. But there is so much more we will never know. So many more questions that I have to be content with not knowing their answers. How and Why and What and again the why, why, why?

 

Joshua spent 17 days in the hospital before we brought him home. Instead of coming home from the hospital into the life of twin-parenting we had been dreaming of and preparing for for months, we swung by Nathan’s freshly-dug grave and continued living in the now-familiar tension of grieving Nathan’s death and celebrating Joshua’s health.

 

Then we went home, but only for a few hours before we were back at that same hospital. Our 15 month old Paul was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes and in a dangerous state of Diabetic Ketoacidosis. We exchanged the NICU for the PICU but it was much the same blur— doctors and nurses and not being certain if our child would make it through the night.

 

 Paul in the hospital just hours after we left, being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.

Paul in the hospital just hours after we left, being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.

Thanks be to God that Paul’s medical team diagnosed his Type 1 Diabetes and started him on the life-saving insulin therapy that he will need every day for the rest of his life, or until a cure is found. There’s no diet or lifestyle change that could have prevented this auto-immune disease and there’s no treatment other than insulin. He won’t grow out of it or go into remission or get any break until we have a cure.

So I’m ending this year much differently than I began it. I’ve tasted the residue left by death, evil, and disease and now this season has an added flavor of grief as well as the taxing responsibility of trying to “manage” an unruly, ever-changing Monster that is diabetes (in my oft-unruly, ever-changing, but quite adorable Toddler).

God is making all things new. But things are not yet as they should be. And Advent is a season where we recognize the tension of already accomplished redemption through Jesus but the not yet full realization thereof. We look forward to celebrating His first coming on Christmas as we are also waiting for his return to earth to fully eradicate the hard, sad things.

This Advent as we look forward to celebrating Jesus’ coming as a baby in a stable, we’re also eagerly awaiting the day of His Second coming and the redemption he will bring as far as the curse is found. He is our hope.

 

Come, Lord Jesus. Come and make all things new.

 

 

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION/ APPLICATION:

  1. Although you may not have experienced the loss of a child or raising a child with a chronic illness, what are some of the ways that you have experienced that results of the "curse" of the fall in your own family? This can be a simple as skinning their knee, getting the flu, or being in pain.
  2. How does the promise that one day God will wipe every tear from our eyes, and the promise that he is making all things new, change the way that re receive the sickness and death of our children? 

 

 

 

 

Emily Euliss is the mama of three boys, including a toddler who needs help filling in for his Pancreas and a set of identical twins (one of whom is in heaven). Emily is married to her middle school sweetheart and is an outlier in most other demographic categories, too. She's selectively "crunchy," prefers her Kraft Easy Mac cold or reheated, and loves to eradicate Comic Sans font for the glory of God. 

"Fear Not" -Brianna Meade

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
— Romans 8:31-39
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.
— John 14:27
But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.
— Luke 1:13
And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.”
— Luke 1:30
And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
— Luke 2:10
But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.
— Matthew 1:20
But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.”
— Isaiah 43:11

There are moments as a mother when you feel like you are doing nothing right. I remember one particular time with my daughter when she was about four. She was racing through the Target aisle and slipped out of my sight for a brief moment. I searched through the next aisle, but she was nowhere to be found. Then, suddenly, she reappeared, dancing and laughing.

 

It took everything within me to gather myself up and speak to her calmly. 

 

The truth was, I wasn’t angry at her because she was being bad. I was angry at her for striking the chord of fear. I was mad because I was scared.  The stakes feel so very high when you have kids that fear can feel too strong.

 

If you’re like me, you may experience fear as a swelling in your stomach, a rise in your heartbeat, and a feeling like you are gripping on the edge of a rollercoaster handle with no guarantee that there is a buckle restraining you. You may even find it difficult to breathe.

 

Without Christ and the incarnation, we might as well be wheeling through life without anything to hold onto. If we lack an understanding of why bad things happen, we can find ourselves adrift in a sea of constant change and tumult. Without a loving Father, we go from ‘fear’ to ‘fear.’

 

But with Christ, we can experience calm, and Jesus’ quiet voice asking that we surrender to his presence. This presence may even be compared to the ‘physical’ presence we can find in our imagination. Sometimes when I am having a particularly bad day, I just need to meditate on being held. Every so often, I will crawl in bed and wrap myself in a soft blanket. Here, I imagine the Jesus in the form of a blanket wrapped around me. I imagine being held in the palm of his hand, safe and secure, and I feel calmed by his compassion and gentleness. This meditation on Jesus ‘holding us’ can curtail fear.

 

In our fear, we may relate very much to Mary who was told that she would carry a baby, the son of God. And yet, her entire village and many others would misunderstand her.  At moments, Mary must have felt trapped by fear, but she also had the comfort of the angel whom God had sent, and the warm kicks of a baby – Jesus! – in her belly. The angel said to Mary, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God.’ And to us, God whispers You don’t have to be afraid, through the birth and resurrection of that same son. 

 

Similarly, just as Mary trusted God for the life of her baby and her future, we can also seek comfort that God has gifted us with our own children to raise and to love.

 

Sometimes we might feel that we have to get his attention – “Look! Do you even see what is happening?” We may note the rush of adrenaline filling our hearts and minds, making it difficult to even pray. But Jesus is not confined by emotions or hormones, nor difficult scenarios. Jesus calmly and lovingly surveys our worries and our fears – he attentively meets our needs in the midst of our anxieties.

 

Perhaps you can join me in meditating on this: Jesus, the incarnational being of God, is present in these weaknesses of our own bodies and spirits. Jesus, the son of our Father God, is compassionate to the lowly, the tired, and the anxious. Thank goodness for this, a baby in the manger, who would come to understand our deepest concerns and our greatest emotional frailties, and love us still.

 

QUESTIONS FOR APPLICATION / REFLECTION:

  1. What sort of fears cycle through your mind as a mama? What scary thoughts make your heart rate rise or creep into your dreams or prevent you from being able to rest?
  2. How does the birth and resurrection of Jesus whisper "do not fear" to any and all of the things we could possibly be afraid of finally and forever?
  3. Brianna mentions her mental exercise of imagining the presence of Christ tangibly. What is a practical way for you to guard your heart and mind with the truth that Christ coming to earth shatters your fears? 
 

Briana Meade is a writer and contributor for Off the Page ministries, an online magazine for twenty and thirty-somethings. She has two children: Zoe (5) and Kaiden (3). She is a voracious non-fiction book reader and decent cook.

SANCTIFICATION: MAKING US BETTER -Jamison Kelley

For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
— Romans 7:18-25

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
— Hebrews 4:14-16

Before I was a mother, I knew very little of my need for Christ on a daily basis.  I was a "good person." I knew that wasn't enough to get me into heaven - but I was comfortable with my level of righteousness (insert eye roll, ignorant arrogance). Ignorance is bliss, as they say. Whoever "they" are, they're wrong.

It's not blissful to not be desperate for the life changing and heart transforming love of Immanuel.  It's tragic. Yesterday, we read about how we are justified by faith in Christ. That, sister-friends, is the very best news.  But the good news doesn't stop there! As good and final as that most wonderful news is, it has a sweet subheading, if you will: Sanctification.

Sanctification says that while we are justified through faith in Christ, he doesn't leave us there. God looks on us and sees the righteousness of Jesus. Amen. But what about walking out the rest of our earthly life in this sinful human flesh?  Good news, the sequel, God promises to make us more like Jesus through the Holy Spirit (Ez. 36:27, Phil 2:13, 2 Thess 2:13). All the praise hands.

QUESTION 35. What is sanctification?

ANSWER: Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man, after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.
— The Westminster Shorter Catechism

Now that I am a mother, I am painfully aware on a moment by moment basis of my desperate need for Jesus' saving grace and the powerful work of the Holy Spirit in my heart. I can say with total confidence that being more like Jesus is my deepest and most pressing desire - because I just cannot remain as I am. I cannot be the mom that is quick to anger everyday.

In my experience, motherhood creates an environment where it is utterly impossible for me to succeed on my own.

As mothers, we are tired deep in our bones from years of lack of sleep, emotional and physical trauma, and overall uncertainty of whether we are ruining our kids everyday. In our state of exhaustion in ALL areas of personhood, we are still expected to meet the very demanding needs of our children. And do it with grace and patience so as to point them to the saving grace of Jesus. For we know, they will see him in our actions more than they hear him in our words. Ughhhhhhhh. Go ahead and put me down for FAILURE.

But. No. Motherhood is not just a prescription for feeling like a failure all the time.

Motherhood offers the unique opportunity to be reminded literally ALL the time of our desperate need to be more like Jesus. Motherhood apart from Jesus' easy yoke and light burden is a recipe for disaster. BUT. Motherhood walking in surrendered dependence on a Savior that is able to sympathize and truly CHANGE our hearts, now that is a most beautiful journey. God’s grace to us through Jesus abounds and is sufficient for us in every situation (1 Corinthians 9:8).

 The Kelley Bash Brothers, at a moment of peace. Stephen (almost 2) and Luke (3.5).

The Kelley Bash Brothers, at a moment of peace. Stephen (almost 2) and Luke (3.5).

When I hear my own harsh tone come out of my child's mouth over a tiny inconvenience.  When his words parrot words I have shouted at him, only now he’s shouting at his baby brother... it is heartbreaking on so many levels, but the deepest level is the disappointment I feel with myself.  My sin is coming forth out of the mouths and actions of my children.  I am desperate to do better.  Why can’t I JUST BE PATIENT. I’m trying… truly. I love God’s word and his law and I WANT to follow it, but I just CANNOT. 

 But, let us not give in to despair!  Like Paul in Romans 7, we cannot stop at "Wretched man that I am!" We must see that Christ is our daily deliverance from sin! Jesus knows we cannot do it - that's why he came.  He became like us, so that we could become like him. We cannot will ourselves to be more patient, kinder, or more joyful, but we can ask that Jesus will develop those good fruits in our spirit - knowing he is faithful to carry out that request.  What more could we ever hope to teach our children than our own need for Jesus - and his faithfulness to meet our deepest needs?

Motherhood is not easy, but it is beautiful.  One of the most beautiful pieces of the journey is the pruning, breaking, and rebuilding of our selves.  Of course it’s uncomfortable. Mothering our precious babies strips us to the core of our beings where there is no room left to hide in our facades of self-righteousness. The comfort of thinking we are "good people" is gone because Jesus, help me, no I will NOT give you one more snack before lunch BECAUSE I SAID SO!  Am I right? 

Through the ins and outs of our day, we come face to face with our sinful flesh as our children stretch us to the limits with their needs. What an opportunity to constantly do two things:

1.     Be filled with absolute gratitude that God sees Jesus' righteousness when he looks on us as his adopted children.

2.     Be humbled that Jesus is walking out our days alongside us, and is able and willing to give us all he has promised. If. We. Ask.

Sinners raising sinners is a messy business.  But, we as regenerate mothers can hold onto the hope that we are not stranded in our sin patterns.  Jesus has come to rescue us eternally, but also in the here and now.  He is faithful to his promises, and he is faithful to give all we ask according to those promises (Matthew 7:7-8).  One of which is wisdom.  Let's ask him for wisdom as we mother.  And let's ask him for grace.  For our children.  And, perhaps more importantly, for ourselves: grace to admit we cannot do it alone and then the grace to change through his power. He is the great redeemer, of our souls, and our days.


So this advent season, as we celebrate the coming of baby Jesus - let us remember that that baby grew up to be our Savior that is ever interceding for us and sanctifying us through his grace. Sometimes his grace to us is the joy of the birth of a child. And then his continued grace to us, is how the challenges of raising that child offers us the opportunity to press hard into His grace so that we can become more like him. What a precious gift from our most precious earthly gifts.

 

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION/ APPLICATION:

  1. What in your role as a mother has recently caused you to despair over yourself/ your sin?

  2. Does your struggle to be a "better mom" feel like pulling teeth or being swept up into a dance? How might your mothering look different if you appealed to the spirit instead of your own strength to be more like Jesus?

  3. Spend some time in prayer asking for specific help in the places you feel you are falling short. Praise God for his grace that covers your motherhood and makes change possible.

 
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Jamison Kelley is wife to Michael, a Chick-fil-A operator in Vero Beach, Florida and is mother to Luke (3) and Stephen (almost 2).  Motherhood began one week prior to her first wedding anniversary, and with it came great joys and deep sorrows - including two open heart surgeries for Stephen in his first 4 months, and more to come in his future.  Her boys are wild and amazing - all three of them.  She is passionate about intentional living, authentic community, pursuing truth, and family.  When she does get free time you can find her reading all the books, watching Food Network, or choosing plants at Lowe's to replace the ones that have already perished under her care.  She blogs sporadically at GloryInTheMoment.blogspot.com.

 

 

Hope In The Waiting -Ashley Olsen

Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes, have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”
— Luke 2:25-35

The Latin word for Advent is the simple yet powerful word: coming. It is a season and time of expectant waiting and anticipation. We prepare for the day we have been longing for. We look forward and long for what is to come. As a Christian during the season of Advent we do two things: We eagerly await the day when our Lord will return to His bride and make all things new, but we also remember the day He humbly came to this broken, sinful world and made a way for sinners like you and me.

As mom’s we do the same thing. We await the coming of the next season with our children. We grow weary in the current duration of challenge and hardship. We fall prey to the lie that what is ahead of us will be easier than our current situation. We get bored and overwhelmed with our everyday life.  

  • Once they are sleeping through the night I will have more rest and will enjoy the newborn stage.
  • Once they are eating solid foods then we can go out to eat and things will not be as hard.
  • Once they stop teething they will not be as fussy.
  • Once they are walking it will not be as hard to get out and about with them.
  • Once they are talking it will be so much easier to communicate and understand what he or she needs.
  • Once they are out of diapers we will think about having another one.
  • Once they are in preschool I can think about getting my house back together.
  • Once they are in school then I can go and enjoy some of the things that I used to do before children.
  • Once they are all old enough we can start having real family vacations. 

The list can go on and on as we linger in our parenting distresses and daydreams.

I understand this all too well. I am in an advent season of my own.  I am a mom of 3 children aged 14, 11, and 7. Our family moved to Edinburgh, Scotland last January as fulltime missionaries. My husband quit his corporate world job, we sold our house, raised support, and moved to a new land. We left the comfort of our community and all things that we see as familiar. This past fall I became very homesick and was stricken with anxiety and depression. Yes, missionaries are broken and human and still have struggles. There have been many days where I just longed to mark another day off the calendar. I just longed to be home and believed that somehow if I were in the comfort of all things familiar I would be happy.  I have, in my flesh, desired and anticipated the next thing. Often when the hard hits, we are tempted to set our hope on “the next thing” to deliver us, the things the accuser tells us we “deserve.” On the other side of “waiting,” it looks so much easier, happier, safer, depictable, and green.

Simeon was a man well acquainted with living in the present but also knowing that more was to come. He was anxiously awaiting the consolation of Israel. He knew that He would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. I am sure it had to be hard at times as he waited. He still had to live out his everyday life. He had to keep being present and available to those around him, as we must do in the lives of our families. But seeing the Christ child was the renewal of his hope for redemption!

The longing and ache we feel for things to be better isn’t cured by any earthly “next thing.” The longing and ache we feel is for our redemption. Like Simeon, our ultimate hope must be on seeing the coming of Jesus: our ultimate redemption. When Simeon saw the Christ child, God’s promise to him fulfilled, he felt ready to die…  but when we behold Christ, we are emboldened to continue, knowing that God is faithful to fulfill his promises to us.

We continue advent and Christmas because we must remember the object of our hope: Our King of Kings made Himself an outcast, our Savior made Himself poor, for our ultimate deliverance from everything “hard” in a fallen world.

Can I encourage you in this advent season to pause? Take a deep breath. Look around at your current blessings.  Look at the current hardships. Contemplate and linger in the present provision of God’s grace to you. But as you pause, also look back at God’s faithfulness through all generations and in your own personal story. Let His provision be the very thing that spurs you on, presently serving and loving in one of the greatest gifts you have been given: motherhood. The accuser wants you to jump forward and miss out on the sweetest moments. He wants you to just go through the motions. But God wants you to find joy in the mundane daily life of motherhood by setting your ultimate hope on Christ.

May God richly bless each of you this advent season and may we be women who linger and reflect on the goodness of Christ in all things.

 

Questions for Reflection/Application:

  1. How are you as a momma living everyday life? Are you just waiting for what is next? Are you longing to skip this hard season? Do you wish you could just jump ahead so it would be easier?
  2. What hopes do we value as moms above seeing Christ come?
  3.  How would your motherhood look different on a daily basis if your greatest hope, like Simeon, was seeing redemption in Jesus?

 

Ashley is a born and bread low country southern momma who now lives in Edinburgh, Scotland.  She and her family moved from Charleston, SC last January to all things British with World Witness. She has been been married to her husband, Nathan, for 18 years and together they have 3 children: Sarah Elizabeth, Knox, and Mary Haddon. She enjoys homeschooling their children, painting, decorating, and being with the people she loves.  You can contact her at olsonsteamscotland@gmail. com .

A Crafted Christmas -Austin Kristoff

Suggested Scripture Readings: Genesis 1-2;  Matthew 5:14-16

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it...

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him... The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
— John 1:1-14
The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
— Colossians 1:15-20

 

I feel like many of us mamas fit into two camps: those of us who are absolutely lit on fire by the adornments, decorations, and creations of the Christmas season, and those of us who would just like to light them on fire and be done with it all.

No matter which camp you find yourself in, or perhaps if you find yourself commuting between them with feelings of love and hate—I want to share a revelation with you.

Christmas is a celebration of craft. 

Sure, there’s crafting ornaments, baking cookies, trimming the tree, wrapping gifts and all sorts of other “crafted” traditions at Christmas, but that’s not exactly what I mean (so don’t hyperventilate yet, non-creatives). I’m not really speaking of clothespin reindeer and cotton ball Santa beards, but to craft—to make or produce with care, skill, or ingenuity. 

Craft is at the very heart of God. Genesis 1 tells us that our creator God made all the world and us in His image, and He did it with care and skill and SO MUCH ingenuity and imagination. Think of the exquisite palette of hair, skin, and eye colors; the timbres of different voices you love; the unique talents and giftings of your children; our differences in humor and height and opinion and experience; the soft and tender places where God’s love pricks each of us in an individual way. This is the workmanship of the Master Creator, and His craft is beautiful. 

Now consider that this Creator, the very One who made us with such skill and care, of all the endless choices and possibilities, came to Earth in our flesh, in our likeness (John 1:14). This is the craft of Christmas. Christ, who was with God from the beginning, painted the whole picture for our world, and yet in that picture painted Himself as a servant, coming to us and all our stuff as a naked and helpless babe and then dying on a cross for our sins. Talk about ingenuity! Who would have imagined that? 

And when the image of the invisible God was born in that dirty cattle stall, all of the earth that He Himself had created rejoiced. All of nature couldn’t help but declare the glory of His coming, He who is both the firstborn and the fulfillment of all creation. 

Listen the words of some beloved Christmas carols, for example. Have you ever noticed that “all morning stars together proclaim the holy birth” (“O Little Town of Bethlehem”)? Or that “heaven and nature sing,” and that “fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains repeat the sounding joy?” (“Joy to the World”). Even the ox and lamb “kept time!” (“The Little Drummer Boy”). If God’s other created works cried out in song, art, and light to celebrate Him and declare His glory, how much more appropriate for us, those who are made in His image? Go read Psalm 98. The stars were made to shine for the Lord, and so were we. He has crafted each of us uniquely with talents and tendencies that we might use them and enjoy them, but ultimately to reveal and reflect Him. Using our gifts is an act of worship and adoration of the Creator God. 

So, dear Mamas, let’s challenge ourselves to a Crafted Christmas.

Say what?

I can guess what you might be thinking. Maybe your heart is starting to beat faster. Does this mean that we’re called as moms to make elaborate Victorian-style gingerbread houses or intricate, homespun garlands of popcorn and cranberry that the dog (or your toddler) will eat 3 minutes later? 

I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe not. 

What I mean is, what are your gifts? Maybe you’re really good at tablescapes. Maybe untangling lights is your jam. Perhaps you can find the perfect gift for everyone on your list AND stay within budget (come teach me your ways!). Whatever it is, if it’s life-giving for you and says to the world, “God made me and God created a plan to love me forever. LOOK! Isn’t He the most awesome?” then DO IT. Do that thing that sings a new song of joy unto the Lord. Do that thing that radiates His light. And help your kiddos discover what that thing is for them.

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For some people that IS the artistic talent of wrapping presents in the most intricate and beautiful fashion. For some people that IS baking cookies in forty-five shapes that are (almost) too pretty to eat. For others that IS reading stories to their children in animated and expressive voices that bring the words to life. For others that IS telling jokes at the dinner table, or bringing loads of food to the needy without fanfare, or staying up late to put together all 600 plastic parts of the toy truck with as much patience and as little cursing as possible. My thing is dressing up like an elf and visiting elderly people in nursing homes (I’m not kidding). 

What’s that thing for you?

For some people in some seasons, that thing IS being the reminder of God’s goodness and faithfulness. That thing IS loving and listening and nurturing the people God’s given to you well, and absolutely nothing else. The art of loving one another well is no small gift, and if He’s crafted that into you, use it with abundance and with abandon. 

Christ made that thing in you. Our God pulled out all the stops. 

So don’t buy into the untruth that Christmas trappings and trimmings and tinsel and trees have no place in our remembering of Christ’s birth, and don’t buy into the lie that Christmas won’t be Christmas without the perfect place setting or Pinterest-worthy advent calendar. He’s so much bigger and more creative than all of that. Christmas is both a celebration of the best work of our God-given hands and a rescue mission for our biggest failures.

Because you know what else?

No sooner had He created the world than He also crafted a plan to redeem it all—the places shining brightly and the dark cattle stalls. Christmas is the Creator’s beautiful crafting of redemption for each of us, starting with one incredible artistic choice—His perfect son Jesus Christ come to dwell with and atone for us so that we might enjoy God forever. 

So challenge yourself to a Crafted Christmas, whether in tree-trimming or servanthood or savoring silence and peace with the ones you love. Maybe you might start in the aisles of Michael’s or Target or Hobby Lobby. Maybe you’ll start at the kitchen sink. Wherever you find yourself in your traditions this Christmas, look for the Artist. You’ll find Him in the deep and special place He created in you that echoes His glory, with bells and jingles and whistles and whispers. 

Glow with the fingerprints of our Creator God, and sing that He would choose to put on flesh for all of us, for all of this.

 

Repeat, repeat the sounding joy. 

 

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION/ APPLICATION:

  1. Are you more prone to believe that "Christmas trappings and trimmings and tinsel and trees have no place in our remembering of Christ’s birth"  OR that "Christmas won’t be Christmas without the perfect place setting or Pinterest-worthy advent calendar?" How does this meditation challenge that way of thinking?
  2. What is your "craft?" How can you bring God glory this Christmas season using the unique gifts he's given you?
 
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Austin Kristoff is a Virginia girl living in a lowcountry world. When she is not chasing her two handsome little guys, she's probably singing in the grocery store aisle...for the third time this week. She believes the best life is made up of holding hands with her husband Nick, the perfect twirling dress, driving through tree tunnels with the windows down, spontaneous hugs from her sons, the best teasing comb, and the always-unfolding miracles of God's perfect beauty, grace, and faithfulness in the everyday (and also maybe a fountain Dr. Pepper). When courage and time allow, she tells stories on instagram and on her blog, www.ppforshort.com .