WHY WE CAN'T QUIT THE CHRISTMAS NETFLIX QUEUE

It's almost the same storyline in every movie. Main character goes on Christmas adventure, leaving behind either the "important" significant other or the painful break up with said significant other. Main character falls in love with humble, not "important" local handy person. There's some sort of struggle; it's not always related to the plot. True love thwarts the significant other and/or bad guy who winks too often. Main character and humble, local handy person declare their love and get married—in the very next scene. (Does it bother anyone else that it's only been two, maybe three, occasionally seven days in this story?) It's happily ever after in the cheesiest of ways. No painful moment left unfixed, no heartbreak left unhealed, no person left unwanted. No bad guy left winking.

It’s the December Netflix Christmas queue.

For the next four weeks, the top trending movies on Netflix will be a collection of the cheesiest Christmas movies in existence. We'll roll our eyes and smirk through showings, but before too long, we'll find ourselves back on the couch with popcorn. We can't quit the cheesy Netflix movies, bad hair and ridiculous scripts notwithstanding. What's wrong with us? Why do we keep coming back for more?

We're the Heartbroken Ones

We see ourselves in every movie. We're a heartbroken people living in a heartbreaking world. We snort with cynicism as the main character dramatically wishes for a whirlwind romance in which she is fully known and loved, but don't we all want that? Made for fellowship with God, we've been unsatisfied by this world since Adam and Eve left Eden. We chase "important" careers, lovers, possessions, and achievements to fill the gaping hole. We love things we ought to hate. And every time we make a gift a god, we're left heartbroken, aching for more.

Advent is a season of aching for the promised One to come. God's chosen people anticipated their Messiah with eager, hopeful hearts. They waited, expecting a king who would end their troubles and bind up their broken hearts. During this season of corporate longing, we do the same. By God's grace, we look back to the cross for assurance of the future glory to come. But for now, we wait. We push in to the days set before us—full of pain, lack, and brokenness—with eyes fixed on Jesus, the only one to fully know and love us. We take heart in the future promises set before us even though heartbreak surrounds us.

Heartbroken hopefuls fill these movies, but we fill this earth.

He's the Humble Prince

Enter the kind, humble rescuer—in flannel or a puffer vest and definitely with a beard. You can't mistake the archetype of the hero in a Netflix movie; he's the misunderstood man with the unsurprisingly big heart. But no matter how well he fits into an L.L. Bean catalogue, he's a mere shadow of the humble Prince we long for.

God's people expected an “important” king with power and might to deliver them from their waiting, but God sent a baby. The fullness of glory and love came as a wobbly-headed infant—how terribly unimportant. Jesus needed to nurse, sleep, and learn to control his head. This is true humility: the King of kings left his heavenly throne to be made like us with all human limitations. He humbled himself to the point of death on a cross to rescue his heartbroken bride. The Son of God bore the full weight of our sin so he could present us as his blameless, spotless Church before God. He’s the only hero able to satisfy our broken hearts.

Advent reminds us we desperately need Jesus. But we don't need him to be in flannel.

This is Our Storyline

We keep curling up with these cheesy Netflix movies, because we're drawn to the glimpses of our own storyline. The thing you hate but actually love about these movies is the ending: it's literally perfect. Unlike ordinary movies, the Netflix Christmas queue is one happy ending after another; the battle is over, there are no more tears, and they're in forever love.

But this is actually our story's ending. Christ came and won us from evil for himself, leaving us with a promise to return. So during Advent, we long for him to come back to take us with him to our glorious ending. When he does, the battle will be over. Sin will no longer crouch at our doors, brokenness will no longer ransack our lives, and our hearts will no longer betray our Beloved. God will destroy the evil one, and he will never steal, kill, or destroy again. Love will heal every painful moment, bind every broken heart, and welcome all who love him into glory. There will be a wedding feast like never before for a bride made lovely by her humble rescuer. There will be no more battle, no more tears, and no more pain.

There will only be the glory of God bringing truest delight to those he loves and who love him back. It's the most beautiful, happy ending imaginable. And it's ours. But unlike December 26th when the Netflix queue returns to normal, this perfect ending will be ours for eternity.


PREPARE HIM ROOM (CALENDARS AND CRAFTS NOT REQUIRED)

I owned Advent prep last year. It was our first Advent season with a kiddo, and I determined it'd be perfect. Because perfection is what Advent's all about, right?

In the weeks leading up to December, I gathered every resource, printable, and idea for loving others. My master plan would've made a Christian sugar plum fairy cry with delight. There were scripture readings and service tasks to spread the love of Jesus to family, friend, and neighbor. And it all hung from a foraged branch with natural and neutral details. The aesthetically-driven minimalist high-fived the picky theologian within me.

But owning the prep implies I didn't own the execution, and that's true. Everything halted when a familiar old friend appeared. Growing nausea and an inability to brush my teeth without gagging meant only one thing—a babe was on the way. Fitting for Advent.

If we learned anything from my pregnancies, it's I'm a terrible pregnant woman. I'm hospital-worthy sick from weeks two to thirty-nine and two days (the day I had both my children). So all my Advent prep and pride swirled down the toilet along with my, ahem, "morning" sickness.

So was my Advent a waste? Because I didn't read the right books? Do the right activities? Instagram my homemade calendar hanging on a tree with garland and red berries enough? Did I miss treasuring Jesus because I physically could't do the hustle and bustle?

Of course not; God was kind to me through my Advent failures. I spent more time waiting. I spent more time thinking of Mary, pregnant (maybe nauseous too?) and traveling and aching for relief. I spent more time longing for relief from my own suffering and inability to meet standards—mine and God's. I spent more time thinking about Jesus than any Advent season before.

Because Advent actually is about perfection; it's just not about ours. There are so many wonderful resources and Advent guides to help you fill your home with gospel hope of the perfect Savior. (I helped craft this one.) But the heartbeat of Advent isn't books and calendars and crafts. Those are good gifts to point to the Good Gift but never to eclipse him. The gift of Jesus is the only thing we hope in, and this is a season to hope together as God’s beloved people.

As a Church, we corporately pause to long and to wonder, because we recognize we're a people in waiting. We remind ourselves we're both rescued and being rescued. We look back at the cross for the assurance of Jesus' future return. We celebrate this season with joyful expectation. Because next time, he won't come as a wobbly-headed baby. He’ll come for his bride.

So we wait with eager anticipation. That’s what this season is all about.

Below are three ideas to help you prepare him room in your hearts and lives over the next four weeks. Some may fit your family rhythms, some may not. But I think you should still consider observing this season in your home in a way that fits your people and your circumstances.

Word

Consider quieting your mind to make room to wonder and meditate on God’s word. If you're anything like me, you clock a couple of hours a day listening to podcasts, sermons, or music; or even just scrolling on social media. It's almost muscle memory at this point: I hop in the car, I plug in the phone; I start to cook, I plug in the phone; I start to clean, I plug in the phone. It's all good stuff that makes me think about Jesus, but it leaves me little room to behold Jesus.

This Advent, I'm taking a break from listening to all my favorites and scrolling on social media (outside of the podcast I work for...fear not, boss ladies). I want to remove the extra noise with which I choose to fill my mind and space. Instead, I'll be quiet or listen to scripture. Did you know it takes about 75 hours to listen to the entire Bible? And did you know all of scripture points to Jesus? By replacing a podcast or two a day, you could listen to almost the entire Bible during Advent. God's word is living and active, judging the thoughts and attitude of our hearts, renewing our minds; and it never returns void. And Jesus was the word made flesh for our greatest benefit and delight. What a powerful way to treasure Christ this season by meditating on the words written about him. What a gift!

Prayer

Have you heard of the O Antiphon prayers? They’re a collection of seven prayers, each one focused on a prophecy about and a title for Jesus. If you write them backwards as an acrostic poem, they spell out ERO CRAS, which, when translated from Latin, means, “Tomorrow, I will come.” If you add these into your Advent rhythm as corporate prayers (perhaps as nightly prayers the final week of Advent), they serve as signpost reminders of our future hope amidst the (joyful) busyness of the season. These prayers use the words of Isaiah’s prophecies to remind us God promised a Messiah, and he came. Rejoice!

O Sapientia

O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High,
reaching from one end to the other,
mightily and sweetly ordering all things:
Come and teach us the way of prudence.

O Adonai

O Adonai, and leader of the House of Israel,
who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush
and gave him the law on Sinai:
Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm.

O Radix Jesse

O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples;
before you kings will shut their mouths,
to you the nations will make their prayer:
Come and deliver us, and delay no longer.

O Clavis David

O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel;
you open and no one can shut;
you shut and no one can open:
Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house,
those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

O Oriens

O Morning Star,
splendour of light eternal and sun of righteousness:
Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

O Rex Gentium

O King of the nations, and their desire,
the cornerstone making both one:
Come and save the human race,
which you fashioned from clay.

O Emmanuel

O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver,
the hope of the nations and their Saviour:
Come and save us, O Lord our God.

Light

You can scour the internet to find the most aesthetically pleasing candle set up imaginable. (I’ve done it. Not once or twice, but thrice!) But to celebrate Advent with a weekly candle lighting, you just need…candles.

Each candle reminds us Jesus is the light of the world. As we light them each Sunday of Advent, take note of the flame flickering in the darkness, exposing the hidden places, bringing warmth. You can use any candle, but there are some neat traditions behind certain colors and arrangements. You can also pair your lighting with a scripture reading (work through the Christmas story) or a hymn. Most people use a candle for each Sunday, and maybe one more for Christmas day. On the first week, you light one candle. On the second, you light two, and so on. It’s another moment to stop what you’re doing, gather together, and think of Christ.

The point of the Advent traditions is always Jesus, never the motions of tradition. So breathe easy. If all you do is turn your thoughts and heart towards Jesus, you’ve done the better thing.

O come, o come, Emmanuel!

"BLESSING OF MOTHERHOOD" | HEARTS RENEWED CONFERENCE

What more do you need in the background of a recording than a baby, a siren, and a mom rocking back and forth on old wood floors? Perhaps someone who can’t figure out when to swallow while recording (sorry)?

You’re in luck. This one has all of that.

I had the privilege to share about the blessing of motherhood at the Hearts Renewed Conference in Lancaster last weekend. I recorded the main heart of the talk to share for those who were unable to make it, those who asked to access it again, and for my own benefit.

Glory be to God for teaching me so many things through motherhood and for using it to make me more like Jesus, which is the ultimate blessing of motherhood.

OUT OF THE WHIRLWIND: THE CREATED ONE

This is my first ever series—exciting, I know! In the book of Job, there’s a note that the Lord answered Job from out of the whirlwind. That's always piqued my curiosity. But, more importantly, it's in these conversations that Job comes to the realization that he is a finite creature with little understanding of the ways of the Creator, which are always good. In a beautiful display of trust, Job humbly submits to his position as a created one and worships the One whose will and workings are for his glory and the joy of his people. I want to explore our proper position as women in God's world—as the created, not the Creator—and how understanding and submitting to this reality brings us great freedom and joy. Let's start with an introduction, shall we?

For a long time, my faith was a separate thing from the rest of my life. The bits of theology I knew provided me with correct answers and larger, over-arching ideas about life, but the gospel itself was small in my mind. Like a ticket in my back pocket, the gospel simply offered me something I needed. I knew I truly believed Christ died to rescue me from my sin and my most certain eternal punishment, so I was good on that account. But everything else in life was up to me—my day-to-day rhythms, the things I read or watched, the way I understood relationships, what I thought I deserved in life, and how I used and engaged social media. If it could be shaped or formed by my personal opinions, it was mine to decide. 

Pridefully, I believed the gospel covered the end of my life, but the right now was all about me. 

But friend, the gospel is not small. It's everything. Every second and every aspect of our lives is made different by it. From the way you respond when someone cuts you off in traffic to how you process death, from the way you greet your toddler to the way you spend a lifetime outdoing your spouse with honor, from the way you complete your work tasks to the way you believe the Church ought to act—the gospel not only affects our lives but shapes them according to God's will. 

And if the gospel shapes it all, if we were truly bought at a price and are no longer our own, if we live for God's glory alone—how do we now know the objective reality we discovered in our newness of life? It can't be based on my preferences or your preferences (which is a different thing than Christian liberty, don't misunderstand me), but something everlasting and perfectly true. 

It has to come from God, which means we have to be tethered to his word to know it. For the Bible is no empty word for those who know God, but our very lives. 

***

By God's grace, my delight in studying his word began to grow. The more I studied, the more I wanted to study. The Holy Spirit continued to pull me from my own personal preferences and whimsies—which will always be rooted in my glory-hogging desires—and grew my desire to obey God's will for those who love him, as it's laid out in scripture.

And I have to say, one of the kindest things the Lord has ever taught me is that I am a creature and not the Creator.

The reality of this position of submission and limitedness and finiteness and altogether not-in-control-ness rubs the human mind the wrong way. It can't be true in a world that says we are masters of our fates and captains of our souls that we may in fact not be such things. We are told repeatedly that no one can tell us what to do or what is true, because truth is found within ourselves. But the reality of God's sovereignty over his creation is true. We did not shut in the seas when they burst forth from our words, determine the measurements of the land, lay the cornerstone of the earth, or hear the morning stars sing together. We did not craft man from dust in our likeness and breathe life into his nostrils. We did not fashion a helper for him from his rib. We do not know the depth of the storehouses of hail or the place where light dwells. We didn't create from nothing, because we can't. 

Because we are the created, not the Creator.

And if we are not the Creator, we do not set the rules, reasons, or design of the created things.

Without our permission, the moon pulls the ocean and spring takes as long as it does to spring. Our hearts have four chambers and and dogs cannot fly. I have green eyes, my husband has brown, and my daughter has blue. And just like the clay pot is formed in a particular shape for the purpose of the Potter's wise ways, things are as they were created to be, whether we like it, acknowledge it, or know it. 

***

I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. —Job 42:2-3

God is the only one who created all things and understands all things, therefore he is the only who can rightly say what is true and what is false, what is good and what is folly, what is life and what is death. As created ones, made in his image and called into his Church, we were designed and given a purpose by God for God. Therefore, the most freeing and joy-filled way to live is within the loving boundaries provided, by the One who knows best, for our benefit and joy. 

Submitting to his sovereignty in our lives sets right what was previously wrong. We no longer wander in rebellion—striving, lacking, fearing, and aching.

Instead, we find the life for which we were made and the joy offered to us by our Maker.

IF PAUL HAD MET JUNE

In the weeks following the birth of my daughter, I was certain I had never known a greater joy or a higher calling than motherhood. I would stare at her perfect button nose and count her fingers and toes, just to be certain there were still twenty. As she watched the light dance across the wall, I'd read to her from a child's systematic theology book. If asked, I would gush about the blissful feelings of purpose and how I would never know a more important task than teaching her about God and his world. 

With her entrance into our lives, I began to analyze my life and everything that might keep me from fulfilling and experiencing this most-important-calling-and-joy. I zeroed in on my work—that blasted ugly monster with claws grasping at my precious time—which would most certainly hinder me from dedicating my days to the biblical training and upbringing of my tiny and indescribably cute offspring. I looked over my shoulder at the local school and gave a hateful glance mixed with a smidge of pity for those who had no option but to sit in its seats, because I had some homeschooling to do. The others tried to hide but I saw them all: formula, non-organic diapers, co-sleepers, secular music, children's books without biblical themes, Puffs and packaged snacks, and so on. I saw them all standing between me and my ultimate goal, and they would not win. 

Because this is how one does godly motherhood. 

Or maybe, perhaps, just possibly, it's not. 

***

In my earliest days of motherhood, I began to crumble under the weight of misplaced priorities and the underlying cultural idea of the American 1950s nuclear family dream, which—while not explicitly mentioned in scripture—seems like the biblical model to follow if one is to be a godly mother. I grew resentful that my circumstances did not allow me to be a stay-at-home mom, which did not allow me to be godly. I desperately wanted to be that Christian mom—always at home, cooking something from scratch, mending clothes, homeschooling, and looking like none other than June Cleaver. 

Never mind that I have no idea how to mend anything and my cooking-from-scratch skills leave you wanting.

But what I think happened is I followed in the footsteps of those who've slapped Titus 2 on the American dream and believed it to be the requirement for godly motherhood.

Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. —Titus 2:3-5, emphasis mine


So I gathered—from bits of conversations and examples from the 50s—that to be working at home meant not to be working elsewhere, to be loving a family could only be done if I was always present and always serving, and to be pure and kind meant homemade bread served on plates I made on my potter's wheel next to the homeschool table on our homestead. 

Can I tell you something? I think to work at home might mean all of these things, some of these things, and even none of these things. It might even mean other things altogether.

Just breathe for a second. 

***

Titus 2 is a brief description of true Christian living, which was intended to highlight the great difference between Christians and false teachers. The very first verse in chapter 2 reads, "But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine," because sound doctrine leads to right behavior. Right behavior amongst women in the Church is passed along as older women teach younger women how to care for their families and their homes. When a wife joyfully submits to her husband's leadership, her work helps support and affirm his vision for their family. They partner together to create a God-honoring home life for their family. 

It's a really encouraging and lovely passage. Women have a unique position in their families to nurture life-giving rhythms and practices into their homes. They are able to use their skills and creativity to partner with their husbands in bringing the gospel into the everyday moments of their children's lives. They do incredibly good work at home. So while Paul is implying that women manage the needs of their home and family, the ways through which one wife best submits and supports her husband will look different than another couple. It may not look like staying-at-home and homeschooling with organic snacks, but it might.

Take a quick peek at the woman who worked as a midwife and delivered Moses or Ruth working in the field or the Proverbs 31 woman selling her linens and purchasing land for her family or Lois and Eunice raising Timothy or the many other women God called into these roles in order to support their families. Note the shepherds, the carpenters, the tax collectors, the fishermen, the kings, the priests, the garment craftsmen, the music makers, and the many other roles that all bring God glory. Think of your dear friend who breastfeeds and the other who can't, or the mom who spends her evenings connecting the gospel to what her kids heard in school and the mom who spends her evenings planning for homeschooling. Remember the single mom who has no choice but day-care and the mom whose chronic illness keeps her from most of her kids' activities. Are only some godly?

The unique circumstances of our lives are not accidental, coincidental, or brought by luck. The situations placed before us are God-ordained and under his sovereignty, and as we are able, we glorify him with what we have and what we can do as we obey his word. 

Your family might need a June Cleaver, but mine might not. And both can bring God glory.

***

What I needed to be told in the early days (and will probably need to be told again) is motherhood is not our highest calling nor is it our greatest joy, and certainly June Cleaver is not the only example of biblical motherhood, if she's even an example at all.

When we make motherhood a higher calling than other roles in life and when we make it the pinnacle of joy and purpose in a woman's life, we, as a Church, do a dangerous thing. We take the eyes and hearts of women off of the person and work of Christ and place them upon the family—both the husband required to have a family and the children who come from it. By making motherhood the highest calling in a woman's life, we reduce the value and worth of every woman unable to have children because of singleness or infertility. Even more, we communicate that until a woman does have a child, she has not reached her God-given potential or experienced true joy—never mind that marriage and children are not promised in scripture or that true joy and peace come to women through the death and resurrection of Christ alone. 

Motherhood is a good gift from God that comes with a heavy responsibility and great joy. Like all of the good works prepared for us to do, it asks much of us and when we mother well, it's by God's grace alone. So yes, the calling of motherhood is a beautiful, gospel-driven role given to some women, and it is a gift. But a good gift makes a terrible god. 

And I was crumbling at the feet of my very own June god. 

So if not motherhood, then what is our highest calling? To glorify God and enjoy him forever. To submit to his plans for our lives with trusting hearts. To focus on the work he sets before us—whatever that may be. To be loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled. To build up his Church and to outdo one another with honor. To love God and love our neighbor.

***

In the weeks preceding this post, I'm certain that I've never known a greater joy than believing in the eternal plans of my God. I look at the family entrusted to me and I'm in awe of the gift of caring for and serving them in the ways best suited for my family. I'm grateful to be able to work alongside of my husband to bring our family vision to fruition through the jobs I thoroughly enjoy. I still stare at my daughter's perfect button nose and count her fingers and toes, but now I yell, "Stinky!" just to hear her laugh. I still read from that same child's systematic theology book as she stands on her tiptoes trying to sneak the diaper cream from the top of her dresser. And if asked, I would still gush about the blissful feelings that come from the hard work of motherhood and how I know that, in this season, training up my children is one of my most important tasks. But nothing but God can be the thing.

I can't help but wonder what Paul might have thought if he had met June. I think he might have wanted to know what her heart worshipped most. Because that's what scripture points to over and over again. When our hearts love God and long to please him through obedience to his word, our work glorifies him—in the many different ways it's completed.