Jan 23, 2018

Five Low-Pressure Ideas for Date Night at Home

By Anna Mussmann

None of us want to be “that woman”--the one who pours her emotional energy into her children or career but forgets to maintain a meaningful relationship with her husband. After all, husbands are pretty awesome. They are the people we’ve vowed to stick with for the rest of our lives. Why miss out on enjoying life together?

There are lots of ingredients that go into nurturing any relationship, and, despite having passed my thirtieth birthday, I’m still learning about them. One ingredient, of course, is time together.

My husband and I go on occasional dates. However, we also like to spend quality time together at home, and we’ve found that tricky to consistently achieve. Even after the kids go to bed, our home is full of distractions. There are chores to be done, books to read, and links to click. It’s easy to live parallel lives without focusing on each other. By the time we’ve come to the end of the week, we are often too tired to come up with creative ideas for a joint activity. That’s why it’s nice to have a pre-made list of suggestions.

Here are five of the at-home couple-time activities that help us have fun together.

Jan 16, 2018

Self-righteousness vs. Self-care

By Alison Andreasen

Hello. My name is Alison Andreasen and I am recovering from self righteousness and idolatry.  

There, I said it.  

I was forced into this revelation. I didn’t want to acknowledge it. I hit rock bottom and had to face the facts. Some people call it burn-out, and that is a pretty accurate statement. I had been burning dully for a while, red embers barely hanging on. If I were a candle, I would have been the sad little part of the candle where the wick meets the base. It looks so pathetic that the owner just throws it away to put it out of its misery. That was me.

If only I had been a super human with no needs, I could have continued in my previous lifestyle. I could have kept living life the way I thought I should, embracing my ideals to the fullest extreme and truly living a life worthy of a Christian--or so I thought. I always said that I wanted to be faithful. That was my goal. What I meant by this was that I wanted to do all the things a “faithful” person does and none of the things a faithful person wouldn’t do. I had an ideal, but it wasn’t one from God. I strove to meet that made-up image in my head. I bowed to it, sacrificed my health and well being for it, and became enslaved to it. What was my ideal, you ask? It was that mom should do all the things a mom does, including cooking, cleaning, caring for the children’s physical, emotional and spiritual needs, homeschooling, and more. Not a bad ideal, you might say. But after a while, this ideal became too heavy a burden for me to bear.

Jan 12, 2018

The Cost of Forgiveness

By Lindsay Sampson

The unfaithful servant Onesimus fled his master Philemon. I could conjecture about the circumstances beyond that simple fact, outlined by Paul in his letter to Philemon. I could supplement the conjectures with history about slavery and bond-service within the Roman Empire, with details about the goings-on in a typical household like Philemon’s. That’s all a Google search away, and it’s not really what I care about.

Onesimus fled Philemon. He abandoned his vocation. He sinned against his fellow believer in Christ.

I have recently had to revisit the wounds of an old break-up. The details are unimportant, and it would certainly be unkind to my ex-boyfriend to share them with a broader audience. It wasn’t the break-up, however, that hurt me most, but a slow realization that this man had not treated me kindly throughout our relationship. The relationship had left lasting scars on not only my identity, but my faith. I felt deeply betrayed, unloveable, and I despaired of my worth before God and men, in no small part because of his words and actions.

I struggled to forgive this man. The days after it ended with him, I was catatonic with near-physical pain. It reads like the diary of a teenage girl, but the hurt was very real. It was a constant pain in my chest. I wanted to retch because of it, to scream loudly and forcefully enough to match the tone of my thoughts. But I lay still for hours, staring at the popcorn ceiling of my bedroom.

Dec 20, 2017

How Eternity Comes to Us in Advent

By Heather Smith


Christianity sits at the intersection of time and eternity, where the eternal God enters the forward-flowing stream of time for our sake.  The liturgy and lectionary teach us this mystery in many ways, but never so clearly as in Advent.  In the season of Advent, we learn not just of Christ who came or who is coming again, but of Christ “who is and who was and who is to come” (Rev. 1:8).

Our linear minds most often think of Advent as the season of waiting to celebrate Christ’s coming as a babe in Bethlehem, and it certainly is a time of preparation for and meditation on this great event.  We cannot marvel enough at the mystery of the Word becoming flesh to dwell among us.  The infinite God made Himself a finite creature.  The Lord who is without beginning or end was born.  

Christianity is a historical religion, not one of vague presences and flighty feelings.  Thus, we set our calendars to recall each year the true events that worked God’s salvation for us.  Christ came into the world at a specific time—in the days of Caesar Augustus, while Quirinius was governor of Syria.  It is good that we, who so easily forget God’s wondrous works, yearly call to mind how Christ came in the past.

Advent also turns us toward Christ’s coming again.  Many of the readings and hymns during this season call out for us to stay alert and look for our Lord’s return.  As surely as He came once to win salvation for us, He will come again to deliver us from sin and death forever.  

We who live in the time between His comings constantly need to be filled with these words of promise and warning so that our faith may continue to burn brightly.  That lamp of faith guides us as we walk through the shadows of these gray and latter days, seeing “distress of nations in perplexity” and “people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world,” for we have our Savior’s promise that “when these things begin to take place . . . your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:25-28).  So we also encourage one another as we look toward that swiftly coming future.

Yet our gracious Lord does not leave His time-bound creatures always looking to past and future.  He comes to us where we are now.  This is our constant prayer:  “Thy kingdom come.”  Not that we must by our pleas convince God to come, for as Luther reminds us, “The kingdom of God certainly comes by itself without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may come to us also.”  Advent speaks of Christ’s coming to us here, now, in the midst of earthly life.  

In trial and sorrow, He comes.  In mundane daily tasks, He comes.  In joys and struggles, He comes.  His kingdom comes “when our heavenly Father sends us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His Holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.”  He does not leave us orphans, but comes to us in Word and Sacrament even now, in the present time.

So it is that in Advent all time is rolled into one.  Past, future, and present meet here, and we catch a glimpse of eternity.  Through the most temporal activity of all—waiting—we find the assurance that all our waiting is already fulfilled in the eternal triune God.  To us who see only one moment at a time, Christ our lamb slain from before the foundation of the world speaks, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace.  In the world you will have tribulation.  But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).  

Take heart because He came as He promised to suffer God’s wrath in our place.  Take heart because He will come again to judge the living and the dead.  Take heart because He comes to us so long as this earth remains in His Word and Sacraments.  He is the first and last, the living one who died yet is alive forevermore (Rev. 1:17-18), and in that day when time ends and we are raised to eternity with Him, we will understand fully how He who is, and who was, and who is to come, really is, and always has been, the eternal I AM.


***

Heather is a pastor's wife in rural Illinois, prior to which she was a teacher in a classical Lutheran school in Wyoming and spent time in the Washington, D.C. area working on a master's degree in English.  She has an abiding love for reading, baking, deep intellectual conversations, and persistent Lutheran matchmakers.

Dec 18, 2017

Cherishing the Season

By Rebekah Theilen
What is this light so fair, so tender Breaking upon our wond’ring eyes? Never the Morning Star so radiant Followed his course o’er eastern skies.(What is This Lovely Fragrance, arr. John Rutter)
For ten Advent seasons we walked the same sidewalks. With the school on our right and the church on our left, we couldn’t have asked for a more fitting location. It helped on the days when relief felt far. The long wait began in the glow before sunrise, waking with children, completing a full day’s work by mid-morning. Bedtime for babies was 7PM, and keeping up with the times wasn’t something I was good at. I wanted the light, the love, the magic, but I sometimes resented the lateness of church. The shepherds rejoiced in the nearness of God.

The steeple bell tolled at half past seven. I’d open the door and let December rush in. To shed extra weight I’d walk to church coatless, relying on the smallest of them all to keep me warm, the baby bundled up in his blanket and jammies. I’d tell the ones running to stop or slow down. Sometimes they heard me. Sometimes they didn’t. All I could do was hold my breath and pray no one tripped or fell or crashed into an unsuspecting congregant heading into the evening service. The night was dark, cold and mysterious, but we didn’t have far to go.

It only took seconds to pass by the manger. The nativity set was alive in the grass, where angels shivered and all the earth’s Treasure slept close enough to lay your eyes on. By no means do I wish to romanticize the past with all it’s memories and trappings, but here I am. With Thanksgiving behind me, the Christmas storage tub in front of me, something inside of me can’t help but dig out the box of the hopes and the dreams. These are the wonders deeply hidden in God’s gifts. You walk the path once, then get to enjoy it the rest of your life.

Those struggles brought me so much hope! That whole time I thought I was doing it for the kids, hoping one day they’d have their own stories to tell. But every year the gift of the journey was mine. For thousands of years the people had waited. From Abraham and Sarah to the carpenter and Mary, the story of God is full of surprises, and yet, for Christ to come to us is no surprise at all. For what has God done other than keep His true and certain word? The letter to the Hebrews tells us, “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.”

I don’t know what it was, the parsonage living, the kids being little, the small town traditions, but Advent won the prize. Our family has moved now, closer to home. Another mother walks along the sidewalk that was ours. Sometimes on our Sunday morning drive to get to church, I look out the countryside window and think of her. I wonder how she's doing, how she’s growing, if the peach tree flourished like it did that summer in the year before we left. I’d tell her not to be surprised if Advent fills you up and keeps you going, for that’s what hope is meant to do.

Love has come and never will leave us! Love is life everlasting and free Love is Jesus within and among us Love is the peace our hearts are seeking Love! Love! Love is the gift of Christmas; Love! Love! Praise to you, God on high! ("Love Has Come," tune: "Bring a Torch Jeanette Isabella")


***

Rebekah spends her days living life alongside her husband and children. She enjoys reading, homeschooling, and every once in a great while, chasing after the wind.   


Dec 15, 2017

The Savior Comes

By Leah Sherman


Hark the glad sound! The Savior comes!

So begins another Advent. Another season of waiting and preparing; decorating and baking; shopping and wrapping, all to make our homes and hearts ready for the advent of our King. What a marvelous thought--the King is coming!

We begin our preparations, keeping at the forefront of our minds what we ought and ought not do. We ought not be stressed as we set up the tree and hang the lights. We ought not be impatient with cashiers ringing up our purchases. We ought not let the pressure of hand-addressing our Christmas letters allow us to lose sight of holiday spirit. We ought to smile at the workers stocking the shelves, we ought to take cookies to the shut-ins, we ought to share a kind word with grouchy neighbors--all to spread a little Christmas cheer. But if we believe Christ came solely to make the season merry and bright, we make Him out to be nothing more than a jovial spirit. Indeed, He becomes indistinguishable from the jolly Santa Claus bringing gifts and wishing all a good night.

Christ was not incarnate merely to make our holiday shopping less stressful, or our winter season jolly. Christ was incarnate because of the total depravity of our lives and hearts. Our sin tears apart our lives, our relationships, and our joy. We live in a deep, unending darkness that threatens to smother us at any moment. “Sin’s dreadful doom upon us lies; grim death looms fierce before our eyes” (“O Savior, Rend the Heavens Wide,” Lutheran Service Book (LSB) 355, st.  6). Unless God comes to save us, we are lost eternally.

Hark the glad sound! The Savior comes!

This child who came is God made flesh. God, who plagued the Egyptians to free his people from slavery; God, who led his people through the wilderness by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night; God, who drove out the nations from Canaan to give his people an inheritance. This God was born a child not to be a reminder of sweet bygone times, but to bear the weight of the world’s sin and die in shame, nailed to a cross, for the sake of His people, His chosen ones.

With Isaiah, our prayer this Advent is that God would rend the heavens and come down. “From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him. . . . Behold, please look, we are your people” (Isaiah 64:4, 9b).

At His coming, sin, death, and the power of devil are put to flight, for “He comes to judge the nations, a terror to His foes” (“O Lord, How Shall I Meet You,” LSB 334, st. 6). “He comes the prisoners to release, in Satan’s bondage held . . . He comes the broken heart to bind, the bleeding soul to cure” (“Hark the Glad Sound,” LSB 349, st. 2, 3). “He comes to make His blessing flow far as the curse is found” (“Joy To the World,” LSB 387, st. 3).

Christ’s coming is so much richer than any sentiment that could be written on a bumper sticker or hung in a window. Christ’s salvation is so complete, so full, so everlasting, that our hearts are moved to a joy beyond comparing. “He comes for you, procuring the peace of sin forgiven” (“O Lord, How Shall I Meet You,” LSB 334, st. 5). “And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away” (Is. 35:10).

As you prepare this Advent for the coming of your Savior, ponder the words of the Scripture readings and Advent hymns. See in them all the fullness of the joy that is yours because Christ has come for you, and will come again for you.

Fling wide the portals of your heart;
Make it a temple set apart
From earthly use for heav’n’s employ,
Adorned with prayer and love and joy.
So shall your Sov’reign enter in
And new and nobler life begin.
To God alone be praise
For word and deed and grace!
(“Lift Up Your Heads, Ye Mighty Gates,” LSB 340, st.4).


***

Leah Sherman is a pastor's wife and homeschooling mother.  She and her husband have struggled with secondary infertility, but are constantly reminded of God's great blessings through their son. She lives in Gordon, Nebraska, and enjoys reading, gardening, and sewing.


Dec 12, 2017

The Waiting Place

By Cheryl Magness


The Dr. Seuss classic Oh, the Places You Will Go! includes a description of a place most of us can easily recognize. It’s called “the waiting place":

You can get so confused that you’ll start in to race
down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace
and grind on for miles across weirdish wild space,
headed, I fear, toward a most useless place.
The Waiting Place . . .  
for people just waiting. Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come, or a plane to go
or the mail to come or the rain to go
or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
or waiting around for a Yes or No or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting.
Waiting for the fish to bite
or waiting for wind to fly a kite
or waiting around for Friday night
or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake
or a pot to boil, or a Better Break,
or a string of pearls,
or a pair of pants
or a wig with curls,
or Another Chance.
Everyone is just waiting.
NO! That’s not for you!
Somehow you’ll escape all that waiting and staying.
You’ll find the bright places where the Boom Bands are playing.

There have been times when my life has gotten so complicated (too many Boom Bands all playing at once!) that I have craved “the waiting place.” But more often, I find the waiting place extremely challenging. It’s hard to wait, and it seems that I have had to do a lot of it the last ten years.

Yet I guess our whole lives are to some extent one big long wait. We wait for birthdays and holidays, for weddings and births, for graduations and job offers, for college acceptance letters and ACT scores, for college kids to come home, for paychecks and home sales, for diagnoses and cures.

Sometimes we end up waiting, unfulfilled, for a very long time, as the job goes to someone else, the home doesn't sell, the apology doesn't come, forgiveness is not offered, or we are told there is no cure.

I am not sure, though, how to be at peace with that sort of waiting. I can't seem to do it. I wait and worry and obsess and cry and ask, "How long, Lord? How long?"

If you are currently in the waiting place, take heart. As we enter the season of Advent, a time of waiting and preparation for the coming of the Christ Child, we are reminded that while this world is one big wait, the kingdom of God is not. We may seem to spend our earthly lives waiting for temporal answers, but we can rest in the truth that Christ has already come in the flesh to redeem us, that He continues to come to us daily to deliver His salvation, and that He will come again in glory to take us home. On that day there will no more waiting, since there will be no more past, present or future, only the ever-present reality of communion with the One by whose hand we were made.

“O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days;
let me know how fleeting I am!
Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths,
and my lifetime is as nothing before you.
Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath! Selah
Surely a man goes about as a shadow!
Surely for nothing they are in turmoil;
man heaps up wealth and does not know who will gather!
And now, O Lord, for what do I wait?
My hope is in you.”

(Ps. 39:4-7)


***

Cheryl is Managing Editor of Reporter Online for The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod. She blogs at A Round Unvarnish'd Tale and has also been published by The FederalistAmerican ThinkerOnFaith, and Touchstone magazine. Cheryl is married to a Lutheran cantor, and they have three children.

Dec 8, 2017

Like Little Children

By Hannah Stuckwisch

"Truly I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." Matthew 18:3

In many ways, marriage and family are pictures of our relationship with God. This is explicitly described in the New Testament in places such as Ephesians 5 and Matthew 7, and is understood even from the name God the Father, and from the frequent description of Jesus as the heavenly bridegroom. Many times since Nick and I were engaged and now that we are married I have thought about how this picture goes both ways. Just as Jesus and his Church can teach us much about marriage, so also marriage teaches us about Jesus and the Church. The unconditional love that a husband shows to a wife, even when not deserved, gives a glimpse into the perfect unconditional love that Christ has for us.

As we are now very close to the arrival of our first child, it has struck me how pregnancy is also a great picture of our life on earth and relationship with God. An unborn child is completely and utterly dependent upon his or her mother. If separated from her, he would not live. Everything he has and is comes from his parents, just as everything we have and are comes from our Father in Heaven. Whether or not that child understands this doesn't matter. A mother continues to nourish her baby regardless of what that child understands or believes about her, and even when that child is being troublesome and causing her pain. During the nine months the baby spends in his mother's womb, the parents eagerly prepare for his arrival, setting up a nursery and getting clothes and diapers and blankets for him, just as our Father in heaven prepares a place for us even now.  The baby doesn't know when he will be born, and often the parents don't know either. Rather, we live in the day to day hope of an event that we know is coming eventually.

The long months of waiting, especially now when we have reached the "any day now" point, remind me of Advent and of waiting for the last day. All we know is "soon." The day and the hour of both events is still hidden to us. While we will have to suffer through literal labor pains before meeting our baby and figurative labor pains of the ending of this world before Christ returns, we know that much better things lie ahead than those we will leave behind. We can be just as certain that Christ will return as we are that eventually our child will exit the womb.

Finally, an unborn baby cannot live by sight. He cannot see his parents, or know them by sight. But little babies can and do recognize their parents by their voices, just as we recognize our Savior by his voice. When the baby is born and finally can see his mother and father face to face, he knows them even though their sight is unfamiliar because of their voices. What a great picture for us, to remind us that there is much much more than what we can see with our eyes, and that even when all we see is darkness we are still in the loving arms of our heavenly Father who promises us that the day is coming soon when this world will pass away and we will be able to see him face to face.

Dec 5, 2017

An Advent Sonnet

By Caitlin Magness



How could that city have gone on sleeping

beneath the stars hung by your mighty hand?

How could the shepherds have gone on keeping

their watch, not knowing that what you had planned

had come to pass? Creation now is lifted,

assumed into the glory of your Head.

The tides of entropy now have shifted,

fullness of Being in a manger bed.

How could I not have realized you were here

with me, as surely as you reign above,

calling me out of nothingness and fear,

back to the contemplation of your Love?

All that I see here now reflects your face

and sings back: All is grace. All is grace.



***

Caitlin is the daughter of a family of Lutheran musicians and church workers. She is an aspiring novelist, college student, and thinker of too many thoughts. She lives in Oklahoma with her family.

Dec 1, 2017

So Happily Situated: Natural Propriety and Liturgical Living (from our Archives)

(Note: This piece first ran three years ago, but it's a thought-provoking reminder of the importance of seasons--especially relevant as we begin the season of Advent).

By Heather Smith

Elizabeth was delighted.
She had never seen a place for which nature had done more,
or where natural beauty had been so little counteracted by an awkward taste.
Pride & Prejudice, Chapter 43

Mrs. Gardiner:  How do you like the house, Lizzie?
Elizabeth Bennet:  Very well.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a place so happily situated.
Pride & Prejudice BBC miniseries, Episode 4


Until I visited Mount Vernon, I had never really thought about Elizabeth Bennet’s comment that Pemberly, Mr. Darcy’s great house, is “so happily situated.” Standing on the porch of George Washington’s home, gazing across the lawn to the steep banks where the Potomac embraces the estate, I immediately comprehended what Lizzie felt.  The house and outbuildings and gardens and all the manmade elements were magnificent in themselves, but what made them utterly enthralling was how perfectly they fit with the land.  I don’t think I’d ever seen a place so happily situated.

Ever since, I have been alert to the ways in which buildings suit their places, or, more often, to the ways in which they do not.  It is ironic, in a country with as much land as the United States, that so many structures are erected with complete disregard for the grounds on which they stand.  In the past, necessity or poverty may have driven such decisions, but today it seems most people have simply lost the aesthetic sense of what we might term natural propriety.  That is, we have numbed our sense of what is proper according to nature. Constrained by neither poverty nor circumstance, we choose to build sizeable houses with all the amenities Martha Stewart would recommend on tiny plots sardined against their neighbors.  Few of us would give up these middle-class mansions for smaller homes carefully situated in concert with their natural surroundings. 
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