My Favorite Christmas Story

One of my favorite Christmas stories comes from John 1.  I know it’s not the usual baby in a manger scene you might expect, but it helps me soak in the Christmas miracle a little better than that well-known picture of Mary and Joseph bent over a cradle.

In John 1, a picture is painted of Jesus Christ being God. The same God who was there when the world was formed, the same God who created that world and each and every one of us.

Be still, and know.

Be still and soak in the power of God, the Creator.

God, the Creator, became a man, the creation.

Photo Courtesy of Giu Vicente at Unsplash

The first thought that comes to mind is 26-year-old-me being stuck in a baby’s body. How limiting that can be… little control over my limbs, complete dependence on mom and dad to feed, change, and clothe me.

I am only 26-years-old and not nearly as wise, righteous, and amazing as God… and I don’t think I’d like going back to being a baby.

Yet God… who IS all knowing, all powerful, all present, humbles Himself to human limitations.

Not just human limitations, but baby limitations. So that He could connect with us in a tangible way, and provide us the best Christmas gift.

Philippians 2:6-8 Who, being in very nature[a] God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature[b] of a servant, being made in human likeness.And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!”

Jesus Christ was fully God and fully Man. The only one completely pure, good, and just, the only one who was deserving of eternal life, left His throne for us.

Have you let the Christmas miracle soak in? Have you let the audacious love of God soak in? It’s tremendous.

What parts of the Christmas story excite you? What inspires you?

What does Jesus want for Christmas?

Every year I have the best of intentions to spend my Christmas wisely…. I tell myself to savor every moment, focus on what’s important, and remember the “reason for the season.”  Then before I know it, all good intentions aside, Christmas has come and gone in the blink of an eye.

With moving, adjusting, and getting new jobs… Christmas is approaching even more quickly this year- So I lay with my husband in bed last night and asked him, “What do you think Jesus would want from us during Christmas?”

After a few moments, we thought Jesus would want from us at Christmas-time, what He wants of us all the time.

What does Jesus Want for Christmas_

Service, Joyful Giving, Worship, Evangelism, and taking care of the widows and orphans are just a few things that came to mind. Surprisingly the “Commercial” Christmas can help us accomplish some of these goals.

Service & Joyful Giving

During the Christmas season there are a lot of extra ways to serve! Ringing the Christmas bell for Salvation Army, buying for Angel Tree, packing boxes for Operation Christmas Child. Find a way to serve that meets your passion, talents, and abilities!

Give! Give as big as you can! A lot of non-profits encourage end-of-the-year giving with matching opportunities.  Even if you can only give a little, what you can give can be doubled! ‘Tis the season after all!

Worship

Christmas is the only season where Christian music is accepted and played everywhere! Have you ever thought of that? Christmas carols are often represented among the “Holiday Playlists” at stores like Target, Walmart, and the mall.

Then churches everywhere work hard to make worship services extra special, to bring God our best in worship.

We can also take worship out on the streets with us by carrying the tradition of Caroling door to door!

Evangelism & Discipleship

Sharing the gospel just gets easier with Christmas around! Why are you so joyful when everyone else is a scrooge? Why do you love Christmas so much? How are you celebrating this year? What is your favorite Christmas tradition? All of these questions can give you an opportunity to share!

Share that God, creator of the universe, humbled himself to become a baby… to live as His creation, live as a human, to die for our sins and give us eternal life.

Remember that huge humbug over the red Starbucks cups? A friend of mine made it an opportunity to share the gospel! She shared how the Red cup was like the blood of Jesus and the white represented the purity of His cleansing power. She has a great blog that you can check out here.

Widows & Orphans

Jesus mentions the orphans and the widows all of the time in the gospels, asking us to take care of them. We may not have the ability to adopt, but there are plenty of ways to help. You can make donations towards adoption agencies and programs; cook, babysit, or give to families full of adopted children; give towards personal funds for families planning to adopt.

 

What do you think Jesus wants from you during the Christmas season? How do you give a gift back to Him?

For more ways to keep God in the center check out : One Gift You Should Not Forget To Give and Sparkle Box Progress Report

Best and Most Challenging Parts of Marriage

A couple-friend of ours is engaged and currently doing pre-marital counseling. They were told to interview three couples (in different stages of marriage) with three questions.

And guess who was a lucky winner?! Tap and I!

We had a lot of fun mulling over these questions, and discussing them with our friends so I thought I’d share them with you.

  1. What is the BEST thing about marriage?
  2. What is the most CHALLENGING part of marriage?
  3. What is your #1 best piece of ADVICE?

Photo Courtesy – Kevin Curtis at Unsplash

Tap and I have been married for 4 years on the 10th of December, and we are still learning just as much as the next couple…. But here are the few insights we were able to give.

What is the BEST thing about marriage : Friendship

Tappy and I probably could have said this in unison… we BOTH feel that this is just truly great.

We love that our team-mate, friend, and lover is always there. We don’t ever have to be alone, we have each other for all the hurdles and celebrations of life.

From this day forward, for better or worse, you always have someone there to go through it with you.

What is the most CHALLENGING part of marriage : Fighting Fair, Balance, & More

To be honest this question came with more than one answer… In the four short years we’ve had together we’ve seen different challenges… and I am positive it’s only a glimpse of the challenges yet to come.  But for each year of our life, I thought there was a challenge worth mentioning.

Year 1: Comparison

In year one, we compared our reality of marriage to our imagination of marriage. We had to learn what the difference was between our ideals and what was. But comparison went further for me… it was comparing myself to other women and specifically Tap’s ex’s. I had to learn confidence and grace for myself, and trust in how God made me, and trust what Tap said when he complimented me.

Year 2: Learning to Fight Fair

This is really more of an every-year thing… We still pull the gloves off every now and then and fight dirty, but the earlier you can drop the bad habits the better!

Tap and I have learned that we cannot go to bed angry, otherwise we can’t sleep.  However, this doesn’t work for everyone. It’s usually best to give yourself a “time-out” to clear your head, minimize the emotion, and get back down to business.

Another great thing for us is to remind ourselves we are a team… whatever we are fighting about, it should be us fighting together to tackle the issue. Try not to forget you are a team.

Year 3: Balancing Life

We don’t have kids yet, but we still had to learn to balance our lives: house chores, work, church, friends, alone time, and date time. It only gets harder when more things add to this list!

Because Tap works in ministry, there was an added dynamic to this.  It is wise to prioritize your life in this way: God, Wife, Kids, Work. But if Tap works for God (in ministry) then this list gets a little blurry. We had to define what items on his Job Description were “God things” and which were “Work things.” It was hard to define this line…. God’s work is important, but it is also important not to become a workaholic and to give your family the proper time they need.

What is your #1 Best Piece of Advice : Dating & Communication

It surprises me how many couples are scared to be vulnerable and honest in a culture that seems to be so “out-there.” Conversations can be tough, but if you can be courageous to discuss things and humble enough to listen it will save your marriage a lot of heart-ache.

Tap said Dating is his best advice… “Happy wife, happy life!” But really, dating allows you to stay connected, keep in touch, and grow together. It’s important to always invest in your relationship.

Tap didn’t realize this until he was married, but he opens up best when we go on walks.

In my studies I learned that men connect “Side by Side” while women tend to connect “Face to Face.”  While I can sit over coffee and talk for hours, a man typically prefers to bond through doing something… fixing a car, playing basketball, etc. So try to connect through doing… go on a walk, kayak, work on a project he’s passionate about, etc.  Don’t always expect him to open up by facing him directly (and possibly intimidatingly). haha.

See some great date ideas at TheDatingDivas.com or the book 10GreatDates, got a budget try $10GreatDates!

What questions would you ask? How would you answer these questions? Engage in the discussion!

Things I learned in Ohio

America is often called the “melting pot,” because a large variety of cultures melt together to make it. It’s exciting that one country can hold so many distinct differences, yet be one.

Born and raised in Illinois, I didn’t think Ohio would be much different…. I suppose our country isn’t quite as “melted” as you may expect.  Sprinkles are called Jimmies in the east. You all becomes Ya’ll in the south… and on it goes.

Here are a few things I learned about Ohio.

  • People eat things called “Hummingbird Cake” and “Shoefly Pie
  • A “Carry-in” is the preferred term for a “Pot-luck”
  • The DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles), is actually a BMV (Bureau)
  • If you want to meet a group of people out at Buffalo Wild Wings, it’s nickname is no longer Bdubs, but B.W.3s.  (this one makes no sense to me)
  • “Sweepers”… This was a whole new term for me, I assumed it was the item used to sweep which would only include brooms and swiffers in my book.  In Ohio it can mean a lot of things, even a vacuum or duster.
  • Ohioans seem to always vacation in Michigan, yet they dislike MI when it comes to sports.
  • They claim to have a lot of corn, but I think Illinois still wins.
  • Gas Stations, without gas, that you can drive through… they’re everywhere.
  • They do not have Mel-O-Cream donuts, and this is very sad.
  • If someone yells “O-H” you’re supposed to yell back “I-O”
  • Buckeyes are peanutbutter balls with chocolate, and everyone sells them and eats them and brings them to parties.
  • Highlander Grogg is a coffee flavor found in every local coffee shop.
  • UDF has amazing milkshakes, it doesn’t matter how jank it may look.

What are some Ohio-specific things you have learned about? Have you ever visited another state and were surprised by how different yet similar it could be? Share your fun stories, words, etc. in the comments below!

Comfort or Impact?

Since Tap and I made the decision to move from Ohio back to Illinois, I would be lying if I didn’t say I’ve gotten cold feet a few times.

In many ways it feels like we are moving backwards instead of forwards- Moving back into my parent’s home, making less money in a less passionate field of work (for the time-being), and Tap is still seeking employment.

But my friends reminded us that we aren’t “moving backwards,” we are simply re-adjusting our path.  Making a few turns forward, rather than turning around and retreating all-together.

Courtesy of Jean-Frederic Fortier at StockSnap.io

They encouraged me, and reminded me that all of this was to straighten our path back out so that we could seek the true goal- to be in alignment with God’s will and make an impact for His Kingdom.

 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 3:13-14

Over the last couple of years, our goal had changed. Our goal was to obtain comfort.

We had plans to pay off our school debt- a worthy goal -but that goal was driven by a motivation to travel more, upgrade our possessions, and buy more stuff…

I wanted to see Italy, Greece, and Ireland. We talked about our priorities being a new car, then a new computer, then a new whatever. Once debt was out of the way, we would have a new flow of income that would sustain our hobbies and desires.

Again, these are ok things and things we still want, but our focus had gotten off-track.  Our goal was comfort instead of impact.

We have chosen to go back to school so that we can have a bigger impact.

In times of cold-feet, I hear whispers that say: “You can’t teach.” “You’ll get another degree that you’ll never use.” “You are being foolish, wasting so much money and time… again.”

I believe this is the fear talking…  It would be a lot more comfortable to NOT go back to school, to NOT have to pay for an education, to NOT work or study or try.  But staying comfortable usually results in less impact.

As uncomfortable as it is, I want to live a life of impact.

And for me, I think that means moving to Illinois, studying hard, and getting another degree. A degree that will help me pour into the college students (the age many lose faith), to equip them with God’s word and wisdom, and to send them forth into the world- multiplying impact through a classroom.

This has been stirring in our hearts and minds…. a seed of an idea planted in us. That we’ve decided to water with a lot of prayer and a little action. Please pray with us as we weigh our options and make these big decisions.

How do you influence the world around you? What impact are you making on the people in your life? How can you multiply and deepen that impact?

I should have __________.

How many “I should have”s do you have on your plate?

This weekend I went to visit my great friends in St. Louis, and as I was waiting for them to arrive for lunch at the Boathouse I met a woman named Culeta.

She was sitting on a bench with three adorable dogs- 2 pomapoos and 1 toy poodle by the name of Kennedy.  As we sat and chatted I learned about her, her passions, and I was inspired by a few of her smart and witty comments.

Cue, that’s what her friends call her, said that God planted an idea in her head that just never seemed to go away. She said it started in her mind, went to her heart, and then started to burn in her belly.  Although it took years, she finally gave into God’s calling and she opened a non-profit called Reprieve.

She said something to the likeness of… “I’m getting too old to carry the burden of ‘I should have’s, so I just did.”

God was ready to use her, and as soon as she agreed, he readied her path.

photo courtesy of AJ Montpetit at stocksnap.io

I carry a few “I want to”s in my pack.

I want to make an impact for God’s Kingdom. I want to inspire others with my blog. I want to find a career that’s perfectly suited for my talents, passions, and purpose. I want to travel….

My hope and prayer is that these turn into statements of “I did” rather than a long list of “I should have done.”

I don’t want to drive past the homeless, and later add “I should have fed him” to my burden of should haves.

I don’t want to brush off a question in fear, instead of embracing a vigorous discussion of theology. To sacrifice a soul for comfort, than to embrace a conversation of life, hope, and saving grace.

I don’t want the burden of… “I should have gone back to school,” “I should have fought harder to save our marriage,” “I should have visited him in the hospital,” “I should have….”

I don’t want to retire and see that I lived a life of comfort instead of impact.

I don’t want my list of “Should have”s to be long, but to be as short as possible.

I want to jump in, dive deep, get uncomfortable for the sake of keeping that list short.

 

What moments have you passed up, adding a “I should have” to your list? What wants and needs are you wrestling with that you need to take action on?

 

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.

1 Peter 4:10

We are Moving! From Ohio to Illinois

Yesterday our church announced that Tap handed in his resignation at TCN to pursue a calling to move back to Illinois.

Moving fromOH to ILAfter losing my job at the end of September, we felt a lot of strings had already been cut for us… it was just a matter of choosing to loosen a few more or to bind new ones.

The decision was not an easy one, and it was not made quickly. We have been praying earnestly and wanted to be sure that this calling was from God, not merely our own thoughts or desires.

However, in-time we felt a lot of peace, nudges, and signs that this was the right direction for this season in our life.

I was nudged out of my job. Our hearts were stirred to minister to the people we know and love in Illinois in more tangible ways.  Passions to pursue higher education were fanned by Tap’s first seminary class and walking on campus again in October. Affirmation from congregation members spoke life into my desire to become a professor of Biblical Studies.

Blogs, devotions, speakers, podcasts, books, sermons… they were all lining up with a similar message to Take a Leap of Faith. To dive in and Remake Your Life.

Although we are excited for this new adventure, we want you to know how much we have appreciated our time in Ohio.

TCN took a leap of faith in my husband, offering Tap his first full-time job in Worship Ministry. He was able to learn and grow in a loving environment. He was challenged to balance hymns and contemporary music; to schedule, nurture, and disciple individuals; to play any and every instrument when needed; and to organize and develop a culture of integrity and greatness out of reverence to our God who deserves our best.

Marriage Works OH! took a leap of faith in me, offering me my first full-time job as a supervisor- and in a field I was passionate about! I was able to study marriage and relationships and share what I learned in college and at work with teams of marriage educators. I was able to teach classes to couples who were hanging by a thread using the class as their last effort to save their marriage, and to teach others who wanted to start their marriage prepared, and even more who were just excited to kick their romance up a notch. I loved the opportunity to pour into these marriages directly, and indirectly through the supervision of my team.

We are so thankful for the opportunities to grow, learn, and serve here in Ohio. And there are plenty of people we will miss- who poured themselves into us while we were here.

In the next few weeks, our last few days, we plan on leaving strong. Giving it all we got, so that our impact can outlast our presence. We still care and pray for the ministries we are leaving behind, but we look forward to the new as well. The new lives that await us; Lives that God has tilled in preparation for the seed He’s asked us to plant.

We would love for you to continue to be a part of our lives in prayer and support of this new journey.

Thank you for everything!

Build Each Other Up

Kids tend to make people the punchlines of their jokes.

They often grow-up, but don’t grow out of it. The jokes may take different set-ups, forms, or turns… but people still end up battered on the other end. Their bruises covered by laughter.

In highschool, I was blessed with a positive influence. My youth pastor, Brian, made it our mantra that we would not tear each other down, but that our job was to build each other up.

Whenever we said something negative about someone else, we had to apologize and list three things we liked about that person- and the mantra would be spoken again “Build Each other up.”

Ryan McGuire at StockSnap.io

Life is hard, why make it harder for each other? We have the power to tear down and the power to build up. Why not stand together to make the burden lighter?

How are you using your voice?

As I get older the challenge has changed.

Instead of redeeming negative comments with positive ones, I should be keeping my mouth shut before I say anything negative in the first place.

Bob Goff shared that every time he says something critical to another person he logs into his bank account and gives away $500.  He said this helps him stop and think, “Do I really want to say this, or would I rather take my sweet Maria on a trip?

Most of the time he picks a trip with his wife, keeps his mouth shut, and instead focuses on speaking words of “life and encouragement.”

This is the next step… Speak life and encouragement into others without prompting.

I want to live my life as an encourager… a builder.

This is especially important in my marriage. As a wife, my sole job is to be a helper and encourager to my husband.

As a wife, I get to see the worst side of my husband, but I am called to be his greatest cheerleader despite it. This is oxymoronic, but that paradox gives it even greater power.

Knowing his faults, yet respecting, loving, encouraging, and believing in him anyways is what makes it mean more.

As I try to master being an encouragement to my husband, I need to let that habit flow into all of my relationships.

What would it be like if we used our words to build instead of tear down?

Build up our family, friends, leaders, servers, or the next generation.

I think we will find that a kind word goes much farther than a critical one.

 

Is it easier for you to speak negatively or positively about others? Is there someone you are specifically speaking life into during this season of your life? Who do you know that could use some life-giving words right now?

 

 

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

-Philippians 4:8

 

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

-1 Thessalonians 5:11

The wise woman builds her house,
but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down.

-Proverbs 14:1

Jobless

Perhaps you have graduated from college with a beautiful degree that you’re not entirely sure how to use… Then you apply for job after job, finding that while the world loves your education, they are really looking for some more experience on that resume…

I get it, I’ve been there.

This is extremely common today for college graduates; Building an anonymous career can be confusing and painstaking.

Joshua Earle at Stocksnap.io

In my journey, so far, I cling to this one line of hope that experience has taught me:

Every job leads to the next.

Serving on Social Life Committee gave me experience in event planning that landed me an internship in a radio station’s promotions team.

Pressing t-shirts for an apparel company led to creating and managing the same company’s social media accounts.

My volunteer work for Authentic Intimacy led to a promising career as a Marriage Education Program Supervisor.

From Walmart to Aerie, Apparel to Car Parts, to Board member and Supervisor.

Unfortunately, a job I loved came to a halt one year into my experience. We were not chosen to receive our primary grant funding, and the whole operation was closed- rendering me jobless.

And now I am on the edge of a cliff waiting to take another risky jump to dive deep into a new body of experience.

However cliche it might be- with every door closed, another opens. After a brief time of shock and grief, an excitement has stirred in me.

Why?- because every job leads to the next.

What will the next be this time?

I enjoyed my job- updating my educators on marital trends, training them in solid curriculum, all for the purpose of holding families together and enriching their relationships with communication and resolution tools.

My husband and I were right on track to kick our loans to the curb by 2017.

We had it all planned out, we could handle it all on our own.

But now we have to lean on God to handle it, and we are trading our plan in for His plan.

Not too long ago I talked about how I wanted to “remake my life” and now I have no strings attached, nothing holding me back from embracing that goal.

A new door stands open, and a new adventure awaits! As I think about it, I can’t help but be a bit excited.

When have you felt a chapter closing in your life? Were you excited or scared for a new beginning? What might you be called to close or jump into today?

I am the Vine – John 15

This summer I had the opportunity to speak God’s Word from the stage of TCN- the church where my husband works.

Our pastor was on sabbatical for 6 weeks, leaving 6 volunteers the chance to step in and preach on one of the “I AM” statements found in the gospel of John.

After volunteering, I was given “I am the vine” found in John chapter 15.

Emilie studying for "I am the vine"I loved preparing for this challenge. I spent over three hours in the library reading multiple commentaries on John, looking up key words like “vine,” “abide,” and “fruit.” Escavating the cultural context of this passage, and discovering Jesus’ true intention of these verses, rather then leaning on my own interpretation.

Then it took several drafts to widdle down my discoveries to the key components and making the message tangible to the audience. I was truly blessed by the process and the time I was able to invest in God’s word.

My prayer was that God would reveal to me the meaning of the passage, I asked that I would be emptied of my own bias and pride, so that I could effectively deliver as a humble servant.

If you want to hear the end result, here is the sermon on “I am the vine” from John 15: 1-17

 

Tappy supporting Em before she got on stage