2017 | In Hindsight

And just like that the New Year was here, and 2017 became a memory. I can’t believe we are already 2 weeks into January! And it is way too easy for those memories of the previous year to be filed away and not fully appreciated. There are two things that I find helpful and edifying at the start of a new year. One is to look ahead with hope and optimism and make a list of goals for the year. The other is to look back over the last year and count the blessings. It is not our natural inclination, but it is so good for the heart and soul.

2017 was another year of changes or transitions. It seems that ever since I graduated highschool, life has been one transition after another. Just when I think I’ve settled in to a routine, things change dramatically. Highschool to the junior college, junior college to university, university to South Dakota, odd job to odd job, then starting a small business, and starting another small business, this to that, one wild idea to another wild idea. And God has been so good through it all. There has been fear involved, fear about what could happen, fear of failure, fear of looking like a fool – But God is God and I am not, and His plans will not fail. Mine might – So my businesses could tank. We’ll see. But His plans won’t. So if my businesses tank, then for some reason that is what God has planned for my good and His glory. (That said, I do hope they don’t tank.)

2017 was a year of adventures, some smaller, some bigger, and seeing new places. I can safely say I’ve never experienced a year with this many adventures or this much traveling! The biggest adventure, of course, was my Alaska and Yukon trip, and the joyous time spent with my extended family up there in the Last Frontier. On a number of smaller trips, I got to see Boulder, CO ( for a photography workshop), Bozeman, MT (for a Biblical counseling conference), and Douglas, WY (for the total eclipse), all three places I’d never been before, and Montana and Colorado states I’d never visited before. It is about time I visited my neighbors. The eclipse was, of course, a huge highlight – what a divine, majestic, wonderful event! What a testimony to God’s goodness, creativity, and power. And camping in the bed of my truck was just plain fun.

2017 was a year of growth and encouragement. My piano studio grew, which was a joy. Teaching is something I always adamantly said I’d never do, and ironically God is now using teaching piano to transition me out of full time work at the clinic to full time self employment – and He, amazingly, has given me a contentment, an enjoyment of it, and even a love of it. While I can say with some certainty that teaching is not what I want to do full time, or even long term, it is something that is useful, productive, and is allowing me to continue to think outside the box. And then photography – I had my first official clients in 2017, and did a number of portrait sessions for friends as well. Again, what a blessing to have found something I love that is able to provide some income! I am optimistic that this endeavor will continue to grow! I was also delighted to see an article of mine published in Country Magazine, another little boost of encouragement, for those times when I look at what I studied in college (music) and where I want to be or what I want to be doing (not music), and can get a little discouraged wondering what my options are, short of going back to school. I’m learning that I do have options – I just have to think outside the box.

2017 was also a year of admonitions and humbling. I was reminded again and again how much I need my Savior, and how little I often value Him, how often my attention is trapped by other things and my heart tries to put something else on the throne that belongs to Jesus Christ alone. While those are never comfortable facts to be confronted with, on the one hand, I am so thankful that Jesus doesn’t give up on me when my love for Him grows cold. Instead, He puts people and books and sermons and struggles in my way, to remind me, to admonish me, to humble me, and to draw me back towards Him.

I look forward to 2018 and the plans God has in store for this New Year.

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Out of Deep Darkness

God had promised a Savior. And for centuries, the Jewish people waited for this Messiah, a mighty king who would storm this earth and defeat their enemies and right all wrongs. Prophets, with words from God, gave glimpses, signs, of what this Savior would look like, what He would do, where He would come from. The Jews waited for this Savior, for a man of stature, of importance, of status and fame. They wanted a king. And they waited. And waited. And waited. But the dimming years trickled by, and the glorious prophesies ceased. For those who waited and hoped, the time must have seemed so long, the years must have seemed so dark, and hope must have seemed so faint.  But the Promise remained.

And finally, into this broken, darkened world, God began to speak once more. Into the darkness, His light burst forth. In the glorious, heavenly brilliance of angels and stars, God relayed this message: “Do not fear.” 

“Do not be afraid, Mary. Do not be afraid, Joseph. Do not be afraid, humble Shepherds.  Magi, draw near. I bring you good news of great joy.” 

The story began to unfold. And as the story unfolded, it was not the story that was expected. This isn’t the story that the Jewish people would have written. This isn’t the story that I would have written. This isn’t how a king is supposed to come. But God is not bound by human prejudice or expectation. To a young woman, a carpenter, and shepherds, angels appeared, ushering them into the glories of God’s plan to rescue this lost and hurting world, and He began to reveal the Savior, His glory.

We live in a land of deep darkness. The hearts of all of us are black with sin. We need hope. And there is hope, in the Light of the World, the Son of God, God Incarnate.

Christmas approaches during the darkest, coldest time of the year. The days are shortest, the nights are longest, and into this deepest darkness comes the celebration of Christ’s coming, a meditation on the glory of Christ and the beauty of God’s redemptive plan that is still being worked out upon this world. He is the one who opens blind eyes and softens hard hearts and whispers truth into deaf ears. He is our Hope, our Light, and our Salvation. And He was poised to descend upon this dark world in a way the world hasn’t been able to forget.

The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
    on them has light shone. (Isaiah 9:2)

The Simplicity of Thanks

Thanksgiving is almost entirely an uncomplicated holiday. I suppose we’ve kind of spoiled that with the Black Friday and Cyber Monday insanity, but Thanksgiving Day itself could hardly be simpler. Compared to the other holidays we observe culturally, such as Easter and Christmas, or even St. Valentine’s and St. Patrick’s Days, all of which have modern traditions and trappings that do something to secularize and obscure the original meaning, Thanksgiving has been relatively unsullied. There is little in the way of complication. Get together, eat together, pray together, laugh together. Its terribly simple. Yesterday, we enjoyed the company of friends and family as we always do, our traditional meal, beautiful pies, homemade bread and jams and jellies, a hike to Hole-in-the-Wall, and a Christmas movie after everyone had left. Sweet and simple. And so typical for us. IMG_1287eIMG_1307eIMG_1306eIn a culture that craves the new experiences, the best foods, the best clothes, the best vacations, where #YOLO and we desire to be the envy of those around us, and to outdo one another in matters that don’t even matter, for one day we seem to set all of that aside in favor of the familiar, the simple, the old-fashioned, the typical, the rustic. What could be less elegant or progressive than turkey and pumpkin pie? Yet that somehow brings us all back to the familiar idea culturally that we have so much to be grateful for. Even those who don’t acknowledge God understand that there is a level of gratitude we owe to someone or somewhere outside of ourselves. I’m just glad I know to whom I give thanks. And it isn’t to me or to some impersonal force of fate.

Gratitude is simple, like turkey and pumpkin pie, and it is the same now as it was in yesteryears. Biblically, we are commanded to give thanks in all circumstances. Period. There are no qualifiers, no ceremonies to perform, no special prayer to pray, no specifications, instructions, or complicated user manual. Just the command to give thanks. “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thess. 5:16-18) Not just to give thanks when the table is laden with food and my needs have been met. Not just when I am comfortable and making as much money as I think I need. Not just when I’m certain of where I’m going and what I’m doing and I’ve got everything under control. Not just when my vehicle is reliable and my relationships are enjoyable. Not just when life is good and I feel admired and needed. My gratitude can’t be put on hold until I’m married and living the life I thought I’d be living by the time I turned 27. I can’t put my gratitude on hold until medical bills are paid, my savings reaches a certain amount, and I feel like things are going the way they should be. My gratitude cannot be conditional. If it is…then it isn’t gratitude. It is simply a reasonable response to a good thing. But my gratitude has to be forthcoming when I am hungry, tired, and grouchy after a long day of work, and still have to fill up my fuel tank on the way home and it is 20 degrees, dark, and the wind is whipping. My gratitude has to be forthcoming when I am uncomfortable and feel sheepish because I’m not doing what most 27-year-olds do with their life and I kind of wonder if I missed something. My gratitude has to be forthcoming when I feel like I’ve failed and when I know that I’ve failed. When I don’t know where I’m going or what I’m doing and life feels out of control. When I feel belittled and unnecessary, depressed and anxious. When my vehicle is unreliable, my relationships are discordant, when life feels like a drag. When I’m still single at 27, and those little dreams I thought for sure would be reality by this time just aren’t coming true. When I’ve got medical bills, taxes to pay, and a bank account that isn’t as full as it seems like it should be. We each have those little things that pile up like grime on a window, obscuring and complicating our sight, those things that eat into our joy and nag our hearts, turning our thoughts away from Christ. We have to intentionally turn our thoughts to Him, trust Him, and then give thanks.

Luke 16:10 says, “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much.” I think we can also say that one who gives thanks in very little also gives thanks in much. We cultivate a heart attitude of thankfulness by thanking God even for the mundane, normal, boring, simple things. Those are no less gifts from Him than are the big things – the marriage, the new baby, the new house, the life-saving operation. God is the giver of all good gifts, even the things we think no one wants to hear about when you’re sharing the thing you’re thankful for. I’m thankful for the air we breathe, the ground we walk on, the sky above our heads. I’m thankful for my family. For my church. For my cat sleeping on the arm of the chair. For flannel pajama pants. For hot tea. For my mattress on the floor of the loft bedroom I share with my sister. All of these extras that God didn’t need to create or facilitate, much less to gift to me for my edification and delight. The attitude of gratitude isn’t cultivated by waiting until those obvious moments when it is culturally appropriate to give thanks. Thank God for the glass of water you just drank, the bed you’re looking forward to, the cold cereal you eat for breakfast. Thank God for His sustaining power even in the things we are too callous to think about more than every once in awhile, but by which His power is displayed in ways we can’t even come close to comprehending: the balancing and continuous sustaining of our solar system, the water cycle, our supply of oxygen, gravity. Start with things we, to our shame, too often take for granted. I’m thankful for the gift of salvation. I’m thankful that this life isn’t all that there is. I’m thankful that I know there is a purpose behind all the trials, the major ones, the tragedies, as well as the little niggling trials like sales tax and singleness. I’m thankful that I know and serve and am loved by a sovereign God who loves those who are His, and does all things for their good and His glory. I’m thankful.

If your heart loves the LORD and your desire is to honor Him, there is so much to give thanks for, even when life doesn’t seem like it has much to offer. Over and over in the Bible, God’s people are commanded to give thanks, sometimes “because He is good,” and other times, simply because He is. And we, too, can give thanks, simply because HE IS. For no other reason. He is. He is. He is. Give thanks.

It doesn’t get much simpler than that.

He is Risen!

Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.  And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.  His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.  And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men.  But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.  He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.”  So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.  And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him.  Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.” Matthew 28: 1-10IMG_5893eChrist went ahead of his disciples to Galilee, and has now gone ahead of us to Heaven – And we will see him there.

Happy Resurrection Day!

God With Us

Christmas Day commemorates a turning point in history – It marks the beginning of the end of the story of redemption and reconciliation with our Creator God. Everything in the Old Testament, everything in history up to that night in Bethlehem some 2000 years ago, points to the coming of a Savior, the need of a Savior, the hope of a Savior. Everything in history since that night has pointed both back to that event, as well as forward to the longed-for day when Christ will return.
IMG_0132It is a day we celebrate with joy, sharing it with those we love, rejoicing, giving to those we love just as God in love gave us the gift of Himself, as the God-man Christ Jesus. He wasn’t just a tiny baby in a feeding trough, but He was God Incarnate, God Himself come to earth. God gave hope to the hopeless, life to the dying, grace to the wretched sinner, peace to the troubled. He stooped to earth in love, that we might be raised with Him, dying that we might have life. He came in the form of a sinless, helpless infant, with the purpose of saving His people from their sins.
IMG_0192Isaiah 7:14 reads: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” Immanuel. God with us. Wonder at that. Marvel at that. Rejoice, and give God the glory.

Merry Christmas!

Laura Elizabeth

Blessed Paradox

Every good story has a transformation. And I love a good story. I think everyone loves a good story. The concept of a story is woven into our hearts as human beings. We naturally respond to and love tales of suspense and danger and good guys and bad guys, where the good guy wins, but just by a hair. We love high stakes, the threat of the story world falling apart if the good guy loses. We love the emotional roller coaster of thinking that the good guy is down, only to find out he is up again and the bad guy is retreating desperately. We love the stories of a knight in shining armor rescuing the beautiful and courageous maiden, or the gun-slinging cowboy thundering down on a ranch, to scatter the outlaws and marry the lone woman who had been defending her family’s ranch. We love the stories of bad-man-turned-good, coward-turned-brave, rags-to-riches, bondage-to-freedom, danger-to-safety, loneliness-to-love. Whether circumstantial transformation, or personal transformation, we love a transformation.

The genuine, regenerate Christian life is a life of transformation, a story of rescue (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). Without transformation, we are still dead in our trespasses. Without transformation, we are still wretched beyond belief. If look at myself honestly, I recognize that I am full of pride and arrogance, lust and fear and envy, I am discontent and angry, spiteful and dishonest and disingenuous – and then I look at Christ. That is my rescuer! That is whom I am commanded to be like. That is whom I am commanded to worship. That is my Savior. How far short I fall! Le Croix et Les Perles

There is an unfortunate and deadly pattern in even those who consider themselves to be Christians, to try to deny their own indwelling sin, and to deny the need for transformation in their life. (1 John 1:8-9) The Bible clearly states that everyone is born with an innate knowledge of God (Romans 1:20). This means that everyone has a knowledge that this world is not how it should be, that there is something desperately wrong with the world and ourselves. If I am truly honest with myself, I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that I am full of evil. I don’t deserve to be rescued! Without even trying to be wicked, I am wicked, and if I’m not wicked, it is simply by the grace of God! (Romans 7:21-25)

We live in a Christian culture where “good Christians don’t have problems,” where we don’t admit to our struggles, our sins, our own native evil. What a cruel message to perpetrate. What a burden of guilt, to not be able to admit what each of us suffers acutely from, to paste on a facade of perfection while withering away inside from shame! What a burden of sorrow and pain, to not be able to come to Christ, fall on our knees, and pour out our wickedness and repentance before Him, and let Him take our burdens and make us free! There is no sin too wicked, no secret too dark, no guilt too wretched, to be covered by the forgiving work of Christ. Just come. (Matthew 11:28)

What if Christian, the Pilgrim, had refused to admit he carried a heavy burden on his back, refused to drop it at the Cross, and tried to carry his burden all the way to the Celestial City? He would have died on the road, or drowned under its weight in the River of Life. And this is exactly what people do, who try to deny that they are struggling with their own evil, or who try to deny that there is such a thing as right or wrong, or that they have any indwelling sin in their life. They are refusing to let Christ take and destroy their burdens. They are denying the need for Christ. They are denying the need for a hero’s rescue, for a transformation of circumstance and person.

It does no good to claim Christ as Savior and deny the need of saving grace. It does no good to hope for Heaven if you don’t truly believe there is a Hell. It does no good to live a life labeled “Christian” if your version of “Christian” is no different from the culture. There must be a transformation.

What is springtime without first the deadened winter? What is dawn without the darkness of night? What is a rainbow without the fierceness of a storm? What is joy if we haven’t also experienced grief? What is salvation if we weren’t first dead in our sins? What is Paul the Apostle if he wasn’t first Saul of Tarsus? And what is the Resurrection of Christ the LORD if He didn’t first die a sinner’s death?

The glory of God is most beautifully manifested in His glorious rescue of wretched sinners. The salvation story is the rescue of all rescues, the ultimate knight-in-shining armor, the ultimate romance, the ultimate adventure, the ultimate rags-to-riches tale, the ultimate transformation of circumstance! The Hero comes, confronts the Villain, willingly pays the Ransom price to rescue the Prodigal, adopting as His children even those who had spit on Him, hated Him, abandoned Him, and crucified Him.

And thus we have the blessed paradox – A God who is all that is good, righteous, holy, omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent, a God who is just, and jealous, and justified in sending all of humanity to Hell for our corporal and individual wickedness…that same God stooped in love and mercy to become a Man, sinless and pure, to live a perfect life and die a perfect death, to pay the final price for sin: a gruesome, bloody death. (Ephesians 2:4-7) He died to save those who spit on Him, who reviled Him, who persecuted Him, who nailed Him to the tree. And each of us, by our sin, has participated in putting the nails through His hands and the crown of thorns upon His head. And yet He offers life. (Acts 22:6-8, 1 Corinthians 15)
It doesn’t make sense. It isn’t a story I would have written. I would have tweaked a few things. I would have made the object of rescue deserve it a little bit. I would have made the Hero a little bit volcanic, grabbing those who spat on Him by the shirtfront and giving them a righteous shake. But it is God’s story, and blessed be His name for choosing so glorious a rescue to be the story of all history! He makes it possible for us to live a life that is pleasing to Him – I have no power on my own to live a “good life.” I have no power toward any good, without the strength of Christ in me. (Ezekiel 36:26-27)

“But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong….so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” ~ 1 Corinthians 1:27, 29.

Soli Deo gloria!

Laura Elizabeth

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