HEATHER MOLENDYK|CONTRIBUTOR Hot water pounds my shoulders. I reach to turn the temperature hotter, desperate for the heat to stop the shivering in my bones. Although I am completely alone, my arms hug my naked chest in a protective gesture. They attempt to hold the broken pieces of my heart together. They utterly fail. The crumpling starts with my face before traveling down my vulnerable form. Dry sobs push up through my throat, contorting my mouth in a silent scream. There I stand completely alone, body raging against the guttural pain of grief, and unable to catch my breath before the next wave of tears push past my clenched eyes. To say that losing a loved one is hard is like saying an erupting volcano causes landscaping inconveniences. The exit of one you love always leaves a hole. Others may make substitutions. Others may offer what they can. But just like the uniqueness of individual snowflakes, each person in our lives contributes a special touch that only their fingerprints can make. We all know that life – no matter how vibrant and impactful – is always temporary. Each person is destined for eternity somewhere else. No one is guaranteed tomorrow. No one can live forever. That’s what each carved stone whispers to us from the cemetery. To dust we all return. No one is exempt...
ALLISON VAN EGMOND | GUEST The world news blares updates about recent warfare. An email alert chimes with bad news from a doctor. A mom yells in frustration. A pastor is persecuted for speaking the truth. A teen is plagued with suicidal thoughts. A kid screams for attention. A couple quarrels regularly. A woman struggles with falling into the same sin. There are many daily concerns that threaten to steal our peace. Longing for Peace Our chaotic lives can cause us to feel overwhelmed and unsettled. We are surrounded by various forms of suffering. Sometimes in the midst of the turmoil in my own life, I dream about lounging on the beach with a book in my hand, a salty snack to nibble on, and the soothing sounds of the ocean around me. Perhaps you’ve had a similar daydream. When life seems to swirl in chaos around us, we tend to want to escape the noise. We dream about another world, another place where there are no demands on our attention, no noises filling our ears, no fears or sorrows filling our minds. We long for a break. A pause button. Peace and quiet.
SUSAN PYKE | GUEST What’s in a day? Every life has a first day. I recently witnessed that joyful day in my first grandchild’s life! And we all will have a last day. We can probably describe our happiest day, and our saddest. Days that felt like they would never end, and days that ended much too soon. We are anxious about upcoming days: the scheduled biopsy, a meeting with our child’s teacher, a presentation at work, or the day the rent is due. The simple truth that God gives us each day to live for His glory can quickly get lost in these emotions and anxieties. How can we remember to praise and trust God for today when our minds and hearts are filled with memories from the past and fear about the future? We can find help with this searching question in John 1:1-5. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. With these verses in mind, we can go through our day more intentionally aware of Christ’s love and life for us. In the morning, we remember that Jesus, who was there at the first morning of creation, abides with us today. At mid-day we remember his sacrificial, redeeming love for us. At the close of the day, we see his truth by the light of his life in our darkness. God’s design of the daily rhythm of any given day can remind us to praise the Giver of days.
BARBARANNE KELLY|CONTRIBUTOR We live in a world at war. On Thursday, February 23rd, we woke to the news that Russian bombs were falling in Ukraine. My first thought was for my precious new friend, Tatiana, whose parents were in Odessa, shocked at what was unraveling before their eyes and unsure how to (or even if they should) escape their war-torn nation. They never thought they would live to witness a full-scale invasion of their home. * As horrifying as war is, it’s nothing new. The Treaty of Paris could no more have stopped the Russian Invasion of Ukraine than the Treaty of Versailles stopped Hitler. And yet, as awful as this new war is, the horror unfolding in Ukraine simply mirrors the spiritual battle each and every one of us face each and every moment of our lives. We need peace, a peace that reaches to the inner recesses of our hearts, a peace that is true and lasting. We need the peace only Christ can give. The Peace of Christ On the night of his arrest, the disciples were tucked away with Jesus, sharing with him what they didn’t yet realize would be their final meal together before the fury and terror of the cross. But Jesus knew. Furthermore, Jesus knew where he was going, and he’d told his disciples repeatedly that he would be arrested, killed, and raised on the third day. Though they’d seen his miracles and believed with God-given faith that he is the Messiah, they still didn’t fully grasp what it all meant. They didn’t realize that David’s King of Zion (Psalm 2) and Isaiah’s Suffering Servant (Isaiah 53) are one and the same. They didn’t understand all the implications of his Messianic mission, but Jesus knew that from the moment of his arrest they would desperately need his peace. So, he promised:
BARBARANNE KELLY | CONTRIBUTOR “He loves me. . . he loves me not. He loves me. . . he loves me not” Did you ever play this childhood game? Plucking the petals from a daisy to determine the feelings of a childish sweetheart, the outcome dependent upon whether the flower had an even or odd number of petals. Silly, right? What does the number of petals on any given flower have to do with the intentions of the heart? And yet, is this the narrative that plays in your mind when suffering comes? Do you pluck from the circumstances sent by our heavenly Father to determine whether he loves you? Some circumstances feel loving, others don’t. When he makes you lie down in green pastures and leads you beside still waters (Ps. 23:2), do you sing, “he loves me!”? When he calls you to walk through the valley of the shadow of death (Ps. 23:4), does your heart whisper, “he loves me not”? Suffering forces us to face what we truly believe. Do we believe that God loves us and that he is working all things—even hard things—for our good? When trials come—and they will: disaster, disease, depression, death—which narrative will be our default? When faced with pain, what is the first thought, and then the next, and the next, that enters our minds?
What comes to mind when you think about “home”? For some of us, we might think of the place we grew up— maybe the comfort of our parent’s living room or a grandparent's house. Maybe you think of your home now. Some of us may think of a quiet place of refuge, while others may think of the pitter patter of little feet and the clatter of puppy dog paws. Maybe your home is more empty than you wish. Or maybe your home doesn’t feel like home at all. Whatever your thoughts are of “home,” it is bound to illicit some powerful emotions. Home is so significant that we can trace its origins all the way back to the beginning of creation. God created a “home” for us in the Garden of Eden before He even created Adam and Eve, so I think it stands to reason that home is important to God. It is the place He created for us so that we could dwell in His presence. As much as I wonder what the Garden of Eden was like, I’m often reminded, it is the very place where everything fell apart— the infamous place where Adam and Eve disobeyed God and were banished forever. Fast forward several thousand years later to John 14 and Jesus is preparing the disciples’ hearts for His departure. They have spent roughly three years together doing ministry. The disciples have given up everything to follow Jesus. They have left their families, their jobs, and their homes to be with Him. They have seen Him do miracle after miracle. They have listened for hours on end to Him proclaim that He is indeed the Messiah. And then He tells them he is leaving, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms.”
MARISSA BONDURANT | GUEST She stood next to me one Sunday with tears streaming down her cheeks. Without looking at her, I gave her arm a squeeze. Both our faces were up; both of us were singing loudly. But I was singing of God’s faithfulness with a new baby strapped to my body, and she was singing of God’s faithfulness with the stinging news of another failed IVF treatment. In my heart I wondered, “How is my friend doing it? If I were in her shoes, there is no way I’d be able to sing to the Lord this morning.” Suffering Well Have you ever had a similar thought? Have you ever watched a fellow believer suffer well and wondered how she did it? It might help to define “suffering well.” To suffer well is to suffer like Jesus. To acknowledge the real pain and sorrow of the experience, while simultaneously holding on to the hope that the pain will not last forever. Before he went to the cross, Jesus was honest with his Father about his pain – asking God to “let this cup pass from me” (Matt 26:39). Then his prayer moved directly into hope and trust, “nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matt 26:39). My friend who sang praises to the Lord in the middle of heartache was not ignoring her pain. She was pleading with God to make her a mom, but she also held onto God’s promise to make beauty from ashes (Isaiah 61:3). Perhaps hardest of all, she trusted that God’s version of beauty would be better than any version she could imagine.
KATIE POLSKI | CONTRIBUTOR One of my favorite childhood books is, “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.” The brilliant little story depicts the daily frustrations that create a terrible, horrible day for a child: gum in the hair, dropping a sweater in the sink, tripping over a skateboard, and all the no good, very bad things in between. My freshman year in college I had a knee injury that required me to travel home for surgery. The day I returned to campus, I hobbled around on crutches sporting a massive brace on my leg. I also returned to campus the day after an ice storm, so hobbling outside became more like sliding. On crutches. With a knee brace. Super fun. I also returned to campus to find that the elevator in my dorm building was broken. I then discovered that not only would I be required to limp down four flights of stairs to get out of my dorm, but I’d need to stumble down two additional flights to get to my music classes. Because those elevators were not working either. That day I returned to campus was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.
JESSICA ROAN | GUEST She really was extraordinary—funny, loving, and firm when she needed to be. If a perfect teacher exists, she would be at the top of the list, in our house anyway. Thankfully for us, our younger son was in her class, not once, but twice. When we found out he would have his kindergarten teacher again for 5th grade, we were elated. The unpredictability of 2020 was especially difficult for him. While we couldn’t be sure which activities, even school itself, would go on, we could be sure about one thing: Mrs. W. And she delivered—suddenly breaking into song, encouraging dance-offs, dressing up in wild costumes. If there was anything an 11-year-old would love, she did it. Now that life has resumed some normalcy, we have tried to embrace change. My boys started new schools this year. While they were excited to move on to new adventures, the subtle dread of leaving this enjoyable relationship behind haunted us all. My son periodically says, “I miss Mrs. W.” After six great years under her tutelage, we all miss her. We mourn this transition in our lives. Mourning comes in all shapes and sizes. Not only has our family mourned transitions, we’ve mourned broken relationships, and the passing of dear family members. Life is filled with losses and each one brings us great grief.
KATHERINE ASHBAUGH | GUEST The Feast of the Passover has arrived, and Jesus knows his hour has finally come. Having loved his own in the world, he will love them to the end. We enter the scene of John 13, where Jesus and his disciples are enjoying a last meal together. Celebration abounds, friendship and feasting too. Judas Iscariot, the betrayer, is present, as are the rest of Jesus’ faithful disciples— the men he has allowed to walk and watch his ways. Men, who have been fed by the Bread of Life, with fish and loaves and with words powerful to save, strengthen, and encourage. Men, who have witnessed and performed miracles in his name, bodies healed, and sins forgiven. Men, who have confessed, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68-9). And Jesus is present at the meal. The Lamb of God. As the action begins, we learn that Jesus knows his Father had given him all things, and so with purpose he rises and moves towards each disciple, tenderly washing their feet. One after another, first the washing and then the drying, with a towel wrapped around his waist. The process is physical, messy and wet, refreshing and warm, and utterly confusing, as Peter makes clear when his turn arrives. “Lord, do you wash my feet?” (John 13:6). “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me,” Jesus replies (John 13:8), so in characteristic form, Peter enthusiastically requests a full washing, his hands and head as well.