2020 Favorites

I figured instead of giving a run-down of my reading this year, I’d just give you my favorites. Since I wasn’t doing the full book list, I also thought I’d add in some of my favorites in other categories, as well.

Our 2020 was full of good things. I know everyone is focusing on what a bad year it was, but for us, 2020 wasn’t so bad. The Lord has been faithful to us and has provided for us. Needs were met. I cannot ask for more. We added a new little lady to the crew. We added a second teenager to that group. We started our 11th year of homeschooling. We had our 12th year here at the church. We celebrated our 17th year of marriage. It has been a full year, and we’re all happy and well at the end of it.

Beauty

Since I had a baby in 2020, I decided I needed something simple in terms of make-up to take with me to the hospital. I didn’t want to be carrying an entire eyeshadow palette or have too many products on hand. I also didn’t want to forgo makeup altogether. I saw an ad on social media for Wanter Beauty. At the time, they had a trio of basics on sale (I think for Mother’s Day). It has their powder foundation, on-the-glow blush and highlighter stick, and tube of black mascara. While the mascara was pretty basic (I do have sensitivities to mascara and had no issues with this one. It just wasn’t “wow”. It is a very natural looking mascara.), the powder foundation and blush stick were surprisingly awesome. It was also awesome that with three simple products, I had a full face of make-up. (I used the highlighter side of the blush stick for eyeshadow.) The foundation perfectly matched and gave me that “your skin but better” look I was going for. It just made my skin look perfect. The blush stick was convenient and gave my skin a nice glow and flush of color.

My mother turned me on to this new face oil that is pretty amazing. Pomifera Rose face oil is super moisturizing but light. It doesn’t make my skin feel heavy. It works well at night, and it layers under makeup well during the day. While I’m not going to make claims about wrinkles or dark spots— it did make my skin glowing and vibrant looking. It completely got rid of the dull, tired look and made my skin so healthy. I also started using their face wash. I really like it, but it smells like Windex to me. If it wasn’t for the smell, I’d say it is perfect.

I purchased a couple bottles of ILNP nail polish toward the end of my pregnancy. I will say, I bought two different colors that looked pretty much the same when they arrived (Sweet Pea and Sandy Baby). The color Sweet Pea was the color I chose to be my having a baby manicure color. I absolutely loved it. The holographic sparkles are mesmerizing. And the best part— it doesn’t feel like glitter on your nails! It is also very long-lasting. I can easily get a week’s wear in before I have the first chip. (And I am tough on my nails.) Because I loved it so much, I purchased 4 more colors throughout the year— Stay Hidden, Ski Lodge, Mona Lisa, and Talk It Up. Of the colors I’ve purchased, Talk It Up is my least favorite. Their color line has some very, very similar shades. So, if you’re buying more than one, make sure they’re pretty different or you may end up with two that are way too similar. Sweet Pea and Mona Lisa are probably my two favorites, though Ski Lodge is battling to belong.

Clothes

After having a baby, I lived in my leggings. And I love them. Felina leggings are the best leggings I have ever worn. They are super soft and stretchy. I love them. I have both their maternity and regular versions. And I have several colors. I love them all.

But I did have an itch to get out of my leggings and back into something “real”. I went on a search for jeans and found two that I absolutely love. The first is Judy Blue. Every pair I have tried have been so flattering. I prefer the high rise styles, and I like both skinny and boyfriend fit. They’re so stretchy that even postpartum, they feel like they fit me well. Judy Blue are a boutique brand, but practically every online boutique I’ve seen carries them. (Check out Discount Divas, ZigZag Stripe, Freckled Poppy, and Peach Pistol if you don’t already have a boutique you shop. They all have apps that make it easier to shop.)

The second pair of jeans that I found and loved are Carly Jeans Los Angeles. I bought the Monroe Skinny Jean, and they are so cute. (The Mer is on my list for “next” jeans.) I did buy a size bigger than I buy in Judy Blue. I really like the quality. These are less stretchy than the Judy Blues but feel more like real jeans. There are definitely postpartum bloated days where I can’t pull these off (where the Judy Blues are always good to go), but they have a nicer look to them. So, I skip them on my bloated days. But I highly recommend them. Though, if they aren’t currently having a sale when you’re shopping— wait for the sale! I’ve seen 25-40% off pretty regularly.

I’m not really into jewelry, but I’m not NOT a jewelry person. I like simple jewelry. Nothing too big. Nothing too flashy. Nothing too crazy expensive that I have anxiety about losing or breaking it. I got a couple pairs of J & Co. earrings right at the beginning of the year, and I have absolutely loved them. I have the open circle studs and the little ball huggies— both in gold. They’re great earrings. The huggies take a little getting used to, but they are so cute on. Both are super simple but not ordinary.

I also got a couple of dainty layering necklaces from Gorjana at the beginning of the year. I also got some cheaper knock-offs to review and can tell you the Gorjana are worth the price. My go-to look for layered necklaces is a basic chain that is a little shorter and then a coin/medallion that is slightly longer. I think that is the perfect minimalist necklace look.

I’ve also been loving my Bob’s Burgers socks. They’re fun. They’re functional. I’ve been wearing them non-stop all year. They’re nothing special in terms of socks— just basic novelty socks. But I love them.

Books

I didn’t set a big book goal this year since I was finishing up school. I was really focused on just finishing my degree. I ended up reading more than 30 books even without the goal. That doesn’t include books I started but did not finish (of which there were quite a few). And that doesn’t include everything I read to the kids and everything I read for my last semester of school. (And if you are on Goodreads, add me as a friend! And if you aren’t on Goodreads, consider getting on Goodreads and adding me as a friend!)

Mama Bear Apologetics stands out as the book worth reading this year. It goes through the most common destructive worldviews your children will encounter, helps you understand them, and gives concise and understandable arguments against them. As Christian parents, we need to have a deeper understanding of the world around us and what God’s Word says. Not answering big, deep questions your kids have will not do. Because there is a world out there with a much different view of things that is more than happy to enculturate your children to their ideals. So, do not be hesitant or timid to assert the Truth in your home and help your children think through the ideas they encounter. This book is an excellent starting point. There is also a Mama Bear Apologetics podcast that is worth listening to. They have a Facebook group. I’ve not been too impressed by the interactions there, so I don’t necessarily recommend that group. (Not saying don’t join; just not saying joining will be of any help or use to you.)

Death by Living is another book that was excellent. If you struggle with anxiety or depression, it is well worth the read. (It is worth the read even if you don’t struggle with those things, but the book itself is almost a concise, self-standing cognitive behavioral therapy endeavor.) It is wildly rambling and poetic, but that makes it hit just the right place. N.D. Wilson just nails so many truths, and it was such an anchor book for the year. If you’re living fearfully, read this book. If you feel burned out, read this book. If you feel isolated, read this book. Connect with N.D. Wilson in these pages, and let it transform your thinking just a little bit.

Love Without Borders was an excellent book. I didn’t intend to read it right when it came out, as I had papers due and a baby due. I only intended to read the introduction when my preorder came. I read the introduction and then couldn’t put the book down. Angela’s view on family, children, and the American dream is just so refreshing. I’ve read so many “influencers” who are just peddling some New Age junk with a “Christian” label slapped over it. This wasn’t that at all. You can tell the Braniffs have thoughtfully and intentionally gone about family, and it was such an interesting a refreshing read into their lives. I really loved the book— so much so that as soon as I finished mine, I sent my mom a copy. (Not my copy— I’m keeping that!) I highly recommend this read, even if you aren’t a parent. It is the story of a family. It is the story of how they selflessly sought to share the love of Jesus and how that has shaped them. Angela also has a YouTube channel, which I also enjoy watching and was the reason I preordered the book in the first place.

Sidequest: In Realms Ungoogled was the most surprising fiction book of the year. The Pastor grabbed it for me for Christmas last year because he heard to Frank J. Fleming on the Audio Mullet podcast (Maybe it was on The Babylon Bee podcast?). I was a little skeptical, but reading books is what I do. So, after putting it off for a couple months, I finally dove in. I was blown away. While it might make you think less of me, Cabin in the Woods is one of my favorite movies. I wrote a paper on it in school I love it so much. (I feel like I should tell you that it is not kid appropriate, so don’t go watching with your 6-year-old and blame me.) Sidequest has major Cabin in the the Woods vibes. It isn’t a rip off or even a nod. But it had that “something-is-going-on-under-the-surface-of-what-is-going-on” vibe to it. You’re just thrown into this weird story where everyone is acting like a demon in the office is normal. It is like Office Space and Cabin in the Woods had a baby and then someone gave that baby some magical fairies. If you are a science fiction fan, grab this book. I even convinced the Pastor to read it (though he does not read fiction), and he was not disappointed.

The little kids and I have been enjoying Mary Pope Osborne’s retelling of The Odyssey in Tales from the Odyssey. She tells the stories with accuracy but succinctly. Even the 5-year-old is hanging on every word and following the story. It is a great retelling that is appropriate to read aloud to younger kids or for a 3rd-5th grader to read on their own. I should tell you it is still pretty dark and twisted— it is still The Odyssey. It didn’t turn into a Mickey Mouse story in the retelling. The cyclops still gets his eye gouged out, and he still eats a lot of men. So, if you’re looking for a happified version of the story— this isn’t it. This is still very much The Odyssey.

I’m also still loving my ESV Heirloom Single Column Legacy Bible. It has become my go-to everyday Bible. I use it for personal reading and for our homeschool days. It just has such a nice feel to it and is such a beautiful Bible. I was a little nervous using such a nice Bible at first. But it is meant to be used and read. Bibles aren’t meant to sit on a shelf collecting dust. So, while I do still use my Interleaved Journaling Bible for Bible journaling and my She Reads Truth Bible for church, the Heirloom Legacy Bible is the one most often in my hands.

Baby

I had a baby this year! So I do have a whole heap of baby favorites to share with you. (This is baby 8, if you have lost count or are new here.)

We opted to downsize the baby sleeping a little, especially for those first 6 months. We gave away our mini-crib and replaced it with a Design Dua Moses basket. We researched several Moses baskets and decided to go with Design Dua. We ordered the Signature Bilia Basket in Midnight Cross. We also ordered the liner, the sheet, and the bassinet stand. Now, when she was tiny, we could have done without the liner and any bassinet sheet will fit the mattress. But as she got a little older, she started fiddling with the sides and bumping into them with her feet. She seemed to prefer the liner. We were able to use the basket exclusively until she was 6 months old. If she wasn’t such a massive thing, we could have used it longer. But alas, at 6 months, Sue Ellen was already in 12-month clothing for length and weighed 18 lbs. The Moses basket allowed us to move her sleeping spot anywhere we ended it to be. It was small and looked nice in our room. I also put a couple organizing baskets under the basket stand with her socks, hairbows, and things in them. These Moses baskets are handmade in Ghana. They are a little more expensive than a plastic bassinet, but they are so much prettier, so much better sourced, and such a superior experience. I highly recommend the basket. I’m definitely very happy with my purchase.

Muslin Flat diapers quickly became my new favorite. I know I have raved about flat diapers before. And I know I’ve raved about Green Mountain Diapers before. But you don’t know what you’re missing if you haven’t used their Muslin flats. They are so much thicker than the typical Birdseye flat (which were my previous favorite diapers!). That does make the regular-size too big for a bitty baby. We used the half-size until she was about 12-15 pounds and then moved to the full-size. Now, we use the half-size for doublers to put into the full-size at night for extra absorbency (though I have never had a muslin full flat leak). If I could go back in time, I wouldn’t have purchased any of the prefolds, even though I love them. The muslin flats are just SO much better. I’d be completely happy with a full stash of nothing but muslin flats. (We are not using pocket diapers at all with Sue Ellen. We have moved completely to prefolds or flats with covers.) I only grab for prefolds now because I feel like I need to use them since I have them. But the muslin flats are seriously where it is at!

I’ve also really loved my silk and cotton Oscha wraps this time around. With Daisy, hemp and cotton were my favorite. But this time, I’m just loving wild silk and cotton wraps. (Also, I did finally find a stretchy wrap I like. I still 100% prefer a woven wrap, but I do like the Moby Wrap Element for a stretchy wrap. I usually find stretchy wraps hot and saggy. The Moby Wrap Element is thin and while stretchy, it isn’t super duper stretchy where it starts sagging. If you pull the wrap over your shoulders, it makes it even more comfortable and doesn’t dig.) I have 2 silk and cotton Oscha wraps that I’ve been using and loving.

Similarly, I’m enjoying my Oscha Bairn. I’ve always steered away from wrap fabric soft-structured carriers— mostly because of the price. But the Bairn is affordable, comfortable, and simple. I really have liked it. I don’t feel like I need to be careful with it because of the cost. I also don’t have a lot of extra parts or anything complicated. Sue Ellen especially liked it on the hottest summer days because I could cover her with the attached hood and she still had breeze in through the sides of the carrier.

Also, I’m just going to tell you… I make superior baby wipes. My wipes hold up better and clean better than any other cloth wipe I have tried. They fit well in a wipe warmer. They are thick. They wash well. And they are so cute!

Kids

My kids really got into making flip books this year. A flip book kit that comes with an LED light pad is all they needed to get started. They can animate their own stories, and you flip the pages to see the animation come to life. It is a very low tech lesson in animation and super fun. My kids ages 5 to 14 all loved making books. I felt like I was constantly buying refill books for them!

Field Notes released new Dungeons and Dragons notebooks this year. They aren’t a standard size, which annoyed me because I couldn’t get them a traveler’s notebook for them. But they love them. You can get character books or game master books. My kids have really gotten into D&D, so the older ones really thought the Field Notes were super cool. They also really like these big playing mats for their campaigns. And they think these Titan Dice are the coolest. (And I like the Titan Dice because they are big enough to find!)

My little girls have loved Sarah’s Play Silks. Daisy (3-years-old) said Sue Ellen (the baby) needed a “magical sea that is green” for Christmas. We laughed, but then I realized that I could make Daisy’s wish for Sue Ellen come true. I got the “sea” colored play silk. It is so soft. The girls absolutely love it. Daisy likes to toss it into the air and watch it gracefully fall while Sue Ellen laughs. Sue Ellen likes to just rub it on her fat baby cheeks. They’re both completely enamored with the play silk. I will definitely be buying them more of these because they are such a good play thing.

My older kids are very into board games. They love when I play with them. We’ve been playing a board game every Friday during Morning Basket. We started with Bible trivia games but moved to other games when they memorized all the trivia questions. Grounded for Life, Poetry for Neanderthals, and Unicorns vs. Llamas Monopoly have been the biggest hits of the games we play. Grounded for Life is incredibly funny and just hits all the right notes for a preteen boy. Lots of bathroom humor and lots of laughs. My boys were literally rolling in the floor laughing while playing. If you’re sensitive to bathroom humor and bodily function, this would not be the game for you. (There is nothing explicit in the game. It is just has bathroom humor and jokes about body hair.) Poetry for Neanderthals took a couple plays to get the hang of, but we had so much fun with it. You quickly learn to describe things using one syllable words only. The little kids couldn’t play this with us. They just couldn’t keep up. Unicorn vs. Llama Monopoly is a faster-paced version of Monopoly using teams. No longer does one person rule everything. It is a team game. And it is much quicker than regular Monopoly. But the feel of the game is still like Monopoly. It made it easy for little kids to play with big ones.

BIC released crayons this year! They are so much better than Crayolas. They are similar to the Japanese-style crayons. Harder, less wax on the paper, and more easily sharpenable. They also have no paper on the outside of the crayon! Definitely check them out before BIC catches on and increases the price. (They also released markers, which my kids liked, but I thought lacked pigment and felt cheap.)

Other

I bought some Chic Sparrow Traveler’s Notebooks for my birthday this year. I’ve had cheap Traveler’s Notebooks, and I’ve had Webster’s Pages Traveler’s Notebooks. There was nothing wrong with those, but the Chic Sparrow are just on another level. They are so nice. Real leather. Hand-made. They are nice, y’all. If you’ve been on the fence, don’t be on the fence anymore. I got both the pocket-size and the passport-size. I prefer the pocket-size because of the availability of inserts. You can find inserts of the passport-size, but there are just fewer options. Both are a nice size for lists and notes. (I’m using one of them for this list right now.) They’d make a great gift. Both came in a little muslin bag to protect the leather. I have the Huckleberry, which is beautiful and thick leather. I also have the Col. Brandon, which is a slicker, thinner leather. (The spot on the front is from baking soda wash from making pretzels.) Both are lovely and luxurious, and they make you want to write.

I’ve also really been loving my Decadent Pie Prima Color watercolors and my Princeton Neptune brushes. I’ve been working on my watercolor skills, limited as they are, and have really enjoyed using these. The Decadent Pies palette has deep autumnal colors that I really enjoy working with. I usually use Silver watercolor brushes but decided to try the Princeton Neptune brushes. I have been really happy with them. They are just as thirsty as the Silver brushes but at a better price point, and the wood handles are just more classic looking.

I am an incense person. I’ve tried to be something else, and I always come back to incense. With all the boys running around (and entering the teen years), incense is the only thing I have found that really deals with the smell. Plus, I find it pleasant. I’ve been using cheap incense for years but decided to try an American company instead of the imported stuff. P.F. Candle Company makes some lovely incense. Each stick burns for an hour! And it smells SO good. I think the Pinon has been my favorite scent, Golden Coast coming in a close second, but they have all been nice. I even gave away incense in Christmas gifts this year to spread some of the incense love. (You can also check out my idea list on Amazon if you’re looking for incense or incense holders.)

**This post contains affiliate links. Using an affiliate link does not cost you more to use, but it does benefit your favorite creators. I also received some products free for review. I am not obligated to give these items a favorable review and am not paid for my reviews.**

Untriumphantly: Love Is a Person

Merry Christmas!

Beloved friends, let us love one another; because love is from God; and everyone who loves has God as his Father and knows God. Those who do not love, do not know God; because God is love. Here is how God showed his love among us: God sent his only Son into the world, so that through him we might have life. Here is what love is: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the kapparah for our sins.

Beloved friends, if this is how God loved us, we likewise ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God remains united with us, and our love for him has been brought to its goal in us. Here is how we know that we remain united with him and he with us: he has given to us from his own Spirit. Moreover, we have seen and we testify that the Father has sent his Son as Deliverer of the world. If someone acknowledges that Yeshua is the Son of God, God remains united with him, and he with God. Also we have come to know and trust the love that God has for us. God is love; and those who remain in this love remain united with God, and God remains united with them.

Here is how love has been brought to maturity with us: as the Messiah is, so are we in the world. This gives us confidence for the Day of Judgment. There is no fear in love. On the contrary, love that has achieved its goal gets rid of fear, because fear has to do with punishment; the person who keeps fearing has not been brought to maturity in regard to love.

We ourselves love now because he loved us first. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar. For if a person does not love his brother, whom he has seen, then he cannot love God, whom he has not seen. Yes, this is the command we have from him: whoever loves God must love his brother too.

1 John 4:7-21 (CJB)

            Merry Christmas! The waiting of Advent is over. Christmas is here! Emmanuel has come! Praise His Name! 

            I saw a t-shirt design that I thought was clever a few weeks ago. It said, “Love is a verb.” I’ve heard that love is a choice. And grammatically speaking, love can be a noun in that it is an idea. But I liked the idea that love is action—it is a “doing” word. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized all of these things were both right and wrong. Love is a choice. Love is an idea. And love is a verb. But more importantly, love is a person. 

            Christmas is the celebration of Love coming down. How do we know love? Because we have seen it in Jesus? How can we experience and share love? Only in God. All the love in this world is borrowed from God. Only in God do we know love. God became flesh and He dwelt among His people. He became one of us. He walked with us. And then He died for us. Only by having God with Us, only in seeing the Divine in a manger did we find love—or more correctly, did Love find us

            As you celebrate His coming, know it was for Love. “He died not for men, but for each man. If each man had been the only man made, He would have done no less” (C.S. Lewis). We love one another today because He loved us. Love is a person. And He made Himself lowly to rescue you. Because He loves you. 

Today’s Song: A King Like This by Chris Tomlin

Untriumphantly: Who Doesn’t Love a Baby?

This last week of Advent is the week of Love!

Awake! Awake, Tziyon!
Clothe yourself with your strength!
Dress in your splendid garments,
Yerushalayim, the holy city!
For the uncircumcised and the unclean
will enter you no more.
Shake off the dust! Arise!
Be enthroned, Yerushalayim!
Loosen the chains on your neck,
captive daughter of Tziyon!
For thus says Adonai:
“You were sold for nothing,
and you will be redeemed without money.”
For thus says Adonai Elohim:
“Long ago my people went down to Egypt
to live there as aliens,
and Ashur oppressed them for no reason.
So now, what should I do here,” asks Adonai,
“since my people were carried off for nothing?
Their oppressors are howling,” says Adonai,
“and my name is always being insulted, daily.
Therefore my people will know my name;
therefore on that day they will know
that I, the one speaking — here I am!”

How beautiful on the mountains
are the feet of him who brings good news,
proclaiming shalom, bringing good news
of good things, announcing salvation
and saying to Tziyon, “Your God is King!”
Listen! Your watchmen are raising their voices,
shouting for joy together.
For they will see, before their own eyes,
Adonai returning to Tziyon.

Break out into joy! Sing together,
you ruins of Yerushalayim!
For Adonai has comforted his people,
he has redeemed Yerushalayim!
Adonai has bared his holy arm
in the sight of every nation,
and all the ends of the earth will see
the salvation of our God.

Isaiah 52:1-10 (CJB)

Who believes our report?
To whom is the arm of Adonai revealed?
For before him he grew up like a young plant,
like a root out of dry ground.
He was not well-formed or especially handsome;
we saw him, but his appearance did not attract us.
People despised and avoided him,
a man of pains, well acquainted with illness.
Like someone from whom people turn their faces,
he was despised; we did not value him.

In fact, it was our diseases he bore,
our pains from which he suffered;
yet we regarded him as punished,
stricken and afflicted by God.
But he was wounded because of our crimes,
crushed because of our sins;
the disciplining that makes us whole fell on him,
and by his bruises we are healed.

We all, like sheep, went astray;
we turned, each one, to his own way;
yet Adonai laid on him
the guilt of all of us.

Though mistreated, he was submissive —
he did not open his mouth.
Like a lamb led to be slaughtered,
like a sheep silent before its shearers,
he did not open his mouth.
After forcible arrest and sentencing,
he was taken away;
and none of his generation protested
his being cut off from the land of the living
for the crimes of my people,
who deserved the punishment themselves.
He was given a grave among the wicked;
in his death he was with a rich man.

Although he had done no violence
and had said nothing deceptive,
yet it pleased Adonai to crush him with illness,
to see if he would present himself as a guilt offering.
If he does, he will see his offspring;
and he will prolong his days;
and at his hand Adonai’s desire
will be accomplished.
After this ordeal, he will see satisfaction.
“By his knowing [pain and sacrifice],
my righteous servant makes many righteous;
it is for their sins that he suffers.
Therefore I will assign him a share with the great,
he will divide the spoil with the mighty,
for having exposed himself to death
and being counted among the sinners,
while actually bearing the sin of many
and interceding for the offenders.”

Isaiah 53:1-12 (CJB)

“Arise, shine [Yerushalayim],
for your light has come,
the glory of Adonai
has risen over you.
For although darkness covers the earth
and thick darkness the peoples;
on you Adonai will rise;
over you will be seen his glory.
Nations will go toward your light
and kings toward your shining splendor. 

Isaiah 60:1-3 (CJB)

            Israel was waiting for a Messiah. He had been promised and they spent centuries trying to hold on to that hope. What they awaited was a king. Someone who would come in power to redeem His people. Someone who would make the nations tremble. What they got was a baby. 

            God often works in this way. When His people need Him, He sends a baby. He sent Moses and protected him in a basket in a river. He sent Joseph, born as a twerpy younger brother. He sent David, the little shepherd boy with the courage to face lions, bears, and giants. But I’m still not sure that is what Israel expected. 

            This December is like all the others before it. It is dark. It is too busy. It feels like a lot of pressure. There doesn’t seem to be anything special about this December. It is all so ordinary. Maybe it feels a little weird because the world seems to have halted and flipped upside down on us. But for the most part—this is just December. The tree, the lights, the songs—it can all start to feel very ho-hum. It can all start to feel less than magical. And that’s okay. Because God sent a Baby instead of an army. He chose Bethlehem as His hometown. He chose a poor family. He chose a manger. That all seems a little… less-than. Jesus comes in the ordinariness of time and space. He comes to a poor family in a stable. He comes to us in this ordinary December. 

            Right now, it may look dark, but the glory of God will arise. We will see His Light. The Light is coming soon! He came the first time to suffering that bore our shame and guilt and redeemed us from the darkness. He is coming again to make all things new. Today, ready your heart. Is your heart ready to see Him in the clouds? Are you ready for the night to end? The Son will soon arise—be ready. 

Today’s Song: Here with Us by Joy Williams

Untriumphantly: Love Came Down

This last week of Advent is the week of Love!

In the beginning was the Word,
    and the Word was with God,

and the Word was God.
    He was with God in the beginning.

All things came to be through him,
    and without him nothing made had being.

In him was life,
    and the life was the light of mankind.

The light shines in the darkness,
    and the darkness has not suppressed it.

There was a man sent from God whose name was Yochanan. He came to be a testimony, to bear witness concerning the light; so that through him, everyone might put his trust in God and be faithful to him. He himself was not that light; no, he came to bear witness concerning the light.

This was the true light,
    which gives light to everyone entering the world.

He was in the world — the world came to be through him —
    yet the world did not know him.

He came to his own homeland,
    yet his own people did not receive him.

But to as many as did receive him, to those who put their trust in his person and power, he gave the right to become children of God, not because of bloodline, physical impulse or human intention, but because of God.

The Word became a human being and lived with us,
    and we saw his Sh’khinah,
the Sh’khinah of the Father’s only Son,
    full of grace and truth.

Yochanan witnessed concerning him when he cried out, “This is the man I was talking about when I said, ‘The one coming after me has come to rank ahead of me, because he existed before me.’”

We have all received from his fullness,
    yes, grace upon grace.

For the Torah was given through Moshe;
    grace and truth came through Yeshua the Messiah.

No one has ever seen God; but the only and unique Son, who is identical with God and is at the Father’s side — he has made him known.

John 1:1-18

            When I was a kid, we went spelunking in Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. That is the closest to nothingness I have ever experienced. At one part, the lights that were in the cave and our flashlights were turned out so we could experience complete darkness. It was overwhelming. The absence of light made the darkness feel heavy, like you couldn’t possibly breathe. It was so disorienting. And that wasn’t nothing—it was just the absence of light. When the first flashlight flickered on, feeble as that one light was in the expanse of the cave, it felt like complete relief. Just the smallest bit of light, and everything was right again. You could breathe. You knew which way was up. You felt a weight lift. 

            That cave is a visceral example of what it feels like to find yourself in Christ, the Maker of all things. The darkness that feels alive, like it is swallowing you, just vanishes. It gives way to that spark of the Light of the World breaking in. The darkness hides. 

            The law gave us a path, one we could not follow. It was like trying to find your way through that dark cave. You couldn’t get far without falling on your face and bloodying up your knees. But there was hope, a Savior would come. A Savior did come and brought the light to us. Not to get rid of the path, but to light it up and show us the way. Our guide, our light—made known. 

            This Advent, as we walk in the dark of the season, we do so with Light. We celebrate the Word being made flesh. We wait for the King to return and make all things new. This heaven coming to earth—it is no small thing. It lifted the heaviness, the unbearable darkness, and gives us hope.  

Today’s Song: The Earth Stood Still by Future of Forestry

Untriumphantly: No One Wants Bought Love

This last week of Advent is the week of Love!

“All you who are thirsty, come to the water!
You without money, come, buy, and eat!
Yes, come! Buy wine and milk
without money — it’s free!
Why spend money for what isn’t food,
your wages for what doesn’t satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and you will eat well,
you will enjoy the fat of the land.
Open your ears, and come to me;
listen well, and you will live —
I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
the grace I assured David.
I have given him as a witness to the peoples,
a leader and lawgiver for the peoples.
You will summon a nation you do not know,
and a nation that doesn’t know you will run to you,
for the sake of Adonai your God,
the Holy One of Isra’el, who will glorify you.”

Seek Adonai while he is available,
call on him while he is still nearby.
Let the wicked person abandon his way
and the evil person his thoughts;
let him return to Adonai,
and he will have mercy on him;
let him return to our God,
for he will freely forgive.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
and your ways are not my ways,” says Adonai.
“As high as the sky is above the earth
are my ways higher than your ways,
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
For just as rain and snow fall from the sky
and do not return there, but water the earth,
causing it to bud and produce,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater;
so is my word that goes out from my mouth —
it will not return to me unfulfilled;
but it will accomplish what I intend,
and cause to succeed what I sent it to do.”

Yes, you will go out with joy,
you will be led forth in peace.
As you come, the mountains and hills
will burst out into song,
and all the trees in the countryside
will clap their hands.
Cypresses will grow in place of thorns,
myrtles will grow instead of briars.
This will bring fame to Adonai
as an eternal, imperishable sign.

Isaiah 55:1-13 (CJB)

            On Christmas morning, my children will receive more stuff than they know what to do with. They’ll be excited, ripping into festively packaged wrappings and seeing what treasures await. They might get a little annoyed to open some jeans (unless they’re over the age of 12), but for the most part, they’ll be bombarded with stuff. And all that wrapping that consumed so much time, effort, and very little talent will be placed promptly into a trash bag having barely received a glance. And all that stuff? In a week, they’ll struggle to name 3 items they received. In a year, they will probably have forgotten everything they received and will definitely not remember who gave it. Next November, we’ll be cleaning out toy bins and closets to remove last year’s stuff so we can replace it with this year’s stuff. What will they remember? Surprisingly, they’ll remember the cookies. They’ll remember the time we spent drinking hot beverages and watching Christmas movies. They may even remember some of the crafts. They’ll remember who spent the holidays with them. They won’t remember the stuff

            We all know we can’t buy the affection of children. We know that kids don’t care who bought them the most stuff—at least, not for long. They remember who was there for them, who loved them, and who spent time with them. Stuff doesn’t make a relationship. 

            Retail therapy is a habit many people in our culture deal with—me included. When stressed, what do we do? Browse the online stores… head to Target… We think we can buy our way out of feeling anxious, overwhelmed, or unloved. It never works—yet we don’t stop trying. 

            Why do we waste our money (and energy) on things that cannot satisfy? Why do we try to fill our lives with stuff? Why do we try to replace our relationships with stuff? Apparently, it is part of our bent nature. Amos 8, God tells Israel that he hates their feasts, their assemblies, and their offerings. Why? Didn’t he tell them to do those things? He told them to do those things as part of them understanding their relationship to Him. Without the relationship, what use are the worship songs? Without a relationship, what use is stuff

            Jesus, the Light of the World, comes in fulfillment of the covenant. He comes and brings us the joy and the peace we’re searching for. The Lord promised a Messiah, and He came. In Advent, we wait for that coming Messiah again. Because we know it is about Him—only He can really satisfy. Only He can bring what won’t be forgotten, what we can’t buy or earn for ourselves. In the meantime, we spend our time cultivating our relationship with Him and being changed into the kind of people who rejoice at His second coming. We become people of righteousness and justice through Him. And like the trees, we clap our hands and celebrate the coming Messiah. 

Today’s Song: Instead Of A Show by Jon Foreman

Untriumphantly: Do All Things In Love

This last week of Advent is the week of Love!

“Everything is permitted,” you say? Maybe, but not everything is helpful. “Everything is permitted?” Maybe, but not everything is edifying. No one should be looking out for his own interests, but for those of his fellow. Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, for the earth and everything in it belong to the Lord. If some unbeliever invites you to a meal, and you want to go, eat whatever is put in front of you without raising questions of conscience. But if someone says to you, “This meat was offered as a sacrifice,” then don’t eat it, out of consideration for the person who pointed it out and also for conscience’s sake — however, I don’t mean your conscience but that of the other person. You say, “Why should my freedom be determined by someone else’s conscience? If I participate with thankfulness, why am I criticized over something for which I myself bless God?” Well, whatever you do, whether it’s eating or drinking or anything else, do it all so as to bring glory to God. Do not be an obstacle to anyone — not to Jews, not to Gentiles, and not to God’s Messianic Community. 

1 Corinthians 10:23-32 (CJB)

            I don’t know about you, but sometimes it is really hard to be loving to people. Especially this year. Especially this time of year. People seem to be so mean these days. It doesn’t even matter what you do—someone will deem you are wrong, and you’ll meet with their angst. It’s unavoidable. What is avoidable is how you react to such hostile times. You can respond to anger in love (and not give in to angry demands). I know it seems almost an impossible task, which is why we should pray to see others as Jesus sees them. That angry person berating you in the grocery store probably has a lot of hurt and fear going on inside. Maybe you could tell them they’re being ridiculous and they need to mind their own business—two true statements. “But not everything is helpful.” Some of the most unlovable people are those who need to be shown love the most. 

            Am I telling you to cower and just do whatever the angriest person tells you to do? Absolutely not. Just do all things in love, keeping in mind that not everything permitted is helpful and edifying. Whatever you do, do it for the glory of God. 

            Even in our own homes, this can be tough. We begin to focus on ourselves and throw a little pity party. The toddler pee in the floor seems unfair to be our problem again. The work of the household seems to fall unfairly on our shoulders. Those around us can see the worst in us if we’re not careful. We begin to think too much about ourselves and not enough about those God has placed in our lives. 

            This Advent, as we observe this long season of waiting, don’t get tired of being the light in this dark world. Don’t let the anger and the fear going on around you put your light out. The world needs us now more than ever. The darkness looks so deep and so powerful—but I can assure you, the Son is Rising. Keep your eyes on the skies. (In fact, you can look at the sky tonight and get a peek at a once in a lifetime view! Check out the Jupiter-Saturn conjunction just after sunset! It is speculated that this could be the Star of Bethlehem. It will be the brightest “star” in the sky tonight. If you miss it, you’ll have to wait another 800 years to see them that close again! If you’re reading this devotional late—sorry. You missed it. Hopefully someone got a picture.) The Light of the World is coming. He is making all things new. He’s working through you and me in the here and now. And one day, He will come again. The Light of Love is coming. 

Today’s Song: Big Love, Small Moments by JJ Heller

The Man with a Cross in the Sky

Several years ago, our family was coming home one evening during Advent. While driving home, we looked up and saw the most impossible sight. There was a cross shining miles away, high in the sky. We were perplexed. We considered all the ways this could be. We altered our evening plans and decided, on a whim, to follow that cross. We wanted to know where it was coming from and how it was up there. Feeling like the magi, we drove through neighborhoods in the dark trying to find the source of the impossible cross. 

We finally found the location of the cross, but it was still impossible. We got out of the car to stand in awe of this glowing cross impossibly high in the sky. While The Pastor and I tried to figure out if it would be possible with a drone, the kids simply asserted it was a miracle. 

Today, years later, we found out the mystery of that cross. And I can assert that it is a miracle. The cross was put there by a man named James Phillips, known to his neighbors as Jim. Jim put the cross in the sky using an LED light, a weather balloon, and an extremely long cord (one neighbor said is was 1200 feet). That doesn’t sound very miraculous, but that part comes next. 

Jim was a science teacher. He wrote a book called My Father’s Workshop (which is available on Amazon—I purchased it this morning.). He was offered a job at a college out of state. He sold his house and moved. The college provided his housing. Then, the pandemic hit, and the college cancelled his contract, leaving Jim without both a job and a home. Jim moved back to our area and has been staying in a hotel. By Christmas Eve, Jim’s resources would run out, leaving him homeless. 

Four days ago, a man was musing about the cross he used to see in the sky and wondered where it was. He got on Next-door and asked where the guy with the cross had moved to, thinking he’d like to drive to see the cross in the sky. Neighbors began asking around, found Jim, and learned of his circumstances. A neighbor immediately set up a GoFundMe so they could pool resources and care for Jim. That, my friends, is a miracle. 

It is a miracle that something Jim decided to do years ago was the answer to his prayers today. Jim certainly didn’t know when he was coming up with his idea to put a cross impossibly high in the sky that this would someday be what helped him in homelessness. 

It is a miracle that some man just happened to think about that cross years later and decide that it was important enough to find it again. It is a miracle that any of Jim’s neighbors knew him well enough to be able to get in touch with him again.

If you want to help Jim, the man who put a cross in the sky, you can give to his GoFundMe. You can also check out his book. I don’t know Jim. I’ve never met him. But I did see the cross. And I did follow it. And I am happy to help Jim out in his time of need. 

Untriumphantly: The Joy of Good News

This third week of Advent is the week of Joy!

Without delay, Miryam set out and hurried to the town in the hill country of Y’hudah where Z’kharyah lived, entered his house and greeted Elisheva. When Elisheva heard Miryam’s greeting, the baby in her womb stirred. Elisheva was filled with the Ruach HaKodesh and spoke up in a loud voice,

“How blessed are you among women!
And how blessed is the child in your womb!

“But who am I, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For as soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy! Indeed you are blessed, because you have trusted that the promise Adonai has made to you will be fulfilled.”

Luke 1:39-45 (CJB)

            Our culture is completely addicted to the news. There are multiple channels where you can watch news all day, every day. You get on social media, and the news is shared by your friends. We scour Twitter or Parler to see what is going on in the world. No longer do you get the highlight reel for one hour in the evening; now, you can know everything that is going on around the world all the time. Many people find that the news increases their anxiety and decreases their quality of life—yet very few people can turn it off. And… news sites don’t give you the good news; in fact, when a story ends up being not as bad as we initially thought, they usually won’t revisit the story with the positive update. When the death count starts to fall, they focus on the numbers going up. When unemployment starts to drop, they focus on something else. The news treats you like you don’t want good news (probably because you don’t). 

            I love this story in the Bible. Elizabeth (Elisheva) and Mary (Miryam) are having a mother-to-mother moment. If this happened today, they’d pose side-by-side for a bumpie. (I just made up that term—let’s make it a thing.) John leaps in the womb at the sound of Mary’s voice. Elizabeth is filled with the Spirit and knows immediately the impact of this moment. There is Good News! The best news! Mary carries in her the Hope of the World.

            This is a baby announcement you can share! Jesus is coming! Our Hope and our Salvation is not far! Like Mary, trust the promise of God; He always keeps His promises—always. He says all will be made new. He says all who come to Him will be saved. He says you are loved, a cherished child made in His image, and He has made a Way for you. This is Good News! This is the best news. This is news to share! 

            Imagine if we all shared the Good News. Imagine if we focused as much of our time and heart on the Good News as we do on to the news. Imagine how our lives would change, how many brothers and sisters might be rescued, and how much our world would change if we focused on this Good News. Now that you’re done imagining, what can you do to make it so? How can you share this joy with those in your world? 

Today’s Song: Light of the World by Lauren Daigle 

Untriumphantly: Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

This third week of Advent is the week of Joy!

On that day you will say:

“I thank you, Adonai,
because, although you were angry at me,
your anger is now turned away;
and you are comforting me.

“See! God is my salvation.
I am confident and unafraid;
for Yah Adonai is my strength and my song,
and he has become my salvation!”

Then you will joyfully draw water
from the springs of salvation.
On that day you will say,
“Give thanks to Adonai! Call on his name!
Make his deeds known among the peoples,
declare how exalted is his name.
Sing to Adonai, for he has triumphed —
this is being made known throughout the earth.
Shout and sing for joy,
you who live in Tziyon;
for the Holy One of Isra’el
is with you in his greatness!”

Isaiah 12:1-6 (CJB)

            The first question my brain asks when reading this passage is “On what day?” Of course, to find the answer, you just flip back to chapter 11 and figure out what Isaiah is talking about. The day is the day the Savior will raise His hand for a second time. 

            There is a reason to rejoice and be glad! Heaven has stepped down to save us. Save us from what? From what we were without Him. From the chains that had us bound since that garden in the beginning and that snake in the grass. Saved from who we are apart from Him—which is dust which perishes after some toil. 

            I used to be known as someone who was very aggressive. I did not speak with grace. I only knew speaking truth—loudly and often. God changed that in me—so much so, I never quite know how to type myself in the enneagram because who I was isn’t who I am. Such a small change. Such a little thing. Yet, this small change has made a big difference in my life. I can’t tell you how the change came about because I didn’t do it. I didn’t read a book about being sympathetic or showing people grace. God remade me into something I was not—gracious and compassionate.

            I know how God has saved me. I know how He is remaking my life into something that reflects Him more fully. I know the miracles I’ve seen in my life and in the lives of His people. I know what the love of Jesus has done. That is reason to celebrate! And that is reason to share. Even if it seems small—rejoice in little victories. Rejoice in knowing that little by little, God is changing the world. Little by little, God is changing me. 

            Share the Good News! Make Him known! Be merry because of what God has done. He’s become one of us. Heaven come to earth so that earth could be more like heaven. There is good reason to have yourself a merry little Christmas! 

Today’s song: Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas by Frank Sinatra

Untriumphantly: Deeper Than Happy

This third week of Advent is the week of Joy!

But a branch will emerge from the trunk of Yishai,
a shoot will grow from his roots.
The Spirit of Adonai will rest on him,
the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and power,
the Spirit of knowledge and fearing Adonai —
he will be inspired by fearing Adonai.
He will not judge by what his eyes see
or decide by what his ears hear,
but he will judge the impoverished justly;
he will decide fairly for the humble of the land.
He will strike the land with a rod from his mouth
and slay the wicked with a breath from his lips.
Justice will be the belt around his waist,
faithfulness the sash around his hips.

The wolf will live with the lamb;
the leopard lie down with the kid;
calf, young lion and fattened lamb together,
with a little child to lead them.
Cow and bear will feed together,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
An infant will play on a cobra’s hole,
a toddler put his hand in a viper’s nest.
They will not hurt or destroy
anywhere on my holy mountain,
for the earth will be as full
of the knowledge of Adonai
as water covering the sea.

On that day the root of Yishai,
which stands as a banner for the peoples —
the Goyim will seek him out,
and the place where he rests will be glorious.
On that day Adonai will raise his hand
again, a second time,
to reclaim the remnant of his people who remain
from Ashur, Egypt, Patros,
Ethiopia, ‘Eilam, Shin‘ar,
Hamat and the islands in the sea.
He will hoist a banner for the Goyim,
assemble the dispersed of Isra’el,
and gather the scattered of Y’hudah
from the four corners of the earth.
Efrayim’s jealousy will cease —
those who harass Y’hudah will be cut off,
Efrayim will stop envying Y’hudah,
and Y’hudah will stop provoking Efrayim.
They will swoop down on the flank of the P’lishtim to the west.
Together they will pillage the people to the east —
they will put out their hand over Edom and Mo’av,
and the people of ‘Amon will obey them.
Adonai will dry up the gulf
of the Egyptian Sea.
He will shake his hand over the [Euphrates] River
to bring a scorching wind,
dividing it into seven streams
and enabling people to cross dryshod.
There will be a highway for the remnant of his people
who are still left from Ashur,
just as there was for Isra’el
when he came out from the land of Egypt.

Isaiah 11:1-16 (CJB)

            We live within a world that is looking for happy. We’re looking for the quick fix, the easy way, a happy passing moment. If you were to sit down and make a list of how you could be happy, you’d have no shortage of ideas. And none of them would really work—not for long. Happiness is fleeting. Happiness is an emotion. Joy is a mindset. It is the difference between sadness and depression. Happiness isn’t all there is, and it isn’t all that can be. It isn’t even worth chasing—it passes so quickly, and we’re more likely to find it when we stop chasing it. We’re looking for a shallow emotion when what we really need runs much deeper. 

            The people of Israel were awaiting a Messiah. They were awaiting a coming King who would save them. But what they got wasn’t exactly what they were expecting. They were looking for a king, and they got a baby. They thought that belt of justice would be, well, a little bigger and more menacing to their enemies. They were looking for a solution to their shallow problems, not knowing how deep their problems ran. What they got was deeper. 

            During Advent, we celebrate the first coming of the Messiah and eagerly await His second. I’ll be the first to admit the season is weird. It isn’t just about that manger. It is about a King returning on a white horse. It isn’t just about the Baby born long ago in a manger but about the coming day when a baby can put his hand in a viper’s nest. It is about all things being made new. You and I and this world—we’re all still in the middle of this Advent story. The end hasn’t made itself known yet. We’re still waiting for the deeper, the Act 2. 

            This Advent, don’t waste time searching for happiness. Take the time to invest in the deeper aspects of the season, and in those depths, you’ll find joy. Take the time to prepare yourself, to ask, “Have I lived a life that reflects the Messiah? Have I lived this Advent as if I look forward to all things being made new? Am I letting Him remake me now as I await His return? Am I doing all I can to share the love and joy of Christ with us? Am I being a light in this darkness? Will I be ready when the Son rises?”

Today’s Song: Arrival by Hillsong Worship