Immanuel Unchanging

We hear this word— Immanuel, or Emmanuel— so much at Christmas time. We read in Matthew 1 that it means God With Us. Maybe we stop for a moment and think— how nice. God With Us. What a lovely sentiment.

But this is far more than a lovely sentiment to be printed in shiny letters on artsy Christmas cards. It is a reality— a daily, living reality that ought to affect our daily lives.

The beautiful truth about God’s desire to be with His people is that it did not begin when He sent His Son to be among us. His desire was always that mankind would walk with Him in fellowship. We were never meant to be strangers with God. We see this in the book of Genesis—God walking with Adam and Eve in the garden. And we see the devastation when they sinned and divided themselves from God, from His glory. From that moment, all of us have fallen short of the glory of God, all of us have been separated from the God who created us for intimate fellowship with Him.

The story of the whole Bible is really the story of God With Us. Time and again, through all of history, God has come to man and offered them the opportunity to know Him. He dwelt among His people in cloud and flame, and His presence dwelt in the tabernacle and later, the temple. Through the intricate series of laws and sacrifices, God’s people could know Him—His holiness, His glory, His perfection, His power. Again and again God’s people turned away from the God in their midst, and again and again He offered Himself to them, always promising that someday there would be more—a King on a throne who would rule in their midst.

And in the fullness of time—God came. Not as the Israelites expected, because He was more than a King and Conqueror of armies. He didn’t just want to be in the midst as King. Jesus came and dwelt among flesh—became flesh—so that God could be with us in the most precious and intimate of ways. So that we could see that God is holy and powerful and glorious and huge—and that He is love, and grace, God of the small as well as the great, gentle as well as mighty, humble as well as exalted. Jesus dwelt among us in a way that we could relate to as human beings. And He didn’t just take on flesh—in the end He took on our sin and bore it to the cross, so that we could once again have perfect fellowship with God. He is God With Us every day, and this name Immanuel reminds us not just that Jesus was born, but that He paid the price of our sins so we could be with Him forever, that He sent His Spirit to indwell us—God With Us every single day of our lives, the guarantee of our eternity in heaven, in a city called “The Lord is There” (Ezekiel 48:35).

This Christmas season, as I consider the familiar story of God incarnate, I am challenged by the reminder that God is with me today—that His Spirit dwells in me daily, giving me the power and courage and help I need for each task. The promise of God With Us is a promise for today—for each moment, for each challenge, each sorrow, each joy.

What a beautiful truth—Our God Is With Us.

Fear and the Gift of a Savior

fear-notIt is somewhat awkward to discover in one’s mid (okay, late) thirties that one has been living a life of fear. Fear of exposure, of the opinions of others, of failure. Fear of being unloved, unaccepted, unseen. Fear of being humiliated, of others seeing the depth of need and brokenness within and running away, or worse, judging harshly.

These ugly fears lead to many other ugly places– to hypocrisy, to anxiety, to avoiding all risk, to seeking solace in damaging behaviors. They lead to a horrible mix of pride and shame that puts up walls of defense and good behavior. They lead to chains, to a prison built by one’s own hands, brick by fear-filled brick.

Oh, friends. This is so very far from the place of grace that God has planned for us– has provided for us.

God does not want His people to live in fear. To the people to whom He and His angels appeared in Scriptures, God had this message: Do not be afraid. To us, He gives this message as well: God has not given us a spirit of fear. His instruction to abstain from fear came to both the rich and the poor, those who had a huge, epic task to do and those whose job was simply to worship.

Fear not, for behold! I bring you good tidings of great joy!

I have lived so much of my life in fear– that was meant to be erased by the Savior born thousands of years ago, the Savior I claimed as my own decades ago. Jesus, Prince of Peace, God With Us, is the answer to my fear– to your fear. He is the Way to freedom, to joy, to courage and faith.

Christ answers all my fears.

I fear exposure; He covers me in His righteousness.

I fear the opinions of others; He stands in the gap for me, so that in God’s eyes I am holy and pure and beloved.

I fear failure; He gives more grace and reminds me that He is faithful.

I fear being unloved; He reminds me again and again that He loves me.

I fear being unaccepted; He makes me accepted in Himself.

I fear being unseen; He is the God Who Sees Me.

I fear being humiliated; He gives me an example of perfect humility and teaches me that to be humble is to be exalted, to be weak is to be made strong.

I fear people seeing the real state of my brokenness; He says my strength is made perfect in weakness and that He uses my foolishness and my smallness and my brokenness to teach and, yes, to shame the wise and the great and the strong. He fills all my broken places with His lavish and glorious grace, so I am overflowing with light.

I fear judgment; He says to me these precious words– there is no condemnation for those who are in Him.

The baby in the manger– the Savior on the cross– the Conqueror come out of the grave– He is the answer for my fears. He is the love of God incarnate, and perfect love drives out fear.

This Christmas season– are you afraid? My Savior has an answer. He came to save me and to save you– from sin and death and judgment, from fears that crush and hold us back from the freedom of grace.

Fear not! For behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born . . . a Savior, Christ the Lord!

He holds me and helps me to stand firm and without fear; and I slowly open, a blossom late in coming but beautiful in His sight.

Glory to God in the highest!

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Christmas Peace

The calendar is full and getting fuller; the bank account is empty and getting emptier. The to-do list lengthens each day, and the radio blares out commercials and “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” and the latest political scandal. The children fight and yell, run around full of manic energy, flop around bored. It is no new thing, this world spinning wildly round, us trying to catch it. It is true all year long– that we are living in a universe of chaos and cruelty. But it seems to come more clear at Christmas time.

Oh, how we want those still nights and that peace on earth. How we want to kneel before a sweet sleeping baby, to hear the angels sing. Silent night– yes, please.

The manger we come to so often seems empty and fails to bring us the lasting peace we desire. If– and that’s a pretty big if— we are able to quiet our hearts and find a moment of calm away from the wild crazy of this life, if we come to the manger with expectation, the truth is we still often carry away hearts full of fear and worry, dread and anxiety and panic.

Maybe we are looking for peace in the wrong place.

The story of Christmas is a beautiful one, but it is really only the beginning of the story. And if we go to the manger looking for peace, our hearts will be disappointed again and again. For the Prince of Peace is not in the manger.

It is not in the hay-filled wood of the manger that we find our peace, my friends, but in the blood-stained wood of the Cross. The hope born in Bethlehem came to save us– not from all our problems, but from our sins. He came to open the way that was closed between our hearts and God’s. He came to be our peace– to reconcile us to God Himself.

Until we accept that Jesus came to save us– until we trust in His work on the cross, that it was enough to make us holy and right with the Father– we will never know peace. And until we who believe rest in the reality of our peace, our hearts will wrestle with anxiety and darkness. We are invited to lay down our cares, to give thanks and to think on what is true, and bring our requests to the throne of grace. We are promised peace that passes understanding.

Celebrate the manger, the child, the glory of that night when angels sang and promised peace on earth.

And then fix your eyes on the cross, where that peace was purchased with the life of the Prince of Peace.

Oh come, let us adore Him!

Glory to God in the Highest.

Ugly Packages

Sometimes the package is ugly
Sometimes I don’t like what I see–
I look at the gift and in pride I believe
This can’t be God’s best gift for me.

And yet He still offers it freely–
This good I regard with disdain;
For though it may bruise as it opens,
His face is made clear in the pain.

Love, wrapped all up in a manger,
Was the gift that would rescue my race;
Love, bloody, wounded, and dying,
Was the ugliest beautiful grace.

Oh, help me to see things as You do–
To trust in the grace hiding here,
To open my hands to Your goodness–
The plain brings the beautiful near.

2016 by Erin Jo Kilmer
togetherforgood.wordpress.com

Faith and Untold Stories

faint-fringes-3Do you ever read Scripture and wonder about all the things it leaves out? Maybe it’s a lifetime of familiarity with Bible stories, maybe it’s the storyteller part of me, but sometimes I wish the Bible was written in a more narrative style, with lots of description of emotions and facial expressions and tones of voice. I sometimes find my imagination running away with me, filling in the blanks between the simple words  on the page.

I have noticed this especially as I transcribe the stories in the book of Genesis. How could Moses simply write down that Jacob woke up the day after his wedding and discovered Leah in his tent instead of Rachel? How could he not explain how that whole household managed to survive as Rachel and Leah engaged in power struggles, even to the point of bringing their own maids into the bed of their husband to bear children on their behalves? This is the stuff that fascinates me– the drama and the emotions and the relationships– and instead Moses goes and gives me a long list of names of the sons of Esau and their families and where they lived and who were their chiefs.

Clearly my ideas about what God’s Word should include are different than the ideas of the men who wrote it down, and yes, different from the ideas of the God who inspired it. I suppose that should not come as a surprise. My human brain, my love of drama and story and emotion and detail, my curiosity– all fall far short of the infinite wisdom and understanding of the God of the universe.

My mind was traveling these roads this morning as I read the stories of two different Josephs– Joseph the son of Israel, sold into slavery in the household of Potiphar, and Joseph the betrothed husband of Mary, discovering that his fiance was pregnant with someone else’s child.

Both Josephs were placed in extreme situations where their faith was tested. OT Joseph was sold into slavery by his own brothers because of their jealousy. He rose to power in his master’s house because God blessed him. And then Potiphar’s wife set her eyes on him, and day after day tempted him, until one day he found himself alone in Potiphar’s home with the would-be seductress. Joseph knew what was right. He had to know that this woman was not one to take rejection lightly. Even as he was fleeing from her, leaving his garment behind in her grasping hands, Joseph had to be wondering why God had allowed this to happen– why he had been placed in this impossible situation. When Potiphar believed his wife’s lies, and Joseph found himself thrown into prison, he had to wonder why he was being punished for his godly choice to do the right thing.

But the language in Genesis 39, where we find this story, is fascinating to me. In the early part of the chapter, it says that God blessed Potiphar because of Joseph. But once Joseph is in prison, the way God is relating to Joseph changes:

. . . He was there in prison. But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love . . .

God was with Joseph in prison. In what appears to be a new and different way than He had been with Joseph before. If Joseph asked why, God?– which surely he must have, being human– God answered. God’s best awaited Joseph, but he would not find it until he found himself abandoned and rejected again, locked in a prison cell.

Surely Joseph would have loved to know more of the story– just like I do every time I read my Bible. But God didn’t give him the whole story. God gave Joseph just what he needed to step forward, one step at a time in obedience.

The Joseph of the New Testament was also called upon to obey in a life-changing, too-big-to-really-comprehend decision. Mary was pregnant. She would have been called guilty of adultery, and Joseph had the right to see her stoned for it. I wish Matthew told us the emotions that Joseph experienced as he wrestled with the news that Mary was expecting, that she had apparently been unfaithful. I imagine that when the angel appeared to Joseph in his dreams, that Joseph wished for more of the story as well. The angel didn’t really go on for a long time with a lengthy explanation and a carefully detailed list of instructions for each day of the following years. The angel gave him three truths: Mary was pregnant by the Holy Spirit and she was going to have a Son who would save His people from their sins. And the angel gave him two commands: Do not fear to marry her, and name the boy Jesus.

Did you ever think of all the things the angel didn’t tell Joseph? I think I would have wanted a lot of answers to questions like, “Wait, what?” and “What am I going to tell my mother?” and “What about my reputation?” and “Hold on, you mean we’re going to have to travel to Bethlehem when she’s nine months pregnant?” and “What am I supposed to do if the king goes on a baby-murdering spree?” and “A MANGER?”

But Joseph apparently didn’t ask for those answers. He just obeyed. He opened his hands to the unsightly, awkward, life-changing, painful gift. He trusted God with the story and took the next step. And as a result, Joseph had a front-row seat to the childhood of the Savior of mankind.

Faith says “Your will be done,” and faith steps out and does the next thing in front of it. Faith doesn’t wait for the whole picture to be clear. Faith trusts a faithful God to have the answers when they are needed, to hold the future, to give enough light and enough grace for every new step.

And faith discovers, as Joseph did, that even in the depths of the king’s prison, God is present.

Let me trust when I can’t see
Your gift is the best for me;
Through hidden places, all is well–
I’m not alone. Emmanuel.

Of Gifts and Grace and Immeasurably More

My good Father, Giver of good gifts, pours out grace lavishly—covers me with this richness so that there is nothing left of the mess I’ve made of myself, so that all there is to see is grace. His gifts fall generously from His good heart, there for the taking, if I will just open my hands.

But I don’t.

I am a little child, fists clenched tight, fighting against the goodness of the Lord and refusing all His gifts, because they do not meet my expectations.

I am beginning to think that expectations are the enemy of my walk with God, as much as fear or doubt or even sin. What do I expect? I expect my way, my time, my plans. I expect that when Scripture promises that my prayers will be answered, that God will answer my prayers my way, according to my timetable, in alignment with my plans. And then, when He fails to meet my expectations, I am angry, petulant, and temperamental.

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. We’re teaching this verse to the children at church right now, and I have found these old familiar words rattling around in my head, and showing me a depth of their truth that I hadn’t understood before.

Daily I fall short. If God’s glory is the distance from the coast of California to the coast of Australia, I am a brand new doggy-paddler attempting to swim that far. If God’s glory is the top of Mount Everest, I am a stunted shriveled Death Valley cactus trying to grow up to that peak. If God’s glory is the sun, I am a paper rocket powered by baking soda and vinegar. In all my attempts I will always fall short of the glory and wisdom and power and holiness of God.

This realization brings me to my knees with gratitude for grace that didn’t wait for me to bridge the gap (knowing I never could)—grace that made a way.

But here is what I’m learning– the questions I am asking myself these days. What if God isn’t meeting my expectations because my expectations are far too small?

What if I’m so caught up in my expectations of pretty packages that fit neatly into my cupped hand that I completely miss the vastness of the gift God has for me? What if my prayers are being answered in such a huge, glorious, unspeakable way that I can’t even see it yet? What if the ugly gift I see right now—the one that’s prompting me to turn up my nose, clench my fists, shake my head and flounce away—is just the tiniest little corner of a miracle that is going to take my breath away?

I pray this—take this world and give me Jesus—and I think what I’m expecting is a portrait I can hang on my wall. See this? Jesus is here.

But God wants to truly give me Jesus—God with me in all things—God holy and mighty and righteous and just—God who is fire and light and thunder and marvelous unspeakable wonder—God who humbled Himself and walked in our dust and our filth and our darkness—God who loved the unlovable so much He would suffer Himself to die the most terrible death ever known to man.

In my ingratitude I refuse this gift because it does not fit on my shelf, Jesus on my mantelpiece or in a picture frame on my wall. This Jesus that I have asked for—that I have been given—is not here to make me feel good about myself, to make me look good, to sit by passively while I live my life.

This is Jesus Christ, the Son of God—the Creator incarnate—Immanuel, Almighty God with us—and He changes lives. He changes me, molding and transforming my life into His image.

So much more than I asked for. So much harder. So much more glorious. So much more painful, more devastating, more beautiful, more worthwhile.

Advent steals upon me and the Spirit whispers—are you ready for this gift?

And I am afraid, and I am uncertain, and I cannot see more than just the tiniest glimpse of what He’s up to.

Nevertheless, I will open my hands.

He is able to do immeasurably more than anything I could ask or think. And He is the Giver of good gifts.

Take the world, but give me Jesus.

Vacationitis: AKA the Post I Probably Shouldn’t Have Bothered With

I have an absolutely terrible case of Vacationitis. This is a very real thing, at least as bad for Teacher Mom as it is for Homeschooled Students. We have two days left of school for the semester, and then we will be done till January. We have five days till we head off to the wilds of Nebraska for Thanksgiving. I have so much to do before then, but my brain is already on vacation.

Things that sound fun:

  1. Watching movies
  2. Reading books
  3. Enjoying witty repartee with friends on Facebook
  4. Reading blogs
  5. Shopping
  6. Eating a really big lot of food
  7. Reading books
  8. Going out for coffee
  9. Playing mindless computer games
  10. Naps interspersed with reading books
  11. Playing Christmas music on the piano
  12. Talking to my husband about books
  13. Staring off into space for awhile in between books

Things that do not sound fun:

  1. Wrestling my children through another math or grammar lesson
  2. Housework
  3. Cooking any meal ever again
  4. Making a packing list for our trip
  5. Hanging up the vast quantities of laundry all over my bedroom
  6. Reading anything about politics
  7. Putting on anything that is not stretchy
  8. Counting calories
  9. Planning a church Christmas program, the music for Sunday, or my day
  10. Budgeting for and purchasing new curriculum for next semester
  11. Mopping the kitchen floor
  12. Dealing with another fight/ whiny child/ slammed door/ hurt feeling
  13. Christmas cards

Basically, I am what my sister would call a deep struggle. And in all honesty I don’t have any answers for myself except JUST DO IT, YOU BIG LAZY FACE.

Unfortunately, my lack of motivation is also translating to a lack of creativity and inspiration for this blog. Which is why you get this fascinating post today.

I can’t be the only one. What do you do when you’re fully lacking every kind of pathy? (Pathy is clearly the opposite of apathy.) Do you force yourself to just do it, or do you give in and embrace the laziness? I’m curious. And procrastinating making a plan for my day that will undoubtedly fill be with guilt at the END of today when the only thing crossed off is “breakfast” and “naptime.”

Have a wonderful day, my friends. May your day be filled with far more motivation than mine is. Or not. Whatever you prefer.🙂

Peace

We think of peace as this elusive, ephemeral thing that escapes us like a mirage. We picture it, perhaps, like a glorious rainbowy soap bubble, and we think that maybe if we get our hands soapy enough we can hold onto it for a moment, but the moment we grasp too tightly it will burst and leave us with nothing for our troubles except a mess. We put the kids to bed, brew a cup of tea, light a candle, read a book, and think ahhhh . . . peace, only to be interrupted moments later by a call for water or monster-eradication services or just MOMMY!!!! And that peace is gone.

We are so deceived.

For the believer, peace is not a fluffy idea based on some vague image of Jesus smiling at us while we drink hot chocolate on a deck overlooking a calm lake at sunrise. It is not something that comes to us once every couple of months when all the crazy parts of our lives somehow seem to miraculously align so that we can breathe freely for a moment or two. Peace is not something that disappears the moment we look at it, so that we are afraid to mention it’s happening.

Peace is real, and we already have it. But Satan has so come against God’s people in this area that we don’t even realize we have peace. We feel completely crazy and long for “peace and quiet,” all the while completely misunderstanding what peace is.

Peace was not given on a calm, starlit night in Bethlehem, no matter how beautiful and peaceful our mental images are of the manger and the shepherds and the young mother and her child.

Peace came through the struggle that child endured three decades later at the cross. Peace came at the end of the battle that Christ faced as He subjected the desires of His humanity to the desires of His Father, as He faced mockery and scorn, excruciating physical pain and unimaginable spiritual anguish. Peace was given when Jesus triumphed over sin and our separation from God with those glorious words of victory– “It. Is. Finished.”

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

We have peace. Paul speaks these words as a fact, not as some wibbly-wobbly wish. Jesus, in His death, made a way where there had been no way– a way into the presence of God. If we know Jesus as our Savior, we have peace with God that CANNOT be destroyed, taken away, shaken, or changed, because it isn’t based on us or our works but on the unchanging character of God and the finished work of Christ Jesus.

So then. What is the problem? Because let’s be honest, peace feels like a pipe dream to most of God’s people. We may have peace with God, but we don’t feel peace in our hearts and minds.

I believe that we have allowed Satan to build up this ridiculous mythology about what peace means to the point that we cannot see what we have or how to put it to work in our lives. We keep waiting for peace that passes understanding with no idea how to get it.

So how do we get hold of this peace? Might I suggest that, like anything worth having in the Christian life, we might have to do battle for it? The peace we have with God is like a spring of water in our lives, but we let that well fill up with garbage and lies and false expectations. We need to dig down deep, let God do the work of cleansing and pruning in us so that we uncover the peace we have. And then it can flow up through our lives– the peace of God richly flowing through our hearts, pouring out into our relationships, keeping us grounded and even joyful in times of deep trial, fear, and uncertainty.

Here are some steps we can take to do battle for peace in our lives:

  1. Confess our lack of peace and the things that take its place in our lives– worry, fear, anger, bitterness, busyness, distraction, jealousy, lack of faith. Confess and believe we are forgiven (1 John 1:9). Confess again and again, every time peace is lacking.
  2. Ask God for wisdom and understanding of what His peace is. He loves to grant us wisdom as we ask for it (James 1:5).
  3. Use Scripture as a sword. Speak truth out loud. Post it around our homes, workspaces, wherever we need to be reminded of it. We must bring our eyes and minds back to it on purpose when we experience a lack of peace in your life. Memorize specific Bible verses that deal with the specific things that are stealing our peace.
  4. Ask God to change our hearts, and then let Him do it. Change hurts.This is a battle. There will be bloodshed. It is worth it. We must choose to believe, to obey, to endure, and to reap the amazing benefits as we find ourselves able to stand when those around us are falling (Eph. 6:15).
  5. Live out God’s peace in our relationships. This will become the natural outflow of a heart that knows it has peace with God. But it is a process. It will involve a lot of falling flat on our faces, a lot of failure, a lot of seeking forgiveness. But God promises that His peace tears down walls (Eph. 2:13-22). It is worth the humility it requires. Think of what it cost our Savior to purchase this peace. Let Him use us to show that peace to a world in such desperate need.

Friends, the peace we have with God is meant to spill out into our relationships with others, to tear down walls and to rule in our hearts and to guard our minds. Look around you. The world needs peace. Your home and workplace need peace. Your Facebook newsfeed needs peace.

And if you have Christ Jesus, you have peace. Let us press on to make it ours, to share it with others. Let us dig deep and insist on true peace– peace that, unlike soap bubbles and dreamy wishes, is very real and cannot be taken away by this world.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

Almighty, Part 9

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8

Finally, they were all asleep. Up on the roof, the children had one by one succumbed to the darkness and the rhythm of Rachel’s quiet singing. But Rachel was not sleepy. How could one day change a life so dramatically? A flash of lightning lit up the sky to the west, and she wondered if she should take everyone inside. Most likely the storm would stay over the Sea, where fierce tempests often created wild waters just a mile or two distant from where peace reigned on the shore. She decided to let everyone stay where they were. If a storm came, they would all get up and go down into the house.

Finally Rachel could stand the silent sleeplessness no longer. Even after her long walks up and down the mountain, she was restless. Like a shadow she rose from her bed and glided downstairs. Her father was sound asleep, his even breathing punctuated by occasional snores. Taking her shawl from its place by the door, she drew it over her head, opened the door, and slipped out into the night.

The wind was picking up and Rachel could see more lightning over the Sea, yet she walked that way through the dark silent village, allowing the shifting light of the moon to guide her. Something about the shore of Galilee was calling her tonight.

Suddenly she saw the storm break over the water in the distance. A low rumble of thunder gained momentum and became a crash. The wind blew the head covering back from Rachel’s face, and a curtain of rain was visible over the Sea. A flash of lightning ripped through the sky, and Rachel felt a stab of guilt for not bringing the children inside before she left. They would all be crowding down the stairs now, she knew, after that loud roar of thunder. She would have to be careful when she got home, not to step on a child sprawled on the floor. Nevertheless she kept walking.

She could hear the waves breaking crazily on the shore, and the wind rushed past her, whipping her still-uncovered hair back from her face. The wildness of it all thrilled her, and she felt no fear. In the darkness and the blazes of lightning she felt a reflection of her day, her heart– darkness and dull routine across which the Teacher had broken with a brilliance she had never imagined. And still the echoes of her encounter with His work rumbled through her.

As Rachel neared the shore, the wind grew yet more riotous, the thunder louder. She could see the curtain of rain, still a ways off over the water, but large drops were beginning to fall around her. Lifting her shawl back over her head, Rachel stopped by the edge of the water, so that its waves sprayed her feet but did not cover them. She knew that often fishermen would go out on Galilee at night and hoped none were out in this storm. The waves were higher than she could ever remember seeing them, and the sound of the tumult filled her ears.

Afterward, Rachel always wondered how she had heard the quiet voice through all the noise of the storm, but she did hear it. One word, spoken softly– Rachel. Spinning around, heart pounding, she saw Him standing there on the edge of the Sea, just an arm’s length away.

It was as if the world went silent, as if all there was in all the universe was this moment– these two people. Rachel looked at the Teacher’s face, His serious eyes, His compassionate smile. Jesus. The word slipped from her mouth in a whisper, and she fell to her knees, head bowed before Him. She knew who He was. She knew He was God’s Son, the promised Messiah, the Almighty. There was nothing for her to do but to worship Him.

“My Lord,” she spoke, finally, daring to raise her eyes to His face. “Please call me to follow You. I will go anywhere.”

He smiled, reached out a rough hand to help her stand. “Rachel, you think that you must walk around the countryside to follow me, leave your home and your family. And indeed, someday you may be called upon to do just that. But now– now I have need for you here. Can you be content to wait? To serve where you are? To give up your plans in favor of mine? This is the cross I have for you right now. Will you carry it?”

Rachel lowered her eyes, disappointment washing over her. He didn’t want her to follow Him. He wanted her to stay here, to bake bread and keep house and serve others.

“Rachel, if you had not been here, baking bread and keeping house and serving your family, thousands of people would have been hungry this night. You gave what you had, and it has blessed your whole village. I am asking you to continue doing that. Will you follow me in this way?”

Rachel considered. It seemed as if a desperate battle raged in her heart, but she looked up at Jesus again and she knew. She could do anything He gave her to do, all for love of Him.

“Yes, my Lord. I will be Your servant here.”

His hand reached out, touched her head; and He blessed her.

“I must go. My disciples are out there on the Sea, and they are tired almost to the point of death. I need to go to them.”

“My Lord, use my father’s boat! It is just there, down the shoreline–”

But Jesus the Teacher smiled and turned from her, and stepped out toward the waves, onto the surface of the wild sea.

My Almighty God.

Rachel had just reached home when the storm suddenly ceased.

Almighty, part 8

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7

As Rachel closed the door behind her, her ears were filled with sounds of laughter and squeals. The little children were climbing all over their father, chattering at him about all the excitement of the day, and John was trying to make his voice heard over the noise, telling Father about the loaves and fishes. Rachel felt a quick stab of trepidation. Would Father be angry that she had taken the children off without asking? Was he upset that she hadn’t been home, hadn’t made dinner? Slowly she removed her shawl, hanging it on the peg beside the door, before she turned to him, eyes lowered.

Before Mother had died, Rachel had never worried about how her father would receive her. He had always delighted in his children, had been the father chasing the boys down the street, catching them up into his strong arms, and tickling them till they begged for mercy. Rachel he had always doted upon, carrying her on his shoulders until Mother had said she was too grown up for such things. They had shared little jokes and secrets, and Father had always encouraged Rachel to share her opinions about whatever news or problems were being discussed at table.

But Mother’s death had broken Father, and though he continued to work hard to provide for his children, and had tried to be engaged for the sake of the little ones, things hadn’t been the same since then. Rachel tried so hard to do the work Mother had left, but she couldn’t support her father like Mother had. John grew wild and rebellious, and Father barely noticed, except to say he wasn’t ready to go out on the boats, to begin to learn to be a fisherman. The children’s religious training had all but fallen by the wayside, except for the weekly Sabbath readings and the annual trip to Jerusalem for Passover. And Rachel felt as though she had dropped far in her father’s esteem, from a beloved child to a servant.

“Children,” Father’s authoritative voice allowed no argument. “It is time to get ready for sleeping. You may tell me about your day tomorrow.”

With childish groans, the little ones made their way up the steps to the roof, where they slept when the weather was fine. Rachel could hear the noise of their spreading out their sleeping mats, the little squabbles over who would sleep where.

“Wait, John,” Father said, as the boy started to climb up the stairs as well. “What were you telling me, about fish and bread?”

With glowing eyes and words tripping over one another, John told the tale– how he had shared a noon meal with a friend and not eaten his own little lunch, how he had heard one of the disciples asking if anyone had any food to share, how he had so desperately wanted to share his food with the Teacher. How Rachel had said he could, and how he had raced through the hungry crowd to breathlessly deliver the little bag to the man. How he had stayed there, at the edge of the crowd, and watched as the disciple delivered his tiny meal to Jesus, and how the Teacher had come to him and put a hand on his head and blessed him and thanked him for sharing. Rachel gasped at this part of the story, for she had not heard it yet. To be touched, blessed by the Teacher!

John glanced at his sister and then returned to his tale– how he had struggled to make his way back through the mob, only to find his sister missing and Imma in a state of panic over Miriam’s birth pains, which were coming faster and faster. How he had stood among the people who were seating themselves and shouted again and again, is anyone here a midwife? How suddenly Miriam had cried out and then gasped, and he had turned to her just in time to hear her joyful laugh and her words to Imma– they stopped! The pains stopped! How Rachel had returned just then, and how they had sat in the grass and watched in amazement as the Teacher had taken those five little bites of bread and two tiny fish and fed the multitude. How he had eaten enough bread and fish to fill him up, and how the bread had tasted like Mother’s bread, and how he had seen the disciples carrying away basketfuls after everyone had had enough.

“It was amazing, Father! The most amazing thing I’ve ever seen! And the Teacher– Father, he’s the one that healed Miriam, I know it! And he did about a million other miracles, all morning long, and you should hear him teach. It’s not anything like the Rabbis at the synagogue, that make you fall asleep. The Teacher– you can just tell he knows what he’s talking about. It’s like he knows God personally. I’ve never heard anyone talk about God that way.”

John’s face was flushed with the excitement of it all, and Rachel felt it again– that feeling of overpowering joy filling her up. As she studied her brother, she could see that he was standing taller, looking Father in the eye, holding himself almost like a man instead of like a boy. Father must have noticed it as well, for he stood and considered his oldest boy for a long moment before finally speaking. “You shall join me on the boat tomorrow, John. I expect you to be ready at sunrise. And I expect you to work hard. No more behaving like a child. It’s time for you to be a man.”

The two stood and regarded each other for a long moment, and Rachel felt strangely out of place. Finally John squared his shoulders. “Yes, sir,” he responded, and then turned and climbed the stairs to the roof, where Rachel could still hear the younger children talking and giggling.

Father turned his face to Rachel, who held her breath, waiting. “It sounds like you had a day to remember,” he began, a little awkwardly. “I wish you had left a message for me, but as Joanna kept me informed, no harm was done.”

“I’m sorry I didn’t have your dinner ready, Father.”

“Rachel. How old are you now?”

“Sixteen, Father.”

“Sixteen. Nearly a woman, but still a girl. You’ve carried a heavy burden since your mother died.”

“I–”

“I couldn’t have made it these years without you here, Rachel. You have taken on such a load as many girls your age could not have borne, and you have never lost the joy in your eyes.”

Rachel could feel tears welling up at this unexpected praise. Her father continued, “I’m glad you went up the hill to see the Teacher. I wish I could have gone with you, but it was good I stayed behind. Joanna and I had a long talk, and she made me to understand some things I had forgotten.”

He cleared his throat. “You are a young woman, ready to be married, and I have failed to seek a husband for you. I have been so caught up in my own grief–” His voice broke, and Rachel flew to him, throwing her arms around him and feeling his strong arms around her.

“I know, Abba. I know! I understa–”

“Now, though, it is time for me to face my reality like a man, as it is time for your brother John to face his reality like a man. The children in this home are my responsibility, not yours, and it’s time for me to let you move on. You will make an excellent wife, my dear. You have already proven your value is far above rubies.”

“Abba, I–”

“Tomorrow, Rachel. We will discuss everything tomorrow. It sounds like those children need someone to remind them that they’re supposed to be sleeping.”

Rachel could hear the sound of her siblings, still rowdy and wild on the rooftop. She could understand their feelings, for sleep was far from her mind as well. She hugged her father one more time and brushed a quick kiss across his deeply tanned face. “Thank you, Abba.”

With her mind racing and her heart overflowing, Rachel made her way up the stairs to settle everyone in for the night.

Part 9