God With Us

I’ve been thinking a lot about that phrase: Immanuel, God With Us, a name given to Christ long before Mary laid her baby in a feeding trough. God – the infinite, the omniscient and omnipresent, the I Am – made Himself tiny and frail. He became one of us. All of the symbolism of the systems that came before pointed to this: God living as one of us and sacrificing Himself for us.

He wasn’t what we expected. The King of the universe came to a poor family from a notoriously poor town. He came in politically fraught times, to a people oppressed. He wasn’t handsome, powerful, or wealthy. He lived a life of struggle and displacement. He was misunderstood and eventually tortured to death at the behest of the very religious authorities who should have hailed his arrival. His own people didn’t recognize Him.

And yet, those He touched were transformed. The power of heaven flowed through Him, so that even those who touched His clothing in faith were healed. The unrestrained love of God met every person where they were and drew them in. It swept away sin and hurt and suffering and left joy and healing and hope. The willing were never the same.

I recently listened to a group discussion about how Christians should define and overcome sin. It was a variation on discussions I’ve heard all my life. It left me sad and frustrated. Too many Christians seem to believe their job is to access the power of God in order to wrestle sin out of their lives. That’s not consistent with what I find in the Bible.  

Sin is not a violation of a moral code created by a God who demands obedience. The law – by which we know sin – is an expression of God’s character. God is perfect love. In His presence, selfishness that births harm and pain and loss cannot exist. Sin by necessity separates us from Him. Sin is death because it cuts us off from the Source of life. No matter how good we are, we can NEVER meet the standard of perfection required to live in communion with God. For this reason, Jesus stood in our place. His perfection and sacrifice – the full measure of selfless love – cover us. We are restored. We live again in relationship with God, and His life and love flow through us. We’re the branch, connected to the Vine. We produce sweet fruit of love in action, not through work and wrestling, but as a natural product of His life in us.

Photo credit: Jean Beaufort

The story of the Gospel starts in Genesis 1 (“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth”) and ends in Revelation 22 (“The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all”). It is the story of a God of love who is the source of life and longs to be with us. His love expresses itself through creation and relationship. He knew we would stray, but He always had a plan to win us back. The central question of His character – a question introduced out of selfish ambition – would be answered.

We forget this truth. We get bogged down in detail. We slug it out over theological interpretations. We allow our need for control to drive us to extremism. We worry about how we measure up. We judge others for how they measure up. But none of that is where God wants our attention. He wants our attention on Him: knowing Him better, going deeper with Him. The Bible is not a rulebook to live by; it’s a revelation of God. The Gospel thread from Genesis to Revelation is a picture of how incomprehensibly good He is. It’s about a God who is WITH US – walking with us, leading us, transforming us, giving us life.

The message of Christmas is the same as the message of Easter and of every day in between: A God of infinite love gave Himself so that we can live in Him. Our only job is to choose Him. The rest is His beautiful work in us.

My hope this season is that we’ll each see Him in new and clearer ways – and by beholding, we will be changed. Merry Christmas, friends.

P.S. If you’re looking for this God of love, the Bible is the first and last authority. I never stop finding more of Him there. But sometimes, extra content helps me understand and connect to stories that can feel removed from modern language and context. I highly recommend The Chosen – free to stream on any device. It’s the first time I’ve watched a video production and felt a lightning bolt of recognition: There He is. That’s the God I love. The impact has been far-reaching for me. (One caveat: The first episode gets pretty dark. It’s a beautiful story of redemption, but if portrayal of devil possession isn’t your thing, start with the second episode.)


There is a lot on my heart and mind these days. I suspect the same is true for most of you. 

These are not easy times. The noise level is nearly unbearable. 

There are so many voices raised in anger, frustration, fear, condescension, judgement. How do we know which ones to listen to? How can we even begin to juggle all the things we’re being told to care about? How can we keep ourselves and our families safe when it feels like every day brings a new threat? 

We’re afraid. We’re overwhelmed. We’re sad and isolated. 

That’s true no matter our politics, our religious views, our racial or ethnic identity, our disability status, our geographic location, our socioeconomic status. We’re all feeling it. We are divided, without recognizing that so many of our arguments are different responses to the same fears.

Two white children with sleepy eyes look over the railing of a top bunk bed, smiling with genuine delight. The young girl on the left has chin-length blonde hair and bangs and is wearing a pink PJ shirt. She has Down syndrome. The slightly older boy on the right has medium-short, red-brown hair and bare shoulders. A stuffed tiger is on the bed next to him.
They are my heart. How do I keep them safe?

It feels like the world is unraveling around us. And maybe it is. Those of us who are Christians believe that will be the inevitable end of earth’s history – the collapse of a world that has veered off course, separated from its Creator and Source of life. 

I don’t have all the answers. I, too, am tired. I am sad. I am angry. I seek gratitude and joy in my many blessings, but it’s impossible to fully shut out the noise. I struggle to understand my responsibility in the face of others’ pain. I feel the weight of a day-to-day lift that can get so heavy. 

But there are some things I believe deep in my core, because I have experienced them. They are the things I hold to. They are the things that carry me through. 

I walk with God, and I know Him to be good and present in all the moments of my life. I believe Him to be infinitely capable and working for my ultimate good, and for the good of those I love. I know that I cannot control much of anything that happens in this world, but I can control how I respond to the people around me. I believe God knows every person’s story, loves every person completely, and calls me to love each one as He does. I believe that the unraveling around us is a reminder that we were made for something more. And I believe that God has gone to the absolute end to save every precious life on this planet who will have Him. 

Maybe that sounds like a fantasy, too good to be true, belied by the chaos around us and centuries of harm done in God’s name. I get that. All I can say is, this is all I have found in the world to be worth trusting, worth hoping for, worth living for. I have tried Him and found Him faithful. 

I am humbled by the mess we’re in. I have questions and doubts. I can’t see the future. But I know the One who can. Day by day, it is enough.

He is enough. 

The Magic of Tonight

She smells like macaroni and cheese. 

We lay in her double bed, forehead to forehead. It’s past her bedtime. She giggles and thinks of new ways to delay the inevitable. 

“I need Bunny.” 

“I need Tilda.”

The lights are off. The air filter in the corner offers its nightly white noise. The faux moon dangles from an electrical cord in the corner, glowing softly – daddy’s addition to the decor. I sing her lullabies. Her eyes droop, and her restlessness stills. 

She and her brother spent the evening chasing June fireflies. They’re 8 and 11. They wandered the yard with Ball jars. She wanted help. Brother didn’t need any. She chased the blinking lights, occasionally coaxing a winged creature into her container. 

“Daddy, I need help!” He went, traipsing through the wet grass in flip-flops, jar at the ready.

Brother caught a handful, but he let them go free. He described watching one nurse a bruised leg before flying to freedom. 

I stayed on the deck as they headed in to prepare for bed. The dog lay nearby. I leaned my head back on a couch cushion. White outdoor lights framed my view of the rapidly darkening sky. Bats flitted across the open expanse. Fireflies blinked in my periphery, gradually making their ascent. Before I go in, they’ve reached the tops of the trees, flashing like distant fairies as night closes in. 

The world is a complicated place. Most days, the weight of responsibility and worry weigh heavy. But tonight, a perfect summer night in the South, there is nothing I need, besides the sweet, macaroni-scented breath of my children and the fireflies, rising skyward while the night falls. 

New year, growing me

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I tend to be in the “a new year is just a date on the calendar and doesn’t represent an actual break with the previous 365 days” camp. I am more a trajectory kind of girl. It won’t surprise you, then, that I don’t write resolutions or set major new goals this time of year.

This is admittedly a good time to reflect, and there is nothing wrong with taking stock and marking the places we want to see change. It never hurts to focus on positive goals. I wonder, though, how often new year’s goals look like measuring ourselves against unrealistic standards, setting us up for inevitable failure. Are we really so dissatisfied with the current version of ourselves that we feel like we need to be a new person as the calendar rolls over?

Tomorrow is a new year, but here’s reality: I’ll be taking into it the same me, with all my accumulated experiences, triumphs and failures, strengths and flaws. And you know, I’m okay with that. I am thankful for the life I’ve been given and the days that have come before and that lie ahead.

I suppose when we talk about a “new me,” we’re really talking about growth. Goodness knows, I make a lot of mistakes, and there have been plenty of moments, big and small, that were painful and even regrettable. My walk with God is a process of constant grace and renewal. He gives me access to His power for transformation. I don’t have to rely on myself to make the future what I want it to be. This is where I find my peace.

We like to think, especially this time of year, that our lives are within our own control. If we set the right goals and make the right choices, if we do better, our lives will look like we want them to. My experiences have taught me that I have much less control over my life than I might wish. Stuff happens. We inevitably screw up, and even when we do the right things, life can still go wrong. If you’ve spent time with people who are truly struggling, if you know of the desperate places in the world, if you yourself have experienced heartbreak and loss, you know that sometimes, there are no good answers. We do not always have the power to fix things. My hope rests in a God who promises healing and hope, not because everything will always work out perfectly, but because He gives us what we need for today and will eventually make things right in a world where suffering is no longer part of the equation.

For today, I am deeply grateful that God promises that my life matters, and that He takes from my shoulders the weight of making that happen on my own. This is how I walk into the new year. My 40th birthday (what?!!) is just a few weeks away. There are changes ahead for our family. The biggest is that mama (that’s me) will be starting a full-time job after eight years away from the professional world. I’m going to be doing some pretty awesome stuff for an amazing organization, and I am stoked. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t also nervous about the huge adjustment this will be for all of us. But growth happens in change, and I walk forward with confidence because I trust the One who guides my steps.

Happy new year, friends. May you know how much you are loved, how much you matter, and that all your days are safe with Him.

Farewell, Tennyson

We said good-bye to a member of our family yesterday. Tennyson came into our lives 14 1/2 years ago, wobbly, fuzzy, with a head as big as his body. Yesterday, he left our lives as Tennyson and hippoJon and I held him and murmured our good-byes, freeing him from the cancer eating at his body.

He was never the world’s best dog. In fact, he could have given Marley of Marley and Me: Life and Love with the World’s Worst Dog a run for his money. He ate entire socks, underwear, and the center stone to my engagement ring (yes, really). He peed on every bed we ever bought him. He destroyed every toy, including the ones billed for “tough chewers.” Early on, he developed an eye condition that required surgery at a veterinary ophthalmologist (price tag: cha-ching). He dug through visitors’ purses and luggage for Backpacking Tennysonanything in the neighborhood of edible. He shed twice a year like it was his job. He dug through the bathroom trash. He never did learn to heel or fetch. He was a born explorer, compelled to sniff every nook and cranny, and thus an incorrigible wanderer. He demonstrated a go-go-gadget ability to reach items on kitchen counters that seemed well beyond his reach, inhaling his reward packaging and all.

In fact, he was such a pain that I’ve been caught off guard by how brutal this is. The reel of memories has been playing hard these last hours: the backpacking trips where he cheerfully carried his own gear and, against all odds, proved to be a great trail dog; the pressure of his weight as he leaned against me; the years he provided comfort as our Tennyson and Samibaby when we were struggling to have one of our own; the few years he shared with our second beagle, Sami, before she left us too soon; his head buried inside a doggie stocking on Christmas mornings; tripping over him every evening as I cooked dinner; the jangle of his tags as he followed me from room to room, never wanting to be far from his humans; his presence in a thousand unremarkable moments, part of the fabric of our lives for nearly all of our adulthood, woven into the fabric of our family from its start.

So, now we learn how to be a family without him. Lina looked out the glass door at the rain this morning and told Jon we needed to let Tennyson in. When Jon reminded her that Tennyson is gone, she said “Tennyson is dead,” and her lip trembled. Corin has internalized a

Family photo fall 2010

Photo: Katie Schoepflin Photography

lot, as he tends to do, but choked up last night at bedtime as we talked about what he would miss most.

At these times, I always wonder why we do this to ourselves. Why do we sign up for the inevitable heartbreak of losing a pet that becomes a member of the family? I suppose the answer is contained in the grief. We have 14 years of memories that remain.

Rest well, Tennyson. You weren’t a good dog, but you loved and were loved well.

Last year of pre-K

And here they are, Lina’s first day of school pictures. She was so excited.




Heading to the front steps to wait for the bus

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She admittedly looks much fresher in these than she did when the bus finally showed up 25 minutes late. (No pictures of her getting on, thanks to the rush.) She goes in the afternoons this year, and she’s riding the bus to school for the first time. (I’ll be picking her up to spare her the much longer ride home.) She has a new teacher, aids and therapists. It’s a year of changes, but hopefully it will be good preparation for the much bigger ones to come when our girl heads to kindergarten next year. Truthfully, it’s entirely possible I’m the one who most needs to get used to the changes. After two years with a wonderful preschool teacher, I’ve had my worries about having to switch. But then I caught this moment with her new teacher at yesterday’s meet and greet:


These preschool teachers, y’all. They aren’t in this for the money or the easy days, I can tell you. There is no mistaking the love on her teacher’s face; Lina is in good hands again this year.

Off to 2nd grade

It’s that time of year again, which comes remarkably early here in the south. The kiddos are headed back to school, with freshly sharpened pencils, unbroken crayons, shiny new lunch boxes and mildew-free water bottles. Corin is beginning second grade, where he has his own desk for the first time. (He sat at group tables the past two years). He was super excited, and while we definitely saw touches of the old anxiety over the past few weeks, he was much more confident walking into his classroom this year.

Every year, we take time to remind Corin that while we want him to do his best in school, the thing that matters most is his ability to show love and kindness to the people around him. “Look for the lonely kids,” his dad and I say. “Stick up for the kids your other friends think are weird. Be a friend to the kids who get left out. We know you’ll be able to do that, because you have Jesus’ love in your heart.”

A fellow mom in our Down syndrome community posts a quote at the beginning of every school year: “I don’t think the worst thing that could happen to me is having a child with special needs. I think the worst thing would be to raise a child who is cruel to people with special needs.” -Matthew Michelson Butman

Special needs come in endless variety, for those who have disabilities and those who don’t. In the end, we all just want to be seen, accepted and included. We all want to belong. I prayed this morning that Corin would be safe, that his mind would be sharp and he would love learning, that he would make good friends. But most of all, I prayed that he would be kind.

Happy second grade, sweet boy. It never stops feeling like I’m leaving a giant piece of me in that classroom.



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Tomorrow is sister’s turn to start her last year of preschool.

It’s springing?!

I double-checked my calendar today, just to be sure. Yep, it’s still February. But today was 79 degrees and sunny, and all over town, flowers are bursting into full bloom. Lina desperately wanted to play outside, and I was happy to oblige. Temperatures are supposed to drop more than 30 degrees by tomorrow, so I figured we’d better soak it in while it lasted.









The case for dried sweat

I’m pretty sure the people at my daughter’s school believe I spend my days as a stinky, frizzy-haired mess in exercise pants. I know this because it’s how I pick her up from preschool every day. I come straight from the gym, and I look like it.

I still remember the “oohs” and “aaahs” when I showed up to Lina’s first parent-teacher conference last year. That’s when it dawned on me that a lot of these people had never before seen me in makeup.

I look around at pick-up, and there are plenty of other moms in workout clothes. But not one of them looks like she’s coated in dried sweat and wearing a ponytail that endured an actual workout. This leads me to wonder, do these women actually work out? Do they wear those clothes to hang out at the coffee shop? Or do they know something I don’t about post-exercise grooming? (I’d certainly welcome suggestions for the fly-away hair halo.) Maybe they just don’t sweat like I do.

Also, let’s talk about women who wear makeup to the gym. Look, I’m not criticizing. If you can look that put together while hoisting a 39-pound bar for squats, more power to you. If I try to do it, I wake up the next morning to pores that look like the foothills of the Rockies.

I’ve always been in the “less is more” camp when it comes to makeup, anyway, I suppose, though I find myself using a few more products in my 30s than I did in my 20s. I like looking put-together. I like using cosmetics to give that bit of extra polish, in the same vein as the perfect pair of shoes.

But please, someone tell me it’s okay to look a little rough coming from the place I go to sweat, huff and occasionally grunt through the last set of bench presses. Not that it matters, I suppose. I’m unlikely to change my routine any time soon, which means, I suppose, that it’s time to own my dried sweat look.

‘Til next time

I have just a few pictures from our last day at the beach, and then it’s time to get back into full-swing daily life. Our last day was spent at Grayton Beach State Park, a lovely and relatively quiet spot a few miles west of Rosemary Beach on 30A. It was nice to enjoy the beach with a backdrop of natural sand dunes rather than the usual beachside development. The biting flies were our least favorite feature, but those seemed to be present pretty much everywhere.

The kids were more than ready for an early bedtime. They slept soundly under Mimi and Grandpa’s care while we closed out our vacation grown-up style. We hung with Justin and Katie on the moonlit beach, watching distant fireworks displays at Panama City Beach and Destin, and indulged in late-night dessert at the local tapas and chocolate restaurant. That night, with my toes dug deep into cool sand, watching a shooting star as the waves lapped the shore, I wondered why we don’t live closer to the beach. (Then I remembered all those Florida summers of my childhood and was immediately cured.)

Now we’re back to everyday life, but a little richer with memories. The leaves are starting to turn here at home, and there is much to look forward to about fall in Tennessee. It might just be time to bake something with pumpkin.