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.)

Six days to Christmas and all is well

My son’s Christmas countdown tells me it is currently six days until Christmas. My radio, tuned to the local non-stop Christmas music station, agrees, as does my kitchen, currently overflowing with the remains of last week’s massive round of Christmas baking. We visited the Dickens Christmas festival in downtown Franklin last Sunday and have watched several of our favorite holiday movies. We’ve read as many versions of the nativity story as we can get our hands on. I am enjoying all these things while simultaneously remaining completely astonished that this year is drawing to a close.

So, here I am, finally posting a few pictures from our lovely Thanksgiving at the in-laws’ in Georgia.


The spread


These potatoes, y’all…


The table


The crew

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The family



The handsomest grandpa around

There are times when it nearly takes my breath away, how fast life is passing and how quickly my children change. This year, Corin remembers nearly every detail of last Christmas and can look forward to holiday events with much more specific anticipation. He put a lot of the ornaments on the tree this year. He also understands more and more of the Christmas story. Lina still mostly ignores a lot of the preliminaries and really still prefers that we open gifts for her so she can get to the fun part of playing with whatever’s inside. She adores the holiday sweets, and her fairly new appreciation for babies makes the story of baby Jesus one she can relate to better than most. Today, she spontaneously said “Bible” for the first time, and then repeated it throughout the morning. Our Little People nativity set – given us by Aunt Lila several years ago – is always a big hit, and we will spend more time this next week acting out the story of Jesus’ birth in a way that hopefully brings it home a bit for the munchkins.

As an adult, you would think the endless repetition of the nativity story would get old. I find the opposite is true. Every year, the story has new meaning for me. This year, I’ve been struck by the universality of the gift of God’s Son: “Good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” We humans tend to put everyone on a worthiness scale. It has come home hard this year that God sent a Savior for everyone. I find myself asking, “What am I doing to bring God to people where they are?” It’s a hard question, and I wrestle with what that really looks like in my life. For now, I am thankful for the seasonal reminder of a boundless love that belongs to all of us.



Singing and dancing to Christmas music









Trimming the tree

Christmas is finally in full swing around here. The tree is up, the decorating is (almost) done, and I’m finally in the spirit. (I was beginning to think we’d just have to celebrate in February, because it felt like it should still be October.)

For most of our married life and all of our children’s lives, we’ve had a fake “slim profile” tree, which was the only thing to fit in our tiny living room. This first Christmas in the new house marks the long-awaited return to a real tree. I had idealistic plans for a rooted tree that could be planted outside after the holiday, but our trip to a local nursery yesterday doused that dream in reality. Turns out, we had completely underestimated the size of the root ball for a 6-foot tree. As Jon emphatically pointed out – to my disappointed protests – there was no way we could lift that tree, much less carry it up the stairs and into the living room. I couldn’t reconcile myself to the tiny tree we might be able to lift (with still considerable effort), so we headed to the section with the cut trees and chose the modest (and considerably more maneuverable) Fraser fir which now adorns our living room. I keep breathing deeply; I’d forgotten how lovely that smell is. I even like that it’s a smidge crooked. Our simple tree’s not-perfection is just right.

The “ordaments” (Corin’s rendition) are a mishmash we’ve collected over the years. Some are cheap plastic, some are beautiful, delicate glass (located at the top of the tree these days), and some are rough, hand-made crafts covered in kids’ fingerprints. A big part of the Christmas tree tradition for me has always been unwrapping the same ornaments every December, the protective paper yellowing and eventually having to be replaced, the memories stacking atop one another as the years roll by. It was that way all through my childhood, and it’s one of my favorite parts of the holiday. Decorating the tree is always helter-skelter with small kids, but those ornaments and the attached memories are precious to me.

We are trying to keep things simple this year. There has been very little shopping, save a special outing with my dad. Relatives have been warned: prepare for homemade! It keeps holiday expenses more manageable, but really, I think I prefer it this way. (I can’t speak for how the relatives feel.)

So, here we go. The Christmas whirlwind whirls, and we do what we can to slow it down, grasping fleeting moments to stop and savor.


I’ve discovered the key to taking photos of my son. “Corin, whatever you do, don’t get in this picture.”





Getting a huge kick out of trying to eat the rocks


I mean, people, look at the size of those root balls!




In illustration of the usual state of my sinuses, Corin insisted the delicate tea pot ornament was a neti pot.



Yes, Lina decorated the tree without a shirt. No, I don’t really know why.



A new favorite from last year: father-son hiking boots



“The Night Before Christmas”



Christmas 2013, Part II

A Christmas Review Well After the Fact, and in Two Parts
(Part I)

Christmas Eve supper is a long-standing traditional feast in my family, with an offering of gourmet cheeses and crackers, fresh fruit and veggies, and the crowning piece de resistance, my dad’s beyond-amazing, almond-filled Christmas wreath bread. The kids played, we feasted, and it was a lovely evening.

(All the photos in this post are courtesy my brother. Thanks, Ry!)
















As is always the case, pretty pictures tell only part of the story. Christmas Day was long for the kids (but certainly not for the adults), dinner was late, and it turned out Grandma Titus was not well (which resulted in most of the rest of us coming down with a thoroughly unpleasant stomach bug within a few days). But our family was together (even if we were trying to keep the kids away from poor great-grandma), the food was fantastic, and there was great delight over wonderfully thoughtful gifts. Ultimately, Christmas for us will always be celebrating the most important gift ever given with the people we love the most. At its core, it’s really that simple – and that deep.

















Christmas 2013, Part I

A Christmas Review Well After the Fact, and in Two Parts

It took eight ages for a variety of reasons, one of which was the transition to my new computer (a laptop! I can blog from the living room couch!), but finally, I have our Christmas pictures ready for sharing. There are so many of them, in fact, that I have crashed Word Press multiple times trying to fit them into a single post. So, a two-parter it is.



We had an early celebration with Jon’s family the weekend before Christmas, with presents Saturday night and brunch with both sets of parents at the Opryland Hotel Sunday morning.













Christmas Eve supper and most of Christmas Day were spent at my parents’ house with my family, which will be in the next post. But to finish out this one, here is our quiet Christmas morning at home.
















(Part II)

Also on the subject of oxygen…

That last blog post title has an ironic ring to it, given that I spent the night with Lina in the ER, getting her breathing treatments for croup that spiraled out of control. Poor baby had terrible stridor and was having to use her whole body to suck in enough air.

So, this was our night:


We finally got home and back to bed at 4 a.m. Baby girl is sounding much better, and with the steroid they prescribed, hopefully we can avoid future ER visits.

Good thing we were all so well rested. (Oh, wait…) But truly, just thankful this morning that she’s okay and for a day with family, who are braving our germs to celebrate the holiday. Stay healthy, everyone.

Finding the oxygen

The holidays around here are a mixture of delight and insanity. I spend the last week or so before Christmas totally under water. This year, my cards are likely to be post-Christmas greetings for a fair portion of my list. I paid someone to deep clean my house on Wednesday, but by today, my floors were already gross again. There is an extensive list of items I was supposed to complete today that never happened. Half the string of lights beautifying my living room burned out, just in time for our first family event here tomorrow. 

It’s 6:10 p.m. My sweet husband is preparing supper, because I have had zero time for food prep. Lina is sitting in my lap, wheezing with every breath, thanks to a nasty cold she got from yours truly, who got it from Corin, who is still coughing. Someone in this house has been sick since September. I don’t understand it, but I will tell you that after the holiday, we will be purging this house of sugar, going to bed early and avoiding anyone who appears to be thinking about sneezing. (As if that last one is possible.)

So yeah – when we have a moment to surface for air, we find ourselves wondering, like so many of you, how this became the pace of our lives. I don’t exactly know the answer. I am finding some ways to start simplifying, thanks to girlfriends who are reminding me to lower my expectations. Like, really lower them. I’m trying.

And also, there really are so many moments of magic crammed into these crazy days. It’s how I can still love this time of year. There was making gingerbread cookies with Corin yesterday (admittedly followed by over-tired tantrums). There are the repeated readings of favorite versions of the Christmas story. (Mortimer’s Christmas Manger is currently Corin’s favorite, while Humphrey’s First Christmas continues to be mine.) There was Corin’s excitement about delivering packages of cookies to the neighbors earlier this evening. There is Lina tangling herself up in Christmas lights and exploring the ornaments on the bottom of the tree. There is the music, which I love so truly. Those moments are the deep breaths of oxygen in these underwater days.

So, here we go: The Christmas home stretch. I’m going to try to find a little more of this kind of wonder.


Christmas time is here


The decorations are (mostly) up and the Christmas season is in full swing around here. Every year, Corin understands more and gets more into the anticipation and joy of the season. Now we get to watch that process unfold with Lina, too, who I know is going to totally dig the wrapping paper this year. I look at our holiday traditions and decorations in a new way, hoping that I am creating for my kids the kind of magic I remember from my childhood Christmases.

We have daily conversations with Corin about why we celebrate Christmas, and it’s awesome to see how much he absorbs. Truthfully, every year I absorb more of that greatest story, the shocking truth of God in helpless, newborn form. I know there is a lot about modern Christmas to lament – rampant commercialism, hectic schedules, extra stress… But this past week or so, as I’ve talked to Corin and read him various versions of the Christmas story, I’ve thought a lot about what that night in the stable must have been like. Teaching it to Corin has made it so real to me. Omnipotent God became one of us, purest love from first division of cells to ultimate sacrifice. You could easily spend a lifetime trying to wrap your head around that one. I dislike “reason for the season” cliches, and really, I don’t have the words for what the Christmas story means to me. I can say that I love this time of year.

I owe Thanksgiving pictures, but they are a bit sparse this year. My camera battery ran low and I forgot to pack the charger. We are left with Thanksgiving 2013 via iPhone and Instagram. There was a mild stomach bug for Corin and me, but it was still a very enjoyable holiday weekend with family in North Georgia. My mother-in-law puts on an enormous feast, and I pitched in where I could. It was lovely.








Christmas retrospective

Christmas is over and a new year has begun. Every single year, this takes me by surprise. How is it that we have tucked another holiday season under our belts and girded ourselves for 2013? 2013! That still sounds impossibly futuristic to me. I do love the beginning of new years, though. Jon and I rang this one in very quietly, at home on our couch, watching the latest Batman movie on our new Blu-ray player and tuning in to a time-delayed NYC broadcast just in time to see the ball drop and to share a sweet kiss. I’m okay with that start to this year. Quiet, at home with the things that really matter. Maybe next year we’ll dress up and find somewhere exciting to go. But this year, quiet was just right.

It was a good Christmas. We spent a week with Jon’s family in Georgia. Corin spent long hours roaming the cold, wet outdoors with Grandpa, and I enjoyed the freedom to get down on the floor and really soak in Baby Girl. Lina is smiling and cooing like nobody’s business, and it makes me happy. Sometimes I feel as if she might be getting gypped with how divided my attention often is at home. I do make time to cuddle and talk to her, to get down to her eye level and cheer for her tummy time achievements, but often I’m stopping to tickle her for a moment or to get in her face for a quick smile and hello as I pass on my way to put away more laundry or to help big brother with his pants for another potty break. (Ah, potty training, there’s a topic for another day. I’ve said that before, haven’t I?!)

In any case, this Christmas, the riches of family willing to entertain my children meant I got to spend some good one-on-one time with each of them. And then there was the glorious food, the gifts, the holiday movies, the church musical, the telling and re-telling of the Greatest Story until Corin could recite it back to us. (By the way, if you don’t have it, this is now my very favorite kids’ Christmas book.)

We made a stop to see friends in Knoxville for one night on our way home, and then it was New Year’s on the couch and a second Christmas with my family, which was complicated by sickness that has since taken up dwelling at our house. (Croup? Really? I had the clearly mistaken impression that only happened in Anne of Green Gables novels.) But Corin and his cousin still got some good time together to play with new Christmas treasures, and as always, the memories are the very best thing we take from the holidays into the new year.



Watching Christmas movies with my boy

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