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A Small Miracle Named Layla

By Shannon Laning

Matthew 9 NASB

Do you know how often we miss a miracle or explain it away just as the religious leaders and sceptics did? Jesus is called a blasphemer (Matthew 9:3), idiot (Matthew 9:25), and a ruler of demons (Matthew 9:34). But I wonder how many others explained it away with saying that the blind men weren’t completely blind to begin with, the man was only pretending to be demon-possessed, the girl wasn’t fully dead, or the paralytic was only showboating.

I know these sceptical explanations existed to undermine Jesus authority in His day because they continue to exist today But dear friend, I am here to tell you that miracles are real. If you are a doubter that miracles are alive and well and Jesus still heals in supernatural ways… listen up. 

On February 14 at 9:30 PM my second daughter, Layla, entered the world at just 4 lb 5 ounces. She was born early because I had preeclampsia and was a seizure risk. Her last ultrasounds had shown a stalemate in her growth, but, other than a smaller abdomen, she had passed every available medical test with flying colors. I prepared for a few days in the NICU, ordered preemie clothes, and waited in the hospital to have her. Nothing, absolutely nothing, prepared me for what the doctor and my husband came to tell me at 10:25 PM. 

“Layla’s going to be okay,” Dr. Bowman said. My heart started racing as I learned that Layla was born was a condition called Esophageal Atresia with a Tracheoesophagael Fistula. Her esophagus was not connected to her stomach and had instead fused into the trachea. 

“She needs immediate surgery and has to be flown to either Lubbock, Dallas or Houston tonight,” Dr. Bowman said. “Where do you want to fly her?” 

Where do I want to fly her?? Nowhere. I want my one-hour-old baby girl to stay with me. I want her to be whole. I want her to go home with me from THIS hospital. 

Dr. Bowman recommended Lubbock, and so I placed my daughter’s life in the hands of a man I had met an hour earlier. I prayed silently. I prayed for wisdom, healing, and for my baby to live. And then I prayed specifically that Zack and his mother would hop in his truck and drive to Lubbock right then. I would be fine. The nurses were eager to fill me with pain meds and Xanax anyways. 

A minute later Zack looked at me and said, “Is it okay with you if I go to Lubbock tonight? And my mom can go with me, too.” I nodded quickly and knew a miracle happened right then and there. Some of you know that Zack and I struggled greatly in our marriage with our first-born. We didn’t agree on much. God healed us so much over the years leading up to the moment in the hospital room with Layla, and it was as if God audibly spoke saying, “I’ve got this.”

Layla underwent major surgery at 36 HOURS old. In a hospital that has only seen a handful of these patients, with a doctor who is a pediatric general surgeon, in Lubbock, Texas, my angel baby girl’s esophagus and trachea were miraculously repaired. It’s easy to medically explain it all away. But God used science to perform a miracle. Here are some more of the miracles we witnessed while in the NICU and over the past 8 months…

Several NICU nurses were Christians, and I was able to talk openly about my faith (which I’ve always struggled with because I don’t want to offend people). Layla’s gap between her esophagus and stomach connection was short, which is not always the case. Layla never needed oxygen other than coming off her major surgery. Layla never got an infection in the NICU. We met people who were nurses at Covenant, had family who worked there, or had children who had been in the NICU when we were out to dinner, lunch, on Facebook, in grocery stores, and at urgent care clinics. Layla has no major genetic problems (50% of all kids born with esophageal atresia do). Although Layla had a feeding tube, she was never 100% tube fed, which is an anomaly. God kept away PPD, which was a big problem for me with my firstborn. I could go on. 

To some those might not seem like miracles. I want to challenge you with this: don’t explain away God’s power just because it is delivered in a package that might seem trite and trivial. God works in big ways. But He also performs daily miracles that we too easily miss because they don’t seem big enough. I had the privilege of living in a miracle all year. It has been the hardest year of my life, and I’ve never seen God move as much as I have this year. 

As you read Matthew 9, be awed by the miracles of Jesus. As you walk through your days, be aware that God is working and moving. And if you ever doubt it, come meet my girl Layla because she is much like the girl who was dead (because 100 years ago she would have died) and God made alive again. He just used a little doctor to do it.

Anesthesia and Antisepsis

By Kalyn Stralow

Matthew 8 NASB

The most magnetic part of Jesus’s ministry, drawing crowds of thousands from all over, was the miraculous healings that He performed. As we know from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus was a radical and authoritative teacher, but it was the hope of relief from suffering that would initially draw people in.

One of my all-time favorite podcasts is Freakonomics Radio. I’ve been listening for years, and it continues to feel like a treat each time a fresh episode drops in my app. A favorite episode, called “The Most Ambitious Thing Humans Have Ever Done,” explores two of biggest innovations in the 19th century that changed surgery forever: anesthesia and antisepsis. They were introduced within months of one another, but were adopted into standard surgical practice and vastly different speeds.

“Within two months of publishing the result that a gas could render people insensible to pain, it was being used in every capital in Europe. There’s no internet. You had to send news by boat and horse. And within two months people were using it in the capitals of Europe, and by six years later there wasn’t a hospital in the country that was not delivering anesthesia care. By contrast, antisepsis. Joseph Lister discovered that if you used antiseptic solution, clean the instruments, your hands, did all that stuff, you could cut infections by 80 percent. And a generation later, you still haven’t gotten to half of the profession doing it.”

Anesthesia provides immediate results and relief from pain, and its use spread almost instantaneously. Antisepsis, which easily prevents infection but has delayed and less obvious direct results, is STILL not perfectly implemented today.

And THAT is such a good picture of our natural human motivations. If the results are immediate and relieves our pain, we are quick to adopt it. If it’s preventative, and with long-term effects that you can’t immediately see the benefit of, we’re much less inclined.

It’s not surprising at all that word spread nearly instantaneously that Jesus was healing people of their afflictions. The promise of instant relief was an incredibly powerful draw. And it provided a visceral, tangible reason for people to believe in Jesus, and to then hear what He had to say.

Jesus responded to the radically simple faith of an outcast (leper), an occupying foreigner (centurion) and a woman (Peter’s mother-in-law) in contrast to the “religious faith” in the culture who would have been considered “Most Faithful and Worthy.”

Jesus is amazed – AMAZED – by the faith of the centurion. It had to be a hard juxtaposition for Jesus himself to witness. This deeply abiding faith in the authority of God from the centurion is in stark contrast to what he is seeing among God’s chosen people, including his own disciples.

Jesus’ disciples on a stormy sea cry out for Jesus to save them, and He laments their lack of faith. They prove His observation true when they then express surprise to see the wind and waves obey the same Man who has been performing miracles before their eyes.

It’s easy to criticize them, isn’t it? How could they – and all Israel for their entire history of unbelief in the face of God’s miraculous intervention in their lives – not just BELIEVE? They had all the knowledge and resources available to them! What gives?

But it’s the antisepsis issue all over again. Hand and instrument washing is SO easy. We have the knowledge and tools readily available. It saves lives. But it lacks that sweet feedback loop of instantaneous reward, and so people aren’t as dialed in to just how important it is. Faith for these disciples and teachers of the law offered rewards that were eternal, but seemed distant enough to not be as compelling. Plus it looked an awful like hardship or inconvenience in the moment. Not nearly as effortless as faith might seem to the person anticipating complete healing of the leprosy that made them a social pariah.

Jesus often chose to forgo the use of His full power as God while on earth. He didn’t use it during Satan’s temptations, He didn’t perform signs to prove who He was in court, He didn’t save Himself from the cross. He didn’t do any of the powerful things that could have saved Him or made Him look great. But He DID gift mankind with miracles that changed the lives of people, that drew them to meet Him for the first time. He didn’t have to. We are called in our faith to trust Him even when He isn’t physically among us; rewards are delayed and life now may be full of hardship in our service to Him. So what an incredible, short-term gift these miracles of healing were to bestow on people as they met the One who would impact their eternity.

A Speck, a Log, and Beth Gould

By Shannon Laning

Scripture Reading – Matthew 7 NASB

Many of you don’t know Beth Gould. But if you frequented Midland Bible Church in the late 1990’s/early 2000’s, she is someone that you would never forget. Along with her bubbly and magnetic personality, she bestowed the gift of the butterfly hairclips on many a pre-teen girl, showed us all the art of scrapbooking with her endless supply of colored paper and stickers, and always had the best selection of cereal thanks to the now-defunct “Fresh or Free” campaign that Albertson’s ran for years. When she and her husband moved to Oklahoma we all felt the sting of the loss to our community. She is a woman of many great qualities and she may not even know this, but I attribute who I am today to her.

Let me give you a little Shannon McLane Laning history lesson. I was born tall and remained as such, finally peaking at 5’10” in 8th grade, which is a super fun time to be really tall because all the boys’ voices haven’t even started changing. I was friends with many but never seemed to break into that “in” crowd that we as adolescents (and sometimes adults) clamor to be in. I wanted more than anything to be cool, but with glasses and braces being my puberty gift from my parents (thanks guys), I just didn’t seem to have what it took. In 7th grade I moved from the school that I had gone to for 8 years. Not one of my friends went to my new school, and I saw this as an opportunity to reinvent myself.

I was a fairly shy kid and didn’t feel the need to talk up much… oh how things have changed… but I did notice that the girls who were popular, who had all the boys like them, who others wanted to emulate, were loud, boisterous and super talkative. So that is whom I decided to become. I made a point to always talk loudly, laugh loudly, interject my opinion at all times, and act as extraverted as I possibly could. I must apologize to anyone who knew me at this time because I am sure that I annoyed the crap out of most people. I carried on this manner for most of my 7th grade year. I remember coming home from a non-school sponsored school dance and was completely exhausted. I had made it a point to be loud, outgoing, talk constantly and it drained me. But this was how the popular kids acted, and I desperately wanted to be one.

My mom pulled me aside one day and told me that Beth had approached her a few days earlier with something she really wanted to talk to me about, but Beth felt that she should confide in my mom, and my mom could decide if I needed to hear it. My mom said, “Mrs. Gould loves you so much and loves being with you but she feels like you aren’t being yourself. She feels like you are acting like someone else and not who God has made you to be.”

Those words might not seem impactful to most, but to me they were life changing. I had thought that I was hiding behind this façade of boisterous and extraverted. And I thought that I was doing a really good acting job. When I discovered that someone could see through me, it was embarrassing and immediately made me want to revert back to my borderline introvert/extravert ways and crawl into a hole. If she could see this, could everyone? Why was I okay with being a fake as long as people didn’t notice?

God used that moment in many ways to shape me into the woman I am today. But I want to point out that Beth did just what Matthew 7 illustrates. We might all be familiar with the speck and log passage. It is to demonstrate the importance and significance of gracious judgment against another. But what it is NOT saying is that we are to refrain from ever pointing out an area of life someone’s life that needs change. Beth did just what this passage urges. To humbly come before someone in judgment takes thought, prayer, self-evaluation and the absence of self-righteousness.

Beth didn’t come to my mom with an attitude that she HAD to be the one to change what I was doing. She came humbly, not wanting to hurt me. But she saw something that others may or may not have seen and was bold enough to mention it. She even went to my mom first because my mom knew me best. And afterwards, Beth treated me no different than she had before.

Matthew 7:1-6 is simply titled, “Do Not Judge.” But I think that title is lacking. Matthew states that if you don’t judge another, you won’t be judged. But since humanity is literally incapable of such a feat, Matthew makes sure to emphasize that approaching someone with humility is key. I often plunge headlong into judgment because it’s just so easy to see fault in others. It’s super hard to see it in my own life. But when I, when you, take the time to see where we are wrong, where our heart needs to change, it affects our thoughts toward others and breaks down our self-righteousness. I want to choose to be more like Beth Gould, who saw something in me that wasn’t Godly, and had the courage and conviction to gently let me know.

I’m Here for the Applause

by Kalyn Stralow

Scripture Reading – Matthew 6

I remember with crystal clarity the first time I raised my hands in the air during worship. I also remember tasting my first blue raspberry Airhead. Two seemingly random memories that are forever intertwined.

I was about 9 years old. My parents were attending this big event featuring a really prominent evangelist of the day. They had a separate program for the kids in another auditorium at the event center. It was a pretty big deal – out late on a Friday night, just me and my church friends with no grownups we knew in sight and our own special speaker whom our parents had assured us would “probably not be boring like the main guy.” Kids are tough critics.

The evening opened with live worship featuring all of our favorite songs – Lord I Lift Your Name on High, Go Light Your World, Amazing Grace (the original… the ubiquitous “our chains are gone” bridge had not yet been added). In the midst of the singing, the leader suddenly began calling out kids who were “really worshipping” and throwing them candy. I was a quick study, and realized that if I scrunched my face and lifted my hands I, too, could be the recipient of both public praise and free candy. Two of my very favorite things! So I assumed the pose and was rewarded two minutes later with that delicious Airhead – and the resulting blue tongue that I was sure made my friends jealous.

Looking back, I cannot believe that anyone thought it was a good idea to compensate kids for the appearance of worship. I was absolutely not motivated by my love of God to close my eyes and raise my hands in praise to Him that night. The worst part is, I was already discovering that place of genuine worship at that age. It had just never resulted in any natural outward expression for me. But, of course, I deduced that no one would ever throw candy to me if I just sang with normal posture, no matter what was going on in my heart.

It’s the first time I clearly remember “practicing [my] righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them” (Matt 6:1). It certainly would not be the last.

Why is it so hard to do good things with pure motives?

Matthew 6 may as well have been written directly to the church – or Kalyn Stralow, specifically – in the year 2018. As a modern reader, I relate easily to this chapter. Sometimes when I’m reading Scripture, I have to really work to put myself in the place of the original audience. But believers today put on an outward show of piety in some of the same specific ways that Jews were doing in their own religious life over 2000 years ago.

When Jesus talks about people contorting their faces so others know they are fasting, I’m not thinking about Hebrew religious leaders, I’m thinking about myself in high school. When He talks about fancy phrases in prayers meant to be impress others, I can easily access examples from my own church experience.

We humans tend to perform good deeds for the approval of other people, if we bother to pursue righteousness at all. That instant gratification is like candy – tasty, but empty of any lasting benefit. Thank God that He can still use our actions, however poorly motivated, for His good (Phil 1:17-18). That desire to perform often creeps in. But our Father also loves us, and desires our hearts to be motivated and sustained by Him alone, with our eyes on eternity, not on the accolades we can rack up today.

And He has much greater things in store for us than impressed strangers, crystal awards on a shelf, or even blue raspberry Airheads.

Q: What’s a favorite book…

 

Ken Beattie

On Leadership  Lincoln on Leadership by Donald T. Phillips; Servant Leadership by David Kuhnert

Of Fiction  The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

On History  Eisenhower:  Soldier, General of the Army, President-Elect by Stephen Ambrose (also good leadership examples)

 

Tim Frosch

On Parenting  Dare to Discipline by James Dobson

Of Fiction  This Present Darkness by Frank Peretti

 

Dean Jarrett

On Parenting  Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson

On Marriage  Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas

On Leadership  The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch

Of Fiction  State of Fear by Michael Crichton; Thief of Time by Terry Pratchett; The Mitford Series by Jan Karon 

Of Non-Fiction  Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell; Freakonomics by Levitt & Dubner; The Sun Kings by Stuart Clark; The Deniers by Lawrence Solomon;Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

On History  Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin; Nothing Like it in the World by Stephen Ambrose; Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose

Motivational  The Bible

 

Randy Sims

On Parenting  The Blessing by Gary Smalley and John Trent

On Leadership  Robert E. Lee on Leadership by H.W. Crocker III

On History  Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, Killing series by Bill O’Reilly

Motivational  Raving Fans by Ken Blanchard, Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

 

Roger Traxel

On Parenting  Dr Dobson Answers Your Questions by James Dobson

On Marriage  Staying in Love for a Lifetime by Ed Wheat, MD

On Leadership  Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell

Of Fiction  War & Peace by Tolstoy

On History  Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer

Motivational  Experiencing God by Blackaby & King

 

Steve Young

Motivational  If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat – John Ortberg

Q: What’s a Bible passage that has blessed your marriage?

 

Curtis Clark

Proverbs 31:10-12

10 Who can find a virtuous wife?
For her worth is far above rubies.
11 The heart of her husband safely trusts her;
So he will have no lack of gain.
12 She does him good and not evil
All the days of her life.

 

Dean Jarrett

Proverbs 19:14

Houses and riches are an inheritance from fathers,
But a prudent wife is from the Lord.

 

Roger Traxel

Ecclesiastes 4:12

Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him.
And a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

 

Randy Sims

Ephesians 4:26

Be angry, and do not sin”: do not let the sun go down on your wrath,

What Jesus Would Do

by Shannon Laning

Scripture Reading – Matthew 5:21-48 NASB

I feel like I am in a safe space here. We really get each other, and this is a judgment-free zone, right? Confession, I collected WWJD bracelets. Yep, the woven colorful bracelets popular in the late 90’s with the ever-pithy WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?) soon became a fashion statement. It was the precursor to modern day LOLs and SMHs. In fact, I remember seeing Jonathon Taylor Thomas (swoon) wearing one on an episode of “Home Improvement,” and I was certain that our future as Christian husband and wife was set. Unfortunately, he stopped growing at 5’6” and just a touch short for my 5’11” frame. That’s a saga for another day.

The bracelet was to remind its wearer to approach life with that question in the forefront of his or her mind. It soon became just what I had turned it into, a fashion statement, and as with all fashion statements it fell out of popularity. But let’s revisit it for the sake of nostalgia and the fact that it is really a great question to ask yourself, even if you have a knee-jerk reaction to the abbreviation because you too are a child of the 90’s.

The message of Matthew 5:21-48 is best described in verse 48 which reads, “Therefore, you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” To be honest, that is daunting and Jesus spends verses 21-48 giving a glimpse of what perfection actually looks like.  He starts off with a bang talking about murder. What atrocity seems greater than taking another person’s life? According to Jesus, hatred without cause is just as damning. And this is just the first in a plethora of examples depicting what the heart of the righteous actually looks like.This passage is loaded. From murder to adultery to divorce to loving the unlovable, Matthew 5:21-48 is convicting to say the least. As I have pondered this passage and combed through commentaries, it hit me that these are all matters of the heart. Every single scenario calls into question your heart’s motive. In a society that buries authenticity in order to display perfection, examining and being honest with your heart’s condition is scary. Because if I am being honest, and I think I should, my heart is wicked.

I feel like Paul who said, “For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do.” (Romans 7:15) How can I change that to align more with Christ? I am sure the disciples were thinking the same thing as they sat at Jesus’ feet. I struggle to even begin to answer that because I know this… without Jesus righteousness it is impossible. He was showing us in Matthew 5 how to be like Him, and that comes from knowing Him. We cannot answer the question, “What Would Jesus Do?” if we don’t know what He did. So buckle up buttercup, it’s about to get even more real as dive further into Matthew. Be asking yourself: Who is Jesus? How can I be like Him? Why should that be important to me? Dear friend, be encouraged by this, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.” (Matthew 5:6)

Lost in Translation

by Kalyn Stralow

Scripture Reading – Matthew 5:1-20

My husband, Josh, and I recently had the opportunity to develop and teach a weekend seminar on personal finance. Now, we’re both huge Dave Ramsey fans (and admittedly nerdy), so financial health – especially within the church – is a passion of ours that we discuss a LOT (#superfunatparties).  At this point, it requires minimal effort for us to be able to give our views, supporting arguments, and overturn most objections on this topic we care about.

A minor detail about this seminar: it was for a multicultural audience from at least half a dozen countries of origin, with a live translator planning to do word-for-word translation on the spot. And that changed everything about how we prepped. Suddenly, we were developing an entire script, deeply considering our audience, analyzing our word choices for idioms and phrases that wouldn’t translate well, simplifying for clarity, and trying to dissect whether our financial recommendations were universally relevant or based on our own underlying cultural values and assumptions. The content was the same, but the “effortless” suddenly felt so much more complex, with a language and cultural element to keep in mind.

Usually, I speak to an audience with a similar frame of reference, and I don’t even think twice about the cultural allusions that roll off my tongue. And neither do most of the people listening.

When Matthew opens his account of the Sermon on the Mount, he’s doing the same thing. He’s a Jewish man, writing for a Jewish audience, and he is recounting the message of Jesus, who was also a Jew, deeply immersed in the culture of His people, speaking to His own Jewish audience. They were all drawing from the same well of shared history, assumptions, sacred texts, and pop culture that allowed both Jesus and Matthew to communicate clearly.  They didn’t have to think about clarifying what was meant by “poor in spirit,” or how salt could possibly lose its saltiness, or why Pharisees and scribes were the standard of righteousness.

These same phrases can trip us up today. They confuse us into wondering what Jesus could possibly have meant.

Is Jesus saying we can lose our salvation?

So, am I more righteous than a Pharisee? They don’t seem super great in the Bible…

And wait…is the “kingdom of heaven” different from, you know, Heaven?

None of these are questions that Matthew’s original audience would have been asking. These confusing-to-us phrases were clarifying to them, bringing Jesus’ message further into focus and leading Matthew’s readers toward a natural conclusion about who Jesus is. But we lose much of that richness in translation, across language and across time. And when that loss has us asking really crucial questions like, “Wait, is Jesus saying that we can lose our salvation here?” it sure seems worth some extra effort to dig a little deeper.

We can apply some of those same cross-cultural communication principles that Josh and I used for our finance course as a starting point. Who is Jesus speaking to in this passage? What phrases or metaphors is He using that I don’t totally understand? At its most simple, what is this passage saying? Which of my own cultural norms am I trying to overlay on my reading of this text?

It’s absolutely worth the effort.

After all of our prep, when Josh and I taught our Personal Finance class, we still discovered things that we had missed. We used expressions that didn’t translate perfectly. Or we forgot to consider cultural differences that meant our audience had a totally different perspective on family dynamics than our other classes had.

And you know what? It was still a meaningful class! They learned, and we learned, and we will have better tools to use as we go forward.

If you feel overwhelmed by all you don’t know when you read Scripture and think you need a seminary degree to understand it, don’t be discouraged. Invite God into your reading of His Word. He can meet you where you are, with the time and energy you have available, and teach you truth. As you continue to grow, and learn, and hunger, and study, He will continue to clarify and teach you in greater detail.

Here’s my challenge for you as you read Matthew 5:1-20. If you read something that seems uncomfortable or confusing, don’t skip past it this time. Pray over it. Ask questions. And don’t be afraid to do a little research. May His Word be “living and active” for you this week.

“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!” Romans 11:33

The Incident

by Shannon Laning

Scripture Reading – Matthew 3-4 NASB

I stepped off the plane with my 10-week-old baby girl into LA’s cool mid-summer weather and immediately began to question why I lived in such a warm climate.  I was glad for a break from Midland’s oppressive 100-degree days. It was my first trip away with my baby and, thankfully, my mom was there to make the trek to visit my sister for the week. We had a fun-filled California vacay planned, complete with celebrity stalking and delicious dining. The weeks leading up to this trip had been stressful to say the least. Baby girl had grown exceedingly more colicky, and her reflux seemed to get worse regardless of the medication she was on. Nursing was a nightmare, but I had hoped and prayed that this trip would be just what we needed to get into a new rhythm.

My mom and sister dropped me off at Meg’s quaint home in Culver City as they ran to grab some food so I could nurse the baby and put her down. Even though the weather was cool, the lack of air conditioning in most LA homes (including Meg’s) could make a room feel stuffy. Baby girl was tired and hungry; I wiggled my way out of the most impractical outfit I could have chosen for the day, a romper, so that I could feed her. There, with my clothes around my ankles, the sweat began to trickle down my back as baby girl started to cry. It was that cry.  The “I’m not going to nurse, give me a dang bottle,” cry. But I had flown all day, I had no milk with me, and her cries began to turn into screams. My blood pressure and anger rose with every passing second.

With my clothes and dignity on the floor and a crying baby in my arms, I let God have it. I’m not proud of the words I used; thankfully my baby was young and the windows were closed.  I blamed Him for the stress. I yelled at Him because the weeks of stress and fits of crying had worn away my resolve. I couldn’t “Baby Wise” my way out of this one. I was a good mom. I loved my baby. I was trying to make breastfeeding work. I had read all the books. I had counseled all my mom friends. Why did my child hate nursing? Why was this the most stressful time in my life instead of the happiest? Why did all other moms seem to just love motherhood more than anything? Why did I feel so alone?

I hurled all the questions, thoughts, and emotions at God in unrelenting fervor. I yelled until I was out of accusations.  After a few moments of my silence, I felt a tiny sting. It was as if the Holy Spirit had been watching and waiting for me to stop before saying, “Are you finished ranting, Shannon?”  Immediately, I felt ashamed. I began to backtrack. Did I really scream at the Creator of the universe, the Savior of my wickedness, the Guardian of my soul?

I thought I was alone; even God didn’t know what this was like.  The shame of my thought washed over me as I thought about God. He is a loving father. We learned through chapters 1 and 2 that God sent Jesus here, to the armpit of the universe, to live with us. He entrusted Jesus to parents who probably lived their whole lives known as “those people” who had a baby before they were married. Jesus’s road to manhood wasn’t easy though much of it isn’t recorded.

Chapter three begins with John the Baptist and the proclamation from God himself that Jesus was His beloved son. Chapter four opens with a story that reminds me so vividly of what will here to for be known as “The Incident.”  The temptations of Jesus are not a new story to me. I’ve read it countless times, each time putting little thought into it. But friends, it is an overwhelming passage. Jesus had just spent 40 days fasting… probably mentally preparing for what He knew was ahead. While Jesus is God, we can’t forget that He was 100% man as well. 40 days of fasting was no small feat. He was undoubtedly exhausted, mentally and physically. He was probably beyond hungry and weak, having lost countless pounds during those days. And in this moment, when Jesus was physically and mentally at one of His lowest points, Satan pounces.

Satan, the great deceiver isn’t stupid. And, unfortunately, we humans can be slightly predictable. While I do not believe that Satan can at all control us, he can manipulate and try with all his might to trip us up. He probably thought that he had Jesus. At His lowest, yet with the full power of the Godhead, Jesus calmly and powerfully turned from each and every temptation thrown His way. He combatted Satan’s lies with God’s truth. He didn’t let the twisted nature of Satan’s deception entice Him. I am sure that since He was fully human the thought of brutally defeating Satan right then and there crossed His mind. But He chose a different path. When the Bible says in Hebrews 4:15 “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin,” it is completely and 100% true.

I knew in my anger, I had let Satan get to me. He knew where I was weak and exploited me, and I fell for it. I knew that my wrath was really just disappointment over the failure of motherhood to live up to my expectations. God began to soften me in that moment, and while I cannot say with confidence that I never or will never get mad at God again, that trip to California is my personal Ebenezer, my mental memorial of a great work that God began in my life.

Be humbled by the fact that Jesus didn’t succumb to temptation, and be comforted that Jesus knows what it’s like to be human.  All I wanted was to feel like I wasn’t alone. And I wasn’t. We never are.

The Montage Years

by Kalyn Stralow

 

Scripture Reading – Matthew 1-2 NASB

The first two chapters of Matthew begin with the highlights of Jesus’ early life, laying out the significant, prophecy-fulfilling events that marked His birth and childhood. It’s also the story of a young mother called away by God to live in the desert, whose day-to-day life during those years of obedience was otherwise unnoteworthy in the course of history.

Guess which part of the story I relate to?

Given my current life stage – mother of young children, transplant, and even living in the “desert” – maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised that in my recent study of Matthew I kept being drawn back to thoughts of Mary’s life during those early “montage” years.

When I think of a montage, my mind immediately goes to every movie I saw in middle school. Giggling friends trying on crazy outfits in a dressing room. The uncoordinated protagonist training for the big fight/game/dance/battle under the guidance of a tough-love trainer. The superhero growing from origin story to caped crusader. All overlaid with a peppy song to sell the soundtrack.

I’ve been thinking about those scenes a lot recently. How can all that time and effort – sometimes years of growth, discipline and experience – be reduced to a few curated highlights? (This does not apply to the ridiculous dressing room montages, of course. I can only assume there is a contractual obligation for those in all romantic comedies).

Rationally, I get why. The writer has to focus on the major plot points of the story. But that doesn’t stop me from thinking about all that is being skipped over. It doesn’t stop me from feeling like, if my life was a story, most of the activities that I dedicate my time to every day would be skipped through.

It’s uncomfortable to feel like my day-to-day activities are insignificant. I want my time on earth to be well-spent. Which sometimes seems like it should include a lot more IMPORTANT KINGDOM WORK and a lot fewer grocery runs, miles jogged and diapers changed. Am I still abiding in the Lord’s will for my life when some days it can feel so … uneventful?

Matthew uses his first two chapters to begin setting up his case for who Jesus is. Major details – Jesus’ lineage, miraculous conception and birth, Magi bearing gifts, fleeing and returning because of a threatened and dangerous King – are recounted, with only silence about the years in between. We know that an angel of the Lord told Joseph to take his family to Egypt to save Jesus from Herod. And then Matthew 2:14-15 says “And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod.” And that’s all we know about their time in Egypt.

Mary and Joseph, tasked with raising Jesus Christ in obedience to the Lord’s direct call, still had to live out their day-to-day existence in those years between major events. Presumably they found community in a new culture, provided food for their family, and maybe started a carpentry business. They navigated parenting choices and friendships and frustrations. Literally the same types of decisions my family is making today.

Did Mary ever lose sight of her greater purpose in the midst of creating a new life in Egypt? Or feel like all she did was take care of kids sometimes? And how could she possibly prepare her son adequately for his life of “saving people from their sins”?

They were chosen to do this extraordinary thing. And all I usually think about is the highlight reel of Mary and Joseph’s life. I easily forget that even in this greatest story ever told, there are years of real human life that never made it onto the page.

Matthew includes their flight to Egypt and back to Nazareth in his narrative BECAUSE their obedience in those choices resulted in fulfillment of prophecy. He didn’t need to include every detail of what they did there, because he focuses on the important part – the outcome. God used their faithfulness to save Jesus from Herod and ultimately alter the course of history. Every moment was not exciting. But their choice to be obedient still mattered.

From this new-to-me perspective on Matthew 1-2, God gave me unexpected peace. Affirmation to abide within the Lord’s calling when my day-to-day feels more like the montage years than the epic climax. This season of life is still a formative part of my story. And it’s part of yours, too.