We Would Not Trade It

2020 was a tough year. Almost every conversation seemed to include some joke or comment about how much we could not wait for it to be over. As the months passed though, we started noticing that there were good things throughout the year. We began to see how God had been working, and it made us realize that, despite the hardships, we would not trade 2020 for anything. 

There are two big things we learned in 2020 that we want to highlight today. We hope you find them encouraging.

  1. God Still Does Miracles
  2. God Uses the “Bad” for Good

Disclaimer: For those who do not know us, we are twins. So yes, this blog post is supposed to be in the plural, and yes, it is longer than some others. There are two people’s worth of words we have to communicate 😂.

Reagan and Delaney Snead

God Still Does Miracles

Our journey with COVID-19 did not really start until June 2020. Like most Americans, we had worn masks, social distanced, limited social interactions, canceled summer plans, and adjusted to online work since late March, but COVID-19 was not truly real to us in a physical sense. We knew it was a genuine threat, but by the middle of the summer, we still did not know anyone who had suffered through it. It had not touched the people we loved. On Friday, June 26, that changed. We received a phone call from our grandfather that our grandmother was running a fever and they had both been tested for COVID-19. By Monday, both of their tests had returned positive. Our grandmother was admitted to the hospital a few days later. 

At this time, both of us were working virtually at our apartment in Blacksburg, but we were planning on going home to celebrate the 4th of July. Unfortunately, on July 2, our parents called to tell us not to come home because they were starting to feel bad as well. Within the span of two weeks, our grandparents, parents, and brother all contracted COVID-19. 

While our brother, parents, and grandfather recovered relatively quickly, our grandmother did not. She continued to decline and had to be put on a ventilator on July 7, which she remained on for two months. During this period, she even coded (her heart stopped) and it took almost fifteen minutes for the doctors to resuscitate her. It was a very scary time. By July 10, the doctors predicted that she would not survive, and they said that even if she did, she would never recover close to her previous strength.

Our whole family remained glued to our phones over the weekend, fearing the worst. On July 13, we were told that her body was shutting down and she likely would not survive the next 36 hours. We spent the next two days waiting, but we never received the dreaded phone call. Somehow, she miraculously pulled through. Over the next few days, she started improving. The doctors and nurses told us not to get our hopes up yet because many COVID-19 victims start improving only to decline again. However, our grandmother never did. She had setbacks, but from July 13 forward, she steadily recovered. The nurses in the ICU called her their miracle. 

It has been a long road of healing. Between her time in the hospital and living in rehab, she spent a total of three months away from home. Even now, seven months later, she has not completely recovered. In all likelihood, she will be on oxygen for the rest of her life. However, she has made significant progress. She can stand on her own, climb stairs, and visit family. Most importantly, she is alive. God did the impossible and spared her life. 

Our grandmother soon after coming home.

He did not stop there though. While COVID-19 almost killed our grandmother, God used it to save our uncle. Because of past heart issues, our uncle is very high risk. As a result, when his company started resuming some in-person functions over the summer, he requested to remain online. The company agreed but asked for a “doctor’s note.” When he went to his cardiologist to acquire one, his doctor discovered that his heart was failing. 

He was sent to the ICU and was told that without intervention, he had only a year left to live. His only hope was to get a heart transplant. This occurred while our grandmother was still in the ICU, so he kept it a secret to avoid adding an extra burden to the rest of our family. As soon as she started recovering though, he told everyone. One family crisis shifted to another. In this case though, COVID-19 sped the process because it limited transplant surgeries to those like our uncle whose lives were on the line. He was placed on the transplant list and received a new heart within two months of his initial examination. This is ridiculously fast. There is typically a minimum six month waiting period for a new heart, and numerous people do not survive the wait. Again, God provided. 

If you are like us, you often find it hard to imagine God performing miracles in your life. We know God can perform them, but it seems like something he only did in the past or reserves for others. We knew He could, but why would He? So many others had lost loved ones recently, and God did not intervene. What would make us different? 

The answer: nothing. We did not “earn” the miracle through fervent prayer or godly living. If anything, we should have been disqualified for our failures in both of those areas, but we were not. He gave us two miracles as gifts. Why did we get them when others did not? We will probably never know. We are just choosing to rejoice in His blessing and trust in His plan.

Though painful, these two experiences changed us. In the future, even while we surrender our desires to His plan, we will cling more tightly to the hope that He will perform miracles in our lives. We hope our story encourages you to do the same. God can and DOES still perform miracles, so keep praying expectantly. He may perform the next one for you.

Mom, Grandmother, and Aunt (Left to Right) in November

God Uses the “Bad” for Good

The second truth we realized is that God can use “bad” periods to produce “good.” COVID-19 has been hard. Millions of people have died since the virus emerged a year ago. Thousands of Americans have lost jobs. Students lost valuable time with instructors and missed graduations. Family members have been forced to remain apart to protect each other.

None of it has been easy. We have struggled with confusion and anger just as many of you probably have. We have missed friends and grown frustrated with the inconveniences of social distancing and limiting gatherings. At times, we even turned to God and cried out in anger and confusion: Why did you allow this to happen? Why have you separated us from our friends? Why have you taken away our last year to play music in college? Why do we feel so “limited?”

In those moments though, God was still faithful. He listened to our questions and let us cry and rail. He acknowledged our pain, but when we were spent, He lifted our chins, pointed, and said, “I know this hurts, but look what I have given you.” It was hard to see at first. All we saw were the friends who did not return to Tech and the graduation, worship services, concerts, and BCM socials we were supposed to have this year but will never get to enjoy.

As the months passed, however, we eventually started to see the blessings He was pointing to. He pointed to our roommates and the special moments we have had with them this semester. He gestured to our friend Maddi from high school that we were able to reconnect with. He indicated our Among Us game nights that we have enjoyed with our brother, cousins, and a few friends. He directed our gaze to how intentional our bible studies have been. In short, He showed us His blessings.

In looking back on this year, we can finally see clearly the good God has wrought in the hardship. We would not give up this year, even if it meant we could avoid the pandemic and the pain it has caused us. The blessings God gave us far outweigh the trials. 

2020 Blessings

  1. Roommates 

For those of you who do not know, we live with two other amazing roommates: Kirsten Anderson and Kendall Staunton. They were by far the largest blessing we received from COVID-19. We started living with them in the fall of 2019 and had a great year getting to know them. Since we are all introverts, it took some time for us to grow comfortable with each other, but we cherished each moment. We bonded over the enneagram (if you do not know what that is feel free to ask one of us), shared meals, and late night conversations. We were overjoyed when Kirsten left a short note on each of our desks a few weeks into the fall semester, and we loved the mornings when Kendall decided to bake crepes or pancakes for us to share. Over the course of our first year together, we became friends, and we cannot praise God enough for His goodness.

Little did we know though, He still had more in store. When we all returned for the fall of 2020, we hit the ground running. We watched the first two Harry Potter movies before classes started and then watched the last six within the first eight days of the semester. By the end of the week, we had created a movie list on our whiteboard that included all of the Star Wars movies, the Sound of Music, and Hamilton, among many others. Thus began our tradition of Sunday evening movie nights. Every week after church, we grab dinner and then sit down to watch a movie together. No matter how busy we are or what might have happened that week, we set aside those couple of hours to spend together. 

Because of the pandemic and the resulting online classes, we all spent more time at the apartment too. This resulted in more impromptu conversations as well as more planned time together. Since we would not be eating on campus as much, we created a weekly calendar on our whiteboard so each of us could pick a day to make dinner for the apartment. It started as a way for us all to eat home cooked meals every night without having to cook all the time, but it turned into another time of fellowship that we have come to treasure dearly.

We are not just people who live together anymore. We are not even just lifelong friends. We are family. God is so, so good!

Roommate Winter Picture

2. Revitalizing Old Friendships

God used COVID-19 to draw us closer to others as well. Over spring break last year, we met with Maddi, one of our old high school friends, to catch up and discuss the very vague possibility of COVID-19 moving our classes online. Two days later, Tech sent an email announcing just that. We were shocked and immediately started texting each other to process what that would mean for us and our bible studies. Our friend had been doing a study at her church, but it was canceled for the immediate future until her church could figure out a way to meet safely. As a result, we decided to go through Acts together.

We started meeting a few weeks after spring break, and we met each week over zoom for the rest of the semester to discuss a chapter (or parts of one) at a time. Over the summer and the following fall semester, we had to be more flexible, but we continued to meet every few weeks. We finally finished on January 17, 2021. (Yes, we realize we took over nine months to go through 28 chapters. Do not judge. 😂) Though COVID-19 has separated us from many friends, these meetings helped us restore our old relationship with Maddi and connect on a deeper level than we ever had before. Once again, God brought good out of the darkness.

3. Zoom 

Yes, we just identified zoom as a blessing. Bear with us. We all groan a lot about the excessive screen time and missing face-to-face interaction, but do you realize how amazing it is that we can literally see people who are hundreds of miles away? Our parents could only talk to our grandparents for an hour every week after we were born because of the cost for long-distance phone calls. In elementary school, our parents did not even have cell phones. Now, we have Skype, FaceTime, and Zoom, all of which allow us to see people who are far away. Yes, it is not the same as face to face, but it has given us opportunities we would not have had just fifteen years ago. 

We have the privilege of attending classes online and maintaining long-distance friendships. We had the chance to hold bible studies with people living in different cities, and we had the opportunity to learn new ways of connecting with others. In trying to discover ways to socialize virtually, we also realized we could play games online with our brother and cousins who were still at home. As a result, we started holding Among Us game nights over Zoom (and then Discord) as a way to spend time together. COVID-19 actually helped us discover how to spend more time with our family while away at college.

4. So Many More

These only scratch the surface of the blessings God bestowed upon us during 2020. There are numerous others, including time to rest, new research opportunities, vulnerable bible study discussions, and Maroon Family Hangouts. All of these demonstrate God’s abundant provision, abounding love, and overflowing grace. God is with us and watching over us, and He delights in blessing His children (Matthew 7:9-11).

Family Fun at the Orchard: (From Left to Right) Delaney, our brother Darel, and Reagan

This is not to say that “good” always means happiness or success. Rather “good” can mean spiritual growth, such as learning to trust God when our plans fall apart or recognizing idols in our lives. In reality, God’s ultimate purpose is to conform us to His image (not fulfill all our desires), and that only occurs through our sanctification, which is often hard. Though 2020 was in many ways the most difficult year of our lives, it was “good” to us because God taught us more about Himself.

Conclusion

In Genesis 50:20, Joseph tells his brothers, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to keep many people alive.” In many ways, COVID-19 is like Joseph’s brothers. It has hurt many of us, but it has also brought about much good. God used it to reveal His power as a miracle worker, to remind us to look for His blessings, and to teach us to trust Him. It is our hope that in sharing the good God brought about in our lives that we might help you see the good in yours. We know we have been forever changed for the better by 2020. Have you?

New Year, New You?

These people help me become a new person each day

I was texting worship leader extraordinaire Kasey Socks about top-secret worship leader things the other day, and she asked me a question that no one has asked me yet this year – “Do you have any New Year’s Resolutions?” (She, btw, wants to read 40(!) books) My gut reaction was, “Psh, no. I’m not one of those people who makes resolutions only to give up on them in 2 weeks.”

But as I thought about it more, I realized that I kind of did make some resolutions. Just the other day, I consolidated my reading list into books I want to make sure I read this year. And I consciously decided that I want to run 600 miles this year. So…I did make resolutions and I didn’t even realize it.

Have you ever wondered why New Year’s Eve is such a big deal? There’s nothing magically different about January 1st, at after. Or why we get excited on the first day of summer? Or, if you ask any graduate, why the start of semesters hurts so much when you are sitting in an office and nothing changes for you?

Time Square New Year’s shenanigans. (Credit: balldrop.com)

At the heart of these realities is something I believe to be inherently true about people: we are looking for a fresh start. Being broken by sin, our hearts yearn for a new beginning, some turning point to go in a new direction.

The Bible is full of this kind of language. In the midst of their misery, the prophets yearned for God to do something new. And God told them that he was, and that he would:

See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland. (Isa. 43:19)

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
    “when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
    and with the people of Judah. (Jer. 31:31)

And notice the New Testament tells us that in Christ, we are new and can have a new life:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! (2 Cor. 5:17)

We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. (Romans 6:4)

This is how we kicked off new school years back in the old days.

As the calendar turned, we all hoped 2021 would be different. But then the capitol was stormed and Covid is still raging. And still, as the Bible beckons us to look ahead, we find God promising a day when things will be new:

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (Rev. 21:5)

Why am I throwing these Bible verses at you? Because I want to encourage you to lean into that hope and expectation that you feel when the calendar turns to a new year. I believe that it is the cry of our hearts to not only hope for something new, but to act accordingly. So don’t just think, “Wow, 2021 has got to be better.” If we just hope for the world to improve, we will certainly be disappointed. Instead, decided to join God in doing a new thing in your life this year. Maybe you could…

  • Decide to read the Bible every day
  • Seek help for your mental health
  • Reconcile a friendship gone wrong
  • Be a consistent Bible study/churchgoer
  • Become a praying person
  • Confess sin struggles to someone you trust
  • Exercise 3 times a week
  • Have a more stable/regular sleep schedule
  • Prioritize school less and people more
  • Read some books for your spiritual health (I have ideas!)

Like all things, you can’t do this alone. You can’t simply decide, “Hmm I think I’ll become a praying person,” and then watch it magically happen. You need to (1) have a plan to make this happen and (2) be immersed in Christian community who knows about your goal.

Community = pretty important

A new year could in fact mean a new you, not in a self-helpy, things have got to get better kind of way. The newness we can hope for is the kind that God tells us is possible. He promises us wholeness and freedom. He tells us that we can be new people if we walk with the Spirit in community. Take some steps to walk in the newness of life that God is offering you!

Advent – Peace

Peaceful is probably the last word that I would use to describe the past year. In fact, many nights this year I’ve lost sleep wondering how to interact with a world that feels so hostile, so angry, so upset and in no way shape or form, peaceful. From politics, to public health, to racial injustice, to ideological battles and social media skirmishes, nowhere that I run to is safe for connection and security… maybe aside from our weekly routine of watching the Mandalorian with my significant other. I’ve battled my own inner demons that want to tell me that I’m wrong or bad, should be worried or scared about one thing or another on and off since March. My world, both internally and externally, no longer feels safe.

Yet, an oracle in Isaiah 4:6 says this about the expected messiah: For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Prince of Peace.  Our Messiah, the savior of the world, our Jesus, the one who became like us in the form of bodily flesh is the prince of Peace. Yet, there is no peace. What could this mean?

At the time of Jesus’ arrival, there also was no peace for the Israelites. There was heavy oppression by the Roman government. Based on the oracle in Isaiah and plenty other references in Old Testament scripture, the Jewish people were anticipating a ruler, a King, a governmental authority to restore peace again to the world. He would be a wonderful counselor, mighty God and everlasting Father, similar to but greater than the famous King David. Perhaps, that’s why in confusion, John the Baptist sends his disciples to ask Jesus, “is it you? Or should we be expecting someone else?”

Politics and governmental oversight aren’t all bad, but I’ve found myself many times looking to them this year to solve the unrest that I see in the world… putting my hope in them to make sense of the chaos that surrounds me. If this guy were only president we wouldn’t be where we are today… if this man weren’t president, maybe we wouldn’t be where we are today, if we had only done this, maybe we would have peace… the list goes on, constantly searching for what our hearts truly long for: a trusted savior that will bring peace. 

The Jewish people had in their minds very similar thoughts as Jesus arrived. If our messiah would only do x, y or z for us, we would be saved, triumph over Rome and we would have peace. However, he brought peace in the most unusual of ways… not through the power of an army, sword, conquering kingdoms or government power, but through meekness, humility and vulnerability. He took the form of a traveling carpenter who taught ways of a new Kingdom that “is not from this world” (John 18:36). He brought peace through transformative individual acts of restoring creation to its original healthy order through healing those who were sick, caring for the poor and the needy, declaring freedom for the captives and forgiving sins, all without formal government or structural power. 

Our Prince of Peace enacted and lived out life in the Kingdom that DOES bring peace, something he even verbalized as he healed the sick (Luke 7:50, 8:48). He embodied it, lived it, transformed creation around Him and touched the lives of the human beings which he so dearly loved. 

Therefore, in my own time of unrest, I remember that I too, belong to a Kingdom that is not from this world. Though I am thankful for aspects of the government that I live under, I am more thankful for the Kingdom principles that I live under that are perfect and bring life and peace in every situation… principles I have the power to fill my mind with and embody as a continued disciple of Jesus. As I finish out this advent season, I am challenging myself to fill my mind with the Kingdom of God, the one ushered in by the perfect Prince of Peace whose birth and arrival we are celebrating in this season. 

Join me this week by following along on instagram (@bcmvt) for ways to meditate on how to be a peacemaker with the principles of the Kingdom of God in the same way that Jesus was.

John 20:19-21: 

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”

Advent – Joy

In my praise band leading days, Joy to the World was one of my go-to songs when Christmas season rolled around. I wish I could say that my choice was based on the song’s deep theology, but sadly, I chose it for its musical accessibility. Christmas songs can be crazy difficult to play, and thanks to Chris Tomlin’s rendition, Joy to the World was the rare exception. 

Now, when Christmas season rolls around, this is still the song that often comes to my head. Christmas is a season of joy. We can feel it in the air as lights and trees go up and we see the first flurry of snow. Christmas is a season of joy. The Lord has come, sin is defeated, and we repeat the sounding joy!

And yet, while Christmas comes with the feeling of awe and wonder, it is almost always accompanied by an acute sadness. Sometimes it’s because of growing older and feeling the loss of innocence. Sometimes we have to spend our first Christmas without someone beloved. Sometimes things are just not going well. We might look back to last Christmas and feel a sense of defeat or loss. Sometimes we’re still stuck in that pit, even a year later.

There are places in the Bible that speak of pure joy in the sense that we typically understand it. This is uninhibited joy; all seems right with the world. But often, Biblical joy is placed side by side with hardship. Consider two examples. 

First, look at Hebrews 10:34. Reminding believers of their attitude when they were first believers, the author says: “You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.”

And then of course there’s James: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

Joy in the face of suffering? When my property is being plundered? Not exactly what comes to mind when I think of joy. But the Hebrews passage makes it clear that what makes this joy explicitly Christian is that it isn’t founded on something like houses or cars or anything that can be taken away. 

So what does this mean about our faith? I think usually we hear things like this and think that good Christian faith means that we don’t care about the things around us. Being a good Christian means caring less about your family and caring more about Jesus. Then we will be joyful because we will only care about Jesus because he is secure…right?

This leads us right to the birth of Christ. He became like us, identifying himself with us. And living the life of a human, he died and rose again – in a physical, perfected human body. The point is this: joy is not found in slowly deciding that our families and physical lives mean nothing to us. No, joy is found in slowly realizing that Christ is going to redeem all things.

He’s not going to abandon his creation. He’s going to renew and restore it. Many people live their lives thinking that our hope is in some cloudy angelic place that has no resemblance to earth. And if we’re honest with ourselves, this doesn’t bring us a lot of hope of joy. 

But when Jesus took on flesh, he was saying “Your destiny is now wrapped up with mine.” This is why the angel came with news that would be joy to all the people. Christ has come, but as some spiritual being, but as a man. And I’m doing so, he has made a way for this earth and everything in it to be resurrected and redeemed.

So this Christmas as we remember the people we’ve lost or the things that could have been, we can have joy. This is not because we’re turning a blind eye to pain and pretending it’s not that bad. No, we can have joy because we know that we have a Savior who actually cares about the things we care about enough to put aside his glory to be made like us.

“No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found.”

Advent: Faith

I don’t think this is a particularly hot take, but I love Dr. Seuss. Our house is full of all kinds of children’s books and I’ve logged five years of reading them for about 30 minutes each day, and Seuss is easily in the top three. My favorite is a tie between The Lorax and Fox in Socks, but high on the list, mainly for its rhythm, is Oh the Places You’ll Go.

The story of Oh the Places You’ll Go is that of a young boy who has brains in his head and feet in his shoes who can steer himself any direction that he choose. His life has ups and downs – he gets stuck in a lurch and a slump (and unslumping oneself is not easily done) and at one point he gets famous because of the things he can do with a ball. But at one point after the unslumping, the boy heads towards a place which Seuss dubs “the most useless” place: The Waiting Place.

This, of course, is for people just waiting. “Waiting for the fish to bite, or waiting for wind to fly a kite, or waiting around for Friday night, or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake, or a pot to boil or a better break. Everyone is just waiting!” And Seuss promptly offers his commentary on this waiting place: “NO! That’s not for you! Somehow you’ll escape all that waiting and staying.” And of course, the boy faces up to his problems and paddles up many a frightening creek where enemies prowl and Hakken-Kraks howl. But these things can’t stop the boy because he has mountains to move. And will the boy succeed? Yes! He will indeed! (98 and ¾ percent guaranteed)

The second week of Advent beckons us to consider the idea of faith. Faith is the means of our salvation – it is by grace we are saved through faith. In fact “without faith it is impossible to please God.” (Heb. 11:6) This is what he wants from us – faith that he has died and will come again to save and redeem us.

Now, many of us understand faith as a mental assent to a doctrine. In other words, we have faith that Jesus rose from the dead. We believe in our minds and hearts, with a dash of doubt now and then, that this happened. During the Advent season, as we look back to the first coming of Christ, we look ahead in faith to his return. We haven’t seen this happen yet, but we believe that it will.

But I would like to suggest that faith is not simply mental assent; no, faith involves the way that we live. In fact, if you go to the most famous faith-focused chapter in the Bible you will see that faith is demonstrated by action. Noah’s faith is seen in building the ark. Abraham obeyed and went. Moses left Egypt. Many martyrs faced horrible death and suffering. These things, the Scripture says, were done by faith

Now, I don’t know much about Seussian theology (One Fish, Two Fish doesn’t give much away), but for as much as I enjoy Oh the Places, I believe that his idea about waiting missed the mark. Consider this psalm: “Wait for the LORD; be strong and courageous. Wait for the LORD”. (Psalm 27:14) 

Waiting, contrary to Seuss, is an action of faith. It takes a lot of faith to wait. The Israelites were people who wanted to carve out their own future and ensure their own protection against enemies. Time and time again, the kings of Israel are rebuked for putting their trust in human alliances. David is rebuked for taking a census, probably because he was trying to ensure his might against his enemies. People did not wait, they strived to ensure the outcome they wanted. This angered the Lord, because he alone was their strength and might. He alone would rescue, save and protect.

So the stubborn people of God are sent into exile where they are forced to do one thing – wait. And in exile, the waiting place, the prophets would say lots of things like this: “O LORD, be gracious to us; we wait for you. Be our arm every morning, our salvation in the time of trouble.” (Is. 33:2) Or this: “but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” (Is. 40:31)

Many will enter this Christmas season in a harder place than usual, perhaps even a waiting place. And in response, hoping for life to progress in the direction we want, will make a New Year’s resolution to be better in some way. “Covid can’t hold me down!” you may say. 

“Wait,” says God. He calls us to wait on him. This doesn’t mean “do nothing,” but waiting requires faith because waiting involves not putting your faith in human solutions to problems. Faithful waiting means letting God work on God’s time. Faithful waiting means looking at an unsure future and remembering that God is your provider. Faithful waiting sometimes means staying in the muck for a while. Faithful waiting means living as if he alone is your rescuer, savior, and redeemer.

Faithful waiting sometimes means staying in the muck for a while. Faithful waiting means living as if he alone is your rescuer, savior, and redeemer.

How are you taking matters into your own hands this Christmas? How are you turning your back on that waiting place because it’s “not for you, all that waiting and staying”? Could it be that God wants to use this waiting place to teach you that man does not live by bread alone? Let us not miss this moment to learn to live by faith. 

This Christmas, we look back to Mary, faithfully waiting on Jesus to be born. And we look to the heavens, faithfully waiting for him to return. Will your time in the interim be faithful? Will you lean on him? Or will you take matters into your hands to move your mountains? Let us wait on the Lord, for our hope is in him coming to make things new. And will He succeed? Yes! He will indeed. (100 percent guaranteed)

Advent: Hope

The whole world groans this year in pain, difficulty and struggle. An invisible force has arrested governments and individuals, taken lives, incapacitated many and it’s exit seems to be far off. Time has more or less stopped as we wait to resume the joy of daily living in community and connection while we are in battle with this invisible enemy.

I find myself caught between a strange mix of a dreamer and a realist about the pandemic. The dreamer in me finds it easy to hope that this will all be over soon, but the realist quickly takes over, extinguishing any of those hopes and dreams. Instead, I force myself to find the silver lining in the pandemic because perhaps if the longing that I have won’t come true, it would be a devastating experience for both parts of me. Hoping against hope takes so much energy and potential sadness. 

Sarai was about 75 years old when God told her she would have a child. It is clear that she and Abram both struggled to believe that God would bring such a gift out of her barrenness. Ishmael was a living reminder of their doubt. But when 25 years pass and Sarai is told once again that she will bear a child, she does what we might do – she laughs. God promises to bring life out of barrenness and the proposition is so unbelievable, so out-of-touch with reality, and maybe even so frustrating that all Sarai can do is laugh. She says, probably with a voice of exasperation, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?”

This year often feels barren and full of disappointment. We hoped for graduation parties and weddings or even to be able to attend the funerals of the ones we love. We hoped for an Easter or Thanksgiving full of friends and family from far away places. We hoped for internships in a different country and landing an easy job after college. We dreamed of our first year of college full of new friends and big gatherings or our baby coming home from the hospital to a big family welcoming him or her with open arms. We dreamed of prom, ring dance or walking across a stage after years of hard work only to be met with an excess of screens and rules and half-faces.

This Christmas season, we all find ourselves in a unique situation that is unfavorable and awakens us to dissatisfaction with this life in a way that we haven’t encountered in many years. We join Sarai in her exasperation. But at the same time, as Chrsitians, we also know that disappointment can lead us to real, lasting hope. It is in Sarai’s barrenness that God shows us that He is hope. It is in your hurts, frustrations, and deep disappointments that God will meet you. Christ came to earth, not just to put on a great display, but so that he can empathize and walk with us. (Heb. 4:15) 

It is in your hurts, frustrations, and deep disappointments that God will meet you.

We often run away from our negative feelings, not allowing ourselves to the pain of the world around us. Instead, we continue full force ahead with blind optimism, forcing ourselves to be happy with the current circumstances or finding a glimmer of hope in the latest movement toward stability or normal. Instead, what if we collectively lean into our lament about the current state of affairs in order that we might find a transcendent blessing this Christmas season in relationship with God. Though Jesus has not promised to bring back our normal, (in fact, he says we will have trouble). He does promise a deeply satisfying relationship with the Father and citizenship to the Kingdom of God that serves as a foundation to our lives and provides peace beyond understanding. He promises to be with us, especially in the dark places. Paradoxically, it is our lament that leads us to the one thing, the one Person, in this life that does bring satisfaction. This Christmas season, let our lament lead us into an interactive relationship with the Creator of all things who has overcome the world.

Racial Unity

Last night at 6:33, we talked about race and the church. How are we, as a body of believers, to understand racism and our role in the effort for justice and unity. If you missed that message, check out our Youtube channel.

Below is a follow up from last night in the form of a letter from Jenna Moss. I hope you will take time to read and reflect on her words.

Representatives from the racial unity group share their perspective at 633.

To my brothers and sisters in Christ,

Thank you for being here. Thank you for choosing to spend your time reading what the Lord has laid on my heart. As you already know, this post is a guide to breaking down last night’s message. I can say with full confidence that last night the Holy Spirit was doing some work in our hearts as we digested and processed through our call to racial reconciliation as a body of Christ. Honestly, as a white female navigating through this conversation and my role in it I still find myself challenged and somedays overwhelmed. I just want to affirm whatever you are feeling right now. Whether you feel confused, overwhelmed, encouraged, upset, curious, or passive, all of these things are acceptable to feel when confronting this heavy topic. Take a deep breath (or two) here. I encourage you to just sit in whatever you are feeling and surrender it at the feet of the cross. The good news? Our hope lies in our perfect, sovereign King Jesus in whom we can find guidance, rest, and experience a deep heavenly peace on this earth.

 I hope and pray that as you continue reading through these key takeaways from last night’s message that you allow Jesus to challenge, pursue, and encounter your heart.

  1. Racial Reconciliation is a critical component of the gospel.
  2. John 3:16 – “For God so loved the WORLD in this way: He gave his one and only Son so that EVERYONE who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” The words WORLD and EVERYONE points to the love that God has for a diverse people group and that his salvation covers a diverse people group.
  3. 2 Corinthians 5:16-20 – “From now on, then, we do not know anyone from a worldly perspective. Even if we have known Christ from a worldly perspective, yet now we no longer know him in this way. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, and see, the new has come! Everything is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and has given us the MINISTRY OF RECONCILIATION. That is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and he has committed the message of reconciliation to us. Therefore, we are AMBASSADORS FOR CHRIST, since God is making his appeal through us. We plead on Christ’s behalf, ‘Be reconciled to God.’” Christ calls us to be ambassadors of reconciliation and He must be at the center of all reconciliation.
  4. Revelation 7:9-10 – “After this I looked, and there was a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language, which no one could number, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes with palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: Salvation belongs to our God, who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” The gospel is for all nations, tribes, peoples, and languages and they are all a part of God’s vision for His Kingdom.
  • Racism should not be politicized, nor should we look to our political parties to solve this issue.
  • John 17:20-23 – “I pray not only for these, but also for those who believe in me through their word. May they all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us, so that the world may believe you sent me. I have given them the glory you have given me, so that they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me, so that they may be made completely one, that the world may know you have sent me and have loved them as you have loved me.” Racism is a sin and we are called to reconcile all sin through Jesus. We cannot defeat sin without Jesus. Our world and the media is loud and speaks their own “truth” into this topic, which often times leads to further division and disunity amongst people groups. Jesus calls us to unity as a body of Christ. Our salvation, loyalty, and hope lies in the Kingdom of God. Racial reconciliation is the work of the father, not the Republicans or Democrats.
  • You are called to action by Jesus and have an important role in defeating the sin of racism.
  • Micah 6:8 – “Do justly, love mercy, walk humbly with your God.”
  • Isaiah 1:17 – “Learn to do good; Seek justice, rebuke the oppressor; Defend the fatherless, plead for the widow.”
  • Matthew 6:10 – “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Our joy as Christians is the opportunity to bring tastes and visions of heaven to this earth. Part of God’s vision of heaven includes all nations, tribes, languages, and peoples. We are called to bring this vision of heaven to earth through participating in multiethnic church congregations and creating spaces for these congregations to flourish.

Remember earlier how I encouraged you to surrender all the challenging things that the topic of racial reconciliation was stirring up inside of you? I ask you to surrender them again. And again. And again. These feelings will come up over and over again throughout your lifetime. As believers we have to consistently look to Jesus to know His heart for this issue and our role in it. Jesus has called each of us to action. I encourage you to do something outside of your comfort zone to challenge yourself, your beliefs, and what you have learned growing up about race. Below are three easy ways to challenge yourself:

  • Come to Racial Unity Group Tuesdays at 12:30pm
  • Read a book about Racial Reconciliation and the Church’s Role in it. The Color of Compromise by Jemar Tisby, Woke Church by Eric Mason, and White Awake by Daniel Hill are all great places to start.
  • Listen to podcasts that address systemic racism, talk about the Church’s role in racial reconciliation, or allow you to gain more insight into another culture. Be the Bridge Podcast with Latasha Morrison, Racial Heresy | Making Racial Reconciliation a Spiritual Practice, NPR’s Code Switch, The New York Times’ 1619, and Centering: The Asian American Christian Podcast are some podcast that I recommend or have read good reviews about!   
Your author, Jenna. Image unashamedly stolen from Facebook.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, I genuinely hope that you feel encouraged and curious about how you can learn more about this topic. Remember that this is a marathon, not a sprint, and you have to keep on praying and taking deep breaths along this journey.

With so much love and gratitude,

Jenna Moss

So Will I

In today’s blog, we see a beautiful tribute to God’s creation. Will Booth has traveled the country this summer and written about how he encounters God as he leaves society and goes outdoors.

Will Booth in action

This year I have chased the setting sun across the horizon and watched it set at the lowest point in North America. I have raced to meet it rising again on different coasts and meet it in some of the most photographed spots in the world. Chances are if you know me you know how much I love the outdoors. From hunting and fishing to hiking, and just visiting, the outdoors has been a part of me as long as I’ve known life. I have been to more national parks this year alone than most people visit in 10 years. Within the outdoors I encounter scenery that many people may never see. You see, for me, nature is not a separation from God, it’s an invitation from God. Nature is his creation, in a sense undisturbed by man. There are no skyscrapers built to reach the heavens, only mountains that have risen to meet them. My favorite National Parks documentary refers to this as “The Scripture of Nature”. The idea of lands where folks travel to replenish the spirit. For me, this idea extends past National Parks, National Forests, and National Lands, all the way to the lands my family owns in little ole Franklin County.

Romans 1:20 says, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” Nature is the Lords handiwork displayed for us to play in and pray in. Sleeping beneath the stars in a tent allows me to have a more direct line of communication with God. A different peace washes over me while in nature. These are not man-made sites I’m taking in. I’ve never found time amongst cities to be as replenishing as time spent amongst the trees. The air is cleaner, crisper, you hear the birds, in my case often bald eagles. With nature so clearly Godly made and in front of us who are we to reject him?

Romans 1:21 goes on to say,” For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.” Involving myself so heavily in nature is an easy way to give praise to his creation. As it’s made for us why not enjoy it. One of the most notorious park entrances Roosevelt Arch on the Northern Yellowstone entrance is inscribed with “For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People”. Early visitors to the National Parks were aroused with this sentiment that going into the park was enjoying God’s creation.  

Nature has always been the place I am nearest to the Lord. I think something about being one of very few people to experience certain aspects of that life gives a different meaning to being there. Not that I feel like Adam in the Garden of Eden, taking in a wild place God created for the first time, but its breathtaking some of the places I’ve been because I love fly fishing or love the outdoors.

These places I’ve been this past year, the Grand Canyon, Zion National Park, Horseshoe Bend, Bryce Canyon National Park, Death Valley, The Valley of Fire, Rocky Mountain National Park, The Badlands, The Grand Tetons, and countless National Forests and BLM lands are all natural wonders of testament to the Lords immensity. In the darkest of places I’ve been at night, when all the light has faded beyond the horizon and the only light left is either your campfire or your headlights as you move down the road, you can look up. When you look up, you see the stars, and the immensity that is the heavens as something you haven’t seen unpolluted before. As “So Will I” declares: “Every painted sky, a canvas of your grace, If creation still obeys you so will I.” It is that simple for me. “If creation sings your praises so will I.”

I feel more connected with God inside his creation than I do within a large subdivision of manmade structures. John Muir said, “I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out until sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.” This is how I feel. Going into a forest or a river resonates with me spiritual feelings that I don’t get inside a packed church. Sure, the spiritual vibes may be higher there, but my relationship is just that, it’s my relationship. I don’t need a building to meet the Lord. I’d rather go out and meet him somewhere he’s already been and will always be. Tall trees form the cathedrals and through the sounds of nature the gospel of Christ echoes to life.

I think it’s easy to look for God in areas and look for what he is currently doing, not what he’s done. You often here God is moving here today, but a lot of times you don’t see people say I felt God here. It is the expectation that we want to see God at work, never that we have seen God at work. Nature is like that for me. National Parks and places that don’t occur frequently geographically are those Edens of modern earth, and these are testaments to what God has done, just the same as the rising sun every day is a testament to what God is doing.

Man was placed in nature as he was created, to me this displays God’s desire for us to be within his creation. Who am I to deny him appreciation of his creation? All great artists like having their art appreciated. To appreciate God’s work is to go into nature and be among it. When I can go into nature and not have another person within 10+ miles of me. That is leaving only the Lord and I together. I can be physically alone, but the immensity of my environment makes me never feel alone. “If everything exists to lift you high so will I.”

The natural world is forever an Eden to me, because you can sit outside in the quiet and just hearing wind blow through the trees or the utter silence brings a peace that doesn’t come from everyday life. The outdoors is a testament, to me, to what man cannot do. He cannot rise mountains out of plains, and he cannot carve canyons into the earth. These are only things the Lord can do. In the same vein as nature, splendid as it may be in its individuality, to him I am the same masterpiece.  Each person is as unique to him, as the geysers of Yellowstone, the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon, the Going to the Sun Road in Glacier, or the Court of the Patriarchs in Zion are unique to us, his children. It doesn’t matter whether if I look at myself and see a Grand Canyon (pit) of despair or a Grand Teton (mountain) of sin, God looks at me and sees the same craftsmanship as he does those same landscapes. And as long as nature exists for him, so will I.

  “He who forms the mountains, who creates the wind, and who reveals his thoughts to mankind, who turns dawn to darkness, and treads on the heights of the earth – The Lord God Almighty is his name.” – Amos 4:13

VT Eats and Treats: An Adventure into VT Dining

After a blog hiatus we are back with a pun-filled blog ranking the Tech dining halls. You may not agree with sophomore Matt List and you may groan at the puns, but you have to admire his passion. Let the debate begin!

Matt on a mission trip to Nickelsville, Va.

Another day, and one more blog about food! This time we’re moving ON campus and I’ll be talking about my personal rankings for the dining halls on campus. You may be saying, “hold on a sec, who exactly are you?” Well I’m glad you asked! 

My name is Matt List, and I am a rising sophomore majoring in Computational Modeling and Data Analytics – it’s a mouthful but it’s a bunch of fun. I love food – specifically doing my own  things with it – like cooking shredded chicken in A1 steak sauce, seasoning it with Montreal Steak Seasoning, putting it in a quesadilla, then making that quesadilla into a burrito. But I’m not here to talk about my own forays into cooking – I’m here to talk about VT’s fantastic dining halls, specifically West End, D2, Owens, Hokie Grill, Burger 37, and Turner ranking which ones are more fantastic than the others – at least in my opinion. 

I’m going to take a hot second to explain my ranking system before we get going. I’m only judging off of two categories – the food itself and the mood of the building. I will also be mentioning the variety of food offered, but it’s not a part of my ranking because I’m one of those weird people that can eat the exact same thing every day and be completely happy. Lastly, EVERY dining hall at VT is amazing, and I would recommend trying each of them to make your own decisions – this is simply how I stack them up. We’re going to start with the bottom and work our way up, so without further ado – let’s get started! 

Enjoy this football picture before the inevitable debate.

6. West End – This one is probably the hottest take in this list – or maybe the second hottest. For the food, I have simply not had a good meal at West End. Granted, I have only been there twice, but I haven’t liked either of the meals I have had there. On top of this, the feel of the place doesn’t make me want to stay. I can’t put my finger on it, but I just don’t like being in West End. Because of this, I cannot attest to the variety of food choices as I have not experienced all they have to offer.  I recognize that this is some Hokies’ favorite dining hall, but it just doesn’t make Ends meet for me. 

5. Turner – First off, the food here is great. There is a wide variety of options and they are all great choices. I personally go to Qudoba every time I go there (you can get a brisket and queso burrito – that’s all I have to say). The only thing that holds it back is that it is often crowded when I go there. This makes sense, as it is the only dining hall on the academic side of campus, but I still don’t like it. While I have had some great meals here, I’ll Turner-round for some of these other options 9 times out of 10. 

4. Burger 37 – If you like the best burgers and the most satisfying shakes, then Burger 37 will be your top choice. If you’re looking for a variety of choices, then maybe this won’t be your swing. Burger 37 does a couple of things, and it does them very well. Their burgers are fantastic, and their shakes are the perfect compliment for them. The mood of the building is also great, and I am always happier walking out of ‘37 than I was when I walked in. What does a cold Hokie bear say? Burrr-grrr. (If you can make a better pun with just the words ‘Burger’ and ‘37’ please let me know – I tried for about an hour and only came up with this). I also know that this Hokie bear would love to go to our next stop on the list.

Source: https://twitter.com/hokiedining

3. Hokie Grill – What’s not to like about this place? With your choice between Pizza Hut, Chick-Fil-A, and BBQ, there’s something for everyone here. I don’t think I have to go into why having a Pizza Hut and a Chick-Fil-A on campus is a good thing, but it’s even better than you think it is! Hokie Grill also has a great mood about the place. It may just be the vast amount of Hokies in the building, but it just feels so friendly! Now let’s move on to the runner-up, and trust me – I’ve been Grilled about this before. 

2. D2 – If my bottom ranking wasn’t a hot take, then this certainly is. The all-you-care-to-eat style combined with the joyful mood in the building makes this a no-brainer for me. I will admit, the quality of the food may leave something to be desired, but it makes it up to me in the quantity of both choices and the food you get. While it may not be the best place to study during peak hours, I have had some of the best times with friends in D2. If my parents wanted to know where my dining money went, all they’d have to do is hire a D2-ctive, but the rest of it went to our final spot on this list. 

  1. Owens – I absolutely adore Owens. They’ve got smoothies, bowls, quesadillas, two different kinds of chicken (trust me, it’s a lot more important than it sounds), and a glorious display of sweets – there’s really no competition for me. My go-to is always a Quesadilla and a strawberry banana smoothie, with the occasional chocolate chip cookie. And the cherry on top of this Hokie-themed sundae is the immaculate vibe of the place. I have spent so much of my time in Owens, I may as well be considered a permanent resident. Whenever I’m in Owens, I simply don’t want to leave, as the mood of the place always helps me recharge my batteries for the rest of the day. With how much time I’ve spent there, I may start Owens-some rent before too long.
Speaking of puns…the winner! Soure: https://twitter.com/hokiedining

I hope that y’all have enjoyed reading about my take on dining at VT, and while you’re enjoying all the wonderful dining options that VT has, keep in mind this passage from Deuteronomy: “When you have eaten and are satisfied, you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land which he has given you.” Deuteronomy 8:10. 

While you may not be working the land to enjoy your meal, you can always take the time to thank God for the food he grants you! 

Alumni Spotlight: Fibroadenomas and Faithfulness

I often say that the post-college transition is the hardest one. It’s not often talked about, but post-graduates often struggle to find community, adjust to working life, and find direction. 2019 graduate Morgan Smith has has a particularly tough journey, so I asked him to share about his journey over the past year. I hope you are encouraged by God’s faithfulness in his story.

Morgan and Maryanna Smith

I was alone, and with tears rolling down my face as I merged onto I-65 South headed toward the Elizabethtown Hospital, I found myself screaming and crying out to God. It wasn’t supposed to be like this, and if it was going to happen, it was supposed to happen years and years down the road. But there we were just mere weeks after saying our vows waiting on a biopsy report from the hospital. A lot of thoughts flooded my mind on that drive. Why us? Why now?  I know you’re with me. I know you’re in control. What am I supposed to do? How am I supposed to handle this? Just, why?

I was graduated from Virginia Tech in May of 2019. What I didn’t know was how my life of leisure as a second semester senior taking 12 credit hours (just to stay full-time as a student) would rapidly change over the next 15 months. My life since the day I flipped my tassel has hardly been, well, any word I would even equate to meaning stable. For example, over the last year I have had 4 jobs, lived in 4 different houses, been a member of 3 different churches, started graduate studies at Southern Seminary, and, oh yeah, I got married. The last on that list has been by far the greatest but has also been the biggest adjustment.

Morgan reppin the Hokies. Maryanna reppin UK,.

What you may not know is that just a few weeks into our marriage, my wife found a lump in her breast. Now, this would be a shock for anyone and a downright terror for some. Let’s just say you can count me in for the latter of those two emotions. As a young man, fresh out of college with only a part time job while studying full-time at the graduate level, I felt like I was walking in my own worst nightmares. You see, it wasn’t supposed to happen like this. The first year of our marriage we were supposed to be free of all worries from the outside world. Just two kids in their twenties trying to learn how to love each other more deeply while learning to live in the same house. As you can see, our honeymoon phase was abruptly ended just weeks into our newly sealed marriage. The weeks we spent going to different doctors, waiting to find out if my new bride had cancer were without a doubt the most horrifying and stressful weeks of my life. I spent countless hours praying and crying out to God wondering why he had allowed this to happen. While I still can’t completely answer that question, there’s some good news. The positive side is that my wife does not have cancer, for which I still praise the Lord! What she found were multiple lumps of varying sizes, medically named fibroadenomas. These lumps can vary in size and while they can cause pain and discomfort, they are never cancerous. She had the larger of these lumps removed around thanksgiving and after the healing process was complete, we haven’t had any major problems with them since. While this was hands down the biggest thing that faced us over the past year, it was hardly the only one.

Maryanna in a hospital bed awaiting testing.

When Mary and I moved to the Louisville area we struggled for a long time to find a church home. We visited more churches than I can count on one hand but for one reason or another we never felt like they were to be our church home. The hardest part about church searching is that it takes time. It’s not like you can visit a different church service every single day for a week and then pick your favorite. In fact, in a lot of cases (including ours), it can take weeks or months to make this decision. Because of this, we felt very alone during some of the lowest points of our marriage so far. As humans, our souls crave community. We were made to be not only in community with God but with other believers. This community allows us to support one another in every way. We feed each other’s passion for our creator and the love he has commanded to show to one another. We were missing that…and we felt it.

The last few months have been much smoother, so I’ll jump to the question you’re asking internally: What have a I learned from this crazy season of my life? I can’t fully answer that question with just one word or phrase, but I can certainly give you the theme I’ve noticed through it all.

We were given more than we as humans could handle so that we would understand the only way we will ultimately be satisfied is in Christ.

Morgan Smith

God is faithful. While it’s been crazy, to say the least, the Lord was always in control. He knew exactly how he was molding us, and he walked alongside us every step of the way. While we can work very hard to be faithful as Christians, we ultimately can’t be. At least, not the way we should. I know this because I’ve tried. Since Adam and Eve, we have struggled to be faithful to our Lord and the commands he gives us. Now, don’t misunderstand me, we should certainly try! In fact, we are commanded to. God expects believers in Christ to follow his commands and to love him and 1 John 4:19 says “We love because he first loved us.” At the end of many days I found myself frustrated with God and his plans and somedays that frustration looked much more like anger. Looking back, however, this season of my life will serve as nothing less than a way for my wife and I to bring God glory and THAT is the ultimate goal. He was faithful to his plan for our lives. He knew that this would happen, and he knew it would be tough. We were given more than we as humans could handle so that we would understand the only way we will ultimately be satisfied is in Christ. The tears rolling down my face, the screaming and calling out to God weren’t for nothing, and they weren’t punishment. They were my creator being faithful to his plan for my life and his glory. A lot can happen in a short amount of time but I know my creator and my savior, and I know he is faithful.

The lovely couple.