A Note from Jessie – Covenant Newsletter, August 2020


At the very beginning of my junior year of high school, I caught the most stubborn, demoralizing case of mononucleosis. I had just completed an arduous preseason of field hockey with my tight-knit varsity team, and I was excitedly looking forward to the regular season ahead. I was initially unconcerned when I could barely raise my head off the pillow one morning, chalking it up to overexertion under the hot Virginia sun. But after my mom dragged me to the doctor days later, I was teenage-girl-level-devastated to learn that I had mono. 

My first thoughts: no friends, no homecoming dance, no hockey, no fun. Noooooo!

It is almost comical to recall the petty thrill that momentarily lifted my spirits when I discovered that several of my hockey teammates were also diagnosed with mono later that week. As they say, misery loves company. Apparently the water bottles we had been passing around in the middle of sprints allowed us to share more than hydration. But much to my immature dismay, each of my teammates bounced back almost immediately. I, on the other hand, watched from the sidelines, behind windows, and through heavy eyelids as the world seemed to pass me by that year. My parents were concerned and likely more than a little exasperated as my case worsened over the following six months (which also included two private tutors, one strength trainer, countless tears) before finally subsiding in the springtime. It is mystifying to imagine how the course of that critical, penultimate year of my high school career could have been wholly different if perhaps I had only brought my own water bottle to practice… 

Germs and contagion seem to be on everyone’s mind these days. How long do germs live on surfaces? And once airborne, how far do they travel? The novel coronavirus almost seems to have taken on the status, unpredictability, and omnipresence of a supervillain from a graphic novel. And a snapshot of our current cultural norm appears similarly futuristic and science-fictional. I mean, if you had told any of us last year that we would spend the greater part of 2020 wearing face masks, we certainly would not, could not have believed it! Yet, here we are.

Now back to the simpler days of the late 90s: 

The summer after that fateful junior year (which we refer to as the “mono blur”), I worked in the mailroom of my father’s law firm, sifting letters and delivering bank statements. It was a rather mind-numbing task that I both appreciated for the extra pocket change and loathed for the dress code that required me to purchase my first dreaded pair of pantyhose. But I quickly learned an important lesson about another form of contagion, a work-place phenomenon that exists regardless of the setting. We had two rotating supervisors in the mailroom that summer, one gentleman who was like sunshine incarnate and the other fellow… who was markedly less so. When the “Sunshine” supervisor walked into that cramped office space, he would warm up those overly air-conditioned walls and light up the blinking fluorescent bulbs with his greetings and smiles and songs. In fact, I could not help but smile myself each time I heard his joyful old whistle coming down the hall. In stark juxtaposition, it was quite evident that the complaints and general discontent festered on the days when the “Gray Cloud” supervisor was in charge as he coldly ordered us around, rarely greeting us with more than a derisive nod. Eye rolls, quiet gripes, and passively rude comments ruled the space on those days. 

These twin memories from over two decades ago keep popping up in my mind recently. Both were lessons in contagion. 

How quickly we unintentionally pass on invisible entities to another.

How catching and contagious human interaction can be.

We have all been there when the atmosphere of a room perceptibly alters— for better or for worse— the moment someone enters. We all know what it feels like to “catch” someone else’s mood, and how it affects not only our outlook in that moment but also our inner thoughts and outer actions for many moments afterward.

Perhaps we would do well in this bizarre time of pandemic to focus on what else we are spreading to our children, our spouses, our communities. Are we buoying each other up in life-giving encouragement? Or are we misery seeking company, pulling each other down into our spirals of anxiety like an undertow? Perhaps it is just as socially righteous at this very moment to keep not only our germs tucked harmlessly away behind our masks, but to put our potentially toxic negativity on lockdown, too. 

Time and again, God asks us, His children, to send up our anxieties in prayer to Him and to unshoulder our knapsacks of disappointment at His feet. He can handle it. He is infinitely strong, and He loves us with all His might. May His words of comfort nestle deeply into our souls in the most stubborn, reassuring ways. And may His light shine through each of us like sunshine incarnate, so that we may spread His goodness and be agents of His contagious joy.  


A Note from Jessie – Covenant Newsletter, July 2020

It is a peculiar thing to watch my son fish. His focus, patience, and singular determination create an invisible forcefield around his bony frame that seemingly nothing can penetrate or disturb. As soon as his first whirring cast breaks the water’s smooth surface, he is blissfully alone in his hopeful endeavor. Hours pass, the sun beats down, unanswered invitations for meals float by, yet his eyes are set with his heart ablaze. I do not recognize it. These are not traits he inherited from me. Thus, I find them all the more fascinating. And what is perhaps most confounding of all to me is the fact that he is eternally optimistic about fishing, even after long stretches without a single bite. “That’s why they call it ‘fishing’ and not ‘catching,’” he has learned to shrug and say from his wise fisherman of a father. Then he’ll brush the sweat from his brow and train his sight back out on the water’s horizon, on what will surely be his next big catch if only he keeps trying and waits it out.

This image of my son fishing has become my new favorite image of endurance. I am someone who is constantly compiling visual metaphors to help my searching mind sink deeper into understanding concepts that are hard for me to grasp.

And I’ve been thinking a lot about the word endurance lately, ever since I caught up with a dear friend on the phone several weeks ago. She shared that her heart’s greatest prayer—after months of juggling career/children/cheer/anxiety/gratitude/frustration in the world’s new landscape— is for endurance. Now that it is abundantly clear we are in this unpredictable phase of life for the foreseeable future, she is asking God for the grit and strength to stick it out. To withstand. To dig deeply and find hidden deposits of durability as she sifts through the fatigue.

I thought. Same here. 

Endurance. This is another trait I do not recognize as my own. I have always preferred a sprint to marathon, a jaunt to a journey, a foray to an encampment. But here we are, thickly in the middle of unknown territory with no shortcut home in sight.

we may ask, can we keep this up? 

God, what lessons in endurance are you teaching us?

In the middle of the afternoon last week, I gratefully stepped inside the cool, air-conditioned walls of my relatives’ century-old fishing lodge to make a late lunch for my family, relieved to have a momentary reprieve from watching my husband and son tend to their catches under the hot summer’ sun. I passed by my daughter and niece who were hours-deep in imaginary play with their dolls on the creaky floors of a sleeping porch. And I was flooded with a wave of grateful disbelief over God’s abundant blessings. It was one of those gifted moments when life suddenly feels so achingly beautiful and pure and good. Since everyone seemed content in their current pursuits, I stole an extended moment to eat a sandwich of my own at the slanted old kitchen counter while reading an essay by one of my favorite contemporary poets, Allison Seay. And in a serendipitous extension of my inner thoughts, I read these words of hers:

“As nature continually instructs… survival in this world requires toughness—a species-particular fortitude, endurance, hardness, grit. Also true: survival sometimes requires brutality. 

But I am grateful, especially, for nature’s other instruction—its long patience, its dormancy begetting transformation, its beauty in decay, its resurrection, its generosity.”

Yes, I thought. Yes.

Fortitude in the face of fear, fatigue, uncertainty, even brutality begets transformation. There is indeed beauty and unexpected resurrection borne out of decay; but first, we must endure. 

In that moment, I felt ignited by God’s generous reminder that He created us to thrive, not only during times of feast but perhaps more importantly during times of famine. We are called to love each other, not only when it is simple but most especially when it is complicated. And we are not rewarded with sustaining joy when we send one carefree cast into wide open waters and easily snag our goal, but when we sweat it out hour after hour, day after day, determinedly trying our best, creatively shifting our techniques when we fail, until finally we connect with moments of hope fulfilled.

Dear Lord, 

Please meet us in the middle of the “trying” times. Fortify us in the depths of our discouragement. Lift us up with generous reminders that You made us of stronger, grittier stuff than we may have previously imagined. Thank you for moments of grace. Thank you for the transformations you are working in our weary hearts, forged by fire and trial. Thank you for encouraging us while we learn to endure. Please help us keep our eyes set on You, hearts ablaze, full of hope, wrapped in forcefields of Your goodness, so that we may continue to learn, grow, and love each other well. 


A Note from Jessie – Covenant Newsletter, June 2020

How are you feeling, friends? How are your souls today? Your hearts and weary minds— I wonder how they are faring in this moment. I wonder how each of us is really doing if we stop, breathe, and consider.

Certainly in the past when someone has asked me how I am doing, my most natural response has been a quick and positive affirmation: Fine! Nothing to see here! All is well! But even beyond that common, oftentimes distancing nicety, I have realized that my knee-jerk reaction to hardships of any kind has typically been of that same vein: It’s okay. I’m okay. It’s all going to be fine!

And I have to be honest with myself here about what’s at the root of my response. Is my insistence that all is well based on my deep faith that God is ultimately at work for good and thus all will indeed be well in the end? Yes, I sincerely hope so. But if I dig a little bit deeper on either side of that root, does my perspective also grow out of fortunate past experiences, having always existed in a place of unfathomable privilege where things truly have turned out fine in most cases? Undeniably, that answer is also yes. I have been uncomfortably sitting with that realization for quite a while now.

During this time of quarantine, I have felt an intermingling of many different emotions, but perhaps none more so than gratitude and guilt. I feel rushes of gratitude every day that I am healthy, that my people are safe, that we have a roof over our heads, that the world is so staggeringly beautiful despite the sickness spreading its way through the masses… Yet right on the heels of that gratitude comes the guilt. I think of all my friends and neighbors, as well as people I have never even met, who are suffering. Why should my family and I be “fine” and relatively unscathed when so many are in the desperate trenches of life?

Even more glaring, during this time of deep civil unrest, tragic racial tension, and widespread injustice, my heart feels further shattered in two.

As I trip humbly through these important, difficult conversations with my children, I am holding up heaps of heavy, prayerful questions to the Lord that have bubbled up from my heart as well as from theirs. And in our attempts to transform those questions into actions by giving and by helping, those efforts— though well-intentioned— can feel like mere drops in the pan.

And yet, we know that God does not call us to despair, even in the bleakest of times. He seeks to encourage each of us, not to discourage. And it is courage indeed that we need to proceed. No, things are not fine right now, and yes, we must be honest about that.

Perhaps God has quieted us all down for a reason over these past several months so that we would be best positioned to listen, to reflect, to accept hard truths, and to learn in order for real growth and real change. Perhaps 2020, the year of unsettling hardships, is also the year that we are all given an opportunity for the clearer vision that this year’s name suggests.

God is up to something, and I am praying for the courage and strength to rise to His call, to move past complacency, and to be part of His mighty force of empathic love in this world.

There is no way to cleanly wrap up these untethered ramblings on such a messy, crucial, ongoing topic, so I’ll leave you with a prayer sonnet I wrote during a recent sleepless night. My most fervent prayer has been for the Lord to help all of us, as brothers and sisters in Christ, to mend the heart-breaking injustices, to rise above divisive mistrusts, and even to move beyond the distancing niceties that hold each of us captive on self-secluding islands. I pray for honesty, for compassion, for reconciliation, and for the Lord’s peace that passes all understanding…

Our Father shared, who calls us each his child,
Breathe into us this day your peace and calm.
Yes, you, who loves us fully— fierce and wild—
Please offer our wrecked souls your saving balm.

These struggles feel too real and cut too deep.
We grieve for all we know not how to say.
We mourn for those who do not wake from sleep,
And those who pray all night for light of day.

We cry out for your help and for your grace,
We long for union and for understanding,
We crave to see the mercy of your face,
To feel the powerful strength of your commanding. 

Make real your promised rest from toiled labors,
That we may freely, boldly love our neighbors. 


A Note from Jessie – Covenant Newsletter, May 2020

Four people, in four different flavors of the same bad mood, zoom down a Tennessee highway inside a shared white car. There is no destination in mind, but perhaps each is quietly searching for something.

One is anxious, one is frustrated, one is in the depth of the moody blues, and one Cannot. Stop. Whining. Each gray cloud adds fuel to the other within the confines of four closed windows, yet outside, the car passes smoothly underneath a clear, bluebird sky.

“To dos” and “what ifs” buzz silently around the mind of the anxious one.

Dashed expectations hum inside the chest of the frustrated one.

Boredom and loneliness tug at Mr. Moody Blues’ tender heart in the back seat.

And poor Little Miss Whiny feels powerless and terribly misunderstood as she gazes out her smudged rear window.

And yet, from the perspective of the red-tailed hawk who swoops and floats overhead, there is only the white flash of a fast-moving car, passing more swiftly than the spring breeze, momentarily muting the songbirds’ calls before it rises over a slanting curve then dips out of sight. Peace returns to the roadside fields. Only the slow sway of a low hanging branch holds the fading proof that visitors ever slid beneath its glossy green leaves.

Some invisible urge nudges the anxious driver to roll down his window. To breathe in the cool air wafting up from someone’s freshly mowed farmland. He notices the careful maintenance of an old barn, surely centuries-old but lovingly repainted and dutifully kept over the generations. An unnameable appreciation for a hard-working farmer he will never know settles over him warmly, something close to nostalgia.

Through the now open windows, silos and hay bales and rolling hills slowly lull the frustration from the previously discontented passenger, too, as her eyes land on the flowing manes and swishing tails of horses in the near distance. One old horse is close enough to the field’s split rail fence that the passenger can observe the chestnut colored sheen of its coat and almost detect the knowing gleam of its dark eye. The horse knows nothing of petty disappointments, expects so little beyond its basic needs. A grounded steadiness returns to the passenger’s perspective as she watches the horses diminish from her rear view mirror.

Suddenly, the formerly moody boy with the big blue-green eyes spots an upended tree, toppled over by the powerful gusts the night before. He exclaims out loud about the size of its complex roots! The wide reach of its crown! The sheer magnitude that so narrowly missed the tin roof of a small house! The wind whips his hair as he cranes his neck for a better look. He thinks of all the trees and heavy limbs that could have caused so much more damage to his own home, and he is left breathless, awe-struck, and grateful.

Her brother’s words have shaken some of the gloom out of the littlest passenger’s spirits and helped her forget the “whys” of her whines. She spies her own treasure, waiting up ahead outside her open window. It’s a patch of buttercups, she sees them up close enough now to identify them as such, and eureka! She has made a discovery that it is indeed the buttercup flower— one of her very favorites— that has colored the hillsides in that brilliant yellow! Like an offering, here is the answer to a question that stumped her mere minutes before. This solved mystery makes her feel strong and connected, and soon she is dancing through fields of buttercups in her mind’s eye.

Moods shift as quickly as the car itself. Thank the good Lord for the grace in that. New realities, unexpected scenes, novel ideas, staggering beauty, widening perspectives, and deepening understandings present themselves at every turn. And what a beautiful gift from God above that not one thing is permanent outside of his love. He alone is eternal and unchanging. Nothing else lasts. There is wild freedom in that.

And as our broken, flawed, and utterly human foursome heads home, westward into the dazzling setting of the rose colored sun, a new joy rises in the hearts of four people, experiencing four different flavors of the same restorative grace.

A Note from Jessie – Covenant Newsletter, April 2020

I must admit that I did not immediately comply when my young son, bright-eyed from the outdoors, came bursting through the front door with the breathless request, “Mama! Close your eyes and stick out your hand!”

Um, no thanks.

You see, through the weeks upon weeks of this quarantine, there has been a seemingly endless menagerie of creatures that have haplessly found their ways into that little boy’s hands. Garter snakes, salamanders, tadpoles, frogs, fish, unidentifiable insects and eggs and…

No, I politely (and understandably?) declined the request to blindly offer an open hand.

Having spent weeks upon weeks in such close proximity, however, the boy was now intuitively perceptive of my hesitation. In fact, it was soon clear that he had predicted my untrusting lack of cooperation as he seamlessly followed up with an earnest addendum, “I promise this is a surprise that will make your heart so happy!”

Well, what choice did I have after that?

I closed my eyes. I stuck out my hand.

The sensation of something small, light, plant-like (I was praying not insect-like?) passed between his dusty hand and mine.

When I opened my eyes, I discovered not one, but two, perfectly formed—if not a tad withered from the hand-held excitement— four leaf clovers. I stared silently for a beat, mouth ajar, before exclaiming, “what?!”

His excitement now spilled over in one long stream of explanation: “Well, Daddy and I remembered that today is the anniversary of the day when your daddy went to heaven, and we figured you might need something really special to cheer you up if you were feeling a little sad or missing him or anything, so we went on a hunt for something reallyamazing and can you believe that when we spent enough time looking we BOTH found four leaf clovers for the first time EVER?! Now Daddy says we can dry them and press them in a book and frame them and know that there are hidden gifts everywhere if you just look long enough!”

Well, what choice did I have after that?

I hugged that sun-kissed head with all my might then got busy following orders, pulling from the highest shelf two thick books that were suitable for pressing and preserving these most precious of gifts.

You may even stop believing me now when I tell you that my husband and daughter entered the scene soon thereafter with not one (I am not kidding you) but two more four leaf clovers. I quickly learned that my little girl was hard-bent on joining in the festivities, and with the determination that is surely particular only to a younger sister of an adventurous older brother, she stayed the course in that sweeping stretch of green until she found her very own four leaf clover offerings alongside her patient, eagle-eyed daddy.

And thus began the full family pilgrimage, with even the dog in tow, to support me in my dreams of joining the ranks that afternoon of “expert four leaf clover discoverers extraordinaire.” And for the very first time in my 39 years of life, and countless prior attempts, I spotted my own treasure— four perfectly formed heart-shaped leaves attached to a slender green stem. Our fifth and final impossible gift of the day.

I am still gleaning all the goodness out of this already treasured memory, but one thought keeps floating up to the top:

There truly are gifts hidden everywhere, if only we take the time to find them. In the midst of pain, alongside suffering, tucked into uncertainty, and smack dab in the middle of anxiety and disappointment, God offers us treasure upon treasure. He gives us love. He grants us forgiveness and pours grace over our weary heads. He fills up our hearts with hope and peace that passes understanding. He lays out a creation that is infinitely more beautiful than our often-hurried minds can comprehend. Sometimes it just takes a forceable nudge or a world-halting pandemic to see the beauty with ready eyes and open hearts.

On that day, I felt seen, too. My watchful people saw me. And they didn’t look to find goodness or kindness or productivity. They took the time to see me in the sadness and brokenness that I was trying to brush away and hide from view.

What if the one treasure we all take away from these unusual weeks upon weeks of quarantine is the chance to see the world, each other, and even ourselves as precious gifts from a loving Father who so longs for us to pause and open our eyes?


A Note from Jessie – Covenant Newsletter, March 2020

He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along.

(Psalm 40:2)

My husband, Steele, receives a daily Bible verse from his phone to start each day. Perhaps many of you do, as well. Because his early morning work schedule draws him out of bed before the sun (and certainly before the rest of his sleeping family), I like to imagine the quiet moment he takes to read scripture in the predawn darkness. His first words to his *very* slow-to-rise wife each morning are often a recounting of the beautiful and helpful words he reads. The above scripture from the 40th Psalm that greeted him last week felt especially poignant and divinely timed. 

Because what a week it was.

Nothing like a natural disaster and a virus outbreak to remind us quite how needy and out of control we really are. 

He lifted me out of the pit of despair…

How many people in our community are experiencing despair? Those who have lost loved ones, beloved homes, businesses they have built from the ground up— not to mention  priceless pictures and irreplaceable heirlooms— learned all too well last week about pits of despair. Those who cry out for their community, eager to help yet bewildered over where to start, search their dear city and find themselves surrounded instead by rubble and chaos, by the mud and the mire. 

Frightened parents, filled with their natural instincts to protect their families, watch the newscasters’ increasing concerns over a spreading virus and struggle to discern the right course of action, unsure of what is solid ground. 

Lord, lift me out! 

The psalmist’s words echo through time and space. We long for steady ground and sure footing. We pray for safety and reassurance. We need help.

And tucked like a gift into one of my morning routines last week was a reassuring reminder about God’s unfailing love and everlasting help for His people. I was listening to Ian Cron, author, counselor, priest, and host of the podcast Typology, when he relayed an anecdote of pure hope that cut through my anxiety-riddled morning like a radiating beam of sunlight. Again, divine timing in the every day. Here is a paraphrase of what I heard Cron share:

There was a renowned scholar named Huston Smith who recently died at the age of 97. He spent 70 years of his life studying faith traditions from all over the world and devoted his life to teaching religious studies. Shortly before he died, Smith was asked if he could sum up all that he had learned. If there was a condensed truth he could share. And the old man paused, smiled, and said five simple words: “We are in good hands.”

We are in good hands, friends. Even when the world outside feels a whole lot like a pit of despair, God will lift us up, out of the mud and mire. He will set our feet on solid ground once again and steady us as we walk along. 

For He is good. 

And He’s got this. 


A Note from Jessie – Covenant Newsletter, February 2020

Here in the dreary doldrums of winter, I love to recall this famous line from the British novelist, William Thackery:

“A good laugh is sunshine in the house.” 

Well, isn’t that the truth? 

There is something powerfully transformative about laughter. It can change the mood of a whole house, bring levity to the air of a room, and perceptively alter the atmospheric quality of any given space. Laughing with another person can heal a heart, rescue an embarrassing moment, bond a new friendship, offer grace to a child, bridge a language gap, and restore hope even in the grimmest of circumstances. And of course we have all heard that on a scientific level, laughing is beneficial for the body by releasing endorphins, decreasing stress hormones, and even boosting the immune system. 

Plain and simple: laughter is a gift.

I think laughter has especially been on my mind recently for two reasons. First of all, when the aforementioned dark, rainy, winter days start seeping into my psyche, threatening my patience and dimming my perspective, I tend to take myself a bit too seriously. Everything seems a little harder, a little heavier, and let’s be honest, that mindset can make us all feel a tad too self-important or self-focused. No thanks. When I feel myself (all too regularly) slipping in that direction, I try to remember the wisdom of that age-old Proverb 17:22: “a joyful heart is good medicine.” And then I stop, and I pray. I have to ask God for help in refocusing, for help in sifting through the thick layers of frustration to discover small glimmers of joy. And if not joy, then at least humor, which can slowly blossom into joy. I pray for that kind of help all the time, but those prayer requests seem to hit a record volume here in February!

Secondly, the ministry of laughter has also been on my mind because I have been over-hearing the most inspiring quotations about laughing all around our church. Here are a few as of late…

“I can always find my wife in a crowd by following the sound of her laughter.” 

Ryan Walker walking into our Family Fellowship class before sitting down next to a giggling Elizabeth.

“Oh, I needed that laugh!” 

– One of the young moms wiping a happy tear away as she chopped vegetables at ME Mornings last week. 

“A big sign as to the health of a church or family is how well they laugh and play together.” 

-Dr. Ryan V. Moore in the most thoughtful note to a young congregant. 

“I am thankful for laughter as well as tears, for without sadness we cannot fully appreciate joy.” 

-Ginny Barber sharing during a gratitude exercise led by Sarah Bird.

How beautiful to be part of a church family who recognizes and cherishes the importance of laughing! Truly, there is something special about God’s gift of laughter in our lives. 

So, with an aim to nurture that gift in your life today, here are some questions that I invite you to pause and consider for a moment, in hopes that doing so will bring a smile to your face and plant at least a small seed of joy in your heart:

What makes you laugh out loud?

Who makes you laugh the hardest? 

Whose laughter is a contagious sound, and whose peals of laughter warm your heart? 

When is the last time you good-naturedly laughed at yourself?

Can you recall the details of a time when you belly-laughed so hard you could barely breathe?

Are you smiling right now thinking about laughter like I am? Even if smiling on the inside?

So now the question is, how do we spread, inspire, and participate in this ministry of laughter? 

Perhaps it begins with leaning into our faith a little more by surrendering our misguided self-importance at God’s holy feet. Humility grants us that liberty to unburden ourselves of our own weighty agendas so that we might feel light enough to laugh readily at our own human foibles. Stronger dependence on God’s will— and not on our own— frees up space in our hearts for delight to rush in, enabling us to discover hidden treasures of humor in the people and situations all around us.

May this week bring you moments of unexpected laughter, may God’s grace shine down upon your head and out into the world through your smile, and may we all remember that our Heavenly Father rejoices in the loving laughter we share with one another. 

Finally, through literal and figurative seasons of darkness, and in the depths of true hardship, may we remember that each tear that cleanses our cheeks now will create even greater capacities for grateful laughter in the future, for Christ promises, “your grief will be turned into joy” (John 16:20).

A heart-felt thanks to all who share life-affirming joy throughout our church and to all who leave a wide wake of good humor in this and every space. Your laughter is like sunshine in my life indeed.

A Note from Jessie – Covenant Newsletter, January 2020

Romans 7:18-

For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 

Same here, Paul. Same. Here.

Somehow it is comforting to know that Paul the Apostle, even after his conversion, struggled to make good choices. In the midst of his prolific and profound letters that seem to contain as much encouragement as admonishment, it always surprises me to find this humble concession.

For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.

Paul goes on to write, 

For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. (Romans 7:19)

Such an honest, confessional sentiment resonates with so many of us this time of year as we attempt to wrap our minds around lofty resolutions for 2020. We have wonderful— maybe even righteous— intentions for the new decade, but often in the very moment of hopefully creating goals for ourselves, we hear that internally doubting whisper that we will most likely not succeed. Sound familiar?

Why then do we even go through the pantomime and pony show of making a list of New Year’s Resolutions if we know how likely we are to fail? Is it all for naught? Some years, I will admit, I have subscribed to this jaded view and shunned resolutions altogether, accepting defeat and admitting that no, I will most likely NOT be able to maintain a healthy schedule of consistent exercising and daily Bible-reading and thoughtful note-writing and positive attitude-keeping, etc etc. Ugh.

Yet, I just as often return to this thought: the very fact that the desire to do better determinedly bubbles up out of the muck and mire of doubt suggests to me that there is indeed a God-given capacity, as well as a God-issued invitation, for growth. The creeping hope that maybe this will be the year I grow into a better version of myself somehow reveals that there is indeed more to life than that which I can perceive with my limited sight and meager understanding. The buoyant prayer that consistently swims back up to the surface of my mind and asks God for help in forging onward in this lifelong work of self-improvement tells me that He has not given up on me. He cannot be jaded, will never be defeated, and loves us not because we are good but because He is so good. And that, my friends, is as encouraging a notion as I can conceive.

May you also be comforted by Paul’s utterly human admissions, as well as emboldened by God’s undeterred tugging at your heart during this season of renewal. We may be painfully aware of our faults, shortcomings, and lack of follow through, but in gratitude for all He has given us… we keep trying. 

Hope springs eternally out of God’s everlasting love for us, his flawed, beloved children. And as we realize that we are surrounded by the grace of that love, we don’t give up. We set our intentions and walk humbly ahead into the new year, our hearts full of thanks, courage, and wonder. Amen.

A Note from Jessie-Covenant Newsletter, December 2019

His voice was kind, earnest, and brimming with emotion. “I do,” Steele said.

Her voice was bold and joyous. “Congratulations, you are hired!” the Head of School boomed.

His voice was joking and tender and full of love. “YOU are going to be a mama?!” my dad laughed.

Her voice was quiet, clear, and desperately sad. “Your dad died,” my mom whispered into the phone.

His voice was soft and round as his small, rosy cheek. “Ma Ma,” Vaughan cooed for the first time.

Her voice was clinical and distant. “It’s a girl,” the nurse stated. And I burst into grateful tears.

There are certain voices from my past that still float through my mind, as fresh and close as if my ears just received their messages a moment before. If I close my eyes and concentrate, I can hear the intonation, the vocal quality, the volume of each word. I open my eyes and am surprised to find the slight wetness of new tears.

So many world-altering words spoken and heard over a person’s lifetime. They seem to take on an additional dimension beyond time and space, don’t they?

As we enter this time of Advent, remembering the angel’s surprising appearances and revelations, I cannot help but wonder about Mary… How many times did she replay Gabriel’s voice in her mind throughout her precious life? How often did she return to the angel’s words and ponder the vast difference between the before and the after of that moment’s message? And I also cannot help but wonder, more literally, what did Gabriel’s voice sound like when he announced that world-altering, life-changing, earth-shattering news? How did those words meet Mary’s ears and nestle into her heart?

When you stop to think about words that have changed your life, what comes to mind? I’d be willing to bet there are at least a few that still pack an emotional punch when you pause to recall them in specific detail. And perhaps there are other words from your past, not necessarily connected to a major life milestone, that are evocative all the same… Unexpected praise? Crushing critique? Inspiring encouragement? A witty remark that someone spoke decades ago that still brings a smile to your face?

And have you ever stopped to consider whether or not any of your words have made a lasting impact on others? If others perhaps replay your voice in their minds throughout their precious lives?

As the only category of God’s creation with the gift of speech, how do we use our language to help or to hinder? To praise God or to promote ourselves? To raise up or tear down? To communicate love or give voice to condemnation? Words are so very, very powerful.

God, please help me use my words in a way that pleases you. Moreover, please help me keep my ears keenly tuned in to your voice above all the other noise I encounter each day. Help prepare my heart to receive your messages of peace, love, and hope throughout this season of Advent so that I may in turn share them with others.

After all, who knows what life-altering words await each of us, but if we hold fast to Gabriel’s message, we indeed have nothing to fear:

“With God, you see, nothing is impossible.”

Luke 1:37

A Note from Jessie – Covenant Newsletter, November 2019

What do you have committed to memory? 

Have you considered this lately? It’s a rather mind-blowing exercise if you stop to catalogue what is stored away in your hippocampus and why… What is there on purpose, what is there by chance, what is there due to long, arduous hours of practicing rote memorization? Hmmm.

Phone numbers from childhood? Yep, I can still rattle off my earliest phone number, as well as my closest friends’ home numbers. (Note: In a moment of temporary insanity, I just began typing out those various numbers before deciding to spare you and deleting. What could be more useless information than someone else’s old phone numbers?!)

And how many commercial jingles can you recite? Song lyrics from the past several decades? Favorite lines from movies? Detailed information about hilariously tangled conflicts from Friends? Yes to all. Thinking of all that information we have logged soundly away in our brains is quite simply astounding!

As an interested student and later impassioned teacher of English literature, there are dozens of poems I still have tucked away inside that I deeply treasure. Shakespearean sonnets (116 is perhaps my favorite), Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales prologue (in middle English, no less), heaps of Robert Frost, dazzling snippets of Mary Oliver, and a wide smattering from Edgar Allen Poe, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Seamus Heaney… Again, I’ll stop and spare you here. But I keep the words from these poets like a curator keeps gems in a museum: cherishing their beauty and thrilled to bring them out for inspection upon the slightest suggestion of interest from others!       

In fact, the other day, I was sitting in on a meeting with the fabulous Special Events Committee, when dear Mary Marraccini spontaneously bubbled over with memorized words from a Robert Louis Stevenson poem. The moment became magical because it felt as if we were witnessing Mary travel back in time to the young girl she was when she and her father memorized the presently relevant musings about Daylight Saving Time: “In winter I get up at night/ And dress by yellow candle-light.” There were stars in her eyes as those words flowed from her temporal lobe to tongue. It was a beautiful moment to behold, indeed.

Truly, consider the special gift that remembered words offer us in creating an invisible portal through time and space in one mere instant.

It seems only seems fitting, then, that the Children’s Ministry Team has devoted this year’s focus to planting scripture in the hearts of our children. Did you know that? Each Sunday school class looks at a particular verse for a month with hopes that the words will sink into the fertile soil of our young ones’ memories. What a treasure trove I imagine this will create inside the minds of our smallest church members, so that wherever they go or whatever they do, God’s words will inwardly whisper to them throughout time and space.

This also begs a question for me personally: what more could I be doing as a parent to help nurture my children’s focus and memory of God’s truth? Goodness knows I made my students memorize enough poetic lines to sink a ship! But growing up as an Episcopalian, memorizing verses was simply not part of my Sunday School or family experiences. The first verse I memorized was from Psalm 19 at my beloved childhood camp, Camp Lachlan, in the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains: “Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be always acceptable in thy sight, oh Lord my strength and my Redeemer.” I cannot tell you how many times I have returned to that verse as a plea and as a prayer.

So I share this bold goal with you now to hold myself accountable: I intend to model memorization of chosen scripture and invite my family to do the same. In this month of gratitude and Thanksgiving, I believe I will begin with one of my favorites, Colossians 3:15:

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.

I would love to hear from you what practices your family adopts when it comes to memorizing verses, and of course I would always love to hear of any random tidbits you have memorized, as well! Just do not engage me in recitation unless you want to see me nerd out and take a deep dive into a plethora of favored poems. Consider yourself warned! 🙂

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