Rachel Johnson

Dec 142015
 

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It’s hard to wait.

This is a truth we know all too well. Waiting for the weekend, waiting for the promotion, waiting for the wedding, waiting for dinner time, waiting for the test results, waiting for the next season, waiting for our kids to grow out of a hard stage, waiting for the baby to come, waiting in the checkout line, waiting in the waiting room, for our computer to power up, for life to slow down, for morning to come.

In all stages in life, it seems we are in a perpetual state of waiting. Whether life is flying by or the days pass slowly, we all know what it feels like to wait. The longing in our waiting hearts can feel exciting or feel more like a dull ache. This is because we live in an “almost, not yet, already” world. We are an in-between people. The waiting in every human heart reminds us we are hard wired to hope, to yearn, and to expect. More than anything, we long to be satisfied…satisfied in a deep, filled-up forever kind of way. We long, we wait, for Jesus.

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Oct 272015
 

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“I love serving in second grade…they’re really good kids.”

“What a good boy to help clean up.”

Good little girls always tell the truth.”

We hear and say things like this all the time when it comes to children. It seems that recognizing good behavior in good kids is the mark and end goal of a child’s achievement. As parents and adults who teach and minister to little people, we want good kids. Good kids are compliant, truthful, helpful, easy to instruct, thankful, and generally easy to work with for these reasons. Who wouldn’t desire “good kids?” Our goal can easily become to keep good kids on the road to superior “goodness” and redirect rebellious, challenging children toward becoming “good.”

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Feb 202015
 

We welcomed our third child into our family five weeks ago and never has our home felt more full of life (and chaos)! With three little ones under four years old, my days are jam packed with nursing my baby, fixing lunch, giving baths, reading books, and generally keeping everyone safe, fed, clothed, and loved. With the quick pace of life, I crave a few minutes to just sit and relax. Understandable.

Yet, while I could be opening my Bible, sitting in the stillness of nap time to pray to my Heavenly Father, or even taking a nap myself, I have this terrible reflex to sit down, click on my phone, and see what’s on Instagram. Maybe this isn’t a terrible thing in and of itself because Instagram is really a wonderful way to stay connected with my friends and is sometimes my connection to the outside world on days where I am homebound with my little ones. I love sharing pictures of my life and seeing what everyone else is up to. Instagram is my social media of choice (though I love Pinterest too).

And, while Instagram and Pinterest are not necessarily bad things, it has been on my heart lately as something I should be wary of. In last Sunday’s sermon, Dave Cover preached on temptation from 1 Corinthians 10. As I listened to the sermon, I thought of my Instagram habit and became convicted by 1 Corinthians 10:12-14.

“So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”

While I think I am standing firm in my faith, reading my Bible, going to church, praying with my children, I am all the while tempted several times every single day to check in with social media. And as verse 12 says, this temptation can be common to mankind. I see so many of my friends struggling with this same “innocent” temptation.

Dave said, “Every temptation is a test in our faith of whether or not we will believe the promises of a faithful God are better and more satisfying and truer in our lives than the empty promises of our god copies, the empty promises of our sin.”

When I look at Instagram and Pinterest, I tend to disengage with the present reality. For example, many times when I sit down to nurse my precious 5-week-old son, I have my phone next to me and am scrolling rather than gazing at his face, praying for his faith, and enjoying this gift given to me from God.Sometimes, I am more interested in taking a picture of what my kids are doing so I can share it on Instagram rather than setting my phone down and just enjoying my kids. Social media tempts me to check out, disengage, compare myself to others, feel sorry for myself, puff myself up that I am doing better than other people, and a whole myriad of other sins that pull me away from a Faithful God.

So what is the answer? 1 Corinthians 10:13-14 says, “And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. Therefore my dear friends, flee from idolatry.” What is the way out? How do we flee? Does this mean we deactivate our Facebook and Twitter accounts? Trade in our smartphones and block social media sites on our computers?

Well, maybe. I have decided to deactivate my Facebook account for now and try to set limits for myself with other social media. Eschewing all social media is likely not the answer to fleeing this temptation. In many ways, I do believe social media can be used to glorify God. Consider: how can we share pictures, post articles, share pray requests, and proclaim God’s faithfulness using social media as a tool? Can we use it to encourage others with the hope of the Gospel instead of letting it use us and tempt us away from all God is for us in Christ?

Nikki Daniel wrote an excellent post that speaks to some of these issues at The Gospel Coalition called Facebook, Moms, and The Last Day. In it, she shares insight into the positives and negatives of social media, specifically in the lives of mothers. She shares an excellent quote from John Piper on this topic: “One of the great uses of Twitter and Facebook will be to prove at the Last Day that prayerlessness was not from lack of time.”

Social media is a great temptation for today’s Christians allowing us to set our sights on media instead of God Himself. Allow God to shine light on this in your own life and reveal ways you can glorify Him, even in the social media realm.

 

Oct 172014
 

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Have you heard of The Book with No Pictures?

B.J. Novak (you probably know him as “Ryan” from “The Office”) has broken into the children’s literature scene with a book that might seem unlikely to make kids belly laugh: a book with literally no pictures.

However, kids (and grown-ups alike) are finding that this book with no pictures has them howling with laughter and delight. The premise of the book is stated in the opening: “Everything the words say, the person reading the book has to say. No matter what.” Pretty soon, this book has you pronouncing silly words that will have you and your child giggling together. The text is animated in color and typeface that indicates how certain words are to be read aloud. This book is meant to be read aloud together as a shared reading experience, making it a wonderful resource for parents looking to have fun with their children while reading.

Take a look at B.J. Novak reading his book with kids and see how this book makes the room light up.

 

Have you read The Book with No Pictures to your kids?

Oct 042014
 

Sunday Morning at The Crossing, April 6, 2014

If you were to walk down the elementary hallways of Crossing Kids on a Sunday morning, you would see a flurry of activity and little bodies hard at work. In one room, kids dress up in character to act out a bible story. Next door, kids take photographs to capture the morning’s scripture that will eventually come together as a music video. Across the hall, kids construct models using foam and diagrams from a study bible. Still another group plays a version of the game “Twister” to uncover clues to the bible story. A few kids meet with leaders out in the hallway to share what they have been writing and drawing in their prayer journals. Though diverse, all the activities going on connect and reinforce one biblical topic to draw kids’ hearts out for Christ. All elementary children will rotate through each activity over a period of five weeks, therefore learning about and mentally reinforcing the Biblical topic through a variety of methods.

This is the heart of the workshop model in Crossing Kids.

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Merriam-Webster defines a workshop as “a series of classes in which a small group of people learn the methods and skills used in doing something.” So, why workshops in Crossing Kids?

There are three things about a workshop that are important:

1. A workshop is a series of classes. In Crossing Kids, we run a workshop rotation for 5 weeks, therefore engaging kids in a single idea across a variety of experiences. Kids learn best when they are immersed in a topic and can revisit an idea several times to make connections.

2. A workshop involves a small group of people. Our 4th value in Crossing Kids is relationships. We want kids to work together, to share ideas, to talk about how the Bible applies to their life, to be vulnerable with one another. By participating in small groups in workshops, we give kids the opportunity to consistently go deep in their community.

3. A workshop involves learning methods and skills to do something. We want kids to learn what faith in Christ looks like, how we should pursue knowing Him through the Word, and have their hearts draw out to follow Him their entire lives. Workshops are about much more than just imparting knowledge and facts. Rather, workshops engage kids though experience. The learning theory of constructivism states “people produce knowledge and form meaning based upon their experiences.” Workshops strive to draw kids’ hearts out for God as they apply, meditate on, and experience His truth through diverse learning experiences. Through workshops, we want to equip kids to read the Bible and apply it’s meaning to their lives. We want kids’ minds, hands and hearts to be engaged each week as they learn about God.

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Workshops also strive to meet the unique needs of children and adhere to Gardner’s Theory of Multiples Intelligences (which I previously posted about here and here). In short, we believe that children learn in a variety of ways and are unique in how they process and apply information. Some children love to make up stories where as others would rather work with technology or use their body to dance or play a game. We want to engage all parts of children’s’ minds – that’s why the workshop model works so well.

In Crossing Kids, we always want to teach in light of this question: “How do kids learn best?”

To sum up, we believe kids learn best:

  • when they are immersed in a single concept or topic of a period of time
  • in small community groups where they can discuss, share, and work out ideas together
  • when they are engaged through hands-on experience
  • when they are in process (because learning takes time!)

This is why Crossing Kids places such value in the workshop approach. It is a joy to see kids go deep in their learning and see their hearts and affections drawn out for Christ in the process. May God be glorified as we teach and learn and grow and process together in Crossing Kids.

Jul 182014
 

Earlier this month, I stumbled upon a great post while reading Kevin DeYoung’s blog. At first glance, I thought this post, 10 Promises for Parents, was another helpful list of verses to use with our kids to encourage their faith or use in our prayer for them. Instead, DeYoung shares 10 verses that are promises of God that will encourage parents and spur them on in their parenting. Because, let’s be honest, parenting our children can be hard work. We know in our core we can’t do it on our own. We can see our failures daily in the way we disappoint our kids, loose our patience with them, and helplessly watch them struggle with friends and grades and behaviors.

Yet, we are not alone. God is with us. He sees our struggles and failures and he continues to walk beside us in our parenting. Our holy and great God gives us some beautiful promises in His word to remind us of his character and covenant with us. God’s promises should encourage us immensely. Consider: His promises will never be broken. There is nothing we can do to keep God from keeping His promises. God will fulfill his promises to us because He is just and true. Kevin DeYoung’s list of 10 promises for parents was balm for my soul on a rainy parenting day when my kids were a mess, my house was a mess, and my heart was a mess. God sees my mess and He still keeps His promises to me.

Here is Kevin DeYoung’s list of 10 Promises for Parents. Parents, savor these promises.

1. “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (James 1:2-3). Since the verse refers to trials ofvarious kinds, I assume that James is talking about more than martyrdom and death. Sleepless infants, tortuous bedtimes, muddy feet, spilled orange juice, moody teens–they all count too. And we should count them all joy, even when they feel like the biggest pain. God promises he’s at work to produce steadfastness.

2. “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you” (James 4:10). You’re tired, scared, defeated, weary beyond all reckoning. Good. Get low, and God promises to lift you up.

3. “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain” (Psalm 127:1). It doesn’t depend on me. It’s not about me. My kids are not for me. Stop freaking out. Stop trusting in horses and chariots.

4. “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward” (Psalm 127:3). They are. They really, really, truly, actually are. Whether you have one child or two or ten or twenty, God has given you those children because he loves you. The world thinks they are burdens. God tells us they are blessings.

5. “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). Yup, that verses is for parents too. The anger in our kids is from their hearts, but the mouthy way they learn to express that anger may be from our example. Why do I think my gasoline will help put out their fires?

6. “Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city” (Proverbs 16:32). The only way to be a strong parent is to be a parent with self-control.

7. “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:30). Parenting is hard work. Period. But parenting up to the expectations of your (fill in the blank: mother, mother-in-law, girlfriends, next door neighbor, own little taskmaster) is impossible. Parent for Christ’s sake. He promises not to weigh you down with impossible burdens.

8. “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (Hebrews 13:16). God knows that you sacrifice your time, your desires, your sleep, your money, and often your own dreams for your children. He sees and he smiles.

9. “Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox” (Proverbs 14:4). Everything is a mess, all the time. What else did we expect? We have dirty oxen running around. But there’s joy, memories, laughter, sanctification, and gospel growth from those wild animals too.

10. “But he gives more grace” (James 4:6). Ah, sweet grace. Grace to forgive your impatience (again) and your laziness (again). Grace to get you off the ground. Grace to get you walking. And grace to lead you home.

Mar 072014
 

Last weekend was one of my favorite weekends in Columbia: the True/False Film Fest. Not only are the documentary films thought-provoking, challenging, inspiring, and beautiful to view, the films are surrounded with great interviews and Q and A with the film directors. I saw six films this year – most were marvelous, a few were just okay, and one film I loved and hated all at the same time.

Approaching the Elephant.

Because of my background in education and my love of documentaries that feature kids, schools, and teachers (To Be and To Have; Pressure Cooker), I was really excited to see Approaching the Elephant. The True/False description of the film reads, “The free school model proposes a learning environment where classes are optional and all rules are determined by democratic vote…this radical concept has reached the small town of Little Falls, New Jersey, where an ambitious idealist…opens the world’s 262nd free school.”

I’ve heard of free schools before and the concept is intriguing to me. In seeing the film, I wondered how students would handle their freedom to choose classes and run the school themselves. I wondered what role the teachers would play and how they would teach if children didn’t choose to learn. Approaching the Elephant gave a true and up close view of what happens when kids have complete freedom to do whatever they choose. And it was difficult to watch. The teacher and mother in me were cringing throughout most of the film.

In one scene, the children are haphazardly using handsaws to cut boards with their fingers literally an inch away from the blade while the teacher gives loose instructions. One little girl eventually says, “I don’t think my parents would want me to do this.”

Another scene shows the same little girl being bullied and chased by older boys while they are unsupervised outside, which is where one of the older boy students spends most of his day choosing to ride his bike for hours instead of choosing to take a class.

The teacher helps guide one of the many democratic meetings we see in the film where the students are upset with him because he asked them to stop jumping off some plastic bins so they wouldn’t get hurt. One girl was so upset with the teacher she said she would not come back to school over the issue. Another student and assistant teacher decide if the main teacher was guilty or innocent in this situation and provide the verdict he was innocent.

I could go on. Watching the children choose over and over again to fight with one another, wander around the school, ride bikes, and play video games was so disheartening. These children needed guidance. They needed a teacher who would instruct them, provide boundaries, set high expectations, and discipline them when needed. They needed an adult to lead them; someone with wisdom and experience and compassion for his students.

I am all for giving kids choices, when adults are helping them to learn how to choose. For example, when I taught at Stephens College Children’s School, the children had a 90-minute literacy block. During that time, they would attend reading groups, writing circles, and meet individually with a teacher. But they could also choose how to structure the rest of their time. They could choose to read or write or edit or work on a new poem or publish some writing. But there were parameters for their choices.

Teaching and disciplining children is biblical. It is God’s design for adults to model and instruct children so that they will grow up in faith and knowledge and wisdom. To this point, consider the following verses:

Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. –  Proverbs 22:6

And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. – Deuteronomy 6:6-7

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. – Ephesians 6:4

Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” And he laid his hands on them and went away. – Matthew 19: 13-15

Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him. – Proverbs 13:24

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. – 2 Timothy 3:14-15

Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him. – Proverbs 22:15

This is why Approaching the Elephant was such a difficult film for me. It showed in explicit ways how children are unable to guide themselves to make good choices when left completely to their own desires. They need some help to see what is wise and good and true. As Christians, this is especially important because, as the verses above proclaim, we are charged by God to teach our children about Him and His holy word. Teaching, instructing, and disciplining is not optional work – we want to impress God’s truths and teaching on our kids’ hearts.

You’ll remember I said at the beginning of this post I both “loved and hated” this film. Though I’ve mostly discussed what I found troubling, there were some things that make this film stand out. First, it is beautiful to watch. In striking black and white, the film feels timeless and set apart highlighting the gray subject matter of the film. Secondly, the film is impeccably edited. The director, Amanda Rose Wilder, condensed hours and hours of footage into a tight and engaging story that allows the viewers to feel like they are a spectator of the inner workings of the school. And, lastly, the film feels true. Though I didn’t agree with the philosophy of the school, the film itself reserved comments and ideas about what the viewers should take from it. Since there were no interviews or voiceovers or soundtrack, we simply got to watch the teacher and his students interact. We are to draw our own conclusions and this is why the film felt real and pure.

If Approaching the Elephant ever makes its way to Ragtag or Netflix, be sure to check it out. Through this film was frustrating in many ways, it was still engaging and caused me to roll out some of my thinking on how important teachers are for our children and their future.

Feb 212014
 

God’s work is extraordinary.

Yet, God uses ordinary people to do his extraordinary work for His glory. This is a mystery. Consider ordinary Moses, whom God used to bring His people out of slavery and into the Promised Land. Consider ordinary Mary, whom God used to bring His one and only Son into our broken world to save us. Consider ordinary Paul, whom God used to proclaim the good news of Jesus and build the foundation of His church.

God’s extraordinary work continues today through the lives of the ordinary. Consider ordinary Don Richardson, whom God used to bring the light of Christ to the Sawi people of Indonesia. In 1962, Don and his wife, Carol, took their 7-month-old baby, Steve, to live among the Sawi and share the gospel with them. God used Don and his family to bring the Sawi out of darkness and today these people proclaim Christ as their Savior!

Fifty years have passed and Steve returned to visit the Sawi along with his father, Don, and his two brothers who also grew up in the village. Watch this amazing fifteen-minute video to see the Richardson men reunited with the Sawi. It is a story of God’s extraordinary work in the lives of ordinary people.

There are so many extraordinary “take-aways” from this story, but the thing that stood out to me most was the way God used one ordinary man and his family to reach the hearts of hundreds of people for His glory. I love that Don and Carol raised their three sons right in the middle of this mission for the Kingdom. Their kids were a part of what God was doing. These were ordinary parents raising ordinary children in Indonesia, yet believing in the extraordinary power of God to change lives.

This video is entitled Never the Same – and with good reason. Not only will the Sawi people never be the same after hearing the gospel, the Richardson family will never be the same after witnessing God’s extraordinary work and allowing them to be part of it.

Feb 072014
 

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For the past couple of months, I’ve been reading a meditation each day during my time with God from John Piper’s book, Taste and See: Savoring the Supremacy of God in All of Life. Containing 140 concise and dynamic meditations, Piper covers a wide variety of topics that make me think deeply and draw out my heart for our great God. It’s fantastic.

A few days ago, I read meditation #57, entitled, Jesus and the Children; Pondering Children as Pride Detectors. Have you ever thought of your children as pride detectors? What Piper had to say really blew me away.

“One thing to watch for when assessing a person’s spiritual fitness for ministry is how he or she relates to children. Put a child in a room and watch. This is what Jesus did to make a point. Children are the litmus paper to expose the presence of pride… Receiving  a child into your arms in the name of Jesus is a way to receive Jesus. And receiving Jesus is a way to receive God. Therefore how we deal with children is a signal of our fellowship with God. Something is really amiss in the soul that does not descend (or is it really ascend?) to love and hold a child.”

Do I receive children as a way to receive Jesus? I confess, in much of my everyday thinking with my two little ones, I think about how much the house needs cleaning, the little noses need wiping, the to-do list needs checking off. I love my children more than air, yet I still get bogged down in the “getting it done” mindset. Piper’s words gave me more food for thought in this area. By slowing down and pulling my kids into my lap in Jesus’ name, I am not only sharing God’s love with them, I am receiving it as well.

Jesus said, “Whoever receives one child like this in my name, receives Me; and whoever receives Me does not receive Me, but Him who sent Me.” (Mark 9:37).

Piper concludes this meditation with ten ways Jesus related to children for us to consider. He encourages us to “let them stir in you the longings of Christ.”

1. Jesus was a child.  (Isaiah 9:6)

2. Jesus took children in his arms and blessed them. (Mark 10:14-16)

3. Jesus healed a child of a foreign woman. (Matthew 15:28)

4. Jesus cast a demon out of a child. (Matthew 17:18)

5. Jesus raised a child from the dead. (Mark 5:41-42)

6. Jesus used a child’s loaves and fish to feed five thousand people. (John 6:9-10)

7. Jesus said you should become like a child. (Matthew 18:3-4)

8. When Jesus came, children cried “Hosanna!” to the Son of David. (Matthew 21:15)

9. Jesus predicted the terrible days when fathers would give their children up to death. (Mark 13:12)

10. Jesus said that if you receive a child in his name, you receive him and the one who sent him. (Mark 9:37)

Our work with children is spiritual work. Feeding them, holding them, singing to them, praying with them, teaching them, washing them, loving them – this is one beautiful and remarkable way we receive and commune with our gracious and sovereign God. I pray as we interact with our children at home and in the rooms of Crossing Kids, we will be keenly aware that we are not only sharing Christ’s love, but receiving it as well.

Jan 242014
 

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

Last week, Scott and I made a trip with our kids to Door County, Wisconsin to be with his 93-year-old grandmother, Jessie, before she passed away. When we heard her health was declining, we were anxious to see her face, hold her hand, and tell her loved her one more time. So, we loaded up our little ones and drove 13 ½ hours north to be with Jessie.

When I walked in her little room at the nursing home, it was warm and quiet and still. I sat next to Jessie’s bed, held her hand, and looked into to her weathered face. She was resting, her eyes closed, her breathing heavy, her hands still soft. Scott and I sang hymns she loved (In Christ Alone, On Jordan’s Stormy Banks) and read scripture to her she had underlined in her Bible. We prayed over her and before I left I told her if I didn’t see her again in the week, I would see her on The Other Side – in Heaven with our Great God. That was the last time I saw her on this earth and have great hope and assurance that we will all see Jessie again when we are worshipping Jesus in eternity.

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMugJessie, her husband, Fred, with 3 of their 6 children. My mother-in-law, Bev, is center.

Jessie loved the Lord. She trusted Him, dedicated her life to serving Him, and left a legacy of faith with her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Since that last time sitting by her bedside, I continue to think about what her legacy of faith means. She has gone to be with the Lord, but has planted seeds of faith in her daughter, Bev (my mother-in-law), who then planted seeds of faith in her son, Scott (my husband), who is now planting seeds in the hearts of our children, Eleanor and Freddy. The heritage of faith has a ripple effect I am certain we will never know the extent of.

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMugJessie holding my husband, Scott, in 1976. 

So when I think of Jessie, I don’t just remember that she was a great lady or that she used her gifts to serve others – I think her greatest legacy is loving God and helping her children know Jesus so they could pass on their faith to future generations. I am certain Scott is the man of faith he is today in part because of his grandma’s heart for God and the way she shared that with her family. It’s beautiful that the most important part of Jessie was her belief and devotion to Jesus. What a legacy.

imageJessie and I sharing a moment on the day I married her grandson.

As I’ve been thinking about Jessie’s life, Deuteronomy 6:5-9 comes to mind:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMugJessie holding my daughter, Eleanor, in January 2012. 

This was Jessie. She loved God wholeheartedly and shared that with her children and all who knew her. This was the way she left a legacy of hope and truth. She broadcasted the glory of God before herself. And that is what I will remember her for.

In this way, leaving a legacy of faith is simple: Love God and proclaim Him with your life. Your children and your grandchildren and your great-grandchildren will remember. And greater than them remembering you, they will look at your life and remember the greatness of God.

I rejoice when I hear my daughter, Eleanor say, “Great Grandma Roberts isn’t sick anymore. She’s with Jesus.” Jessie, we celebrate that you are home.