Musings for Mother’s Day

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day and tonight is getting late. So, this won’t be long, but I’m wanting to get back into writing (and publishing that writing), so I’m determined to post something here before I sleep.

Consider this the slightest glimpse into what my heart thinks of my two little ones right now. It feels truncated, but that is sometimes how musings go in the life of a mom.

Elizabeth Elaine. She’s my near 20-month-old girl, whose precise conversation (mostly not English) and imagination have me utterly delighted with her. She is mine, yet so much not. How am I supposed to mother a first-born? I wonder. Me, a second-born, with my stop-and-smell-the-roses, abstract-thinking bent and weaknesses to rub a ducks-in-a-row girl raw?

“Baby Boy Soukup” is my in uterto second child, and I am very curious about him. About what he’ll look like and what his leanings and mannerisms will be. He has a name I love to use (the rest of the world has to wait to know it), and his hello kicks and stretches are my daily window into his world. His world is about to change, and I can’t wait.

We went to a ballet the other night to watch my sisters dance. The colors and movements were thrilling, but it was a line from one of the songs played that still has my attention. “And though you never know all the steps, you must learn to join the dance; you must learn to join the dance” (from “Through Heaven’s Eyes” from the movie Prince of Egypt).

This is how I feel about motherhood right now. At least, this is how God is pressing me to feel about motherhood right now. I feel pressed to jump in fully, each day, each moment, trusting Him to hold me and to tend my imperfect efforts toward His glory. To believe that He has good mothering works for me to walk in, though I daily fall short of Good. I feel pressed to join the dance, though I’ll surely stumble. To lay hold of freedom by laying hold of Christ by faith. To go to Him. To go to Him as instinctively as I go to Elizabeth in the middle of the night when she cries. But not because I have something to offer Him. To go because I have a need for His presence, because in this relationship I am the daughter and He is the Father who knows and loves me perfectly.

My heart has been turning to God’s words from Isaiah 30:15 over and over this past week. They challenge me in the same way the song lyrics from last night do. “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” May this be increasingly true for me, Lord, in my mothering and everywhere else.

Happy First Birthday, Elizabeth (A Poem)

You’re ONE today, dear ‘Lizabeth!
9 months plus 12 and here we are,
Looking back in thankfulness
At God’s good gift of life thus far.

I’m thankful that he’s given you
To me and daddy; how we feel
Blessed to get to love and lead
An image-bearer, bright and real.

I’m thankful for your morning smiles,
Your bed-head hair that’s growing long,
Your healthy, hungry morning cries,
Your joy in happy morning song.

I’m thankful for your love of play,
Of books, your lamb, and Captain Blue;
For how your curiosity
Dubs all things worth getting into.

I’m thankful for your heart and mind,
For how you’re growing day by day,
For unseen work that’s done inside
When you choose to trust, obey.

I’m thankful that you know you’re loved;
You know my gentle, safe embrace—
And that, in God’s sweet providence,
You’re growing in a home of grace.

Now, on your birthday it’s my prayer
That God will take your life and mold
Your heart and mind to make you new
Until, next year, you’re two years old.

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A Song for My Unborn Baby

Baby Girl Soukup at 20 Weeks, 4 Days (4/21/15)

While baby girl Soukup (now six days overdue) continues to bide her time in the womb, I’ve decided this is a perfect, last-chance opportunity to post a song I’ve written for her while it still applies! It’s a song for my unborn baby, begun way back in January before we knew her gender or I had felt any movements. I finished the lyrics this morning; they’re a good reminder of the sweet wonder of pregnancy – a chapter so nearly ended for me and this little one!

Our God is not only the Author of life, He’s the Teller of life stories. While Daniel and I wouldn’t have written “overdue” into our daughter’s story, we’re trusting His wisdom in the timing of her birth. And, I can’t help but reflect that this trusting – this at times agonizing waiting – is simply a preview of things to come. The adventure of parenting stretches before us like an exhilarating and treacherous mountain trail. Our role as parents will be a hugely significant one in our child’s life (“Oh, Father, may we point her faithfully to You!”), but our role will not be ultimate. I know we will have many more opportunities to surrender our wills to our Father’s and to wait on Him for the revealing of the glorious good He is working for those in Christ.

May this song inspire your heart to worship the God who, though far above and beyond us, is also immanently and intricately involved in our lives (Psalm 139:13-16).

The Fingers of the Father
by Christina Faye Soukup
[Scroll down for video]

Verse 1:
Hidden as a seed covered with the blackest earth,
Visible as laughter til the hour of your birth,
Distant one, you’re yet so near – a stranger, yet I know
Well your tiny presence as inside of me you grow.

Chorus:
Mystery – your reality;
God weaves flesh and bone.
Mystery – your reality;
The fingers of the Father form your own.

Verse 2:
[You’re] silent as the morning light that warms a waking world,
Vocal as the thoughts inside my head that dance and swirl:
I wonder how you’ll look at me, I wonder how I’ll feel
When at last imagination gives way to what’s real.

Verse 3:
The fingers of the Father – so gentle, sure and strong –
are perfect in their workmanship, composing your life-song.
I pray you’ll learn to trust Him; I pray your heart will see
in the One called Jesus a greater mystery.

(Note: it sometimes sounds like I’m singing, “Mystery OR reality” in the chorus, but it’s actually always, as written, “Mystery – YOUR reality….” I just didn’t enunciate very well each time!)

Early Will I Seek You

“Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love,
for in you I trust.
Make me know the way I should go,
for to you I lift up my soul.”
– Psalm 143:8

I couldn’t get back to sleep this morning. I had gotten up to use the bathroom (a regular routine at this point in my pregnancy), and on returning to bed, busy thoughts and a busy baby conspired together to keep me up while the faint light of early dawn became a “you-may-as-well-get-up” kind of light.

I don’t know if you’re like me, but I’ve always struggled with setting aside the first part of my day to meet alone with God – to meditate on His Word and seek His presence in prayer. I’ve questioned many times whether or not it really matters when I do my devotions during the day, and of course, there is a sense in which it doesn’t matter. I don’t earn my acceptance with God by a daily routine; I receive it by trusting the work of Christ on my behalf. However, there is another sense in which it really does matter how I structure my day. Of itself, turning to the Bible and prayer first thing in the morning does not please God, for that activity can be done without accompanying faith. But, turning early to the means we have for knowledge of God and fellowship with Him can be the expression of a heart priority that greatly honors God. The expression itself can honor God as an act of faith. What’s more, not only can the act honor God, it can also be a means of further shaping the heart priorities of the one acting. Diligence in morning devotions can be a faithful preaching to yourself with your actions that every day, God is the most important reality in the universe, and that therefore, every day, seeking Him is the most important thing you can do.

Amidst my busy thoughts in bed this morning was the recollection of a poem I wrote over three years ago about turning early to God’s Word and abiding therein throughout the day. It was inspired by Psalm 1, which is about the “blessed” man who delights in and meditates on the law of the Lord day and night. Remembering that poem helped me resist the temptations to not turn first to my Bible reading when I ended up getting out of bed at 6:00am. It is a happy humbling when God uses His past grace in my life to provide me with grace for the present. And it’s my hope now that the poem blesses your heart as it has mine this Monday morning.

Blessed
by Christina Faye Soukup
(April, 2012)

When dawn, with “rose-red fingers,”*
arouses sleeping trees,
an evil whisper rises –
a traitor with a tease.

Our roots will look for water
and if we don’t act fast,
the whisper takes them to the well
they’ve drunk from in the past.

Flee quickly to the words of God
and quench your thirst therein!
For drink held in the scoffer’s cup
induces trees to sin.

How I love Your law, O Lord!
What comfort it provides!
What joy I find when in Your Word
my fears and doubts subside.

The sun is hot this afternoon
and leaves begin to curl
on trees who, hopeful, long to feel
their leaves and buds unfurl.

Stay yet longing – deeper plunge
your roots into the stream
of living water, fresh and cool –
of water wholly clean.

Abide therein and soon you’ll find
sweet fruit comes in its season.
But sweeter is the stream itself –
the trees who drink have reason…

…to love Your law, O Lord our God,
to in Your Word find rest,
as day by day we grow in strength
and live the life called “blessed.”

*a favorite phrase of Homer’s in The Odyssey

– Christina

A 2014 Soukup Christmas Letter

Dear Family & Friends,

It’s a serene, snowy, Sunday afternoon, and despite the post-25th date, it still feels like Christmas here at the Soukup home. It probably will for a while longer, come to think of it, since Daniel says we’re keeping the tree up as long as possible. It is a lovely tree. 🙂

Our first Christmas together has been full and sweet, marked by a refreshed and deepened knowledge of what this celebratory season is all about. Daniel&Christina-106We rejoice that the gift of Jesus, that baby in the manger, was the gift of Emmanuel – the gift of “God with us.” But not just “God with us” in any way. For surely, if Jesus had been “God with us” in judgement, His incarnation would be a terrifying event to even remember, let alone to celebrate. But God’s Son did not come into the world to condemn sinners when He humbled Himself and entered Mary’s womb. Instead, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15). He was found as one of us that we might be reconciled to God by being found in Him through faith. We pray that each of you have believed and are standing in this good, life-giving news.

The year 2014 (for us, anyway) quite literally started with our engagement to be married. On New Year’s Day, having received Papa’s blessing to ask me a week earlier on Christmas Eve, Daniel took me to St. Paul’s beautiful (and warm) Como Park Conservatory. There, on a bench under lush forestry and then on a secluded stone walkway, he read me a lover’s poem and asked me to marry him (he got down on one knee and gave me a sparkling diamond ring, too)! The next several months were spent preparing for our wedding and marriage: engagement pictures, dress shopping, pre-marriage classes, apartment-hunting, bridal showers, etc. I continued to teach music part-time while Daniel worked as a valet and finished up his junior year at Bethlehem College & Seminary (BCS). Other spring highlights included a Valentine’s date with Daniel to hear the Rose Ensemble by candlelight, my sister Jessimine’s marriage to a wonderful man, Mike Hackett, and two premier ballets involving my siblings.

Our wedding day was Friday, May 30th, and it dawned sunny and warm. The lilacs I had prayed for were in full bloom, and with the help of an amazing sister-in-law and several others, dozens of purple bouquets were assembled that morning for pictures and our 7:00pm ceremony. The whole day was so special for Daniel and me. We’re so thankful for those who pitched in to help and for each guest who shared the day with us. We felt deeply blessed by God through all the outpourings of love toward us. We’re especially thankful for our parents and families, who have given us such a strong, godly heritage to build upon.

Summer happenings included our honeymoon to Florida (thanks, Aunt Trudy, for a lovely stay at your beachfront condo!); two missions trips to Osnaburgh, Ontario, to help lead two weeks of Vacation Bible School for the children of Mishkeegogamang (an Ojibwe reservation); my first taste of the famed Scobbie family reunions at a picturesque, lakeside lodge in northern Minnesota; and a Hall family weekend up at Lily Bay with grandparents, PDP & Dama. Of course, summer also included getting settled (rather, the beginnings of getting settled) into our cozy, Minneapolis apartment. We have a dining and living room big enough for hosting friends, beautiful wood floors, and a big window overlooking a fairly quiet, shaded street just blocks away from Bethlehem Baptist, where we attend church and school.

Daniel started his senior year at BCS this fall and is looking forward to graduating with his bachelor’s in Biblical & Theological Studies in the spring. I’ve continued teaching this semester, with a studio of 19 violin and piano students. I’m also looking forward to graduating (with my associate in Christian Worldview) this spring after I finish up my language requirements (in Greek). We’re very excited that Anna, Daniel’s younger sister, is now attending BCS and lives within walking distance. We continue to be blessed by the community at BCS and Bethlehem Baptist, where faith and knowledge are not considered at odds, and serious joy, though ultimately a gift from God, is something that is pursued through humble, diligent study of His Word and His world.

The past four months have been busy but good, with Nikkia and Jordan’s wedding in September (I was “matron of honor”), a 5K run with Daniel, baby Elsa’s birth (our newest niece!), volunteering for the Desiring God national conference, a weekend at Storybook Lodge with our Normandale Baptist friends, a girls book study meeting in our home twice a month, and volunteering for the senior high Sunday school at Bethlehem. We also grieved the tragic death of a good friend in September – a test of faith that caused us to hide ourselves even deeper in the cleft of the Rock of ages. His love truly is a shelter from the howling winds of this broken, sin-stained world.

A note of pain brings us full circle to the gospel. It would be silly for anyone reading this to think that this past year has brought only happiness to Daniel and me. We, like you, face fear, discouragement, sorrow, confusion and frustration. We face darkness without and lingering darkness within. But we do not face it alone. It is not naive optimism or a desire to “keep up appearances” that motivates me to write a Christmas letter focusing primarily on the sweet things God has done for us in 2014; it is my trust in the promise of God that He turns even hard things around for our good because we are in Christ. It is because of the gospel that we can overflow with thankfulness and praise for the merciful, sufficient grace He has provided and rest in His Spirit as we await (yes, with a patient kind of groaning) the final, glorious redemption that Christ will bring His people and creation at His second coming. We have tasted and seen the overwhelming goodness of the Lord in 2014, but we long to be with Him and experience in ever-increasing splendor the wonders of His love.

May each of you be blessed with real, sweet experiences of His wondrous love this season and in the coming year!

With love,
Christina (for Daniel and me)

Labeled: “The Wind and I” (Part Two)

I have two wonderful grandmothers. One lives in northern Minnesota on a beautiful little lake on a bay covered with lily pads. The other, my namesake, passed away over a year and a half ago. She, Grandma Faye, was the sort of woman who could do anything she set her mind to. When I was young, I slept under the quilt she made for me, a quilt covered with brightly-colored stars. She baked and knitted, sewed and beaded, went camping and downhill skied. She told us stories of her nursing days as a young woman and of learning to dance on her dad’s wood floor as an even younger woman. And whatever projects she had underway when we were around, she shared them with us. We got to be part of her world, and a colorful world it was.

Only a handful of years before she died, Grandma Faye decided she wanted to try her hand at poetry. I remember listening to her read her first short poems to us. Anyone could tell she was proud of her work and excited to share it. One poem was about a dog; another, about going for a walk. The poems were story-like, with familiar content told in her own sing-song way. And, though she never explained exactly why, she always signed her poems, “The Wind and I.” I liked that my 80-year-old grandmother had a slightly mysterious side to her.

As a Christian, Grandma Faye pursued God with her characteristic vigor. But God was not just another one of her “projects.” She loved studying the Bible and memorizing verses, especially God’s promises (I remember printing off Bible verses in large print for her when she began to lose her eyesight later in life), but Grandma Faye was only able to walk by faith in God because she had been born of the Spirit of God. The Greek word for “spirit” is pneuma and can also be translated “wind.” I like to think that her signature, “The Wind and I,” was her self-conscious witness to the work of God in her life. In John 3:8, Jesus says…

“The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Just before Grandma Faye died in February of 2011, I wrote her a poem for her 87th birthday and called it “At Grandma’s House.” It was an attempt to capture my childhood perspective of this wonderful woman.

Even though I can’t bake dinner rolls with Grandma Faye anymore, she still lives, and she lives as much more than a shadow in my memory. Heaven is not just a “nice idea” to help people cope with losing their loved ones. Hell is just as real, and eternal life with God is secure only for those who have been “born of the Spirit” and walk by faith in the sure promises of God.

“For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling … so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight.”

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Grandma Faye with me and Jessimine

“Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him” (2 Corinthians 5:1-2, 4-9).

And that is the story behind the label for my poetry posts here.

Making it my aim to please Him, just like Grandma Faye did,

Christina Faye

The Lingering Fledgling (Part 2)

Writing is a contested thing. Some people say it helps the brain relax or organize. Others find it stressful or un-necessary. Ernest Hemingway said, “The writer must write what he has to say. Not speak it.” I am not that kind of writer, but I do find myself tending toward writing in the exercise of my mind and the expression of my heart.

So here we go with Fledgling Fear #2:

If my first reason for reluctance to begin this blog was the threat of becoming prideful, my second reason was the fear of coming off as prideful. Who am I, after all, to be publishing my thoughts? What are my credentials? If this were merely an online diary for friends, these questions aren’t important. But this blog is intended to be more than a subjective and personal account of my little world. Don’t get me wrong. It will (and must) be a more or less subjective account (I haven’t yet found a way not to see things from my vantage point). And, I hope that it will also be increasingly personal. But of my little world? I feel like singing with Belle from Beauty and the Beast, “I want much more than this provincial life!”

Douglas Wilson, a pastor and writer from Idaho, recently made the following remarks. “We are living in a time when to speak a sure word, based on what God has said, is thought to be arrogant.” On the other hand, “to shrug your shoulders and make your own doubts, your own skepticism, your own questions the center of the universe is thought to be humble.” Many blogs on the web today, even many Christian blogs, are nauseating slues of self-centeredness. As if everything were new under the sun, bloggers trumpet their “novel” thoughts and, more importantly it seems, themselves as novelties for considering such thoughts. I pray this blog will be decidedly different. I pray it will be a happy source of sure words – words that are rooted in Scripture and typed in sincere, brotherly love. Sure words will doubtless sound high-handed to some (I can assure you they will not often, if ever, be novel), but in my own experience, it has been the sure, old word that brings sweet conviction and leads to life. I want this blog to serve and bless you, the reader, and this is the best way I know how.

Of course, by “sure words,” I do not mean that I intend to post only about things I think I understand completely (this would be a very empty blog in that case). I mean that I want to shy away from fruitless questionings and speculations that leave you (and me) without solid food for thought and a God-ward trajectory.

I begin my sophomore year at Bethlehem College (BCS) in less than 7 hours. I will be devoting much of my time over these next months to reading some of the most prominent thinkers in history. Some were godless, some were saints. All (except the prominent thinker, Jesus) were sinners like me. I’ve found there is much to learn from sinners.

“We are like dwarfs sitting on the shoulders of giants. We see more, and things that are more distant, than they did, not because our sight is superior or because we are taller than they, but because they raise us up, and by their great stature add to ours.” – John of Salisbury

I know I am not a giant. I stand on the shoulders of great men like Plato and Augustine (whom I’m reading at BCS) and my Papa (whom I’ve “read” since infancy). These men have helped equip me to think and speak and write.

And yet, though these men have equipped me, they have not compelled me to write about so “much more than this provincial life.” For this, I have read and am still reading the Bible, where I am told what I was made for.

“Go on up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, ‘Behold your God!'” – Isaiah 40:9

The Lingering Fledgling (Part 1)

“‘Extra, extra!’ My dear friends, I submit to you the fledgling project my tedious mind’s eye has watched lose its fuzz for pin-feathers and linger in the nest. Yes, this feels overdue in many ways…”

Welcome to [From the Inkwell]. At last. I’ve decided to start by sharing a little more about my reluctance to push this “fledgling” out of the nest. But first, what exactly is this project? To cut to the chase (and you can expect more on this later), Christ is my only hope in everything I do. Not only is He my only hope for this blog being anything worth reading, He is my ultimate hope for bothering to write at all. I earnestly desire to gain more of Christ for myself and for you, reader, through taking the time to think and write clearly, truthfully, and beautifully.

As far as I can tell, my wariness to begin a blog of this nature was rooted in two fears. I’ll tackle the first one in this post and write about the second in “The Lingering Fledgling (Part 2)” another day. So, here is Fledgling Fear #1: I am afraid of that incapacitating strain of pride commonly known as “perfectionism.”

Frankly, my inborn perfectionism will threaten the fruitfulness of my time spent writing here. People have told me that “the perfect is the enemy of the good.” I usually need to hear this; I know what they are driving at. But surely there are clearer ways of talking about “the perfect…”

Once upon a time I strove for perfection, not caring what it cost me. Then I despaired, learning that the cost of “the perfect” would always be beyond what I could muster to pay. Whoever thinks he is perfect has yet to feel the warmth of the sun on his proud brow. Then, I rejoiced, for I learned that “the Perfect” has come and has paid what it costs to be found in me. And now, being found in Him, I strive for Perfection, not caring what it costs me.

For me, overcoming the fear of perfectionism often starts with simply remembering that pride (the root of perfectionism) is a universal heart disease, with its only cure the gospel. Perfectionism is not a neutral “personality type.” My fears related to perfectionism, whether I realize it or not, are always due to something gone sour in my relationship with God. I fear when I am not trusting Jesus and resting in the fullness of the gospel.

Dear Soul: God is perfect, and  you are made in His image for fellowship with Him. Your first parents set the course of drastic deviation from the perfection God originally created. In your pride, you are dead-set on recovering the lost ground on your own. Wake up! You are delusional. You have forgotten God’s promise that in the day Adam and Eve ate of the fruit, they would surely die. Fool! Instead of trusting God’s word, you continue to believe Satan’s primal garden lie. “You, my charming friend, will be like God.”

Self-exalting perfectionism. Oh, what a morbid enemy of the soul!

Back to the lingering fledgling. For years I have known, correctly, that pride is a miserable companion. However, to avoid its suffocating presence, I have sometimes gone to confused extremes. I love to write. Thanks to Mom, I started keeping a journal in kindergarten, and ever since, I have scribbled ideas for essays, novels, poems and songs. Fiction, non-fiction; words for adults, words for children. I’m better at some of it, but I like all of it. Some of my scribblings have become completed works. The feeling of having written a complete piece (and yes, I am the one who defines “complete,” until my critics take over, of course) – this is one of the best feelings in the world. I am so thankful for the creativity and determination God has inspired in my mind and heart over the years. I don’t want to neglect to say this here, because I’m going to say something rather discouraging next. I am easily smitten with my own work. More to the point, I am easily smitten with “Christina, the writer.” I mean sinfully smitten, of course.

Many times over the past several years when I would begin to write about something, the nausea of pride would loom in my consciousness and appear to me as the inescapable outcome of continuing. It was probably a correct premonition at times, but instead of focussing my attention on fighting the darkness in my heart with prayer and the truth of the gospel, I would usually just stop writing. How silly, and how sad! Think about it. Joy perishes in the heart long before a joyless pen can bear joyless words. Words, after all, are the overflow of the heart, and the threat of pride (and its attendant misery) is as present for the human heart today as it was in the Garden of Eden. Laying aside the pen brought me no hope, let alone victory and joy. Only Christ brings my heart hope and the strengthening vision to fight for joy in Him.

I really hope you enjoy [From the Inkwell], dear reader. I’m looking forward to writing on many things, LORD-willing. There are so many deep and wide truths to think on and affirm, over and over and from different angles. There are, as well, so many sweet and whimsical truths to weave into minds and hearts with words as choice as the finest honey. I pray that through this blog, where writing features, you may yet know “Christina, follower of Christ” far better and more fondly than you know “Christina, the writer.”

With thankfulness on this sunny Monday,

Christina Faye Hall

“You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!” Psalm 30:11-12