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)

Pride vs. Brokenness (Mary’s Song)

ImageFor the past few years, our family has watched The Nativity Story around Christmas. The realism of this film is refreshing, and I always seem to come away with a new appreciation for what happened when God “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). This year I was again impressed with Mary’s Song, recited at the end of the film. It speaks of contrasting types of people – of the proud and the humble – and of God’s response to both. “He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate” (Luke 1:51-52). In the Christmas story, Herod is one of “the proud” whose intentions are thwarted while Mary, one “of humble estate,” bears the very Son of God.

As the story of 2013 unfolds, I don’t want to be counted among the proud. I want to continually humble myself under the mighty hand of God, so that He (not I) may exalt me when and how He chooses. I found a list today while cleaning the house that I remember reading several years ago. Written by Nancy Leigh DeMoss, the list compares proud people with broken people. It seems to me that humility and brokenness work hand in hand, that more of one leads to more of the other. The list is really good, and I’m including a portion of it below. This is a chance to examine yourself. Which camp do you fall into? These words may prick a bit (they did for me), but I pray they whet your appetite for this kind of brokenness and encourage you to humble yourself in the sight of the Lord.

  1. Proud people have a critical, fault-finding spirit; they look at everyone else’s faults with a microscope but their own with a telescope. Broken people are compassionate; they can forgive much because they know how much they have been forgiven.
  2. Proud people have an independent, self-sufficient spirit. Broken people have a dependent spirit; they recognize their need for [God and] others.
  3. Proud people claim rights; they have a demanding spirit. Broken people yield their rights; they have a meek spirit.
  4. Proud people desire to be served. Broken people are motivated to serve others.
  5. Proud people desire to be a success. Broken people are motivated to be faithful and make others a success.
  6. Proud people think of what they can do for God. Broken people know they have nothing to offer God except the life of Jesus flowing through their broken lives.
  7. Proud people are self-conscious. Broken people are not concerned with self at all.
  8. Proud people keep other’s at arms length. Broken people are willing to risk getting close to people and loving intimately.
  9. Proud people are quick to blame others. Broken people accept personal responsibility and can see where they are wrong in a situation.
  10. Proud people are unapproachable or defensive when criticized. Broken people receive criticism with a humble, open spirit.
  11. Proud people are concernd with being respectable, with what others think; they work to protext their own image and reputation. Broken people are concerned with being real; what matters to them is not what others think but what God knows; they are willing to die to their own reputation.
  12. Proud people find it difficult to share their spiritual need with others. Broken people are willing to be open and transparent with others as God directs.
  13. Proud people have a hard time saying, “I was wrong; will you please forgive me?” Broken people are quick to admit failure and to seek forgiveness when necessary.
  14. Proud people tend to deal in generalities when confessing sin. Broken people are able to acknowledge specifics when confessing their sin.
  15. Proud people are concerned about the consequences of their sin. Broken people are grieved over the cause, the root of their sin.
  16. Proud people wait for the other to come and ask forgiveness when there is a misunderstanding or conflict in a relationship. Broken people take the initiative to be reconciled when there is misunderstanding or conflict; they race to the cross, seeing if they can get there first, no matter how wrong the other may have been.
  17. Proud people compare themselves with others and feel worthy of honor. Broken people compare themselves with the holiness of God and feel a desperate need for His mercy.
  18. Proud people don’t think they need revival, but they are sure that everyone else does. Broken people continually sense their need for a fresh encounter with God and for a fresh filling of His Holy Spirit.

There you have it. That wasn’t so painful, was it? And I saved the best part for last. The best part of this list is its title: “The Heart God Revives.” May we, like Mary, have humble hearts and be exalted – revived – again and again this year by the presence of Emmanuel, the Lord who draws near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18).