What Is a Passover Seder, Anyway?

The President and family hosting a Passover Seder meal at the White House in 2009

Let’s talk about the Passover Seder, shall we? It’s the Jewish holiday that gets the most buzz from Christians, it seems like. Since the Passover season is fast approaching and this is one of the most important holidays and traditions in my life, I feel compelled to tell you all about it. So please, read on!

Although I am a Christian with no Jewish descent that I’m aware of, for the past nearly twenty years I have observed Passover with my family by having a Seder. Much like Christmas in America, the Easter holiday has been so commercialized and secularized that it’s been reduced to celebrating with bunnies, colored eggs, and pastel colors. While that’s cute and fun and I have nothing against Easter egg hunts, it really has absolutely nothing to do with Easter. Introducing the Passover Seder into our family’s Easter observance brought a level of sacred meaning back to it that compels our repentant hearts and bolsters our great love for our King again and again.

So what is this all about? Well, Seder (pronounced say-der) is a Hebrew word meaning “arrangement” or “order”. It basically just refers to the order or liturgy in which something is performed. The Passover Seder refers to a ceremonial meal that includes symbolic foods and the reciting of the story of Passover, which is also called the Haggadah (or “the telling”). I will also point out that the Passover meal is what Jesus was observing at the Last Supper. We often only associate it with communion, but Jesus and His disciples (and their families) were sharing a Passover meal together just before His death and subsequent resurrection.

The whole Seder takes place around your table and centers around something called the Seder plate, which contains all of the symbolic foods for the ceremony: a roasted egg, parsley, roasted shank bone, chopped apples and nuts, bitter herb, and romaine lettuce. As the Haggadah is read, these items are explained and some are tasted as a way of taking participants through the powerful story of God rescuing the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.

There are also four cups of wine which symbolize the four promises given to Moses in Exodus 6:6-7:

  1. I will bring you out (Cup of Sanctification)
  2. I will free you (Cup of  Deliverance)
  3. I will redeem you (Cup of Redemption)
  4. I will take you as my own people (Cup of Restoration)

Matzah is the unleavened bread that represents the urgent flight from Egypt, allowing no time to include yeast and risen bread. The Haggadah mentions the stripes and holes in the matzah, which symbolizes the physical pains the Israelites endured in slavery. As Christians, it also symbolizes the stripes Christ bore, and the holes He had in His hands and feet, on the cross.

The afikoman is my personal favorite part. There is a traditional cloth (called the matzah tosh) split into three compartments. Unbroken matzah is placed into each compartment and shown to the guests, explaining that it represents the bread of affliction in Egypt. The middle piece is then removed from the cloth and broken in two pieces. The larger of the two pieces becomes known as the afikoman, and is wrapped in linen and all the children present are asked to close their eyes. Then the afikoman is hidden somewhere in the room. As the seder continues, the children are encouraged to search for the hidden matzah. When it is found, the child who finds it receives a reward (or a ransom), and then the piece is broken up and distributed among the children.

Maybe by now you’re catching on to how powerful this symbolism is. As a strictly Jewish tradition, the question is: why are there three in separate compartments? There are a couple of different responses to this, including Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, or Israel, the priests, and the Levites. But then why take the middle and break it in two? In the one case, Isaac (Abraham’s only son) would be the one symbolically broken, and in the other, the priest would be the one broken. Either way, these are strong allusions to the sacrifice of Jesus.

Perhaps the most compelling evidence of the symbolism leading to Christ as the Messiah in this part of the seder is in the word afikoman. It comes from the Greek word afikomenos, meaning “the coming one” or “he has come”.

As Christians, the entire Passover Seder has profound meaning that never ceases to move my soul and resonate with my spirit. As we reflect on how God rescued the Israelites from Egypt, we recognize that we serve a God who has rescued us from the bondage of sin. As we drink of the four cups, we acknowledge that we serve a God who sanctifies, delivers, redeems and restores. As we observe the three matzah in the matzah tosh, we see the triune nature of God, even in a Jewish tradition that doesn’t acknowledge the Trinity. As the middle piece of matzah, striped and pierced, is broken and hidden, we remember Jesus’ gruesome death, and burial. When a child finds it and receives a ransom for it, we recall his resurrection, and that our sins are paid for by his sacrifice.

When the meal has been eaten and the seder is finished, the ceremony concludes with a unified declaration of all in the room: “Next year in Jerusalem!” We unite together in hope and anticipation that we will dine together with our Messiah soon in the new Jersualem.

*Interested in hosting a Passover Seder? Stay tuned for my next article on how to do just that!

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Posted in Current Events, Food & Drink, History, Theology & Philosophy | 7 Comments

When It’s Not Fair

Small fish big bowl, big fish small bowl
Photo via

This past autumn was rough.

It began promisingly enough: my two oldest daughters started preschool, giving me three glorious days a week with only the baby; I was cranking away on my writing and had just landed a bi-weekly column in our local paper; and we’d decided to get a dog.

The very day that we put a deposit down on a new puppy, I found out that I was pregnant with our fourth child.

Now, my husband and I love children (even our own . . . most of the time), but I can’t think of many things that explode your life like an unplanned pregnancy. Suddenly, it seemed like everything had been pushed back at least another five years — the point at which all the kids would be in school full-time, the point at which all the kids would be out of the house. Sleeping space became a logistical challenge. College looked like an impossibility; someone was going to trade school.

By mid-November, I was falling apart. Caring for three children under the age of five, a new puppy, a house, and a very busy husband through the fog of first-trimester nausea and exhaustion was grinding me down. I felt like I was dragging myself along by the scruff of my own neck. I lost the joy I usually find in day-to-day existence. Sometimes I had three little girls simultaneously screaming at me — just as the puppy walked through the door covered in mud.

For the first time in my life, I thought, “I can’t do this. I am not enough.” And I really meant it.

I’ve been working very hard to process the reality of this pregnancy, of this new child who’ll be joining our family. In this process, my main prayer has been: “Please help me to find the JOY in this.” And slowly, as I feel those kicks from the inside, as I see our baby on the ultrasound screen, as I talk to mothers of four who seem happy and sane, the joy has crept back in.

But here’s something I still struggle with: Why do I get to become accidentally pregnant with a FOURTH child, when so many people I know would love just ONE child? This past year, I’ve been barraged with stories of loss and grief: miscarriages, infertility, infants and children dying. Heart-crushing stuff. And here I sit, with three beautiful, healthy children, whining about how overwhelmed I am to be expecting a fourth. CLEARLY it’s not fair: it’s not that I deserve more children because I’m such a great mother, while other women don’t deserve children because they wouldn’t be good mothers.

What’s UP with THAT, God?!?

But lately I’ve considered that I’m looking at things the wrong way. It may not be that life’s so much about what’s fair, as it is about this: Everybody has something different to learn. 

To illustrate my point, think of life as an adventure-fantasy story where everyone is on a quest — like something out of J. R. R. Tolkein novel. At some point in this quest, each character has to walk alone through a dark cave, but here’s the thing: what they face in that cave is completely different for each person. It’s a challenge tailored to fit exactly what each person most needs to learn at that moment in order to successfully continue with the quest. (Surely there’s an actual adventure-fantasy story like this, right?)

So, apparently what I need to learn right now is how to live with complete chaos. I need to learn how to breathe, relax, and let go of my desire for control. I need to learn how to find joy even when life seems impossible, to find simple gratitude for what seems like unfair overabundance. And I need to learn how to ask for — and accept — help.

I have absolutely no idea what anybody else, like my friends who long for children they don’t have, needs to learn. That’s not my business. But then, it’s also not my business to judge that their struggles are “unfair.” My own viewpoint is so limited, so tiny; I am, after all, the same person who once thought that permed hair and feathered bangs were stylish. To quote God, “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand.” (Job 38:4)

In other words, for me to sit here and yell at God that life is unfair is like my daughters screaming because I won’t let them have candy for a snack, when all along I know that I’ve baked a huge chocolate cake for dessert.

Posted in Adversity, Being a Woman, Family, Grief & Loss, Parenting, Theology & Philosophy | 2 Comments

Are You and Daddy Still in Love?

My fourteen-year-old asked me this question again just last week. Up ’til now, my answer has always been a resounding YES. I knew that she just wanted reassurance, since we regularly enjoy a PG rated makeout in front of the girls while they roll their eyes and pretend to be annoyed. But this time I felt like she was ready for a more mature and, hopefully, more helpful answer.

Dating is around the corner for her. My focus is shifting from reassuring her that our family is secure to giving her the tools she will need to build her own successful marriage someday. It would be a disservice to her to let her believe that the reason my husband and I are still together after nearly nineteen years of marriage is because we are still “in love”.

“Not exactly, baby. What Daddy and I have goes much deeper than just the feeling of in-love-ness. We choose to not only love each other, but admire and respect each other, take care of each other, and be good friends. We’ve built a life, a home, and a family together. The butterflies in my tummy were really fun, and God used them to draw us together, but it’s not what makes our marriage last. Those feelings come and go. Our relationship is much stronger than that, and what we have now is WAY better.”

Not romantic enough for you? Sorry. I can’t afford to let my daughters believe that a lifelong commitment is based on something as unreliable as a feeling. What a helpless position to be in! I love my relationship with my husband; it is precious to me. Somedays it comes easy and we laugh and flirt and feel incredibly connected. Other days it’s harder and we choose to love with kind words and preferring the other based on our convictions. Is the future of our marriage in trouble on those days? Of course not. That is what I want my daughters to see in this next season. They don’t need to keep checking in to see if we are still in love. Our commitment to one another, before the Lord, is safe and secure because of the people we choose to be, and the investment we choose to make in our bond.

I know that I cannot make her understand how valuable something can become once you have fought for it. When you have cried over it, thought it was dead, kicked the tires, called for help, wrestled with hope, and thrown everything you have back into it one more time — there is no way she could appreciate that at fourteen. She has yet to experience what having something precious truly is, how you forsake many lesser things in order to keep it safe and sound, how your definition of love keeps expanding. I know she won’t understand it, but I am going to keep telling her about it. So when that day comes when the roller coaster ride of early love and bliss comes to a screeching halt and that voice says to exit to the left, she won’t freak out and start looking for the next ride. I hope she will take her husband by the hand, give him a wink, and they will walk into the next beautiful season of life together.

A portion of this article originally appeared on www.catchandreleaseparenting.com/blog

Photo by (and of) Stephanie Brubaker


Posted in Family, Marriage, Parenting | 1 Comment

February Friendship

There is a little known fact about the month of February. Nestled right in there with flowers on Valentine’s Day and kids drawing pictures of Abe Lincoln in honor of both President’s Day and Black History Month, is National Friendship Month (not to be confused with National Women’s Friendship Month which is apparently in September).

Oh yes, there is an entire month that is supposedly devoted to celebrating friendship. Friendship is important enough that, like Abe Lincoln and Rosa Parks, it merits a full month of recognition. I have a feeling that most people reading won’t have a problem understanding the value of having friends. You probably have coffee dates, baby showers, walks and craft-making sessions with friends already scheduled into your calendar.

But let me cite a cliché in order to begin to express a deeper purpose to National Friendship Month. It’s not about the quantity of friends, but the quality of friends that you surround yourself with. Don’t stop at this point and think you already have that figured out.

I have a friend that I have known for only a couple of years, but our shared experiences have wound our hearts together in a deep and profound way. During a brief stage of life, in an attempt to show God that I meant business in what my heart desired, I decided to forego an hour of sleep in order to pray every night at a nearby 24-hour prayer room. And when I say an hour a night, I don’t mean from 7 p.m.-8 p.m. The goal was much like that of fasting – to make a sacrifice. So, 1 a.m., after I had already snuggled into my bed and started dreaming of sugar plums, was the time I selected. Or so that was my plan. The execution thereof would demonstrate I was no saint. But I told my friend about my intentions and she said she would join me.

My inspiration quickly wore off. One in the morning would come around and I would silence my alarm and pull my blankets even tighter around me. But then my door would open, and my friend, who lived down the hall, would quietly creep in and say my name until I woke up and attempt to coax me out of bed. The first few mornings would bring about a string of apologies as the previous night usually consisted of me telling her to go away, that I didn’t feel well, or that I just didn’t want to go.

But she would always come back. She would come in to my room and remind me of my commitment. She would endure my excruciating stubbornness and wait patiently until my conviction would finally settle in and I would grumpily slink out of bed and out the door to the prayer room.

In her, and through this experience, I finally found the picture of accountability and loyalty I had heard about and longed for. She wasn’t just a fair-weather friend. She wasn’t just a person who would affirm my dreams and aspirations over coffee and go about her business when we parted ways. She was committed to helping me live up to my word, to grow and change. It wasn’t a one-sided relationship. I learned how to listen to her, to both encourage and challenge her in her own ambitions.  There was mutual edification as we openly acknowledged each others’ strengths and weaknesses and sought to be genuine friends.

Unless we have become taciturn hermits, friendship is a part of all of our lives. Some friends are only there for a season. They come and go as life moves on. Some friends are closer than others.

But friendship is more than just taking pictures and posting them on Facebook. Friends are meant to mean more than someone to vent to over tea or to have a good time with. Those things are certainly a part of a friendship, but there is something so fulfilling about having a deep friendship with someone. There is something liberating about being completely transparent with a friend. There is something transforming about having a friend who is willing to challenge us as we learn to be teachable. And there is something challenging and humbling about learning to give and to be that mutually encouraging and challenging friend to another.

I am reminded of Jesus and His interaction with the disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane right before He was about to go save the world. He was the friend who, even in the mist of his own anguish, still loved His friends and sought to help them learn and walk in the ways of the Father. He continuously challenged them to crucify their flesh and remain in prayer, although the flesh might be weak.

This is the kind of friendship I think of when I think of National Friendship Month. These are the relationships that I value and want to celebrate. People like this friend of mine are the people we ought to celebrate the most this month. And if we don’t have friends like this, perhaps this month ought to be the inspiration to go get some, or at least one.

A challenge to action this month: contemplate the friends with whom you have deep relationships. Write them a note. Send the far-away ones a care package. Light a candle for them in prayer. Remember them, love them and celebrate them.

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The Place I’m in Feels Stale: When My Calling Becomes Too Important


The depraved nature of my human heart has become so clear lately. The contents of my life, my job and career path, my marriage, my location, are all wonderful yet I’m still plagued with days of unhappiness, depression, and grumpiness. I have been so focused on what God has called me to do, so why do I feel so overwhelmed? When I began typing these words it all seemed so simple. The answer is that I need more Jesus. Isn’t that always the answer? Abiding in Him changes me, and as I do it more I realize how practical my God really is.

As I learn how to balance my life with my career, my heart has been convicted and tugged in these three directions lately:

1. Know My Calling

When someone asks me what I do, I say I’m a film composer who works for a more successful film composer. I’m working toward building my career in the business, I’m working toward my creative craft of composing, and I am working on networking, meeting people, and embedding myself in the industry. Usually, before I even realize it, I’ve spouted off a dozen things before once mentioning or thinking about God or HIS purpose for having me here. He put these desires and callings in my heart and allowed me to pursue such an exciting career. Why do I forget Him? When I realign myself I begin thinking about my job as a way to serve others, to love on others, and to share the gospel. I need the latter to define who I am, not the former. If I focus on the material I will only get burned out. During the past few weeks I have realized that I don’t know how to practically define myself aside from what I do for a living. This happens because I make my job the end and not the means to a greater end.

2. Know My Community

This one is hard for me. In moving around a lot during the last few years, and having a very solid foundation of relationships from back home, I struggle to quickly start friendships and open up to people. I am a very past-oriented person with frequent trips down memory lane into bouts of nostalgia. I still have a lot of close friends . . . they just live far away! It’s so easy to just stick with the status quo if I know I’m not going to live somewhere for long and when life is unpredictable. I convince myself that I’m fine without people around me who I’m close with. I have learned this lesson the hard way. It becomes all too easy to dump all my burdens on my husband, or to believe that the small talk I engage in with acquaintances at church constitutes the community I need. I have recently begun working toward having people in my life who know me so well they can speak into my life even when it’s uncomfortable. Life is too messy and complicated to do it all by yourself.

3. Know My Creator

I have been a Christian my whole life which, strangely enough, makes it easier for me to take the Lord for granted. I know He will always be with me and never forsake me, so by forsaking my daily walk with Him I miss out on all He has for me. I know there were several times in the past few years that He wanted me to learn and grow so much more than I did simply because I wasn’t talking to Him first about my problems, stresses, and even my joys and triumphs. If I don’t stay connected to Him I attribute my successes to myself, and my despair I blame on others or become depressed. I have been challenged recently to not talk to anyone about something before first talking to Him. What a hard thing to do! I hadn’t realized how much I thought I could do things on my own strength.

These are the things I’m focusing on to re-center my life to one of balance and peace in the midst of a life and career filled with unpredictability and stress.

How do you balance these things?

The temporal with the eternal . . .

The visible with the invisible . . .

The immediate with the lasting . . .

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