The Light Has Come

I got my first “are you ready for Christmas?” of the season earlier this week, and I replied with a laugh and a “well, almost!”.

I don’t know about you, but I sure want things to be “just so” before all the fun really gets going. And somehow you’d think I would have learned by now that life never quite goes that way. It’s the two-day process of decorating the Christmas tree because we just couldn’t get it all done in one day. It’s the decorations next to the laundry pile. Kids memorizing lines for the church Christmas play while home on a sick day. Adjusting plans and re-adjusting plans based on the various unexpected requests and demands that inevitably pop up in December. It’s a December birthday and a December wedding sandwiching the wonder of Christmas itself.

It seems that we’re searching for a bit of silence.

But is that what we truly want?

Silence is exactly what was going on before the Light of the World dawned. There are 400 years of it between the Old Testament and the New Testament. God spoke promise after promise of One who would bring salvation, and then nothing. For four centuries. 400 years of waiting, wondering, yearning for the Messiah – the Promised One who would bring deliverance from sin.

400 years of hoping this leader would be the one.

And then, the silence is broken. An angel visits a young girl with a message that cuts through the darkness. Could it be? Could all the waiting be finally coming to an end? Could our watching and hoping be fulfilled before our very eyes?

It’s then we realize that it isn’t silence we’re really looking for after all; it’s peace.

I love the powerful words of Isaiah 60:1-2 (NIV):

“Arise, shine, for your light has come,
    and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.

See, darkness covers the earth
    and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you
    and his glory appears over you.”

How that resonates with me this year. How I long to rediscover Jesus as the Light of the World, the Light of my heart. The words in Isaiah were written hundreds of years before that star shone in the East, before the angel brought good news to Mary, before that long and arduous journey to Bethlehem. Long before that tiny Baby breathed his first breath, before that Wonderful Saviour breathed His last breath, and before He rose from the grave and conquered sin and death.

He is the Light of the World. The Lord has risen upon us and his glory appears over us. After all those years of silence, the Prince of Peace came; the Promise was kept. And as we think about how Jesus said He would return one day to make everything right, we understand that this promise will be kept too. He will return as King of Kings.

I’m setting my heart on Him this Advent season.

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:14 NIV)

Amen.

Candle David Monje

Image: David Monje

Unexpected

Heavy wet snow is falling across the neighbourhood, blanketing everything with a fresh layer of white. The towering evergreens across the street bear thick drifts on their branches like sweaters and the tall breezy willow to the left is looking cosy in its snowy new duds.

It makes getting around somewhat complicated and tiresome, but it sure is beautiful.

Much like the snow, colds have descended upon our home this week and it’s making getting around somewhat, well, complicated and tiresome.

But there is beauty even in these moments.

More cuddles. More time together. Rest and recuperation. Time to read, reflect and pray.

A gift.

Maybe not the way we would have expected it to come, with a physical cost, but a great gift, nonetheless.

Isn’t that the message of Christmas?

An immeasurable gift, with a physical cost, wrapped in an unexpected package.

Do you really want to know what God is like?

Start with Jesus.

Like the Wise Men catching a glimpse of something glorious in the sky, we know there must be something more to all this sparkle than what we’re seeing with our eyes. We yearn to look into the face of something, or Someone, greater than ourselves and finally understand where we fit.

It really makes no sense and perfect sense all at the same time. How does God help us understand just what He is like? How does the Creator of the Universe strike up a relationship with His creation? John 1:1-4,14 (NIV) has always moved my heart.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it….The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

In Him was life, the light of the world. It shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it! And then that very Word became flesh. We have seen His glory, revealed for the very first time so many Christmases ago.

My heart breathes a sigh of relief. There really is good news that will cause great joy for all the people (Luke 2:10).

Let’s begin this holiday season with a sense that we are about to behold the very One who laid the foundation of the world and knit us together in our mother’s womb. Let us walk into the next few weeks with the wonder of God’s great love and mercy in our hearts and understand that this unexpected package holds something infinitely greater than we could ever discover on our own.

Let’s welcome how this Great Gift will disrupt our normal, make “getting around” a bit more complicated, and require more of us than we think reasonable.

But guaranteed, if we choose to receive it, this Great Gift will transform our ordinary.

This unexpected and wonderful Gift that came with such a cost can and will change us forever.

I’m so glad Christmas is so much more than just brown paper packages tied up with string. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

angel chimes on the table

Angel Chimes light up our Christmas Table

You Do Not Walk Alone

The beginning of November with all its darkness and cold weather sends me into a bit of a tizzy!

My mind spins with all the questions: How is it November already? Is this year really almost over? Have I done all the things I wanted to do? Can I cram all the other stuff on the list into two very busy, very short months? Will we be ready for Christmas in time? Is everything really going to be okay?

I don’t know all the answers to all the questions, but I have a sneaking suspicion based on my experience from years past that the answer to the last one is a resounding, “yes! Everything really will be okay!”

I wept this week as I thought about the goodness of our God. He is so merciful and kind! His grace knows no bounds. His love knows no end. His justice will triumph over all evil and His is the victory.

Most of all, He alone will wipe away every tear (Rev 21:4).

Whatever you are walking through today that feels overwhelming and impossible, one thing is for sure – you do not walk alone.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.” 

(2 Corinthians 1:3-7 NIV)

berries in bushes

This little bush gave me a glimpse of hope in the midst of a difficult season.

A Glimpse of What’s to Come

This is the final in a weekly blog series leading up to Thanksgiving. Join the conversation at #3WeeksofThanks.

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We’re on the doorstep of the Thanksgiving weekend and if your life is anything like mine, you’ve probably had a few things pop up recently that were unexpected and unwelcome. They may be innocuous but inconvenient, or they may be devastating and difficult to recover from.

And sometimes they’re somewhere in between.

As Christians, we understand that we are living in the tension of what is and what is yet to come. We know that one day, all evil will come to an end and Jesus will reign. I came across this powerful picture of the future in Isaiah 60:19-20 (NIV) —

“The sun will no more be your light by day,
    nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you,
for the Lord will be your everlasting light,
    and your God will be your glory.

Your sun will never set again,
    and your moon will wane no more;
the Lord will be your everlasting light,
    and your days of sorrow will end.”

When Jesus came, we caught a glimpse of what God’s Kingdom will be like. He is the one who binds up the brokenhearted, sets the captives free, comforts those who mourn, and gives beauty instead of ashes, joy instead of mourning, praise instead of the spirit of despair (Isaiah 61:1-3, Luke 4:18). How amazing to know that God’s plan moves forward despite attempts to thwart Him!

I’ve been reminded recently that God is the God of the ages. He is eternal and His plans will stand, no matter what our current circumstances may look like. Our days of sorrow will end one day because of Jesus, but for now we as Christians share in His sufferings so that one day, we will share in His glory. I read through Romans 8:16-21 this week and its truth pierced my heart.

“The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.” (NIV)

Difficult days tempt us to believe that there is no hope and that our circumstances are all there is to this life. Even on a holiday weekend where warm feelings of gratitude ought to overwhelm, we find ourselves holding things that deeply grieve our hearts and make it tough to see the forest for the trees.

In these moments, let us choose joy. Let us choose gratitude. Let us choose to saturate ourselves in the truth of God’s word! Our days of sorrow will end. Jesus has come to bind up the brokenhearted and set the captives free. Our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us!

Happy Thanksgiving! We are blessed beyond measure. Yes, with homes and food and community and loved ones, but even more than that – we are blessed with a Heavenly Father who loves us and pursues us, never leaving us where He finds us, but rather constantly restoring and reconciling us to Himself.

Praise His Holy name!

fall-flowers 3wt

A Heart of Thanksgiving

This is the third in a weekly blog series leading up to Thanksgiving. Join the conversation at #3WeeksofThanks.

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Want a healthier heart? Count your blessings.

How about a better night’s sleep? Write them down in your gratitude journal before bed.

If you want to be more optimistic, make new friends and get more exercise, make a point of expressing your thanks many times a day.

Research shows us that gratitude is good for our hearts, helps us sleep better, builds our relationships and improves our physical health. There are so many benefits of counting our blessings every single day! We begin to feel more alive when we take a moment to actually remember all the good things we’ve been given. But what about when things aren’t going too well?

How do you cultivate a heart of thanksgiving when you’re wrapped up in the whirlwind of stressful day-to-day demands?

How do you cultivate a heart of thanksgiving in a season of loss and grief?

When you’re alone or disconnected? In poor health or experiencing scarcity?

When the stories in the news point to tragedy, evil and seemingly impending doom?

If we’re completely honest, our personal set of circumstances and the global state of affairs can make us feel unsettled. Then October rolls around and we are reminded to feel thankful for the safety of our homes, the satisfaction of our full bellies and the health of our loved ones, but it’s often only because we know it could be much worse. We see lives falling apart around us and feel thankful that we have been spared that kind of suffering, so far. We consider our own difficulties and wonder if things really will be alright after all.

That opportunity to choose to be thankful in the middle of difficulty is good for us. It leads us to the understanding that our thanksgiving needs to be anchored in something much greater than our circumstances or the changing times we live in. We’re not thankful because of what we have or don’t have – we’re thankful because God is good, all the time, and He will always keep His promises.

As Christians, we understand God’s Word to be His revelation of who He is and the primary way we get to know Him. Creation reveals Him as Creator, Jesus reveals God as Father, His Word reveals His character, and when we put our faith in Christ and become filled with the Holy Spirit, He is revealed through His very presence in our lives.

That’s how to begin to cultivate a heart of thanksgiving, no matter what we’re facing.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the story Jesus told about the Wise and the Foolish Builders in Matthew 7:24-29 (NIV) —

“ ‘Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.’

When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.”

The rain will fall, the streams will rise. Giving thanks in the middle of it all takes supernatural power! In this season, let’s move beyond breathing a sigh of relief that we aren’t worse off and begin to understand what it means to build our lives on a solid foundation that won’t crumble under the weight of changing circumstances and the negative news cycle. Let’s discover true thanksgiving that fills our hearts with gratitude no matter what we’ve faced in the past, what we’re staring down in the present or what may come in the future, so that we can say with Paul in Philippians:

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:12-13 NIV)

fall-flowers 3wt

The Ordinary Becomes Extraordinary

This is the second in a weekly blog series leading up to Thanksgiving. Join the conversation at #3WeeksofThanks.

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We live near a natural area that comes alive with brilliant colour in the fall. Early summer’s green grasses give way to a brown, dry landscape throughout the drier months of July and August. As the weeks go by, it becomes entirely monochromatic and unremarkable, until about mid-September.

And then fall comes blazing in.

A few groves of taller trees shine in a yellow hue, but it’s the low-lying brush and grasses that are centre stage. In the nooks and crannies during these weeks of the year, the weeds and small shrubs showcase a marbling of orange, red and purple on the hillside, singing out a beautiful melody to the One who made them.

A few streets away, the tall elms are sending their golden leaves swirling to the ground in the fall afternoon winds. Clouds that threaten a few cold rain showers move across the sky full of sunlight, much paler now than a month ago, but it still holds warmth, bringing a welcome break from the brisk breeze. I truly cannot get enough! Every year I am astounded by its beauty.

The Thanksgiving Tree is up on the wall now, and our handprint leaves remind us of the tangible blessings we have in front of us. One of the other practices I am attempting throughout this season is a daily gratitude journal. Most nights before bed, I think about the ten things I am most thankful for that day and write them on a list.

An altar of sorts.

Several times throughout the Old Testament, at significant moments, God instructs His people to build a raised structure as a place of sacrifice, to mark what He had done at that particular location, for Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Gideon, Samuel, Saul, David, Elijah and others. Altars were meant for worship, communion with God, and to recall the covenant He made with His people. To turn their hearts towards Him and remember His amazing promises again.

We too need those moments of remembering because in them, a reorienting occurs. As we spend time considering who God is, what He has done in the past, how He has kept His promises through all the generations before us through Jesus Christ’s work on the cross and His resurrection bringing victory over death, and even what He is doing now in our lives through the Holy Spirit, we are changed. Our stone hearts become flesh again, and we turn from our self-centred focus on getting our own way to surrendering to the way of the One who will always do what He says He will do.

Because of Christ’s once-and-for-all sacrifice, the methods of worship have changed, but the heart behind it is the same. We may no longer offer blood sacrifices on a stone altar for the forgiveness of our sins, but when we come to Christ and confess our sins, we receive that forgiveness and brand new life. We walk forward in the truth that we are filled with the Holy Spirit and are being transformed by His power.

These ordinary places of communion with God – these modern-day altars – call us to remember Whom we worship. The glorious colours of fall on the hillside. The daily list of ten things I’m thankful for today. The moments that seem so ordinary – these are the places we turn our hearts toward God and remember who He is and what He has done. We remember Who we were created for.

And we find our hearts full of thanksgiving.

fall-flowers 3wt

When You’re Not Feeling Thankful

This is the first in a weekly blog series leading up to Thanksgiving. Join the conversation at #3WeeksofThanks.

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Today is the first day of #3WeeksofThanks.

Full disclosure: I’m not feeling particularly thankful.

We’ve been short on sleep and long on conflict at our house this week, and that makes for a tired family. Just as I predicted, Thanksgiving isn’t really at the top of our minds. It’s still four weekends away, but here we are, intentionally entering into a season of being reminded of God’s faithfulness in the smallest, most frustrating and even most sorrow-laden areas of our lives.

It occurred to me yesterday that I am a work in progress, and I am so glad God is not done with me yet. The older I get, the more I come to the realization that He loves me enough not to leave me in my selfishness and pride. He’s pulling out the sandpaper and smoothing those rough edges for His glory. Though it is uncomfortable and downright painful at times, in the end I know He is working in me for my good, because He loves me.

As I’m looking at the theme of thanksgiving and the faithfulness of God throughout His Word, I’m struck by just how many times the Israelites forget who God is and turn away from Him to worship something else.

Then the call comes to remember. Again and again, the people are reminded of what God has done in the past, and who they really belong to. Psalm 77:11 (NIV) says, “I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.”

He loves them enough not to leave them in their sin. And He draws them back to Himself, although the cost is high.

Often I find that when I’m not feeling thankful, it’s not because I am not thankful — it’s because I have forgotten who God is and what He has done in the past, not only for me and our family, but for humans throughout history. Looking through His Word at the events of the Old Testament, leading into the life of Jesus, His death and resurrection, then the pouring out of the Holy Spirit and the progress of the early church, I am reminded that the same God who set those events in motion is the same God who meets me where I am in this moment of the day when I need Him most.

He draws me back to Himself, and I can say with the Psalmist: “I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.” Only then does it seem possible to live out the words of Colossians 3:15 (NIV) in even the intense and difficult moments of today:

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

fall-flowers 3wt

The Sun is Back

At last, the sun is peeking through the clouds.

For the past few days we’ve had cold, rainy weather, reminding us of the changing season. We pulled out rain boots, winter jackets and toques so the kids would be warm enough at recess, and the memory of strong summer sunshine began to fade. Until today. The skies have begun to clear and the promise of a warm late summer day seems possible, if not probable. The beauty of the brilliant light is streaming in the large front window, illuminating the crowd of little people toys lined up on the coffee table.

Doesn’t take much to forget, does it?

That’s the thing about the daily grind of life. It tends to cloud our view and we exist under its pall, moving from one moment to the next, getting the to-do list done and just trying to get through the busy day before us.

About seven years ago, I grew tired at how I was always surprised by the sudden arrival of Thanksgiving. When it breezes in on the second weekend of October, it really feels like the worst possible time! The school year is in full swing, we’re neck-deep in navigating our new schedule and cold and flu season is making its grand entrance.

Suddenly, it was time to pause and be thankful over a meal with family and friends. It was a welcome break from the crazy, but I began to wonder: can there be more to this than sweet potato casserole and slices of perfect turkey?

I wanted to create something hands-on for our family to engage in before Turkey Sunday to help us connect the concept of thanksgiving to our real lives. Burlap and twine went up on the wall in the living room and I carefully cut out some paper leaves. Sitting at the table with my young children, we thought of things we were thankful for. As we wrote them on the leaves, we thanked the Lord for each one, and then carefully hung the leaves on our Thanksgiving Tree.

I’ve kept all those old leaves, and every year they go on the tree. We always make more by tracing our handprints on red, yellow, orange and brown construction paper, filling them in with things we are thankful for now, in this season of our life together.

Our tree is full – along with our hearts.

It has become the sunshine that peeks through the clouds of our routine, reminding us that we have a great God who is faithful in all things and everything we have and are is because of Him.

It’s easy to forget what we really have right in front of us, and even more than that, the One who sustains us with His grace and love. My hope is that as we enter into the Thanksgiving season, we’ll move beyond a pre-meal prayer of “God is great, God is good, let us thank Him for this food” into a heart full of gratitude for who He is!

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If you’re looking for a way to make Thanksgiving more than turkey and stuffing this year, join me for a short weekly blog series called Three Weeks of Thanks (#3WeeksofThanks) on Thursdays, starting September 19th.

sunrise in september

A stunning sunrise today: the morning sun always breaks through the clouds.

Enough

When you’re doing the thing you believe God has brought before you to do, it’s rarely a comfortable experience.

I remember sitting on our couch in the living room of our small home about five years ago. I was expecting our third child, preparing myself for the changes that were coming. I knew we’d be outnumbered but I wasn’t worried about that. My tears fell for an entirely different reason. Would we have “enough”? Would our income be able to keep up with another child entering our home?

“I need to know we’re going to have enough!” I heard myself say through the emotion that overwhelmed me.

“What is ‘enough’?” my husband replied. “How much do we really, actually, need?”

That conversation has never left my mind and heart. I see now that at the time I didn’t fully trust God as my provider, not just financially, but in many areas of my life.

The deepening of our faith in Jesus always requires a choice: trust in Him, or trust in me.

Over the past five years, we’ve added another little one to our family, and I have been amazed over and over again at how God has provided just what we need at just the right time. And He continues to do so! Even more than our physical needs, I am seeing that He really is the Bread of Life (John 6:35)!

We have four beautiful children that God has called me to mother. When I had my first baby, I really felt like maybe I just wasn’t good at this mothering thing. It was an uphill climb. But now that our youngest is out of the baby stage, I can see God’s grace carrying me thus far, gently teaching me how to nurture each one of our unique children. I can see Him carefully removing my need to prove myself competent and capable and replacing it with a soft heart for the most vulnerable among us. And I can see that these are the works of His hand in my life, not because I tried harder to be a better mom. I made the choice to trust Him instead of me.

This is not an easy road! But I am relieved that I am not who I once was. And it’s all because of His never-ending, all-encompassing love poured out into my heart for His glory and eternal purposes.

It’s never comfortable to fully immerse yourself in the life that God has called you to live. It requires stepping away from the life that you think you need to embrace the life you truly need.

Matthew 11:28-30 is proving to be true for me every day:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

September is a second new year of sorts. It brings with it many options to fill up our plates with busyness. But maybe what we really need is more space in our schedule to pour ourselves into the very people that are in front of us and more time in our day to rest and recharge in the Word of God.

Maybe what we truly need is not more, but less. Only then will we find that He really is enough.

through the trees

A peaceful place in the trees.

When I’m Feeling Behind

I’ve gotta admit, I’m feeling a little behind on some things this week.

How is it Wednesday already? I’m thinking, okay week, you can stop now so I can catch up! Alas, time marches on, and so we must continue rolling from day into night and back into day again.

Sometimes things just don’t get done the way we were hoping.

When it comes to productivity, I’m a huge fan of lists. Sometimes I even add things to the list after I’ve done them just so I can cross them off! But the most helpful tip I’ve employed so far is the “top three things” method. You pick the top three things that need to happen today and make sure those get done, and then anything over and above that is a bonus.

When I was a mama of a newborn, the top three things often included keeping the baby alive and relatively happy, taking a nap and doing one thing that I enjoyed. Now that my kiddos are all out of the baby stage, the top three things often include keeping the kids alive, making sure my toddler naps, and doing at least one thing I enjoy. (And of course, time with the Lord!)

That last thing, the one where I do something I enjoy? That’s for my sanity.

Maybe that’s why most of my #summergoals may have to wait until next year! I’m still in the thick of raising tiny humans who are slowly becoming medium-sized humans, and I’ll tell you, it’s busy. And it’s tempting to forget what season of life I am in, and try to be in someone else’s season of life along with them.

You know what I’m talking about! The ol’ FOMO (fear of missing out, in case you’re old like me and were about to look that up on the Google) creeps in when you peruse your social media feed and you wonder, “just what in the world am I actually doing with my life?! Am I even making a difference like that person is? What about forging ahead in my personal goals like that friend? And look at all the things this other person has going on. What do I really have going for me anyway?”

I’m learning to close the news feed and instead, open up my camera roll. I often snap photos of things that make me smile or fill my heart with a sense of peace, and I’ve discovered that it is one of the most concrete reminders of this amazing life I already have! As I scroll through the different images of my own life that I am actually living right now, the majority of which will never see the light of social-media-day, I begin to see that God is bringing me wonderful gifts every single day that remind me of His goodness.

Somehow, that gives me perspective for my daily to-do list, for those top three things that need to get done.

And I am grateful.

Suzy Hazelwood to do list

Image: Suzy Hazelwood