Love Your Neighbour

I am a passionate person. Ask my friends and family – they’ll tell you I have opinions about things and I don’t hesitate to share them freely. To be honest, it has gotten me in trouble on more than one occasion but, thankfully, it has also allowed me to be a voice for those who have none.

The raging debate between Christians regarding whether to re-open their church doors or leave them closed during a pandemic is dividing congregations across our communities. Both sides make excellent points, but I’ve noticed a disturbing trend that is causing me to sit up and take notice of how I myself engage in this topic.

Jesus has called us to love our neighbour as ourselves. So just how do we love our neighbour well during a public health crisis? Is church attendance essential to being a Christian? Is the gathered body of Christ a priority when the current health recommendations are to be apart?

Wonderful questions worthy of vigorous debate.

Here’s the problem I am currently struggling through. 

I’ve noticed the tendency to measure spiritual maturity in relation to which side we fall on. And of course, we raise an eyebrow at those who don’t agree with our point of view. Those who want to gather are seen as immature and selfish people who are not living out Jesus’ command to love our neighbour. Those who are unwilling to gather at this time and choose to follow health guidelines are seen as cowards who are worshiping the government instead of Jesus.

Why are we doing this to each other?

“If you think church is a building, you don’t know Jesus.” 

“If you don’t want to gather with other Christians, something’s wrong in your walk with Christ.”

Two sides of the same hurtful, destructive coin. 

Can I offer a third way? What if we do the thing Christ-followers been called to do for centuries? Ephesians 4:2-6 says, 

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

Tim Keller once said, “The church is not a museum for pristine saints, but a hospital ward for broken sinners.” Of which we all are. No one has the corner on perfect righteousness except Jesus. We are all wrestling through stressful circumstances with no real end in sight. Some have accepted pandemic life and are patiently waiting it out. Others believe if they were to do that, they would be compromising their beliefs. Is one more spiritual than the other? Some suffer struggles made significantly worse by isolation and are desperate for meaningful human interaction with their church family. Some suffer anxiety over possibly spreading the virus to the vulnerable and are paralyzed by the thought of a group gathering even if it means missing out on a part of their life they hold dear. Is one closer to Jesus than the other? We have been isolated from one another for so long, stuck in our echo chambers where it’s far too easy to paint the other side in a negative light. We have forgotten the call to be completely humble and gentle, to be patient, to bear with one another in love.

When presented with the opportunity to sin by self-righteousness and smug attitudes, let’s run the other way and choose to love our neighbour well – including our Christian brothers and sisters on the other side of this issue. Instead of passing uncharitable judgment on those whose needs and desires do not align with our own, we can praise the Lord that the body of Christ is made up of many different parts, and that each part has a purpose and a role in fulfilling the call of Christ to the greater community at this particular time in history.

Lord, forgive us for calling someone else’s faith into question when they don’t see this the way we do. Give us wisdom, patience and deep encouragement as we learn how to love our neighbour well in this difficult time.

(image: mine)

Connecting Points

I stepped outside yesterday evening and -21 C felt positively balmy after the polar vortex week of -45 C windchills. The bitter cold is slowly losing its grip and it feels amazing.

Cosy weather, though, isn’t it? Hot tea, sweaters, slippers, books and movies and all the inside hobbies you can muster. No yard to tend to other than keeping the sidewalk clear. Aside from all the usual suspects that come with the cold, like your key won’t turn the lock in the front door, or that giant icicle needs to be karate-kicked off the furnace vent, or the van won’t start unless it’s plugged in and when it does, random warning lights pepper the dashboard, it’s not so bad.

I’m thankful, though, that a bit of relief is on the way. In just a few more days we’ll have regular February cold instead of that frigid Arctic blast. Believe it or not, our weather has been one of the biggest blessings of the past few months. I was chatting with a friend from another province over zoom the other day and we were both amazed at how fantastic the weather has been so far this winter, both there and here. With the restrictions on activities and social gatherings, the unseasonably warm, vibrant fall and mild winter has felt like a kiss from heaven.

Where else are you seeing God’s grace today?

I live a rather ordinary life. I get up in the morning, get ready for the day and grab a cup of coffee. Then my mental chore checklist kicks into high gear and I remember all the dishes and laundry that didn’t get done yesterday so I begin my “I’m just going to do this one thing” habit. But the Lord is teaching me to press pause on my plans and be present when the opportunity arises.

I’ve observed that in our home, breakfast is a connecting point. All four kids are sitting at the table chattering away while they munch on their cereal or oatmeal. They pipe up when I don’t join them. “Mom! You have to eat breakfast!” they say. So I grab my toast and coffee and, against my morning-energy, goal-oriented, multi-tasking nature, I sit. This week our 10 year old instituted a Question of the Day. She posts a new one every morning and we take turns answering it. Then we’ll pull out one of the devotion books on the shelf or I’ll ask a spiritual question or use an ordinary object to illustrate a truth about God. We’re only around the table for about 10-15 minutes, but it’s a connecting point for spiritual conversations. Then we pray together and get on our way. I fully realize it won’t always be like this, so I’m making the most of these moments while I have them right in front of me.

I’m a busy person. I’ve always got something going on. There’s so much to do all the time. I’m flitting from this thing to that thing, my mind preoccupied with the things I’ve done and the things I have yet to do, today, tomorrow, next week, next month. My mind is has an ongoing checklist that is never quite finished, only set aside in favour of things that are more urgent.

Connecting points break into my noisy world. They are invitations to sit, to rest, to be present — to connect.

Connecting points are God’s grace unfolding before our very eyes. When we’re moving mechanically through these moments and days and years, we tend to miss some of the most amazing opportunities to pour into each other’s lives. I am far from perfect at it and too often I feel the sting as hindsight reveals my shortcomings, but I’m learning to slow down and savour the life I have right in front of me, the life given to me as a gift by the One who knows me better than I know myself. The One who made me and sustains me. The One who knows just what I need in every moment of the day. The One who invites me to sit at His feet even though “I’ve got a lot to do, you know”.

Luke 10:38-42 comes to mind:

“As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, ‘Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!’

‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’”

Lord, help me to choose what is better — even in the moments when I think I know better. Let the warmth of connecting with You release the bitter cold of drivenness and soften my heart so I recognize the connecting points that are right in front of me.

One morning my little guy invited me to have “coffee” with him.

MomLife: What I Have Learned So Far (Early 2021 Edition)

We started a family vision board for 2021 the other day after I was inspired by a post on instagram. I’m no letter artist but I liked the idea so I rolled some paper across our folding table and taped it down on both sides, hauled out the coloured Sharpies and began. We brainstormed some things that we want to do and manageable goals we want to accomplish, like “Camp in the backyard” and “Read as a family” and “Keep the house clean”. I decided to leave it out for the weekend to see if there were more things we wanted to add as we thought of them.

It was Cooking Club day with the kids. While I was in the kitchen with the older two, my third-born, independent, make-it-happen daughter got bored waiting for her turn to help with dinner. So she picked up the Sharpies and added her own ideas to the board in her Kindergarten printing, covering a large part of the mural.

“Go to Disneyland.”

This kid doesn’t mince words (wonder where she got that from!). 

We had a good chuckle, and I adjusted the goal slightly to include words like “save up our money so we can” and “in 2023”.

2021 probably won’t be the year that all our travel dreams come true – at least not for our family. But there are lots of other dreams that are blossoming before my very eyes — four of them, for starters. When Jesus said “love your neighbour as yourself”, I fully believe He meant the people around you. In my case, that includes the four humans entrusted to our care.

It takes a lot to be a parent. Even as I am writing this someone is asking for carrots because they’re watching Bugs Bunny and they want to pretend to be Bugs. Costume authenticity is pretty important when you’re three and a half, so a carrot is necessary for true representation of this particular Looney Tunes character. Someone else has brought out that ridiculous squawking chicken game we received as a gift one Christmas and is squeezing the life out of it. At least that’s what it sounds like from here. Another kid just snatched the last apple slice right out of a chubby little hand and war is imminent. Perfect examples of how the demands of raising young children are nothing to sneeze at.

My oldest turns 10 this year and it feels like a big deal. Looking back on the tiny baby who came into the world on her own terms and has lived that way ever since makes me feel like I still don’t have a clue what I’m doing, but there is grace even for me! My mom-skills didn’t come naturally. I had a career for a decade before I became a mom and felt competent in my field, but this whole mom thing was like living on another planet — one where I felt completely inept. Right from newborn stage, things like nursing and sleep were difficult. Toddlerville nearly did me in with its emotional ups and downs and potty training. And preschool conversation energy is something else altogether. Anxiety’s paralyzing grip coupled with the massive sleep deficit nearly made me crazy. Sometimes the memories of all the mistakes I’ve made and the times I’ve had to say sorry linger in my mind, filling me with fear and shame. I’ve learned that in those moments, gentleness is key so I pause and pray that the Lord will fill in those gaps with His presence and love. I pray that I will not repeat those mistakes now that we’re in a different stage, and then I thank Him that His mercies are new every morning.

From time to time, I reflect on my experience as a mom and the things I’ve learned along the way. It tends to happen when we reach a certain kind of milestone in our family: no more babies, everyone’s out of diapers, birthday season. I certainly don’t know all the things about motherhood, but I’ve learned one or two things in ten years. Might take the next ten to learn a few more things, but I’m okay with that.

Here’s what I have so far:

Motherhood is a marathon. We are in this for the long haul. There are no shortcuts, quick fixes, fast sprints to the finish line. There are even rest stops along the way – the gift of an easier age or stage – that allow us to refuel and recharge. Praise the Lord, He knows our needs! I’m a rather impatient person by nature, so this has been a difficult one to grasp. But I’m getting there.

Motherhood is miraculous. We are forever changed by these tiny humans that grow from impossibly small and helpless into tall, confident risk-takers before our very eyes. Transformation happens in so many ways that it hardly seems possible. But it is. I have never experienced something in my life that God has used to change my heart like motherhood has. The softening of a heart is a beautiful thing. I’m learning that when you’re handed the opportunity to change in all the best ways, it is a shame to waste it.

We are entering Pre-TeenTown, soon to be followed by TeenLand, while simultaneously guiding each younger child through the stage they are in, which they will experience differently than any of their siblings. It is dawning on me that I have four little neighbours, the kind that Jesus talked about, living right in my home — four individuals who are watching, wondering, needing, growing, experiencing and absorbing.

Pray for me — seriously. And all the moms (and dads). 

I long for my kids to see God’s heart for them through me, to be a soft place to land, pointing them to Jesus in every situation. I need the courage to ask for their forgiveness when I’m wrong. To teach them the life skills they need for the future — and believe me, that one takes courage because it’s so much easier to just do everything myself! And the strength to be that constant reminder that God will not abandon them regardless of where they find themselves in life. 

Don’t believe the lie that you that you are “just a mom”. You and I both know that there is no such thing. Consider your relationship with your own mother. Whether she was present or absent in your life, she is hardly inconsequential. Her very existence is woven into the fabric of your heart, though there may be wounds in need of healing, a relationship in need of reconciliation or a situation in need of redemption. It matters. She matters. You matter. Don’t give up, Mamas. This is a hard and beautiful thing, but we are here for it. 

And we are not alone, thanks be to God.

Mama and baby hands from so long ago. I always love these ones.

And Now, A New Year

The tree came down this week. It was our very first real tree as a married couple and I didn’t mind the mess of the needles one bit. I’ve been warned that I’ll still be finding them in June!

Our area has been under a no indoor/outdoor gatherings restriction for the past month, so Christmas was very different for our family. I fully expected no indoor gatherings, but the no outdoor gatherings rule was tough to adjust to. Once the shock wore off and the sadness blew through, I made the decision not to let my anger at the whole situation rule the holidays. For us, “making the best of it” meant organizing Zoom gatherings and leaving lots of space in our home for play and rest. Although I missed my people desperately, in the end, it was a gift. The slow pace, the long stretches of nothing on the schedule — after a long year of abrupt changes and periods of adjustment, it was beautiful. And every pine needle I find in my living room for the rest of 2021 will serve as a reminder of the difficult and wonderful Christmas we shared.

And now, 2021. 

Already — a shocking year. This morning at the breakfast table our almost 8 year old asked why God lets people die if He knows we’re going to be sad about it. From our first experience with the death of a pet or a loved one to the very end of our days on earth, we grapple with the hard questions that have no simple answers. Our discussion this morning revolved around the freedom to choose and what life would look like if that simply did not exist. We talked about how God knows things we don’t know — that’s why He’s God and we aren’t. And we were honest about the existence of suffering: the Bible doesn’t promise a pain-free life, but it also shows us that very good things can come from going through very hard things. As we were talking, a passage from 1 Peter popped into my head.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. 

This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 

Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” 

1 Peter 3:3-9 (NIV)

These past twelve months have given us plenty of opportunities to live in a constant state of outrage. It’s exhausting! But the good news of Jesus is the oasis in the desert, quenching my anger-parched soul with fresh, clean, cool water.

In this broken world, there can be no true flourishing apart from Christ. He is the inexpressible and glorious joy that fills our hearts when it seems all is lost. He is the One in whom we put our trust. The hope He gives cannot be dashed, the love He offers cannot be lost, the peace He brings cannot be disturbed.

The most beautiful thing we can pursue this year is to grow in our faith in Christ. May it be the kind of faith that transforms both us and the places we find ourselves in! 

Happy New Year.

January Sky

The Christmas Plate

I don’t remember exactly where I got it. A second-hand store I think, a few years ago. But as soon as I laid eyes on it, I loved it because it was beautiful to me. Whenever I saw it, my heart swelled and my mind swirled with all the memories of Christmases long ago, when I was little and full of wonder and delight.

It bears a print of Currier and Ives’ “The Homestead in Winter”, with an old white farmhouse and a small red barn, the home of the little brown cow standing out front. The bare trees stretch their gnarly black branches into a wintery morning sky near a little, half-frozen pond surrounded by brush. In the centre, a couple drives a red sleigh with two white horses and a man in a blue coat carries an armload of wood, followed by his faithful dog.

The vintage gold-rimmed decorative plate hung on our wall for one or two Christmases then was somehow lost in my house, missing the next Christmas entirely. And then one day the following spring, I found it! My heart sang!

It hung on the wall for another Christmas, bringing me a sense of home once again.

One night a few weeks ago after the kids were in bed I carefully hung it up in the kitchen and smiled. I said to my husband who was in the other room, “I’m going to take a photo of my plate, just in case it gets broken sometime.” With four kids under the age of 10, things happen.

The next morning, one of my sweet kiddos immediately noticed the plate on the wall. “Mom! Where did we get that plate? It’s beautiful!” I lifted her up so she could see it on the wall and explained a little bit about it. And then, an amazing turn of events. Less than 8 hours later, I heard a loud crash, followed by a small sobbing mess of that same child running down the hall towards me.

“MOM!” she bawled, “I broke it! I broke your special plate! I’m so sorry, Mom! It was an accident!”

My heart sank, both for her and for my sweet Christmas plate. I gave her a hug and we went to inspect the damage.

Sure enough, there it was – on the kitchen floor, clean in two. One tiny chip was missing. We picked up the pieces and set them on the table, and then I held her for a minute.

“Mom, I’m really sorry, I didn’t mean to…” her voice trailed off as she buried her head in my shoulder.

“Sweetheart,” I looked her square in the eyes, “I know it was an accident. And you know what? It’s just a plate.”

“But it was your special plate!” she wailed.

“Yes, it was special to me and I am very sad. But you know what? I know it was an accident. And it’s just stuff. You are more important to me than stuff! I love you. Besides, I think we might be able to fix it.”

She dried her tears and clung to my neck for a few more moments.

Last week I pulled out the superglue and managed to put the plate back together without gluing my fingers to it. It hangs in our living room now, away from the scene of the incident (just in case!). From afar, it’s good as new. But if you look closely, you can see the crack — and I don’t mind one bit.

I keep telling the kids that things don’t have to be perfect to be wonderful. This Christmas, more than any other year, I’m praising the Lord for His living presence in my life! Right there with me in the middle of broken plates, dashed hopes, fears and uncertainties, stress and anxiety, grief and pain. His grace sustains me in every moment because the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1), born through the hard reality of labour and delivery to unlikely parents in a stable of animals. 

He entered a world that didn’t even recognize Him — a world sick with sin, riddled with the stench of death, hopeless to save itself. The Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace laid His glory aside to live, die and rise again so that we could be reconciled to God forever. Sin and death defeated, not just once but for all eternity! Lord, let your Kingdom come!

This Christmas, we certainly don’t have everything we want. But we have everything we need.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” 1 Peter 1:3-9 (NIV)

Merry Christmas. The Promise-Maker keeps His promises! May your heart prepare Him room this week.

The Christmas Plate

Even From the Very Beginning

The excitement of Christmas always arrives in our home around the middle of November. We talk about the things we’d like to enjoy together, and the discussion always circles back to why we’re celebrating in the first place.

Does the Christmas story start with an angel’s visit to Mary? In some senses, yes. The events are set in motion by a striking interaction between a strange visitor and a young girl. But these moments were planned long ago, before there was time.

This year we’ve begun tracing the thread of the coming Messiah through the Old Testament.

“And I will put enmity
between you and the woman
and between your offspring and hers
he will crush your head
and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:15)

The first glimpse of future where sin and death are vanquished. Keep reading and you’ll see more glimpses of hope.

Isaiah 7:14 – “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”

And Isaiah 9:6 —

“For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
will accomplish this.”

For some reason, I’ve found myself lingering in the book of Joel, and even here I’m seeing Jesus.

“You will have plenty to eat, until you are full,
    and you will praise the name of the Lord your God,
who has worked wonders for you;
never again will my people be shamed.
Then you will know that I am in Israel,
  that I am the Lord your God,
and that there is no other;
And afterward,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your old men will dream dreams,
your young men will see visions.
Even on my servants, both men and women
I will pour out my Spirit in those days.”
(Joel 2:26-29)

Thank you Lord! What a relief! In a world that feels random and chaotic at times, I am on my knees in worship of the One who has always had things in the palm of His hand.

Especially this year, I have desperately needed these reminders that the Kingdom was always coming, from the very beginning. It was always planned, from long ago. Jesus was always on His way the first time – and even now we can be confident that He will come again the second time. God is the ultimate promise-keeper. He will do what He says He will do — without fail. He always keeps His promises.

Jesus will come again in glory to bring His Kingdom in all its fullness.

In the waiting, we are Kingdom people in a world in need. We invite others into the life Christ has brought – into the reality that is beyond our wildest hopes. We live according to the ways of the King of Kings, the One who has come and is coming back again. 

He is the source of eternal hope, peace that passes all understanding, deep joy, and real love – the Way, the Truth and the Life.

“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.” (John 1:14)

Joy to the world!

Fog Rolling In

Fog. 

Nothing but fog.

The world had disappeared beyond our back fence, smothering my hopes of a fun family night of stargazing.

It’s one of the simple joys I remember about growing up in the country, where the winter night stretches out above you in an endless expanse. While you head to bed, the dark sky awakes with dancing fluorescent colours and millions of tiny, twinkling diamonds. And sometimes, if you’re lucky, you might catch a double-feature – a bright glowing moon casting its spotlight on the sparkling snow.

Stunning.

Living in the city, the streetlights interfere with the fullness of the experience. But if you can find a stretch of darkness, it’s still breathtaking. November’s early nights invite us into new ways of appreciating the world God has made, and this week the temperatures were mild enough to make stargazing a possibility for our little family.

And then, the fog rolled in.

I double-checked the forecast for 6pm. Clear skies, mild temperatures.

11am. Still foggy.

2pm — fog.

Finally, around 3:45pm, the sun seemed to break through. The fog began to dissipate, but the skies were still covered with thin clouds.

The evening forecast changed to partly cloudy skies. At about 5:45, I looked out the window. Stars! The clouds were moving away! We made hot cocoa, filled our travel mugs, pulled on the winter gear and headed to our little spot to see what we could see.

It wasn’t perfect. But it was incredible! Saturn and Jupiter hung low in the sky, nearer to each other than I’d ever seen. Mars glowed red, and the Big Dipper came into view. Vega, Polaris, the stars of Cassiopeia… the darkness surrounded us but our eyes were on the heavens, drinking in their beauty.

Psalm 147:3-5 popped into my head:

He heals the brokenhearted
and binds up their wounds.
He determines the number of the stars
and calls them each by name.
Great is our Lord and mighty in power;
his understanding has no limit.

I need the reminder that the One who holds these stars is the same One who heals the deepest wounds of my heart. 

Truth.

Preach it to your heart when you wake up in the morning and the fog has rolled in. Preach it to your heart when you’re asking yourself if this could really be true: does the God of the Universe even see me at all? And preach it to your heart when the skies clear and the stars are shining again.

Frank E. Graeff was a Presbyterian minister in the late 1800s. He was called the Sunshine Minister for his contagious positivity. According to another hymn-writer, “in spite of his cheerful disposition, he was a man sorely tried by doubts and deep depressions.” It makes sense, then, that he penned these words which were later put to music.

Does Jesus care when my heart is pained
Too deeply for mirth or song,
As the burdens press,
And the cares distress,
And the way grows weary and long?

Does Jesus care when my way is dark
With a nameless dread and fear?
As the daylight fades  
Into deep night shades,
Does He care enough to be near?

Does Jesus care when I’ve tried and failed
To resist some temptation strong;
When for my deep grief
There is no relief,
Though my tears flow all the night long?

Does Jesus care when I’ve said “goodbye”
To the dearest on earth to me,
And my sad heart aches
Till it nearly breaks,
Is it aught to Him? Does He see?

O yes, He cares, I know He cares,
His heart is touched with my grief;
When the days are weary,
The long night dreary,  
I know my Savior cares.

Through stars, through Scripture, through songs, and even in the middle of the fog, I know my Saviour cares.

Praise the Lord. How good it is to sing praises to our God, how pleasant and fitting to praise him! (Psalm 147:1)

Image: Stephen Rahn/Stocksnap

Sunrise, Sunset

2020 is the year of doing things differently.

October surprised us with a short stretch of extremely cold weather, then warmed up nicely just in time for Halloween. This year’s fall time change ushered in the warmest start to November ever.

I can’t remember the last time we were able to wear t-shirts and bare feet on the grass this late in the year. I even snapped a photo for those January days when I’ll wonder if we’ll ever see the grass again, let alone go barefoot in it. Balmy temperatures have ushered in the most breathtaking sunrises and sunsets with blazing sky-flames of rose-gold twice a day. These are the moments you call everyone to the front window for. The ones you try to capture in a photo, the kind we text and share. With a quick tap-tap-tap of our mobile phones, we invite each other into these brief but stunning things, sharing in a gift of extraordinary beauty in an otherwise ordinary moment. 

I’m so thankful the Lord knows exactly what we need. Since this is not the year any of us expected (or probably wanted, for that matter), we’re learning to let go of what was and embrace the amazing moments amid the mess.

This has been the year of the home-cooked dinner, the quiet holiday, the simple gift of breath in our lungs for as long as we’re allowed. The year of projects that may never have otherwise gotten done. The year of staying home and exploring our own backyards. The year of learning to live with discomfort and inconvenience. The year of slowing down. And hasn’t it been good for us? Last week our kids finished their work on a 5-generation family tree that shows the faces of all the people whose lives had to intertwine for our family to exist. It’s on the wall in our living room and every day I get to look at the faces of each one. I sometimes find myself thinking about the challenges they faced when they were my age. I wonder what they were like and if we would have been friends. Another gift of beauty – that these connections made my current life possible.

And yet, mingled with gratitude there is always grief for the things we’ve lost. The things we can’t get back. The things we wish were not, but are.

Today, my heart is aching as I think about my only living grandfather and his very recent cancer diagnosis. How I wish I could hop on a plane to sit around their kitchen table once again, the music of my family’s easy laughter ringing in my heart. I haven’t gotten back home very often in the past 13 years, but when I have, I always knew I had a place at their table.

Sunrise, sunset. Life is short. What are you holding onto? What are you placing your hope in? What do you run to when everything is different and disorienting? When loss washes over you in wave after enormous wave?

When many disciples deserted Jesus, He asked the rest of the twelve if they wanted to leave too. John 6:68-69 has always been a source of comfort to me: “Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”

As we move into a holiday season that will likely be very different from ones in the past, let’s hold on to the One who has the words of eternal life. The Holy One of God does not leave us in our darkest moments.

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted

    and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18)

(PS – Grandpa, I love you. I wish I could visit. I am praying for the Lord’s comfort to surround you today, and that you would find that He is your joy, now more than ever.)

Early November Sunset

Thanksgiving is Different

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

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Last week my 9 year old declared this to be the worst year ever! She’s turning 10 in just a few months. With big plans for her first double-digit birthday, she’s worried that it won’t be all she is imagining, thanks to the pandemic. We don’t know what things will look like a few months from now but if the past seven months are any indication, I’m thinking we’ll have to be creative!

In the past few weeks, when these kinds of tough moments have come up, we’ve sat together and cried over the things that have changed and the things we have lost. And then I gently remind them that 2020 is the year of doing things differently, and that different can be refreshing!

I’ve even taken them to the history books to give them a little bit of perspective. According to historians from Harvard, the year 536 was the worst year ever. After a volcanic eruption in Iceland plunged the world into darkness and famine for 2 years, the bubonic plague began to spread.

Yikes. 

And yet, even though the world has been through awful things in generations past, we still feel the losses 2020 has brought and held out hope that things would turn around before the holiday season.

This weekend is showing us that we’re still in the thick of things.

I know several families who will not be gathering this weekend, breaking decades of tradition. For some, this may be the last holiday they would have spent with loved ones who are battling terminal illnesses. Others want to hold new babies and bless new parents with encouragement and amazing food. Others would have travelled to spend time together, and instead find themselves at home, away from children and grandchildren. Still others are relieved that they don’t have to go to an awkward family gathering but are missing a great meal with friends.

For others, Thanksgiving has always meant being alone.

If you’re greeting this weekend with a heavy heart, I’m praying that God’s presence will bring you comfort and that you would find that even in seasons of disappointment, He truly is enough! This year, we are finding space in our tight schedules for something different – something refreshing. Something that we would never otherwise have had the opportunity to do. Something that shifts us away from the perfect turkey and sharpens our focus on the Giver of Life.

I love the invitation from Hebrews 13:15-16 (NIV) — 

“Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”

It’s amazing to me that a sacrifice of praise isn’t only words – it’s actions too. Who can you do good for and share with? Who is God bringing into your life right now that you can bless?

Happy Thanksgiving, friends. I’m thankful that God is good – all the time.

Thanks for joining me this year for #3WT!

A Full Moon

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

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The most remarkable thing happened this week.

The full moon rose in a clear sky.

Most months I don’t really pay attention to the phases of the moon, but the first full moon in fall is my favourite. Paired with the brilliance of rose-gold sunrises and brilliant coral-red sunsets, a harvest moon on a clear, warm night is just one of the most incredible beauties of the year.

We got the kids out of bed the other night and took them to the backyard to catch a glimpse.

“Whoa, that’s huge!” they marvelled.

We stood for a few minutes in the chill of the evening, barefoot on the grass, soaking in the beauty of the night sky. Then it was back to bed.

As I was tucking them in for the second time, one whispered, “Thanks for showing us that cool full moon, Mom.”

My heart swelled. “You’re welcome, sweetheart.”

This morning I peeked out the window to see the moon was full and pale, on its way to bed, with Mars for its sidekick. “Hey kids, come check this out!” I said.

At first they couldn’t see it, but then their eyes filled with disbelief. “That’s Mars?!”

We pulled out an iPad app that confirmed our suspicions and they rushed off to tell their dad what they had seen.

It was remarkable to see the gorgeous harvest moon and Mars in the morning light, but it was even more remarkable that these created things point our family to the One who made everything and holds it all together.

Especially this week, when the grief of loss and disappointment grips us at different times in different ways. We’re rolling along through our new and very different routine when all of the sudden we remember that this pandemic life isn’t what we signed up for but here we are and what do we do with all these big feelings?

Creation serves to remind us that this life is not some random collection of pointless events that end the hollow emptiness of death. There is order and design delicately woven together with intricate, breathtaking beauty. Isn’t it a gift that we’ve had to spend so much time outside in the past six months?

Yesterday after another amazing ruby-red sunset, my 9 year old daughter teased me, “Mom, I know your favourite season is fall. Every time we drive anywhere you’re always like, ‘look at the beautiful colours! Or look at that awesome sunset’! Like, we get it! You love fall!”

I laughed, but I just know that one day the kids will remember their how cheesy mom loved to show them things in nature. And I hope that in 20 years when they see an ordinary hillside suddenly ablaze with fall colours or sit under a giant harvest moon, or look up to notice even a tiny star winking in the darkness, they’ll remember these little moments when heaven touches earth and makes the ordinary extraordinary. I am praying that this collection of memories, paired with the things we’ve taught them and the experiences they’ve had will remind them that there is more to this life than our difficult circumstances.

In the words of my wise mother, “This too shall pass”. For millennia, the world has turned on its axis and revolved around the sun. And every generation has faced its challenges, some much more devastating that our current experiences. And yet, stories of hope and resilience shine through. Why is that? Because God did not make the world and abandon it. He is here, He is working. He always has been and always will be.

Colossians 1:15-17 (NIV) spoke to my heart this week: 

“The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

In Him, all things hold together. Think about that for a moment. If He is the key, even now, even in this moment in history, we have nothing to fear.

“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” (Colossians 2:6-7)

Harvest Moon, October 1, 2020 – from my backyard.