Simple Things

These are the days we long for in November.

When the sun sinks below the horizon at 4:30 in the afternoon and the pale winter sky turns inky black, I always remember this season with daylight hours that stretch past my bedtime. Last night I looked to the west and was shocked to see the remnants of a gorgeous spring sunset still making their mark well past 10pm.

We made it.

I remember getting up with my babies for nighttime feedings and taking a peek out the window as I came back to bed. I was always hoping to catch a glimpse of that heart-stopping silent summer lightning, but often it was the hue of the sky that surprised me. The sun was below the horizon but its rays reached above, changing the ordinary black of night to an exquisite shade of greenish blue. The horizon was already glowing even though the clock glared 3am.

We used to stay up all night around the campfire and watch the sky change. Where I live there are weeks in summer where it never officially reaches night. We have all the twilights — civil, nautical and astronomical — but no actual hours of complete darkness. It has something to do with the angle of the sun below the horizon, and it feels magical. Sitting around the glowing coals of a dying fire, you knew what time it was simply by looking to the east. When you could see the edge of daylight, it was time to say goodnight with a full heart.

Yesterday I dug my hands deep into some dirt and mixed it up so I could give a plant a new home. The mud squished through my fingers and I felt like a little kid again. It had been so long since I worked the dirt with my bare hands, mixing and squeezing and feeling the cold wet earth covering my skin. Gloves and tools are my usual practice, but this barehanded soil turning was the very thing I needed. I remembered I was still wearing my wedding ring. I once heard of a woman who lost her precious diamond band deep in her garden one year and decades later it was found and returned to her. Wrists-deep in sticky muck, I quickly pulled my hands out and checked to see if the ring was still there. Phew. Although lined with black, it remained steadfast around my dirt-stained finger. As I finished transplanting the herb, the scent of fresh soil filled my senses and my heart swelled.

Long, warm nights and dark, gritty earth — these simple things are wonderful gifts from a good Father. I don’t have to rush to the store to stand in line six feet apart hoping to grab the last one. I don’t have to work extra hours to save up my pennies so I can finally buy them for myself. These gifts are free.

I’ve been reading and re-reading Ephesians in the past few months. I still can’t quite figure out why the Lord has me in that book, but I can’t seem to leave it alone. I’m discovering so much truth resonating in my heart and mind that I just want to go back and savour it again. This week, I’m captivated by Ephesians 2:8-10:

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (NIV)

We’re just coming through a season where the only thing we could do was stay home, which is really hard for a person who is naturally drawn to action. I love getting things done. In fact, when I realized that my particular areas of church ministry may not be able to move forward for quite some time to come, I felt a strong sense of loss and discouragement. But what will I DO Lord? I cried out in desperation. Verse 8-9 kept coming to my mind: “…it is by grace you have been saved, through faith… not by works…”

Just as there is nothing I can do to conjure up a lovely, long summer evening or cause the sun to warm the soil for great growth, there is nothing I can do to secure my spot in God’s Kingdom by hustling harder and faster in my work.

All I can do is fall on my knees and accept this great gift freely given to me.

Jesus, have Your way in me. Work this truth down from my head into my heart – that when I put my faith in You, I can be confident that the work is already finished. The price has already been paid. The gift is free! I am Your handiwork, made by You to live the life you have called me to live, with works prepared long ago for me to do — not because they are my salvation, but because You are.

What a wonderful gift from a good Father.

My container one year.

Something To Hold On To

Raise your hand, or rather blink twice, if you’re tired.

Like, deep-down-in-your-bones tired.

Under normal circumstances, when a crisis hits we ride the wave with a surge of adrenaline. Things tend to settle down and we find our feet again, bumped and bruised but still standing.

These are not normal circumstances. We’re facing a global situation with no quick and easy answers.

Some areas are loosening restrictions, but this pandemic experience has changed things. I find myself noticing whether or not the characters in the fictional television show I am watching from decades ago are appropriately physically distant from one another. And I’m annoyed when I see an out-of-province license plate, even though there is likely some pre-lockdown explanation. Is that person wearing their mask correctly? Did I just hear a sneeze in the grocery store? I’m temped to criticize everyone and everything around me, to become suspicious and fearful, to look for someone to blame.

Up until this point, the novelty of it all made it interesting. We know we’re living in an historic event – a different sort of 9/11 moment. We can feel it changing the world around us as we watch, wide-eyed. Science fiction movies feel more realistic than what’s unfolding before our very eyes, and we can’t look away. Adrenaline pushes us out of bed in the morning and through the day to maximize this newfound “free time”. We’ve  jumped into a juggling act of working (if there is work at all) and schooling (if there are children) multiple children from home. We can do this, right? Yeah! Go team!

We have Zoom meetings, Youtube church, porch visits if everyone is healthy, monitoring for symptoms and cleaning surfaces we never imagined cleaning, sifting through free online resources, grocery store navigation, mask-making, bread-baking, veggie-growing and the dull ache that comes from adjusting to a new normal forced upon us by an invisible enemy.

Fast forward nearly 60 days.

Less smiling on the street, less grace in the line-up. We are battered by the rough-and-tumble news headlines. The novelty has been replaced by gloom. We miss each other. We need each other. We are sad for the things we’ve had to miss and we miss having things to look forward to. We need healthy food, good sleep and lots of exercise. We need hugs and love and care. We need to gather with other Christians and sing of the goodness of God in worship together. We need to visit our grandparents and let our kids visit theirs. We need a good cry and a lot of prayer. And while some of these things are impossible at this time, we long for their return.

In the waiting, I am finding I like to fill the time with work, coffee, walks, television, movies, cooking, conversations — all good things. But as the weeks roll into months, I am realizing that adrenaline and activities will not carry me through this pandemic. Positive thinking and favourite songs aren’t quite cutting it. I need something that will truly make a difference, something life-giving, something to satisfy my weary soul.

Colossians 3:1-4 popped into my head this week.

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” (NIV)

As a follower of Christ, I have been raised with Him. My life is hidden with His. He IS my life! There is something more to hold onto, or rather, be held by.

What a relief to know that I don’t have to try harder or be better at all the things on my to do list.

To rediscover that my hope is not based on my circumstances.

To see God’s faithfulness in the midst of my personal uncertainty and the global anxiety that attempts to rule my day.

The words of Psalm 62:5-8 wash over my heart, bringing clarity and encouragement:

“Yes, my soul, find rest in God;
    my hope comes from him.

Truly he is my rock and my salvation;
    he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.
 
My salvation and my honor depend on God;
    he is my mighty rock, my refuge.

Trust in him at all times, you people;
    pour out your hearts to him,
    for God is our refuge.”

Will we accept the invitation found in these ancient, beautiful words? Find rest in God. Trust in Him at all times. Pour out your heart to Him. Written thousands of years ago, they pierce the darkness of this season with the Light of the World.

Thank You Jesus that You have brought us eternal encouragement and good hope! (2 Thessalonians 2:16)

river refuge

A river refuge

The Best Things

The warmer weather has come at just the right time. I truly thought we might go squirrely if we didn’t have a sweet kiss from springtime soon. Our city is notoriously moody when it comes to weather so whenever the sun shines and a warm, drying breeze blows in the month of April, we shout “Hip hip hooray” and seize the moment with bubbles, sidewalk chalk, soccer balls and bicycles. We know it’s entirely possible the snow will return overnight and we’ll be back to making snow angels and snowmen instead.

It’s the music of life: the sound of the neighbour’s power tools and my children’s voices filling the air as the late afternoon sunshine streams down in all its glory.

We hopped in the van one day last week and hit the road to a nearby spot. As we drove, I heard a little voice in the backseat pondering what we were doing in this vehicle.

“We went for a walk AND a drive?” my 2 year old asked, astounded that both of the most exciting events in our life happened in the same day.

I laughed. It’s true, going for a walk and a drive in one day is pretty special in these extraordinary times.

A few weeks ago, when winter’s chill had yet to dissipate, we took the kids on a special visit to their great-grandfather’s grave. It was cold and it took us a while to find the exact spot we had gathered nearly two years ago to say goodbye, but we had important conversations about death and feelings and theology as we went. It was a moment we may have missed if life was running its usual routine.

The beauty of the changing seasons. A shift into a slower pace of life. Opportunities for deeper connection.

Thank you Lord that there are things even a pandemic cannot cancel.

Leftover pastel treats and foil-wrapped bunnies and eggs serve to remind us of an Easter unlike any other. Our family traditions felt more important than ever this year:  family communion on Good Friday, dyeing hardboiled eggs with all sorts of combinations of McCormicks food colouring, hunting for baskets in the morning and eggs in the snow, Easter Sunday morning church and a special family dinner.

Even with our cherished traditions we still felt the sadness of missing our brothers and sisters in Christ and from our extended family. We longed for lingering moments with lifted voices in worship, for the chance to share the good news of Jesus with our students in kids’ church, for eruptions of laughter around a large dinner table afterward. But we know that it won’t always be this way.

We have a hope and a future that will last long after this pandemic is written into the history books. And we are forever grateful that it’s not based on things that can change in the blink of an eye, but rather on the love of Christ! I kept thinking of Romans 8 this week:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:

‘For your sake we face death all day long;
    we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

(Romans 8:35-39 NIV)

What a beautiful reminder that the best things in life last beyond this life.

Thank You Jesus for your incomparable love! May You carry us in this difficult time, with news headlines that break our hearts into a thousand pieces and tempt us to despair. We will hold on to You as You hold on to us, knowing that nothing can separate us from You.

easter eggs

Easter eggs

Puzzle Pieces

Six years ago, we started a 1000 piece puzzle.

Our then-3 year old daughter had a newfound love for the L. Frank Baum classic, “The Wizard of Oz”. One Sunday afternoon, we popped in the DVD of the 1939 MGM re-telling and she was instantly captivated by the fantastic technicolor land, loveable iconic characters and irresistible soundtrack.

Her eyes grew large when the Wicked Witch appeared and her smile grew even larger when Scarecrow did the silliest of dances. She dressed up as Dorothy every day and would only speak to my husband if he responded in the voice of either the Tin Man, Cowardly Lion or Scarecrow.

Her love for the movie coincided with its 75th Anniversary celebration and we soon found ourselves in possession of a 1000 piece Wizard of Oz puzzle.

Neither of us are puzzlers.

And yet, there we were, with high hopes that we could actually finish this insurmountable task. We spent two winter evenings trying to put the pieces together. Of course when you have toddlers and preschoolers around you just know if you leave a big puzzle on the dining room table the pieces will grow legs and walk quietly into all the nooks and crannies of your house. So we purchased a felt roll, tucked in the pieces we had managed to fit together (the edges and Dorothy and Tin Man’s face), put the rest of the pieces back in the box and stored it on the top shelf of the closet.

It gathered dust while life went on. We eventually found the time to complete a few other puzzle projects, although only in the past two years, so with renewed confidence and extra time in our schedule we pulled out our very first thousand-piecer for another go.

It was a very slow start.

Last weekend I dumped the pieces out onto the table and tried to fit a few together. It was not very encouraging. Slowly, though, more and more of the image began to take shape. I began to feel hopeful we would eventually see this full picture, and it would be even more beautiful because of the work and time we had poured into putting it together.

We’ve bravely left the puzzle in the middle of the table this time, extra pieces sorted and stored in plastic containers on the piano, hoping that any milk spills or potato chunks will be caught before doing permanent damage. One morning at breakfast I lifted a loose piece and showed it to my kids as they ate their oatmeal. A few more parts of the picture were assembled, but we still had a long way to go.

“Where do you think this one goes?” I asked, holding the piece between my finger and thumb.

They shrugged and munched away.

I began to think out loud. “This is kinda like our life. We can only see this little piece of it. We only see what’s right in front of us today – the things happening in the world, the stuff on our to-do list. This puzzle piece looks like it’s part of the yellow brick road or something, but I can’t tell exactly where it goes in this puzzle. We know all the pieces fit together to make a picture because we can see the picture on the box, but if we just look at this piece or that piece or this pile of random pieces, it seems impossible to think it will ever look like that.”

My captive audience listened.

“We only see a part of what God is doing right now, but God sees the whole picture.”

“Yeah, you’re right Mom,” my 7 year old said with wide eyes. She’s always keen to talk about spiritual things.

We went on with our day, but the puzzle is still on the table. It’s not quite finished yet. I’m learning when it comes to puzzling, the darkest pieces are the hardest to fit together.

In the middle of this pandemic-stricken world, I quickly forget that there is a bigger picture. I forget that God is still God, and we cannot see everything that He sees. I desperately need the reminder that I can trust Him, even when things seem like they could never, and possibly will never be a beautiful picture.

My small piece of the puzzle isn’t the final work of art.

Job 38:4 has been coming to mind recently:

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
    Tell me, if you understand.”

The Lord’s words to Job are striking the depths of my heart in these trying days. As we head toward the darkness of Good Friday and the wonder of Easter Sunday, I am praying that I will remember the invitation from Isaiah 55:1-9 (NIV) —

“Come, all you who are thirsty,
    come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
    and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
    and you will delight in the richest of fare.
Give ear and come to me;
    listen, that you may live.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
    my faithful love promised to David.
See, I have made him a witness to the peoples,
    a ruler and commander of the peoples.
Surely you will summon nations you know not,
    and nations you do not know will come running to you,
because of the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel,
    for he has endowed you with splendor.”

Seek the Lord while he may be found;
    call on him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake their ways
    and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
    and to our God, for he will freely pardon.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

puzzle pieces

A piece of the puzzle (Thomas Kinkade/Wizard of Oz/Ceaco)

Where Does My Hope Come From?

I find myself wanting to hold my family close and speak the words “I love you” to them.

I’m listening to music from my childhood, calling my grandparents and parents to check on them and reaching out to my friends daily.

Why does it take a crisis to prompt me to do the things I should have been doing long ago?

Tears come easy these days. I’ve never been great at quickly adapting to abrupt change and find I need to let the grief flow at the strangest of times.

On Sunday morning, we showed the kids a few scenes from the Jesus film. I found my heart longing for the day when heaven touches earth in such a profound way once again – when the King of Kings makes everything right and sin and death are vanquished forever. This momentous, frightening time in history will pass. Fear will be gone. Sorrow and pain will be no more. Isolation will end. The body of Christ will be together, praising Him evermore! The breath caught in my throat and my heart swelled with hope as hot tears of relief filled my eyes. I tried to blink them away but a few escaped and slid down my cheeks.

My 2 year old noticed. “Do you have tears?” he asked, sticking his little cherub cheeks right in front of mine so I could hide no longer.

“Yes,” I said. He is just so cute.

“Are you sad?” he pressed, eyes wide with curiosity as he touched the tears on my face with his soft little fingers.

“I’m a little sad and a little happy,” I explained.

“I’ll take your tears and put them away for you,” he said as he placed both hands on my cheeks. He ran down the hall, opened my bedroom door and “threw” my tears in. Then he came running back to my side.

“I put your tears away in your room,” he said.

“Thank you,” I laughed through more tears.

Jesus, one day You will put away our tears. You will wipe our sad red eyes and hold us close. There will be no more death, or mourning or crying or pain because the old order of things will have passed away, and You will make everything new! (Revelation 21:4-5)

As we look forward to that day, we are in awe of how we experience Your presence even here in the middle of the darkness. We see Your light shining unapologetically in the storm. We are filled with Your Spirit, bringing a bit of heaven to a very weary earth. We cry out to You and wait with baited breath for Your kingdom to come in all its fullness, Lord! We walk forward in confidence that You have not forgotten us, and that in fact, You have equipped us to serve You at this very moment in history. We praise You for strengthening us even now!

We fix our eyes on You, Jesus.

Have you experienced joy this week? Have you seen kindness in action? Have you felt connected to someone? Have you found comfort in God’s Word? Have you seen someone pouring out their life for the sake of another? Praise the Lord — He never stops working!

Meditate on Psalm 46 and find your hope in Christ today.

God is our refuge and strength,
    an ever-present help in trouble.

Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
    and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,

though its waters roar and foam
    and the mountains quake with their surging.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
    the holy place where the Most High dwells.

God is within her, she will not fall;
    God will help her at break of day.

Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
    he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

The Lord Almighty is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Come and see what the Lord has done,
    the desolations he has brought on the earth.

He makes wars cease
    to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
    he burns the shields with fire.

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth.”

The Lord Almighty is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.

-Psalm 46 (NIV)

Lighthouse Rachel Omnes

Image: Rachel Omnes

Crayons

I like a fresh box of crayons that still have the pointy tips. It drives me nuts when the kids peel the wrapper off and you can’t see what colour the crayon is until you scratch it across some scrap paper. Is it blue? Is it purple? I can’t tell! And when the new crayons get spilled out onto the table and jammed back in the box in a haphazard way, my lip curls and my nose wrinkles. I bite my tongue because I know they’re just crayons after all. But still – I’d rather have a brand new box.

I suppose you could say I like things a certain way. In fact, I struggle with seeing the value in some things if they aren’t as I would like them to be.

The other day one of the kids found a brand new box of crayons and carefully opened it up to reveal all the beautiful colours inside. She carefully made her selection and began to create something all her own on a clean sheet of white paper.

For a few days, the crayon box stayed intact. Each one was returned to its “spot” and everything was wonderful. The kids spent hours drawing pictures and writing lists and showing each other what they made. As their enthusiasm grew, their care diminished and it wasn’t long before things in the box started to look a bit disorganized and overfull. A few crayons stuck out of the top like soldiers and the little boxes that kept the crayons from falling over were bulging with a mix of greens and purples, reds and blues, oranges, pinks and earthen tones.

A few crayons rolled onto the floor and got stepped on. One or two snapped in the hands of eager artists. A few more were worn down, “sharpened” and then worn down again from use. Because it had become more difficult to find the exact color they were looking for, someone dumped the entire box on the table and left it there, revealing the broken ones that been shoved down into the bottom of the box.

As I walked past the crayon mess, something struck me:  the broken crayons were right in there with the others, ready to make something beautiful.

Broken crayons still colour.

Things don’t have to be perfect to be wonderful.

I’m finding this to be a recurrent lesson in my life. Rarely do things turn out perfectly, but aren’t they still so beautiful? In a different way, yes. But still incredible to behold.

Perhaps your life looks different that you hoped. Maybe your original plans have shifted thanks to circumstances or choices, whether yours or someone else’s. There’s so much grief and disappointment to be processed as we live in the middle of imperfection, but it only makes me hunger for Jesus more. He is so beautiful! He is so perfect. He never fails and He always tenderly lifts us out of the mire. Because of Him, there is always something incredible happening that we could never have expected or predicted.

I am constantly amazed at how He redeems the broken things. He gives me beauty for ashes, joy takes the place of mourning, praise instead of despair. I can see it happening in my own life, and the lives of those around me. It’s breathtaking.

The broken things are beautiful reminders that God will not waste a single thing in my life. I am in hands of the One who created the universe, and He is using these broken things, along with the things that are whole, to reveal His incomparable beauty. He is so gentle, so kind, so patient and loving.

When He begins a good work in us, He is faithful to finish that work in us our whole lives long, every part redeemed for His glory.

“I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6 NIV)

Lord, help me not to discard the broken, viewing it as useless and without purpose. Help me to rest in Your arms, knowing that even the broken things show me more of who You are. You are the Redeemer and the Restorer of my soul. Thank You Jesus!

broken crayons

Crayons on the table

Weeping with Those Who Weep

We pulled on our snow pants and jackets, zipped up the zippers, donned the hats and mittens, and with sturdy boots on our feet, began the long walk up the hill to the grocery store.

With a 5 year old up ahead and a 2 year old in tow, I had plenty of time to admire the scenery in the neighbourhood on this particularly chilly morning with no promise of spring in the air. It was one of those mornings that was just warm enough for a long walk and just cold enough to remind you of the polar vortex from weeks ago. As we made our way past the familiar landmarks of the various types of trees that make their home on our street, it wasn’t the spindly and barren ones that so often grab my attention at other times of the year. They had no sprouting blossoms or changing leaves to marvel at. On that winter day, it was the mighty evergreen that caused me to be amazed.

Remarkable. Towering several feet into the air, sending its roots deep into the ground below and across multiple yards, standing tall and unchanged in the bracing north winds that blow dead leaves off of every other tree in the neighbourhood. The snow piles high and the branches bear the weight. The temperatures plummet and the thousands of needles hold fast, only made more beautiful by the silvery frost that highlights each individual one.

Winter really is the evergreen’s time to shine, isn’t it?

In no other season of the year do I take much notice of its thick, velvety branches providing shelter and comfort to critters and birds. The coldest months are made bearable by its dense design, offering the hope of a warm place to sleep when all other trees are bare.

My heart is broken today as I think of two families who are in the process of losing children to paediatric cancer. Treatment options have been exhausted and the disease is progressing through their small bodies moment by moment. Jesus, be near these precious ones and hold them in your arms! Surround their parents and siblings, be the strength of their hearts in the darkest of times!

When our lives fall apart, when the lives of those we love are changed forever because of loss, we know that we have the light of Jesus’ life flowing through us. We are comforted by God himself! We become like the mighty evergreen, holding out hope in the midst of despair.

“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25 NIV)

Yes Lord, we believe! Let us weep with those who are weeping today, and be a place of comfort because we have been comforted in our own times of trouble by Your very presence.

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.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4 NIV)

evergreen afar

Evergreens standing tall

Surprise

I chose a sky blue shirt and a bright yellow coffee mug this morning in defiance of the grey, windy day out my window. When I first set foot outside I could smell the ice releasing its grip on the world, but I know it can’t last. It is only February after all. The temperatures are mild for the moment, and in just a few hours the clouds will roll in and bring a fresh layer of clean, white snow to play in. It will be at least a month before we really start to see the melt last longer than a moment or two, but I love the little reminders that you can’t hold back spring.

A few weeks ago I picked up a potted mixed-bulb mini garden. I was desperate for a burst of fresh, bright colour and these shy irises, long daffodils and fragrant hyacinths were ready for their big show! I shelled out the few bucks required and covered them carefully as I carried them to the car in the freezing cold air, hoping they would survive the ride home.

Thankfully, they did. I placed them at centre stage on top of the piano and left them alone to shine. The very next day, the daffodils had grown another few centimetres. Wow I thought. This plant is really bringing its A game! Not to be outdone, the hyacinth pushed itself out so far that it began to lean to the side. I had visions of an old science fiction movie where the unsuspecting lead character buys a lovely plant from a strange old lady and then brings it home only to find it has taken over her house the next morning! The next day I walked past the mini-garden, which was becoming less than mini every day. I stopped and turned around. What in the world?! Two bright yellow and orange tulips were shooting up past the covering of their green leaves.

I had no idea there were tulips in the garden at all!

How was this thing growing so fast? I watched it for a moment, at once realizing it was silly to expect to actually see the plants lengthen before my very eyes. But every time I looked back at it, it was taller, fuller, longer and brighter.

Amazing how things grow when we’re not paying attention. Suddenly, flowers burst into bloom that you didn’t even know were there.

What a truly wonderful surprise.

In John 15, Jesus says that He is the Vine and that we are the branches, and that if we truly want to live, we need to stay connected to Him.

“Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:4-5 NIV)

All the good things we see flowing through our lives are because of Jesus. Any bit of sacrificial love, greater joy, deeper peace, wider patience, extravagant kindness and goodness, steadfast faithfulness, incredible gentleness and self-control are all because of Christ. When we stay connected to the Vine, drawing our source of life from Him, we will experience His beauty overflowing in the most unexpected ways and most surprising places.

Isn’t that just the most incredible thing you’ve heard today?

tulip

A lovely surprise

Everyone is Growing Up

My holiday joy was mingled with the grief that comes from the unmistakeable reality of the passage of time.

Everyone is growing up.

Maybe it was the fact that for the first time ever my sister and I shared cooking duties for the entire holiday dinner on our own, or the realization that our home has become “The Christmas House” in my family, or that it seems entirely possible that we are finally growing out of the “my kids are sick all Christmas break from sharing little kid germs” phase of life.

Or maybe it was the big wedding.

My oldest niece got married at the end of December and I am now 100 years old. How did this sweet little baby I cuddled and rocked to sleep just last night, the one who made me an auntie in my teens, become this stunning bride before me?

I couldn’t look at her mama (my sister) during the ceremony. I cried for an entire day afterward. I really am happy for this new chapter in her life, and we all just love her new husband, but I am definitely having feelings about this whole growing up thing.

And she’s not even my child.

My parents entered a new decade of life last year and I didn’t think it would really make a difference for me, but it has. They’re gradually moving into their later years and I’m thinking about it more than I thought I would.

Birthday season has blown into our home with a vengeance. Of the four kids, three of them have winter birthdays within six weeks of each other. As we celebrate their next milestones and cheer them on in their growth and development, I can see the next stage on the horizon and I don’t know how I feel about that today.

We know change so well, don’t we? We can’t even fathom a life where things stay the same forever. Morning and night, day after day, month after month, we are living through the slow change of aging and seasons. I see it in the mirror, I witness it in my children, I experience it in the gradual lengthening of the daylight hours. We can count on it – and we do. Winter will end and spring will come. Summer follows, then fall brings its brilliance. Back to winter and we begin again.

Children become adults who become parents then grandparents. And the cycle continues.

An inescapable reality.

The other day I was reading a devotional that focussed on God’s immutability. He is the Unchanging One. It gave me pause for a moment. I realized that we as humans, we only know change. We understand change. We live through it and thrive because of it. And frankly, the concept immutability is so foreign to the human experience that I wonder if we truly appreciate just how incredible it really is. Like the constant north star, we catch a glimpse of it when we encounter God.

He Himself says he is unchanging (Malachi 3). He does not change like shifting shadows (James 3). He is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13). He laid the foundations of the world (Hebrews 1; John 1). He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end (Revelation 1).

What a remarkable truth to bring to bear in our lives! How does God’s immutability affect my current state of mind? My world is constantly changing and I am continually grieving losses while celebrating gains, knowing that through it all He never changes. His character, His will, His covenant promises – these will never be broken or removed. I have finally found Someone I can count on to be who He says He is, to do what He says He will do, to prove faithful generation after generation.

We may welcome it or we may lament it, but change is constant. Thankfully we are deeply loved by One who never changes, One on whom we can depend regardless of how our billows are rolling in this season.

Maybe you are in the throes of something that feels like too great a change to bear. Set your feet on the solid rock of Christ!

“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.” – Matthew 7:24 (NIV)

“For the Lord is good and His love endures forever, His faithfulness continues to all generations.” – Psalm 100:5 (NIV)

Thank you Lord that You are the solid foundation beneath my feet, and that You are good! Your love endures forever, Your faithfulness continues in my life even today with all its changes. As I navigate this part of my journey, I praise You for Your unchanging nature!

stars Arto Marttinen

Image by Arto Marttinen

What Now?

Christmas has come and gone for another year. The decorations are packed away and we’re moving forward with all our plans and goals, and yet, something from the season lingers in my heart and keeps returning to my mind.

A spark in the night. A flickering candle in the cold of winter.

The beautiful truth that light dispels darkness.

Over the Advent season I had been reflecting on some Old Testament scripture found in Isaiah 60:1 (NIV) – “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.”

And in Isaiah 9:6 (NIV) – “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.”

Then, I came across this in John 1:1-5 (NIV) – “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.” 

And John 8:12 (NIV) – When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life’.”

Unbelievably, I’ve been catching glimpses of this everywhere! Again, earlier this week, I was reading Ephesians 5:8-10 (NIV) – “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord.”

Living as children of light isn’t a mystery. We don’t have to walk around wondering what to do next. We don’t have to hope we’re reading the signs around us correctly. Let’s begin by searching His Word for the kind of life that shines His light and watch the darkness around us flee.

winter trees

Winter sunlight on the trees