The Gotta-Do’s and the Good-to-Do’s

Sometimes the grind really grinds you down.

All the Gotta-do’s get mixed up with the Good-to-do’s, and it all gets out of whack.

Gotta do dishes.  Gotta do laundry.  Gotta do e-mails and texts and fb messages.  Gotta put the dollies in the dolly box, crayons in the colouring bin and random socks in the sock basket.  Gotta get to the lawn and water the garden. Gotta fill the van with gas, gotta take the garbage out, gotta get the shower sparkling, gotta, gotta, gotta.

Gotta-to-do can really take its toll.

But the Good-to-do’s are life-giving.

Good to stand beside a bright 7 year old who is determined to make her dad’s morning coffee just right with as little help as possible. Good to stop and listen to the chatter of a funny 5 year old who is constantly informing me about all of the things she is thinking and learning. Good to read “The Sneetches” to a beautiful curious 3 year old snuggled up beside me in the most deliciously comfortable way. Good to play on the floor with a sweet 10 month old flashing his irresistible toothy grin at every turn. Good to stop my dinner prep to kiss my dusty husband when he walks in the door from a long day at work.

Good to praise the Lord and forget not all His benefits, every moment of the day.

Like the heavy scent of springtime lilacs, they are that fragrant breath of fresh air you need but forget to take or REFUSE to take because the Gotta-do’s are in the way.

Loosen the grip on the Gotta-do’s and grab the hand of those Good-to-do’s – that’s the goal this week!

lilacs in spring

So fragrant!

And then, Spring

It’s the strangest, most wonderful, yet most ordinary thing.

A couple of weeks ago, all the trees in our neighbourhood were bare twigs reaching up to the bright blue sky, sunlight streaming through, casting their thin shadows on the ground.

Then, one day last week we were going about our daily routine when suddenly one of the kids noticed a hint of green on some of those very same trees.

“Mama! Look! The leaves are coming!” she shouted with glee.

So they were. And then I remembered that after winter comes spring, every single year, no matter how long and cold it is. This year’s winter felt like it would never end, but here we are – bees are buzzing, flowers are blooming, trees are bursting with leaves. The sun has warmed the earth, waking what was asleep and breathing new life into what was dead.

There’s just so much in that, isn’t there? We all have places in our lives that appear to be long gone, where the cold rushed in and left an icy stillness in its wake. Sometimes those areas sit in frigid silence for what feels like forever.

But then, the air shifts, the season changes and we begin to feel the gradual, steady warmth of the Holy Spirit stirring in us, breathing new life into our hearts, astounding us with the beauty of growth and newfound strength.

Isn’t the love of Jesus something wonderful? We’re resting in Him as He does something new in our hearts today.

rose bush

My rose bush coming alive again.

Dandelion Bouquets

The dandelions are popping up everywhere.

That’s how I know it’s almost Mother’s Day.

As a little girl, I wandered the yard and picked the biggest, brightest ones. I bunched up as many as I could curl my small fingers around and carefully carried them inside, leaving a trail of yellow bits behind me.

“Here Mom! Happy Mother’s Day,” I’d say. As soon as she saw the bouquet in my hands, her eyes lit up, face filled with joy, and she’d kiss my cheek and say, “Thank you, my sweet petunia.”

Then she’d take them and set them in the clear, short-stemmed, pressed glass water goblet on the middle of the table, as if they were a dozen long stem roses.

There they would stay, on that brown table in our tiny kitchen with the matching turquoise appliances, Mother’s Day evening sun streaming in the small west window, until they wilted.

And in the springtime of my teens, right in the middle of that long brown table in the farm kitchen with the strawberry plant wallpaper and brown paneling, Mother’s Day morning sunshine streaming in that east window above the sink, until they wilted.

Year after year, I picked dandelions for my mom. And year after year, they went on display, filling my little heart with joy and pride.

Our dandelions appeared this week, and they don’t stand a chance of going to seed because as soon as my own girls see one, it gets picked… just for me.

The tradition continues.

Without fail, they bloom in three generations of hearts, as a sweet shared memory of the most beautiful Mother’s Day bouquet of all.

I love you Mom. Happy Mother’s Day.

dandelions for ma

Dandelion bouquets

Taking Notice

I can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t have my own plan for the day and wasn’t bothered in the least by the interruptions that upset my trajectory.

Then I got married and had four kids. And in His grace, the Lord is teaching me day by day about something called “the ministry of availability”.

My attempts to put this into practice have lengthened my writing process significantly today, as in between sentences I am turning to look at my 5 year old who is explaining in great detail the Lego characters she is creating. I’ve paused to read a book, change a diaper and snuggle, make lunch and help my 3 year old sort out her big emotions.

Sometimes throughout the course of the day we have what we would call interruptions and it gets frustrating, especially if you’re goal-oriented.

What if, though, instead of steaming silently that our plan has been tossed aside momentarily, we take a deep breath and shift our thinking? I saw this quote earlier this week and it struck a chord deep within:

“We all ache for someone to see us when we feel invisible.” – Lisa Harper

Yes, we certainly do. In fact, I remember feeling invisible just yesterday and my own heart was the one aching to be seen.

If somebody is bumping into you today a little bit too much for your liking, maybe it’s an opportunity to really see them and take notice of what’s going on. Instead of brushing them away, draw them close. Get interested in what they’re doing. Ask some questions, and just watch what God will do.

The ministry of availability is a choice.

Let’s be the one who chooses to take notice of someone else today. Our “interruptions” are really just opportunities to truly see the person God has placed in our path.

coloring heart

Beautiful heart

I Want You to Be With Me All Day

“I want you to be with me all day!”

When our oldest daughter was a preschooler she would say this to me, around the time her second little sister appeared.

“But I AM with you all day,” I’d reply, laughing.

There were days when we were literally in each other’s space every moment and at bedtime, the refrain was the same. “But I want you to be with me all day!” she’d repeat.

I knew what she meant. She didn’t want me to just be there in the same house with her all day, she wanted me to stop doing whatever I was doing – be that nursing a newborn, cleaning up a potty accident, making dinner or other various household tasks – and be present with her in her moment.

It was her way of saying, “I need you mom.”

I remember being a kid and going to bed before my mom got home from her evening shift. That feeling of knowing she was out there somewhere in the world instead of safe and warm at home with me was unsettling. I always tried to stay awake until I heard that front door open and her voice sounded from the next room.

It didn’t matter what was going on around me, things were all right with the world when she was near.

Now I am the mom, and my kids want my full attention and presence. They want me to “be with them all day”, so to speak.

How often do I say the same thing to God? “I want You to be with me all day, Lord!” my heart whispers. And I wonder if He’s there.

“I AM with you,” comes the reply – through His Word. Through His beautiful created world. Through His provision.

Except He’s not whispering, He’s calling. He’s never distracted and always available.

Regardless of how we may feel today, we can be sure God is with us. Instead of “I want You to be with me all day”, let’s pray “thank You Lord that You will never leave me alone” (Hebrews 13:5b).

mom and kids

Oh No, Not Me

Have you ever heard someone talk about how God provided for them in a moment of deep need? Food filled the empty cupboards. Cash appeared just in time. Healing happened at the last moment. Strength came in the face of discouragement.

How amazing to hear those stories! We marvel at the faithfulness of God and praise Him alongside someone else who has experienced His goodness as a tangible part of their daily life. But when God gives us the opportunity to have our own stories of faith through job loss, health challenges, financial difficulties or a change in our circumstances that affects our ability to provide for ourselves, we shrink back a little and say, “Oh no not me, Lord. My faith doesn’t need strengthening, thank You very much. I’m fine just as I am. I already know You are good and trustworthy and true. I’ll just take Your Word for it.”

And yet, when we stand on the precipice of something entirely other than what we are comfortable with and have a plan for, we don’t need to be afraid. When circumstances take a turn and the very things we once put our hope in are no longer there, the Holy Spirit is inviting us into something deeper and infinitely more profound and life-changing than to remain as a bystander to someone else’s life of faith.

It’s never easy, because when you’re on a faith journey you know it deep down in your bones in a way you’ve never known it before. It is “next-level” walking with Jesus. You can feel yourself sliding out of your comfort zone; you live and breathe each moment with a heightened awareness that there is no way you can do this on your own.

The tidy answers are elusive and there literally is just enough light for the step you are on.

You’re throwing yourself at the mercy of the Lord, asking Him to make a way when there seems to be no way, praying for wisdom and watching Him work out the details before your very eyes!

I saw this quote from author and Pastor Timothy Keller that so perfectly expressed the difference between where you were and where you are now. He said “it is one thing to believe in God, but it is quite another thing to trust God”.

Yes!

If you’re having trouble trusting Him in your circumstances, cry out to Him!

Let God use this faith journey, this season of need, this moment of uncertainty, to do His work in your life. Let Him grow you in this time so that when you look back you can say with the Psalmist, “I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” (Psalm 27:13 NIV)

dawn branch

A branch in the morning light

What We Really Long For

hockeyequipment

Me in my brother’s hockey equipment

I come from a hockey family.

Growing up, the boys played shinny at the Rec on weeknights while I “figure skated” with my friends. Saturday night at 6, it was Hockey Night in Canada with my dad and my endless questions: “Who were the Leafs playing tonight? What’s icing? Who’s LaPointe? Why is he on every team? How come there’s no goalie in the net?” He graciously answered each one, giving me my first hockey primer.

As a young girl I fell asleep watching the stars out the window of the backseat on the way home from countless practices and games. We spent evenings and weekends at rink after rink, burning our tongues on cheap hot chocolate and freezing our rear ends off cheering on my big brother and the team. He was a zippy little forward who made his little sister so proud! There are pockets of memories filled with shouts of “c’mon ref!” and that arena smell – cigarette smoke and Zamboni exhaust mixed with freshly-flooded ice and old hockey equipment. The winters of my childhood were spent running around the bowels of the home arena while the game went on, begging my parents for candy and red and blue Slush Puppies from the concession. I had uncles who made it to the juniors and cousins who are still hoping to.

When I heard the news from Humboldt, my heart broke. I went to Bible School in Saskatchewan and have connections to the people in that community, knowing they grew up with a deep love of the game.

At the vigil on Sunday night, I was overwhelmed by Pastor Sean Brandow’s clear presentation of Jesus. It was amazing to see him speak so candidly about the need we all have deep inside, and the question he asked at the end of his message stuck with me.

“What will you do with one breath? Each breath that you have left, what are you going to do with it? Will you seek the God who has walked and who has died to show His love and His concern and His care for you? Or will you get bitter and angry and frustrated? Come to the God of comfort.”

Comfort.

Isn’t that what we really long for, even in the day-to-day? Underneath all our efforts to make life just a bit easier, we hunger for true rest to be our lasting reality.

But where can we go to find it?

We search all over for a way to alleviate our suffering, and instead find a God who Himself suffered so that we could find comfort forever.

Easter Sunday has long passed, and yet, here we linger.

In Luke 24 the angel asks the women at the tomb – “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here – He is RISEN.”

This is the crux of our faith: if Jesus is not risen, our faith loses its power.

A dead man cannot forgive or save. A dead man cannot heal and bring new life.

The memory of a teacher can inspire us to do good to others, to be kind in every situation, to share what we have with those in need. But a dead man cannot bring the true transformation required to find an eternal hope and a future free from pain and grief. It’s a deeply rooted change of who we are that shifts our allegiance from ourselves to Someone far greater. Someone who is worthy of our worship and brings a rebirth into a living hope and inheritance that will never perish, spoil or fade (1 Peter 1:3-4).

Without a living God there is no internal change and without that internal change, this hope to be a better person, the longing to be whole, and our desire for greater significance all become a frustrating and futile effort. We may be doing the right things but our hearts still struggle with bitterness, selfishness and pride that ultimately leads us down a path of ruin.

We need a way for the change to stay.

We need more than “Jesus the example”. We need the real Jesus – the One who walked through suffering, took our sin, conquered death and lives in victory.

We need the Risen Jesus.

The final verse Pastor Sean shared at the vigil was Romans 15:13 –

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Our hearts are broken for Humboldt. Time cannot heal this wound – only Jesus can. And because of His wounds, we can find healing for ours.

The Little Coffee Tree

Every so often, I try my hand at a little parable of sorts. This one was inspired by my very first glimpse of a real coffee bush.

***

coffee bushes

I shot this at the Maui Tropical Plantation in 2009.

Once upon a time in a land far away, there was a coffee tree.  Day in and day out, it stood against the elements.  Each season, without fail, it faithfully grew its coffee cherries.  And as it stood firmly in its soil, doing what it was made to do, it never knew that thousands of miles away, people were gratefully drinking in its offerings.

It just kept on growing.

(Makes me wonder if we could ever possibly realize the impact we have by being faithful  to what we’re growing, right here and right now.)

How Could He?

We sat on the soft couch in the early spring sunshine, huddled around a storybook Bible for kids.

“How could he?” she cried. Our five year old was hearing, really hearing for the first time, that God looked away from Jesus for a moment while He was on the cross.

“His own son! How could He look away from His own son?” Her bottom lip quivered and her brow sunk low. I could see tears forming behind her glasses. “Why, Mama, why did He do that?” She covered her face.

I put my arm around her. “It is very sad, isn’t it?” I said. I tried to explain how Jesus took our sin on Him, and that God couldn’t look at sin, so He had to look away. “But why did He do that?” she wailed.

She wasn’t asking for the theological explanation.

She was asking why it had to happen like this – why even the Father left Jesus utterly alone.

At our house, Easter always brings out the toughest questions about why Jesus had to die and how He could take away all of our sins. It’s this strange mix of egg hunts and execution, bunnies and burial cloths. And then, the great exhale of wonderful relief when we learn that Jesus, who was once dead, has come back to life again.

We live in this tension between Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

We suffer the fallen nature of the world and the effects of sin while we await the glorious fulfillment of His promise of eternal life.

In the between time, we work to stay faithful to Him and build His kingdom in a world with a kingdom of its own, the kind that shouts you are a dangerous fool if you believe in anything other than the tangible and material, if you stand for something other than yourself, if you entrust your life to Someone instead of your emotions and feelings.

“In this world you will have trouble – but take heart, I have overcome the world!” – Jesus (John 16)

Jesus, as we remember Your sacrifice and victory this Easter weekend, let us be strengthened by the Holy Spirit to worship You in the face of doubt and questions. Let those questions and struggles remind us that while we don’t know everything, You do. And that is precisely why we bow in worship -You are God, Your love is unchanging, and You will never forsake us.

Jesus Storybook Bible

Image: “The Jesus Storybook Bible”, Sally Lloyd-Jones/Jago

On Palm Branches and Dashed Hopes

palm leaf

As we were pulling up to church one Palm Sunday a few years ago, we realized we forgot something.  Time was tight, so I dropped the kids off with my husband and took the baby with me to run back and get it.  I thought I might be able to make it back in time.

But I missed it.

My favourite part of Palm Sunday:  the Kids Palm March.

On the Sunday before Easter, the kids get to wave Palm branches and march around the church during the first few worship songs.  When they get to the front, the branches are placed in a glass vase of water sitting under a wooden cross draped with purple fabric.

Amid the frustration of running back home, the disappointment of returning too late, and the general isolation of being a mom of a little one who is too noisy and busy for the service and too sniffly to play in the nursery, I felt sad.

My heart was heavy as I followed my little one around the back of the gym, praise music filling my ears.  My eyes scanned the front and settled on the cloth-draped cross with the large beautiful palm branches sitting beneath it, and strangely, I understood.

Those palm branches held such hope for the people who had waved them by a dusty road into Jerusalem so long ago.

Hope that never came to fruition.

The King of Kings riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, welcomed by crowds expecting a political revolution.

Only days later, the King of Kings, mocked, beaten, left to die on a rough wooden cross.

Here’s what a palm branch looks like the day AFTER it has been waved with great enthusiasm.

shrivelled palm.png

Spent.  Tired.  Shrivelled.

And rightly so.  Palm branches are not meant to last forever.  Our hope was never in a palm branch.

Our hope is in the King of Kings.

And the rest of the story is still coming.