Ringing Out in the Middle of It All

This morning at breakfast the kids and I prayed, “Thank you Jesus for today, and please help us to remember that our real joy is found in You.”

It’s something that I am learning in this season of life where there are so many things waiting to make me forget.  Lack of sleep from a night-waking baby and early-waking kids. It’s winter, so someone is either getting sick, currently sick, or just getting over being sick. The kids bicker and fight. My plans go awry. The tap starts leaking. The van breaks down. Messes are made, stress grows, frustrations mount and tempers flare. We grow tired of waiting for things to improve and begin to believe things will always be this way.

And then, ringing out in the middle of it all – “Joy to the world, the Lord is come! Let earth receive her King! Let every heart prepare Him room, and heaven and nature sing!”

Can it be so? Can we really find joy in the middle of even this? I am beginning to discover this sweet truth – the more I dwell on Jesus as my real joy, the more buoyant my spirit is becoming, even in the face of plain ol’ day-to-day challenges.

I am catching glimpses of His glory right here in the middle of the ordinary: the belly laughs of my kids, my husband’s hand on my shoulder as we pass each other in the kitchen, the sun that streams through the front window during these very short days, the glow of the stars in the long evenings and nights. So many beautiful things – such incredible reminders that God is good, and God keeps His promises – bringing everlasting joy to our hearts in the gift of a tiny baby, His only Son.

On Sunday we’ll light the Advent candle of joy. As we prepare our hearts to celebrate the first coming of Jesus, may it remind us that we can rejoice in HIM, and in every opportunity to rely on His power in our weakness.

Let these words from 1 Peter be a beautiful balm to your weary soul. REJOICE – the King has come!

1 Peter 1:3-9 (NIV)

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.

Yes! Lord Jesus, as we celebrate your first coming, may we await your Second coming with great joy in our hearts!

christmas cookies

Sharing cookies always brings a smile!

The Time Machine: Strong-Willed Much?

The Time Machine series features posts from years past.

This morning I’m sharing more thoughts on this Sunday’s Advent theme of Peace. My life is still every bit as crazy as it was when I first wrote it, since we’ve added a baby to the mix this year. Four kids almost seven and under is BUSY and finding a moment of peace can be tough, so I find myself praying this prayer again this season.

***

I’ve heard that strong-willed parents create strong willed children.

Oh my.  I must be very strong-willed.  Haha!

But seriously, though.  This week we’ve been spending time thinking about the next theme of Advent.

Peace.

What in the world is that when you’re butting heads with an almost 5 year old over a scooter, helping an almost 3 year old sort through her very big emotions about sandwiches, and keeping an almost 1 year old from biting her sisters while she pulls every book off the bottom shelves?

Whew.  I am feeling weary today, friends.  I understand that the care and raising of tiny humans makes up only a short season in a person’s life.  I have it on good authority (from friends who have been here) that these years are formative and important, and that the way I am spending this time is going to make a difference in the future.  I know that one day I will look back on these ridiculous moments and remember them with complete fondness and not even a hint of frustration.  I may even laugh about them!  (hmm.  Not quite there yet.)

But most of all, I believe that parenting is actually simply running to Jesus every single step of the way – in the amazing moments and the not-so-amazing moments.  (An awesome thing I read in a book called “Hoodwinked” by Karen Ehman and Ruth Schwenk!)

The funny thing is, every day is filled with both.   Isn’t that some sweet kindness from the Lord?

Jesus, be my peace in the middle of this chaos.

Be my hope when despair sneaks in.

Be my joy when sorrow knocks on my heart’s door.

And be my love when I feel spent.

nestled in the tree

Nestled in a tree

The Deepest Peace We Will Ever Find

Micah 5:2-5a (NIV)

” ‘But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
from ancient times.’

Therefore Israel will be abandoned
until the time when she who is in labor bears a son,
and the rest of his brothers return
to join the Israelites.

He will stand and shepherd his flock
in the strength of the Lord,
in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they will live securely, for then his greatness
will reach to the ends of the earth.

And he will be our peace…”

***

It dawned on me last night that there are only three weeks until Christmas.

Oh. Well. Perfect opportunity to PANIC!

Once December hits, time seems to speed up. There’s shopping and wrapping and baking and making, sandwiched between regular life and fun activities and all the things.

Can we really get it all done in time to actually sit back and enjoy The Big Day?

Phew. Wouldn’t that be amazing? I am goal-oriented, so when I can accomplish something on The List (my running list of what needs to happen), it’s two thumbs up and a happy dance.

And yet, even if I actually get to that coffee and shortbread in front of the tree with my feet up because the last of the wrapping is finally done, there’s still the business of a peaceful heart to consider. In spite of all the headlines and circumstances we face, our hearts know that true peace is so much more than a break from all the rushing around.

Peace is the deep breath that flows from a place of absolute confidence that God is good and He can be trusted to keep His promises.

We’re celebrating this entire season because of the Prince of Peace, who brought “the peace that passes all understanding” to guard our hearts and our minds.

When there is no end of chaos in sight.

When there is no sign of change on the horizon.

When there is no space for a moment to breathe.

“And He will be our peace.”

When anxiety wraps its fingers around your throat and begins to squeeze.

When fear bangs on the door of your heart in the night.

When turmoil brings darkness to cloud your mind.

“And He will be our peace.”

The deepest peace we will ever find is peace with God, through Jesus Christ, securing our future beyond this life.

Peace on earth – let it be so, and let it reign in me today, now, even in this moment.

Thank you Jesus!

coffee and tree

The Time Machine – This Doesn’t Look How I Thought it Would

The Time Machine series features posts from years past.

Today I’m sharing something from just last year, something that I’m still learning moment by moment. 

***

The little clay sheep was unrecognizable. But for once in my life I was happy to leave it alone, instead of “fixing it”.

We had this brilliant idea of making our own Nativity set this year out of air-dry clay. And by “we” I mean me. My oldest asked if we could bring out the clay and make something together. But what? Christmas is coming so I suggested we make Mary and Joseph and Baby Jesus. That, of course, evolved into the whole cast of characters.

First, we made the stable out of an old cereal box and brown construction paper and the girls drew and cut out the Star of Bethlehem. We’ll glue that to the top later on.

Out came the clay. She worked on Mary as her younger sister squished Baby Jesus flat. I helped her make him more like a little swaddled baby and she used a green toothpick to carve out his eyes, nose and mouth. Then we worked on the manger and Joseph. I watched as she took that toothpick and again carefully shaped his features.

At one point, the oldest paused to survey her Mary. “This doesn’t look how I thought it would.”

Sometimes the kids have these one-liners that pretty much sum things up in general, you know? haha! But I digress.

“It’s okay,” I assured her. “Sculpting takes practice.”

“We need sheep!” she cried. She formed a sheep out of several balls of clay, and her sister squished and poked her lump of clay into something that did not resemble a sheep at all.  But there it was. Done for the day. We’ll add the shepherds, angel and wisemen later.

When I suggested we make our own Nativity set, I had a sneaking suspicion that I wouldn’t be getting perfect figurines fired in our old-fashioned kiln, hand-painted with the greatest detail and then placed in a fine cedar stable with fresh straw from the neighbour’s farm.

Nope. More like little clay blobs, one with arms outstretched, standing in an old Cheerios box, awaiting a coat of cheap poster paint.

I don’t know why I see such beauty in the plainness of life, but when I looked at that “craft” on our piano later that night, I was amazed. My daughter’s Mary has her arms outstretched, as if she’s worshiping. Surprisingly, it really touched my heart.

To a bystander, it probably all looks ready for the heap. When I tried to move Joseph his arm fell off – so we’ll have to figure that out. But you know, when I look at these figures, I see something infinitely more valuable than an answer to that internal question “have you done something with the kids today?”.

Of course I see all the important things – spending time together, enjoying their creativity, celebrating THE best time of the year, teaching a true story about Jesus.

But I also see evidence of God’s amazing power to free someone from the prison of perfectionism.

Since becoming a mom, God has been whittling away at my perfectionist tendencies and my desperate need for control of all the things. These little clay blobs mean more to me than a thousand perfect Nativity sets. They stand for the gradual transformation from a tough to tender heart.

MY well-controlled life has become OUR beautiful, messy life.

MY orderly home has become OUR lived-in home.

MY perfect Christmas has become OUR wonderfully imperfect Christmas.

What freedom I’m finding in this brand new place!

nativity set 2016

I Have Enough Character Already

The past week has been book-ended by dealing with bouts of illness – comforting the sick one, cleaning up the yuckies, watching to see who else is going to get it, doing more laundry than you can imagine and hand-washing like it’s my job! All while the baby is cutting teeth. Thankfully it has worked out that my husband could be home so we could work as a team! Definitely God’s grace.

I suppose there is some irony here though, because as I was reflecting on the Advent theme of Hope, the phrase “hope does not disappoint” came to mind. So I looked it up, and here’s what I found:

Romans 5:1-5 NIV  –

 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

How do we find true hope? Apparently through suffering, which produces perseverance, and perseverance produces character, and then, in turn, character produces hope.

Nothing worth having comes easy.

This Sunday we’ll light the first candle and reflect on the Advent theme of Hope. Whatever downright ugly thing you happen to be in the middle of this week, know this: it isn’t for nothing.

I can almost hear my mother saying, “Stephanie, this is building your character”, to which I would grimace and often reply, “I have enough character already.”

Not so.

That’s the thing though – there is something beautiful that happens in the midst of difficulties as we persevere. The process of building character reveals that our hope is in the glory of God, and could never be anywhere else. Everything else will disappoint – but hope in Him does not put us to shame.

Why?

Because His love has been poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit – and He was given to us as a gift, so we are never alone in the thing we are facing.

Isn’t that just about enough to knock your socks off?

Yes and amen!

snow on evergreen

Snow on evergreens reminds me of great resilience.

Our Advent Jar

When my oldest was nearly 3, I wanted to do something for Advent that was more than just chocolates. We still do chocolates each day in December (usually before breakfast!), but this little craft we made has been a part of our Advent season ever since. It’s one of my favourite December breakfast traditions.

One morning in November 2013 we made little Christmas-themed characters out of construction paper.  Then, we took popsicle sticks and glued the characters onto one end, and wrote our Advent activity for that day on the other end – 8 carols to sing, 8 ways to share Jesus’ love, 8 people or things to pray for.

aj1

Love those chubby little hands!

My daughter did all the gluing (her fave!).

aj2

Somehow these have managed to stay in pretty good shape over the years.

They’re ready for the jar.

aj3

A pasta sauce jar with a crocheted bow.

Starting December 1st, we’ll pull one out each day and do what it says on the popsicle stick. It’s one simple way we will keep our eyes and hearts focussed in the right direction this holiday season.

Can’t wait to get it started!

Getting Out of Holiday Survival Mode

angel chimes

(Image: pinterest)

When I was a little girl, my mom had a set of these Angel Chimes that astounded me every single year. How could the angels spin when you lit the four small white candles below? Must be magic.

I loved November 12th. The local radio station flipped to all Christmas music the day after Remembrance Day, and sometime that week, we’d haul out our four foot artificial tree, pop it on the corner coffee table, and fill it with those vintage Christmas lights with the plastic star-shaped reflectors that required an ER visit if you ever stepped on one with your bare foot. Oh, and gold garland from years ago. Then came all sorts of handmade and store-bought ornaments, one on every branch. The moss-haired raffia angel sat at the top, and the tree always had way too much silver tinsel.

After church on Christmas Eve, we stayed up late and ate so many treats. Some years we’d get to sleep in the living room under the lights of the tree, and woke up while it was still dark to open our stockings. We ate chocolates and mandarin oranges for breakfast, and once everyone made it to the living room, we read the Christmas story and took turns opening our presents.

We weren’t well-to-do by any means, but my mom always made sure Christmas was special for us kids. She brought the holidays to life and always focussed on the reason we celebrate – Jesus!

I love traditions and I look forward to them each year. They are anchors, keeping us connected to our roots and giving us warmth and familiarity in the middle of the changes of life. When my husband and I first got married we had to sort through two sets of holiday traditions. Now that we have our own kids, we’re building our own family memories that we hope they will one day cherish. In these early years with young children, Christmas feels different than it used to. At first, that was difficult for me and I’ve allowed the stress to cloud my joy, but I’m learning how to get out of “holiday survival mode” and actually enjoy this season together.

We’ve made three major shifts in the past few years, and it’s been amazing. Here they are, in no particular order.

Make like Elsa and “let it go”.

I’ve shared before that I like things to be “just so”. All the ducks need to be lined up perfectly in order for me to be able to enjoy all the things. The ducks seem to have a mind of their own, though, and rarely fall in! With a great sigh of relief, I’m learning to choose life over perfection. Can I just say that it is beautiful?

Less is more.

Last year we left some of our decorations in the box. We researched our gifts before we went shopping and finished most of it before the beginning of December. We sat down ahead of time and chose our family Christmas activities, with room in the schedule for a splash of spontaneity (and the inevitable sick day). We said no to some of our regular traditions in favour of creating new ones. There was room to breathe, and that made all the difference for me.

Worship the King!

Every year I have to decide what Christmas is going to be about for me, and in turn for our family. Kindness is important. So is generosity. But these flow out of our worship of Jesus Christ, the King of Kings! It seems like it should come so easily because we hear it so often – O Come Let Us Adore Him. Jesus is the Reason for the Season. Keep Christ in Christmas. Look for the Cross on the Cradle. And yet, slogans don’t work in our hearts the way the Holy Spirit does. I’ve found Christmas to be one of my favourite times to dig deeper into the Word and life of Jesus and discover Him drawing near to me, finding His love all over again. In that, I can’t help but weave worship into the fabric of our family’s celebrations! In the big and the small, when things work out and when they don’t, I am praying that my kids would see Jesus.

My husband and I have agreed: in this season, we’re in what we call “Parent Christmas” mode. We don’t need big Christmas surprises from one another – we really just want to watch our kids squeal with delight and see the wonder in their eyes. Thankfully, it doesn’t have to come at great financial cost, with overloaded schedules and a bad case of the gimmies.

Praise the Lord that we can trust Him to redeem the Christmas season!

And that doesn’t cost a dime.

The Time Machine: Presents or Presence?

The Time Machine series features posts from years past.

I wrote these thoughts just before Christmas 2015.

***

As we draw closer to the holidays, I’ve been thinking a lot about the relationship between presents and presence.  We long to connect with each other so we give presents that show our love.  How awesome!  But even more so, I’ve been feeling like I need to BE more present.

I love giving presents. It’s so awesome to see my girls’ faces when they open up their gifts! And my husband’s reactions are nearly as fantastic.

But presence itself?  Hmm.  That’s a bit tougher.  Somehow it’s easier to wrap something up in shiny paper or a smiley status update or an instagram filter than it is to actually call my grandma, invite someone for dinner, or even send that text I’ve been meaning to send for weeks, no months.  Has it been a year already?  Too embarrassed to send it now.

Hold on, I’m just checking out my messages.  Just checking out my newsfeed.

Maybe just checking out.

What if, over the course of this holiday season and as a precursor for the year to come, we put the phone down for a while?

So we can get down on the floor and play.

So we can slow down and hear the heart of the matter.

So we can let down those walls and make room for Jesus, King of Glory.

I love Christmas because I love how it shows us God’s heart:  Emmanuel, GOD WITH US.  God did not only give us hope and peace and love and joy – He gave us Himself when He sent His Son into the world as a baby on that very first Christmas.

What if our gift to the King in the manger is to surrender to Him wholly and completely?

What if our spiritual act of worship this Christmas is to choose not to conform to the pattern of this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 12)?

And what if we let that change the way we do life, becoming invitational and present in the moments He has given specifically to us?  No one else is uniquely placed where we are right now in life.  Only we can give our attention and love.

The King of Kings has come!  He is with us so we can be with Him!  And He gives us everything we need, so that we can give everything back to Him.

I love to celebrate the Christmas season.  Bring on the presents, tree, carols, cookies and lights.  They are beautiful traditions that reflect the heart of the Father who gives good gifts to His children.

In all those moments, though, I long to be available, engaged and grateful, with a heart of worship.

Because here’s the thing:  being truly present in a moment that matters will matter more than all the presents under all the trees for the rest of our lives.

candle

Fifteen Years Later

Recently  I came across a date written in the margin of my Bible, next to part of a Psalm.

It was my nineteenth birthday.

I can’t really remember much about the day itself, but I remember the season of life I was in. I had spent the year after high school working at a radio station and was looking forward to attending Bible college that fall. I remember the spiritual passion and how I was so excited to see what life with Christ would bring. There were a series of question marks that needed exclamation points: would I meet someone and get married? Could I launch a full-time music ministry, as I was so hoping to? Dare I believe there would be a recording contract or at the very least, an album and a tour in my future?

The year that followed was filled with disappointment and heartbreak.

When things did not go the way I planned, I learned a few hard lessons about life and love and the way the world works. And I discovered, eventually, that I had a choice. I could choose the exhausting path of bitterness and self-protection, or I could choose to trust the One who knew me better than I know myself, and rest in His unfailing love.

Fast forward fifteen years. In that time, I’ve moved provinces, gotten married and had four kids, and it amazes me that when I read this passage again, my heart still cries YES and AMEN!

IMG_1414

Teach me, Lord, the way of your decrees,
that I may follow it to the end.
Give me understanding, so that I may keep your law
and obey it with all my heart.
Direct me in the path of your commands,
for there I find delight.
Turn my heart toward your statutes
and not toward selfish gain.
 Turn my eyes away from worthless things;
preserve my life according to your word.
Fulfill your promise to your servant,
so that you may be feared.
Take away the disgrace I dread,
for your laws are good.
How I long for your precepts!
In your righteousness preserve my life.

Psalm 119:33-40 (NIV)

The Time Machine: November is Sad for Some

The Time Machine series features posts from years past.

When we set our clocks back this past weekend, I remembered why I struggle so much in November. It’s cold, dark, and Christmas is still two months away. About four years ago, I wrote this post to encourage my own heart, and yours too.

***

We’re heading into a tough month.  For many people, depression spikes in November.  Did you know that?  If you struggle with depression, that is not news to you.  The clocks go back, and for some reason, our feelings of hope go with it.

Maybe it’s because we finally notice just how DARK it is outside.  And the days just get shorter and shorter, until just before Christmas, the brightest of celebrations.

Less daylight really DOES make a difference to our hearts.  In these coming days, I will be praying:

“Father help my heart believe
That your love is singing over me.”
-Steven Curtis Chapman, from his song Love Take Me Over

For His purposes (which so far have not been made known to me), God has seen fit to allow me to experience bouts of depression.  And November has been one of those months that has, historically, been difficult.  It’s kind of funny, I guess, because I REALLY don’t like to appear weak.  I am the “gal with a plan”, so to speak.  And I really would rather seem like I’ve got a handle on things.

The truth is, HE’s got a handle on things.  And that is so precious to me in the deepest part of my soul.  I am not just praying for deliverance from the struggle, I am also praying for faithfulness through it.  Because after all, He is WITH me – and that is the truth, no matter what my negative thoughts may say.

Zephaniah 3:17 (NIV)

The Lord your God is with you,
    the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
    in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
    but will rejoice over you with singing.

november afternoon

November afternoon