Garden Lessons

I don’t garden because I am any good at it.

In fact, you might say the opposite is true.

Nearly everything I planted this year got eaten by insects, birds and critters, drowned by torrential rain and hail or wilted by weeks and weeks of extreme heat, despite repeated waterings.

A few weeks ago I noticed a business meeting taking place in the backyard between three robins and two magpies. So strange, I wonder what they’re doing, I thought. The next morning I opened the curtains and scanned the fence. This year I planted a beautiful giant sunflower, even tenderly nursing it back to health after the wicked wind broke it in half as a young shoot. Toothpicks and packing tape, a stake and some twine and she found the strength to grow five feet tall. 

My eyes searched for the large flower, ready to bloom as it followed the sun from dawn til dusk. Except, it wasn’t there. The stalk stood tall and strong, but the entire flower head was gone.

Maybe it was the Gang of Five. Maybe it was that grey squirrel I caught digging in my peas on my deck. Either way, the sunflower will not bloom.

Sigh.

Rabbit and squirrel food. That is what I grew this year. 

My beloved rose bushes, the ones that grow heavy with roses from June to October, were the victim of some sort of insect that ate the leaves into lace. I tried watering and feeding, and in a last-ditch effort to bring them back to life, I pruned them down to the ground a few weeks ago. I knew they might not make it, but it was worth the risk.

This morning I stepped outside to soak in the freshness. It’s a chilly fall-ish morning with the promise of a warm, golden, late summer afternoon. The growing season is slowly winding down, but these little rose bushes never give up. One, two, three new shoots.

They even have buds.

I don’t garden because I am any good at it; I garden because it reminds me of things my heart knows are true, in nature and in life.

Even when I don’t see it, I know He is working.

The sunflower stalk still stands, three smaller flowers popping out from the leaves. The rose bushes are steadily filling out with smooth shiny leaves and precious little buds. Pansies I planted two or three years ago have re-seeded themselves and are spreading through one corner of my flower bed, thriving with yellow and white and purple joy.

It makes me think of that passage in Isaiah 35 (NIV) —

The desert and the parched land will be glad;
    the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom;
    it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.
The glory of Lebanon will be given to it,
    the splendor of Carmel and Sharon;
they will see the glory of the Lord,
    the splendor of our God.

Strengthen the feeble hands,
    steady the knees that give way;

say to those with fearful hearts,
    “Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come,
    he will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution
    he will come to save you.”

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
    and the ears of the deaf unstopped.

Then will the lame leap like a deer,
    and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness
    and streams in the desert.

The burning sand will become a pool,
    the thirsty ground bubbling springs.
In the haunts where jackals once lay,
    grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.

And a highway will be there;
    it will be called the Way of Holiness;
    it will be for those who walk on that Way.
The unclean will not journey on it;
    wicked fools will not go about on it.

No lion will be there,
    nor any ravenous beast;
    they will not be found there.
But only the redeemed will walk there,

    and those the Lord has rescued will return.
They will enter Zion with singing;
    everlasting joy will crown their heads.
Gladness and joy will overtake them,
    and sorrow and sighing will flee away.

Thank You Jesus that You do not abandon us in the darkest and most difficult seasons of life. You are the Life-Giver! We live in the now and not-yet, where glimpses of resurrection fill our hearts wth hope. You breathe life into what was dead. Wilderness and deserts won’t last forever. Burning sand and thirsty ground will pass away. Desolate jackal-haunts will be transformed into lush, fertile land.

This world and our life in it is incredibly beautiful, and at the same time, filled with imperfection and evil. I can’t pretend it’s not the case. I’ve just learned that some of the most faithful missionaries from my childhood church are enduring one of the deepest griefs imaginable. Please pray for them as they mourn.

Following Jesus does not guarantee a pain-free life.

But it does guarantee that pain will come to a permanent end. Gladness and joy will overtake us. Sorrow and sighing will flee away.

Hallelujah!

Resilience

Do Not Be Anxious

We may have experienced the final true blast of summer heat this week and boy was it sweaty. Determined not to complain my way through the short few days of intense temperatures, I decided to pretend we were on a tropical vacation. We ate ice cream for lunch and takeout on the deck, avoided our chores, spent early mornings at the park and had a huge water fight in the back yard.

Belly laughs are good for the soul.

A few weeks ago we took a little day trip into the foothills of the Rockies and found a little green-blue pond nestled among trees. As we were exploring the area, we discovered a dry riverbed with a gentle rolling river, shallow enough at the edge to dip our toes in the cold water. It was so cold we could only stand it for a few seconds! But the breathtaking beauty all around me filled my heart with joy.

I treasure these summer memories, knowing they’ll ground me when the weather turns cold and physical distancing guidelines prevent us from gathering with our people indoors.

August is always bittersweet. Summer is winding down but September holds new beginnings with amazing possibilities. We’re setting new goals and launching ourselves into unfamiliar and exciting things.  At the beginning of every school year, I always have a sense of dread for the cold and flu season I know is just around the corner. I’m terrible with worst-case scenario thinking! This year, though, I’m dealing with the added anxiety that the sniffles might be more than just the sniffles.

The pandemic.

The very thing we hoped would be long over and done with is still with us in a very present way.

For families with young children, we know that September to March is pretty much just runny noses, fevers, coughs and the occasional GI bug thrown in. If you can get through with more healthy weeks than sick ones, it’s cause for celebration!

In 2020, we have the “extreme heat warning” version of dealing with childhood illness: constant temperature and symptom monitoring and covid testing for kids who don’t even want their noses wiped, let alone their throat swabbed with a giant q-tip.

Jesus, be with me in this season! It’s hard to pretend this isn’t a big deal. And it’s even harder not to give into the anxiety it brings. Perhaps that’s why Philippians 4:6-7 (NIV) has been returning to my mind over and over this week:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

I am so thankful for God’s Word! I lingered in Psalm 36:5-9 this week:

Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens,
    your faithfulness to the skies.
Your righteousness is like the highest mountains,
    your justice like the great deep.
    You, Lord, preserve both people and animals.
How priceless is your unfailing love, O God!
    People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house;
    you give them drink from your river of delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
    in your light we see light.

In this suffocating heat of pandemic protocol and current events, we long to dip our toes in a cool mountain stream, to remember that there is more to life than anxiety and fear. Let’s quench our intense thirst for truth and hope in the Fountain of Life! Only in His light can we see light!

Lord Jesus, You are King of Kings and Lord of Lords. May we live today with that truth alive in our hearts and find our peace in You!

Cold mountain stream

All These Things

Forts. Lego. Cooking. Dress up. Sidewalk chalk. Twister. Family walks in new parks. Bug hunting. Tree climbing. Lawn bowling. Kite flying. Bike riding. Kids learning to read, learning to use the potty, learning to get along. Creating and exploring, losing teeth, discovering new interests, building life skills. Socially distant Saturday visits and FaceTime celebrations. Online church and school. Growing a garden, washing dishes by hand. Bounding down the sidewalk. Jumping through the sprinkler. Wading in the tall grass. Home haircuts. Home cooking. Chasing backyard butterflies, bunnies and storms. Drive-thru pancakes and coffee dates. Drive-by birthday parades. Gathering around the table, around the fire, around the Bible. Reorganizing the basement.

Reorganizing our priorities.

When the pandemic hit and the lockdown unfolded, we were worried about what we might miss out on.

But I can see now that we had nothing to worry about. God’s goodness washes over us in the most wonderful ways!

This week I found myself lingering in Psalm 27. When my eyes fell to the end I was deeply moved (v 13-14):

I remain confident of this:
    I will see the goodness of the Lord
    in the land of the living.

Wait for the Lord;
    be strong and take heart
    and wait for the Lord.

I barely slept two nights ago thanks to the intolerable heat and a little one who was dealing with nighttime fears. And in the soft early light when one of the kids woke up our youngest (long before he —or I — was ready) I laid on my bed feeling desperate for some bit of blessed quietness and rest where there was none to be had. Jesus, give me strength for this day! I prayed. Frustration. Exhaustion.  Desperation.

This morning my eyes fell to a social media post from a friend that told the heartbreaking story of a young woman who was murdered because she would not enter into an arranged marriage with a man of a different faith. And then another story of a young woman who was kidnapped, violated and forced to marry her abuser who is four decades her senior so the law would protect him. Violence. Injustice. Oppression.

The constant demands of raising a family on a tight budget in the middle of an isolating health emergency. Anxiety from a bleak economic outlook. Grief rising in the face of horrifying headlines and personal pain. These things challenge my determination not to live a despondent life that throws its hands in the air and proclaims, “it’s no use!”, a life that ignores the suffering of others in favour of my own comfort. In those very moments, Jesus’ words echo in my head: In this world you will have trouble, but take heart! I have overcome the world! (John 16:33)

We remain confident in this: we will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. There is a better way. A richer, more wonderful way that brings hope in the darkness. A way that leads to life! Our troubles will not overcome us.

No matter what we’re facing right now we can choose to place our hope fully in Jesus. Because of Him, we have eternal life that cannot be shaken or taken away! And we see God’s goodness on display not only through Christ’s life and death, but in the precious life He graciously gives to each of us.

As we wait for the Lord, let’s choose to live each moment with confidence in His Word and by the power of His Holy Spirit, pouring out His love out onto those He has placed in our lives. We are His handiwork, created in Jesus to do good works which God has prepared in advance for us to do! (Ephesians 2:10) May we walk in His truth today and preach His good news to our world-weary hearts.

a word of comfort kid art

The kids set up an art show called “A Word of Comfort” one day. My heart!

Such a View

We honeymooned on Maui.

It was late when we landed, nearly midnight by the time we loaded our suitcases into our rental car and set off on the 40 minute trek down a winding road to the piece of paradise we’d call home for the next week. The car headlights revealed rocks, palm trees and the yellow lines of the road as travelled down the unfamiliar route surrounded by thick darkness. Being in a new place, we inevitably got lost for about fifteen minutes. Prayers and frustration abounded – but thankfully our exit finally appeared and we found the condo tower.

I was exhausted, relieved and ready to go to sleep.

The next morning we decided to hop into the car and do some sightseeing. Retracing our steps towards the city, my jaw dropped. Like Dorothy opening the sepia-toned farmhouse door to reveal the technicolor land of Oz, our back-tracking drive held the most breathtaking views I’d ever laid eyes on.

As we drove the very same twisting highway in blackest night just hours before, we were oblivious to the stunning scenery that was there all along. But now we could see. Our highway ran along the coast, revealing small beaches and groves of trees in between vistas of wide open, sparkling green-blue ocean stretching out as far as the eye could see.

I had no idea that the darkness was hiding such beauty.

We live in a culture that prizes comfort and convenience regardless of the cost. Suffering is seen as unnecessary and pointless. But in my experience, my own suffering has often sent me sailing into the love of the Saviour who also suffered, knowing that He has already been through it all and stands in victory over sin and death.

Is it possible that the dark nights of our souls are the very things that Jesus uses to reveal His beauty to our hearts? I can’t pretend to understand why certain things happen. I’ve recently read through the book of Job and it’s unsettling to realize that God is God and I am not. After all Job went through, losing everything and having friends who constantly blamed him for his suffering, he stood firm and refused to curse God. He questioned the Lord and the Lord answered with “where were you when I laid the foundations of the world?”.

God revealed Himself in Job’s suffering. He showed His authority and sovereignty over all creation.

Job’s response to God is astounding. You’ll read it in Job 42:2-6 —

“I know that you can do all things;
no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me to know.

“You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.’
My ears had heard of you
but now my eyes have seen you.
Therefore I despise myself
and repent in dust and ashes.”

My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you. Job remembered that God is God and he is not.

Consider that for a moment. Our ears can hear of God, but when we finally see Him, it’s a whole other thing.

We’re driving down the highway in utter darkness – and dawn breaks to reveal the majestic ocean view we’d been missing all along.

When Job saw God face to face, his reaction was to repent.

The suffering we are facing in our lives, the things that feel so difficult and unfair, the things that we can’t imagine anything good coming from – those things we desperately want to erase or undo – they are terrible. They are heartbreaking. They are the valley of the shadow of death. And they are also the places where God is present and moving. The places He is revealing Himself in unexpected and surprising ways. Through the most difficult seasons of our lives, we see His face.

I have long thought that we need a solid theology of suffering if we’re going to remain faithful to Christ in this sorrow-laden world. A popular version of Christianity teaches that suffering is exclusively a result of our sin and the devil. Another acknowledges it as a byproduct of a fallen world, with no real purpose or meaning other than to be patiently endured until it’s our turn to catch that train to Gloryland. Some feel that if they entertain the thought of suffering they will somehow bring it upon themselves, and others cannot reconcile the idea that God is good and bad things still happen.

But even in this uncomfortable topic, there is truth to be discovered.

“Christianity teaches that, contra fatalism, suffering is overwhelming; contra Buddhism, suffering is real; contra karma, suffering is often unfair; but contra secularism, suffering is meaningful. There is a purpose to it, and if faced rightly, it can drive us like a nail deep into the love of God and into more stability and spiritual power than you can imagine.” (Timothy Keller, Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering)

Jesus, let that be true of me. Let me see Your face in those places that are so painful and difficult. You are my Redeemer. Thank You that Your Word reminds me of who You are!

“I know that my redeemer lives,
and that in the end he will stand on the earth.” (Job 19:35)

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20)

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18)

Help me not to waste the hard times, Lord. Give me such a view of You that it lifts my soul out of the pit of despair and wraps me in the arms of the God of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3).

Ocean View

Our ocean view (Maui)

Radical Love

The sun came up a few mornings ago and immediately disappeared behind a large band of dark clouds. 

They aren’t storm clouds. In fact, these clouds are notorious for ushering in warm weather as they arch across the sky. When I first moved here thirteen Augusts ago, I didn’t understand the clouds at all. They were so different than I was used to! The shapes and colours didn’t mean the same thing that they did back home. It has taken me a while to adjust to a different kind of sky.

We’re all adjusting to a different kind of sky these days. Life in a pandemic, even life in the year 2020, has new restrictions, new realities, new requirements, new definitions… it all feels a bit disorienting.

There’s an old hymn that has been ringing in my heart. I think back to my growing up years in an aging country church plunked right down in the middle of a field, hot summer sun beating down, ceiling fans spinning fast enough to lift the old roof right off. The windows were wide open, carrying voices raised to the beat of an ill-tuned piano, fingers dancing across the keys without thought for flats that were supposed to be naturals and naturals that were supposed to be flats.

We worshiped with gusto. I can still hear the blessed voice of one of our elderly ladies soaring over everyone else as we sang,

Will your anchor hold in the storms of life
When the clouds unfold their wings of strife
When the strong tides lift and the cables strain
Will your anchor drift or firm remain?

We have an anchor that keeps the soul 
Steadfast and sure while the billows roll
Fastened to the rock which cannot move
Grounded firm and deep in the Saviour’s love!

Some hymns simply fill me with nostalgia; others are stalwart reminders of an incredible truth my heart needs to hear even after over three and a half decades wrapped up in the love of Christ. I’ve recently learned this hymn was written by a Sunday School teacher who devoted her life to teaching youth about Jesus. Priscilla Jane Owens never left her hometown of Baltimore. She put down roots in her church and committed over fifty years of her life to teaching children and youth in her Sunday School classes, penning hundreds of songs that taught Christ’s love. This song was based on Hebrews 6:19-20 (NIV) – 

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.

Jesus bridges the gap between a holy God and unholy humans. He is the mediator. He is the One through whom we have access to the Creator of all. Because of Jesus, we have eternal hope. And when we build our life on Him, ultimately we cannot lose. We have been given a gift that cannot be taken away, a treasure in heaven that cannot be stolen or destroyed.

1 Peter 1:3-8 (NIV) says – 

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.

Society’s growing hostility to God and His Word brings a sense that we are in the middle of an ocean where the strong tides are lifting and the cables are straining.

It’s not a new thing for Christians to believe things and live in ways that are incompatible with the culture they’re in. Even Jesus promised “in this world you will have trouble” (John 16). When we choose to follow Christ and live the way He calls us to live, we can expect suffering and loss. We can expect to be misunderstood and possibly even cancelled.

But Jesus also said, “Take heart, for I have overcome the world!” (16:33).

His way is not our way. 

Jesus doesn’t manipulate us into believing in Him. He doesn’t uncover our sins for the world to judge us and cast us aside. Jesus doesn’t cancel anyone.

When He taught about being the Bread of Life, many people turned away from Him because it was too hard to understand or believe. He asked the disciples if they wanted to leave too. Their reply has always struck a chord in my heart:

“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.” (John 6:68-69)

May those words pierce our hearts and bring us to life today. 

May they give us the courage to be completely humble and gentle, patient, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. To get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. To be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ forgave us. (Ephesians 4:2-3, 31-32)

May we live out this radical love of Christ today with our families, in our churches, in our communities and in our world.

My view of the sky one summer morning.

Even There

There are so many times when we just don’t have the words to pray, so many moments where we are heartbroken and don’t know how to let it out.

I love the book of Psalms for its honest treatment of the human experience and interaction with God. I’ve often found that as I linger among its chapters and verses, soaking in the language of poetry with all its imagery and metaphor, my heart is allowed to breathe. The prayers I didn’t know how to pray are written out before me. I’ve been revisiting Psalm 139 recently and I’m sharing it with you in this space, in light of everything we’re facing globally, in our communities, and in our own hearts.

Psalm 139 (NIV)

1 You have searched me, Lord,
    and you know me.
2 You know when I sit and when I rise;
    you perceive my thoughts from afar.
3 You discern my going out and my lying down;
    you are familiar with all my ways.
4 Before a word is on my tongue
    you, Lord, know it completely.
5 You hem me in behind and before,
    and you lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too lofty for me to attain.

7 Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

13 For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
18 Were I to count them,
    they would outnumber the grains of sand—
    when I awake, I am still with you.

19 If only you, God, would slay the wicked!
    Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!
20 They speak of you with evil intent;
    your adversaries misuse your name.
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord,
    and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?
22 I have nothing but hatred for them;
    I count them my enemies.
23 Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

As Christ-followers, may we lean into God’s Word and find the truth we so desperately need, in all seasons and circumstances. May we learn to abide in Jesus and discover that He is our true source of life. And may we allow the Holy Spirit to work in our hearts to transform us from the inside out, bringing His life-changing, eternal hope to our families, churches, communities and the world.

Psalm 139 in my well-worn study Bible

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)