The Choice to Rejoice

This is the first in a weekly series called “Three Weeks of Thanks”. Join the conversation at #3WeeksofThanks.

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Last night I was wracked with anxiety over nothing in particular and everything all at once.

The pressure of the first two weeks of September were mounting and my release valve was stuck. It had been too long since I stopped to take a deep breath of the Word. I had short quick moments of encouragement from the Bible, but I needed more.

I needed to really sit in the quiet of the late evening and let it wash over me.

When I was a kid Scripture memory was a great way to win cool prizes so I went all in with it. I realize now that it was one of the best gifts my Sunday School and camp experiences have ever given me, because all these years later, the very same verses will pop into my mind exactly when I need them the most.

Everyone else was asleep. I was awake, reading two words that are difficult for me right now:  “Rejoice always” (1 Thessalonians 5:16).

A friend just received some tough news about her daughter.

Another friend lost her dad a few weeks ago.

The world feels scary and unpredictable. Farmers struggle through difficult seasons of bad weather and poor crops, wildfires rage, hurricanes bring catastrophic flooding, good people face unemployment in a tough economy and we’re never short of bad news from around the world.

How can we possibly “rejoice always” when this is the reality we live in?

I know I can’t just muster it up by the power of positive thinking, no matter how hard I try.

There has to be more.

I certainly don’t have the answers to the why and how of the darkest valleys we face. But as a person who puts my faith in Jesus, I am called to rejoice always not because of my circumstances but in spite of them. I rejoice in what Jesus has done when he died on the cross and rose again from the grave. His death conquered sin and his resurrection overcame the grave. Because of Jesus, we have an eternal hope that can never perish, spoil or fade (1 Peter 1:3).

“Rejoice always” isn’t a chore we grit our teeth through when the going gets tough.

It’s not a pep talk when the world is falling apart around us.

It’s a choice we make to trust that God’s word is true and unfailing – and the Word made Flesh, Jesus, makes a difference in our lives right now. He is the reason we choose to rejoice always.

Amen. This week I’m going all in with that.

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.”

September sky

One September morning this sunrise was outside my window.

Finding My Thankful Heart

In about three weeks, we’ll celebrate Thanksgiving.

Already.

Every year it’s the same: September’s whirlwind of details unfolds day by day with little time to catch my breath and before I know it here comes Thanksgiving with its call to pause in the middle of it all and give thanks to the One who deserves everything.

About six years ago, I had an idea to take Thanksgiving from one of those holidays that sneaks up on me every year to something more reflective and intentional, and so, Three Weeks of Thanks was born. I’m a Canadian prairie girl and my husband is both American and Canadian, so we have the benefit of celebrating two Thanksgivings every year, but it’s the first one that comes on so fast!

Every September as I start to mull over what Three Weeks of Thanks will be this year, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 comes to mind:

Rejoice always.

Pray continually.

Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

When life is moving so quickly and all the little details are unceasing, it’s easy to just let Thanksgiving be turkey and stuffing and family or friends you haven’t seen in a while. But it’s so much more than that.

For the past five years I’ve done a few small things to make Thanksgiving a season in our home. The kids have already asked about our “Thanksgiving Tree” – a sheet of burlap that hangs against the wall with construction paper leaves that say what we’re thankful for this year. We hang the leaves of years past so we can see God’s faithfulness to our family and each person can remember where we’ve come from. My home decorating skills are minimal so pretty it ain’t, but we choose to focus on what it means to be thankful, even when we aren’t feeling it, and learning how to turn our hearts toward God in all things.

In the middle of life with a capital L and all it entails, stretching out the Thanksgiving season is an opportunity to find my thankful heart again and turn my eyes from my circumstances back to the Lord.

Look for my weekly blog series “Three Weeks of Thanks” starting Monday, and use #3WeeksofThanks to join the conversation.

fall flowers

The September sun fell so beautifully on these fall flowers in my dining room.

Why We Need Wisdom

You have permission to say “No”.

You have permission to say “Yes”.

But only you can make that decision.

When you’re a capable, can-do woman, typically you’re not lacking in opportunity to get involved in a variety of different things.

And when you’re a capable, can-do woman, sometimes you fall for the lie that you only matter because you’re involved in a variety of different things.

When I was starting my radio career as a young adult, I got the fantastic opportunity to host a morning show in a medium market Canadian city. I knew it meant waking up before dawn to plan and prepare a show day after day for our listeners. And I knew it meant giving up my evenings so I could go to bed early to have the energy to do a great show every day.

That in itself is a big job. But when I arrived on the scene, I realized there was no promotions department. So I pioneered one with no budget.

At first, I was thriving! I loved the challenge of hosting the show, creating promotions and going to events. I loved meeting new people and building connections. But slowly, over time, the schedule took its toll on me.

Early morning wake-ups coupled with 60 hour work weeks left me weary. I mistakenly believed I was irreplaceable and suffered dearly for it. My mood took a downward turn, my outlook on life became dark and my heart was very sad.

One day, out of sheer exhaustion, I handed in my resignation. To my surprise, instead of accepting it the station manager asked me to take a week off to think about my decision and get some rest.

I traveled to another city for some recuperation with family, but on the drive home I couldn’t stop crying. I loved my job, but my job wasn’t loving me back. And I was terrified at the thought of returning to the same exhausting life I had built for myself.

It wasn’t long before the resignation was back on the manager’s desk.

About a month later, I quit the job for real and spent the summer at my parents’ farm. Being the young, independent woman that I was, returning home wasn’t an easy pill to swallow.

Thankfully, summers on the farm were my favourite especially because of the wild storms, and one storm in particular made a big impact on me.

I remember sleeping on the couch one night as this one blew through. The lightning and thunder were non-stop; the wind drove the rain against the house with such force that I thought the windows would break. I could hear the huge tree branches creaking. Would they survive? Wide awake until the ear-splitting thunder became a few rumbles in the distance, I watched as the lightning continued long after. My eyes were fixed on the windows, looking for the next flash. I must have fallen asleep, because the next thing I saw was the light of the rising sun.

I went outside to survey the damage. The ground was littered with leaves and branches and the crops were flat in places. Even the sturdiest tree looked worse for wear.

Thinking about it now, I can see how my own experience with overcommitment was much like that wicked summer storm, leaving a trail of damage in its wake. It took a long time before I was even willing to entertain the idea of returning to the airwaves, and an even longer time before I was ready to.

Burnout is a tough lesson in learning to say “no” to finding my identity in anything but Jesus.

This fall, as the opportunities come your way, weigh each one against your priorities and give yourself the gift of saying no to anything that does not fit inside the limits of the season God has placed you in.

The best part? He will give you the wisdom you need when you ask for it.

DuncanMaloneyLightning

Image: Duncan Maloney

We Are Not Missing Out

I was scrolling my social media feeds the other day and I noticed one of my friends went on a trip. Another was out to dinner. Still another, at the movies.

I exhaled, stomach drawn in with that familiar sinking feeling.

My mind searched for the last time we went on a trip. I couldn’t remember dinner at an actual restaurant without kids. And the movies? Nope. As I thought of my own adventures over the past few months, I started to wonder if maybe summer really hasn’t been all that great.

Wait a minute! This is ridiculous! Just stop.

The struggle is real. As I see what others are doing, I’m tempted to compare and measure and see where I stand. And in the middle of my jealousy, my own beautiful life begins to look bleak and unsatisfying.

Lord forgive us!

Comparison is a sneaky thief, always trying to steal what’s right in front of us. And it’s always followed closely by the temptation to let jealousy and envy move into our hearts and bring all their toxicity.

Not today, friends.

Instead, let’s take a really good look at our own camera roll and see these beautiful moments right in our hands! It would be a shame to trade them for the shadow of someone else’s Instagram posts.

In this process of letting go of my measuring stick and embracing my own life, I am discovering something amazing: when I truly see the good things that God has given to me, other people’s good things are easier to celebrate!

It’s actually quite a gift.

God is so good! And everything good in our lives is because of Him! We are not missing out. And the amazing thing is, He’s not just blessing those people over there, He’s blessing us too in a million big and little ways. Our hearts need the clarity to recognize His goodness and respond in the only way we can – with a life of worship.

hymn 40

From the old red hymnal

When Everything is Ashes

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
 and provide for those who grieve in Zion
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.
Isaiah 61:1-3 (NIV)

The smoke stings our eyes as we watch it burn to the ground — a dream, a goal, a relationship.

If you’ve ever hoped for anything in your life, you know exactly how it feels to be deeply disappointed when it fades away.

Our hearts cry, “Lord, do You see me? How can this be Your will?”

Elisabeth Eliot was a missionary, author and speaker who faced her share of ashes. Her first husband was murdered while they were on the mission field by the very people they had come to reach. She outlived both her second and third husbands. And in her golden years, she received a dementia diagnosis that signalled the end of her public ministry.

She once said, “Of one thing I am perfectly sure: God’s story never ends with ashes”.

Whatever looks hopeless today, we know God isn’t finished yet.

All over the Bible we catch glimpses of what is yet to come – the hope of life beyond what we can see, in the actual presence of the Lord. As we engage His Word, He shows us more of who He is, and we find ourselves caught up in His beauty. More than that, as we read we discover that we are deeply and unconditionally loved by the One who can do what no one else can do: raise the dead.

In the story of the death of Lazarus, Jesus shows up after Lazarus has passed away and is greeted by a sister who is in the throes of grief:

“Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”

Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

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?”

“Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”

John 11:21-27 (NIV)

In dark places, when we find ourselves surrounded by ashes, we can rise with the confident declaration that Jesus is who He says He is: the Resurrection and the Life. And when everything else tells us it’s hopeless, let us agree with Martha, and say, “Yes Lord, I believe!”

With the Lord, ashes are never the end.

A few verses later, we read:

“…Jesus called in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.

Jesus said to them, ‘Take off the grave clothes and let him go’. “

John 11:43-44 (NIV)

Only God can do that.

Whatever we think is broken beyond repair; whatever we look at and say, “well, that’s over forever” — it’s not the end. He is the Resurrection and the Life, and only He can raise what was once wrapped in strips of linen and buried behind a stone for days.

Only He can take what is utterly destroyed and make something infinitely more than we could ever have imagined, working now in our lives and ultimately for our eternal hope and future.

Let’s fix our eyes on Christ. Only He can give us beauty for ashes!

coals

Image: Pawel Kadysz

Who Needs Sleep?

I’ve been sleep deprived for at least 8 years.

It’s a bit of a problem, but thankfully it comes in waves. There are nights that I actually do get to sleep all the way through, and the next morning the world is in full colour! Many days, though, I’m dealing with the effects of being up in the night with at least one of our four kids.

Last summer, though, I had a moment of clarity and gratitude for it all.

I laid awake in the middle of the night with an arm around a little warm body.  Our 5 and a half year old had fled to our room after a bad dream.  I didn’t know she was there until she was climbing over me and snuggling in for refuge.  We talked about it a little bit, and after a few minutes, she was ready to go back to her own bed.

When I got up with her to help her find her way in the dark, 3 and a half year old awoke and began to cry loudly about the lullabies on the iPod.  They weren’t right.  They were too quiet.  The nightlight wasn’t in the right spot…  I took a deep breath to keep from losing it and reminded her to use a quiet voice so she didn’t wake the babe.  “I CAN’T!” she wailed.  That about did it.  I hissed a “be quiet or else” type of warning and tucked them in.

For the next hour I drifted in and out of sleep while more noise came from their room than is necessary or allowed at 3am.  At 4, one was up again trying to get to the potty on time, but oops.  I could hear the steady stream hitting the step stool in front of the sink from the warmth of my wonderful bed.  I bolted up and out of bed just in time to see a giant puddle and a worried little face.  I gently told her it was okay and that accidents happen.  She sat on the potty and waited while I wiped and washed it up, found fresh pajamas from the clean laundry baskets downstairs, and tucked her in again.  As I was going back to bed, I pretended not to hear a small squawk from Little One’s room.

My head hit the pillow with great desperation and I sighed, feeling crankier than ever.

My husband put his hand on my arm and said, “Thank you for doing all of that.”  He has often been the one to take care of the potty accidents while I calm a crying babe, so he knows all too well what it’s like to get up with the kids.

“I am sure there is a special place in heaven for mamas who get up a million times in the night.”  I said.

“What time is it?” he asked.

“4:15,” I said.  “I am so tired.”  He patted my arm again.  We laughed for a minute or two about how we know we are living in the good old days right now… at least that’s how we are going to remember nights like these.

The next morning at 6:30 (read:  2 hours and 15 minutes later), two out of three kids were awake and playing.  One woke up with a fit of tears at 7, complaining that she wasn’t done sleeping.  But pretending you’re a superhero is irresistable, and all was forgotten before breakfast.

Not every night is like this one, but we’ve had our share.  In the early days of sleepless nights, I’d spend the following day feeling bad for not having the energy to take the kids out to the park or run a bunch of errands or have craft time WITH painting (so much to clean up!) or make cookies and have a flour fight in the kitchen like they do on the commercials.  But I must be getting smarter or something because I am learning to take it easy on those days instead!  We all NEED it.

Come to think of it, I’m either getting much smarter or even more exhausted, because I am so done with trying to figure out how to do everything perfectly and keep up with that pesky Jones family on social media.

My word this summer is GRACE.  I mean, how many days have I spent my time and energy wondering if what I have done with my kids or in my house today meets an imaginary standard I’ve set for myself?  These good ol’ days have often been filled with angst as I “should” myself to death throughout the day.  “I should have taken them there.  I should have fed them this.  I should have done that thing…”.  But I saw something the other day that was EXACTLY what I needed.  Instead of asking, “what have I done today?”, ask “who have I been today?” (thanks Alicia Bruxvoort and Proverbs 31 Ministries).

My heart echoes a resounding “YES!!”.

As we tumble through this stage of our lives, in the thick of these good ol’ days, it’s the nights with no sleep and letting go of perfect that are helping me to bear the fruit that matters most:  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22).

One sleepless night at a time.

sunflowers at sunrise

We grew sunflowers one year. They were so beautiful at sunrise.

Ordinary Glory

This summer I’m taking some time to recharge, so my posts will be a little shorter, but I’m still here!

I’ve been amazed by the sunsets this week. They are breathtaking and photos simply do not capture their full beauty. And yet, I’m always out there, trying to catch them with a lens!

The other day, this particular part of the sky was stunning! I couldn’t believe that a 10pm sky looked like this.

sky

Summer sunset

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands.”

Psalm 19:1 (NIV)

Amen.

The Gift of a Boring Summer

The long exhale of summer holidays has begun.

The backyard has simultaneously become an oasis of free play and a courtroom drama with both sides arguing their case to the judge. Sibling relationships are growing and strengthening with each passing moment and a baby brother who can crawl adds a new dynamic.

One year ago this weekend, I was quite ready for our son to join the family. The other three children had been a week and a half to two weeks early, so surely he would follow suit! Not so. This boy decided to arrive the day after his due date, two of the hottest weeks of the year later, with a long fanfare: five days of early labour to prepare us for his eventual welcome.

Boy, was I tired.

Fast forward to today. Still tired. A different kind of tired, but still… tired.

We all are. It has been an intense year!

Change may happen quickly, but adjusting to the new normal happens slowly. We’ve had a lot of change this year, and we’re all ready for a deep breath and some beautiful space in the schedule to enjoy life together.

This summer, we will not be rushing around from activity to activity. We will not be cramming the days with every possible summer bucket list item. We will not adopt the frantic pace that sometimes comes with a such a short season of warm weather.

I have something else in mind.

I’d like to give the kids the gift of the kind of summers we had growing up – a good, ol’ fashioned, boring summer. And with that boredom, I want to give them the freedom to be creative, the space to make a mess, and the life skills to clean up after themselves.

Honestly though, it’s the last part that just might do me in! That’s why I came up with the “Mama’s Summer Prayer” (adapted from the Prayer of Serenity):

Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the messes they will make; the courage to make them clean up after themselves instead of just doing it myself; and the wisdom to know when they actually really do need my help! (haha!)

Here’s to a summer full of whatever it brings!

oobleck

The non-Newtonian fluid “Oobleck” – cornstarch and water – acts like a solid and a liquid. So cool!

And Then, Summer

Summer mornings are glorious.

The fresh air is thick with the hope of a warm day. The sun has been up since the wee hours, the sky is a fantastic shade of blue streaked with white wispy clouds, and all the things are growing.

I mean ALL the things – flowers, trees, grass, kids.

This summer our baby turns one.

Looking back, I’m amazed! How did we make it through the past twelve months?

Seriously.

I love having four kids. It’s a whole lotta crazy mixed with a ton of surprises and a huge heart-healing dose of love and cuddles, with so many opportunities to grow that I lose count every day!

AND it’s very busy – so busy that sometimes I cannot keep up.

The other day, the older kids were fighting and spilled blueberry applesauce all over the carpet. After cleaning it up, they trotted outside as friends again (nothing like a shared chore to encourage sibling bonding), where one promptly did a trick on the swings and ended up with a possible fracture. I heard the shrieking from inside the house where at the very same time the baby was having a meltdown while I was cleaning up a potty accident from our three year old who was ill.

All this in the span of 20 minutes.

Lord have mercy!

I know that I would not be able to be the mama of this family without the wonderful grace of Jesus, greater than all my sin.

It is ONLY by His grace.

Isn’t that the way it goes? While we’re in the thick of a challenging season, we don’t even know that the whole time He is carrying us! It’s only when we find ourselves in between the waves and we have a minute to breathe that we realize we’re still afloat.

Thank you Lord!

summer feet

Summer feet

Father’s Day

Things don’t have to be perfect to be thankful for what you have.

My dad and I haven’t always seen eye to eye on things and our relationship has been difficult at times, but this weekend I am choosing to focus on the things I am thankful for.

I am thankful for a dad who always checks in to make sure we’re alright.

I am thankful for a dad who lets me know that he prays for me and our family every day.

I am thankful for a dad who expresses his love for me with words of encouragement.

I am thankful for a dad who reads my blog faithfully and is interested in what’s going on in my world.

I am thankful for a dad who loves the Lord.

Dad, you are a gift, and I am thankful for you!

Happy Father’s Day! I love you.

tree in park