Time to Breathe

Is there anything more schedule-busting than illness? All the plans are put on hold until you hit recovery mode and then slowly you begin the process of catching up. It usually takes two, maybe three days to get through a tough cold, flu or stomach bug. Usually. Multiply that by four children and we’re talking two to three weeks. And often, when we’ve gotten over one thing, the next thing shows up.

Lord, have mercy.

It becomes my cold and flu season prayer. There are times when I’m not sure I can possibly do another load of laundry or wipe down another light switch or get out of my bed for another middle-of-the-night coughing fit.

And then, mercy shows up. The fever breaks, the illness skips the next kid, sleepless nights end.

Thank You, Lord.

That’s my other cold and flu season prayer. All the small things I may have otherwise overlooked have become reminders that He really is Emmanuel, God WITH us, in every moment.

Can I tell you something? This is a fairly new way of dealing with my feelings when illness strikes our home. Throughout my life, I have been notoriously inflexible when it comes to plans. Upset plans tend to upset me greatly. I feel deeply disappointed when something gets in the way of what I was going to do. And for many years, it went quite well. I was able to keep to my plans without much effort.

And then, kids.

I’ll tell you, nothing has brought greater growth in this area of my life than becoming a parent. I remember when my oldest was a baby, my mom shared some great wisdom with me. She said, “Stephanie, think of this as the gift of time. Whenever your plans have to change, you’re getting the gift of time to rest, time together, time to breathe.”

Thank You Lord.

The other day, three of the four kids were nestled in on the couch, completely captivated by the story playing out on the screen in front of them.  Two were home from school and one was just happy to have her sisters with her for the day. I glanced over at them, sharing in this moment together, and I thanked the Lord for this gift of rest, of time together, of time to breathe.

clock and coffee

Image: Aphiwat Chuangchoem

Bloom

I couldn’t believe my eyes.

In fact, I could have sworn that I yanked them all out at the end of the season two years ago.

And yet, there it was: a small purple, white and yellow pansy peeking out through dry dirt littered with the fallen leaves of a Saskatoon bush, blooming in the late October sun as if it was a midsummer’s afternoon.

In the past few months our backyard has seen desert-like conditions with heat and drought, followed not long after by a huge dump of snow and weeks of chilly temperatures, that has since melted and warmed into a gorgeous stretch of actual fall weather.

After all of that, the hardy little pansy popped its pretty head up out of the ground and started to blossom, right beside a big ugly thistle and our dried up pumpkin vine, the fruit of which had been stolen by our local squirrel before it even had much of a chance to grow.

Bloom where you’re planted.

Be faithful to God in the the driest, hottest seasons where you’re feeling unimportant and invisible.

In those very moments your heart begins to wilt, send your roots down deep into the Word and learn what it means to have the attitude of Christ:

“Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death
even death on a cross!”
Philippians 2:6-8 (NIV)

I’ve been reading through the books of Psalms and Isaiah this summer, attempting to savour each bit. It’s really. slow. going. Being a wife and mom of four young children is a full time job. Add in my career and other ministry involvements and it’s life overflowing! In years past I’ve gone with a quick devotional approach to reading my Bible, but I’ve recently been challenged to tap the brakes and take more time to understand the context of what I am reading and learn what it reveals about who God is.

There has been a long season in my life where I have been desperately seeking the truth about who God says I am instead of the lies I had been believing. Now I am finding more freedom and the desire to ask yet another question entirely: not “who am I?”, but “who is I AM?”.

Who is this amazing God who would lay aside His glory and sacrifice His life for the sake of those He loves so completely?

Is He really the same yesterday, today and forever? (Hebrews 13:8)

And how does knowing Him more deeply impact my day-to-day demands and moments of completely mundane tasks that bring no joy to me in my natural state?

I am captivated by the beauty of the world God has made. Even a simple tree across the street, standing strong and tall in both the blazing hot sun of the summer and the wickedly frigid winds of the winter brings my heart such awe and amazement that I can’t help but worship the Lord. I could spend all day in that moment, heart lifted by a glimpse of a bird taking flight, but I am snapped back to reality when I hear a little voice saying “uh-oh Mama” from the washroom (and all the parents cringe!). Somehow, walking around my living room straightening cushions, folding toddler t-shirts and bringing the trash to the curb just in time for the garbage truck just don’t have the same “wow, Lord, You’re awesome” factor.

And yet, these are the practical things right in front of me. And I am finding that they are the very things God is using to transform my heart.

This past week I’ve had to consciously make the choice to turn my work into worship. I’ve been picking up socks in prayer, tying little shoes with thanksgiving and teaching scissor skills with a song in my heart. Every time I return a toy to its home, every time I throw away a piece of trash left behind by my children, every time I behold the aftermath of imagination and creativity strewn about the living room, I am choosing prayer and praise: prayer for the person it reminds me of and praise for the gift of life in Christ.

Believe it or not, this simple act of worship is fuelling new growth in my cold, frustrated heart, and I am finding fresh gratitude and hope. Beauty is blossoming in the most unlikely of places because my eyes are constantly on the One who loves unconditionally and without end.

Against all odds, like the extraordinary little pansy flourishing in my otherwise-dead backyard, I’m just gonna go ahead and bloom where I’m planted too.

hardy pansy

Can you believe it?! This little pansy is amazing to me.

Making Space

We’re about to fall headlong into one of the busiest times of the year. Yes, I am talking about Christmas, even before the pie crumbs of Thanksgiving have really had time to settle and Halloween is still lurking.

I like to work ahead. By this time of the year, I’ve already been thinking about what we’ll do in December, how gifts might work and whether or not I need to start making things early. Life is already busy, and it just gets busier and busier as we head into November and December.

I absolutely adore all things Christmas, but I’ve found that the heart of the season can sometimes get lost in the heavy workload, flurry of activities and temporary demands. My schedule is often overwhelmed with holiday plans and my newsfeed is overrun with events and content even before November begins!

Let’s be honest for a moment. Most of us are knee deep in some sort of mess that we’re expected to tidy up just in time for the guests to arrive. We manage to find some cheer for an hour or two and then it’s right back to the grind we’ve made for ourselves, with all its harsh realities. When we’re working at capacity, we may find ourselves falling into a bit of a Scrooge attitude, grumbling under our breath about all the things we’ve still got to do before the deadline.

So I’m learning to choose now, more than two months in advance, to leave room in my schedule for rest, reflection and worship. It’s counterintuitive because the pace of the season is part of the fun! But Christmas is so much more than parties, presents and perfection. And through the  sacrifices and re-ordering of holiday priorities, I am finding the Lord in the unexpected quiet places.

We need that space to breathe in the true wonder of the season. Not the lights and the sparkle, but the unveiling of the Source of all authentic hope, peace, joy, and love: the Saviour of the world, coming as a baby on a bed of hay.

A baby.

Have you held or beheld a newborn recently? Perfectly formed and perfectly helpless. It’s the most incredible of ways that the God of Heaven could come to earth to bring salvation to a world that rejected Him so brutally.

Instead of filling our schedules with plans upon plans this holiday season, let’s make room for Jesus. Let’s welcome Him fully. Let’s let His deep, deep love overwhelm us and give Him centre stage in our holiday experience this year.

Let’s make space for the One who truly is the greatest gift of all.

holiday lights

Holiday lights

The Pie is Gone

It ain’t over ’til the pie’s all gone… and our pie is gone, bringing the end to another season of Three Weeks of Thanks.

I am enjoying the experiment I began a few years ago, to be more intentional over the Thanksgiving season in actually pausing to examine my heart instead of rushing through turkey and pie.

And yet, I have to be honest – this has been the most difficult year to “find my thankful heart” so to speak. Our family has had some things come up in the past twelve months that have given me cause to feel anything but thankful. I am learning, though, that I have a choice to worship anyway.

“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.” Colossians 3:1-4 (NIV)

When Christ, who is your life, appears.

Is He my life? Or am I staking my hopes on things that crumble like dust beneath their weight?

It’s not an easy shift to make, but even there we find grace.

The Colossians passage gives more insight on what it means to truly find our lives in Christ.

“Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

Colossians 3:5-17 (NIV)

My post-Thanksgiving prayer is simple: Lord, may I continually discover how to find my life in You every moment of this day!

pumpkin pie

A beautiful gift from a friend this Thanksgiving!

When I Remember

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

***

The “Thanksgiving Tree” is finally up. It’s just a piece of burlap on the wall, with twine and clothespins that hold cut-outs of leaves and the kids’ hand and footprints. On each one is written what they’re thankful for this year. We put up the “leaves” of years past so we remember how God has been faithful to our family. As time goes on, this inexpensive piece of rough burlap will fill up with the softness of our gratitude toward the One who holds everything together.

It’s a tradition that I’ve really come to love. As we trace our hands and cut out the shapes, think of our list of things to be thankful for and write the words on orange and brown and red construction paper, we’re discovering a way for us to connect what’s going on around us with a heart of gratitude.

This is the sixth year that I’ve chosen to be intentional with my thoughts leading up to Thanksgiving. In the past, I’ve had more of a quick, day-of, “God is great, God is good, let us thank Him for this food” kind of approach, but I’ve come to learn that this season deserves so much more.

I’ve also come to learn that by the middle of September, my plate is nearly overflowing and I’m not sure I even have room to engage that kind of “more”. Can I really adjust my well-organized plans and leave space to quiet my heart before the big weekend is here?

Can I actually make time to discover what true thanks looks like?

It is not easy to pause when life is moving so quickly that I am out of breath before my feet even hit the floor in the morning. It’s not easy to stop when stopping means I have to actually think about the difficult things I’m facing, whether individually or even as a community or world. It’s not easy to sit down and lean into the Lord when I have more “productive” things to do, like plan a menu and craft my best sweet potato casserole ever.

And yet, I long so much for the “more” that I find when I just. slow. down. When I can make the connection between what I am doing and why I am even able to do it in the first place – when I discover the deep love of Jesus and astounding grace of God and the beautiful fellowship of the Holy Spirit, Thanksgiving becomes more than just turkey and to-do’s.

We crossed a bridge over the river in our city a couple of days ago and I couldn’t take my eyes off of the scene that stretched out before me. The cool turquoise water contrasted with the brilliant greens, rich golds, burnt oranges and fiery reds of the trees and bushes that lined riverbank. My heart sang at such a magnificent sight! In a moment we had passed it, but the image remained in my mind.

The One who brings that kind of beauty to life in an ordinary riverbank is the very same One who brings my heart to life when I remember that everything I am and everything I have is because of Him. I was made to worship!

God, help us this Thanksgiving to truly make space in our hearts and lives for Your presence. To breathe in Your breath of life and discover that we really can give thanks to You no matter what we’re facing, because this is Your will for us in Jesus. You know that with a truly thankful heart, we will begin to see what is most important in this life – being wholly devoted to You.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 —

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

leaves in fall

My favourite backyard bush in fall

Why I’m Praying All Day Today

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

***

It’s amazing to me that the moment I decide to make a point to live in the knowledge of constant rejoicing in what Christ has done, I realize how desperately I need to commit to the following verse: “Pray continually” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

Last week we received some difficult news that drove me to my knees in tears. I cannot express how much I didn’t feel like rejoicing; it was quite the opposite, actually. I couldn’t see beyond the circumstances I found myself in and I asked the Lord why this was happening. My mind clicked and whirred, thinking of all the ways we may have been able to avoid this if we had known then what we know now.

Over the past ten years or so, the Lord has graciously been reworking my heart and rooting out some of the things I’ve believed that simply aren’t true. One of those is the false impression that if I just do the right things, the right things will happen for me.

I mulled over the hard road ahead. “But we’re good people!” I found myself thinking. “We shouldn’t be dealing with this!”

And in the very next moment, it struck me: maybe all really is grace.

All the good things, all the tough things, all the things we can’t control and all the things we have some power over – it’s ALL His grace.

I am not all-knowing. I am not all-wise. My understanding has limits.

But I put my faith in the One whose “understanding no one can fathom”, the One who really does know what’s behind and ahead, the One who is good and just and full of compassion and deep love. The question then becomes not “why is it like this?” but “to whom will I compare Him? Or who is His equal?”

And I bow to the One who is worthy of my worship and my full trust. I am learning day by day and moment by moment that it requires a heart of constant prayer.

Lord, help me see You today!

Isaiah 40:21-31 (NIV)

“Do you not know?
    Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
    Have you not understood since the earth was founded?

He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth,
    and its people are like grasshoppers.
He stretches out the heavens like a canopy,
    and spreads them out like a tent to live in.

He brings princes to naught
    and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.

No sooner are they planted,
    no sooner are they sown,
    no sooner do they take root in the ground,
than he blows on them and they wither,
    and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.

‘To whom will you compare me?
    Or who is my equal?’ says the Holy One.

Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens:
    Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one
    and calls forth each of them by name.
Because of his great power and mighty strength,
    not one of them is missing.

Why do you complain, Jacob?
    Why do you say, Israel,
‘My way is hidden from the Lord;
    my cause is disregarded by my God’?

Do you not know?
    Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
    and his understanding no one can fathom.

He gives strength to the weary
    and increases the power of the weak.

Even youths grow tired and weary,
    and young men stumble and fall;

but those who hope in the Lord
    will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
    they will run and not grow weary,
    they will walk and not be faint.”

stars caleb woods

Image: Caleb Woods

The Choice to Rejoice

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

***

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