I Have Enough Character Already

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

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

Romans 5:1-5 NIV  –

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

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

Nothing worth having comes easy.

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

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

Not so.

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

Why?

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

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

Yes and amen!

snow on evergreen

Snow on evergreens reminds me of great resilience.

Our Advent Jar

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

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

aj1

Love those chubby little hands!

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

aj2

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

They’re ready for the jar.

aj3

A pasta sauce jar with a crocheted bow.

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

Can’t wait to get it started!

Getting Out of Holiday Survival Mode

angel chimes

(Image: pinterest)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Make like Elsa and “let it go”.

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

Less is more.

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

Worship the King!

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

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

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

And that doesn’t cost a dime.

The Time Machine: Presents or Presence?

The Time Machine series features posts from years past.

I wrote these thoughts just before Christmas 2015.

***

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

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

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

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

Maybe just checking out.

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

So we can get down on the floor and play.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

candle

Fifteen Years Later

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

It was my nineteenth birthday.

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

The year that followed was filled with disappointment and heartbreak.

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

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

IMG_1414

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

Psalm 119:33-40 (NIV)

The Time Machine: November is Sad for Some

The Time Machine series features posts from years past.

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zephaniah 3:17 (NIV)

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

november afternoon

November afternoon

When I Feel Most Like a Super Mom

My husband brought home two costume items on Halloween after work: a pirate hat and a cape.

I chose the cape and in true mom-fashion, took ten minutes to turn it into my tongue-in-cheek costume for the year: Supermom.

supermom 17

Hair and makeup were already done – and by done I mean not done at all. I threw on an apron with a soother pinned to the top, hand sanitizer taped to the middle, a diaper and a coffee mug in one pocket and a baby toy in the other. With a burp cloth over one shoulder, I carried my purse AND the diaper bag across my body and in the other arm, I hauled the car seat with the baby in it. The finishing touch – my shirt had real spit-up stains! Imagine that! haha! With my dollar store cape draped across my shoulders, we were off to take our kids trick-or-treating at Grandma’s house.

The costume made me laugh because it wasn’t too far off from my regular life right now – a little stressful and last-minute, with a lot of mess and imperfection and a healthy dose of mirth. We snapped a few photos to freeze the moment in time so we can look back when the kids are older and everything is different, to remember what it was like right now.

It was fun to pretend for a couple of hours, but as they usually do, things got real when we arrived back home with buckets of mini chocolate bars and gummies in hand.

Our oldest two were fighting about who would hand out candy to the other trick-or-treaters while our two year old was a puddle of tears in the middle of the living room, chocolate smeared all over her lips and the sleeves of her bunny costume. The baby, of course, was very ready to eat.

I sat down in the armchair to feed him while my husband handled the oldest two and helped the bunny into her jammies.

Supermom was gone. The apron and cape were hanging over the high chair, and it was just Super Tired Mom in her place!

There was a time in my early mom years when I couldn’t possibly be caught in a costume like that in public because it’s not perfect. In fact, there are still times when perfection threatens to steal the amazing life I have right in front of me by telling me it’s all simply not good enough.

But as I grow older, I am beginning to understand.

Here’s what I know about being a super mom:  super moms are not born, they are made. They are forged in the fires of sleep deprivation, spit up and sippy cups. They are grown from the earth tilled under by tantrums and toilet training. They are refined by the flames of daily giving yourself up for someone else and knowing deep inside that you would not have it any other way – that through this process comes real gold.

You know when I feel most like a super mom? When I survive a solo trip to the store with all four kids. When I successfully navigate the waters of crazy post-time-change behaviour without seriously losing my cool. When we can laugh together even though life is hard and we are all tired.

It has nothing to do with kids in matching outfits or a spotless bathroom. And boy am I glad!

Super moms, all of you – keep on doing what you are doing. Be open to the changes that motherhood brings to your body, your mind, your heart, your spirit, but most of all, your soul.

We carry on with hope in our hearts because we know that God makes all things beautiful in His time.

The Time Machine: Friday Truth

The Time Machine series features posts from years past.

When you’re a parent of young children, you tend to listen to kids music from time to time. Our oldest has always been an early riser – and I mean EARLY. There was a time when she would wake up before the crack of dawn singing kids songs loud enough to wake the house. Thankfully, at that time we only had two littles and they did not share a room! When I wrote this, she was almost 3 and her younger sister was about 9 months old.

***

“Little is much when God is in it”.

It’s true. God can take a small thing and make it big for His purpose.

I’m thankful for that today.

I heard my oldest singing this LOUDLY first thing in the morning:

Little is much when He lives in your heart
Little is much when you know who you are 
Little is much when He lives in your heart
Little is much
-Mary Rice Hopkins

Wow.  Kids song.  You did it to me again – got me right there in the heart!

Little is much when you know who you are.

How amazing!  Thank You Lord.

butterfly on dandelion