Fog Rolling In

Fog. 

Nothing but fog.

The world had disappeared beyond our back fence, smothering my hopes of a fun family night of stargazing.

It’s one of the simple joys I remember about growing up in the country, where the winter night stretches out above you in an endless expanse. While you head to bed, the dark sky awakes with dancing fluorescent colours and millions of tiny, twinkling diamonds. And sometimes, if you’re lucky, you might catch a double-feature – a bright glowing moon casting its spotlight on the sparkling snow.

Stunning.

Living in the city, the streetlights interfere with the fullness of the experience. But if you can find a stretch of darkness, it’s still breathtaking. November’s early nights invite us into new ways of appreciating the world God has made, and this week the temperatures were mild enough to make stargazing a possibility for our little family.

And then, the fog rolled in.

I double-checked the forecast for 6pm. Clear skies, mild temperatures.

11am. Still foggy.

2pm — fog.

Finally, around 3:45pm, the sun seemed to break through. The fog began to dissipate, but the skies were still covered with thin clouds.

The evening forecast changed to partly cloudy skies. At about 5:45, I looked out the window. Stars! The clouds were moving away! We made hot cocoa, filled our travel mugs, pulled on the winter gear and headed to our little spot to see what we could see.

It wasn’t perfect. But it was incredible! Saturn and Jupiter hung low in the sky, nearer to each other than I’d ever seen. Mars glowed red, and the Big Dipper came into view. Vega, Polaris, the stars of Cassiopeia… the darkness surrounded us but our eyes were on the heavens, drinking in their beauty.

Psalm 147:3-5 popped into my head:

He heals the brokenhearted
and binds up their wounds.
He determines the number of the stars
and calls them each by name.
Great is our Lord and mighty in power;
his understanding has no limit.

I need the reminder that the One who holds these stars is the same One who heals the deepest wounds of my heart. 

Truth.

Preach it to your heart when you wake up in the morning and the fog has rolled in. Preach it to your heart when you’re asking yourself if this could really be true: does the God of the Universe even see me at all? And preach it to your heart when the skies clear and the stars are shining again.

Frank E. Graeff was a Presbyterian minister in the late 1800s. He was called the Sunshine Minister for his contagious positivity. According to another hymn-writer, “in spite of his cheerful disposition, he was a man sorely tried by doubts and deep depressions.” It makes sense, then, that he penned these words which were later put to music.

Does Jesus care when my heart is pained
Too deeply for mirth or song,
As the burdens press,
And the cares distress,
And the way grows weary and long?

Does Jesus care when my way is dark
With a nameless dread and fear?
As the daylight fades  
Into deep night shades,
Does He care enough to be near?

Does Jesus care when I’ve tried and failed
To resist some temptation strong;
When for my deep grief
There is no relief,
Though my tears flow all the night long?

Does Jesus care when I’ve said “goodbye”
To the dearest on earth to me,
And my sad heart aches
Till it nearly breaks,
Is it aught to Him? Does He see?

O yes, He cares, I know He cares,
His heart is touched with my grief;
When the days are weary,
The long night dreary,  
I know my Savior cares.

Through stars, through Scripture, through songs, and even in the middle of the fog, I know my Saviour cares.

Praise the Lord. How good it is to sing praises to our God, how pleasant and fitting to praise him! (Psalm 147:1)

Image: Stephen Rahn/Stocksnap

Sunrise, Sunset

2020 is the year of doing things differently.

October surprised us with a short stretch of extremely cold weather, then warmed up nicely just in time for Halloween. This year’s fall time change ushered in the warmest start to November ever.

I can’t remember the last time we were able to wear t-shirts and bare feet on the grass this late in the year. I even snapped a photo for those January days when I’ll wonder if we’ll ever see the grass again, let alone go barefoot in it. Balmy temperatures have ushered in the most breathtaking sunrises and sunsets with blazing sky-flames of rose-gold twice a day. These are the moments you call everyone to the front window for. The ones you try to capture in a photo, the kind we text and share. With a quick tap-tap-tap of our mobile phones, we invite each other into these brief but stunning things, sharing in a gift of extraordinary beauty in an otherwise ordinary moment. 

I’m so thankful the Lord knows exactly what we need. Since this is not the year any of us expected (or probably wanted, for that matter), we’re learning to let go of what was and embrace the amazing moments amid the mess.

This has been the year of the home-cooked dinner, the quiet holiday, the simple gift of breath in our lungs for as long as we’re allowed. The year of projects that may never have otherwise gotten done. The year of staying home and exploring our own backyards. The year of learning to live with discomfort and inconvenience. The year of slowing down. And hasn’t it been good for us? Last week our kids finished their work on a 5-generation family tree that shows the faces of all the people whose lives had to intertwine for our family to exist. It’s on the wall in our living room and every day I get to look at the faces of each one. I sometimes find myself thinking about the challenges they faced when they were my age. I wonder what they were like and if we would have been friends. Another gift of beauty – that these connections made my current life possible.

And yet, mingled with gratitude there is always grief for the things we’ve lost. The things we can’t get back. The things we wish were not, but are.

Today, my heart is aching as I think about my only living grandfather and his very recent cancer diagnosis. How I wish I could hop on a plane to sit around their kitchen table once again, the music of my family’s easy laughter ringing in my heart. I haven’t gotten back home very often in the past 13 years, but when I have, I always knew I had a place at their table.

Sunrise, sunset. Life is short. What are you holding onto? What are you placing your hope in? What do you run to when everything is different and disorienting? When loss washes over you in wave after enormous wave?

When many disciples deserted Jesus, He asked the rest of the twelve if they wanted to leave too. John 6:68-69 has always been a source of comfort to me: “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.”

As we move into a holiday season that will likely be very different from ones in the past, let’s hold on to the One who has the words of eternal life. The Holy One of God does not leave us in our darkest moments.

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted

    and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18)

(PS – Grandpa, I love you. I wish I could visit. I am praying for the Lord’s comfort to surround you today, and that you would find that He is your joy, now more than ever.)

Early November Sunset

Thanksgiving is Different

This is the last in a weekly series leading up to Thanksgiving. Join the conversation at #3WeeksofThanks.

***

Last week my 9 year old declared this to be the worst year ever! She’s turning 10 in just a few months. With big plans for her first double-digit birthday, she’s worried that it won’t be all she is imagining, thanks to the pandemic. We don’t know what things will look like a few months from now but if the past seven months are any indication, I’m thinking we’ll have to be creative!

In the past few weeks, when these kinds of tough moments have come up, we’ve sat together and cried over the things that have changed and the things we have lost. And then I gently remind them that 2020 is the year of doing things differently, and that different can be refreshing!

I’ve even taken them to the history books to give them a little bit of perspective. According to historians from Harvard, the year 536 was the worst year ever. After a volcanic eruption in Iceland plunged the world into darkness and famine for 2 years, the bubonic plague began to spread.

Yikes. 

And yet, even though the world has been through awful things in generations past, we still feel the losses 2020 has brought and held out hope that things would turn around before the holiday season.

This weekend is showing us that we’re still in the thick of things.

I know several families who will not be gathering this weekend, breaking decades of tradition. For some, this may be the last holiday they would have spent with loved ones who are battling terminal illnesses. Others want to hold new babies and bless new parents with encouragement and amazing food. Others would have travelled to spend time together, and instead find themselves at home, away from children and grandchildren. Still others are relieved that they don’t have to go to an awkward family gathering but are missing a great meal with friends.

For others, Thanksgiving has always meant being alone.

If you’re greeting this weekend with a heavy heart, I’m praying that God’s presence will bring you comfort and that you would find that even in seasons of disappointment, He truly is enough! This year, we are finding space in our tight schedules for something different – something refreshing. Something that we would never otherwise have had the opportunity to do. Something that shifts us away from the perfect turkey and sharpens our focus on the Giver of Life.

I love the invitation from Hebrews 13:15-16 (NIV) — 

“Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”

It’s amazing to me that a sacrifice of praise isn’t only words – it’s actions too. Who can you do good for and share with? Who is God bringing into your life right now that you can bless?

Happy Thanksgiving, friends. I’m thankful that God is good – all the time.

Thanks for joining me this year for #3WT!

A Full Moon

This is the second in a weekly series leading up to Thanksgiving. Join the conversation at #3WeeksofThanks.

***

The most remarkable thing happened this week.

The full moon rose in a clear sky.

Most months I don’t really pay attention to the phases of the moon, but the first full moon in fall is my favourite. Paired with the brilliance of rose-gold sunrises and brilliant coral-red sunsets, a harvest moon on a clear, warm night is just one of the most incredible beauties of the year.

We got the kids out of bed the other night and took them to the backyard to catch a glimpse.

“Whoa, that’s huge!” they marvelled.

We stood for a few minutes in the chill of the evening, barefoot on the grass, soaking in the beauty of the night sky. Then it was back to bed.

As I was tucking them in for the second time, one whispered, “Thanks for showing us that cool full moon, Mom.”

My heart swelled. “You’re welcome, sweetheart.”

This morning I peeked out the window to see the moon was full and pale, on its way to bed, with Mars for its sidekick. “Hey kids, come check this out!” I said.

At first they couldn’t see it, but then their eyes filled with disbelief. “That’s Mars?!”

We pulled out an iPad app that confirmed our suspicions and they rushed off to tell their dad what they had seen.

It was remarkable to see the gorgeous harvest moon and Mars in the morning light, but it was even more remarkable that these created things point our family to the One who made everything and holds it all together.

Especially this week, when the grief of loss and disappointment grips us at different times in different ways. We’re rolling along through our new and very different routine when all of the sudden we remember that this pandemic life isn’t what we signed up for but here we are and what do we do with all these big feelings?

Creation serves to remind us that this life is not some random collection of pointless events that end the hollow emptiness of death. There is order and design delicately woven together with intricate, breathtaking beauty. Isn’t it a gift that we’ve had to spend so much time outside in the past six months?

Yesterday after another amazing ruby-red sunset, my 9 year old daughter teased me, “Mom, I know your favourite season is fall. Every time we drive anywhere you’re always like, ‘look at the beautiful colours! Or look at that awesome sunset’! Like, we get it! You love fall!”

I laughed, but I just know that one day the kids will remember their how cheesy mom loved to show them things in nature. And I hope that in 20 years when they see an ordinary hillside suddenly ablaze with fall colours or sit under a giant harvest moon, or look up to notice even a tiny star winking in the darkness, they’ll remember these little moments when heaven touches earth and makes the ordinary extraordinary. I am praying that this collection of memories, paired with the things we’ve taught them and the experiences they’ve had will remind them that there is more to this life than our difficult circumstances.

In the words of my wise mother, “This too shall pass”. For millennia, the world has turned on its axis and revolved around the sun. And every generation has faced its challenges, some much more devastating that our current experiences. And yet, stories of hope and resilience shine through. Why is that? Because God did not make the world and abandon it. He is here, He is working. He always has been and always will be.

Colossians 1:15-17 (NIV) spoke to my heart this week: 

“The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

In Him, all things hold together. Think about that for a moment. If He is the key, even now, even in this moment in history, we have nothing to fear.

“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” (Colossians 2:6-7)

Harvest Moon, October 1, 2020 – from my backyard.

Linger a Little Longer

This is the first in a weekly blog series leading up to Thanksgiving. Join the conversation at #3WeeksofThanks.

***

“That opportunity to choose to be thankful in the middle of difficulty is good for us. It leads us to the understanding that our thanksgiving needs to be anchored in something much greater than our circumstances or the changing times we live in. We’re not thankful because of what we have or don’t have – we’re thankful because God is good, all the time, and He will always keep His promises.

As Christians, we understand God’s Word to be His revelation of who He is and the primary way we get to know Him. Creation reveals Him as Creator, Jesus reveals God as Father, His Word reveals His character, and when we put our faith in Christ and become filled with the Holy Spirit, He is revealed through His very presence in our lives.

That’s how to begin to cultivate a heart of thanksgiving, no matter what we’re facing.”

I had no idea how these words, my very own from around this time last year, would help me put the past seven months into better perspective. 

I’m wrapping up the first week of #3WeeksofThanks. I created it a few years ago so that I wouldn’t miss the opportunity to embrace and participate in a season of Thanksgiving in my life and in our home. I love Fall, and Thanksgiving came and went so quickly that I wanted to linger in its vibrant colour and crisp air a little longer. And yet, this little project has proven to be one of the most challenging things I’ve ever attempted! I suppose it’s because a heart of thanksgiving doesn’t cultivate itself.

Especially this year.

It’s easy to dismiss our disappointments or minimize our sufferings because someone always truly does have it worse than we do. And yet, our pain is still our pain. Our frustrations and challenges are uniquely ours. And all our feelings about it tell us that we may have to stop and sort it all out.

And that’s okay.

Early this morning our seven year old daughter came to our bed. We talked about all the changes we’ve been experiencing. “This pandemic,” she said. “Why did it even have to happen? Why doesn’t God just stop it and we can go back to normal?”

A thought I’ve had several times over the past months. 

We held her and discussed the things we know that are true about God. We discussed how He is good, loving, holy, just, compassionate, all-powerful, all-present and all-knowing. And how hard it is to understand why He allows certain things sometimes. We talked about how we know we can trust Him and how He is with us in everything we go through. We talked about how He can see things we can’t see. And how He knows how to bring good things out of very bad things, and how we can’t learn to trust Him if we never go through times when we have to trust Him.

And we talked about how hard that is sometimes. 

Then we prayed together. Because when we don’t know what to do, or we don’t know how to feel or we don’t understand our situation, we pray and praise. And when we’re filled with thankful feelings and are rejoicing in our hearts for the good things God has given, we pray and praise. And when everything is simply ordinary and uneventful, we pray and praise.

We pray and praise, all the time. 

Because He is good, all the time. 

Even in 2020. 

Especially in 2020.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.”

2 Corinthians 1:3-7 (NIV)

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.