Connecting Points

I stepped outside yesterday evening and -21 C felt positively balmy after the polar vortex week of -45 C windchills. The bitter cold is slowly losing its grip and it feels amazing.

Cosy weather, though, isn’t it? Hot tea, sweaters, slippers, books and movies and all the inside hobbies you can muster. No yard to tend to other than keeping the sidewalk clear. Aside from all the usual suspects that come with the cold, like your key won’t turn the lock in the front door, or that giant icicle needs to be karate-kicked off the furnace vent, or the van won’t start unless it’s plugged in and when it does, random warning lights pepper the dashboard, it’s not so bad.

I’m thankful, though, that a bit of relief is on the way. In just a few more days we’ll have regular February cold instead of that frigid Arctic blast. Believe it or not, our weather has been one of the biggest blessings of the past few months. I was chatting with a friend from another province over zoom the other day and we were both amazed at how fantastic the weather has been so far this winter, both there and here. With the restrictions on activities and social gatherings, the unseasonably warm, vibrant fall and mild winter has felt like a kiss from heaven.

Where else are you seeing God’s grace today?

I live a rather ordinary life. I get up in the morning, get ready for the day and grab a cup of coffee. Then my mental chore checklist kicks into high gear and I remember all the dishes and laundry that didn’t get done yesterday so I begin my “I’m just going to do this one thing” habit. But the Lord is teaching me to press pause on my plans and be present when the opportunity arises.

I’ve observed that in our home, breakfast is a connecting point. All four kids are sitting at the table chattering away while they munch on their cereal or oatmeal. They pipe up when I don’t join them. “Mom! You have to eat breakfast!” they say. So I grab my toast and coffee and, against my morning-energy, goal-oriented, multi-tasking nature, I sit. This week our 10 year old instituted a Question of the Day. She posts a new one every morning and we take turns answering it. Then we’ll pull out one of the devotion books on the shelf or I’ll ask a spiritual question or use an ordinary object to illustrate a truth about God. We’re only around the table for about 10-15 minutes, but it’s a connecting point for spiritual conversations. Then we pray together and get on our way. I fully realize it won’t always be like this, so I’m making the most of these moments while I have them right in front of me.

I’m a busy person. I’ve always got something going on. There’s so much to do all the time. I’m flitting from this thing to that thing, my mind preoccupied with the things I’ve done and the things I have yet to do, today, tomorrow, next week, next month. My mind is has an ongoing checklist that is never quite finished, only set aside in favour of things that are more urgent.

Connecting points break into my noisy world. They are invitations to sit, to rest, to be present — to connect.

Connecting points are God’s grace unfolding before our very eyes. When we’re moving mechanically through these moments and days and years, we tend to miss some of the most amazing opportunities to pour into each other’s lives. I am far from perfect at it and too often I feel the sting as hindsight reveals my shortcomings, but I’m learning to slow down and savour the life I have right in front of me, the life given to me as a gift by the One who knows me better than I know myself. The One who made me and sustains me. The One who knows just what I need in every moment of the day. The One who invites me to sit at His feet even though “I’ve got a lot to do, you know”.

Luke 10:38-42 comes to mind:

“As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, ‘Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!’

‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’”

Lord, help me to choose what is better — even in the moments when I think I know better. Let the warmth of connecting with You release the bitter cold of drivenness and soften my heart so I recognize the connecting points that are right in front of me.

One morning my little guy invited me to have “coffee” with him.

MomLife: What I Have Learned So Far (Early 2021 Edition)

We started a family vision board for 2021 the other day after I was inspired by a post on instagram. I’m no letter artist but I liked the idea so I rolled some paper across our folding table and taped it down on both sides, hauled out the coloured Sharpies and began. We brainstormed some things that we want to do and manageable goals we want to accomplish, like “Camp in the backyard” and “Read as a family” and “Keep the house clean”. I decided to leave it out for the weekend to see if there were more things we wanted to add as we thought of them.

It was Cooking Club day with the kids. While I was in the kitchen with the older two, my third-born, independent, make-it-happen daughter got bored waiting for her turn to help with dinner. So she picked up the Sharpies and added her own ideas to the board in her Kindergarten printing, covering a large part of the mural.

“Go to Disneyland.”

This kid doesn’t mince words (wonder where she got that from!). 

We had a good chuckle, and I adjusted the goal slightly to include words like “save up our money so we can” and “in 2023”.

2021 probably won’t be the year that all our travel dreams come true – at least not for our family. But there are lots of other dreams that are blossoming before my very eyes — four of them, for starters. When Jesus said “love your neighbour as yourself”, I fully believe He meant the people around you. In my case, that includes the four humans entrusted to our care.

It takes a lot to be a parent. Even as I am writing this someone is asking for carrots because they’re watching Bugs Bunny and they want to pretend to be Bugs. Costume authenticity is pretty important when you’re three and a half, so a carrot is necessary for true representation of this particular Looney Tunes character. Someone else has brought out that ridiculous squawking chicken game we received as a gift one Christmas and is squeezing the life out of it. At least that’s what it sounds like from here. Another kid just snatched the last apple slice right out of a chubby little hand and war is imminent. Perfect examples of how the demands of raising young children are nothing to sneeze at.

My oldest turns 10 this year and it feels like a big deal. Looking back on the tiny baby who came into the world on her own terms and has lived that way ever since makes me feel like I still don’t have a clue what I’m doing, but there is grace even for me! My mom-skills didn’t come naturally. I had a career for a decade before I became a mom and felt competent in my field, but this whole mom thing was like living on another planet — one where I felt completely inept. Right from newborn stage, things like nursing and sleep were difficult. Toddlerville nearly did me in with its emotional ups and downs and potty training. And preschool conversation energy is something else altogether. Anxiety’s paralyzing grip coupled with the massive sleep deficit nearly made me crazy. Sometimes the memories of all the mistakes I’ve made and the times I’ve had to say sorry linger in my mind, filling me with fear and shame. I’ve learned that in those moments, gentleness is key so I pause and pray that the Lord will fill in those gaps with His presence and love. I pray that I will not repeat those mistakes now that we’re in a different stage, and then I thank Him that His mercies are new every morning.

From time to time, I reflect on my experience as a mom and the things I’ve learned along the way. It tends to happen when we reach a certain kind of milestone in our family: no more babies, everyone’s out of diapers, birthday season. I certainly don’t know all the things about motherhood, but I’ve learned one or two things in ten years. Might take the next ten to learn a few more things, but I’m okay with that.

Here’s what I have so far:

Motherhood is a marathon. We are in this for the long haul. There are no shortcuts, quick fixes, fast sprints to the finish line. There are even rest stops along the way – the gift of an easier age or stage – that allow us to refuel and recharge. Praise the Lord, He knows our needs! I’m a rather impatient person by nature, so this has been a difficult one to grasp. But I’m getting there.

Motherhood is miraculous. We are forever changed by these tiny humans that grow from impossibly small and helpless into tall, confident risk-takers before our very eyes. Transformation happens in so many ways that it hardly seems possible. But it is. I have never experienced something in my life that God has used to change my heart like motherhood has. The softening of a heart is a beautiful thing. I’m learning that when you’re handed the opportunity to change in all the best ways, it is a shame to waste it.

We are entering Pre-TeenTown, soon to be followed by TeenLand, while simultaneously guiding each younger child through the stage they are in, which they will experience differently than any of their siblings. It is dawning on me that I have four little neighbours, the kind that Jesus talked about, living right in my home — four individuals who are watching, wondering, needing, growing, experiencing and absorbing.

Pray for me — seriously. And all the moms (and dads). 

I long for my kids to see God’s heart for them through me, to be a soft place to land, pointing them to Jesus in every situation. I need the courage to ask for their forgiveness when I’m wrong. To teach them the life skills they need for the future — and believe me, that one takes courage because it’s so much easier to just do everything myself! And the strength to be that constant reminder that God will not abandon them regardless of where they find themselves in life. 

Don’t believe the lie that you that you are “just a mom”. You and I both know that there is no such thing. Consider your relationship with your own mother. Whether she was present or absent in your life, she is hardly inconsequential. Her very existence is woven into the fabric of your heart, though there may be wounds in need of healing, a relationship in need of reconciliation or a situation in need of redemption. It matters. She matters. You matter. Don’t give up, Mamas. This is a hard and beautiful thing, but we are here for it. 

And we are not alone, thanks be to God.

Mama and baby hands from so long ago. I always love these ones.

And Now, A New Year

The tree came down this week. It was our very first real tree as a married couple and I didn’t mind the mess of the needles one bit. I’ve been warned that I’ll still be finding them in June!

Our area has been under a no indoor/outdoor gatherings restriction for the past month, so Christmas was very different for our family. I fully expected no indoor gatherings, but the no outdoor gatherings rule was tough to adjust to. Once the shock wore off and the sadness blew through, I made the decision not to let my anger at the whole situation rule the holidays. For us, “making the best of it” meant organizing Zoom gatherings and leaving lots of space in our home for play and rest. Although I missed my people desperately, in the end, it was a gift. The slow pace, the long stretches of nothing on the schedule — after a long year of abrupt changes and periods of adjustment, it was beautiful. And every pine needle I find in my living room for the rest of 2021 will serve as a reminder of the difficult and wonderful Christmas we shared.

And now, 2021. 

Already — a shocking year. This morning at the breakfast table our almost 8 year old asked why God lets people die if He knows we’re going to be sad about it. From our first experience with the death of a pet or a loved one to the very end of our days on earth, we grapple with the hard questions that have no simple answers. Our discussion this morning revolved around the freedom to choose and what life would look like if that simply did not exist. We talked about how God knows things we don’t know — that’s why He’s God and we aren’t. And we were honest about the existence of suffering: the Bible doesn’t promise a pain-free life, but it also shows us that very good things can come from going through very hard things. As we were talking, a passage from 1 Peter popped into my head.

“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.” 

1 Peter 3:3-9 (NIV)

These past twelve months have given us plenty of opportunities to live in a constant state of outrage. It’s exhausting! But the good news of Jesus is the oasis in the desert, quenching my anger-parched soul with fresh, clean, cool water.

In this broken world, there can be no true flourishing apart from Christ. He is the inexpressible and glorious joy that fills our hearts when it seems all is lost. He is the One in whom we put our trust. The hope He gives cannot be dashed, the love He offers cannot be lost, the peace He brings cannot be disturbed.

The most beautiful thing we can pursue this year is to grow in our faith in Christ. May it be the kind of faith that transforms both us and the places we find ourselves in! 

Happy New Year.

January Sky

The Christmas Plate

I don’t remember exactly where I got it. A second-hand store I think, a few years ago. But as soon as I laid eyes on it, I loved it because it was beautiful to me. Whenever I saw it, my heart swelled and my mind swirled with all the memories of Christmases long ago, when I was little and full of wonder and delight.

It bears a print of Currier and Ives’ “The Homestead in Winter”, with an old white farmhouse and a small red barn, the home of the little brown cow standing out front. The bare trees stretch their gnarly black branches into a wintery morning sky near a little, half-frozen pond surrounded by brush. In the centre, a couple drives a red sleigh with two white horses and a man in a blue coat carries an armload of wood, followed by his faithful dog.

The vintage gold-rimmed decorative plate hung on our wall for one or two Christmases then was somehow lost in my house, missing the next Christmas entirely. And then one day the following spring, I found it! My heart sang!

It hung on the wall for another Christmas, bringing me a sense of home once again.

One night a few weeks ago after the kids were in bed I carefully hung it up in the kitchen and smiled. I said to my husband who was in the other room, “I’m going to take a photo of my plate, just in case it gets broken sometime.” With four kids under the age of 10, things happen.

The next morning, one of my sweet kiddos immediately noticed the plate on the wall. “Mom! Where did we get that plate? It’s beautiful!” I lifted her up so she could see it on the wall and explained a little bit about it. And then, an amazing turn of events. Less than 8 hours later, I heard a loud crash, followed by a small sobbing mess of that same child running down the hall towards me.

“MOM!” she bawled, “I broke it! I broke your special plate! I’m so sorry, Mom! It was an accident!”

My heart sank, both for her and for my sweet Christmas plate. I gave her a hug and we went to inspect the damage.

Sure enough, there it was – on the kitchen floor, clean in two. One tiny chip was missing. We picked up the pieces and set them on the table, and then I held her for a minute.

“Mom, I’m really sorry, I didn’t mean to…” her voice trailed off as she buried her head in my shoulder.

“Sweetheart,” I looked her square in the eyes, “I know it was an accident. And you know what? It’s just a plate.”

“But it was your special plate!” she wailed.

“Yes, it was special to me and I am very sad. But you know what? I know it was an accident. And it’s just stuff. You are more important to me than stuff! I love you. Besides, I think we might be able to fix it.”

She dried her tears and clung to my neck for a few more moments.

Last week I pulled out the superglue and managed to put the plate back together without gluing my fingers to it. It hangs in our living room now, away from the scene of the incident (just in case!). From afar, it’s good as new. But if you look closely, you can see the crack — and I don’t mind one bit.

I keep telling the kids that things don’t have to be perfect to be wonderful. This Christmas, more than any other year, I’m praising the Lord for His living presence in my life! Right there with me in the middle of broken plates, dashed hopes, fears and uncertainties, stress and anxiety, grief and pain. His grace sustains me in every moment because the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1), born through the hard reality of labour and delivery to unlikely parents in a stable of animals. 

He entered a world that didn’t even recognize Him — a world sick with sin, riddled with the stench of death, hopeless to save itself. The Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace laid His glory aside to live, die and rise again so that we could be reconciled to God forever. Sin and death defeated, not just once but for all eternity! Lord, let your Kingdom come!

This Christmas, we certainly don’t have everything we want. But we have everything we need.

“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.” 1 Peter 1:3-9 (NIV)

Merry Christmas. The Promise-Maker keeps His promises! May your heart prepare Him room this week.

The Christmas Plate

Even From the Very Beginning

The excitement of Christmas always arrives in our home around the middle of November. We talk about the things we’d like to enjoy together, and the discussion always circles back to why we’re celebrating in the first place.

Does the Christmas story start with an angel’s visit to Mary? In some senses, yes. The events are set in motion by a striking interaction between a strange visitor and a young girl. But these moments were planned long ago, before there was time.

This year we’ve begun tracing the thread of the coming Messiah through the Old Testament.

“And I will put enmity
between you and the woman
and between your offspring and hers
he will crush your head
and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:15)

The first glimpse of future where sin and death are vanquished. Keep reading and you’ll see more glimpses of hope.

Isaiah 7:14 – “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”

And Isaiah 9:6 —

“For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
will accomplish this.”

For some reason, I’ve found myself lingering in the book of Joel, and even here I’m seeing Jesus.

“You will have plenty to eat, until you are full,
    and you will praise the name of the Lord your God,
who has worked wonders for you;
never again will my people be shamed.
Then you will know that I am in Israel,
  that I am the Lord your God,
and that there is no other;
And afterward,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your old men will dream dreams,
your young men will see visions.
Even on my servants, both men and women
I will pour out my Spirit in those days.”
(Joel 2:26-29)

Thank you Lord! What a relief! In a world that feels random and chaotic at times, I am on my knees in worship of the One who has always had things in the palm of His hand.

Especially this year, I have desperately needed these reminders that the Kingdom was always coming, from the very beginning. It was always planned, from long ago. Jesus was always on His way the first time – and even now we can be confident that He will come again the second time. God is the ultimate promise-keeper. He will do what He says He will do — without fail. He always keeps His promises.

Jesus will come again in glory to bring His Kingdom in all its fullness.

In the waiting, we are Kingdom people in a world in need. We invite others into the life Christ has brought – into the reality that is beyond our wildest hopes. We live according to the ways of the King of Kings, the One who has come and is coming back again. 

He is the source of eternal hope, peace that passes all understanding, deep joy, and real love – the Way, the Truth and the Life.

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

Joy to the world!

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)

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)