Interruptions

This morning when I came to the computer to write, I found my office chair was already occupied by my third daughter’s favourite soft brown teddy bear “eating breakfast” out of an old coffee can filled with one of my potholders.

The little visitor sent me straight back in time to when the very same daughter was a preschooler with her sweet little cheeks, bright blue eyes and favourite green headband in her long brown hair. (The headband that we lost and miraculously found on more than one occasion.) Her favourite stuffy was a little doll, Cindy, that went everywhere with her. I can’t remember how many times we were nearly late for something because she couldn’t find the doll’s sweater, scarf and hat. At dinner, Cindy had her own little spot on the stool beside my daughter, “eating” her pretend food while we ate ours. For a long time, Cindy became another member of the family. I often came across little scenes of her reading a book or napping on the couch or doing other random things, always an adorable reminder that I share my home with other humans with big imaginations and plans.

I’m living out the lifelong lesson that all kinds of interruptions are actually invitations to something much greater. Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote:

We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God. God will be constantly crossing our paths and canceling our plans by sending us people with claims and petitions. We may pass them by, preoccupied with our more important tasks, as the priest passed by the man who had fallen among thieves, perhaps — reading the Bible. When we do that, we pass by the visible sign of the Cross raised athwart our path to show us that, not our way, but God’s way must be done.

It is a strange fact that Christians and even ministers frequently consider their work so important and urgent that they will allow nothing to disturb them. They think they are doing God a service in this, but actually they are disdaining God’s ‘crooked yet straight path’ (Gottfried Arnold). They do not want a life that is crossed and balked. But it is part of the discipline of humility that we must not spare our hand where it can perform a service and that we do not assume that our schedule is our own to manage, but allow it to be arranged by God.” (Life Together, 99)

Teddy bears on my office chair. Dolls eating dinner. Small cars in the pots and pans cupboard. Plastic dinosaurs in the fridge next to the milk. Although these scenes are slowly becoming less frequent at our house, I’m still amazed at how toy pigs in a sparkly shoe can snap me out of my self-centred daze and remind me of the blessing of imagination, the wonder of creativity and the beauty of simplicity: gifts my children offer me in abundance every day. These little interruptions invite me to ponder God’s good gifts.

But what about the interruptions that cost me something? Time, energy, health, attention, love, compassion. Some interruptions are long and painful. Sometimes you lose something you cannot regain. Some hardly feel worth the effort after all is said and done. Most often, they do not come with recognition or gratitude on the part of the interrupter.

These are invitations to live like Jesus and embody His love for me to those around me. They are the hard things of ordinary life that may not appear to be worth the asking price, but we can be confident that our loving Heavenly Father is working in and through all things, even the small things, and maybe especially the small things, for His glory.

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!

“Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?”
“Who has ever given to God,
that God should repay them?”

For from him and through him and for him are all things.
To him be the glory forever!
Amen.

Romans 11:33-36 (NIV)

The bear eating breakfast.

Seedlings in April

We planted our little seedlings this week. In about six or seven weeks, we’ll transplant them outside and see which ones make it to the end of the season. I haven’t had much luck starting things indoors, but gardening at our house is always an adventure!

You’d think after a decade of trying to grow things in our particular yard with our particular set of growing conditions I’d have learned a few things. And I suppose I have. But with four other little minds whirring and spinning about what kinds of things they want to plant and grow, I’ve let go of my dreams of urban farming and embraced the life of experimental gardening. Like many things in my life, I hold my garden with an open hand. Well, mostly. I sure do love my roses and front containers, but the backyard is a free space for the kids to exercise their creativity and responsibility in our containers and beds. This year, the girls have their hearts set on pumpkins, watermelons, daisies, zinnias, violas, mint, peas, spinach and carrots. Only four of those were started inside this week and we’ll sow the rest in containers and into the ground sometime after May long weekend. It’s the safest bet since our spring weather is so dramatic, always flinging itself from full-on summer temperatures to below freezing in just a few short hours. Earlier this week we were in shorts and t-shirts. This morning, tiny snowflakes float gracefully to the ground out my window, watering the lawn in place of a good soaking April shower.

So our seedlings stay warm and cosy inside, drinking up the water we give them, sitting in the soft light and slowly working their way up to break the surface of the soil. We’re watching in anticipation, eager to see which is which since the small initial I wrote on each pot to distinguish them from one another has washed away.

On top of the challenges of dramatic weather, we contend with a very short growing season. Once the seeds are in the ground, it’s go-time. In just a few short weeks, we’re seeing the fruit of our labour, and every single year it takes me by surprise. When the first pea pod is ready for picking, we rejoice together and everyone gets a bite. I know we followed the process of good soil, water and sunshine, but it still feels like a miracle when we see the small harvest from the seeds we planted weeks before.

My hopes are high, as they always are at the beginning of a gardening season, that we will see some good things growing this year – not just in the soil, but in us too. Life lessons on what happens if you don’t water your plants in the heat of the summer. The satisfaction of hard work, the feel of the soil in our hands, the beauty of watching plants grow. Experience has taught me that regardless of the final harvest of the year, the work in the garden builds my character, reminds me of the mysteries and goodness of God, and gently pushes me to keep tending the things that need tending in my heart and life.

When our oldest daughter was a baby, she didn’t want to sleep. Ever. I read the books, I tried the tricks, I prayed and cried and she simply stuck to her half-hour daytime naps and very early mornings like glue. One day a wise mama told me, “You can’t make a baby sleep, but you can create an environment conducive to sleep.”

Gardening and parenting have something in common. You can’t make those little seedlings grow up into big beautiful fruit-bearing plants, but you can cultivate nourishing soil, quench their thirst and bathe them in sunshine. You can plant good seeds of truth, shower them in prayer and shine the light of unconditional love all over them. Their growth is ultimately up to the Master Gardener, but as the temporary caretaker of my children, I can look to Him for wisdom and trust that He is taking care of them through me and sometimes in spite of me.

In John 15:1-5 (NIV) Jesus says,

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” 

Growing things from seed.

Hidden Treasure

My dad texted me a photo this week of a little piece of paper he found in one of his boxes. In a jumbled mix of classic kid printing-style uppercase and lowercase letters, though remarkably neat, I had written:

“ThE LORD iS MY HELPER.”

The note underneath said “Hebrews 13:6, by Stephy, Age 4 1/2”.

It’s not a distinct childhood memory for me so it was amazing to see that little piece of paper still intact so many years later. A memory verse from Sunday School, I’m sure. This morning I turned to the reference in my Bible to see the words in print.

So we say with confidence,
“The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. 
What can mere mortals do to me?”

A small note next to the last line directed me to Psalm 118:6-7. Not even five years old, writing ancient truths on something ripped from a notepad printed for children, with a picture of two little girls playing tennis in the bottom corner. At the time I couldn’t comprehend the treasure these words held, but they are words that have continually point me to the true Source of Life through every valley, on every mountain, regardless of my circumstances.

The seeds of truth planted in childhood have pressed their roots deep into the soil of my heart and I can see the fruit of the faithfulness of God’s people as I now encourage my own children to commit Scripture to memory. I know I’m giving them one of the greatest gifts that was ever given to me – the opportunity to fill their hearts with this very same life-giving truth. God is the ultimate Gardener. He not only prepares the soil but plants the seeds, takes care of the weeding and pruning, and brings forth gentle, breathtaking growth in willing hearts.

I may not see what God is doing. I may not know how He is working. But I recall the words of Isaiah 55:8-11 and the walls of my heart are fortified against the daily battering ram of fear and discouragement.

“ ‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,’
declares the Lord.

‘As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,

so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.’ ”

Don’t give up hope – it’s not the end. The Lord is our helper, we will not be afraid.

Beautiful words.

A Priceless Gift

He was the OG up-cycling trendsetter. The master engineer without a degree. We had front row seats to “How It’s Made: Grandpa Edition” our whole lives long. There was nothing he couldn’t cobble together from parts and pieces or improve upon with a few days of thinking and tinkering. On the farm and later on in the little town where I grew up, his creativity and ingenuity continued to amaze.

When I was a kid, I had a lot of questions about the mechanics of things. Once, around the big brown table in the farm kitchen, I asked my dad how an engine worked. He encouraged me to ask Grandpa. His eyes lit up as he explained the inner workings of spark plugs and pistons in a way I could understand. Often when I visited Grandma in the kitchen, the shop across the yard was alight with welding flashes which I was always warned to look away from so they didn’t damage my eyes.

We grandkids wanted a trampoline more than anything. So he made one for us. A big rectangle with a green rubber mat. No padding on the springs, and spaces in the corners for you to sit with your feet dangling down while you waited for your turn. How those springs could pinch! We learned the hard way not to sit on them while we waited. He had one rule – no shoes on the trampoline! Double jumps got some serious air. That thing could hold an amazing amount of water and became ridiculously slippery when wet. We spent hot summer afternoons flailing around, playing Crack the Egg and Slip and Slide thanks to Grandpa and our uncles.

I remember helping Grandma bring supper to the field during the long hours of harvesting, the free range chickens that left their presents all over the yard – easy to find in bare feet – and Grandpa’s old dogs one at a time in succession who were always named Pup.

And music. How he loved to listen to us play and sing! Not at first though. When I was just learning on their old piano he’d tell me to be quiet because he was reading at the table. But something must have changed over the years because I remember how he loved it when I’d lead the singing at our little bilingual country church. I used to pick his favourite hymn without telling him. I was always fascinated by the German hymnals that sat next to the red English ones in the backs of the pews. When I learned how to sing in German in my high school choir, I signed up for a special number in church one day and surprised my grandparents by singing a hymn… in German!

I remember Grandpa wiping his eyes and thanking me, in his understated way, for singing that song. Grandma clasped my hand and gave it her signature squeeze. As the years went on, I moved around. But anytime I was back in my childhood town, I stopped by and sat down at the table for a few more stories, cookies and hugs.

My little corner of the world is darker these days. And my blog has lost one of its most faithful readers. My heart feels the ache of grief, compounded by current restrictions on group gatherings and travel. I watched through a screen as my dad and aunts and uncles stood up to tell his story. I never got to gather around his grave to sing a hymn or place my flower there. I didn’t see my cousins carry him or watch as he was lowered into the ground in my childhood church cemetery. No fellowship time with distant relatives and old friends over raisin buns and cheese and pickles and red funeral juice and bad church coffee in those little white cups. 

And worst of all, no hugs for those who suffer this loss from those who suffer alongside.

Jesus keep me near the cross
There is a precious fountain; 
Free to all, a healing stream,
Flows from Calv’ry’s mountain.

In the cross, in the cross
Be my glory ever
Til my ransomed soul shall find
Rest beyond the river.

-Fanny Crosby

After the online funeral last weekend my husband and I sat on our little front steps drinking coffee with blankets on our laps in the March sunshine. As I processed my feelings I asked him why our generation had the tendency to be dissatisfied with a simple life.

“Why isn’t it enough?” I asked. “Why are we rushing around trying to prove ourselves, desperate to matter to everyone but those closest to us? Why are we reaching for the stars when we already have the real treasures right here?”

I have a choice. I can focus on the things that don’t matter in the end, or I can turn my eyes upon Jesus. I can do the hard, slow, steady work of cultivating what I already have right in front of me. I can plant the seeds, pray for rain, watch the growth and reap the harvest in the right season. I can practice creativity in problem solving, be a good steward of what I have, pour into others and choose to be content. I can love my family in the best way I know how, and I can praise Jesus for His goodness to me even passing through the valley of the shadow of death.

These simple things I have learned from the ones that have gone before me. They have given me a priceless gift of a life well-lived.

A little corner of the old farmyard in the trees behind the garden.

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.

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

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.

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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!

The Best Things

The warmer weather has come at just the right time. I truly thought we might go squirrely if we didn’t have a sweet kiss from springtime soon. Our city is notoriously moody when it comes to weather so whenever the sun shines and a warm, drying breeze blows in the month of April, we shout “Hip hip hooray” and seize the moment with bubbles, sidewalk chalk, soccer balls and bicycles. We know it’s entirely possible the snow will return overnight and we’ll be back to making snow angels and snowmen instead.

It’s the music of life: the sound of the neighbour’s power tools and my children’s voices filling the air as the late afternoon sunshine streams down in all its glory.

We hopped in the van one day last week and hit the road to a nearby spot. As we drove, I heard a little voice in the backseat pondering what we were doing in this vehicle.

“We went for a walk AND a drive?” my 2 year old asked, astounded that both of the most exciting events in our life happened in the same day.

I laughed. It’s true, going for a walk and a drive in one day is pretty special in these extraordinary times.

A few weeks ago, when winter’s chill had yet to dissipate, we took the kids on a special visit to their great-grandfather’s grave. It was cold and it took us a while to find the exact spot we had gathered nearly two years ago to say goodbye, but we had important conversations about death and feelings and theology as we went. It was a moment we may have missed if life was running its usual routine.

The beauty of the changing seasons. A shift into a slower pace of life. Opportunities for deeper connection.

Thank you Lord that there are things even a pandemic cannot cancel.

Leftover pastel treats and foil-wrapped bunnies and eggs serve to remind us of an Easter unlike any other. Our family traditions felt more important than ever this year:  family communion on Good Friday, dyeing hardboiled eggs with all sorts of combinations of McCormicks food colouring, hunting for baskets in the morning and eggs in the snow, Easter Sunday morning church and a special family dinner.

Even with our cherished traditions we still felt the sadness of missing our brothers and sisters in Christ and from our extended family. We longed for lingering moments with lifted voices in worship, for the chance to share the good news of Jesus with our students in kids’ church, for eruptions of laughter around a large dinner table afterward. But we know that it won’t always be this way.

We have a hope and a future that will last long after this pandemic is written into the history books. And we are forever grateful that it’s not based on things that can change in the blink of an eye, but rather on the love of Christ! I kept thinking of Romans 8 this week:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:

‘For your sake we face death all day long;
    we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

(Romans 8:35-39 NIV)

What a beautiful reminder that the best things in life last beyond this life.

Thank You Jesus for your incomparable love! May You carry us in this difficult time, with news headlines that break our hearts into a thousand pieces and tempt us to despair. We will hold on to You as You hold on to us, knowing that nothing can separate us from You.

easter eggs

Easter eggs