Remember

A mama house sparrow hops around our front lawn, looking for a bite to eat in the sunshine. Everything is alive now, with dandelions, saskatoons, apples and irises in bloom. Ants carry on, bees bumble from sweet flower to sweet flower, sparrows and chickadees flit here and there, robins diligently care for their broods. The hawks are back too, solitary hunters soaring and diving to fill their bellies.

Let heaven and nature sing!

In becoming what I like to call Noticers, we’ve caught breathtaking glimpses of our magnificent, carefully designed world right in our own backyard. I’m amazed at how many times I hear, “Mom! You’ve got to see this!”, an invitation to hurry out the back door to observe the shape of a spiderweb or quietly tiptoe across the deck to spy a house finch among the leaves.

For years I’ve thought that I was just one of those people who didn’t like change. We have this vintage book about opposites where the characters go to the circus and at the very end two of them are heading home. One says, “I’m sad that it’s over” and another one says, “I’m glad that it happened”. Guess which one I tend to be! I’m the one who sheds a few tears at the end of the Beatles Anthology every single time, even though we know from history how that story ends. It occurred to me this week though, that it’s not change itself I dislike but its hallmark sense of loss.

I find the slow rhythm of the seasons steadies me. Give me the first robin, the first handful of Saskatoon berries, the first pop of fall colour, the first blanket of snow and I feel confident in what lies ahead. These changes I welcome, although they’re bittersweet. New milestones, adventures and plans are exciting, but a sudden illness, unplanned large expense or unwelcome news can throw me for a solid loop unless I pause to remember not only who God is but also what He has done in the past.

This week I came across Psalm 116:1-7 — 

I love the Lord, for he heard my voice;
    he heard my cry for mercy.
Because he turned his ear to me,
    I will call on him as long as I live.

The cords of death entangled me,
    the anguish of the grave came over me;
    I was overcome by distress and sorrow.
Then I called on the name of the Lord:
    “Lord, save me!”

The Lord is gracious and righteous;
    our God is full of compassion. 
The Lord protects the unwary;
    when I was brought low, he saved me.

Return to your rest, my soul,
    for the Lord has been good to you.

Amen. Praise the Lord. He is good to me, even when my plans go awry, when interruptions come, when my energy is drained and I have little left in the tank. Even when the mundane is, well, mundane. Even when the day feels like an uphill climb or the pace of life is dizzying. Even when we have to say goodbye, and change brings its unmistakeable sense of loss.

Maybe, especially then.

What shall I return to the Lord
    for all his goodness to me?

I will lift up the cup of salvation
    and call on the name of the Lord.
I will fulfill my vows to the Lord
    in the presence of all his people.

(Psalm 116:12-14)

The foreshadowing of a fruitful year for our Saskatoon. (image: mine)

A Little Cup of Soil

I am never more amazed than when, after planting a seed, watering and waiting, a little green sprout pushes its way up toward the light.

It wasn’t looking so good for this particular little cup of soil though. The other three had just the right amount of water and light, but this one was drowning. My seven year old ran up to me with the mud sloshing around in the cup, tears in her eyes.

“Mom! Everyone else’s sunflower came up but mine! I think I added too much water!” She was heartbroken. I double-checked the tray, and sure enough, three sunflower sprouts were reaching for the sunshine and the fourth was barren.

“Hmm,” I mused. “Let me see what we can do.” I wasn’t so sure it would work. In her excitement for trying her hand at gardening, she dropped the cup right after planting the seeds and then watered it within an inch of its little plant life. 

I carefully poured out some of the standing water, absorbed the rest with a paper towel and gently shook the cup to loosen the solid mass of soil that was left. We set the cup back on the tray in the light, hoping for the best.

Every day, I received the daily plant report: “nothing”.

Then, just a few days later, the story changed. “MOM! It’s coming up!”

Two tiny light green specks appeared in the middle of the black earth, pressing on through obstacles the other plants had never seen! These sunflowers were determined to succeed despite being dropped, losing half their soil and nearly drowning.

This little cup of soil burst with new life the week before Easter and it’s not lost on me. In His mercy, the Lord uses ordinary things to remind me of who He is. In John 11, Jesus meets Martha on the road after her brother Lazarus died, and they have a short conversation about resurrection. She tells Him that if He had been there, her brother would not have died, but even now she knows who He is.

“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?’

‘Yes, Lord,’ she replied, ‘I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.’ ” (John 11:25-27 NIV)

She has faith in Jesus to do the impossible, and shortly after, He does. Lazarus is raised to life again by a word. Jesus calls him and he walks right out of that grave, still wearing those strips of linen around his hands and feet and face. Jesus says ,“Take off the grave clothes and let him go”. And the Pharisees begin to plot to get rid of Jesus.

He knew what He was doing, and it was all motivated by love. Often, I’ve read Ephesians 2 and have been stopped in my tracks by various phrases in the first ten verses:

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:1-10 NIV)

Because of Christ, no longer do we have to wonder if the seeds are going to sprout! He is not just our great example of how to love our neighbour as ourselves; He is our salvation. It is His death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead that gives us true life! 

We can walk through this earthly experience continually laying down our lives with joy, carrying a hope that cannot be deterred by circumstances, knowing that one glad morning we will wake up in the presence of the One who made us, knows us, loves us and gave His life for us so that our fellowship with Him can never be broken.

Hallelujah, what a Saviour! He is Risen!

Little sprouts (image: mine)

A Handful of Diamonds

A warm, sunny, windy afternoon in November calls for some fresh air.

We stood at the bottom of a huge nearby hill, chatting with another mom while my 4 year old played happily in the sticks and grass. Suddenly he ran up to me with his hand extended.

“Here mom,” he said.

“Hmm?” I asked and distractedly stuck out my hand.

“Here, take this,” he urged.

He clearly had something to give me so I turned my face just in time to see him pour a small mound of dirt into my palm, then run back to his playing.

“What’s this?” I called after him.

“A prize!” he called. “For you!”

Oh my heart! I looked at the dry earth in my cupped hand, half-tempted to pour it into my pocket and keep it forever. But it wasn’t the dirt I wanted to keep; it was the moment itself. It was the image of a small boy, happy, creative and carefree, filling his mom’s hand with soft, grainy, dusty, grey dirt.

A handful of diamonds to me.

I slowly let the dirt slip through my fingers and blow away in the strong wind, planting the moment deep into my heart alongside the people and places and things immortalized there, although they may no longer occupy space on this earth. 

Wandering through that space, I can pick out the memories that have been redeemed, the ones that are still in process, and the ones that have become pure joy for me. I can see the beauty of God’s healing work in my life and the gift of His grace through people and places and things. It’s a museum of His faithfulness in my life and I am amazed. There is space for more, and for that I am grateful.

Praise the Lord that He is weaving the fabric of our lives through people and places and things! Nothing is wasted. Each moment we experience brings us the gift of memories that teach us, mold us, heal us, help us, shape us. They are the lingering gifts of His grace.

One day, Lord-willing, in my old age, I will wander through the vibrant rooms of my life and gather what’s left to share with those around me. I am praying that they are a reflection of God’s goodness and faithfulness in my life — true treasures.

Even to your old age and gray hairs
    I am he, I am he who will sustain you.
I have made you and I will carry you;
    I will sustain you and I will rescue you.

Isaiah 46:4 (NIV)

A glimpse of the big hill

The Skies Proclaim

This fall has been remarkably pleasant, with many beautiful days for hikes and walks through colourful hillsides and parks. Snow flurries made their annual Thanksgiving weekend appearance though, serving as a reminder that winter has not forgotten us. As surely as the squirrels hide peanuts in my planters, cold weather is on its way. Seems like every year the second weekend in October is a turning point where we go from brilliant warm fall sunshine to “the north wind doth blow and we shall have snow”.

As an extra rare Thanksgiving treat this year, even city-dwellers caught a brilliant display of the northern lights. The light pollution here makes it difficult to see much of anything, but over the weekend, what a show! For some, it was their first glimpse of aurora borealis in all their majesty. Growing up in the country, they frequently danced across the winter sky and let me tell you, it never got old. My memory clicks back to a scene: sitting bundled up in lawn chairs with our chins tipped to the sky, watching brushstrokes of green shimmer and sway across the deep blue night filled with diamond constellations. Quiet. Calm. Magnificent. My mind took a snapshot that stays with me even now that those days are long gone.

The heavens declare the glory of God;
    the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
    night after night they reveal knowledge. 
They have no speech, they use no words;
    no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
    their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.
    It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
    like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
It rises at one end of the heavens
    and makes its circuit to the other;
    nothing is deprived of its warmth. (Psalm 19:1-6 NIV)

Remarkable how every eye can see the glory of the Lord on display on a night like this. Scientific explanations only deepen my awe of His design. His fingerprints are everywhere.

Last night as I was trying to sleep, I felt the weight of time slipping away. It happens on occasion, where I’m lifted out of the current state of day-to-day affairs to see the larger picture of life, like a sudden display of aurora borealis in the night sky. Look up! it says. And see the glory of the Lord!

I’m always alarmed by how short our time here actually is. My musings must have been prompted by an old movie we watched recently with our gaggle of kids about a man whose daughters break tradition as they grow up and start their own lives. As I watched the story unfold before me, the heavy realization that one day my own children would move on from this place into their own seasons of bittersweet beauty had me feeling some feelings. Kids are likely to do things much differently than their parents and it’s naive to think we’ll be spared of the growing pains coming our way. It’s also quite tempting to imagine that the best of life is behind us now that our kids are basically through the baby and preschooler years when things are simpler (albeit exhausting) and they’re all just so darn cute! But I’m catching glimpses of what’s to come as I watch friends bless their grown kiddos and send them off into the world, and let me tell you, it’s stunning!

These friends are my northern lights, my glimpses of beauty in the unknown, my beacons of hope, yet another fingerprint of the Lord’s gracious hands. They remind me that no matter what life brings our way, God goes before us and walks with us through it all. So today I’m tipping my chin to the sky and drinking in the truth: “For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.” (Psalm 100:5)

And then, back into the ups and downs of the day-to-day. As I turn my eyes back to what’s right in front of me, Lord, let me soak in the daily hugs from You — snuggles, laughter, moments of insight and the works of Your hands, right here in our home.

Image: Stocksnap

Three Weeks of Thanks

I stand over the bubbling pot, slowly stirring as September sun streams in the window. The golden yellow tree across the street is at the pinnacle of its glorious but short-lived annual fall display. It takes about a week, but what a week! Just days after full fall colour fills its branches in a final majestic salute to the summer, its leaves are shrivelled and crunchy, fluttering through the air on the stiff autumn breeze. Thin, smooth branches reach up to the crisp blue sky signalling the end of its hard work for this year. Before long, it will rest under the heavy blanket of winter and awaken again with the thaw, ready to repeat its rhythm with enthusiasm.

Today we take the short hike up the big hill to stand on the top and see the brilliant brushstrokes across the landscape. The palette is ever-changing emerald to gold, ruby, burgundy, fire, copper and every shade of nature. The kids sit under the poplars and sketch the bark and branches full of brilliant leaves preparing to let go for another season.

I’m learning a lesson from the trees this year: there is beauty in letting go.

Have you ever seen a tree that holds onto last year’s leaves? Every single one is eventually replaced by the new growth of spring. The resplendence of fall reveals this season’s work, not last season’s decomposition. But last season’s decomposition played a part. The leaves that fall this year will feed the ground for next year’s growth.

Remarkable. Every process of nature reveal the glory of God and His wisdom, a living book to read and learn from.

Instead of just filling up on turkey and pie on the second weekend of October and moving on with our lives, I wanted to create an intentional season of thanksgiving in our home. Years ago when we began this tradition, I had no idea just how much it would challenge and shape my experience during what tends to be a whirlwind of a season.

It has become my annual reminder to cultivate a heart of thanksgiving regardless of circumstances. If I wait until everything is going smoothly, I fear I will be waiting a very long time. Our family’s rhythm has quickened from the wide open schedule of the summer to the more structured pace of the fall, adjusting to a new school year, facing cold and flu season, handing regular life demands. And this year again, more pandemic challenges. Throw politics in the mix and it’s explosive. Thanksgiving falls at a less-than-ideal time of the year.

And yet, we must pause. Perhaps it actually is the best time. We need to stop in the middle of the crazy and give God the glory. To remind ourselves of His faithfulness from generation to generation. To discover the beauty of His goodness in even the smallest blessing and the greatest challenge. To acknowledge that our perspective is limited but His wisdom knows no bounds. To accept what comes from His hand as His mercy and goodness and find ourselves quieted by His love in all circumstances.

We will let go of what has been and embrace the season we are in, preparing our hearts for the days to come. We will let the leaves of last season work to fertilize the growth of the next. We will choose to give thanks to the Lord, for He is good. His love endures forever. 

The familiar refrain of the Psalms invites us to send our roots down deep into Him and remember the truth of who He is,

even when…

even if…

even now.

“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.” Psalm 118:1 (NIV)

The brilliant tree across the street.

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.

For the Beauty

A young man sat on a lush green hillside above his hometown. Wildflowers bobbed their heads and the leaves rustled in the gentle breeze. As the serene country landscape and winding river below stirred his heart, he picked up his quill and these words spilled onto the page in front of him.

For the beauty of the earth
For the glory of the skies
For the love which from our birth 
Over and around us lies

Christ, our Lord, to You we raise
This our sacrifice of praise!

The first lines of something wonderful! The story goes that as poet and hymn-writer Folliot S. Pierpoint was wandering through the beautiful British countryside near Bath in 1863, his mind was filled with all the incredible gifts that God has given us. Stunning creation. Our deepest and most meaningful relationships with one another. And best of all – Jesus Himself, His life given freely so that we could live. 

For the wonder of each hour
of the day and of the night,
hill and vale and tree and flower, 
sun and moon and stars of light

Christ, our Lord, to You we raise
This our hymn of grateful praise!

For the joy of human love,
Brother, sister, parent, child
Friends on earth and friends above
for all gentle thoughts and mild,

Christ, our Lord, to You we raise
This our hymn of grateful praise!

For Yourself, best gift divine,
to the world so freely given, 
agent of God’s grand design:
peace on earth and joy in heaven.

Christ, our Lord, to You we raise
This our hymn of grateful praise!

It’s such a simple hymn, written for communion services to remind the church that the only thing we have to offer God in response to His gifts to us is a heart of praise. Over time, it was changed to reflect our thanksgiving for all the gifts God has given to us, but the original use of the song brought Christ’s sacrifice into a sharper focus: He is the ultimate gift. His life poured out for us, bringing peace and joy that nothing else can hold a candle to. 

Let the glorious hope of the Resurrection of Christ ring in your heart today. When you see the bud on the tree. When the seed goes in the ground and the flowers begin to bloom. Even when the grass needs mowing, the fridge needs stocking, the messes need cleaning — these too are evidence that God’s goodness knows no bounds.

Because of Jesus. He is the joy of our hearts, our true peace, our eternal hope.

Christ, our Lord, to You we raise
This our hymn of grateful praise!

Hallelujah, amen.

A small grove of trees

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.

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.

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