Weeping with Those Who Weep

We pulled on our snow pants and jackets, zipped up the zippers, donned the hats and mittens, and with sturdy boots on our feet, began the long walk up the hill to the grocery store.

With a 5 year old up ahead and a 2 year old in tow, I had plenty of time to admire the scenery in the neighbourhood on this particularly chilly morning with no promise of spring in the air. It was one of those mornings that was just warm enough for a long walk and just cold enough to remind you of the polar vortex from weeks ago. As we made our way past the familiar landmarks of the various types of trees that make their home on our street, it wasn’t the spindly and barren ones that so often grab my attention at other times of the year. They had no sprouting blossoms or changing leaves to marvel at. On that winter day, it was the mighty evergreen that caused me to be amazed.

Remarkable. Towering several feet into the air, sending its roots deep into the ground below and across multiple yards, standing tall and unchanged in the bracing north winds that blow dead leaves off of every other tree in the neighbourhood. The snow piles high and the branches bear the weight. The temperatures plummet and the thousands of needles hold fast, only made more beautiful by the silvery frost that highlights each individual one.

Winter really is the evergreen’s time to shine, isn’t it?

In no other season of the year do I take much notice of its thick, velvety branches providing shelter and comfort to critters and birds. The coldest months are made bearable by its dense design, offering the hope of a warm place to sleep when all other trees are bare.

My heart is broken today as I think of two families who are in the process of losing children to paediatric cancer. Treatment options have been exhausted and the disease is progressing through their small bodies moment by moment. Jesus, be near these precious ones and hold them in your arms! Surround their parents and siblings, be the strength of their hearts in the darkest of times!

When our lives fall apart, when the lives of those we love are changed forever because of loss, we know that we have the light of Jesus’ life flowing through us. We are comforted by God himself! We become like the mighty evergreen, holding out hope in the midst of despair.

“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?” (John 11:25 NIV)

Yes Lord, we believe! Let us weep with those who are weeping today, and be a place of comfort because we have been comforted in our own times of trouble by Your very presence.

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.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4 NIV)

evergreen afar

Evergreens standing tall

Everyone is Growing Up

My holiday joy was mingled with the grief that comes from the unmistakeable reality of the passage of time.

Everyone is growing up.

Maybe it was the fact that for the first time ever my sister and I shared cooking duties for the entire holiday dinner on our own, or the realization that our home has become “The Christmas House” in my family, or that it seems entirely possible that we are finally growing out of the “my kids are sick all Christmas break from sharing little kid germs” phase of life.

Or maybe it was the big wedding.

My oldest niece got married at the end of December and I am now 100 years old. How did this sweet little baby I cuddled and rocked to sleep just last night, the one who made me an auntie in my teens, become this stunning bride before me?

I couldn’t look at her mama (my sister) during the ceremony. I cried for an entire day afterward. I really am happy for this new chapter in her life, and we all just love her new husband, but I am definitely having feelings about this whole growing up thing.

And she’s not even my child.

My parents entered a new decade of life last year and I didn’t think it would really make a difference for me, but it has. They’re gradually moving into their later years and I’m thinking about it more than I thought I would.

Birthday season has blown into our home with a vengeance. Of the four kids, three of them have winter birthdays within six weeks of each other. As we celebrate their next milestones and cheer them on in their growth and development, I can see the next stage on the horizon and I don’t know how I feel about that today.

We know change so well, don’t we? We can’t even fathom a life where things stay the same forever. Morning and night, day after day, month after month, we are living through the slow change of aging and seasons. I see it in the mirror, I witness it in my children, I experience it in the gradual lengthening of the daylight hours. We can count on it – and we do. Winter will end and spring will come. Summer follows, then fall brings its brilliance. Back to winter and we begin again.

Children become adults who become parents then grandparents. And the cycle continues.

An inescapable reality.

The other day I was reading a devotional that focussed on God’s immutability. He is the Unchanging One. It gave me pause for a moment. I realized that we as humans, we only know change. We understand change. We live through it and thrive because of it. And frankly, the concept immutability is so foreign to the human experience that I wonder if we truly appreciate just how incredible it really is. Like the constant north star, we catch a glimpse of it when we encounter God.

He Himself says he is unchanging (Malachi 3). He does not change like shifting shadows (James 3). He is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13). He laid the foundations of the world (Hebrews 1; John 1). He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end (Revelation 1).

What a remarkable truth to bring to bear in our lives! How does God’s immutability affect my current state of mind? My world is constantly changing and I am continually grieving losses while celebrating gains, knowing that through it all He never changes. His character, His will, His covenant promises – these will never be broken or removed. I have finally found Someone I can count on to be who He says He is, to do what He says He will do, to prove faithful generation after generation.

We may welcome it or we may lament it, but change is constant. Thankfully we are deeply loved by One who never changes, One on whom we can depend regardless of how our billows are rolling in this season.

Maybe you are in the throes of something that feels like too great a change to bear. Set your feet on the solid rock of Christ!

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” – Matthew 7:24 (NIV)

“For the Lord is good and His love endures forever, His faithfulness continues to all generations.” – Psalm 100:5 (NIV)

Thank you Lord that You are the solid foundation beneath my feet, and that You are good! Your love endures forever, Your faithfulness continues in my life even today with all its changes. As I navigate this part of my journey, I praise You for Your unchanging nature!

stars Arto Marttinen

Image by Arto Marttinen

The Six Evergreens

There were six trees across the street.

Towering evergreens, standing at attention in dry heat and brittle cold. They easily bore long weeks of soaking rain, violent hailstorms and heavy spring snows. When the hazy days of summer arrived, without a stitch of moisture, they didn’t crack or break. The wind barely bothered them at all unless it was nearly a gale.

A couple of years ago, the second one from the left started changing color. The dark, deep, healthy green faded to a sickly brown. I knew long before they actually cut it down that it would have to go.

Admittedly, I was sad. I loved my view of the six evergreens. In every season, something interesting and beautiful unfolded among their branches, from squirrels to blue jays to little song birds.

The day came. It was done in just a half an hour or so, and with it, the third tree from the right. I am not sure if the arborists found more disease, or if the homeowners just wanted a more balanced look, but since that day the view has changed.

Every time I look at the six evergreens, which are now just four evergreens, I feel the sting of loss. My beautiful wall of trees now has gaps.

This morning I was sitting on the floor playing with my toddler when I looked out the front window and saw something I hadn’t seen before. Through one of the new gaps in my favourite trees I could see another towering row of branches in the distance. These were just the very tops of a few evergreens in front of some very tall poplars. They have no leaves today, but my heart felt a spark of curiosity and the warmth of the hope of spring, when their leaves will begin to bud. My mind leaped to summer, when thousands of leaves will rustle in the wind. And then, to next fall, when those beautiful towering poplars will shine yellow and orange in the brilliance of a gloriously warm September day.

Before the six evergreens were forever changed, I couldn’t see the poplars in the distance. I didn’t even realize they were there.

It’s like that with change, isn’t it? We are marked and impacted by it. We grieve deeply. We spend time remembering the days of the fullness of our most recent experiences, and then, as time passes, we begin to catch a glimpse of something on the other side of what we’ve lost. We start to gain a clearer picture of what’s beyond. The ugly and unwanted gap in the trees becomes a clearing, revealing something completely unexpected, interesting and full of potential.

I still miss the six evergreens across the street. I still wish they were all there. But now that I’m beginning to see what’s beyond, I’m looking forward to my new view.

evergreens across the street winter

The evergreens in winter

What We Really Long For

hockeyequipment

Me in my brother’s hockey equipment

I come from a hockey family.

Growing up, the boys played shinny at the Rec on weeknights while I “figure skated” with my friends. Saturday night at 6, it was Hockey Night in Canada with my dad and my endless questions: “Who were the Leafs playing tonight? What’s icing? Who’s LaPointe? Why is he on every team? How come there’s no goalie in the net?” He graciously answered each one, giving me my first hockey primer.

As a young girl I fell asleep watching the stars out the window of the backseat on the way home from countless practices and games. We spent evenings and weekends at rink after rink, burning our tongues on cheap hot chocolate and freezing our rear ends off cheering on my big brother and the team. He was a zippy little forward who made his little sister so proud! There are pockets of memories filled with shouts of “c’mon ref!” and that arena smell – cigarette smoke and Zamboni exhaust mixed with freshly-flooded ice and old hockey equipment. The winters of my childhood were spent running around the bowels of the home arena while the game went on, begging my parents for candy and red and blue Slush Puppies from the concession. I had uncles who made it to the juniors and cousins who are still hoping to.

When I heard the news from Humboldt, my heart broke. I went to Bible School in Saskatchewan and have connections to the people in that community, knowing they grew up with a deep love of the game.

At the vigil on Sunday night, I was overwhelmed by Pastor Sean Brandow’s clear presentation of Jesus. It was amazing to see him speak so candidly about the need we all have deep inside, and the question he asked at the end of his message stuck with me.

“What will you do with one breath? Each breath that you have left, what are you going to do with it? Will you seek the God who has walked and who has died to show His love and His concern and His care for you? Or will you get bitter and angry and frustrated? Come to the God of comfort.”

Comfort.

Isn’t that what we really long for, even in the day-to-day? Underneath all our efforts to make life just a bit easier, we hunger for true rest to be our lasting reality.

But where can we go to find it?

We search all over for a way to alleviate our suffering, and instead find a God who Himself suffered so that we could find comfort forever.

Easter Sunday has long passed, and yet, here we linger.

In Luke 24 the angel asks the women at the tomb – “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here – He is RISEN.”

This is the crux of our faith: if Jesus is not risen, our faith loses its power.

A dead man cannot forgive or save. A dead man cannot heal and bring new life.

The memory of a teacher can inspire us to do good to others, to be kind in every situation, to share what we have with those in need. But a dead man cannot bring the true transformation required to find an eternal hope and a future free from pain and grief. It’s a deeply rooted change of who we are that shifts our allegiance from ourselves to Someone far greater. Someone who is worthy of our worship and brings a rebirth into a living hope and inheritance that will never perish, spoil or fade (1 Peter 1:3-4).

Without a living God there is no internal change and without that internal change, this hope to be a better person, the longing to be whole, and our desire for greater significance all become a frustrating and futile effort. We may be doing the right things but our hearts still struggle with bitterness, selfishness and pride that ultimately leads us down a path of ruin.

We need a way for the change to stay.

We need more than “Jesus the example”. We need the real Jesus – the One who walked through suffering, took our sin, conquered death and lives in victory.

We need the Risen Jesus.

The final verse Pastor Sean shared at the vigil was Romans 15:13 –

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Our hearts are broken for Humboldt. Time cannot heal this wound – only Jesus can. And because of His wounds, we can find healing for ours.