Slowing Down to Savour

A temporary relief from the stifling heat of summer is so welcome! Dark clouds hang overhead, yet to give us the treasure within. We’re waiting for the rain to fall after a week of bright blue skies, blazing sunshine and hot, sleepless nights.

Summer is sailing along now, heavy with the scent of life in full bloom. All the things we’ve planted are showing their resilience in the face of hail and heat. Some stand tall regardless of what comes, others are crushed beneath the weight of the elements or become food for critters and birds bent on survival.

Saskatoons are slowly ripening, but the sparrow stole my only strawberry of the year. Though the plants are young and the soil likely needs more nutrients, I have hope that in future years we’ll have more berries. Maybe I’ll expand the patch in a few more years if the plants are doing well.

Amid all the flowers and fruit, our kids are engaged in the very serious business of backyard play. With four between the ages of 5 and 11, there is no shortage of ideas on how to spend the day. Morning ’til night, with short breaks for food and responsibilities, they play. And play. And read. And play. I believe in the gift of a rather boring summer, with loads of space in the schedule to literally do nothing, if that’s what they want to do. Of course, the responsibilities are always an expectation, but otherwise, we aim for a rather carefree summer pace.

I glance outside. The much-needed moisture begins with sprinkles at first and then turns to a steady, gentle rain. The thirsty ground is soaking up the blessing of a long, cool drink. Trees bend in the wind and robins impatiently pull the surfacing worms out of the ground.

The kids wander around for a while before becoming thoroughly soaked and chilly. In the back door they tumble, asking for a late snack, although lunch is nearly ready. It’s our daily reset button, a gathering around an abundant table, filling their hungry bellies and setting them on track for the afternoon ahead.

I don’t want to forget what it was like in this season of life. I am learning to slow down and savour the small, ordinary moments of each day. These scenes are mainly for me, snapshots of what life is like in these good old days, moments captured on paper and in photos, and mostly, in my mama’s heart.

All four kids, home together, more of a gift than I can fully appreciate, I’m sure. That old cliche rings true: “Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone.”

“Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom….
Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love,
that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.”

Psalm 90:12, 14 (NIV)

The pansies are doing alright this year. Grateful.

Marking Milestones

And now, summer.

A change in rhythm, a welcome break from the beautiful things that fill our calendar through fall, winter and spring with more space to breathe deep the sweetness of the season, more time to explore new places, more freedom to linger a little longer.

In the coming weeks, we’ll reach another milestone in raising our family: our youngest will join his three older sisters as a school-aged kid with a whole new world to discover. For more than a decade I’ve carried and cared for our babies, toddlers and preschoolers and it has been worth all the blood, sweat and tears so far. Perusing older posts with the stories of life with four kids under the age of six, I’m in awe of how the Lord has provided what I have needed in the moments I needed it most! I found these words I wrote four years ago when the pressure of raising small children was at its peak:

The other day, the older kids were fighting and spilled blueberry applesauce all over the carpet. After cleaning it up, they trotted outside as friends again (nothing like a shared chore to encourage sibling bonding), where one promptly did a trick on the swings and ended up with a possible fracture. I heard the shrieking from inside the house where at the very same time the baby was having a meltdown while I was cleaning up a potty accident from our three year old who was ill. 

While we’re in the thick of a challenging season, we don’t even know that the whole time He is carrying us! It’s only when we find ourselves in between the waves and we have a minute to breathe that we realize we’re still afloat.

In a world that values filters and highlight reels, I’m thankful for authentic reminders of God’s goodness to me in times past. As we mark this family milestone with a celebration of our youngest, I’m praying that I won’t forget these lessons I’ve learned in these early years. We have a long way to go before they’re grown, and I may have no idea what challenges lie ahead, but I know the Lord and I’m confident that He will hold me fast throughout the journey.

Image: Bob Richards/Stocksnap

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)

December Lights

The December sun sails low across the sky with remarkable speed, its warmth just enough kiss my cold cheeks but not quite enough to melt the blanket of white that sparkles all around me. The gift of another sunny morning in this final month of the year does my heart good. With sixteen hours of darkness each day, any glimpse of sunshine is a gourmet meal for a hungry belly.

But it’s not the pale daytime glow that has us eyes-wide, mouths-open in wonder. The real show starts as the sun disappears behind the trees across the street. Around 4pm the crescent moon takes centre stage as Venus begins to sparkle low in the sky. A few minutes later, to the right of the moon, Jupiter joins the show, and just after sunset Saturn twinkles faintly between the other two planets. We stand in our front yard, pointing and exclaiming as more and more stars twinkle into view. It’s not easy to see under the city lights, but the excitement of recognizing constellations and planets fills our hearts with wonder. We check the apps to confirm our suspicions and realize what we are beholding with our own eyes corresponds to real objects millions of kilometres away, with names and measurements and other scientific data to understand.

It’s not necessarily the numbers that astound; it’s that we can see the things we’ve only heard about or viewed in photos or videos. These tiny sparkling lights in the sky are real planets and stars, formed and placed with care. The late sunrises and early sunsets provide ample time to behold the beauty of the December night sky, a reminder that the Lord has carefully woven beauty into every season.

In winter darkness, even the smallest lights gleam. 

This week, we’ll mark both the longest night of the year and the holiest night of the year: the first day of winter followed shortly by the wonder of Christmas. Not only do the days begin to grow longer, but we will bask in the beauty of a gift like no other: Jesus.

Psalm 147:3-4 rings in my heart this week, and the contrast is not lost on me:

He heals the brokenhearted
    and binds up their wounds.

He determines the number of the stars
    and calls them each by name.

The Creator entered into His creation. A baby is born, sending one king into a jealous, murderous rage, bringing other kings over long miles to their knees in worship. Angels announce the good news to stunned shepherds in a field, who hurry to a humble stable to see the Messiah. A young mom cradles a fragile, tender newborn, the long-awaited answer to the yearning of hearts from generation to generation: “How long, O Lord?”. The things we’ve only read in prophecies of old are taking place before our very eyes.

We begin to understand that what we are beholding in this Christmas season corresponds to things promised centuries ago and we are amazed. The One who gave Saturn its rings and caused Venus to shine above the horizon at dusk in December entered into the lives of the broken by being broken for us, and shattered the power of sin and death by dying on the cross and rising from the grave.

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

Thank You Jesus! Only You can number the stars and bind up our wounds in the darkest of seasons. You are the true light of the world!

Hail, the heav’n-born Prince of peace
Hail! the Son of Righteousness
Light and life to all he brings
Risen with healing in his wings
Mild he lays his glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the some of earth
Born to give them second birth
Hark! the herald angels sing
Glory to the newborn King

-Charles Wesley

A simple star

Advent 2021

The First Sunday of Advent is nearly upon us. 

Although I didn’t grow up with this tradition, I’ve embraced it in adulthood and it has become one of my favourite ways to prepare my heart for the celebration of Christmas, sharpening my focus on Christ in a season that leans toward a frantic pace. I love it all — trimming the tree, carols and treats, Christmas lights in our PJs, TV specials and movies, presents and laughter — but I need the quiet longing of Advent to anchor my hope in the One who embodies it, bring the peace that passes all understanding, fill my heart with unshakeable joy, wrap me up in unconditional love.

Nearly ten years ago I created a feature for my radio show called “Advent in Action”, with small ways to bring the themes of Advent to life in my ordinary day, keep Christ at the centre and share hope, peace, joy and love. As I revisit that list this week, I’m reading this passage from John 1:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

(John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’”) Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.

John 1:1-18 (NIV)

May this Advent season stir up a genuine longing for Jesus, the Light of the World.

Advent in Action

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

Lay Your Burden Down

Something came up unexpectedly this morning and my heart began to pound. I immediately imagined a future where a certain outcome had taken place and sadness and fear welled up within me. Every ounce of my being wanted to run in the other direction instead of dealing with it head-on.

Not another thing, Lord! Not another thing.

We’ve heard the call of Jesus: “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest.” We’ve heard that we need to “cast all your cares up on the Lord, for He cares for you”. We’ve heard that He never leaves us alone, that when we walk through the fire and flood we will not be destroyed because He is holding us up.

Each of us carries silent burdens that others know nothing about. We may hold them for a few minutes and release them with ease. Some linger a few hours and are more challenging. A few days, months or years and we are nearly crushed beneath their weight. At times, just one more thing feels like it’s simply too much to bear, driving us to our knees in prayer.

We cannot escape the challenges of life. They come slowly, they come fiercely, they come with great joys, too. I love to see the goodness of God on display right in the middle of the mess. When my heart was gripped with fear this morning, and I was praying, Not another thing, Lord! He brought to mind His faithfulness from generation to generation. I remembered how throughout His Word and throughout my life I have seen His goodness unfold in situations that seemed hopeless. I remembered the promise of an eternal future filled with His presence in a way I cannot imagine here and now. I remembered the beauty of the truth that He is with me in all seasons and at all times.

When we’re weary and burdened by the visible and invisible, when the cry of Not another thing, Lord comes upon our lips, we can take that as a beautiful reminder of our human limitations and acknowledge our desperate need for Him. We choose to stand on the Solid Rock of Christ Jesus our Lord, knowing that God the Father has brought us to Himself and the gift of the Holy Spirit empowers us to face these challenges with confidence that He will carry us through. And He does, every single day.

And for that, I am eternally grateful. Praise the Lord.

I took this photo years ago and it still reminds me of the life Jesus gives!

Learning to Rest

The enduring daylight of summer is upon us and it’s so beautiful.

We’re in an 8-week stretch without actual night. The sun dips below the horizon just enough to give us all the phases of twilight, but no actual nighttime hours. Every night before bed I look out the window and marvel at the edge of the day lingering on the western horizon, and in the morning the light streams through the curtains long before my body is ready to rise.

The created world always fills my heart with wonder and awe. It’s not just the beauty that surrounds me, it’s the remarkable rhythm of life that teaches me lessons over and over again.

I grew up with the idea that productivity is a measure of your worth. Farm life is 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with no shortage of things to do and serious ramifications if you don’t do them. While Sundays were for church and a short nap, Saturdays were for to-do lists. Weeklong summer vacations were for visiting family in another province, not for laying on the beach in Mexico. The only thing worse than being lazy was being thought of as lazy so I learned to work hard, or at least give the appearance of busyness, at the expense of my body, my mental health and my spiritual life.

I am all too familiar with burnout. In my early twenties I poured myself into a broadcasting job for 60 hours a week and found myself desperate for a break after three years. I took a two week vacation in another province to recharge my batteries and remember weeping nearly the entire 14 hour drive home at the thought of going back to my old pace of life. So I quit and took an opportunity 1300km away to allow myself space and time to reset.

“Your job will never love you back,” someone once said to me. “Boundaries are a blessing.”

Truth.

As I’ve spent the past ten years rocking babies, fixing owies, feeding hungry tummies and answering millions of questions about all the things, there have been long seasons of bone-crushing exhaustion that all the naps in the world could never have erased. Some seasons of life require all hands on deck and circumstances don’t always allow for vacations on the beach or even Sunday afternoon naps. But thanks to this gruelling season of parenting and most recently the pandemic, I’ve been learning to smash the idol of productivity and embrace the necessity of resting in Christ in mind and body. We always have a choice in the little things, like actually admitting when we need a break and asking for help. Or pressing pause on some of the things in our life that can wait and actively pursuing a slower pace.

It’s a tough lesson for a goal-oriented person. Regardless of my circumstances though, what am I saying to the Lord when I constantly push myself beyond my limit and refuse help or avoid acknowledging my need for rest?

I’m learning that resting my body actually gives Him the glory. It’s an admission that He is God and I am not, and that I can fully trust that He is taking care of me in every way. On nights when  my body is still but my mind won’t stop, I remember Psalm 4:8 — 

“In peace I will lie down and sleep,
for you alone, Lord,
make me dwell in safety.”

And Matthew 11:28 —

“Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.”

And even Job 38:4 — 

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
Tell me, if you understand.”

God is able. In His wisdom, the One who does not need to rest chose to rest on the seventh day after creation and built rhythms of rest into His creation as a beautiful gift. He even commanded it for our good, knowing how much we would resist it and how much we would need it. Watching long summer daylight fade into twilight reminds me that this is a very good gift indeed and that I would be wise to embrace it as an act of worship.

Thank You Lord. Teach me how to rest in You, in every season of my life.

10:15pm on an early June night

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

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.