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

And Now, A New Year

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

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

And now, 2021. 

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

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. 

This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 

Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” 

1 Peter 3:3-9 (NIV)

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

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

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

Happy New Year.

January Sky

The Christmas Plate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” 1 Peter 1:3-9 (NIV)

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

The Christmas Plate

Even From the Very Beginning

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Isaiah 9:6 —

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joy to the world!

Radical Love

The sun came up a few mornings ago and immediately disappeared behind a large band of dark clouds. 

They aren’t storm clouds. In fact, these clouds are notorious for ushering in warm weather as they arch across the sky. When I first moved here thirteen Augusts ago, I didn’t understand the clouds at all. They were so different than I was used to! The shapes and colours didn’t mean the same thing that they did back home. It has taken me a while to adjust to a different kind of sky.

We’re all adjusting to a different kind of sky these days. Life in a pandemic, even life in the year 2020, has new restrictions, new realities, new requirements, new definitions… it all feels a bit disorienting.

There’s an old hymn that has been ringing in my heart. I think back to my growing up years in an aging country church plunked right down in the middle of a field, hot summer sun beating down, ceiling fans spinning fast enough to lift the old roof right off. The windows were wide open, carrying voices raised to the beat of an ill-tuned piano, fingers dancing across the keys without thought for flats that were supposed to be naturals and naturals that were supposed to be flats.

We worshiped with gusto. I can still hear the blessed voice of one of our elderly ladies soaring over everyone else as we sang,

Will your anchor hold in the storms of life
When the clouds unfold their wings of strife
When the strong tides lift and the cables strain
Will your anchor drift or firm remain?

We have an anchor that keeps the soul 
Steadfast and sure while the billows roll
Fastened to the rock which cannot move
Grounded firm and deep in the Saviour’s love!

Some hymns simply fill me with nostalgia; others are stalwart reminders of an incredible truth my heart needs to hear even after over three and a half decades wrapped up in the love of Christ. I’ve recently learned this hymn was written by a Sunday School teacher who devoted her life to teaching youth about Jesus. Priscilla Jane Owens never left her hometown of Baltimore. She put down roots in her church and committed over fifty years of her life to teaching children and youth in her Sunday School classes, penning hundreds of songs that taught Christ’s love. This song was based on Hebrews 6:19-20 (NIV) – 

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.

Jesus bridges the gap between a holy God and unholy humans. He is the mediator. He is the One through whom we have access to the Creator of all. Because of Jesus, we have eternal hope. And when we build our life on Him, ultimately we cannot lose. We have been given a gift that cannot be taken away, a treasure in heaven that cannot be stolen or destroyed.

1 Peter 1:3-8 (NIV) says – 

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.

Society’s growing hostility to God and His Word brings a sense that we are in the middle of an ocean where the strong tides are lifting and the cables are straining.

It’s not a new thing for Christians to believe things and live in ways that are incompatible with the culture they’re in. Even Jesus promised “in this world you will have trouble” (John 16). When we choose to follow Christ and live the way He calls us to live, we can expect suffering and loss. We can expect to be misunderstood and possibly even cancelled.

But Jesus also said, “Take heart, for I have overcome the world!” (16:33).

His way is not our way. 

Jesus doesn’t manipulate us into believing in Him. He doesn’t uncover our sins for the world to judge us and cast us aside. Jesus doesn’t cancel anyone.

When He taught about being the Bread of Life, many people turned away from Him because it was too hard to understand or believe. He asked the disciples if they wanted to leave too. Their reply has always struck a chord in my heart:

“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.” (John 6:68-69)

May those words pierce our hearts and bring us to life today. 

May they give us the courage to be completely humble and gentle, patient, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. To get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. To be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ forgave us. (Ephesians 4:2-3, 31-32)

May we live out this radical love of Christ today with our families, in our churches, in our communities and in our world.

My view of the sky one summer morning.

The Light Has Come

I got my first “are you ready for Christmas?” of the season earlier this week, and I replied with a laugh and a “well, almost!”.

I don’t know about you, but I sure want things to be “just so” before all the fun really gets going. And somehow you’d think I would have learned by now that life never quite goes that way. It’s the two-day process of decorating the Christmas tree because we just couldn’t get it all done in one day. It’s the decorations next to the laundry pile. Kids memorizing lines for the church Christmas play while home on a sick day. Adjusting plans and re-adjusting plans based on the various unexpected requests and demands that inevitably pop up in December. It’s a December birthday and a December wedding sandwiching the wonder of Christmas itself.

It seems that we’re searching for a bit of silence.

But is that what we truly want?

Silence is exactly what was going on before the Light of the World dawned. There are 400 years of it between the Old Testament and the New Testament. God spoke promise after promise of One who would bring salvation, and then nothing. For four centuries. 400 years of waiting, wondering, yearning for the Messiah – the Promised One who would bring deliverance from sin.

400 years of hoping this leader would be the one.

And then, the silence is broken. An angel visits a young girl with a message that cuts through the darkness. Could it be? Could all the waiting be finally coming to an end? Could our watching and hoping be fulfilled before our very eyes?

It’s then we realize that it isn’t silence we’re really looking for after all; it’s peace.

I love the powerful words of Isaiah 60:1-2 (NIV):

“Arise, shine, for your light has come,
    and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.

See, darkness covers the earth
    and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you
    and his glory appears over you.”

How that resonates with me this year. How I long to rediscover Jesus as the Light of the World, the Light of my heart. The words in Isaiah were written hundreds of years before that star shone in the East, before the angel brought good news to Mary, before that long and arduous journey to Bethlehem. Long before that tiny Baby breathed his first breath, before that Wonderful Saviour breathed His last breath, and before He rose from the grave and conquered sin and death.

He is the Light of the World. The Lord has risen upon us and his glory appears over us. After all those years of silence, the Prince of Peace came; the Promise was kept. And as we think about how Jesus said He would return one day to make everything right, we understand that this promise will be kept too. He will return as King of Kings.

I’m setting my heart on Him this Advent season.

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:14 NIV)

Amen.

Candle David Monje

Image: David Monje

Unexpected

Heavy wet snow is falling across the neighbourhood, blanketing everything with a fresh layer of white. The towering evergreens across the street bear thick drifts on their branches like sweaters and the tall breezy willow to the left is looking cosy in its snowy new duds.

It makes getting around somewhat complicated and tiresome, but it sure is beautiful.

Much like the snow, colds have descended upon our home this week and it’s making getting around somewhat, well, complicated and tiresome.

But there is beauty even in these moments.

More cuddles. More time together. Rest and recuperation. Time to read, reflect and pray.

A gift.

Maybe not the way we would have expected it to come, with a physical cost, but a great gift, nonetheless.

Isn’t that the message of Christmas?

An immeasurable gift, with a physical cost, wrapped in an unexpected package.

Do you really want to know what God is like?

Start with Jesus.

Like the Wise Men catching a glimpse of something glorious in the sky, we know there must be something more to all this sparkle than what we’re seeing with our eyes. We yearn to look into the face of something, or Someone, greater than ourselves and finally understand where we fit.

It really makes no sense and perfect sense all at the same time. How does God help us understand just what He is like? How does the Creator of the Universe strike up a relationship with His creation? John 1:1-4,14 (NIV) has always moved my heart.

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….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.

In Him was life, the light of the world. It shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it! And then that very Word became flesh. We have seen His glory, revealed for the very first time so many Christmases ago.

My heart breathes a sigh of relief. There really is good news that will cause great joy for all the people (Luke 2:10).

Let’s begin this holiday season with a sense that we are about to behold the very One who laid the foundation of the world and knit us together in our mother’s womb. Let us walk into the next few weeks with the wonder of God’s great love and mercy in our hearts and understand that this unexpected package holds something infinitely greater than we could ever discover on our own.

Let’s welcome how this Great Gift will disrupt our normal, make “getting around” a bit more complicated, and require more of us than we think reasonable.

But guaranteed, if we choose to receive it, this Great Gift will transform our ordinary.

This unexpected and wonderful Gift that came with such a cost can and will change us forever.

I’m so glad Christmas is so much more than just brown paper packages tied up with string. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

angel chimes on the table

Angel Chimes light up our Christmas Table

Home for Summer

Summer brings a new rhythm to our house.

My husband and I have four children aged 8 and under so it requires some creativity and a great deal of patience to have everyone under the same roof 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. In fact, as I write this, my four year old is standing beside me holding a Golden Book, “reading” it to me in her version of a British accent.

Do you know how difficult it is to focus on the task at hand with such cuteness in the room?

Not to mention the inevitable bickering, screaming, whining and rainy day cabin fever that makes everyone feel a bit stir crazy. Add in regular bursts of laughter and the sillies and it’s nearly impossible to concentrate.

They’re in holiday mode; my work still needs to get done.

So how do we do it? How do we coexist in the same space, with very different goals? My goals are to be productive and efficient at all my tasks. Their goals are to be on summer vacation.

Worlds collide.

Can I make room for the chaos that comes with welcoming my children into my plans?

Last week I announced that we’re going to have to be very patient with one another as we adjust to our “summer normal”. I talked about giving each other lots of grace.

I think the talk was more for me than it was for them. Even after years of being surrounded by my small children, they still stretch me beyond my limits and I find myself asking the Lord for great patience and courage to parent with kindness, compassion and intention.

I came across this story in Mark 10:13-16 (NIV) —

People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.

Jesus was indignant when He saw how the disciples were treating those children. He told them to let the children come and not to stop them. This was a stark contrast to how children were viewed and treated in the culture of His day. In fact, instead of rebuking them like His disciples did, Jesus brought the children near and blessed them. He told His disciples that God’s Kingdom belongs to those who are like children, and we would do well to have a simple faith like children do.

Do we have the eyes to see? Do we have the ears to hear? Children view the world in a remarkable way; they are a gift.

This summer, I have another opportunity to learn from my kids, while also teaching them and building a unique relationship with each one.

But if I am consumed with my own narrow plans and goals, I will miss the opportunity altogether.

Being a mom isn’t easy, but the messages of culture aren’t making it any easier. Our culture communicates that “the kids are alright”. In other words, children turn out okay no matter what we do, so we are free to invest the best of ourselves in other places. God’s truth about kids is that they are precious treasures to be welcomed and learned from.

It happens every single time. Whenever I take all four kids to the grocery store, strangers ask “are they ALL yours?” or mention how I have my hands full. We are often the recipients of stares and even glares. Other parents often extend grace, but most of the time the air is thick with huffs of impatience.

Our entire culture is designed to make the kids “someone else’s problem”. We face enormous pressure to put them in daycare, then preschool. When they get to school age, we are told we are depriving them if we don’t enrol them in at least two extracurriculars, which take up most evenings and weekends. In summer, we are encouraged to ship them off to camps and then to grandma’s and then to hire the babysitter so we can accomplish our plans and goals. Mom-memes are filled with jokes about running out of the house as fast as possible when dad gets home or longing for the hour the kids finally go to bed.

It’s funny because it’s true. I really need regular breaks from my kids! I’m a work-from-home/work-away-from-home mama. Sometimes I just need to get. things. done.

But I fear that if we design our entire lives around trying to get away from them, we may give them the impression that we don’t actually want to be around them all that much. And you know what? That’s a really tough impression to get rid of.

When I was a teenager, I read a quote that has stuck with me over the years. It’s a simple prayer that I carry in my heart: “Lord, stamp eternity into my eyes”.

My perspective of parenting needs to be larger than my personal goals and dreams, even in summertime when they’re constantly invading my space.

Back to the living room, on a rainy summer afternoon.

“Mom! Even though Captain Hook has a bigger sword, Peter Pan always wins!” my four year old exclaimed. She held up an illustrated copy of Peter Pan, telling the story by looking at the pictures.

The culture may have a bigger sword, but God’s profound ways and wisdom always wins.

Peter and Hook

Image: a snapshot of Disney’s “Peter Pan” from an old Golden Book

I Yuv You!

Fractured and shortened sleep often leaves me in a sour mood.

We had a good run for a while there, but we’re back to one or two of our four young children waking up at night for random reasons. Sigh. In spite of my reduced energy level this week, I’ve worked at my various tasks faithfully, making sure everything that needed to be done was done on time and with care.

I’m finding, though, that if left unattended, the coals of resentment will burn long and low. All week I’ve been asking the Lord to help me to love my family the way Jesus has loved me – sacrificially and extravagantly.

It’s tough to do. I don’t want my golden years to be defined by the bitterness of a personal ledger filled with names and ways I’ve been wounded. I want my life to be characterized by selfless love. But if I can be completely honest here, it takes work not to let that resentment build and the roots of bitterness to take hold.

My prayer has often simply been, “Lord, help me to love my family the way You have loved me.”

This morning I was in the kitchen with my back turned to the table. I had just set down cups of milk for the kids and was returning to put the jug away.

Within a few seconds, my four year old announced, “Mama there’s a spill!”

I spun around quickly to see her entire cup of milk tipped over, the rich white liquid running onto her chair and the floor below.

My heart sank.

“Oh!” I replied, springing into action with a few cloths from the drawer. As I knelt down on all fours and began to mop up the spill, I felt frustrated. It’s not just one thing – it’s all the things. All the little things I do every day that no one ever says thank you for…

My internal rant was interrupted by an unprompted announcement from my almost 2 year old son.

“I yuv you!”

It stopped me in my tracks. Did I hear him correctly?

He shouted again, “I yuv you!”

When I realized what he was trying to say, I laughed and replied, “I love you too!”

He said it over and over again. “I yuv you! I yuv you!”

With each time, I felt a little lighter. His adorable voice was a soothing balm to a heart scorched by resentful thoughts.

Something so small and seemingly coincidental – an expression of love from my youngest child who is just learning to speak – was the work of the Lord in my life today. In that moment, a gentle reminder that Jesus loves me, He sees me, He knows me.

When I feel forgotten, He is the One who remembers His children. When I feel unappreciated, He is the One who whispers His love in a thousand ways. When I feel exhausted at the thought of getting down on my knees to soak up one more spill, He is the One who knelt down to wash the feet of those who would later deny and betray and abandon Him.

Lord, let Your great love never be lost on me. Let it transform me from the inside out, so that I can love freely and fully, even in the smallest acts of service again and again and again.

walking

Taking a walk