If Ever

This morning as I was thinking about the current state of the world, the words of an old hymn popped into my mind: If ever I loved thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.

My generation is living through its first lengthy world-altering crisis. Two years of fear, distance and polarization with no definite end in sight can feel overwhelming. Some say “this too shall pass”, but from our current vantage point it feels like putting the pieces back together will take a lifetime. We are the generation that believed that if we just worked hard enough and did all the right things, we could control the outcome of our lives. And now we are living the endless reality that things beyond our control can upend our plans in the blink of an eye, not just personally, but collectively, thanks to an historic global event.

Fear is sneaky. It whispers in our ears in the dark of the night and screams headlines from our newsfeeds. It warns us of our limitations and finite knowledge, wrapping its frigid fingers around our hearts, squeezing the hope right out of us. We are acutely aware that we can’t protect our kids from everything. We watch our loved ones face great difficulty and weather our own unexpected situations, fully grasping that life is a vapour.

Psalm 13 has always been a great source of comfort for me in dark times:

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
    Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
    and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
    and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

David is clearly in a state here. We have a deeply personal prayer filled with desperate language. And then, somehow, in the midst of all the talk of being forgotten by God, wrestling with thoughts, waking day after day with sorrow permeating each part, feeling defeated and overcome by enemies, the psalm ends like this:

But I trust in your unfailing love;
    my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
    for he has been good to me.

A sharpening of focus reveals where our hope can truly be found. The grief of loss is a slow burn that may not ever be extinguished this side of heaven, but we can learn to say “I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation” because of Jesus. He is that beautiful gift of hope for a world reeling in panic and confusion. He is unfailing love. He is our salvation. Romans 5:1-8 is a solid reminder of the truth that God has not left us alone to wander through this life with dread in our hearts.

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Amen and Amen! Friends, we have nothing to fear. Let us learn to sing the Lord’s praise in the face of uncertainty, for He has been good to us!

My Jesus, I love thee, I know thou art mine;
for thee all the follies of sin I resign;
my gracious Redeemer, my Savior art thou;
if ever I loved thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.

I love thee because thou hast first loved me
and purchased my pardon on Calvary’s tree;
I love thee for wearing the thorns on thy brow;
if ever I loved thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.

I’ll love thee in life, I will love thee in death,
and praise thee as long as thou lendest me breath,
and say when the deathdew lies cold on my brow:
If ever I loved thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.

In mansions of glory and endless delight,
I’ll ever adore thee in heaven so bright;
I’ll sing with the glittering crown on my brow:
If ever I loved thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.

(Canadian William Featherston penned the words to “My Jesus I Love Thee” somewhere between the ages of 12 and 16. He died at the age of 26.)

Blue skies in January

The Gift of a Regular Day

Lord, help me to live this day by the truth of Your Word, not by how I feel right now!

This was my bleary-eyed, early morning prayer after I was jolted out of bed, not by the happy singsong greetings of a shiny-eyed, cherub-cheeked preschooler but by the angry edicts of a grumpy, pint-sized dictator. I did not feel particularly ready to greet the day in that moment. In fact, you could say I was on the verge of an internal temper tantrum of my own. My irritability revealed to me that perhaps I too need more sleep after last week’s intense heat wave and rather quick pace. The rain and cooler temperatures have ushered in better sleeping conditions which will hopefully mean better moods as the days roll on, but for today we’re still catching up. The heat and summer fun is all too much when you haven’t slept well for many days in a row.

Working through the morning crabbiness, I began to tackle the long list of things that will make our home liveable once again. When you spend the week with the blinds closed to keep the heat out, living mostly in the open air of the backyard where the slight but hot breeze is blowing, you can’t really see the growing mountain of things inside that may need some attention. Today we find ourselves exhaling, working on home things and resetting for the week ahead. As I build in these rhythms of rest into our life and embrace the quiet, I experience the grace of God in ways I tend to miss when I am moving at the speed of light.

Dirty dishes mean good food. Dirty laundry means great memories. Dirty floors mean a place to call home. I am not immune to deep grief and heartbreaking realities, but I also know that joy and sorrow are not independent of one other. Even in the middle of difficult things, I find myself experiencing moments that fill my heart with in praise of the Lord. His goodness and mercy are unending. Early this morning as I was chipping away at the to-do list, these ancient words bubbled up in me and became my song:

I remain confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.
-Psalm 27:13 (NIV) 

It struck me that this particular moment was a direct answer to my prayer to live this day in the light of God’s truth, not by my crotchety attitude. I know He reveals Himself in unexpected places, like discovering a sparkling gem in a pile of dusty old river rocks. You may not see it immediately, but upon further inspection you realize that what you are holding in your hands is precious. In my life, God has met me while I rocked my babies in the middle of the night and care for them through their childhood illnesses. He has met me on my way into the grocery store. Over broken dishes, weed-filled gardens and vehicle breakdowns. Through bread on the doorstep, text messages, phone calls and unexpected visits.

He knows our needs. He hears our prayers. He is good. 

Even a regular day reveals His glory. To be completely honest, it has taken me many hours to finish writing this short post due to constant questions, conflicts, caring for the needs of littles and listening to the ones who need listening to. If I had shut myself in a room to wax poetic about the goodness of God in the middle of the ordinary, the power of this truth would have been lost on me today: His goodness knows no bounds.

Praise the Lord. Amen.

Blue sky beauty

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.

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

Fog Rolling In

Fog. 

Nothing but fog.

The world had disappeared beyond our back fence, smothering my hopes of a fun family night of stargazing.

It’s one of the simple joys I remember about growing up in the country, where the winter night stretches out above you in an endless expanse. While you head to bed, the dark sky awakes with dancing fluorescent colours and millions of tiny, twinkling diamonds. And sometimes, if you’re lucky, you might catch a double-feature – a bright glowing moon casting its spotlight on the sparkling snow.

Stunning.

Living in the city, the streetlights interfere with the fullness of the experience. But if you can find a stretch of darkness, it’s still breathtaking. November’s early nights invite us into new ways of appreciating the world God has made, and this week the temperatures were mild enough to make stargazing a possibility for our little family.

And then, the fog rolled in.

I double-checked the forecast for 6pm. Clear skies, mild temperatures.

11am. Still foggy.

2pm — fog.

Finally, around 3:45pm, the sun seemed to break through. The fog began to dissipate, but the skies were still covered with thin clouds.

The evening forecast changed to partly cloudy skies. At about 5:45, I looked out the window. Stars! The clouds were moving away! We made hot cocoa, filled our travel mugs, pulled on the winter gear and headed to our little spot to see what we could see.

It wasn’t perfect. But it was incredible! Saturn and Jupiter hung low in the sky, nearer to each other than I’d ever seen. Mars glowed red, and the Big Dipper came into view. Vega, Polaris, the stars of Cassiopeia… the darkness surrounded us but our eyes were on the heavens, drinking in their beauty.

Psalm 147:3-5 popped into my head:

He heals the brokenhearted
and binds up their wounds.
He determines the number of the stars
and calls them each by name.
Great is our Lord and mighty in power;
his understanding has no limit.

I need the reminder that the One who holds these stars is the same One who heals the deepest wounds of my heart. 

Truth.

Preach it to your heart when you wake up in the morning and the fog has rolled in. Preach it to your heart when you’re asking yourself if this could really be true: does the God of the Universe even see me at all? And preach it to your heart when the skies clear and the stars are shining again.

Frank E. Graeff was a Presbyterian minister in the late 1800s. He was called the Sunshine Minister for his contagious positivity. According to another hymn-writer, “in spite of his cheerful disposition, he was a man sorely tried by doubts and deep depressions.” It makes sense, then, that he penned these words which were later put to music.

Does Jesus care when my heart is pained
Too deeply for mirth or song,
As the burdens press,
And the cares distress,
And the way grows weary and long?

Does Jesus care when my way is dark
With a nameless dread and fear?
As the daylight fades  
Into deep night shades,
Does He care enough to be near?

Does Jesus care when I’ve tried and failed
To resist some temptation strong;
When for my deep grief
There is no relief,
Though my tears flow all the night long?

Does Jesus care when I’ve said “goodbye”
To the dearest on earth to me,
And my sad heart aches
Till it nearly breaks,
Is it aught to Him? Does He see?

O yes, He cares, I know He cares,
His heart is touched with my grief;
When the days are weary,
The long night dreary,  
I know my Savior cares.

Through stars, through Scripture, through songs, and even in the middle of the fog, I know my Saviour cares.

Praise the Lord. How good it is to sing praises to our God, how pleasant and fitting to praise him! (Psalm 147:1)

Image: Stephen Rahn/Stocksnap

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

Linger a Little Longer

This is the first in a weekly blog series leading up to Thanksgiving. Join the conversation at #3WeeksofThanks.

***

“That opportunity to choose to be thankful in the middle of difficulty is good for us. It leads us to the understanding that our thanksgiving needs to be anchored in something much greater than our circumstances or the changing times we live in. We’re not thankful because of what we have or don’t have – we’re thankful because God is good, all the time, and He will always keep His promises.

As Christians, we understand God’s Word to be His revelation of who He is and the primary way we get to know Him. Creation reveals Him as Creator, Jesus reveals God as Father, His Word reveals His character, and when we put our faith in Christ and become filled with the Holy Spirit, He is revealed through His very presence in our lives.

That’s how to begin to cultivate a heart of thanksgiving, no matter what we’re facing.”

I had no idea how these words, my very own from around this time last year, would help me put the past seven months into better perspective. 

I’m wrapping up the first week of #3WeeksofThanks. I created it a few years ago so that I wouldn’t miss the opportunity to embrace and participate in a season of Thanksgiving in my life and in our home. I love Fall, and Thanksgiving came and went so quickly that I wanted to linger in its vibrant colour and crisp air a little longer. And yet, this little project has proven to be one of the most challenging things I’ve ever attempted! I suppose it’s because a heart of thanksgiving doesn’t cultivate itself.

Especially this year.

It’s easy to dismiss our disappointments or minimize our sufferings because someone always truly does have it worse than we do. And yet, our pain is still our pain. Our frustrations and challenges are uniquely ours. And all our feelings about it tell us that we may have to stop and sort it all out.

And that’s okay.

Early this morning our seven year old daughter came to our bed. We talked about all the changes we’ve been experiencing. “This pandemic,” she said. “Why did it even have to happen? Why doesn’t God just stop it and we can go back to normal?”

A thought I’ve had several times over the past months. 

We held her and discussed the things we know that are true about God. We discussed how He is good, loving, holy, just, compassionate, all-powerful, all-present and all-knowing. And how hard it is to understand why He allows certain things sometimes. We talked about how we know we can trust Him and how He is with us in everything we go through. We talked about how He can see things we can’t see. And how He knows how to bring good things out of very bad things, and how we can’t learn to trust Him if we never go through times when we have to trust Him.

And we talked about how hard that is sometimes. 

Then we prayed together. Because when we don’t know what to do, or we don’t know how to feel or we don’t understand our situation, we pray and praise. And when we’re filled with thankful feelings and are rejoicing in our hearts for the good things God has given, we pray and praise. And when everything is simply ordinary and uneventful, we pray and praise.

We pray and praise, all the time. 

Because He is good, all the time. 

Even in 2020. 

Especially in 2020.

“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. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.”

2 Corinthians 1:3-7 (NIV)

All These Things

Forts. Lego. Cooking. Dress up. Sidewalk chalk. Twister. Family walks in new parks. Bug hunting. Tree climbing. Lawn bowling. Kite flying. Bike riding. Kids learning to read, learning to use the potty, learning to get along. Creating and exploring, losing teeth, discovering new interests, building life skills. Socially distant Saturday visits and FaceTime celebrations. Online church and school. Growing a garden, washing dishes by hand. Bounding down the sidewalk. Jumping through the sprinkler. Wading in the tall grass. Home haircuts. Home cooking. Chasing backyard butterflies, bunnies and storms. Drive-thru pancakes and coffee dates. Drive-by birthday parades. Gathering around the table, around the fire, around the Bible. Reorganizing the basement.

Reorganizing our priorities.

When the pandemic hit and the lockdown unfolded, we were worried about what we might miss out on.

But I can see now that we had nothing to worry about. God’s goodness washes over us in the most wonderful ways!

This week I found myself lingering in Psalm 27. When my eyes fell to the end I was deeply moved (v 13-14):

I remain confident of this:
    I will see the goodness of the Lord
    in the land of the living.

Wait for the Lord;
    be strong and take heart
    and wait for the Lord.

I barely slept two nights ago thanks to the intolerable heat and a little one who was dealing with nighttime fears. And in the soft early light when one of the kids woke up our youngest (long before he —or I — was ready) I laid on my bed feeling desperate for some bit of blessed quietness and rest where there was none to be had. Jesus, give me strength for this day! I prayed. Frustration. Exhaustion.  Desperation.

This morning my eyes fell to a social media post from a friend that told the heartbreaking story of a young woman who was murdered because she would not enter into an arranged marriage with a man of a different faith. And then another story of a young woman who was kidnapped, violated and forced to marry her abuser who is four decades her senior so the law would protect him. Violence. Injustice. Oppression.

The constant demands of raising a family on a tight budget in the middle of an isolating health emergency. Anxiety from a bleak economic outlook. Grief rising in the face of horrifying headlines and personal pain. These things challenge my determination not to live a despondent life that throws its hands in the air and proclaims, “it’s no use!”, a life that ignores the suffering of others in favour of my own comfort. In those very moments, Jesus’ words echo in my head: In this world you will have trouble, but take heart! I have overcome the world! (John 16:33)

We remain confident in this: we will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. There is a better way. A richer, more wonderful way that brings hope in the darkness. A way that leads to life! Our troubles will not overcome us.

No matter what we’re facing right now we can choose to place our hope fully in Jesus. Because of Him, we have eternal life that cannot be shaken or taken away! And we see God’s goodness on display not only through Christ’s life and death, but in the precious life He graciously gives to each of us.

As we wait for the Lord, let’s choose to live each moment with confidence in His Word and by the power of His Holy Spirit, pouring out His love out onto those He has placed in our lives. We are His handiwork, created in Jesus to do good works which God has prepared in advance for us to do! (Ephesians 2:10) May we walk in His truth today and preach His good news to our world-weary hearts.

a word of comfort kid art

The kids set up an art show called “A Word of Comfort” one day. My heart!

Simple Things

These are the days we long for in November.

When the sun sinks below the horizon at 4:30 in the afternoon and the pale winter sky turns inky black, I always remember this season with daylight hours that stretch past my bedtime. Last night I looked to the west and was shocked to see the remnants of a gorgeous spring sunset still making their mark well past 10pm.

We made it.

I remember getting up with my babies for nighttime feedings and taking a peek out the window as I came back to bed. I was always hoping to catch a glimpse of that heart-stopping silent summer lightning, but often it was the hue of the sky that surprised me. The sun was below the horizon but its rays reached above, changing the ordinary black of night to an exquisite shade of greenish blue. The horizon was already glowing even though the clock glared 3am.

We used to stay up all night around the campfire and watch the sky change. Where I live there are weeks in summer where it never officially reaches night. We have all the twilights — civil, nautical and astronomical — but no actual hours of complete darkness. It has something to do with the angle of the sun below the horizon, and it feels magical. Sitting around the glowing coals of a dying fire, you knew what time it was simply by looking to the east. When you could see the edge of daylight, it was time to say goodnight with a full heart.

Yesterday I dug my hands deep into some dirt and mixed it up so I could give a plant a new home. The mud squished through my fingers and I felt like a little kid again. It had been so long since I worked the dirt with my bare hands, mixing and squeezing and feeling the cold wet earth covering my skin. Gloves and tools are my usual practice, but this barehanded soil turning was the very thing I needed. I remembered I was still wearing my wedding ring. I once heard of a woman who lost her precious diamond band deep in her garden one year and decades later it was found and returned to her. Wrists-deep in sticky muck, I quickly pulled my hands out and checked to see if the ring was still there. Phew. Although lined with black, it remained steadfast around my dirt-stained finger. As I finished transplanting the herb, the scent of fresh soil filled my senses and my heart swelled.

Long, warm nights and dark, gritty earth — these simple things are wonderful gifts from a good Father. I don’t have to rush to the store to stand in line six feet apart hoping to grab the last one. I don’t have to work extra hours to save up my pennies so I can finally buy them for myself. These gifts are free.

I’ve been reading and re-reading Ephesians in the past few months. I still can’t quite figure out why the Lord has me in that book, but I can’t seem to leave it alone. I’m discovering so much truth resonating in my heart and mind that I just want to go back and savour it again. This week, I’m captivated by Ephesians 2:8-10:

“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.” (NIV)

We’re just coming through a season where the only thing we could do was stay home, which is really hard for a person who is naturally drawn to action. I love getting things done. In fact, when I realized that my particular areas of church ministry may not be able to move forward for quite some time to come, I felt a strong sense of loss and discouragement. But what will I DO Lord? I cried out in desperation. Verse 8-9 kept coming to my mind: “…it is by grace you have been saved, through faith… not by works…”

Just as there is nothing I can do to conjure up a lovely, long summer evening or cause the sun to warm the soil for great growth, there is nothing I can do to secure my spot in God’s Kingdom by hustling harder and faster in my work.

All I can do is fall on my knees and accept this great gift freely given to me.

Jesus, have Your way in me. Work this truth down from my head into my heart – that when I put my faith in You, I can be confident that the work is already finished. The price has already been paid. The gift is free! I am Your handiwork, made by You to live the life you have called me to live, with works prepared long ago for me to do — not because they are my salvation, but because You are.

What a wonderful gift from a good Father.

My container one year.