November Light

The chatty summer birds are mostly gone now, seeking warmer nests to fluff their feathers, and the winter birds have centre stage. These are not nearly as petite and delightful, but rather clumsy and comical as they lumber around the neighbourhood scratching out their living.

Leaves have dropped, snow blankets the ground and nights are finger-numbing. The night is long and dark, but it’s worth it to see the morning light come in with such brilliance.

The first rose glow gives way to orange-gold radiance, then blinding light, and finally, the pale sunshine of a November day. The sun hangs low in the sky, casting long shadows as it speeds toward the western horizon, slowly revealing a stunning late afternoon colour gradient which fades as darkness falls. The silhouettes of the towering neighbourhood evergreens that stand guard over our street, begin to blend with the night sky full of twinkling stars and planets. We like to play a guessing game: is it Mars? Jupiter? Venus? The moon is late to the party these days, rising in the middle of the night and sticking around long past sunrise, another November treat.

Each November day, with its vivid dawn, reminds us that “…the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.”
(John 1:5 NIV)

This comes as a complete surprise to me, but I’m developing an appreciation of the very month I have long dreaded for its challenges with frigid weather, constant childhood illnesses, and long hours of darkness. There are gifts to discover in the gradual shift from a world alive to a world asleep until spring. The in-betweenness brings moments to breathe deep before we wander into another season full of anticipation and celebration, one quite unlike any other we’ve had before. Cuddles on sick days, candles in darkness, calm evenings – these are the blessings of a month that I’ve often cast aside as bleak and dismal.

November begins with a somber day of remembrance, considering recent history and struggling with the reality that the world has not changed as much as we would like to believe. As we wandered among decommissioned planes, tanks, torpedoes and naval mines this year, the grief of war stirred up a deep longing in me for true peace, the kind that only Jesus can bring.

Come, Lord Jesus, and make all things right.

In our world and in our own shattered relationships, Lord, make all things right. Bring the kind of healing only You can. Let this in-between season stir our hearts as we dare to hope that You are able to do what no one else has ever been able to do in the history of the world.

Help us embrace the tension of the now and the not-yet. Help us grieve our losses, adjust our expectations, and rest in Your love. We know that we are still in the middle of this story, and we trust that You are faithful.

It seems fitting that November ends with the dawning of the season of longing and anticipation of our Saviour. We look forward to celebrating His first coming and we anticipate His second coming, knowing that He has promised to return and make all things right.

November is the space we need to prepare our hearts, dare to hope, and trust that He will do what He says He will do. It’s the space we need to learn not to grow weary and lose heart. It’s the gift of the in-between, the time to anchor our entire holiday celebration to the One who is worthy of our praise before the sparkling of the season begins.

Now is the time to fix our eyes on Jesus…

“…the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” 
Hebrews 12:2-3 (NIV)

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.

Isaiah 9:6-7 (NIV)

Glorious November Light

When Darkness Falls

Morning dawned with the first snowfall and a flurry of activity. Even before I rolled out of bed, requests for help to find warm winter wear rang out from the hallway.

“Mom! I need warm socks!”

“Does anyone know where my boots are?”

“Mittens please!”

I blinked at the clock. Impossible! It might as well have been Christmas morning! The kids buzzed with excitement as they layered on their snow pants, jackets, toques, mittens and boots and tumbled out the door and into a chilly wonderland.

A deep layer of pure, white, heavy snow pressed the branches of the neighbour’s trees toward the ground. This one had yet to drop its leaves, much later in the season than usual. We’ve had a long, warm autumn with days upon days of sunshine, blue sky and t-shirt weather, but it’s giving way to the days of hot chocolate, sledding and snow angels.

And darkness.

November ushers in a pre-dinner sunset, with long, dark evenings and plunging temperatures. In years past, it has been my most difficult month to hold onto hope in all things. The combination of colder weather, longer evenings, and the urgency of the approaching year-end tempts me to slip into my grumpy pants for a while.

This year, though, I am determined to light a candle when the nights get too long for my liking. When the light fades into early darkness, I’ll lean into the hope of a flickering flame and rediscover the beauty of the soft glow. But more than that, I’ll remind myself of this:

“For you have been my hope, Sovereign Lord,
    my confidence since my youth.

From birth I have relied on you;
    you brought me forth from my mother’s womb.
    I will ever praise you.

I have become a sign to many;
    you are my strong refuge.

My mouth is filled with your praise,
    declaring your splendor all day long.”

Psalm 71:5-8 (NIV)

Image: Stocksnap

The In-Between Season

March may be considered spring in some parts of the world, but not here. We know better. 

In these parts we keep our winter boots next to our sandals. Our snow shovels coexist with our garden rakes. Up and down we go in a dance, swinging from a glorious glimpse of warmth and sunshine to wild blast of snow and ice and back again. 

I used to strongly dislike it.

I grew up in a part of the country that had distinct seasons. When winter came, summer trappings were tucked away for the next six months and cold weather gear took their place next to the door. After months of icicles on our eyelashes, northern lights dancing and pastel-coloured morning skies where ice crystals sparkled in the soft sunshine, the blue skies of April finally dawned and our bikes and sandals slowly emerged along with the migratory birds. 

When I moved here, I couldn’t understand how people lived with such volatile weather. You never knew what you’d wake up to, no matter how hard the forecast tried, especially in spring. It has taken several of these wild seasons to adjust to the carefree elements that come with living in the shadow of the mountains, where the heavy spring snow and the warm spring melt happen just a few hours apart. In fact, I’ve come to rather enjoy the ride.

The warmth of the March sun is invigorating, reminding me to live in the moment and take my kids out into the muddy puddles while we still have them. And when the snow brings much-needed moisture to our dry soil, we welcome it as a gift, knowing that it won’t last.

There is beauty in every season.

This week, I saw my first winter-white bunny with hints of brown, noticed the buds on the trees preparing to burst into bloom many weeks from now, heard the trickle of flowing water as the sun hugged the icicles on the roof.

And then, snow and cold returned, this time slowly and with the mysterious beauty of an icy veil. In the afternoon hours of a rather foggy, snowy day, we emerged from our house and made our way along our rather ordinary street, transformed into a Narnia-like wonderland after hours of winter mist.

Stunning. Magical. Absolutely enchanting.

“Wow! Look at that the trees! They’re so beautiful!” My seven year old’s eyes were wide with wonder, drinking in the living winterscape around her.

Thank You Lord for the constant reminder of Your love and care. For Your handiwork, evident in the frost-covered branches of a tree, gently hanging in the stillness of a cold early March afternoon. For praise uttered from the lips of children captivated by the world You have made. For these moments that pierce our hearts with Your glory. For Your gift of common grace that reveals beauty in every season. But most of all, for how all of these things point us to You as our true source of life.

This is the in-between season, not fully winter, not fully spring. It’s not lost on me that this season coincides with our journey toward Easter, an invitation to prepare our hearts for the most pivotal point in history and the central reason for our faith. As we consider humanity and the condition we find ourselves in, may the gradual lengthening and warming of the days remind us that our hope lies only in the saving grace made possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. May we place our faith in Him, experiencing the transforming work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, empowering us to live out the love of Christ in our regular, everyday challenges and triumphs.

“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” 

Ephesians 4:1-6 (NIV)

Image: Stocksnap

New Year, Same Things

New year…same things.

We’ve cultivated some beautiful rhythms over the past year that I’m not quite ready to replace. I love the small signs that we are, in fact, in an entirely new year, with decorations safely tucked away and some small progress made in our organizational plans around the house. The calendar hanging in the kitchen has a new theme. I’m writing ’22 in my journal. And we’re receiving invitations to make plans in the months to come.

But some things have remained the same, thankfully.

Maybe it’s my current stage of life, maybe it’s because the majority of our family celebrates birthdays in winter and it always has me feeling all kinds of ways about how fast life goes and all the constant changes each new year brings, but I love the little ways the Lord reminds me that His love never changes and His hope endures, even when everything else around me rides a roller coaster.

It has me asking, at what point does something become a tradition? For the third year in a row, I’ve brought home the same kind of short, wide plastic pot of spring bulbs from the grocery store. I’ve had great success plunking said pot on top of my piano and neglecting it until the hyacinth, tulips, daffodils, irises and other beauties sprout up like sci-fi monstrosities overnight. The first year I was amazed by this $15 burst of beauty. The second year, I tried it again, thinking Year 1’s experience was a fluke. And again, over the course of mere days these little green stalks sprouted up to reveal the most lovely of colours and shapes. So this year, I’ve been watching and waiting to see the daily growth of this little pot of delight! Less than 24 hours after taking its place on the piano, once-invisible yellow tulips peeked through their pale green stalks and by the evening, reached up and opened their petals like rays of warm sunshine. Since then, dark purple irises with golden flecks have peeked out and the daffodil is wide-eyed.

An Easter garden in January, right in my living room! What a gift to have a glimpse of warmth long before the ground finally awakens for the growing season, revealing the hope that the grip of winter will one day melt away into a season of bounty.

Experience teaches us where to look for God’s goodness. At first we may be surprised by it — like tulips suddenly bursting forth from stalks that seemed empty. But then, it happens again. And again. And yet again. And we train our hearts to watch and see what God is going to do in this difficult season of wintery waiting. Every single time we have made it through a difficult, painful or confusing season, we look back and see what the Gardener has been doing. Our stories become reminders of His goodness and faithfulness! The barren soil of our lives is tilled under, weeds, roots and rocks are removed, nutrients are added and God grows stunning things.

What a comfort to know that although we may not be able to change much of what is going on around us, we can fix our eyes on the One who makes all things beautiful in His time. We have the promise of life in Christ!

Two Scriptures have been resounding in my heart this week. The first one is from the Old Testament:

I know that my redeemer lives,
    and that in the end he will stand on the earth.
Job 19:25 (NIV)

And the second is from the New Testament:

Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
2 Corinthians 1:22-23 (NIV)

No matter what we are facing today, this week, this month or in the year ahead, we can be filled with true hope! Jesus is the real deal — He breathes life into the dust of our hearts and grows gorgeous things in places we never expected. 

Be patient and train your heart to hope in Christ. Keep your eyes wide open to the beauty He is cultivating in your life. And always remember that our Redeemer lives, and that in the end, He will stand on the earth. 

Praise the Lord that He always does what He says He will do!

 

Day 1, Day 4 and Day 5 of my mixed bulbs.

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

Weeping with Those Who Weep

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25 NIV)

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

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4 NIV)

evergreen afar

Evergreens standing tall

What Now?

Christmas has come and gone for another year. The decorations are packed away and we’re moving forward with all our plans and goals, and yet, something from the season lingers in my heart and keeps returning to my mind.

A spark in the night. A flickering candle in the cold of winter.

The beautiful truth that light dispels darkness.

Over the Advent season I had been reflecting on some Old Testament scripture found in Isaiah 60:1 (NIV) – “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.”

And in Isaiah 9:6 (NIV) – “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.”

Then, I came across this in John 1:1-5 (NIV) – “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.” 

And John 8:12 (NIV) – When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life’.”

Unbelievably, I’ve been catching glimpses of this everywhere! Again, earlier this week, I was reading Ephesians 5:8-10 (NIV) – “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord.”

Living as children of light isn’t a mystery. We don’t have to walk around wondering what to do next. We don’t have to hope we’re reading the signs around us correctly. Let’s begin by searching His Word for the kind of life that shines His light and watch the darkness around us flee.

winter trees

Winter sunlight on the trees

It’s Really Cold

The sun is shining invitingly with no great warmth to offer. For many days we’ve been saddled with temperatures far below seasonal, contending with vehicle trouble, slippery roads and dangerous windchill warnings.

Doing anything in extreme cold presents a fair amount of challenges, especially since it was such a quick switch. Our winter had been unseasonably mild up until the day before the polar vortex blew in.

I open the front curtains, harnessing some of that precious and wonderful sunshine. Most days it warms the room so much that the furnace gets a bit of a break, but on a day where the high is -21 degrees Celsius with a windchill of -30 it’s more for the wonderful dose of vitamin D and the way the light boosts my mood.

In the middle of the frustrations of extreme cold, I’ve been struck by its strange, otherworldly beauty.

Sunrises and sunsets have a soft rose-gold hue. The glowing quarter moon is perfectly clear against the inky black of the cold night sky, the outline of its mysterious dark side now visible from the ground. Millions of stars sparkle in their constellations as billowing clouds and thin curls of chimney smoke rise slowly from all the houses and buildings below. Streetlights illuminate tiny diamonds floating in the air; ice crystals that settle gently on everything they touch, giving trees and roofs and cars and fences a beautiful frosty kiss.

The snow crunches beneath your feet as you walk – the orchestra of snowflakes.

It makes me grateful for the small things that are suddenly big things: thick socks and warm boots on my feet. A jacket that keeps the wind out. The handmade scarf from my mom, the big old “garbage man” leather gloves from my brother, and the Canadian wool hat I picked up on a whim while out shopping a few years ago. The hot cup of coffee I’m sipping out of a clean travel mug while I drive a fairly reliable vehicle around a city where crews work non-stop to clear and sand wintery roads.

A home to return to where I can turn up the furnace, put on my slippers and favourite sweater, and cook a hot meal to enjoy with the ones I love.

There is much to be thankful for, even in the middle of the longest cold snap in decades.

I write this down so that I can remember to choose gratitude the next time I am running late, crouching down in a -40 windchill at the gas station, my frozen fingers clumsily attempting to fill my tires with air.

There is beauty in even this season.

snowflake aaron burden

Image: Aaron Burden

The Six Evergreens

There were six trees across the street.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

evergreens across the street winter

The evergreens in winter

Time to Breathe

Is there anything more schedule-busting than illness? All the plans are put on hold until you hit recovery mode and then slowly you begin the process of catching up. It usually takes two, maybe three days to get through a tough cold, flu or stomach bug. Usually. Multiply that by four children and we’re talking two to three weeks. And often, when we’ve gotten over one thing, the next thing shows up.

Lord, have mercy.

It becomes my cold and flu season prayer. There are times when I’m not sure I can possibly do another load of laundry or wipe down another light switch or get out of my bed for another middle-of-the-night coughing fit.

And then, mercy shows up. The fever breaks, the illness skips the next kid, sleepless nights end.

Thank You, Lord.

That’s my other cold and flu season prayer. All the small things I may have otherwise overlooked have become reminders that He really is Emmanuel, God WITH us, in every moment.

Can I tell you something? This is a fairly new way of dealing with my feelings when illness strikes our home. Throughout my life, I have been notoriously inflexible when it comes to plans. Upset plans tend to upset me greatly. I feel deeply disappointed when something gets in the way of what I was going to do. And for many years, it went quite well. I was able to keep to my plans without much effort.

And then, kids.

I’ll tell you, nothing has brought greater growth in this area of my life than becoming a parent. I remember when my oldest was a baby, my mom shared some great wisdom with me. She said, “Stephanie, think of this as the gift of time. Whenever your plans have to change, you’re getting the gift of time to rest, time together, time to breathe.”

Thank You Lord.

The other day, three of the four kids were nestled in on the couch, completely captivated by the story playing out on the screen in front of them.  Two were home from school and one was just happy to have her sisters with her for the day. I glanced over at them, sharing in this moment together, and I thanked the Lord for this gift of rest, of time together, of time to breathe.

clock and coffee

Image: Aphiwat Chuangchoem