Learning to Rest

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

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

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

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

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

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

Truth.

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

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

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

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

And Matthew 11:28 —

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

And even Job 38:4 — 

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

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

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

10:15pm on an early June night

Interruptions

This morning when I came to the computer to write, I found my office chair was already occupied by my third daughter’s favourite soft brown teddy bear “eating breakfast” out of an old coffee can filled with one of my potholders.

The little visitor sent me straight back in time to when the very same daughter was a preschooler with her sweet little cheeks, bright blue eyes and favourite green headband in her long brown hair. (The headband that we lost and miraculously found on more than one occasion.) Her favourite stuffy was a little doll, Cindy, that went everywhere with her. I can’t remember how many times we were nearly late for something because she couldn’t find the doll’s sweater, scarf and hat. At dinner, Cindy had her own little spot on the stool beside my daughter, “eating” her pretend food while we ate ours. For a long time, Cindy became another member of the family. I often came across little scenes of her reading a book or napping on the couch or doing other random things, always an adorable reminder that I share my home with other humans with big imaginations and plans.

I’m living out the lifelong lesson that all kinds of interruptions are actually invitations to something much greater. Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote:

We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God. God will be constantly crossing our paths and canceling our plans by sending us people with claims and petitions. We may pass them by, preoccupied with our more important tasks, as the priest passed by the man who had fallen among thieves, perhaps — reading the Bible. When we do that, we pass by the visible sign of the Cross raised athwart our path to show us that, not our way, but God’s way must be done.

It is a strange fact that Christians and even ministers frequently consider their work so important and urgent that they will allow nothing to disturb them. They think they are doing God a service in this, but actually they are disdaining God’s ‘crooked yet straight path’ (Gottfried Arnold). They do not want a life that is crossed and balked. But it is part of the discipline of humility that we must not spare our hand where it can perform a service and that we do not assume that our schedule is our own to manage, but allow it to be arranged by God.” (Life Together, 99)

Teddy bears on my office chair. Dolls eating dinner. Small cars in the pots and pans cupboard. Plastic dinosaurs in the fridge next to the milk. Although these scenes are slowly becoming less frequent at our house, I’m still amazed at how toy pigs in a sparkly shoe can snap me out of my self-centred daze and remind me of the blessing of imagination, the wonder of creativity and the beauty of simplicity: gifts my children offer me in abundance every day. These little interruptions invite me to ponder God’s good gifts.

But what about the interruptions that cost me something? Time, energy, health, attention, love, compassion. Some interruptions are long and painful. Sometimes you lose something you cannot regain. Some hardly feel worth the effort after all is said and done. Most often, they do not come with recognition or gratitude on the part of the interrupter.

These are invitations to live like Jesus and embody His love for me to those around me. They are the hard things of ordinary life that may not appear to be worth the asking price, but we can be confident that our loving Heavenly Father is working in and through all things, even the small things, and maybe especially the small things, for His glory.

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!

“Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?”
“Who has ever given to God,
that God should repay them?”

For from him and through him and for him are all things.
To him be the glory forever!
Amen.

Romans 11:33-36 (NIV)

The bear eating breakfast.

For the Beauty

A young man sat on a lush green hillside above his hometown. Wildflowers bobbed their heads and the leaves rustled in the gentle breeze. As the serene country landscape and winding river below stirred his heart, he picked up his quill and these words spilled onto the page in front of him.

For the beauty of the earth
For the glory of the skies
For the love which from our birth 
Over and around us lies

Christ, our Lord, to You we raise
This our sacrifice of praise!

The first lines of something wonderful! The story goes that as poet and hymn-writer Folliot S. Pierpoint was wandering through the beautiful British countryside near Bath in 1863, his mind was filled with all the incredible gifts that God has given us. Stunning creation. Our deepest and most meaningful relationships with one another. And best of all – Jesus Himself, His life given freely so that we could live. 

For the wonder of each hour
of the day and of the night,
hill and vale and tree and flower, 
sun and moon and stars of light

Christ, our Lord, to You we raise
This our hymn of grateful praise!

For the joy of human love,
Brother, sister, parent, child
Friends on earth and friends above
for all gentle thoughts and mild,

Christ, our Lord, to You we raise
This our hymn of grateful praise!

For Yourself, best gift divine,
to the world so freely given, 
agent of God’s grand design:
peace on earth and joy in heaven.

Christ, our Lord, to You we raise
This our hymn of grateful praise!

It’s such a simple hymn, written for communion services to remind the church that the only thing we have to offer God in response to His gifts to us is a heart of praise. Over time, it was changed to reflect our thanksgiving for all the gifts God has given to us, but the original use of the song brought Christ’s sacrifice into a sharper focus: He is the ultimate gift. His life poured out for us, bringing peace and joy that nothing else can hold a candle to. 

Let the glorious hope of the Resurrection of Christ ring in your heart today. When you see the bud on the tree. When the seed goes in the ground and the flowers begin to bloom. Even when the grass needs mowing, the fridge needs stocking, the messes need cleaning — these too are evidence that God’s goodness knows no bounds.

Because of Jesus. He is the joy of our hearts, our true peace, our eternal hope.

Christ, our Lord, to You we raise
This our hymn of grateful praise!

Hallelujah, amen.

A small grove of trees

Seedlings in April

We planted our little seedlings this week. In about six or seven weeks, we’ll transplant them outside and see which ones make it to the end of the season. I haven’t had much luck starting things indoors, but gardening at our house is always an adventure!

You’d think after a decade of trying to grow things in our particular yard with our particular set of growing conditions I’d have learned a few things. And I suppose I have. But with four other little minds whirring and spinning about what kinds of things they want to plant and grow, I’ve let go of my dreams of urban farming and embraced the life of experimental gardening. Like many things in my life, I hold my garden with an open hand. Well, mostly. I sure do love my roses and front containers, but the backyard is a free space for the kids to exercise their creativity and responsibility in our containers and beds. This year, the girls have their hearts set on pumpkins, watermelons, daisies, zinnias, violas, mint, peas, spinach and carrots. Only four of those were started inside this week and we’ll sow the rest in containers and into the ground sometime after May long weekend. It’s the safest bet since our spring weather is so dramatic, always flinging itself from full-on summer temperatures to below freezing in just a few short hours. Earlier this week we were in shorts and t-shirts. This morning, tiny snowflakes float gracefully to the ground out my window, watering the lawn in place of a good soaking April shower.

So our seedlings stay warm and cosy inside, drinking up the water we give them, sitting in the soft light and slowly working their way up to break the surface of the soil. We’re watching in anticipation, eager to see which is which since the small initial I wrote on each pot to distinguish them from one another has washed away.

On top of the challenges of dramatic weather, we contend with a very short growing season. Once the seeds are in the ground, it’s go-time. In just a few short weeks, we’re seeing the fruit of our labour, and every single year it takes me by surprise. When the first pea pod is ready for picking, we rejoice together and everyone gets a bite. I know we followed the process of good soil, water and sunshine, but it still feels like a miracle when we see the small harvest from the seeds we planted weeks before.

My hopes are high, as they always are at the beginning of a gardening season, that we will see some good things growing this year – not just in the soil, but in us too. Life lessons on what happens if you don’t water your plants in the heat of the summer. The satisfaction of hard work, the feel of the soil in our hands, the beauty of watching plants grow. Experience has taught me that regardless of the final harvest of the year, the work in the garden builds my character, reminds me of the mysteries and goodness of God, and gently pushes me to keep tending the things that need tending in my heart and life.

When our oldest daughter was a baby, she didn’t want to sleep. Ever. I read the books, I tried the tricks, I prayed and cried and she simply stuck to her half-hour daytime naps and very early mornings like glue. One day a wise mama told me, “You can’t make a baby sleep, but you can create an environment conducive to sleep.”

Gardening and parenting have something in common. You can’t make those little seedlings grow up into big beautiful fruit-bearing plants, but you can cultivate nourishing soil, quench their thirst and bathe them in sunshine. You can plant good seeds of truth, shower them in prayer and shine the light of unconditional love all over them. Their growth is ultimately up to the Master Gardener, but as the temporary caretaker of my children, I can look to Him for wisdom and trust that He is taking care of them through me and sometimes in spite of me.

In John 15:1-5 (NIV) Jesus says,

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” 

Growing things from seed.

Hidden Treasure

My dad texted me a photo this week of a little piece of paper he found in one of his boxes. In a jumbled mix of classic kid printing-style uppercase and lowercase letters, though remarkably neat, I had written:

“ThE LORD iS MY HELPER.”

The note underneath said “Hebrews 13:6, by Stephy, Age 4 1/2”.

It’s not a distinct childhood memory for me so it was amazing to see that little piece of paper still intact so many years later. A memory verse from Sunday School, I’m sure. This morning I turned to the reference in my Bible to see the words in print.

So we say with confidence,
“The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. 
What can mere mortals do to me?”

A small note next to the last line directed me to Psalm 118:6-7. Not even five years old, writing ancient truths on something ripped from a notepad printed for children, with a picture of two little girls playing tennis in the bottom corner. At the time I couldn’t comprehend the treasure these words held, but they are words that have continually point me to the true Source of Life through every valley, on every mountain, regardless of my circumstances.

The seeds of truth planted in childhood have pressed their roots deep into the soil of my heart and I can see the fruit of the faithfulness of God’s people as I now encourage my own children to commit Scripture to memory. I know I’m giving them one of the greatest gifts that was ever given to me – the opportunity to fill their hearts with this very same life-giving truth. God is the ultimate Gardener. He not only prepares the soil but plants the seeds, takes care of the weeding and pruning, and brings forth gentle, breathtaking growth in willing hearts.

I may not see what God is doing. I may not know how He is working. But I recall the words of Isaiah 55:8-11 and the walls of my heart are fortified against the daily battering ram of fear and discouragement.

“ ‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,’
declares the Lord.

‘As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,

so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.’ ”

Don’t give up hope – it’s not the end. The Lord is our helper, we will not be afraid.

Beautiful words.

Lessons from a Mug

This is the one I couldn’t put back together.

Earlier this week, I placed an empty white coffee mug on the lower shelf of a small table and promptly forgot it was there. A few days later, we needed to move the table.

“What’s your mug doing there, Mom?” my third child asked. I glanced over at the coffee table that held my small blue flowery tea mug from the night before. 

“Yeah, I don’t know, I guess I forgot to put it away,” I answered as I lifted the other small table and moved it quickly, inadvertently flinging the white mug across the room. It landed with a loud smash on the basement floor, white shards spraying over a wide area as the kids cried out in chorus, “MOM! Your favourite mug!”

“Oh THAT mug,” I winced. I sighed. It was true, I did love that mug.

“That’s the one I was talking about!” Number Three cried. “I tried to tell you!”

“Aw I am so sorry! You DID try to tell me and I didn’t understand!” 

“We can fix it!” 

“No,” I said gently as I placed the pieces in a small cardboard box, “this one I can’t fix.”

Since then, my own words have been echoing in my heart.

This one I can’t fix.

The careless word or action. The uncontrollable circumstance or sudden turn of events. The sin that breaks a heart into a million pieces.

Grief washes over me in giant paralyzing waves. Other times it slows to a trickle, and still other times it’s a dull ache that lingers when my mind turns to those things I simply cannot remedy in my life. The things I can’t fix, no matter how hard I try. I need comfort and healing, which find in Jesus. But I’m finding that I also desperately need the hope that one day it won’t be like this anymore. One day, all will be made right. 

We have a Healer and Comforter who tends to the deepest wounds of the heart and brings restoration from destruction. But He is also a Warrior King who has wiped out the sin that entangles and the death that separates forever — the very source of our grief and sorrow. Only He can make “justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream” (Amos 5:24).

And He has done it.

It is finished. 

Romans 5:1-12 says,

“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.

Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”

Hallelujah! On this Holy Week we remember the cost of such love and fall down in worship of the One who willingly gave up His life so that we could be healed and restored forever and the world could be made new.

Living in the now and the not-yet is full of heartbreak and grief, but the glowing coals of everlasting joy are alive in us. We pray that the Holy Spirit will fan it into flame and incline our hearts to the One who has already redeemed what we ourselves are powerless to fix so that we may give glory to Jesus forever!

My broken mug teaching me life lessons.

A Priceless Gift

He was the OG up-cycling trendsetter. The master engineer without a degree. We had front row seats to “How It’s Made: Grandpa Edition” our whole lives long. There was nothing he couldn’t cobble together from parts and pieces or improve upon with a few days of thinking and tinkering. On the farm and later on in the little town where I grew up, his creativity and ingenuity continued to amaze.

When I was a kid, I had a lot of questions about the mechanics of things. Once, around the big brown table in the farm kitchen, I asked my dad how an engine worked. He encouraged me to ask Grandpa. His eyes lit up as he explained the inner workings of spark plugs and pistons in a way I could understand. Often when I visited Grandma in the kitchen, the shop across the yard was alight with welding flashes which I was always warned to look away from so they didn’t damage my eyes.

We grandkids wanted a trampoline more than anything. So he made one for us. A big rectangle with a green rubber mat. No padding on the springs, and spaces in the corners for you to sit with your feet dangling down while you waited for your turn. How those springs could pinch! We learned the hard way not to sit on them while we waited. He had one rule – no shoes on the trampoline! Double jumps got some serious air. That thing could hold an amazing amount of water and became ridiculously slippery when wet. We spent hot summer afternoons flailing around, playing Crack the Egg and Slip and Slide thanks to Grandpa and our uncles.

I remember helping Grandma bring supper to the field during the long hours of harvesting, the free range chickens that left their presents all over the yard – easy to find in bare feet – and Grandpa’s old dogs one at a time in succession who were always named Pup.

And music. How he loved to listen to us play and sing! Not at first though. When I was just learning on their old piano he’d tell me to be quiet because he was reading at the table. But something must have changed over the years because I remember how he loved it when I’d lead the singing at our little bilingual country church. I used to pick his favourite hymn without telling him. I was always fascinated by the German hymnals that sat next to the red English ones in the backs of the pews. When I learned how to sing in German in my high school choir, I signed up for a special number in church one day and surprised my grandparents by singing a hymn… in German!

I remember Grandpa wiping his eyes and thanking me, in his understated way, for singing that song. Grandma clasped my hand and gave it her signature squeeze. As the years went on, I moved around. But anytime I was back in my childhood town, I stopped by and sat down at the table for a few more stories, cookies and hugs.

My little corner of the world is darker these days. And my blog has lost one of its most faithful readers. My heart feels the ache of grief, compounded by current restrictions on group gatherings and travel. I watched through a screen as my dad and aunts and uncles stood up to tell his story. I never got to gather around his grave to sing a hymn or place my flower there. I didn’t see my cousins carry him or watch as he was lowered into the ground in my childhood church cemetery. No fellowship time with distant relatives and old friends over raisin buns and cheese and pickles and red funeral juice and bad church coffee in those little white cups. 

And worst of all, no hugs for those who suffer this loss from those who suffer alongside.

Jesus keep me near the cross
There is a precious fountain; 
Free to all, a healing stream,
Flows from Calv’ry’s mountain.

In the cross, in the cross
Be my glory ever
Til my ransomed soul shall find
Rest beyond the river.

-Fanny Crosby

After the online funeral last weekend my husband and I sat on our little front steps drinking coffee with blankets on our laps in the March sunshine. As I processed my feelings I asked him why our generation had the tendency to be dissatisfied with a simple life.

“Why isn’t it enough?” I asked. “Why are we rushing around trying to prove ourselves, desperate to matter to everyone but those closest to us? Why are we reaching for the stars when we already have the real treasures right here?”

I have a choice. I can focus on the things that don’t matter in the end, or I can turn my eyes upon Jesus. I can do the hard, slow, steady work of cultivating what I already have right in front of me. I can plant the seeds, pray for rain, watch the growth and reap the harvest in the right season. I can practice creativity in problem solving, be a good steward of what I have, pour into others and choose to be content. I can love my family in the best way I know how, and I can praise Jesus for His goodness to me even passing through the valley of the shadow of death.

These simple things I have learned from the ones that have gone before me. They have given me a priceless gift of a life well-lived.

A little corner of the old farmyard in the trees behind the garden.

Love Your Neighbour

I am a passionate person. Ask my friends and family – they’ll tell you I have opinions about things and I don’t hesitate to share them freely. To be honest, it has gotten me in trouble on more than one occasion but, thankfully, it has also allowed me to be a voice for those who have none.

The raging debate between Christians regarding whether to re-open their church doors or leave them closed during a pandemic is dividing congregations across our communities. Both sides make excellent points, but I’ve noticed a disturbing trend that is causing me to sit up and take notice of how I myself engage in this topic.

Jesus has called us to love our neighbour as ourselves. So just how do we love our neighbour well during a public health crisis? Is church attendance essential to being a Christian? Is the gathered body of Christ a priority when the current health recommendations are to be apart?

Wonderful questions worthy of vigorous debate.

Here’s the problem I am currently struggling through. 

I’ve noticed the tendency to measure spiritual maturity in relation to which side we fall on. And of course, we raise an eyebrow at those who don’t agree with our point of view. Those who want to gather are seen as immature and selfish people who are not living out Jesus’ command to love our neighbour. Those who are unwilling to gather at this time and choose to follow health guidelines are seen as cowards who are worshiping the government instead of Jesus.

Why are we doing this to each other?

“If you think church is a building, you don’t know Jesus.” 

“If you don’t want to gather with other Christians, something’s wrong in your walk with Christ.”

Two sides of the same hurtful, destructive coin. 

Can I offer a third way? What if we do the thing Christ-followers been called to do for centuries? Ephesians 4:2-6 says, 

“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.”

Tim Keller once said, “The church is not a museum for pristine saints, but a hospital ward for broken sinners.” Of which we all are. No one has the corner on perfect righteousness except Jesus. We are all wrestling through stressful circumstances with no real end in sight. Some have accepted pandemic life and are patiently waiting it out. Others believe if they were to do that, they would be compromising their beliefs. Is one more spiritual than the other? Some suffer struggles made significantly worse by isolation and are desperate for meaningful human interaction with their church family. Some suffer anxiety over possibly spreading the virus to the vulnerable and are paralyzed by the thought of a group gathering even if it means missing out on a part of their life they hold dear. Is one closer to Jesus than the other? We have been isolated from one another for so long, stuck in our echo chambers where it’s far too easy to paint the other side in a negative light. We have forgotten the call to be completely humble and gentle, to be patient, to bear with one another in love.

When presented with the opportunity to sin by self-righteousness and smug attitudes, let’s run the other way and choose to love our neighbour well – including our Christian brothers and sisters on the other side of this issue. Instead of passing uncharitable judgment on those whose needs and desires do not align with our own, we can praise the Lord that the body of Christ is made up of many different parts, and that each part has a purpose and a role in fulfilling the call of Christ to the greater community at this particular time in history.

Lord, forgive us for calling someone else’s faith into question when they don’t see this the way we do. Give us wisdom, patience and deep encouragement as we learn how to love our neighbour well in this difficult time.

(image: mine)

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