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)

Connecting Points

I stepped outside yesterday evening and -21 C felt positively balmy after the polar vortex week of -45 C windchills. The bitter cold is slowly losing its grip and it feels amazing.

Cosy weather, though, isn’t it? Hot tea, sweaters, slippers, books and movies and all the inside hobbies you can muster. No yard to tend to other than keeping the sidewalk clear. Aside from all the usual suspects that come with the cold, like your key won’t turn the lock in the front door, or that giant icicle needs to be karate-kicked off the furnace vent, or the van won’t start unless it’s plugged in and when it does, random warning lights pepper the dashboard, it’s not so bad.

I’m thankful, though, that a bit of relief is on the way. In just a few more days we’ll have regular February cold instead of that frigid Arctic blast. Believe it or not, our weather has been one of the biggest blessings of the past few months. I was chatting with a friend from another province over zoom the other day and we were both amazed at how fantastic the weather has been so far this winter, both there and here. With the restrictions on activities and social gatherings, the unseasonably warm, vibrant fall and mild winter has felt like a kiss from heaven.

Where else are you seeing God’s grace today?

I live a rather ordinary life. I get up in the morning, get ready for the day and grab a cup of coffee. Then my mental chore checklist kicks into high gear and I remember all the dishes and laundry that didn’t get done yesterday so I begin my “I’m just going to do this one thing” habit. But the Lord is teaching me to press pause on my plans and be present when the opportunity arises.

I’ve observed that in our home, breakfast is a connecting point. All four kids are sitting at the table chattering away while they munch on their cereal or oatmeal. They pipe up when I don’t join them. “Mom! You have to eat breakfast!” they say. So I grab my toast and coffee and, against my morning-energy, goal-oriented, multi-tasking nature, I sit. This week our 10 year old instituted a Question of the Day. She posts a new one every morning and we take turns answering it. Then we’ll pull out one of the devotion books on the shelf or I’ll ask a spiritual question or use an ordinary object to illustrate a truth about God. We’re only around the table for about 10-15 minutes, but it’s a connecting point for spiritual conversations. Then we pray together and get on our way. I fully realize it won’t always be like this, so I’m making the most of these moments while I have them right in front of me.

I’m a busy person. I’ve always got something going on. There’s so much to do all the time. I’m flitting from this thing to that thing, my mind preoccupied with the things I’ve done and the things I have yet to do, today, tomorrow, next week, next month. My mind is has an ongoing checklist that is never quite finished, only set aside in favour of things that are more urgent.

Connecting points break into my noisy world. They are invitations to sit, to rest, to be present — to connect.

Connecting points are God’s grace unfolding before our very eyes. When we’re moving mechanically through these moments and days and years, we tend to miss some of the most amazing opportunities to pour into each other’s lives. I am far from perfect at it and too often I feel the sting as hindsight reveals my shortcomings, but I’m learning to slow down and savour the life I have right in front of me, the life given to me as a gift by the One who knows me better than I know myself. The One who made me and sustains me. The One who knows just what I need in every moment of the day. The One who invites me to sit at His feet even though “I’ve got a lot to do, you know”.

Luke 10:38-42 comes to mind:

“As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, ‘Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!’

‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’”

Lord, help me to choose what is better — even in the moments when I think I know better. Let the warmth of connecting with You release the bitter cold of drivenness and soften my heart so I recognize the connecting points that are right in front of me.

One morning my little guy invited me to have “coffee” with him.

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

Even From the Very Beginning

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Isaiah 9:6 —

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joy to the world!