Puzzle Pieces

Six years ago, we started a 1000 piece puzzle.

Our then-3 year old daughter had a newfound love for the L. Frank Baum classic, “The Wizard of Oz”. One Sunday afternoon, we popped in the DVD of the 1939 MGM re-telling and she was instantly captivated by the fantastic technicolor land, loveable iconic characters and irresistible soundtrack.

Her eyes grew large when the Wicked Witch appeared and her smile grew even larger when Scarecrow did the silliest of dances. She dressed up as Dorothy every day and would only speak to my husband if he responded in the voice of either the Tin Man, Cowardly Lion or Scarecrow.

Her love for the movie coincided with its 75th Anniversary celebration and we soon found ourselves in possession of a 1000 piece Wizard of Oz puzzle.

Neither of us are puzzlers.

And yet, there we were, with high hopes that we could actually finish this insurmountable task. We spent two winter evenings trying to put the pieces together. Of course when you have toddlers and preschoolers around you just know if you leave a big puzzle on the dining room table the pieces will grow legs and walk quietly into all the nooks and crannies of your house. So we purchased a felt roll, tucked in the pieces we had managed to fit together (the edges and Dorothy and Tin Man’s face), put the rest of the pieces back in the box and stored it on the top shelf of the closet.

It gathered dust while life went on. We eventually found the time to complete a few other puzzle projects, although only in the past two years, so with renewed confidence and extra time in our schedule we pulled out our very first thousand-piecer for another go.

It was a very slow start.

Last weekend I dumped the pieces out onto the table and tried to fit a few together. It was not very encouraging. Slowly, though, more and more of the image began to take shape. I began to feel hopeful we would eventually see this full picture, and it would be even more beautiful because of the work and time we had poured into putting it together.

We’ve bravely left the puzzle in the middle of the table this time, extra pieces sorted and stored in plastic containers on the piano, hoping that any milk spills or potato chunks will be caught before doing permanent damage. One morning at breakfast I lifted a loose piece and showed it to my kids as they ate their oatmeal. A few more parts of the picture were assembled, but we still had a long way to go.

“Where do you think this one goes?” I asked, holding the piece between my finger and thumb.

They shrugged and munched away.

I began to think out loud. “This is kinda like our life. We can only see this little piece of it. We only see what’s right in front of us today – the things happening in the world, the stuff on our to-do list. This puzzle piece looks like it’s part of the yellow brick road or something, but I can’t tell exactly where it goes in this puzzle. We know all the pieces fit together to make a picture because we can see the picture on the box, but if we just look at this piece or that piece or this pile of random pieces, it seems impossible to think it will ever look like that.”

My captive audience listened.

“We only see a part of what God is doing right now, but God sees the whole picture.”

“Yeah, you’re right Mom,” my 7 year old said with wide eyes. She’s always keen to talk about spiritual things.

We went on with our day, but the puzzle is still on the table. It’s not quite finished yet. I’m learning when it comes to puzzling, the darkest pieces are the hardest to fit together.

In the middle of this pandemic-stricken world, I quickly forget that there is a bigger picture. I forget that God is still God, and we cannot see everything that He sees. I desperately need the reminder that I can trust Him, even when things seem like they could never, and possibly will never be a beautiful picture.

My small piece of the puzzle isn’t the final work of art.

Job 38:4 has been coming to mind recently:

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

The Lord’s words to Job are striking the depths of my heart in these trying days. As we head toward the darkness of Good Friday and the wonder of Easter Sunday, I am praying that I will remember the invitation from Isaiah 55:1-9 (NIV) —

“Come, all you who are thirsty,
    come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
    and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
    and you will delight in the richest of fare.
Give ear and come to me;
    listen, that you may live.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
    my faithful love promised to David.
See, I have made him a witness to the peoples,
    a ruler and commander of the peoples.
Surely you will summon nations you know not,
    and nations you do not know will come running to you,
because of the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel,
    for he has endowed you with splendor.”

Seek the Lord while he may be found;
    call on him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake their ways
    and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
    and to our God, for he will freely pardon.
“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.”

puzzle pieces

A piece of the puzzle (Thomas Kinkade/Wizard of Oz/Ceaco)

Made to Praise

It’s a simple song I learned when I was a child. I’ve sung it countless times as a lullaby to all my babies, and they each know it by heart.

Even my just-barely-two year old. He was singing it to himself in his sweet toddler-speak this morning as he played:

“I love you Lord, and I lift my voice
To worship you, oh my soul rejoice!
Take joy my King in what you hear
May it be a sweet sweet sound in your ear.”

He moved on to another familiar song:

“Jesus, Jesus how I trust Him
How I proved Him o’er and o’er
Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus
O, for grace to trust Him more.”

It does this mama heart so good to hear the sweet voices of her children lifting up the One who created them.

As that thought occurred to me, another followed closely behind: If I love to hear my children praise the Lord, how much more does our worship bring joy to God the Father’s heart?

Worship is not just song; it’s an entire life centred around Jesus Christ, loving as He loved and serving as He served. And praising Him, out loud and in our hearts, is an essential part of that well-spent life.

When things are going well, it’s easy to give Him praise. But when things are going poorly, it can feel nearly impossible to lift our voices, let alone our hands, to the Maker of heaven and earth.

God is sovereign. And He is all good. When we go through difficulties, it feels like He has forgotten us. But Isaiah talks about how God does not forget His people (Isaiah 49:15-16 NIV):

“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
    and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget,
    I will not forget you!
See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;
    your walls are ever before me.”

Holding God’s sovereignty and His goodness in tension is crucial, especially when our circumstances are beyond our control. And somehow, an audible declaration of praise serves as the reminder we desperately need!

We’re called to praise the Lord as long as we live. Psalm 146 (NIV) begins like this:

Praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord, my soul.
 
I will praise the Lord all my life;
    I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.

Put it on the mirror in the morning. Write it on a sticky note and snap a photo of it so it’s in your camera roll. “I WILL praise the Lord ALL my life; I WILL sing praise to my God as long as I live.” Choose it, no matter what happens in the day.

Why? Because of what it says in the rest of Psalm 146. The plain-as-day warning that follows always makes me sit up and take notice. No beating around the bush here, just a straightforward message to take to heart.

Do not put your trust in princes,
    in human beings, who cannot save.

When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
    on that very day their plans come to nothing.

What a stark image of the reality of human limitations. It pierces my heart! Where am I placing my trust, right now, today, in this moment? Is it in human beings? Am I hanging my hopes on likes and follows, or even opportunities for ministry? What about my job or side projects? Maybe it’s my husband or children. How about my church or my friends?

It’s enough to make me realize where I’ve begun to turn for validation and, essentially, salvation of some kind. And it’s enough to make me return to my first love, the One who loved me first (1 John 4:19 NIV – “We love because He first loved us”).

He is worthy, there is no question. Look at this beautiful picture of God that unfolds before us throughout the remainder of this Psalm.

Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
    whose hope is in the Lord their God.

He is the Maker of heaven and earth,
    the sea, and everything in them—
    he remains faithful forever.

He upholds the cause of the oppressed
    and gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets prisoners free,

    the Lord gives sight to the blind,
the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down,
    the Lord loves the righteous.

The Lord watches over the foreigner
    and sustains the fatherless and the widow,
    but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.

The Lord reigns forever,
    your God, O Zion, for all generations.

Praise the Lord.

God is the Maker of all. And because He is the Maker of all, He is the one who sustains all life! In Him, we find the justice, satisfaction, freedom, vision, encouragement, love, protection and provision that we will never find anywhere else.

We were – all of us – made to praise the Lord. We were made to bring Him glory. When we put our trust in Him, we can be confident that He is who He says He is, and He will do what He has promised to do.

So I’m choosing it today. I’m writing it on my heart.

I WILL praise the Lord ALL my life. I WILL sing praise to God as long as I live. Only He is worthy!

Morning skies

Late summer morning skies reveal His glory!

Lessons from a Blue Hydrangea

Sometimes the most ordinary things bring us to an extraordinary realization that moves our hearts.

Fresh Easter flowers have become a tradition for me. I usually opt for white tulips, Easter lilies or daffodils, but this year I was on the hunt for something else. I had noticed someone else’s gorgeous blue hydrangea in the spring sunshine one afternoon on the weekend before Easter and immediately I knew I wanted one for our table.

A few days before Easter, I brought one home, pulled off the plastic and set it in the centre of our old dining room table. It was huge. The blooms burst forth and my heart sang! But within two days, it looked tired and sad.

I tend to become an overenthusiastic plant parent, loving each and every plant I’ve ever had to death with my daily watering and pruning, so this time I decided to do a bit of reading up on how to care for a potted hydrangea.

Turns out, blue hydrangeas have a few demands: bright but not direct sunlight, warm but not too warm, and soil that’s not dried out.

On Maundy Thursday, Blue looked like she was about to give up the ghost. I was annoyed that Easter was yet to come and this plant was about to die before her big moment on the Easter dinner table! So I moved her to the back where the air was cooler and gave her a nice drink of water, just hoping she would survive until Good Friday.

She rallied.

It happened again on Saturday morning. So I repeated my remedy and she rallied again.

Easter dinner came and went and Blue brought the beauty of God’s amazing creation to our little home.

Here’s the thing I can’t get over – this blue hydrangea continually finds itself on the brink of death. I bring it to a cool place and give it a drink, and soon her blooms are full.

How many times have I felt parched and dry, wilting and waning, wondering how my heart will ever be revived again? And then, by the power of His Spirit through the truth of His Word I am reminded that Jesus is the Living Water!

Drink deep today, friends. Drink deep. Let the truth of God’s Word speak to your heart and be thirsty no more. Let Easter be more than just a story we hear in the springtime and quickly move on to home renovations and summer plans.

I need the bigger story that Easter promises. I need to know that when I go to Jesus, I can trust that He really is the Living Water my heart so desperately needs because He IS God and he has been raised to life again. The power of sin has been broken and death has been conquered.

1 Corinthians 15:55-57 (NIV) —

“Where, O death, is your victory?

    Where, O death, is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

In the words of my dad, “Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!”

Blue

Still looking great after a week in my care. Amazing.

Walking

“It was I who taught Ephraim to walk.”

The tender image of such a father leaped off the page into my heart. I happened to turn to Hosea 11 the other night and my eyes fell to the beginning of the chapter, where God is speaking to His people through the prophet.

It was I who taught Ephraim to walk.

I turned it over in my mind a few times, each time stirring up the precious memories of my own children taking their first steps.

The excitement of the days before they actually walked on their own, knowing they were getting closer and closer to a moment when their life would change forever in the best way.

The encouragement offered as they wobbled from one parent to the other, iron grip on a single finger, unwilling to let go until their feet were steady beneath them.

The patience for fall, after fall, after fall…

And now I understand a little bit more of who God is.

The Hosea passage goes on to talk about how even though God was the one fathering the nation of Israel, they turned away from him. My children are still small, still longing for the comfort of their parents and still hanging on the words we pour into them.

I haven’t known the pain of parenting a wayward child, but I know those who have.

I have witnessed their anguish over the shattering of a most treasured relationship. My heart has grieved and prayed with them as they wait on their knees for their precious one to return home.

All through the Word we see the story of a father’s heart, calling his wayward children back to himself; the very same father who taught his beloved children to walk only to have them turn away, even launching a campaign against him.

And yet, in His perfect love He forgives and restores, making a way for His cherished children to return to the place they truly belong, even though it is a costly way that leads through the death and resurrection of His only Son.

We forget, don’t we? We see God as this vending machine in the sky, or worse, we don’t think of Him at all. And yet, this stunning picture of God as a tender father awaits us in the middle of a book of the Bible that most of us have never looked at for more than a devotional verse here and there.

We are precious children. We were taught to walk by a loving Heavenly Father who has stopped at nothing to call us back home, to bring us out of our sleep and open our eyes to His powerful, life-giving, unending love.

“Come, let us return to the Lord.” Hosea 6:1a (NIV)

little feet stsn

Image: Irene Lasus

The New Year

Yesterday felt different.

Today feels the same.

Isn’t that the way it is with the New Year? January 1st is filled with hopeful plans and anticipation of what the year will behold.  January 2nd is a meeting of expectations and reality. And at times, they don’t match up.

But is that really so bad?

We’ve spent the past week and a half in the sweetest way – with family and friends, giving and receiving, eating and laughing, listening and sharing. In the middle of it all, the demands of regular life have not ceased.

Sharing amazing meals with guests means dirty dishes and tablecloths. Floors that need cleaning. Clothes that need washing.

Little kids playing together means big emotions and conflicts to sort out. Hearts that need tending. Cheeks that need kissing.

Work and play go hand in hand.

The other day, my five year old daughter had a moment in her otherwise great day that was particularly difficult. In her pain she cried out, “This is the worst day of my life! The whole day is the worst day ever!”

Amen. I have been there!

I sat with her and listened to her list of reasons why. Then I asked her if anything good had happened at all. She gave me one or two things she thought would qualify as “kinda good I guess”.

“Isn’t it interesting that there are good things and bad things right beside each other in a day?” I asked her. “That’s sometimes how it is. We have something really great mixed in with something really hard.”

BOOM. I chuckle when I think of it now, but it was a lightning bolt to my heart. I realized in that moment that I needed to hear those words more than she did.

2018 was a really tough year, although right along with it, we’ve seen amazing things and enjoyed many incredible moments. And even now, through this season marked with hope, peace, joy and love, we have been praying for three beautiful families in our life who each have a child facing a big battle with cancer, a friend who lost her mother right before Christmas and other relationships that are utterly broken, seemingly beyond repair.

These things do not leave us when the season changes and the calendar flips to a new month or a new year. But neither does the Lord.

Whatever we’ve been walking through, whatever is following us into the New Year, we know that we are not alone.

Isaiah 41:10 (NIV) –

“So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

Thank you Jesus! Amen.

first rose to bloom

Last year’s first rose to bloom

The Pie is Gone

It ain’t over ’til the pie’s all gone… and our pie is gone, bringing the end to another season of Three Weeks of Thanks.

I am enjoying the experiment I began a few years ago, to be more intentional over the Thanksgiving season in actually pausing to examine my heart instead of rushing through turkey and pie.

And yet, I have to be honest – this has been the most difficult year to “find my thankful heart” so to speak. Our family has had some things come up in the past twelve months that have given me cause to feel anything but thankful. I am learning, though, that I have a choice to worship anyway.

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” Colossians 3:1-4 (NIV)

When Christ, who is your life, appears.

Is He my life? Or am I staking my hopes on things that crumble like dust beneath their weight?

It’s not an easy shift to make, but even there we find grace.

The Colossians passage gives more insight on what it means to truly find our lives in Christ.

“Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

Colossians 3:5-17 (NIV)

My post-Thanksgiving prayer is simple: Lord, may I continually discover how to find my life in You every moment of this day!

pumpkin pie

A beautiful gift from a friend this Thanksgiving!

When Everything is Ashes

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
 and provide for those who grieve in Zion
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.
Isaiah 61:1-3 (NIV)

The smoke stings our eyes as we watch it burn to the ground — a dream, a goal, a relationship.

If you’ve ever hoped for anything in your life, you know exactly how it feels to be deeply disappointed when it fades away.

Our hearts cry, “Lord, do You see me? How can this be Your will?”

Elisabeth Eliot was a missionary, author and speaker who faced her share of ashes. Her first husband was murdered while they were on the mission field by the very people they had come to reach. She outlived both her second and third husbands. And in her golden years, she received a dementia diagnosis that signalled the end of her public ministry.

She once said, “Of one thing I am perfectly sure: God’s story never ends with ashes”.

Whatever looks hopeless today, we know God isn’t finished yet.

All over the Bible we catch glimpses of what is yet to come – the hope of life beyond what we can see, in the actual presence of the Lord. As we engage His Word, He shows us more of who He is, and we find ourselves caught up in His beauty. More than that, as we read we discover that we are deeply and unconditionally loved by the One who can do what no one else can do: raise the dead.

In the story of the death of Lazarus, Jesus shows up after Lazarus has passed away and is greeted by a sister who is in the throes of grief:

“Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”

Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

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?”

“Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”

John 11:21-27 (NIV)

In dark places, when we find ourselves surrounded by ashes, we can rise with the confident declaration that Jesus is who He says He is: the Resurrection and the Life. And when everything else tells us it’s hopeless, let us agree with Martha, and say, “Yes Lord, I believe!”

With the Lord, ashes are never the end.

A few verses later, we read:

“…Jesus called in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.

Jesus said to them, ‘Take off the grave clothes and let him go’. “

John 11:43-44 (NIV)

Only God can do that.

Whatever we think is broken beyond repair; whatever we look at and say, “well, that’s over forever” — it’s not the end. He is the Resurrection and the Life, and only He can raise what was once wrapped in strips of linen and buried behind a stone for days.

Only He can take what is utterly destroyed and make something infinitely more than we could ever have imagined, working now in our lives and ultimately for our eternal hope and future.

Let’s fix our eyes on Christ. Only He can give us beauty for ashes!

coals

Image: Pawel Kadysz

How Could He?

We sat on the soft couch in the early spring sunshine, huddled around a storybook Bible for kids.

“How could he?” she cried. Our five year old was hearing, really hearing for the first time, that God looked away from Jesus for a moment while He was on the cross.

“His own son! How could He look away from His own son?” Her bottom lip quivered and her brow sunk low. I could see tears forming behind her glasses. “Why, Mama, why did He do that?” She covered her face.

I put my arm around her. “It is very sad, isn’t it?” I said. I tried to explain how Jesus took our sin on Him, and that God couldn’t look at sin, so He had to look away. “But why did He do that?” she wailed.

She wasn’t asking for the theological explanation.

She was asking why it had to happen like this – why even the Father left Jesus utterly alone.

At our house, Easter always brings out the toughest questions about why Jesus had to die and how He could take away all of our sins. It’s this strange mix of egg hunts and execution, bunnies and burial cloths. And then, the great exhale of wonderful relief when we learn that Jesus, who was once dead, has come back to life again.

We live in this tension between Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

We suffer the fallen nature of the world and the effects of sin while we await the glorious fulfillment of His promise of eternal life.

In the between time, we work to stay faithful to Him and build His kingdom in a world with a kingdom of its own, the kind that shouts you are a dangerous fool if you believe in anything other than the tangible and material, if you stand for something other than yourself, if you entrust your life to Someone instead of your emotions and feelings.

“In this world you will have trouble – but take heart, I have overcome the world!” – Jesus (John 16)

Jesus, as we remember Your sacrifice and victory this Easter weekend, let us be strengthened by the Holy Spirit to worship You in the face of doubt and questions. Let those questions and struggles remind us that while we don’t know everything, You do. And that is precisely why we bow in worship -You are God, Your love is unchanging, and You will never forsake us.

Jesus Storybook Bible

Image: “The Jesus Storybook Bible”, Sally Lloyd-Jones/Jago

Because He is Good

Today I’m sharing a quick thought on Psalm 100 – a psalm written for giving thanks. 

***

“Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth.
Worship the LORD with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs.

Know that the LORD is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.

For the LORD is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations.”

Psalm 100 (NIV)

 

If you’ve had a tough week, you may have to choose to shout for joy to the Lord. This psalm is full of not just suggestions – but commands to praise the Lord and give Him thanks, and a call to understand that the Lord is GOD, and we belong to Him. For me, the final verse is the kicker – why should we praise Him? Simply because the Lord is good, and His love endures forever, and His faithfulness continues through all generations. Today, in this moment, that is enough for me.

piano2

My piano

 

Love One Another

With Valentine’s Day behind us and Lent right in front of us, I was thinking about these verses from John 13 this morning.

***

 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

John 13:34-35 (NIV)

If you read John 13, you see that these two verses come between Jesus foretelling His betrayal by one of His inner circle and His public denial by a dear friend. At the beginning of the chapter, He washes all of the disciples’ feet, even the ones who would betray and deny Him just a short time later.

We sometimes wonder what it looks like to love as Jesus loves. It’s easy when we think people are worthy! But what about those in our lives who cause deep wounds that last? Can we love even these? Jesus’ love looks like sacrifice. It looks like something so irrational and extravagant. It is love lavished on the undeserving, love that goes beyond any expectation, love that feels excessive.

The extent to which we can accept this kind of love is the extent to which we can pour ourselves out for those God puts in our lives.

When Jesus gave this instruction, He knew He was asking us to do the impossible. That’s why I’m praying today – Lord Jesus, help me receive Your amazing love in my life! And teach me how to love like You do. Show me what that looks like at this very moment, with the people around me.

beatnikphotosheartflickr

Image: “Hearts”, Beatnik Photos, Flickr