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.

Sunrise, Sunset

2020 is the year of doing things differently.

October surprised us with a short stretch of extremely cold weather, then warmed up nicely just in time for Halloween. This year’s fall time change ushered in the warmest start to November ever.

I can’t remember the last time we were able to wear t-shirts and bare feet on the grass this late in the year. I even snapped a photo for those January days when I’ll wonder if we’ll ever see the grass again, let alone go barefoot in it. Balmy temperatures have ushered in the most breathtaking sunrises and sunsets with blazing sky-flames of rose-gold twice a day. These are the moments you call everyone to the front window for. The ones you try to capture in a photo, the kind we text and share. With a quick tap-tap-tap of our mobile phones, we invite each other into these brief but stunning things, sharing in a gift of extraordinary beauty in an otherwise ordinary moment. 

I’m so thankful the Lord knows exactly what we need. Since this is not the year any of us expected (or probably wanted, for that matter), we’re learning to let go of what was and embrace the amazing moments amid the mess.

This has been the year of the home-cooked dinner, the quiet holiday, the simple gift of breath in our lungs for as long as we’re allowed. The year of projects that may never have otherwise gotten done. The year of staying home and exploring our own backyards. The year of learning to live with discomfort and inconvenience. The year of slowing down. And hasn’t it been good for us? Last week our kids finished their work on a 5-generation family tree that shows the faces of all the people whose lives had to intertwine for our family to exist. It’s on the wall in our living room and every day I get to look at the faces of each one. I sometimes find myself thinking about the challenges they faced when they were my age. I wonder what they were like and if we would have been friends. Another gift of beauty – that these connections made my current life possible.

And yet, mingled with gratitude there is always grief for the things we’ve lost. The things we can’t get back. The things we wish were not, but are.

Today, my heart is aching as I think about my only living grandfather and his very recent cancer diagnosis. How I wish I could hop on a plane to sit around their kitchen table once again, the music of my family’s easy laughter ringing in my heart. I haven’t gotten back home very often in the past 13 years, but when I have, I always knew I had a place at their table.

Sunrise, sunset. Life is short. What are you holding onto? What are you placing your hope in? What do you run to when everything is different and disorienting? When loss washes over you in wave after enormous wave?

When many disciples deserted Jesus, He asked the rest of the twelve if they wanted to leave too. John 6:68-69 has always been a source of comfort to me: “Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”

As we move into a holiday season that will likely be very different from ones in the past, let’s hold on to the One who has the words of eternal life. The Holy One of God does not leave us in our darkest moments.

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted

    and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18)

(PS – Grandpa, I love you. I wish I could visit. I am praying for the Lord’s comfort to surround you today, and that you would find that He is your joy, now more than ever.)

Early November Sunset

Do Not Be Anxious

We may have experienced the final true blast of summer heat this week and boy was it sweaty. Determined not to complain my way through the short few days of intense temperatures, I decided to pretend we were on a tropical vacation. We ate ice cream for lunch and takeout on the deck, avoided our chores, spent early mornings at the park and had a huge water fight in the back yard.

Belly laughs are good for the soul.

A few weeks ago we took a little day trip into the foothills of the Rockies and found a little green-blue pond nestled among trees. As we were exploring the area, we discovered a dry riverbed with a gentle rolling river, shallow enough at the edge to dip our toes in the cold water. It was so cold we could only stand it for a few seconds! But the breathtaking beauty all around me filled my heart with joy.

I treasure these summer memories, knowing they’ll ground me when the weather turns cold and physical distancing guidelines prevent us from gathering with our people indoors.

August is always bittersweet. Summer is winding down but September holds new beginnings with amazing possibilities. We’re setting new goals and launching ourselves into unfamiliar and exciting things.  At the beginning of every school year, I always have a sense of dread for the cold and flu season I know is just around the corner. I’m terrible with worst-case scenario thinking! This year, though, I’m dealing with the added anxiety that the sniffles might be more than just the sniffles.

The pandemic.

The very thing we hoped would be long over and done with is still with us in a very present way.

For families with young children, we know that September to March is pretty much just runny noses, fevers, coughs and the occasional GI bug thrown in. If you can get through with more healthy weeks than sick ones, it’s cause for celebration!

In 2020, we have the “extreme heat warning” version of dealing with childhood illness: constant temperature and symptom monitoring and covid testing for kids who don’t even want their noses wiped, let alone their throat swabbed with a giant q-tip.

Jesus, be with me in this season! It’s hard to pretend this isn’t a big deal. And it’s even harder not to give into the anxiety it brings. Perhaps that’s why Philippians 4:6-7 (NIV) has been returning to my mind over and over this week:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

I am so thankful for God’s Word! I lingered in Psalm 36:5-9 this week:

Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens,
    your faithfulness to the skies.
Your righteousness is like the highest mountains,
    your justice like the great deep.
    You, Lord, preserve both people and animals.
How priceless is your unfailing love, O God!
    People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house;
    you give them drink from your river of delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
    in your light we see light.

In this suffocating heat of pandemic protocol and current events, we long to dip our toes in a cool mountain stream, to remember that there is more to life than anxiety and fear. Let’s quench our intense thirst for truth and hope in the Fountain of Life! Only in His light can we see light!

Lord Jesus, You are King of Kings and Lord of Lords. May we live today with that truth alive in our hearts and find our peace in You!

Cold mountain stream

I Yuv You!

Fractured and shortened sleep often leaves me in a sour mood.

We had a good run for a while there, but we’re back to one or two of our four young children waking up at night for random reasons. Sigh. In spite of my reduced energy level this week, I’ve worked at my various tasks faithfully, making sure everything that needed to be done was done on time and with care.

I’m finding, though, that if left unattended, the coals of resentment will burn long and low. All week I’ve been asking the Lord to help me to love my family the way Jesus has loved me – sacrificially and extravagantly.

It’s tough to do. I don’t want my golden years to be defined by the bitterness of a personal ledger filled with names and ways I’ve been wounded. I want my life to be characterized by selfless love. But if I can be completely honest here, it takes work not to let that resentment build and the roots of bitterness to take hold.

My prayer has often simply been, “Lord, help me to love my family the way You have loved me.”

This morning I was in the kitchen with my back turned to the table. I had just set down cups of milk for the kids and was returning to put the jug away.

Within a few seconds, my four year old announced, “Mama there’s a spill!”

I spun around quickly to see her entire cup of milk tipped over, the rich white liquid running onto her chair and the floor below.

My heart sank.

“Oh!” I replied, springing into action with a few cloths from the drawer. As I knelt down on all fours and began to mop up the spill, I felt frustrated. It’s not just one thing – it’s all the things. All the little things I do every day that no one ever says thank you for…

My internal rant was interrupted by an unprompted announcement from my almost 2 year old son.

“I yuv you!”

It stopped me in my tracks. Did I hear him correctly?

He shouted again, “I yuv you!”

When I realized what he was trying to say, I laughed and replied, “I love you too!”

He said it over and over again. “I yuv you! I yuv you!”

With each time, I felt a little lighter. His adorable voice was a soothing balm to a heart scorched by resentful thoughts.

Something so small and seemingly coincidental – an expression of love from my youngest child who is just learning to speak – was the work of the Lord in my life today. In that moment, a gentle reminder that Jesus loves me, He sees me, He knows me.

When I feel forgotten, He is the One who remembers His children. When I feel unappreciated, He is the One who whispers His love in a thousand ways. When I feel exhausted at the thought of getting down on my knees to soak up one more spill, He is the One who knelt down to wash the feet of those who would later deny and betray and abandon Him.

Lord, let Your great love never be lost on me. Let it transform me from the inside out, so that I can love freely and fully, even in the smallest acts of service again and again and again.

walking

Taking a walk

The Choice to Rejoice

This is the first in a weekly series called “Three Weeks of Thanks”. Join the conversation at #3WeeksofThanks.

***

Last night I was wracked with anxiety over nothing in particular and everything all at once.

The pressure of the first two weeks of September were mounting and my release valve was stuck. It had been too long since I stopped to take a deep breath of the Word. I had short quick moments of encouragement from the Bible, but I needed more.

I needed to really sit in the quiet of the late evening and let it wash over me.

When I was a kid Scripture memory was a great way to win cool prizes so I went all in with it. I realize now that it was one of the best gifts my Sunday School and camp experiences have ever given me, because all these years later, the very same verses will pop into my mind exactly when I need them the most.

Everyone else was asleep. I was awake, reading two words that are difficult for me right now:  “Rejoice always” (1 Thessalonians 5:16).

A friend just received some tough news about her daughter.

Another friend lost her dad a few weeks ago.

The world feels scary and unpredictable. Farmers struggle through difficult seasons of bad weather and poor crops, wildfires rage, hurricanes bring catastrophic flooding, good people face unemployment in a tough economy and we’re never short of bad news from around the world.

How can we possibly “rejoice always” when this is the reality we live in?

I know I can’t just muster it up by the power of positive thinking, no matter how hard I try.

There has to be more.

I certainly don’t have the answers to the why and how of the darkest valleys we face. But as a person who puts my faith in Jesus, I am called to rejoice always not because of my circumstances but in spite of them. I rejoice in what Jesus has done when he died on the cross and rose again from the grave. His death conquered sin and his resurrection overcame the grave. Because of Jesus, we have an eternal hope that can never perish, spoil or fade (1 Peter 1:3).

“Rejoice always” isn’t a chore we grit our teeth through when the going gets tough.

It’s not a pep talk when the world is falling apart around us.

It’s a choice we make to trust that God’s word is true and unfailing – and the Word made Flesh, Jesus, makes a difference in our lives right now. He is the reason we choose to rejoice always.

Amen. This week I’m going all in with that.

1 Peter 1:3-9 (NIV) —

“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.”

September sky

One September morning this sunrise was outside my window.

Finding My Thankful Heart

In about three weeks, we’ll celebrate Thanksgiving.

Already.

Every year it’s the same: September’s whirlwind of details unfolds day by day with little time to catch my breath and before I know it here comes Thanksgiving with its call to pause in the middle of it all and give thanks to the One who deserves everything.

About six years ago, I had an idea to take Thanksgiving from one of those holidays that sneaks up on me every year to something more reflective and intentional, and so, Three Weeks of Thanks was born. I’m a Canadian prairie girl and my husband is both American and Canadian, so we have the benefit of celebrating two Thanksgivings every year, but it’s the first one that comes on so fast!

Every September as I start to mull over what Three Weeks of Thanks will be this year, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 comes to mind:

Rejoice always.

Pray continually.

Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

When life is moving so quickly and all the little details are unceasing, it’s easy to just let Thanksgiving be turkey and stuffing and family or friends you haven’t seen in a while. But it’s so much more than that.

For the past five years I’ve done a few small things to make Thanksgiving a season in our home. The kids have already asked about our “Thanksgiving Tree” – a sheet of burlap that hangs against the wall with construction paper leaves that say what we’re thankful for this year. We hang the leaves of years past so we can see God’s faithfulness to our family and each person can remember where we’ve come from. My home decorating skills are minimal so pretty it ain’t, but we choose to focus on what it means to be thankful, even when we aren’t feeling it, and learning how to turn our hearts toward God in all things.

In the middle of life with a capital L and all it entails, stretching out the Thanksgiving season is an opportunity to find my thankful heart again and turn my eyes from my circumstances back to the Lord.

Look for my weekly blog series “Three Weeks of Thanks” starting Monday, and use #3WeeksofThanks to join the conversation.

fall flowers

The September sun fell so beautifully on these fall flowers in my dining room.

Why We Need Wisdom

You have permission to say “No”.

You have permission to say “Yes”.

But only you can make that decision.

When you’re a capable, can-do woman, typically you’re not lacking in opportunity to get involved in a variety of different things.

And when you’re a capable, can-do woman, sometimes you fall for the lie that you only matter because you’re involved in a variety of different things.

When I was starting my radio career as a young adult, I got the fantastic opportunity to host a morning show in a medium market Canadian city. I knew it meant waking up before dawn to plan and prepare a show day after day for our listeners. And I knew it meant giving up my evenings so I could go to bed early to have the energy to do a great show every day.

That in itself is a big job. But when I arrived on the scene, I realized there was no promotions department. So I pioneered one with no budget.

At first, I was thriving! I loved the challenge of hosting the show, creating promotions and going to events. I loved meeting new people and building connections. But slowly, over time, the schedule took its toll on me.

Early morning wake-ups coupled with 60 hour work weeks left me weary. I mistakenly believed I was irreplaceable and suffered dearly for it. My mood took a downward turn, my outlook on life became dark and my heart was very sad.

One day, out of sheer exhaustion, I handed in my resignation. To my surprise, instead of accepting it the station manager asked me to take a week off to think about my decision and get some rest.

I traveled to another city for some recuperation with family, but on the drive home I couldn’t stop crying. I loved my job, but my job wasn’t loving me back. And I was terrified at the thought of returning to the same exhausting life I had built for myself.

It wasn’t long before the resignation was back on the manager’s desk.

About a month later, I quit the job for real and spent the summer at my parents’ farm. Being the young, independent woman that I was, returning home wasn’t an easy pill to swallow.

Thankfully, summers on the farm were my favourite especially because of the wild storms, and one storm in particular made a big impact on me.

I remember sleeping on the couch one night as this one blew through. The lightning and thunder were non-stop; the wind drove the rain against the house with such force that I thought the windows would break. I could hear the huge tree branches creaking. Would they survive? Wide awake until the ear-splitting thunder became a few rumbles in the distance, I watched as the lightning continued long after. My eyes were fixed on the windows, looking for the next flash. I must have fallen asleep, because the next thing I saw was the light of the rising sun.

I went outside to survey the damage. The ground was littered with leaves and branches and the crops were flat in places. Even the sturdiest tree looked worse for wear.

Thinking about it now, I can see how my own experience with overcommitment was much like that wicked summer storm, leaving a trail of damage in its wake. It took a long time before I was even willing to entertain the idea of returning to the airwaves, and an even longer time before I was ready to.

Burnout is a tough lesson in learning to say “no” to finding my identity in anything but Jesus.

This fall, as the opportunities come your way, weigh each one against your priorities and give yourself the gift of saying no to anything that does not fit inside the limits of the season God has placed you in.

The best part? He will give you the wisdom you need when you ask for it.

DuncanMaloneyLightning

Image: Duncan Maloney

Discovering

Discovering…

…His secure presence in moments of absolute uncertainty.

…His wisdom when I simply cannot see the next step.

…His love when I feel utterly overlooked.

…His joy when my circumstances are overwhelming.

…His power when my needs are great.

…Him when I come to the end of me.

ocean forever

True Thanksgiving

“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NIV)

There are toys strewn about the living room. The dishes are piled, the lawn needs mowing and the laundry hamper seems bottomless.

Life is very full and rarely goes the way we plan. It’s easy to find myself muttering under my breath as I go from room to room, putting things back in their place and making mental notes of what needs to go on the grocery list this week.

In this busy season of family and work, it’s often a struggle to find the time to process life, let alone allow my heart to move into that place where I realize that no matter what is going on around me, I can rest in Jesus.

More often than not I am “giving thanks in all circumstances” because my circumstances are manageable or better than someone else’s. But that’s more of a “feeling relieved in all circumstances”.

The truth is simply this: I can give thanks in all circumstances because no matter what those circumstances are, the One I give thanks to is who He says He is, He will do what He says He will do, and He can be trusted.

Wow.  Want to turn your worries into worship?

Give thanks.

Even if you aren’t quite there yet.

Even if the problem isn’t actually solved at the moment.

Even if you really can’t see the tidy ending, or there isn’t or won’t be one.

Give thanks.  In ALL circumstances.  Because the ONE you thank is so much more than ANY circumstance.

Thank Him that He never changes, like shifting shadows. Thank Him that He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. Thank Him that His grace is sufficient for you and that His power is made perfect in weakness.

Thank Him that He is good and His love endures forever.

forest through trees

Image: Ricardo Gomez Angel

And then, Spring

It’s the strangest, most wonderful, yet most ordinary thing.

A couple of weeks ago, all the trees in our neighbourhood were bare twigs reaching up to the bright blue sky, sunlight streaming through, casting their thin shadows on the ground.

Then, one day last week we were going about our daily routine when suddenly one of the kids noticed a hint of green on some of those very same trees.

“Mama! Look! The leaves are coming!” she shouted with glee.

So they were. And then I remembered that after winter comes spring, every single year, no matter how long and cold it is. This year’s winter felt like it would never end, but here we are – bees are buzzing, flowers are blooming, trees are bursting with leaves. The sun has warmed the earth, waking what was asleep and breathing new life into what was dead.

There’s just so much in that, isn’t there? We all have places in our lives that appear to be long gone, where the cold rushed in and left an icy stillness in its wake. Sometimes those areas sit in frigid silence for what feels like forever.

But then, the air shifts, the season changes and we begin to feel the gradual, steady warmth of the Holy Spirit stirring in us, breathing new life into our hearts, astounding us with the beauty of growth and newfound strength.

Isn’t the love of Jesus something wonderful? We’re resting in Him as He does something new in our hearts today.

rose bush

My rose bush coming alive again.