Advent 2021

The First Sunday of Advent is nearly upon us. 

Although I didn’t grow up with this tradition, I’ve embraced it in adulthood and it has become one of my favourite ways to prepare my heart for the celebration of Christmas, sharpening my focus on Christ in a season that leans toward a frantic pace. I love it all — trimming the tree, carols and treats, Christmas lights in our PJs, TV specials and movies, presents and laughter — but I need the quiet longing of Advent to anchor my hope in the One who embodies it, bring the peace that passes all understanding, fill my heart with unshakeable joy, wrap me up in unconditional love.

Nearly ten years ago I created a feature for my radio show called “Advent in Action”, with small ways to bring the themes of Advent to life in my ordinary day, keep Christ at the centre and share hope, peace, joy and love. As I revisit that list this week, I’m reading this passage from John 1:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

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 testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’”) Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.

John 1:1-18 (NIV)

May this Advent season stir up a genuine longing for Jesus, the Light of the World.

Advent in Action

A Handful of Diamonds

A warm, sunny, windy afternoon in November calls for some fresh air.

We stood at the bottom of a huge nearby hill, chatting with another mom while my 4 year old played happily in the sticks and grass. Suddenly he ran up to me with his hand extended.

“Here mom,” he said.

“Hmm?” I asked and distractedly stuck out my hand.

“Here, take this,” he urged.

He clearly had something to give me so I turned my face just in time to see him pour a small mound of dirt into my palm, then run back to his playing.

“What’s this?” I called after him.

“A prize!” he called. “For you!”

Oh my heart! I looked at the dry earth in my cupped hand, half-tempted to pour it into my pocket and keep it forever. But it wasn’t the dirt I wanted to keep; it was the moment itself. It was the image of a small boy, happy, creative and carefree, filling his mom’s hand with soft, grainy, dusty, grey dirt.

A handful of diamonds to me.

I slowly let the dirt slip through my fingers and blow away in the strong wind, planting the moment deep into my heart alongside the people and places and things immortalized there, although they may no longer occupy space on this earth. 

Wandering through that space, I can pick out the memories that have been redeemed, the ones that are still in process, and the ones that have become pure joy for me. I can see the beauty of God’s healing work in my life and the gift of His grace through people and places and things. It’s a museum of His faithfulness in my life and I am amazed. There is space for more, and for that I am grateful.

Praise the Lord that He is weaving the fabric of our lives through people and places and things! Nothing is wasted. Each moment we experience brings us the gift of memories that teach us, mold us, heal us, help us, shape us. They are the lingering gifts of His grace.

One day, Lord-willing, in my old age, I will wander through the vibrant rooms of my life and gather what’s left to share with those around me. I am praying that they are a reflection of God’s goodness and faithfulness in my life — true treasures.

Even to your old age and gray hairs
    I am he, I am he who will sustain you.
I have made you and I will carry you;
    I will sustain you and I will rescue you.

Isaiah 46:4 (NIV)

A glimpse of the big hill

Morning Light

Golden October, when the weeping birch leaves whirl to the ground in a fiery yellow dance. Their ragged edges make them stand out among the rest of the round-edged, decaying leaves of the other trees of the neighborhood. They are one of the last to say goodbye to fall and embrace the cold to come. 

Everyone is ready now for the snow to fly.

Last night I looked out the window and couldn’t see across the street. Never late. That first impressive snowfall of the season usually blows through sometime in October. It won’t stay, not this early, but we’ll take it anyway, even if the kids need snowsuits under their Halloween costumes.

The morning after a snowfall has a quiet, icy beauty like no other. The temperature plummets in the clear, cold air and as the sun dawns on the world, the edge of the western sky is painted in a pastel pink and purple hue. The sun rises late this week but in a few days we’ll turn our clocks back and have our morning light again, although it comes with late afternoon darkness. Always a jarring reality to contend with but I’d rather have the morning light.

And morning light always comes. The simple rhythm of the day is soothing in the midst of changing seasons. Regardless of what it may hold I know that morning light dawns again tomorrow, a whisper of God’s grace each day. There’s not a day that goes by that the sun doesn’t rise. God’s loving care is woven into the very creation of day and night. His grace is closer than we imagine. And when put our faith in Jesus and open up His Word, we experience an even greater hope than creation alone can inspire.

1 Peter 5:6-11 has my attention today: 

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.

Humble ourselves. Cast all our anxiety on Him. Resist the enemy and stand firm in the faith. The God of all grace will restore us and make us strong.

This from the Apostle Peter, a person who walked with Jesus every day. He saw His miracles, watched Him die and rise again, experienced His restoration and forgiveness, and obeyed Him in breaking tradition to visit, eat with and baptize the first Gentile Christians. According to church history, Peter was martyred during the Nero’s persecution of Christians in Rome.

Whatever you are facing today, you are never alone when you are in Christ. He is the Bright Morning Star (Revelation 22:16).

To Him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.

Image: Stocksnap

The Skies Proclaim

This fall has been remarkably pleasant, with many beautiful days for hikes and walks through colourful hillsides and parks. Snow flurries made their annual Thanksgiving weekend appearance though, serving as a reminder that winter has not forgotten us. As surely as the squirrels hide peanuts in my planters, cold weather is on its way. Seems like every year the second weekend in October is a turning point where we go from brilliant warm fall sunshine to “the north wind doth blow and we shall have snow”.

As an extra rare Thanksgiving treat this year, even city-dwellers caught a brilliant display of the northern lights. The light pollution here makes it difficult to see much of anything, but over the weekend, what a show! For some, it was their first glimpse of aurora borealis in all their majesty. Growing up in the country, they frequently danced across the winter sky and let me tell you, it never got old. My memory clicks back to a scene: sitting bundled up in lawn chairs with our chins tipped to the sky, watching brushstrokes of green shimmer and sway across the deep blue night filled with diamond constellations. Quiet. Calm. Magnificent. My mind took a snapshot that stays with me even now that those days are long gone.

The heavens declare the glory of God;
    the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
    night after night they reveal knowledge. 
They have no speech, they use no words;
    no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
    their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.
    It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
    like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
It rises at one end of the heavens
    and makes its circuit to the other;
    nothing is deprived of its warmth. (Psalm 19:1-6 NIV)

Remarkable how every eye can see the glory of the Lord on display on a night like this. Scientific explanations only deepen my awe of His design. His fingerprints are everywhere.

Last night as I was trying to sleep, I felt the weight of time slipping away. It happens on occasion, where I’m lifted out of the current state of day-to-day affairs to see the larger picture of life, like a sudden display of aurora borealis in the night sky. Look up! it says. And see the glory of the Lord!

I’m always alarmed by how short our time here actually is. My musings must have been prompted by an old movie we watched recently with our gaggle of kids about a man whose daughters break tradition as they grow up and start their own lives. As I watched the story unfold before me, the heavy realization that one day my own children would move on from this place into their own seasons of bittersweet beauty had me feeling some feelings. Kids are likely to do things much differently than their parents and it’s naive to think we’ll be spared of the growing pains coming our way. It’s also quite tempting to imagine that the best of life is behind us now that our kids are basically through the baby and preschooler years when things are simpler (albeit exhausting) and they’re all just so darn cute! But I’m catching glimpses of what’s to come as I watch friends bless their grown kiddos and send them off into the world, and let me tell you, it’s stunning!

These friends are my northern lights, my glimpses of beauty in the unknown, my beacons of hope, yet another fingerprint of the Lord’s gracious hands. They remind me that no matter what life brings our way, God goes before us and walks with us through it all. So today I’m tipping my chin to the sky and drinking in the truth: “For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.” (Psalm 100:5)

And then, back into the ups and downs of the day-to-day. As I turn my eyes back to what’s right in front of me, Lord, let me soak in the daily hugs from You — snuggles, laughter, moments of insight and the works of Your hands, right here in our home.

Image: Stocksnap

Three Weeks of Thanks

I stand over the bubbling pot, slowly stirring as September sun streams in the window. The golden yellow tree across the street is at the pinnacle of its glorious but short-lived annual fall display. It takes about a week, but what a week! Just days after full fall colour fills its branches in a final majestic salute to the summer, its leaves are shrivelled and crunchy, fluttering through the air on the stiff autumn breeze. Thin, smooth branches reach up to the crisp blue sky signalling the end of its hard work for this year. Before long, it will rest under the heavy blanket of winter and awaken again with the thaw, ready to repeat its rhythm with enthusiasm.

Today we take the short hike up the big hill to stand on the top and see the brilliant brushstrokes across the landscape. The palette is ever-changing emerald to gold, ruby, burgundy, fire, copper and every shade of nature. The kids sit under the poplars and sketch the bark and branches full of brilliant leaves preparing to let go for another season.

I’m learning a lesson from the trees this year: there is beauty in letting go.

Have you ever seen a tree that holds onto last year’s leaves? Every single one is eventually replaced by the new growth of spring. The resplendence of fall reveals this season’s work, not last season’s decomposition. But last season’s decomposition played a part. The leaves that fall this year will feed the ground for next year’s growth.

Remarkable. Every process of nature reveal the glory of God and His wisdom, a living book to read and learn from.

Instead of just filling up on turkey and pie on the second weekend of October and moving on with our lives, I wanted to create an intentional season of thanksgiving in our home. Years ago when we began this tradition, I had no idea just how much it would challenge and shape my experience during what tends to be a whirlwind of a season.

It has become my annual reminder to cultivate a heart of thanksgiving regardless of circumstances. If I wait until everything is going smoothly, I fear I will be waiting a very long time. Our family’s rhythm has quickened from the wide open schedule of the summer to the more structured pace of the fall, adjusting to a new school year, facing cold and flu season, handing regular life demands. And this year again, more pandemic challenges. Throw politics in the mix and it’s explosive. Thanksgiving falls at a less-than-ideal time of the year.

And yet, we must pause. Perhaps it actually is the best time. We need to stop in the middle of the crazy and give God the glory. To remind ourselves of His faithfulness from generation to generation. To discover the beauty of His goodness in even the smallest blessing and the greatest challenge. To acknowledge that our perspective is limited but His wisdom knows no bounds. To accept what comes from His hand as His mercy and goodness and find ourselves quieted by His love in all circumstances.

We will let go of what has been and embrace the season we are in, preparing our hearts for the days to come. We will let the leaves of last season work to fertilize the growth of the next. We will choose to give thanks to the Lord, for He is good. His love endures forever. 

The familiar refrain of the Psalms invites us to send our roots down deep into Him and remember the truth of who He is,

even when…

even if…

even now.

“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.” Psalm 118:1 (NIV)

The brilliant tree across the street.

The End of Summer

The end of summer has me feeling all the feelings. 

After a tough year, these past two months have been a breath of clean, cool, mountain air and I am sad to say goodbye. And yet, the excitement of a new month, a new school year and a new season fills my heart! I don’t want rest to become a casualty of the drive to achieve. As we’ve intentionally created space for rejuvenation over the summer, I’ve seen how it’s a key piece for me to be able to love the Lord with all my heart, soul and mind, and to love my neighbour (including my family) as myself (Matthew 22).

When I came across James 1:19-21 last week, the words jumped off the page:

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

I’m what some would call passionate, which is just another way of saying I have a short fuse. Frustration surges through me when things aren’t working well or when something unexpected stands in the way of my plans. My patience gets a real workout most days.

Lord have mercy! In fact, this very week has been full of ample opportunity to heed the Lord’s instructions. Never imagine I write these things here because I’ve perfected them in my own life! I write to remind myself of the things I need to hear. And with the hope that one day my own children, when they are grown and flown, will discover these words and understand the heart of the mom who loves them so deeply.

What does this call to a patient response actually look like in my life as we enter into a busier season for our family? With more demands, kids in different ages and stages, daily responsibilities and unexpected issues, I’m learning that a posture of rest is the best place to start. Full disclosure — this week I didn’t rest as I should have. I didn’t listen to the Word in this area. And guess what happened? The opposite of being quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. Moments of asking forgiveness and starting over. Rebuilding what was broken by a careless word. Exhaustion is not your friend! It makes it nearly impossible to actually respond instead of react to life as it bubbles up around you.

If I want to be quick to listen, I have to actually slow down long enough to hear what is being said. If I want to be slow to speak, I need to give myself the time it takes to think through my response instead of blurting out the first thing that comes to my mind. If I want to be slow to become angry, I must take a moment to weigh my response in light of what it means to love the Lord with all my heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love my neighbour as myself.

I can press pause in a world that measures worth by progress, take a step back when I want to rush forward and carefully respond instead of react. These things take time, the very thing we’re told is in short supply and we need to maximize for success. What fools we have been, to buy the lie that success must come at the expense of rest! To wear the badge of busyness while our souls wither and our relationships slowly crumble.

What does success actually look like?

Perhaps it looks less like a schedule bursting at the seams and a pile of finished projects a mile high, and more like a life deeply rooted in Christ, with relationships built by the painstaking work of listening, patiently responding, and practicing self-control.

Lord, give me the wisdom to listen well, to measure my words and to respond with love today!

Image: Free Nature Stock/Stocksnap

Yes and No

“Every yes is a no to something else.”

I don’t know exactly who said it first, but it’s the kind of thing you see in articles on productivity and time management and it’s giving me something to think about.

After more than a year of pausing and waiting, it’s temping to jump back onto the hamster wheel of busyness and do all the things! And yet the lessons I’ve learned about capacity, time and priorities are helping me to pause and count the cost of my yes with some important questions:

  • What has the Lord put in front of me right now to invest my time and energy into?
  • What do I need to say yes to this season? In this day? This moment?

Last night I said yes to a short break in the middle of my evening to-dos and and no to an early bedtime. This morning we said yes to rest and creative play and no to a nature hike. Tomorrow’s plans may be a yes to adventure and a no to home projects that need to get done. Sometimes the no’s are difficult ones, but I am trusting that these are simply a yes to something else that the Lord is unfolding in my life and the life of our family at that moment.

As our daily rhythms intertwine with the unexpected and the upcoming fall season takes shape, I’m praying for wisdom to choose well. I’m so thankful that Jesus knows me better than I know myself and that I can trust Him to work in and through each season and each day! 

May the lessons we’ve learned from the past year and a half mark our future decisions. We don’t have to run ourselves ragged! The badge of busyness can quickly turn into chains. Praise the Lord that we have permission to pause and consider just what we are saying yes to, and what the implications are. If these choices feel big, that’s because in some senses, they are. Life is made up of a series of little moments that shape the bigger moments we experience. Isn’t God so gracious? He is walking with us through it all. We need His wisdom to learn how to make the most of the time He has given us and the courage to live for His glory.

James 1:5 (NIV) — 

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.

Image: Artsy Crafty/Stocksnap

Berry Watch

We’re on “Berry Watch” this week.

Last year we had only a handful in total, but after thinning out the oldest branches early in the season, our single bush seems to have survived the relentless heat and is bursting forth with berries. We’ve been checking back morning and evening to see which ones have ripened enough for picking and eating. I’ve taught the kids which to take and which to leave a little longer as we work together to fill a small container, give it a rinse and enjoy.

Each year without fail, whether a little or a lot, this bush bears fruit. Mid-July comes along and we get to see how much will actually be harvested, and how much will be enjoyed by the birds that call our neighbourhood home. Some years we end up with enough to make a little jam, but most years it’s just enough for a taste.

Our little apple tree, on the other hand, hasn’t been so faithful a fruit-bearer but we haven’t quite been ready to give up on it. It came to us second-hand, wind-whipped, then heavy-laden with an unexpected snowfall just three days after being planted in the yard. I pruned that one a little too much one year and it has taken nearly four years of patient watering and feeding but, with great joy, we have counted a dozen or more little apples on its branches ripening in the sunshine. I’ve marvelled more than once this year at its resilience, carefully watching to be sure the birds haven’t helped themselves to the precious few that cling to its branches.

One had a great start, planted young in good soil and watched over all along. The other was a transplant, overcoming imperfect conditions and care to bring forth fruit in its season.

I can’t imagine a greater picture of God’s loving care for each one of us as we remain in Him. And I’m amazed that it’s right in my own back yard!

Makes me think of Jesus’ words in John 15:1-8 (NIV) —   

“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. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”

Regardless of how you got your start, stay faithful to Jesus and let Him bear His fruit in your life!

Coming along nicely

The Gift of a Regular Day

Lord, help me to live this day by the truth of Your Word, not by how I feel right now!

This was my bleary-eyed, early morning prayer after I was jolted out of bed, not by the happy singsong greetings of a shiny-eyed, cherub-cheeked preschooler but by the angry edicts of a grumpy, pint-sized dictator. I did not feel particularly ready to greet the day in that moment. In fact, you could say I was on the verge of an internal temper tantrum of my own. My irritability revealed to me that perhaps I too need more sleep after last week’s intense heat wave and rather quick pace. The rain and cooler temperatures have ushered in better sleeping conditions which will hopefully mean better moods as the days roll on, but for today we’re still catching up. The heat and summer fun is all too much when you haven’t slept well for many days in a row.

Working through the morning crabbiness, I began to tackle the long list of things that will make our home liveable once again. When you spend the week with the blinds closed to keep the heat out, living mostly in the open air of the backyard where the slight but hot breeze is blowing, you can’t really see the growing mountain of things inside that may need some attention. Today we find ourselves exhaling, working on home things and resetting for the week ahead. As I build in these rhythms of rest into our life and embrace the quiet, I experience the grace of God in ways I tend to miss when I am moving at the speed of light.

Dirty dishes mean good food. Dirty laundry means great memories. Dirty floors mean a place to call home. I am not immune to deep grief and heartbreaking realities, but I also know that joy and sorrow are not independent of one other. Even in the middle of difficult things, I find myself experiencing moments that fill my heart with in praise of the Lord. His goodness and mercy are unending. Early this morning as I was chipping away at the to-do list, these ancient words bubbled up in me and became my song:

I remain confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.
-Psalm 27:13 (NIV) 

It struck me that this particular moment was a direct answer to my prayer to live this day in the light of God’s truth, not by my crotchety attitude. I know He reveals Himself in unexpected places, like discovering a sparkling gem in a pile of dusty old river rocks. You may not see it immediately, but upon further inspection you realize that what you are holding in your hands is precious. In my life, God has met me while I rocked my babies in the middle of the night and care for them through their childhood illnesses. He has met me on my way into the grocery store. Over broken dishes, weed-filled gardens and vehicle breakdowns. Through bread on the doorstep, text messages, phone calls and unexpected visits.

He knows our needs. He hears our prayers. He is good. 

Even a regular day reveals His glory. To be completely honest, it has taken me many hours to finish writing this short post due to constant questions, conflicts, caring for the needs of littles and listening to the ones who need listening to. If I had shut myself in a room to wax poetic about the goodness of God in the middle of the ordinary, the power of this truth would have been lost on me today: His goodness knows no bounds.

Praise the Lord. Amen.

Blue sky beauty

Lay Your Burden Down

Something came up unexpectedly this morning and my heart began to pound. I immediately imagined a future where a certain outcome had taken place and sadness and fear welled up within me. Every ounce of my being wanted to run in the other direction instead of dealing with it head-on.

Not another thing, Lord! Not another thing.

We’ve heard the call of Jesus: “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest.” We’ve heard that we need to “cast all your cares up on the Lord, for He cares for you”. We’ve heard that He never leaves us alone, that when we walk through the fire and flood we will not be destroyed because He is holding us up.

Each of us carries silent burdens that others know nothing about. We may hold them for a few minutes and release them with ease. Some linger a few hours and are more challenging. A few days, months or years and we are nearly crushed beneath their weight. At times, just one more thing feels like it’s simply too much to bear, driving us to our knees in prayer.

We cannot escape the challenges of life. They come slowly, they come fiercely, they come with great joys, too. I love to see the goodness of God on display right in the middle of the mess. When my heart was gripped with fear this morning, and I was praying, Not another thing, Lord! He brought to mind His faithfulness from generation to generation. I remembered how throughout His Word and throughout my life I have seen His goodness unfold in situations that seemed hopeless. I remembered the promise of an eternal future filled with His presence in a way I cannot imagine here and now. I remembered the beauty of the truth that He is with me in all seasons and at all times.

When we’re weary and burdened by the visible and invisible, when the cry of Not another thing, Lord comes upon our lips, we can take that as a beautiful reminder of our human limitations and acknowledge our desperate need for Him. We choose to stand on the Solid Rock of Christ Jesus our Lord, knowing that God the Father has brought us to Himself and the gift of the Holy Spirit empowers us to face these challenges with confidence that He will carry us through. And He does, every single day.

And for that, I am eternally grateful. Praise the Lord.

I took this photo years ago and it still reminds me of the life Jesus gives!