Ringing Out in the Middle of It All

This morning at breakfast the kids and I prayed, “Thank you Jesus for today, and please help us to remember that our real joy is found in You.”

It’s something that I am learning in this season of life where there are so many things waiting to make me forget.  Lack of sleep from a night-waking baby and early-waking kids. It’s winter, so someone is either getting sick, currently sick, or just getting over being sick. The kids bicker and fight. My plans go awry. The tap starts leaking. The van breaks down. Messes are made, stress grows, frustrations mount and tempers flare. We grow tired of waiting for things to improve and begin to believe things will always be this way.

And then, ringing out in the middle of it all – “Joy to the world, the Lord is come! Let earth receive her King! Let every heart prepare Him room, and heaven and nature sing!”

Can it be so? Can we really find joy in the middle of even this? I am beginning to discover this sweet truth – the more I dwell on Jesus as my real joy, the more buoyant my spirit is becoming, even in the face of plain ol’ day-to-day challenges.

I am catching glimpses of His glory right here in the middle of the ordinary: the belly laughs of my kids, my husband’s hand on my shoulder as we pass each other in the kitchen, the sun that streams through the front window during these very short days, the glow of the stars in the long evenings and nights. So many beautiful things – such incredible reminders that God is good, and God keeps His promises – bringing everlasting joy to our hearts in the gift of a tiny baby, His only Son.

On Sunday we’ll light the Advent candle of joy. As we prepare our hearts to celebrate the first coming of Jesus, may it remind us that we can rejoice in HIM, and in every opportunity to rely on His power in our weakness.

Let these words from 1 Peter be a beautiful balm to your weary soul. REJOICE – the King has come!

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.

Yes! Lord Jesus, as we celebrate your first coming, may we await your Second coming with great joy in our hearts!

christmas cookies

Sharing cookies always brings a smile!

Our Advent Jar

When my oldest was nearly 3, I wanted to do something for Advent that was more than just chocolates. We still do chocolates each day in December (usually before breakfast!), but this little craft we made has been a part of our Advent season ever since. It’s one of my favourite December breakfast traditions.

One morning in November 2013 we made little Christmas-themed characters out of construction paper.  Then, we took popsicle sticks and glued the characters onto one end, and wrote our Advent activity for that day on the other end – 8 carols to sing, 8 ways to share Jesus’ love, 8 people or things to pray for.

aj1

Love those chubby little hands!

My daughter did all the gluing (her fave!).

aj2

Somehow these have managed to stay in pretty good shape over the years.

They’re ready for the jar.

aj3

A pasta sauce jar with a crocheted bow.

Starting December 1st, we’ll pull one out each day and do what it says on the popsicle stick. It’s one simple way we will keep our eyes and hearts focussed in the right direction this holiday season.

Can’t wait to get it started!

Getting Out of Holiday Survival Mode

angel chimes

(Image: pinterest)

When I was a little girl, my mom had a set of these Angel Chimes that astounded me every single year. How could the angels spin when you lit the four small white candles below? Must be magic.

I loved November 12th. The local radio station flipped to all Christmas music the day after Remembrance Day, and sometime that week, we’d haul out our four foot artificial tree, pop it on the corner coffee table, and fill it with those vintage Christmas lights with the plastic star-shaped reflectors that required an ER visit if you ever stepped on one with your bare foot. Oh, and gold garland from years ago. Then came all sorts of handmade and store-bought ornaments, one on every branch. The moss-haired raffia angel sat at the top, and the tree always had way too much silver tinsel.

After church on Christmas Eve, we stayed up late and ate so many treats. Some years we’d get to sleep in the living room under the lights of the tree, and woke up while it was still dark to open our stockings. We ate chocolates and mandarin oranges for breakfast, and once everyone made it to the living room, we read the Christmas story and took turns opening our presents.

We weren’t well-to-do by any means, but my mom always made sure Christmas was special for us kids. She brought the holidays to life and always focussed on the reason we celebrate – Jesus!

I love traditions and I look forward to them each year. They are anchors, keeping us connected to our roots and giving us warmth and familiarity in the middle of the changes of life. When my husband and I first got married we had to sort through two sets of holiday traditions. Now that we have our own kids, we’re building our own family memories that we hope they will one day cherish. In these early years with young children, Christmas feels different than it used to. At first, that was difficult for me and I’ve allowed the stress to cloud my joy, but I’m learning how to get out of “holiday survival mode” and actually enjoy this season together.

We’ve made three major shifts in the past few years, and it’s been amazing. Here they are, in no particular order.

Make like Elsa and “let it go”.

I’ve shared before that I like things to be “just so”. All the ducks need to be lined up perfectly in order for me to be able to enjoy all the things. The ducks seem to have a mind of their own, though, and rarely fall in! With a great sigh of relief, I’m learning to choose life over perfection. Can I just say that it is beautiful?

Less is more.

Last year we left some of our decorations in the box. We researched our gifts before we went shopping and finished most of it before the beginning of December. We sat down ahead of time and chose our family Christmas activities, with room in the schedule for a splash of spontaneity (and the inevitable sick day). We said no to some of our regular traditions in favour of creating new ones. There was room to breathe, and that made all the difference for me.

Worship the King!

Every year I have to decide what Christmas is going to be about for me, and in turn for our family. Kindness is important. So is generosity. But these flow out of our worship of Jesus Christ, the King of Kings! It seems like it should come so easily because we hear it so often – O Come Let Us Adore Him. Jesus is the Reason for the Season. Keep Christ in Christmas. Look for the Cross on the Cradle. And yet, slogans don’t work in our hearts the way the Holy Spirit does. I’ve found Christmas to be one of my favourite times to dig deeper into the Word and life of Jesus and discover Him drawing near to me, finding His love all over again. In that, I can’t help but weave worship into the fabric of our family’s celebrations! In the big and the small, when things work out and when they don’t, I am praying that my kids would see Jesus.

My husband and I have agreed: in this season, we’re in what we call “Parent Christmas” mode. We don’t need big Christmas surprises from one another – we really just want to watch our kids squeal with delight and see the wonder in their eyes. Thankfully, it doesn’t have to come at great financial cost, with overloaded schedules and a bad case of the gimmies.

Praise the Lord that we can trust Him to redeem the Christmas season!

And that doesn’t cost a dime.

When I Feel Most Like a Super Mom

My husband brought home two costume items on Halloween after work: a pirate hat and a cape.

I chose the cape and in true mom-fashion, took ten minutes to turn it into my tongue-in-cheek costume for the year: Supermom.

supermom 17

Hair and makeup were already done – and by done I mean not done at all. I threw on an apron with a soother pinned to the top, hand sanitizer taped to the middle, a diaper and a coffee mug in one pocket and a baby toy in the other. With a burp cloth over one shoulder, I carried my purse AND the diaper bag across my body and in the other arm, I hauled the car seat with the baby in it. The finishing touch – my shirt had real spit-up stains! Imagine that! haha! With my dollar store cape draped across my shoulders, we were off to take our kids trick-or-treating at Grandma’s house.

The costume made me laugh because it wasn’t too far off from my regular life right now – a little stressful and last-minute, with a lot of mess and imperfection and a healthy dose of mirth. We snapped a few photos to freeze the moment in time so we can look back when the kids are older and everything is different, to remember what it was like right now.

It was fun to pretend for a couple of hours, but as they usually do, things got real when we arrived back home with buckets of mini chocolate bars and gummies in hand.

Our oldest two were fighting about who would hand out candy to the other trick-or-treaters while our two year old was a puddle of tears in the middle of the living room, chocolate smeared all over her lips and the sleeves of her bunny costume. The baby, of course, was very ready to eat.

I sat down in the armchair to feed him while my husband handled the oldest two and helped the bunny into her jammies.

Supermom was gone. The apron and cape were hanging over the high chair, and it was just Super Tired Mom in her place!

There was a time in my early mom years when I couldn’t possibly be caught in a costume like that in public because it’s not perfect. In fact, there are still times when perfection threatens to steal the amazing life I have right in front of me by telling me it’s all simply not good enough.

But as I grow older, I am beginning to understand.

Here’s what I know about being a super mom:  super moms are not born, they are made. They are forged in the fires of sleep deprivation, spit up and sippy cups. They are grown from the earth tilled under by tantrums and toilet training. They are refined by the flames of daily giving yourself up for someone else and knowing deep inside that you would not have it any other way – that through this process comes real gold.

You know when I feel most like a super mom? When I survive a solo trip to the store with all four kids. When I successfully navigate the waters of crazy post-time-change behaviour without seriously losing my cool. When we can laugh together even though life is hard and we are all tired.

It has nothing to do with kids in matching outfits or a spotless bathroom. And boy am I glad!

Super moms, all of you – keep on doing what you are doing. Be open to the changes that motherhood brings to your body, your mind, your heart, your spirit, but most of all, your soul.

We carry on with hope in our hearts because we know that God makes all things beautiful in His time.

Must Be Halloween Again

pumpkin

Ah yes, my annual struggle.

Every year my prayer is the same:  Jesus, give me wisdom!

I took the kids for a walk in the fall sunshine the other day and on the way home I forgot that we were coming down the street with the Creepy Halloween House. When we’re in the van I can usually count on moving past so quickly that the kids don’t really see all the super scary stuff, but when you’re walking at a toddler’s pace you really can’t avoid it. Oh I tried, believe me.

“Hey girls, look at that silly bird walking around on that grass over there!” There was a magpie on the lawn across the street. It worked for about five seconds. Then I lost them.

“Mama! What is THAT?!” My four year old asked, pointing at the house.

“Well, it looks like some Halloween decorations, but we don’t really need to look at them,” I said.

“Why not?”

“They’re a little bit too creepy.”

“Yeah,” my 6 year old agreed. For her, the novelty of certain types of seasonal decor has worn off. But for my 4 year old, it’s irresistible.

“That IS creepy! But it doesn’t scare me!” she cried. “Let’s play Halloween characters! I’m a ghost! Booooooo!”

In spite of her feelings about scary decorations, my 6 year old joined in immediately and for the next half-hour they ran around the back yard together pretending to be Halloween characters and imagining a world where “Chickens Running Around with Their Heads Cut Off” was their favourite comedy TV show.

Later, I asked them why they like to play spooky characters.

My 4 year old answered, “First, they’re not very scary for me. Secondly, I think they’re cool.” (She actually said, “secondly”! haha!)

“Really?” I asked. “Aren’t you a tiny bit scared?”

“Nope,” she continued with confidence, “If I just saw something spooky to me, I would just stick my tongue out at it.”

“Oh really,” I said. The next day as we drove in the van, the story changed. We were talking about some Halloween thing they had seen out the window and my 4 year old spoke up.

“Well, some Halloween things are NOT scary for me, but some Halloween things ARE scary for me,” she explained. “Like, the cartoony things aren’t, but the spooky things are. I do NOT like those witches at the neighbour’s house, they are too creepy for me. Yep, too creepy. But that big Frankenstein is so funny!”

I totally get why Halloween is so interesting when you’re a little kid. It’s impossible not to be fascinated, especially with all the huge inflatable lawn decorations nowadays. The Halloween House next door is their favourite. The kids are really drawn to the ten-foot-tall Frankenstein and a set of inflatable jack o’lanterns that look like a little pumpkin family, a spider in a top hat, a dragon they’ve named “Dragula”, two big white ghosts with lights and a REALLY tall pumpkin reaper we’ve named “Pumpkin Guy”.  Those characters have really sparked their imagination! But Creepy Halloween House has presented a new set of challenges.

For the first time, it’s actually scary to them.

As a Christian, I’ve always struggled with Halloween because of the evil and fear associated with it, and I will do my best to keep those kinds of things away from my kids whenever I can. But I know they’re growing up and we’re moving from being fascinated with the silly inflatable Halloween characters on the lawn next door to genuinely scary moments for them as they come in contact with certain images.

After six years of Halloween with young children, I’m realizing that despite all my efforts to shield their eyes, they’re going to see the awful decorations in the neighbourhood or at the store. Or hear about horror movies from their friends at school. Or happen to catch a glimpse of a billboard with a creepy clown on it as we drive down the street.

And even though I would rather protect them from all of it so they never had to feel afraid in their lives, I’m realizing that these are opportunities to have some really important big-picture conversations about feelings and fears and good and evil and Who is bigger than it all.

The Time Machine: To Myself – Read this when the kids are grown

The Time Machine series features posts from years past.

I wrote this to wrap up 3 Weeks of Thanks one year when I had no kids in school. I love these memories!

***

The sun is bouncing into the living room right now, warming the floor and inviting me to nap right there beside the toy box   All.  after.  noon.

Alas, it is not to be.

But it sure is beautiful.

I want to remember this moment forever.  I will probably forget it when the next cloudy day comes along, because you really don’t remember exactly how glorious the sun feels until it’s right there on your face or your feet or whatever happens to be in reach.

I’ve got an inquisitive 4 year old asking me questions from the table behind me, while munching on the bread we made this morning in the bread maker.  She is an expert ingredient-adder, and always has to taste the flour (I don’t know why, I always tell her it tastes gross by itself).

“How’s the bread?” I ask.

“Good.  Do we have any more pears?” comes the reply.

“Nope,” I answer.

And she is on her way to look for a cowboy hat and a half-crocheted yellow scarf that doubles as a rope she uses to lasso anyone and everything.  Today she is Jessie the Yodelling Cowgirl from Toy Story 2.

The other two are napping for the moment.  A quick morning playtime in the backyard in the crisp fall air and warm sunshine, and that about does them in well for nap time.

Then, all at once, little voices echo from down the hall.

Everyone is awake.

These are the moments I will probably forget, because you can’t really remember everything after all, can you?

How I wish I could freeze time and hold this in perfect detail in my heart, and save it for when they grow up and go away and do the wonderful things (and the awful things) that adult children do.  For when I actually have to let go for real.

I know there will be grace then too, as there is grace now.

sunflower

3 Weeks of Thanks is nearly at an end for another year.  This weekend, we gather with loved ones over food prepared by hands full of love, and in this way return our love to the One who loved us first.

Generations gather.  Moms who once were where I am now will watch their own sons and daughters do what they once did, around this Thanksgiving table.  And we carry on in this way, each year getting a bit older and maybe even a bit wiser.

We give thanks – together.

What an absolutely beautiful tradition.

3WT Week #3

We love because He first loved us.

1 John 4:19 (NIV)

How do you raise kids who love Jesus?

“Fall is the beautiful-est season!” my 4 year old declared from the back of the van. We took the long way to Grandma’s house the other day, past a natural area that comes alive with colour at this time of the year. You wouldn’t believe the fiery oranges, deep reds, dark purples, and shades of bright yellow set against the browns and greens of the hillside and the glorious deep blue of the fall sky above.

Incredible.

My eyes are drinking this in. I can’t get enough! Every year I forget just how amazing it is, and every year I’m stunned by the gorgeous palette around me. Little creeks and hillsides next to freeways go completely unnoticed until Fall, when they shout their presence with incredible beauty. Ditches and groves that were so ordinary just a few weeks ago now catch my eye and amaze me.

I am a “noticer” of nature. In spring, it’s the return of the robins and the buds on the trees. In summer, I wait for our roses to bloom and for thunderstorms to shake the house. In winter, I love the way the snow sometimes falls in huge peaceful flakes, and the way the stars twinkle on a cold, crisp night. Right now, it’s technicolor trees and vivid sunrises and sunsets.

I purposely point them out to the kids.

Last week we happened to be out past bedtime, as the sun was setting. “Look at those colours, girls! That’s amazing! God is such an incredible artist!” I said. I snapped a photo with my phone from the passenger seat.

fall sunset 1

They gasped, eyes wide in wonder.

“Wow!”

“It’s so beautiful!”

“It’s dark outside!” Our 2 year old was worried. “Why’s it so dark?” (We assured her it was alright, and that we were safe.)

They pick pretty rocks from the driveway for their rock collections. They are dazzled by dandelions. And pinecones are perfection.

I can see them becoming “noticers”, and my heart is so full!

I remind them that God made all of this and He made them too.  I tell them that God is the MOST creative of all, and that He gave them their creativity. I want them to see that He is not silent and uninvolved. I want them to know He is real, and that He draws near, even in everyday things.

How do you raise kids who love Jesus? Ultimately, the choice to love and follow Him is up to them, as they grow and discover who He is. But I am learning that they’re watching how their parents interact with God and each other, listening to the things we say and putting the pieces together about Him by their experiences with us.

It really gets me, you know? I think of all the mistakes I’ve made with the kids and I wonder if even those things can be made into something beautiful in our family’s life. But I am trusting that God knows how to untangle my mess and work it into a gorgeous tapestry of His faithfulness for each of my kids.

They need to know that worship is more than Sunday morning songs and stories, and that the beauty of creation is meaningful because of Who it reveals.

We worship God inside AND outside church walls, right smack in the middle of all the ordinary.

 

The Time Machine: 3 Weeks of Thanks Week 2

The Time Machine series features posts from years past.

This week I’m continuing with 3 Weeks of Thanks. It’s tough when you’re in the middle of raising kids to stop and remember the little things, and that’s why I’m so glad I posted this a few years ago! This is one of my favourite memories of a quiet moment with our oldest daughter, who turns seven this winter. She was nearly three years old at the time.

***

pink clouds

Pink clouds one October morning

This morning I got to watch the sunrise with my oldest daughter.

“What’s that pink stuff?”  she asked.

“The clouds.  They sometimes turn pink in the morning,” I explained.

“When’s they come back?”

“Usually when the sun goes down.”

It was a particularly beautiful way to start the day!

3WT Week#2:

Romans 1:20 (NIV)

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

The Time Machine: 3 Weeks of Thanks

The Time Machine series features posts from years past.

Five years ago I started to make Thanksgiving a bit more of a season in our home with something I call “3 Weeks of Thanks”. This was originally posted in September 2015.  Enjoy!

***

wildflower bouquet

We grew these in our backyard in the summer of 2015

This is my third year attempting to make Thanksgiving into something of a season in our home.  I call it 3 Weeks of Thanks.

Christmas gets a nice long season with fun festivities.  Easter gets at least a week.

But Thanksgiving?  Usually it’s like, “oh by the way we’re having Thanksgiving dinner in three days from now – what do you want to bring?”

“YIPES!  Cook the potatoes!  Did we get a big enough turkey? Should I mash that can-shaped cranberry sauce or leave it in the shape of the can?  I think we need more stuffing.”

Fun and yummy!  BUT…  it’s more than all that.  Reading the news lately makes me realize that my kids are experiencing a life that most people do not.  The things that are so normal for them are completely out of reach for many kids their age.  My heart aches to think that they will become entitled and take these things for granted.

And yet, I know they probably will.  It’s human nature.  They will look back at my ideas like 3 Weeks of Thanks and think, “boy, my mom was the cheesiest woman on the planet.  Remember when we used to write all those things we were thankful for on those construction paper leaves and tape them to the wall for the Thanksgiving Tree?  No one actually has a thanksgiving tree.  What a ridiculous thing that isn’t a real thing.”

But you know what?  I don’t care.  I want them to understand that everything we have is not because we are awesome and can do it all by ourselves.  I want them to know that God is real.  He is present.  He is WITH us.  He is worthy of our worship.  He is the source of Life.

And when they begin to realize that life is not fair, bad things happen, and even that people do bad things, I want them to know everything is not random and pointless.

Hard to imagine that a construction paper tree is going to make a difference when that time comes.  But God shows up in very ordinary things.  And He uses very ordinary people.
3WT Week#1:

“But Jesus said, ‘Let the children come to me.  Don’t stop them!  For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children.”

Matthew 19:14 (NLT)