Thursday, July 16, 2015

Repentance: A Prayer for Sam & Vava & Kachinvya

It's no secret that one of my favourite things about parenting my own children is the chance that I get to see, in the tiniest way, a sliver of God's perspective as He loves His exasperating children - as He loves His exasperating me.

When my kids are disobedient, ungrateful, forgetful little punks, and I love them anyway and keep on caring for them even when exhaustion is straining at the seams, I am reminded to look up into the face of my Father and see Him smile knowingly as I finally understand the lesson.

When they cry in the night and need me and my feet have wings as I run to their room to take care of them, my heart curls in close to the Indwelling Spirit, who never leaves me, never forsakes me.

When they need to be fed, bathed, changed, held - are utterly helpless but for my care - I bow and acknowledge that I, too, can do nothing on my own and need saving.

Usually, looking at my kids reminds me to look to God, to praise Him for His tender care.  

A few weeks ago our pastor was preaching on repentance, and he shared a quotation that took my breath with its loveliness.

The only way to flee from the wrath of God is to turn and run right into His loving arms. 

And it made me pause and consider how I behave when I discipline my kids. I can't exactly say they always find my heart their safe harbour.  I encourage them to apologize, and I forgive them, yes (sometimes with less enthusiasm than others!) - but I have caught glimpses of my still-upset face in the mirror even after the apology and it is not a comforting sight.

Their punishment must spur them to repentance, and then it should not be scary or intimidating for them to repent.  The struggle against their own desire is hard enough; I don't want my stern eyebrows or ranty words to bear heavily on them.  No - I want them to find no greater shelter than my own arms, my own heart, like I find in my Father.  I want them to find, as I do, that the brief sorrow of repentance leads to the great relief of forgiveness, and the joy of oneness restored.

Because maybe ... maybe in the same way that God uses them to point me to His heart, maybe He will use me to point them to His heart too.
And they will be captivated by its beauty.
And they will ache over their sin.
And they will tremble over God's just wrath.
And they will repent.
And they will flee
straight into His wide-open arms.

And walk in the warmth of His presence forever.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Guest Post: How Belzoir Saved My Life

In the summer of 2009 Janelle and I had our second miscarriage. Our baby was stillborn on July 15, 2010, only eleven weeks old. Today, we would be celebrating the sixth birthday of our child.

We've moved on. We've adopted a bright boy and gave birth to a lively little scrap of a girl and another happy little boy and I treasure them.

We've moved on: grief buried deep below the surface. Now I like to remember our missing child with joy and a little bit of sadness because the event of Belzoir's stillbirth and what we experienced before and after were so transformational for me. I think in the future I will look back and see it as one of the foundational experiences of my life.

So I just want to re-share a brief blurb I wrote to commemorate the first anniversary of Belzoir's stillbirth. (I'm a writer, so that's what I do.)

*editor's note: a birthy-deathy sort of graphic.

The last time I saw Belzoir was through a window in a door dividing the examination room from the hospital's inner sanctum. The window was covered by a blind, which I cracked with two fingers to peek through.

And there sat Belzoir on the counter. He was floating in a jar of formaldehyde about six inches tall. Whenever I think of Belzoir now, that's how I see him. Floating upright in jar of yellowish fluid. Probably heading for a grisly dissection at the hands of some med students at Dalhousie.

The truth is, I don't know what the truth is. People said, Maybe it was better this way. People said, Maybe he would have been born deformed or ... or something. But I don't think any of that would have made any difference to me: I would have loved him all the same. I already did love him. More than I knew that I could. Deformed, whatever, I wanted him to be born. I wouldn't have chosen anything else than for him to be born and for me to love him forever.

But the thing is, the baby is dead. What do I make of that? Is there a reason for it? There has to be a reason for it. What I make of it is this: Belzoir saved my life.

She was sitting on the toilet. I came running to the washroom, barefoot and rubbing sleep from my eyes, I couldn't see anything without my glasses—I was in such a hurry that I left them behind. It was 5am and she was yelling.

So, there she was, on the toilet, pushing this thing in my face. My vision was so blurred that I couldn't see what it was and I didn't know whether she was in trouble or what. And if so, how badly? I was actually really annoyed at having my sleep interrupted.

I had to bend down and squint a little to see what it was that she was pushing at me. I saw a pee stick and I recoiled in disgust when I saw how close I put my face to it and then it slowly came to me that the pee stick was a pregnancy test. And that she was yelling because she was excited. Which meant that the result was positive.

Okay, so, first thing in the morning, I'm a bit of a bear. Well, more of an asshole than a bear, really. My first reaction was relief. I was relieved that everything was okay and I could go back to bed and get some more sleep before waking up in the morning. So it took a minute or two to really get excited about it.

We'd been wanting a baby for a long time. We'd been trying to get pregnant for more than a year by now. The little plus sign on the pee stick was an answer to prayer.

We named the foetus Belzoir. The name came from a dream she had, in the dream the name was embroidered on a quilt along with the line: "The morning rang with laughter and ours was naked and seamless." Cousin Bekzor remembered the dream, and started calling the baby Belzoir. (Bell-Zo-Ear.) It stuck.

We didn't know whether it was a boy or a girl: it was too soon. But we always thought of it as a he.

We knew from the start that it was a risky pregnancy. Doctor Graves told us it wasn't properly attached to the wall of the uterus (or something like that), so we got to have ultrasound pictures taken every two or three weeks. The first one we took home with us, there was nothing to see. Just a flash of light the size of a grain of rice. But we stared at it and hugged it and talked about it and showed it to all our friends and talked about how beautiful the baby was. And in the subsequent pictures we got to see the baby grow from the size of a grain of rice to about the size of a plum.

And then she started spotting. Right away I felt sure that we would lose the baby and I was angry. Doctor Graves put her on bed rest and medicated her to try to prevent the loss. Doctor Graves was pretty optimistic with us, too. But I got a little bitter because this was something we had been praying for for so long and now we had it and we were going to lose it. I was angry at God, like he was playing a mean joke on us.

When we first found out, we decided to tell everyone right away about the baby because we wanted them to be happy with us. We shared all our hope and joy with our friends.

And then, at a regular check up Doctor Graves showed her the dead baby in the
ultrasound. In the picture, it looked as though all lights were out. Even though we were half expecting it, it came as a bitter surprise. That was the only appointment I wasn't able to go to; she had to walk all the way home by herself with the emptiness inside her.

I accepted it with a kind of fatalism and the next few days were tough and not a little bitter. Belzoir's death was a huge loss. We didn't just lose our baby, we lost his infancy, his childhood, his growing up years. We lost all that we were hoping for. We lost a real person that we loved dearly and earnestly hoped to get to know.

Our friends came to us with comfort and they shared our grief. We found friends that we didn't even know we had. People who we had regarded as only casual acquaintances showed us that they cared very deeply for us. It was touching.

It felt a bit strange to grieve over a miscarriage. I felt like, to everybody else, I was grieving something I never had. But I did have him, he was mine and I loved him so much.

That same weekend her brother and his wife came from Vancouver to spend a night at our place while they were in the area for a wedding. We had supper together but towards the end of supper she began to feel pain in her stomach and retired to our bedroom. I found her there later, she was curled up in a little ball holding her stomach. I rubbed her back for a few minutes and then rejoined our guests in the living room.

A little later she called me to the bathroom. Tentatively, I opened the door and stuck my head around it to see what was up. (You see, I'm terrified of vomit and stuff like that.) She thrust this little red blob nestled in a bunch of toilet paper at me all the while yammering excitedly.

Startled, I yelled, "Flush it! Flush it!"

"We can't flush it!" She exclaimed, horrified. "It's our baby!"

Only then did I take a good look at the red blob she was holding. It was a squishy sphere surrounded by a transparent membrane. Inside was Belzoir, floating in a cloudy fluid. I was transfixed. Emotion surged through me, seeing this tiny body with arms and legs and hands and feet and little tiny fingers and toes--even fingernails and toenails, and an elongated head with a little nose and mouth, lumps for ears, and tiny eye-holes. He was almost completely formed. A little person.

It's difficult to describe what I felt then. I was filled with love and joy, just to see the body of our baby. It was no longer an abstract idea of a person I would see someday. I was seeing him now. This was Belzoir's body. We huddled together in the washroom and admired our beautiful little baby's body, wondering at how perfect and complete it was. And then we wrapped it up in toilet paper and brought it out and told our guests what had happened. I don't think we would have done this with anyone else, but we unwrapped the body and showed it to them and even took photographs of it. Then we rewrapped it and tucked it into her purse and the four of us took the body to the hospital together. In the waiting room at the hospital, her brother took a picture of the two of us and the purse with the baby's body inside. We smiled widely. The picture got posted to Facebook with the caption, "proud parents."

It was a happy night. We won't see our child grow up and we won't get to know him yet, but we saw him born and he was beautiful and we loved him. It was affirming, seeing the body.

 Now, when I think about Belzoir, I see him in my head, his little body floating in that jar of formaldehyde and I can't be bitter. I am sad that we've lost him, but I am so glad for the time that we had him. The weeks of our pregnancy and the day of his birth are some of the happiest days of my life, now. We shared so much joy and hope because of him. Belzoir is God's gift to us. He will always be.

The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord (Job 1.21).

Because of Belzoir I can never be bitter again.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Guest Post: A Father's Day Blog

I never understood what it meant to be a child of God until I had children of my own.

As a young adult, I thought of my relationship with God as a relationship between a Father and his adult son: while I saw that God was deserving of my respect, I thought we were at a comparable intellectual level. I assumed that we understood each other the same way my father and I understood each other.

I became a father in 2011 with the adoption of our firstborn, Sam. Over Sam’s first year I slowly realized the arrogance of my assumption but at the same time, I came to treasure God’s Fatherly tenderness more than anything else in all the world.

Consider Matthew 7.7-12. Jesus says,

"Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you, for everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!"

I thought that Jesus was teaching here that God answers prayer, and that’s true, this passage does teach that God answers prayer but, what’s more important is that it teaches us how God answers prayer. God answers prayer like a Father caring for his children. Jesus isn’t trying to teach us about prayer so much as he is trying to teach us what God is like. God is like a Father. God is a Father. Our Father.

It's not a chore for a father to give his children the things they ask for and the things they need. It's not burdensome; it's something a father delights to do. A father—a good father—doesn't delight in harming his children; doesn't delight in withholding from his children. God is not an abusive father. And he's not cold and distant and unapproachable either. God engages with His children, He wants to be known by them, He cares for them. God is really tender towards us, like a father is toward his child.

Consider Romans 8.14-17. The Apostle Paul writes,

"For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God, for you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him."

When we became Christians we “did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear.” We did not exchange our bondage to sin for a new kind of bondage but our bondage is gone entirely. We are adopted into the family of God; we are His dear little children.

In Luke 11, Jesus' disciples ask him: “Teach us how to pray,” and Jesus says, “This is how you pray,” and he begins with, “Our Father.” God doesn't think of this as just a metaphor. He actually is our Father and He wants us to approach Him like He’s our Father. His heart is tender toward us. I never realized the tenderness of God's love for me until I became a father myself and I can't help thinking: If I love my son this much, how much must God love me?

The Apostle Paul tells us that the Holy Spirit inside us causes us to cry out to our Father, “Abba!” or “Papa!” That tells me what kind of relationship God wants: he wants me to put my arms up to Him and cry out, “Papa!” Because, really, that's how much I need God: the same way a little child needs a father. God thinks of me the same way I think of my daughter when she stretches out her arms for me to lift her up and says, “Cue me, Papa.” And I fold her tiny little self into my arms and she puts her head against my chest and she knows she's taken care of. What more could a father want from his child?

I really think that's all God wants from us: to just let Him be our Father; to let Him hold us and take care of all our needs. He wants us to know that all we need is Him because if we have Him, we have everything.

Consider 1 John 3.1-4. The Apostle John writes,

"See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure."

See what kind of love the Father has for us? We are God's children, not by some mistake, not by accident. But we were chosen, we were adopted. God chose to set His love on us and bring us into His family, to make us His own.

So, what are we really like, as children of God? For most of my life I thought of myself as a grown-up child of God. I thought I could understand my heavenly Father, I thought I was independent. Having my own children reversed my thinking: I’m not like a grown-up, independent son who can move out of the house and get a job and drive a car, no. In my experience as a child of God, I’m more like a wee baby or a toddler.

It didn’t take me very long as a new father to learn that there's this kind of annoying quality about ba- bies: Everything is a major emergency. One minute everything is fine and the baby is happy and then suddenly the baby realizes he's hungry! And now we're in a major crisis situation, like, we've got to get on the phone to FEMA and get the army here and maybe some helicopters and get some food into this baby, NOW!

So, I start to get the bottle ready, and this whole process only takes about a minute, but it's a minute too long for the baby who's behaving like the food's never going to come, he’s just wailing and screaming and thrashing around, he’s behaving like I'm never going to give it to him—even though, here I am, get- ting his food ready in plain sight—he's behaving like he’s in the depths of bitter despair because he real- ly believes that I'm just going to let him starve to death, the poor thing! Even though, we’ve done this before, we’ve done it every single day of his life so far! He got hungry and he got fed. Sometimes he even got fed before he knew he was hungry. So, what’s with this complete lack of faith?

So, I see that I'm a lot like the baby. My faith in God goes about as far as the baby's faith in me. I know I'm not going to let the baby starve to death—I'm not going to let anything bad happen to the baby if I can help it. And what we just read is Jesus telling us that if we can take good care of our babies, how much more can God take care of us?

But I still act like it's all up to me and I get bitter and upset when things don’t go the way I’ve planned or I don’t get the things I want. So it kind of helps me to think of myself as the baby throwing a tantrum. God's ready for me, he's got everything under control. And most of the time I just don't see it; I don't trust that God cares and that what God has to give me is better than the things I want.

As a baby, Sam hated getting dressed. Getting him into a pair of pants was a real struggle. He'd scream until his face turns red and he had these veins that popped out on the side of his head and he'd fight and fight so that had to pin him to the floor with my legs. And he was a pretty strong baby. I had to wrestle him into his pants, and into his shirt and his sweater. I’m his father; it didn’t please me that dressing was such torture for him. I dressed him because I didn’t want him to be cold. He would go out into the snow naked if I let him, and he’d freeze. But getting into his clothes would make him so mad, he’d scream and thrash and fight. And it never ended well for him, you know, he never got his way. I never threw up my hands and said, ‘OK, Sam. You go out and play in the snow naked.’ No, I was stronger than him, I out- weighed him by about a hundred and sixty pounds, he never had a chance of winning against me but he still tried with every ounce of his strength. You have to admire his courage, but he was a little stupid.

But I can see how I’m just like that, wrestling against God. I can't win, fighting against God, but I try any- way. I hardly ever just surrender and say, ‘Okay, I trust you. You know best. I'll go with you on this.’ In- stead I've got to try and do things my way, I've got to fight and fight to have things go just as I’ve planned them, just as I want them to go and all the while I'm praying to God to let things go my way be- cause I've got big plans, you know, and I'm going to do everything I can to make them work out. My plans are that I'm going to get out of my clothes and go play naked in the snow, or run in traffic, play chicken with the cars, torment the neighbourhood dogs until I find one that'll bite my face off, or else just wander off and get lost. One of the reasons I think God gives us babies is so we'll see how foolish we really are.

Jesus teaches us to pray, ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, Your will be done.’ Your will, not my will. I want God to help me with my plans? That's foolish. The Bible says that I can't even imagine what God has planned, and he wants me to be a part of it. When I pray, “Your will be done,” I’m submitting to God's will, I’m saying ‘Not my plans, your plans.’ I’m letting God use me in His plans.

I don't pray because I have to remind God to take care of me. When I pray, “Give us day by day our daily bread,” I’m not reminding God that I need to be fed. God already knows. I think Jesus gave us this prayer to remind us where our daily bread comes from. It comes from our Father. I don’t think prayer is so much about getting things from God as it is about getting to know God.

At Matthew 6.25-34, Jesus says this:

"Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yetyour heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble."

Here Jesus is teaching about God's tenderness. God is tender towards his Creation: He feeds the birds, He makes the flowers beautiful. And Jesus says, ‘Your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of much more value than they?’ He's saying, 'See how well your Father cares for the birds and the flowers? How much more does He care for you?'

The flowers and the birds don't do any work, they don't do anything to provide for their future, they don't store up food, or plant gardens, the lilies don't make themselves clothes, they don't manufacture textiles. And yet both birds and lilies are remarkably beautiful because God made them this way. It's the way they are. We don't value birds and flowers because of anything they can do for us, we value them because of what they are. They show off God's great glory just by being what they are. Just by being.

Same with us: God does not value us because of anything that we can do. Is there anything we can do that will impress God or make Him value us more? Is there anything we can do or fail to do that will make God value us less? No. We're like babies; we can't even do anything for ourselves. Why do we be- have like we can impress God with what we can do? God values us because we're His Children, not be- cause of anything we do for Him.

I love being able to do things for my babies. It’s so satisfying to meet their needs. And when they just trust me, like when they’re too tired to fight and they let me carry them and they just put their head on my shoulder and hold me, nothing can make me a happier father. Sometimes, they just want to be with me, they’ll want to snuggle, or to sit on my lap, or one of them will walk up unexpectedly and give me a hug and a kiss. Nothing makes me happier than that, and I’m just so ridiculously pleased to be their father.

God gives us opportunity to show His glory by being His Children. Jesus teaches us that we should not worry about material things because we have a Father in heaven who cares for us. And when we trust Him and rely on Him and when we say, ‘Your will be done, not mine,’ we're showing the world that God is real, that God is dependable, and that God is tender and kind. If we just let ourselves be God's little children, God gets glory. And that's really what we're all about, glory to God.

The relationship we have with God is a familiar one. God is present, He cares for us, and He loves us. I never understood how much God loves us until I saw God’s care as a Father in the verses we read and realizing, this isn’t just theology, Jesus is talking about God’s Fatherly tenderness—as MY father, mine! I used to think that it was right and good to approach God thinking poorly of myself and telling Him how undeserving and worthless I am. But God, our Father, does not delight in pious self-abasement. He values us. If my son, Sam, came to me hanging his head and started telling me about how bad of a boy he is and how he doesn't deserve my love and how he's completely worthless to me and he doesn’t understand why I ever adopted him, I wouldn’t get any pleasure from that. That approach is no basis for a relationship. I love and value my son, and I want him to know me. I want him to know who I am and how much I love him. If he thinks he's too undeserving to be in my presence, he's never going to know me and he's never going to enjoy my presence. And, really, that's all I want from him. My love and my esteem for my children is not conditional on anything they can do or accomplish, it's just that I love them, no matter what. God's love and God's esteem for His children is not conditional on anything they can do or accomplish, He just loves us, no matter what. We can't change His love for us.

I'm convinced that God wants me to know Him, wants me to be familiar with Him and to enjoy His presence. I should approach God with humility, yes, and confess my sins with the confidence that God already forgave my sins and that my sins are put away. I won’t earn favour by reminding God about my sins. We approach God like children entering a father's presence. Hebrews 4.16 says, ‘Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need .’ We can come boldly to the throne of grace because it is our Father’s throne and he delights in giving us grace.

My Christian experience was a miserable one until I learned God’s Fatherly tenderness. I felt that God disapproved of me—how could he approve of me, seeing as I am such a miserable sinner who can’t stop sinning? I didn’t enjoy God’s presence because I thought of God as a stern, distant, disapproving, and unapproachable parent. Before we’re saved, it is right to see God as unapproachable and stern because we are His enemies. But, once saved, once born again, we’re born into God’s family and He is our Father. And we know that He is a good Father, a tender Father, a kind Father, a Father who loves His children tremendously. I never enjoyed God until I saw Him as my Heavenly Father. His presence isn’t fearful but enjoyable because I know that He loves me, He cares for me. His heart is tender towards me. I know that I can trust Him.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

One of Those Perfect Saturdays

We woke up to sunshine today, so decided to try taking the kids on a hike.
Patrick wrangled them into their clothes while I threw a picnic together, then we swiped on some sun cream and headed out to the Cascades.

It was gorgeous outside.  The sun was hot and the breeze was cool and constant, keeping bugs at bay.  Clouds sailed high in the sky like kites, and birds chirped from every tree.

Kachi snuggled against me in his carrier, adorable and silly, trying to pick up the freckles from my collarbones.  Sam and Vava were on the lookout for "aminals" ... zebras and kangaroos and crocodiles and lions.  They did find ants, bumblebees, birds, and dogs (and even a dog named Joey), but they were pretty bummed at the lack of wildlife.  (Curious George, I blame you for their high expectations!)

Their faces lit and they stood still with astonishment and joy when they saw the Cascades.

They ran wild and brave across the huge rocks and watched the water churning foam below.

We picnicked in the sunshine and Vava was Big Brown Dog but Sam and Kachi were just Sam and Kachi, three happy goons gobbling cheese and grapes and peanut-butter crackers with fresh-air appetites. 

They looked for kangaroos the whole ride home.

It was just one of those perfect Saturdays, when my heart could burst for gladness.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Baskets and Lines and What the Bible Says About Caitlyn

When I was in Zambia, I spent a week at a Mission Hospital.  One evening, the hospital showed an AIDS awareness video.  The audience was watching and listening attentively, when the camera panned across a river, where a man stood fishing with a basket.
The crowd erupted.  There were hoots of derision, tongues clucking in disapproval, people even threw things at the screen.

I was baffled by the uproar.

My friend explained how in this tribe, only women fish with baskets; men fish with lines. The tribe in the video did the opposite: only men fish with baskets; women fish with lines.

Of course there is nothing essentially male or essentially female about a basket or a line, it's a cultural tradition that is so ingrained that anything different seems wrong.

We had our own little uproar this week, didn't we, Christians?

It's important to remember that we aren't guardians of tradition, but grateful recipients of grace.

If one man decides to fish with a basket, you may fish with a line.
If one woman decides to fish with a line, you may fish with a basket.

We don't need to deride, or yell, or throw things.

In fact, Jesus showed us when Christians can throw stones: never.  (You can read about this in the book of John, chapter 8, verses 1-11.)  And Jesus showed us how to treat people who are different from us - with mercy and tender kindness.  (This one is in the book of Luke, chapter 10, verses 25-37.)

There's a lot the Bible doesn't talk about, and gender identity is one of them.  So I don't know what God thinks about Caitlyn Jenner's identification.  But I do know what God thinks about Caitlyn Jenner.

It's the same thing He thinks about me, and He does talk about it in the Bible.  A lot.

He loves us sinners so much He sent His Beloved Jesus to die for our sins, so that we might believe on Him and not perish but have everlasting life.  (You can find that verse in the book of John, chapter 3, verse 16).

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Catherine Begat Charlotte :)

Welcome to the world, Princess Charlotte.
You came in much the usual way, I think - no virgin birth, no spaceship, no pitch-soaked ark - and yet the world exploded in a flurry of joy:
She's here! She's here! She's here!

We grow rather too accustomed to babies
And prefer them neither seen nor heard
Unless, perhaps, filtered through Instagram.

Even I, with my three treasures
Clouded with the bleariness of caring
Forget the glorious weight of legacy -

But you remind me.

You carry in your small person the blood of a hundred stories.

As do I - and my own children - and every living soul on this impossible planet -


Mary begat Kathleen.
Kathleen begat Janelle.
Janelle begat -

Jewels strung on a line.

Your story is history
And something in your very existence
Reminds us that we, too,
Receive the past and pass it,
Blood and bone,
Into the future.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Grace and my Parenting Report Card

I know it's silly, once I sit down and put it into words.  But my actions and feelings betray the truth: I feel as if I ought to be perfect, and that it's wrong if I falter.  (So I end up feeling like junk almost all the time - each time I lose my temper, I see a big fat F on my parenting report card, every unwashed pile of laundry is an accusation, every crumb on the floor an affirmation that I am subpar.)

I was watching Sam play outside today, all by himself while Vava napped and Kachi played with his squeaky toys.  He was painstakingly crafting mounds of dirt on top of the composter, handful by handful, arranging them just so.  Volcanoes, he told me.

He is so good at playing all by himself.

A long time ago I read an article about boredom - how it's good for kids to have time to be alone by themselves without any organized activities: it makes gives them the chance to be alone in their thoughts, to try things they think of, to fail without an audience, to explore in a space that isn't filled with expectations - just to be.

I think if I hadn't read that, I'd be busy feeling guilty every moment I wasn't playing with him, or carting him to activities. (Not that they're bad - but they're not as vital as the soul space.)

And that got me thinking, until I realized what you all probably have known all along ...

The less-than-perfect parts of my parenting, of me, bring blessings too.  Every time I lose my temper and apologize and ask forgiveness, I give my kids the chance to practice extending grace.  Every time my hair is a horrifying mess and we still leave the house, I teach them that how you look is not the most important part of you.  Every time I fall somewhere in the gap between what I think I should achieve and what I actually do achieve, I teach them that there is space to fail and the world still turns.

We're not perfect - we need grace, and we need to know how to extend grace.

It's the nicest, loveliest part of raising kids ... that they learn this beautiful lesson through my imperfections.

Those mythical perfect mamas don't have room for the current of grace that necessarily flows through my flaw-ful house.  It only gets in through the cracks.

Dear Sam, Vava, and Kachi: I make lots of mistakes.  You're welcome.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

A Gift from My Daughter, Age 2

You burst into our world like a butterfly
Stretching from your chrysalis of infancy 
Into this beauty you wear
Beautifully unaware

I promised myself I wouldn't contribute
To the inevitable smudging of your clear sight
And so when I see your precious face
I stand before the mirror and rejoice

I stand on the scale and celebrate
I pick out clothes with joy
Choosing to be glad in this body before you
Before you learn anything else

And your little presence
Has showered on me this huge gift:
I look in the mirror and rejoice
Because I see you

This - the nose that will be yours someday
The freckles (yours, so far just two delicious drops),
The hair, the chin, the smile-lines
All mine, but also, inevitably yours.

And you

You are unbelievably beautiful.
And so I
Must be beautiful too.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Resurrection Sunday

We didn't get to attend a single service this Easter weekend.  My favourite weekend, Resurrection Sunday, the day that reverberates with freedom and gladness and life - it's the kind of weekend best spent in a crowd, singing Hallelujah.

But the kids got sick and we got sick and none of our plans turned out like they were supposed to, so we spent fourteen pointless hours on the road and finally crawled into our own beds late Saturday night.

So this Easter Sunday finds us at home, alone, cuddling in our pyjamas.  I read about this recent massacre in Kenya at Garissa University, and my heart breaks for the mamas who are spending their Easter weekend looking at dead bodies, hoping against hope not to see their own darlings lying there.

I close my computer and hug my kids close.

Suddenly Sam yells, "I'm bigger 'n you!" and starts chasing Vava, monster claws extended.  She shrieks and runs to us for safety.

Patrick wraps his arms around Sam and reminds him that when you're big, you get to use your bigness to take care of people around you, and if you use it to hurt them, you're not really big at all; you're weak and not brave.

And that is Easter, right there.

Jesus taking His big goodness and using it to take care of us, taking our place, setting us free.  Thorns and nails and furrowed back, spit and scorn and fists.  He took it all, from us, and then He took the wrath from God.  He died.

That's the kind of God I love.  The perfect one who took the punishment in order to extend mercy.  Mercy!  Grace!  Pardon!  Welcome!

And His followers - we're safe in Him, so we get to be His kind of big.  The kind of big that protects and loves and risks our skin to show kindness to those who need it.  The deep down immeasurable fullness that is the opposite of meanness in every way.

Some of those students at Garissa helped each other escape.  Put others before themselves, even when their lives were at stake. That kind of selflessness bows my heart.  Bravery, love, mercy - echoes of Easter, even in the carnage.

Survivors tell of hearing victims being asked if they were Christians - and they said yes, even in the middle of that madness, with guns to their heads.

And they went right on into those stretched-out arms, straight into Easter-promised heaven, brave.

I hope those sad mamas who face the wrenching truth that yes, their children are gone, will forever clutch this truth to their broken hearts:

Jesus said: I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.  -John 11:25
Thank God for Easter, friends.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

A Letter to Grown-up Sam on his Fourth Birthday

Dear Sam,

This week, you will turn four.  Four! I wish I could save you up, your four-year-old self, to show your grown-up self all the treasures you embody just now.  You stretch my heart hard, you pummel every boundary, and I love you for it.

If I were a painter, I would want to paint you at your softest, sweetest - maybe leaning over a delighted baby Kachi, showing him your new robot figurine. I would paint the sun washing over you both so bright and totally lost in the moment.  I would catch the details of your hastily-cut nails, the unevenness of your haircut, the way your pants never seem to sit straight on your body - because who has time to stand still while mama fusses? Not you, my darling whirlwind.
I would include the socks which are evidently too small, because you are growing faster than I can remember to replace them.
I would try to show that moment when Kachi reaches out with everything he's got - both hands stretched toward you, fingers clumsily half-extended - smiling so big it bursts into a squeal.  The way you look into his eyes with tenderness and wonder.  You are so sure he understands every word you say.  (He does - at least, he gets the heartbeat of it, and that's the kind of listening that really matters anyway.)

But that kind of picture wouldn't show all of you, because you've got a big dose of feisty too.  You've got a strong aversion to sharing and you've started saying NO with your new big-kid stubborn jaw and you don't see anything wrong with using the hands God gave you to get what you want.  You adore Vava and want to spend time with her but you like best when she is at the scary end of your pretend dinosaur claws.  Sometimes I feel like all I do, all day long, is say no to you.  And that's hard on both of us - I know.

But you remind me in the heart-stealingest ways that even in the maelstrom of defiance and timeouts you have this wild soft heart that just aches for love.

I tried it once, giving in to God's pressure on my own angry heart to speak peace instead of anger when I just wanted to yell you to your room.  I cleared my angry eyebrows and swallowed the volume and looked up the stairs and said gently I'm sorry for yelling and I want you to know I love you even when I'm angry.  
And your beautiful brown eyes welled up and that chin stopped jutting and started trembling and you replied I love you too and I forgive you.
And now it's part of our everyday, like oatmeal, like kissing, like brushing our teeth.  I love you even when you don't let me push buttons on the computer.  I love you even when I'm angry with you. I love you even when you put me in timeout. I forgive you. I love you.

It's not easy being four.  I know I expect a lot.  Share and take turns. No, don't share your boogers.  Use your words.  Not those ones!  Play with your toys.  Clean them up.  Don't throw toys. Throw the ball!  Help Vava get out of her crib.  Never lift Kachi out of his crib.
But even though it's hard and confusing, you have some really amazing victories.  You (almost always) say excuse me instead of interrupting.  You are really great at using your words to tell me how you feel, and you are increasing in understanding how other people are feeling too.  You have a tender heart and always ask if I'm okay when I hurt myself.  You build really great things with Duplo ... dinosaurs and robots and towers with identifiable features.  You sing to yourself when you get lost in your play, and you love a good story.

YOU HAVE MEMORIZED TWO BOOKS!  (And a whole whack of songs.)  Vava and Kachi both love when you read to them.  You can pour your own drink, open yogurt cups, and crack a pretty mean egg. You even drew a picture of me (it was two giant legs, a giant bum, and an unbelievably tiny head.  It was a good reminder that I need to spend more time at your eye-level ;) ).

I'm sorry for the times I ignore you or miss the everyday wonder of you.

I'm grateful to be your mama, and glad like a blue sky full of sunshine that you are my boy.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Dear Sarah

Dear Sarah;
I have so many fun memories of you.  Me, eating half the beach because you generously believed I could do a handstand.  Meeting up for bagels and cream cheese at all hours. Your twinkly eyes.  Both of us homesick - you, missing especially your beloved grandparents, your Emily.  Watching so many movies.  Getting groceries together.  Riding the train to NS for spring break.  Driving the Mustang my sister rented.  "CC" at Toronto Conference!
The first thought that comes to mind when I think of you, though, is the night we went to see A Walk to Remember.  (You introduced me to Switchfoot - thank you!)  Whenever I come across that movie, I always think of you and Glenda and chocolate covered caramels.  (That's the best way to watch a weeper - surrounded by good friends, sharing sweet comfort food.)
And it's a great title to come to mind because you, Sarah, were so careful and sincere in your walk.  You were kind, and considered your actions and words.  And you lived out your beliefs - even when you might have felt like doing otherwise.  I'm thinking of the time God used you to teach me a lesson, and your gentleness stands out so vividly. 
We were hanging out in your room, and you went downstairs to make hot drinks.  Your diary was open on your bed and I idly read your open page.  I wasn't trying to find out anything in particular, I was just being a careless and thoughtless bad friend.  I reached out to turn the page when I realized I wouldn't want anyone doing the same to me, so I stopped ... and squirmed as the guilt flooded in.  When you came back, I awkwardly confessed - and you graciously forgave me and completely moved on.  The relief!  I didn't expect such grace.  But you walked in light of your Bible, friend, and Jesus tells us who have been forgiven to forgive - so you did, without even taking the time to enjoy a little righteous indignation ;).  I love you for that.
I've been overflowing with tears all day, thinking that I'll never see you here again - and thinking how utterly satisfied your heart must be to be in the presence of the One you lived for so quietly and truly.  
I'm so glad to have walked a year with you, friend.  Thank you for making my life richer and gentler.  

Saturday, February 14, 2015

For Patrick, on Valentine's Day

I love you
And your eternal patience
With my backseat driving.

I love you
And how you come home everyday
Ready to play.

I love you
And the way you wave to us
Before you get in the car.

I love you
And your midnight laughter
Over cake.

I love you
And your silly dancy songs
With the babies.

I love you
And your clever coffee alarm
At 5am.

I love you
And your willing endurance
Of my favourite songs on repeat.

I love you
And the way you eat soup with me
All winter long.

I love you
And the way you run upstairs
To check on the kids at night.

I love you
And geeking out on history and dialogue together
After we leave the movies.

I love you
And I love you
And I love you.