Saturday, June 1, 2019

Our Own Stack of Blocks

This week I was watching Boss Baby with the kids. Have you seen that one? It's about a boy whose parents tell him that a new baby is coming home, and then it's his journey through the fears and insecurities of what that all means. It's funny and my kids love it, but there's one part that was stressing them out.
The boy, Tim, is afraid that when the baby comes, there will be less love for him. He pictures love as a finite resource, like a stack of blocks that he will have to share: his deep fear is that there will be less love for him.

When the movie got to this part, I paused it and tried to unpack it a bit for my kids. I had seen a few worried expressions flash across their faces, and I wanted to assure them.

"That's a big fear for many of us," I explained, "that we won't be loved. We're afraid there's not enough love to go around.  But every one of us comes into the world with our own stack of blocks - our own big pile of love.  It never runs out. Because no matter who else loves us or doesn't love us, the One who made us loves us.  We are all already loved. And not just loved: so loved.  SO LOVED."

And one of the kids piped up, "except bad guys."

And I shook my head.  "Nope. Nuh-uh. Jesus told us who God loves. God so loved the world (hear it? sooooooo loved the world) that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.  Everybody. We're all bad guys, all sinners. And He loves us - He gives us all our own big stack of blocks."

And we turned the movie back on and they dove back into the story, but the truth I got to share with them has been ringing through my heart all week.

I don't know about you, but I say the meanest things to myself in my head.
"You're a bad mom," I think, after losing my temper in an exasperating moment. Or "You should go on a diet." Or "How long has it been since you mopped that floor?"

And the Lord has been interrupting me and saying "so loved" in place of those sharp words.

"You're a so-loved mom. You are so loved. How long has it been since you remembered you were so loved?"

Dear friends, I wanted to share this gospel truth with you.
You are so loved.
It's the reason He sent Jesus.
It's the reason Jesus died and rose again.
It's why the Holy Spirit came.
It's the sure foundation from which we can read the Scriptures, learn from Him, and know Him.
God so loved the world.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Guest Post: God, Our Father Who Loves Us Like A Mother


Mothers are some of the most underappreciated people in the world. A mother knows what it’s like to sustain and nourish another human from her own body. A mother knows what it’s like to give her body and her strength, to give up her waking hours and her sleeping hours, and even to give up her life for the care of her children. A mother knows what it’s like to deplete herself to the point of exhaustion, to give all of herself for the little people who depend on her for their very life but treat her with such disregard and disrespect all day long, always demanding more and never showing any appreciation or giving anything in return. Mothers, if this is any encouragement, God knows exactly how you feel.

God identifies himself with mothers and motherhood in at least three ways. First, in His sufficiency; second, in His self-sacrificing tender-kindness and loving-care; and third, in His unrequited love. By examining how God identifies Himself with mothers and with motherhood, we can learn a little about God and we can draw comfort from knowing more of God’s companionship with us and His care for us.

God chooses to identify Himself to us primarily in masculine terms, He wants to be known as the Father. But God, as the perfect parent, is the one who protects and provides for His children and nourishes and sustains them. Furthermore, human fathers and mothers both are created in the image of God. Genesis 1:27 says, “In the image of God, He created him; male and female he created them.” It follows then, that God’s parenting of His children has the characteristics of both fatherhood and motherhood. The Presbyterian minister, Scott Sauls says, “God is our Father who loves us like a Mother.”

God identifies Himself with motherhood most strikingly in the use of His name, El-Shaddai. El-Shaddai is the second name by which God chooses to identify Himself to man. He reveals this name to Abraham in Genesis 17:1-2, “When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, ‘I am God Almighty (El-Shaddai); walk before me and be blameless that I may make my covenant between me and you and may multiply you greatly.’” The name El-Shaddai is mistranslated as God Almighty in our English Bibles. The name El signifies strength, power, or might and is used through the Old Testament as the word “God” or “god,” it indicates to us the power of God Himself. Although there is still some ambiguity around the origins of the name Shaddai, it is believed to be derived from the Hebrew word, shadaim, for breast. This indicates sufficiency or nourishment. Some have made the suggestion that the name El-Shaddai be further translated as “the many breasted One.” Another translation might be something like God All-Sufficient. God introduces Himself to Abraham as El-Shaddai with the promise that He will “multiply [him] greatly.” God also introduces Himself as El-Shaddai to Jacob, repeating the same promise to him in Genesis 35:11, “I am God Almighty (El-Shaddai): be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body.” God introduces himself as El-Shaddai and associates this name with the promise of offspring. Later, Jacob, now known as Israel, invokes El-Shaddai in his blessing to his children, most notably in his blessing on Joseph in Genesis 49:24-25:

“His arms were made agile by the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob (El-Shaddai, God of Jacob) … by the God of your father who will help you, by the Almighty (El-Shaddai) who will bless you with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that crouches beneath, blessings of the breasts and of the womb.”

Jacob, looking forward from the brink of the population explosion he has been promised in Genesis 35:11, appropriates the name of El-Shaddai, and calls down distinctly maternal “blessings of the breasts and of the womb” to his children and grandchildren. God, does not only provide multiplied offspring—blessings of the womb—but also promises to nourish and sustain them—blessings of the breasts. Of the Patriarchs it is Jacob who is most associated with the name El-Shaddai. Jacob himself calls El-Shaddai “the Mighty One of Jacob,” and afterwards, through the Old Testament, the name El-Shaddai is often used next to the name of Jacob. We can imagine Jacob, who was so close to his mother, having a particular appreciation for God as El-Shaddai, the God who nourishes and sustains. The prophet Isaiah invokes the same maternal imagery when he writes, “You shall suck the milk of nations; you shall nurse at the breast of kings; and you shall know that I, the LORD, am your Saviour and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob (El Shaddai, God of Jacob)” (Isaiah 60:16); and,

“Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice with her in joy, all you who mourn over her; that you may nurse and be satisfied from her consoling breast; that you may drink deeply with delight from her glorious abundance. For thus says the LORD: ‘Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the nations like an overflowing stream; and you shall nurse, you shall be carried upon her hip, and bounced upon her knees. As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem’” (Isaiah 66:10-13).

Through the prophet Isaiah, God promises to comfort the people of Israel with the restoration of Jerusalem, “as one whom his mother comforts.” In this translation it seems the consoling breasts belong to the city of Jerusalem, but still, it is God who provides the nourishment that flows through them; God is the true comforter and here he is a maternal comforter, comforting His children as a mother. The breasts are a metaphor for both nourishment and comfort, like a mother comforts and nourishes her child with her breasts, God will comfort and nourish His people. This is not a reluctant association, throughout Scripture, God repeatedly identifies Himself with motherhood.

As we see in the passages quoted, El-Shaddai is the God who nourishes and sustains. His power is sufficient to all His children’s needs. He provides for them abundant blessings. He uses the imagery of breasts as metaphors for the way He nourishes His people from Himself. El-Shaddai is the God who provides Manna for the Children of Israel in the wilderness. He is the Rock who was struck in the desert to quench the thirst of His people. He is the God who, through Jesus, says, “I am the Bread of Life” (John 6:35) and invites us to feed on His body and drink of His blood (John 6:54). This is the God who gives life by the breaking of His body and the draining of His blood. He is the God who, by His own self, nourishes and sustains life.

In this way, God is not being like a mother, rather the imagery works in the opposite direction. Mothers are image-bearers of God, they reflect His tender nurturing heart when they tenderly nurture their children. The mother who sustains her child with her own body, who nourishes her child from her breasts, and who comforts her child with the closeness of her body until that child thrives images the God who is our El-Shaddai. The God who is sufficient to our every need. The God who births us by His Spirit. The God who sustains and nourishes us from His own self. And the mother who exhausts herself for the nourishment, sustenance, and comfort of her children can be sustained, nourished, and comforted from the resources of El-Shaddai who is sufficient to all her needs. Perhaps you, mother, exhausted in the late hours with an unsettled child in your weary arms have been comforted to find yourself cradled in the everlasting arms of your El-Shaddai.

God also identifies Himself with motherhood in the way He self-sacrificially cares for His children. This is expressed by Jesus in Luke 13:34; He laments over Jerusalem,

"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”

He draws on the imagery of a mother hen, sheltering her chicks from danger with her own body. He points to the instinct in mothers to put themselves in harm’s way to protect their children. In His lament, Jesus is referring prophetically to the time when, by the breaking of His body, He shelters His people from wrath. In His sacrificial death, Jesus holds nothing back, thrusting Himself fully into danger to secure the safety of His people. The fact that He likens this to the care that a mother hen has for her chicks is evidence that God has purposely designed motherhood to reflect Himself. The loving care and tender kindness that a mother has for her child reflects God’s care and concern for His children. Like a mother, awake in the night with a troubled child, God is the one who “will neither slumber nor sleep” (Psalm 121:4) as He cares for His people. Like a mother who sets aside her busyness and her work to hold a needy child, God cares for His needy children, “In His arms He carries them all day long.” Indeed, His attention to His children, described in Psalm 121 is maternal care:

“He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. … The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The LORD will keep you from all evil; He will keep your life. The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore” (Psalm 121:3-8).

We can imagine the Heavenly Father, here paying close attention to His small child’s every step as He walks beside His child, He protects His child from the glare of the sun with His body, casting a cool shade. In this way, a mother who forgets her own needs and desires to be diligently attentive to the comfort and safety of her child reflects the tender care of God for His children. Further, God is the God who “swears to His own hurt and does not change” (Psalm 15:4). This is intentional, He does not make promises carelessly, not realizing the cost; no, God weighs the cost, and considers it worthwhile. In this way, a mother who, for the love of her child, endures the pain and labour of childbearing and the personal cost of caring for her child through the day and through sleepless nights, considering it worthwhile, is an image of God’s self-sacrificing care for His children.

A mother who gives of her body, her spirit, her attention, and her energy out of love for her child and finds her love unrequited knows something about the love of God. Motherhood is a thankless vocation. To a child, a mother's sacrifices are expected and demanded; her desires are meaningless or nonexistent. Her child openly believes in his own supreme importance: mother is of no more value than a dispensary. Her commands are taken as idiotic suggestions, or completely ignored. She rescues her unwitting child from danger and is thanked with screaming resentment. Her child repeatedly returns to the danger and ignores her mother's warnings. A mother knows exactly what God means when He says, "All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people" (Romans 10:21). God holds out His hands in grace, giving and giving. Each moment of life is a gift from God, each breath, each new day, the food that sustains, these are the least of His gifts but if He withheld any one of them none would survive. How like small children we are. We depend on God's grace but give Him so little thanks. We complain about the good gifts He gives us because they are not precisely to our liking. We grow bitter towards Him when we don't get the things we want, the way we want them. We often remark on the foolishness of the Children of Israel when they complain to Moses in Numbers 21:5, "Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” "There is no food ... and we loathe this worthless food," how ridiculous, how like small children they are. But how like them are we? There is no love like God's love, no one could give more than He gives. But His love is unrequited every day. Arrogantly, we receive His gifts with no regard for the giver. Still, God gives. He gives at such cost, He gives His greatest treasure to win us. Jesus, God's great gift, for us. But His gift is largely ignored or rejected. We fail to value it, we don't appreciate the cost. We treat God with the disregard of small children for their mothers. Still God loves us, He chooses to see past our unreceptive hearts and He loves us with the kind of tender love a mother has for her small children. The mother who smiles at her children's petulance, who patiently serves her children with a love that makes her forget their unkindness, reflects the love God has for His children. Our God is kind.

Today is the day the world sets aside for the appreciation of mothers. We should appreciate mothers all the more for showing us something of the great love of God for us. He is the God who, like a mother, nourishes us from His own self, gives to us at such great cost, and whose gifts we receive with indifference and contempt. We should appreciate mothers for reflecting the kindness of God in their care for small children.


Sunday, May 5, 2019

He Prays for Us

This week was a tough one for me. It's been a hard go lately.  I know I'm not alone in that; we all struggle and face our own battles.
The enemy has been pointing out my insufficiencies, and, overwhelmed, taking my eyes off Christ, I began to sink.
When I was sinking into despair I texted a friend who I know has battled her own mighty share of struggles. "Help!" I cried, "I can't do this alone."
And she came out of her busy life and brought me some wine and stood in my kitchen and wrapped her arms around me and prayed for me.
And I remembered reading this amazing snippet by Robert Murray McCheyne, that goes "If I could hear Christ praying for me in the next room, I would not fear a million enemies. Yet distance makes no difference. He is praying for me."
I did not hear Christ himself praying for me, but this sister, this friend - the church which is his body - came and stood with me, and I heard her praying for me.
And I knew this was an echo of my Lord's heart, praying for me.
We aren't alone. He is praying for us. And He has given us each other,  to strengthen and hold one another.
I praise Him for His prayers, and for yours, my friends.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

For Pascal, age 2.

I held you in my arms and gave you
approximately two thousand seven hundred
carefully sterilized bottles of formula.

These days you like to scoop up dirty snow by the mittenful
and shove it gleefully into your mouth
before I can stop you.

I have changed what feels like a million diapers
(actually also approximately two thousand seven hundred)
and left your bottom dry and ph balanced each time.

You still resist being changed
and never ever answer yes when I ask if you need a fresh diaper
as if sitting in filth is your favourite.

I have bought, cooked, sliced, and offered you
oh, let's just say two thousand seven hundred
bites of tasty fresh vegetables.

You are (even still) coming up with
new ways and words to refuse them; 
today's being "yuck" and "please no."

I have washed, folded, put away, and wrestled you into
your clothes two thousand times
more or less (probably more, counting blowouts).

Last night you discovered your firetruck jams
(freshly laundered after a stinky accident)
and have already thanked me three times for cleaning them.
(You're welcome)

I have slept through your cries, snoring,
until your siblings bring you to me
and I roll over and make room for you for one last dream.

And you still call for me first of all
and cheer "good morning, mama!" when I wake
and kiss my bleary, sleep-lined face.

I have been led outside in all seasons
by your insistence, to say good morning and goodnight to the birds,
an unusual but not unpleasant way to bookend the day.

And you still delight over the magic of being out of doors,
you race to spy the moon for the eight hundredth time
as if it was the first. 

I let you help me vacuum the house today
and it took six times as long, for you insisted
on carefully capturing each crumb with the upholstery attachment.

And still you did it, room after room,
painstaking and gleeful and triumphant
you endless adventurer.

Monday, December 24, 2018

I Don't Forget

At bedtime tonight, Kachi wanted me to rush through prayers. "Just say three things!" he whispered after he finished, before I began to pray.  It's Christmas Eve, after all, and he is far too excited for a prolonged period of silence.
So I prayed my truncated prayer, and picked up the story.
"Wait," he asked, "did you pray the neighbour part?"
"No," I shook my head, "do you want me to?"
"Yes please," he asked.
So I quickly asked God to help us to love our neighbours as ourselves, and Kachi said, "you know, I don't forget that you're my neighbour, mama."

And now he is snoring against my back, my precious little neighbour.

And Jesus, too.

He didn't forget us.
He didn't forget that we're his neighbours.
He came down, moved into the neighbourhood, took on humanity.

And loved us as himself.

Wishing you so much joy as you celebrate with your loved ones this Neighbour who did not forget - and does not forget - to love us as himself.


Sunday, December 23, 2018

Love Came Down at Christmas

Patrick and I fell in love at Christmas.

We'd been chatting on MSN for a few weeks when he invited me to his parents' place for Christmas. I said yes, and booked a train ticket to Toronto, where he was going to school, and then we bought a pair of tickets to take us both up to Northern Ontario.

I was so excited to see him, to spend time with him in person, but also so nervous. We'd only met in person once, so briefly, for less than five minutes. What if he misremembered what I was like? What if he was disappointed in me, in person? What if I was too ugly, or too tall, too frizzy, too freckly? What if he saw me arrive at the train station and decided to turn and walk away?

When I disembarked at Union Station, I couldn't find him. I found my bag, and then stood on the platform, waiting. As each minute ticked by, I grew more certain that he'd changed his mind, and didn't want this stranger infringing on his Christmas after all.  He wasn't coming. He must have seen me and decided to slip away.  I hadn't slept much on the way up, and nerves had prevented me from eating. The room began to spin.

Suddenly there he was, striding through the crowd, cheeks bright and eyes apologetic.  He walked straight up to me and put his arms around me and held me close.

The whole world stood still.

There was nothing else but the relief and joy of his embrace; no drafty room, no thrum of trains beneath my feet, no strangers spinning in a panicky whirl. Just Patrick.

He had come for me after all.
He loved me.

I knew it before our first kiss, before we'd ever held hands, before we ate our first meal together.

Because he could have been anywhere else, but he was right here, hugging me and not letting go.

And I know Jesus loves me, because

He came for us.
He did not leave us alone in the dizzying, spinning universe.

He came.
Because he loves us.
He has loved us from the beginning.
He came for his own, and he will not let go.


Saturday, December 22, 2018

Ordinary and In Between

Right now, Pascal and Kachi are sleeping. Vava is cuddled up with Patrick, watching a cartoon Anne of Green Gables. Sam is playing Super Mario on the Wii. A soft glow is shining outside, the magic of streetlights on snow, and I am sitting by the window, watching their faces. 

I love them so much. 

There's a picture I've seen circulating on Facebook lately, a painting of Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus. Joseph is sitting, leaning up against the wall, and Mary is lying on the floor next to the manger. Starlight gleams on the Baby's face. 

It captures a stillness I don't often think about - after the flurry of birth, before the hurrying in of awestruck shepherds. Usually I see paintings of the Big Moments of that holy night. Angels announcing. Innkeepers refusing. Shepherds adoring. I tend to think about the moments that are recorded - and not the great homely gaps in between. 

But in my own life, the moments that are the sweetest, the deepest, the true ones that make a sort of glue that presses heart close to heart, they're not particularly noteworthy. They're not awards ceremonies or great achievements. They're just the ordinary goodness of the everyday. Sam holding Pascal's hand as he helps him to the swing set. Vava teaching Kachi how to draw a polar bear. The kids deciding to have a puppy lunch, eating from bowls on the floor. Playing Wii and watching YouTube.

I love that the artist shared a glimpse of the glorious ordinary in that first Christmas. Holy, beautiful, restful - and ordinary. 

This Christmas, in between the bright spots - the guests, the presents, the tree, the toasts - may the simple gift of your ordinary moments fill your hearts with peace, my friends. 

Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Grownups are like Pascal!

We had a snow day today - or a rain day - a bad weather day, and Sam's little friend was with us for the day.

At lunch time, Vava non-sequitered, "If anyone is sad because they don't have a daddy, they can be happy because" - and here she paused, and pointed up.

"Because God's our father," finished Sam's friend.

"Even Mama's," Sam laughed, "And compared to God, Mama's a baby."

"Mama's like Pascal," Vava hooted, "and we're all one day old!"

"Grownups are like Pascal! The whole world is just babies!"  

And the table erupted with laughter and the conversation veered away, but it left me smiling because exactly.


We're all just babies and we need Him. Which is why Jesus came to us as one of us -

As an absolute baby.
Immanuel; God with us.

Merry Christmas, friends.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Risen with Healing in His Wings

I had a miserable morning. Woke up tired, Patrick was gone, everything just seemed sad.
I missed my old friends. Missed my family. Felt like a failure at everything.
Once the kids got on the bus, I brought Scally home and just cried.  I could have used one of Kachi's classic lines: I wish everything was nothing.
One of those days, you know?

My heart was a turtle flipped upside down, exposed and immobile and futile.
And I begged God for help, to come and turn it rightside up.

And He did a strange thing.

A simple and sort of silly thing.

He reminded me of that old Sunday school joke.  Teacher asks: what's grey, climbs trees, and stores nuts for the winter? Student puts up hand, replies: I want to say squirrel, but I'm gonna say ... Jesus?  (Because as every Sunday school kid knows, whatever the question, the answer is always Jesus.)

So if the answer is Jesus, I asked, where is He, in this miserable morning?  And he gave me that mundane and practical answer: at the end of your arms.

So I put on my jacket and packed up Pascal and we bought some people lunch and gave some Christmas presents and along the way I discovered what I had forgotten:

In God's upsidedown kingdom, fullness isn't found by gathering more for myself, but in pouring out.

Like He poured His love out on us, by coming to us.
Like He poured out His rightful glory and took on flesh.
Like He poured out His might and took on the helplessness of infancy, of poverty.

And brought salvation living and breathing into the world.

Yes. Even now, with two thousand years of well-worn Christmases, that old miracle still holds.  Giving does not make emptiness, but fullness.

Merry Christmas, friends.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Joy: God with Us

My sister said it best.

Click here to hear her message about Advent Joy: God with us.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Dear To Us

Last year was our first year at the kids' new school.
Whenever I would go to the school, I would see other parents talking together, saying hello, asking after each other's families.
I didn't know anyone, so just stood awkwardly trying not to let my stroller be too much in anybody's way.

Today was concert day - kindergarten concert in the morning, and big kid concert in the afternoon. We decided to make a lazy morning of it, and sleep in a bit, have pancakes, and so I drove the kids to school instead of putting them on the bus.

I met friends at drop off, met friends at the kinder concert, met friends at the big kid concert, and met friends when I popped into the office to drop off Christmas presents for the teachers.  Bright spots all over the place, quick hellos and beautiful faces. Hugs and how's-it-goings. Friends.

When Mary was pregnant with Jesus, she went to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who was pregnant with John (the forerunner, the baptizer, the one who would prepare repentant hearts to receive their king). When they drew near, John leapt for joy in Elizabeth's womb - rejoicing with that oneness in the Spirit, that deep, truest sort of friendship.

I love that God doesn't just give us eyes that remember each other - he gives us hearts that recognize one another, hearts that leap for joy, and spirits that resound with His.  He gives us this great gift in our wild and lonely world - not under our Christmas tree, but hopefully around it: friends.

I hope your Christmas season is warmed with the presence of those you love and know, dear friends.

Monday, December 17, 2018

On Dressing -

I went to a Nordic spa this weekend for my friend's bachelorette party. Saunas, rock pools, salt scrubs, repeat. It was glorious.  The day was filled with laughs and good food and drink and genuine heart-healing love as we celebrated our friend's touch in all our lives.

The day before, though, I was stressing about having to spend a whole day in my bathing suit.

As usual, I turned to my siblings for help and my sister gave me some wonderful advice.
'The only person who will be worried about your body,' she said, 'is you.'

My sisters are pretty much always right but this was so mind-blowingly right (and obvious! Why didn't I think of this 30 years ago?), it just set me free.

And once I determined not to worry about my body in a bathing suit, I enjoyed myself completely.  The grand total of people worrying about my bathing suit body: 0.

If you can't find the right thing to wear this Christmas - parties, services, concerts, dinners, whatever - don't worry.  The One whose birthday we're celebrating was wrapped up in swaddling clothes.

And he doesn't look on our outward appearance, but on the hearts He came to redeem and fill and make lovely.

Merry Christmas, friends.