Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Among Wishes Wished

And if you should find yourself graced with a glorious October day, I hope you step out of all your obligations onto a beach.  Laugh free in sweet air, take your fill of joyous sunshine, eat something simple while wind whips hair into your mouth. Let your kids strip down and feel sand against their skin for the last time in a long time.
Revel in the last generous glimpse of summer, and hold your grateful cup high.
This is a good, good day.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Dear Pregnant Mama

Ohh, there you are, friend.
Prisoner of hope.
Waiting, inevitably.
Waiting for that inside, outside change.
And you -

Well, you will change.

You will change

You will change
Diapers, and more
Diapers, and even more
Diapers - maybe six daily, for maybe three years ... or more.

You will change
Into a sleep-walker
Into a cheerleader
Into a five-minute-expert on dinosaurs and space and unicorns.

You will change
Your mind again and again on the same topic
More pairs of sheets in a night than you ever thought possible
Outfits three times before leaving the house.

You will change
The number of souls on this planet
And the bent of those souls to hate or to love
And for them, you will change

Oh my brave friend:
You're about to change
The world.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Dear Little Labelles

Dear Sam & Vava & Kachi,

My darling darlings, you are growing up so quickly.  I feel like every time I turn around, you're hitting new milestones and leaving me baffled.  

Vava, you potty-trained yourself.  On Sam's first day of school, you decided you wanted to wear underpants and you haven't looked back.  I don't even know what to say.  After the absolute agony of getting Sam out of diapers, I was resigned to a real stand-off.  I was ready to bribe, cajole, entreat, and threaten our way from pampers to potty.  I was not expecting your calm capability.  You have made yourself some adorable little rituals, and you are just so quietly happy, going about your big-girl business.  I am so proud of you.

Kachi, you decided to walk.  You took a few wobbly steps in August, but in September you really ramped up the effort.  You spent a few weeks determinedly practicing, staggering from the front of the house to the back, plopping down on your bum every few moments.  And now ... you're so steady.  You can even reach down, pick up your toys, and keep on trucking.  I am so proud of you.

And Sam.  You valiant trooper.  You have the unenviable task of trying every thing first.  Stepping onto the schoolbus first, learning classroom routines first, being away from home all day first ... and you are doing great.  You can write so many letters, you have learned songs and poems and silly dances.  You are a learning machine. And I love sharing a picnic on the front step when you get off the bus.  I love sitting with you while you wolf down a snack and all your leftover lunch.  I love when you tell me about helping kids in your class, talking with your teacher, playing in the schoolyard.  I love reconnecting after a whole lonely day without you.  (I love that you give me a kissing hand in the morning, to keep close while you're away).  I am so proud of you.

Little Labelles, I love you.  Thank you for being you <3 .="" div="">

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Guest Post: We Are All...

I like to browse the comment section in the news stories that I read. Well, I don't like to do it but I do it. I don't know why I do it because it always leaves me feeling grumpy and dark and like I need to take a shower.

Reading the news this week and the comments afterwards has been particularly painful. I like to think that the people commenting are ordinary, decent Canadians and it's just that the comment sections brings out the worst in them.
A screen grab of the comment section.

One comment, posted on a story about the refugee crisis, was arguing against bringing any refugees to Canada: "I work hard for my house, my car, my cottage," it began.

I couldn't help but think of Amos 3:15: "'I will strike the winter house along with the summer house...,' declares the Lord."

We think that we have the things we have because we earned them and we fail to realize that so little is earned and so much is gifted.

My son throws up his hands and cries, "It's not fair!" when I refuse to buy him a new toy. "You want to know what's not fair?" his mother quips. Because his mother has lost more sleep taking care of him than he can imagine. His mother has cleaned up most of the poop and vomit and pee that his body has produced so far. He probably won't realize what his mother has done for him until he has children of his own some day.

this is what your co-workers are doing while you're working.
I remember grumbling about the chores I had to do when I was a kid, never realizing that the small amount my parents wanted me to contribute paled in comparison to how I benefited from the work they did.

I'm a self-sustaining grown-up now and I still benefit so much from the kindness and the hard work of other people.

On the radio today, I was listening to an interview with a Vietnamese-Canadian who fled Saigon in the 1970s as an eleven-year-old. Her parents sent her, by herself, on a crowded boat out into the ocean to find refuge because they knew it was the best chance she had to have a good life, to have liberty. The boat she was on was boarded by pirates who took all the food and gasoline. They continued on by sail until they landed in Malaysia. She was put in a refugee camp with thousands of others. And she just had to wait for somebody to pick her.

In those years, Canada took in tens of thousands of refugees from Vietnam. We call them the boat people. I've met some of them, in Toronto, and I've seen how we haven't suffered at all from taking them in, in fact they've enriched our country.

The woman who was being interviewed told about how she was told one day that a Canadian family was going to sponsor her to come to Canada. They brought her to Canada and then they sponsored her mother and father, and later, her brother, so her whole family was able to come.

Now, this woman is spearheading an effort among the Vietnamese immigrants to sponsor more refugees to come to Canada.

t-rex could be anybody-could be your grandmother.
That story made me think that, fundamentally, we are no different. We are all refugees.

I don't mean to make light of anybody's hardship when I say that.

But we are all born helpless. We rely so much on the kindness of others. We take so much for granted. We know this is true.

The Vietnamese-Canadian woman's story is a metaphor for all of us. When she left Vietnam, she had no prospect, she was setting out in hope. In hope that somewhere, somebody would have compassion. There was nothing else she could do. She couldn't work to earn passage to anywhere, she was put in a camp and she couldn't leave until somebody picked her. Until somebody paid so that she could come to Canada. Somebody she didn't even know, somebody she'd never met before.

We are teaching our children this verse,

"God ... saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works, but because of His purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began." (2 Timothy 1:9)

We are dependent on God's grace. We can't do anything to save ourselves, in fact, we'd sooner run the other way. We like to think of ourselves as self-sustaining grown-ups, but God sees us all as infants. Infants that he snatches out of danger. Just like refugees we don't choose to be rescued, we can't. We rely completely on grace. I am the recipient of grace.

Not just in Salvation but in everything. Everything is a gift.

That's why I care. Because I am--we are all--in need of refuge.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

There Is Room

Today I went to the beach.
With my kids.

Not to pay a smuggler $4500 to launch us out in 5-foot waves on a rubber raft.
Not to gather the body of my son, washed ashore.

Just to play.

And afterward, we came home.
To our house, where every one of us has a bed to sleep in, clothes to wear, and (too much) food to eat.

And when the babies were napping peacefully (without ragged breaths of fear that someone might kill us for whatever they imagine we're doing wrong) I clicked mindlessly onto the internet.

And people were arguing about how many refugees we can take because there isn't enough room.  And people were putting up walls in hearts and ballot boxes with the lie that there aren't enough jobs to share.  

And I don't have any magic solutions but I'm looking around my house in the heart of the true north and I think what are we strong and free for, if not to welcome the oppressed?  

What's the good of an extra bed, if it never welcomes someone in need?  Why not share these extra calories with someone who needs them?  Could we stretch our budgets in a different direction -  to say Refugees Welcome instead of Merry Christmas this year?

I know I'm not the only one who cried in front of the computer screen today.  I'm willing to bet that a lot of guest rooms would be made ready in a heartbeat if the government waived some red tape and asked Canadians to step up to the crisis. 

There is room in this inn.  Refugees Welcome.

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.