Monday, December 11, 2017

Light For a Blue-Christmas Sort of Day

I had a super homesick day.

I think I've avoided homesickness since our move by just not thinking about it. Not thinking about the usual events and routines and happenings in Thunder Bay. Just burying my head in the sand I guess.

But then, hanging the ornaments with Sam brought on the tears and I haven't been far from them since.

And that homesickness, that ache for something missed, the longing for something loved and lost - it can get pretty fierce this time of year. There's something particularly painful in your first Christmas without.

I spent most of Pascal's naptime wallowing on Google earth, scrolling around the streets I miss.

But after I had a good cry, one of my wise friends pointed me hopeward today: "Imagine the fullness and the satisfaction of our souls when we finally go to our eternal home. Almost unfathomable to believe that all our longings and yearnings will be satiated forever. No more homesickness - One day!!!!!!"

The restlessness, that chafing in the soul, that deep weariness - all whisper that we're longing for our true home. We're not there yet - not yet.

I can't think of a better balm for the ache of a lonely Christmas than this: one day, we will go to our Father's house, to be with the One who traveled so far away from it to bring us safe home.

Merry Christmas, friends.
Xo.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Haste, Haste to Bring Him Laud

Our kids love to fight over who gets to pray at mealtimes. (Sigh.)

Sam's prayer is quick and simple: Dear God, thank you for the food. Amen.

Vava's changes based on the season: Dear God, thank you for the food and Merry Christmas.

Kachi's is my favourite: Dear God, thank you for God. Amen.

And I think he's onto something. Because all our gifts come from God. All our food, all our comfort and family and joy, all our shelter and warmth and peace - all from God.

And at Christmastime, especially, when we remember that babe who traveled so far -

Thank You, God, for God.
It's a pretty good prayer after all :).

Merry Christmas friends.
Xo.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

All This Took Place

This morning, the kids woke up at 6. (Sam was too excited about Saturday aka Minecraft day to sleep, and once one kid is up and twitching, it doesn't take long for the others to join.)

I got up with them, fed them breakfast, read Pascal stories, made coffee, unloaded the dishwasher, wiped the counter a hundred times, changed a stinky diaper, made a grocery list, mediated some fights, set out some more food for the big kids, turned on the tv, and finally Pascal was ready for nap. I tucked him in and tiptoed up to our room to slip back under the covers with Patrick for a few more minutes of sleep. 

I did all those things because they set everything up for me to enjoy some cozy rest with Patrick.

Matthew chapter 1.  It tells us that Mary is pregnant with a child from the Holy Spirit, and that Joseph was told by an angel in a dream to marry her anyway, because this baby was God's son, who would save his people from their sins.

Then -

'All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: "Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel" (which means, God with us).'

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken [...] which means, God with us.

All of this crazy stuff - the immaculate conception, the angel dream, the warning from God - means one thing: God with us.

God with us.

You know how it feels, that happiness that blooms when you go out of your way to be with people you love? You're probably thinking right now of a bunch of examples all more amazing than me getting the kids set up for some solo play while I cuddle with Patrick. Maybe you flew across the country for a family event. Maybe you planned and prepped and sweated hard over a dinner for ten of your favourite friends. Maybe you arranged to sit next to your sister on her flight when she had no idea you'd be traveling  too.  (Well I know some of you have done these things because I'm stealing your examples!)

And I don't know about you but it kind of takes my breath away.

It's beautiful.

God did all this -  to come down and be with us.

And that's what all the fuss is about, all the nativity plays and carols and candlelit services and all the glimmering whirlwind of Christmas ... we're celebrating the peculiar holy gift of God-with-us.

Merry Christmas, friends.
Xo.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Merry Christmas from a Sulky Prophet

I've been reading Jonah lately.

I love that book. It's organized like a palindrome, and I love palindromes.  And Jonah is just so contrary and selfish and emotional ... kind of like a certain person I see in the mirror everyday. I get Jonah. He's a familiar kind of exasperating for me.

Anyway, there's this part near the end where Jonah is sulking and ranting at God,

'And he prayed to the Lord and said, "O Lord , is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster."' (Jonah ch.4 v. 2)

Yes, you read that right. He's mad at God because God is gracious and merciful.

He didn't want to proclaim something that wouldn't happen. He didn't want to risk being misnamed a false prophet.  He was worried about his reputation, and not at all concerned with the lives that would be lost - or saved, by repentance.

He only went to Nineveh under duress (like, spat up by a huge fish sort of duress).

He had been angry that God sent him to preach repentance to Nineveh because he knew God would relent if the Ninevites repented ... and here he was, correct and sour and wishing God had wiped out the Ninevites after all.

But Jesus?

Jesus was the opposite.

God didn't have to kidnap him and make him come to us.  Jesus didn't think about His reputation or comfort.  He laid down His rights to flawless glory and embraced broken humanity in the flesh.

And God sent Jesus for the same reason He sent Jonah -

Yep. Kerneled right there in the stormy rant of the sulky prophet, we have foreshadowing of Christmas grace - You are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster -

Joy to the world, friends, He is :).
Merry Christmas.
Xo.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

For Tbay, With Love

Sam and Vava helped me decorate the Christmas tree last night.  We didn't bring our Christmas balls when we moved, so we just had our one box of unbreakable ornaments - handmade ones, wooden ones, a bird or two - the really special ones that mean something.

Sam pulled out an ornament he'd made at Ogden, their old school. He held it for a minute, then looked up at me with tears in his eyes. "This makes me feel sad and happy at the same time," he choked. "Is that a feeling?"

Yeah.

That's a feeling.

It's the kind of thing you feel about something you love, something you've lost.
It's the kind of thing you might feel when you wrap up your baby, God's baby, and lay him in a manger.
It's the kind of thing you might feel when you give up your Son for the salvation of the whole world.
It's the kind of thing you feel when you move away from your friends, your precious friends.

I pulled him close and told him to treasure that feeling.
"That feeling, Sam?  It's love. And it hurts because you loved your friends so much."

He squeezed me tight and hung his ornament on the tree.

This Christmas hurts a little more than the others.
We miss you, Thunder Bay.
Merry Christmas.
xo.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Sam's Christmas List

After school on Tuesday, Sam sat down with his paper and pen and said, "I'm making my Christmas list and it's very important."

And he wrote the following (Ash is Sam's cousin and his all-time favourite person) -

-Play with Ash on Minecraft.
-Ash sleeps on atop my bunk. Yes or No?
-I hope that you like this idea. Yes or No.

And Sam might be only six years old and he might not be great at remembering to pack his lunch bag but he is excellent at knowing that spending time with people he loves is the best gift.

Just like Jesus.
God with us.
Came at Christmas to a lost and lonely world.
Comes into lost and lonely hearts every day.

Merry Christmas, friends.
Xo.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Christmassy

I'm itching to get my decorations out.  I want those little lights and ornaments on the tree, I want to hang the stockings and see if they can survive being pawed by toddlers for another year.  I love all the scents and twinkles and ribbons that make a home feel - well, Christmassy.

The funny thing is, the first Christmas wasn't Christmassy at all.

It was more like a back-country baby shower with guest list problems.

The only stockings were Joseph and Mary's, and they sure weren't getting chocolates in the toes that morning.  There might have been a shepherd's crook propped up against the door, but it was no Christmas tree.  And the Christmas gift wasn't wrapped in thick paper and wire-lined ribbon - He was wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.

All the Christmas extras are fun (for me :) ) but they sure aren't Christmas.

Two people looked at me today and told me they were Grinches.  "We don't really like any of it," they said, "it's just a hassle." 

And they can say that, but they're crazy because they live Christmas like you wouldn't believe.

They're the kind of people who would still be friends with you if you showed up pregnant in the months before your marriage, still claiming to be a virgin.
They're the kind of people you'd want to be lying next to in a field of sheep, talking with and looking up at the stars. (And the kind who would race into town, looking for an angel-announced baby, wild with awe.)
They're the kind of people you'd want to run into if you were stuck on the side of the road with a pregnant wife and a tired donkey and not a single room in sight. 

They radiate mercy. They give generously. They travel far to show love.

If you visit them, you might not find yourself leaning up against a fir-decked mantle, sipping mulled wine, listening to Michael Buble's velvet holiday tunes.  But you will find yourself welcomed in the truest Christmas way - joyfully, loved, and helped along the way.

Me? I'm still going to hang my decorations (maybe tomorrow!?).  And you better believe I'm still going to dance to Christmas music in my kitchen until New Year's Day.  But I hope I can be really truly deep-in-the-soul as Christmassy as those glorious Grinches, every day of the year.

Merry Christmas, friends.
xo.

Monday, December 4, 2017

See the Lights and Gold and Gladness

I'm trying to raise kids who grow up to be kind, courageous, capable adults.

Usually that just makes me look at myself and laugh, or cry, because I am still working on that right in my own heart too.

This year, for Sam and Vava at least, I've been trying to keep my own voice out of their heads, and encourage them to think and plan ahead for themselves.  So while my instinct is to pack their lunch bags all tidily into their backpacks, I've been trying to pull back and ask them, "do you have everything you need to take today?" And that gets those little brains in gear and they start to remember their lunch bags, their reading reports, their library books.

This morning I was helping Vava with her ponytail when I asked Sam, "do you have everything you need for the day?"
"Yes," he. replied, stuffing his snowpants into his back pack.
"Stop and think about it -"
"I already put them in!"
 "Did you put your lunch bag in your backpack?"
"Uh - yes ..." he giggled, with that look of glee that sparks out only when he thinks he's pulling the wool over my eyes.
"I can see it on the counter," I called over my shoulder, chasing Pascal down the hall, wrestling him into his snowsuit.
"I mean the invisible one!" he hooted, winning.
"It's time to pack the visible one now," I ordered, helping Kachi into his socks.

And then one more time, just to be sure, as we were on our way to the bus stop.  "Did you pack your visible lunch?"
"Uh huh!"

But he's six and I should have checked the counter to be sure -

Because of course you know what I found when I got home.

So after a quick breakfast, I packed the kids back up into their snowsuits (the littles, and Vava too, because she was home sick today), and we made the trek to school to deliver Sam's lunch.

It wasn't a happy walk.  The kids were cranky.  We only had two stroller seats, so Pascal rode while Vava and Kachi took turns dawdling and complaining about the other person hogging the ride.  It took an hour and a half and it felt like three times that.

My perspective was nose-to-road, get-this-done, should-have-worn-a-warmer-jacket, move-those-boots-and-puhlease-stop-whining.

But if I'd just taken a step back, I would have seen something beautiful.

The kids weren't blaming Sam.  They were hoping to catch a glimpse of him, barely an hour after hugging him goodbye at the bus stop.

Instead of being cooped up inside, we were getting fresh air and exercise.

Most of the houses we passed had Christmas decorations up.

There isn't any snow right now, so we weren't fighting with ruts or ice on the sidewalks.

Objectively, I should have enjoyed myself.

But there I was, clomping along with boots and heart too heavy and dull.

I am unfailingly dumb.
I am so ready to plan and coach my kids along the paths they should walk, but I, too, forget to pack the things I need for the day.
Oh, I remember the visible ones for the most part.
But the invisible ones?

Hope.
Joy.
Rest.
Eyes to see all the things Jesus holds out, to trade for my weariness.

And I stagger along with my empty backpack and my teeth grinding down in a get-this-over grimace. 

I forget to lift my heart, to see the lights and gold and gladness.  Days can roll by, weeks, of nothing more than to-do-lists and endless laundry.

But Christmas - Christmas is this annual reminder that the Holy Story matters everyday if it matters at all. The gospel floods in with its story of glory and faith and no room in the inn and it brings the Good Gift, time and again, to fill up an empty manger and an empty backpack and an empty heart.

So tomorrow I will do it all again.  The lunches, the backpacks, the snowsuits, the bus stop -
and tomorrow I will stop, and I will fill up my own soul first.

I will open up those pages and I will sit with the King who was born in a manger until my eyes are ready to catch the glory in the ordinary.

And then I will run downstairs and kiss those faces and pack those lunches and walk those kids off to school.
With full backpacks.
And eyes wide open to all the good gifts.

Wishing you eyes to enjoy an ordinary, glorious, Merry Christmas, dear friends.
xo.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

I Already Know That

A few weeks ago, Vava was having a hard time getting ready for school in the mornings.  With a little bit of prying, I found out why - she was afraid of the bus ride.

Their bus driver doesn't assign seats, and doesn't help the kids find seats.  They pile onto the bus and hope for the best.  Sometimes the big kids sit together, and sometimes they each take a seat, and refuse to let the younger kids share.  Sam helps Vava find a seat, but he told me that he had to sit on the floor because he couldn't find a spot for himself.  (Once I stopped shaking from fury, I called the bus company and the school and got that sorted out.)

Anyway -
Even after she was getting a seat, Vava was still scared.  So I asked her if she'd like me to pray with her.  She nodded.

I wrapped my arms around her and began to pray.  "Dear God," I whispered, "please be with Vava on the bus - "
She interrupted me with a disgusted snort and a shake of her head.  "You don't have to pray that. He's always with me. I already know that. Just pray that He helps me to be brave."

Thus advised, I adjusted my prayer accordingly.  And she's been brave. And Sam still helps her find a seat.

But my favourite thing is the Christmas truth that rings deep in that scrappy little heart.

He's with her.
She knows it.
God sent Him.
Immanuel.  God with us.

And we've all been there. Frozen with fear that grabs us deep and saps our courage and keeps us shrinking back.

When that cold comes, I pray that you will find Him so very close.  And I pray that He will help you to be brave, as brave as my Vava facing those big bus steps day after day.

He's with us.

Merry Christmas, friends!
Xo.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

I Love You, with Elbow Grease

My mom sent me a picture of my Nana today.  I burst into tears, right out in public. I just love her so much.  So much.

When I was little, I was kind of scared of her. She was brisk and busy and didn't have a lot of time to sit and read with me, or take me for walks, or listen to me tell endless stories.
That was Grampie's job, because he couldn't do much else. (Alzheimer's disease can steal you from your mind but it can also slow you right down to a toddler's speed and make her world almost heaven.)
And Nana juggled the world around him, keeping it spinning and orderly and warm and tasty and impeccably tidy.

Because there are some people who say I love you with words and cuddles and a listening ear, and there are some people who wash the floor and make your supper and clean your hands and keep the freezer stocked and make sure you don't get lost when parts of you start to wander.

And God didn't just send His words, His messages of repentance and outrageous mercy.

Not just words.
The Word, incarnate.

He came.
He came and He worked and He served and He fed and He healed and He died for the whole lost wandering world.

Because love shows up.
In a dark night, in a manger, ordinary and streaming with glory, Love showed up.

And He shows up and He shows up.

And my Nana's heart has been beating for ninety-three Christmases,  hard ones and joyful ones and lonely ones and full ones, and still she swells with tears of love and gratitude when she counts His mercies, counts all the ways He's shown her he loves her.

Wishing you an advent full of gratitude, friends.
Merry Christmas!
Xo.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Some I Love Yous

Pascal goes down for his daily nap right after he and Kachi share an early lunch. They're both good eaters in the first half of the day, so they sit and gobble quite a bit before he finally shakes his head and says "Na-naw" (which I think means all done).  Yesterday, after I had washed his hands and face and de-crumbed his lap, I lifted him out of his high chair.  He leaned past my shoulder and waved to Kachi, and said "I ya yo!"  It was definitely I love you - Kachi didn't even blink, just replied, "I yuv yoo, Pa'cal," and kept on eating. 

My heart! That's my boy.

I know every family is different and shows love in different ways.  Some people keep the phrase "I love you" for special occasions, relying on actions to display their feelings in the everyday moments in between.  But I grew up doing the exact opposite of that.

Heading out to the store? I love you!
Popping across the street to see a friend? I love you!
Dropping your mom off at work for the day? I love you!
Phoning to ask Dad for a ride home? I love you!
Heading up for a nap? I ya yo!

For us, it didn't mean less in the ordinary everyday because we said it so much.  It was the little assurance, the small whisper, you matter to me.  I still need those little whispers in my day.  I still need to hear and say I love you when Patrick leaves in the morning, or before the kids climb onto the bus.  It's just who I am.  I grew up in an I love you house.

Every Christmas, we'd wake up to find an envelope tucked in among the branches and decorations on the Christmas tree.  Dad would take the time to find a loooooong sappy card for mom, to tell her how much she meant to him, and sometime on Christmas Eve, he'd nestle it into the tree for her to find Christmas morning.

And that mattered too.

Everyday reminders sometimes grow dog-eared if they aren't buoyed up by something a little more special, a little more tangible.  We need them both.

The little, throw-over-your-shoulder I love yous, and the elegant embossed Hallmark ones. 

And now December is here and carols are ringing about a Saviour being born and lights shine out glorious in the dark and cold and Christmas is coming -
and Christmas is like that big fancy formal I love you.  It shows up every year and assures us: God loves us. God loves us. God loves us.

And there are a hundred different ways He whispers it, shouts it, sings it, laughs it, paints it, creates it, all through the year. It's there all along. But in case we forget, in case the heaviness of the ordinary everyday clouds our ears to His song, at the end of every year there's Christmas. 

When God sent His Love to us, a baby -
Have you heard, broken world?
I'm sending Jesus to save you - because I love you!

Merry Christmas, friends.
xo.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Do You Hear What I Hear?

Our new house backs on a walking trail. There's a stream directly behind us, and a little woods, which screens us from passersby in summertime. Once the leaves fell, we discovered we can see all the way across the trail to the Rideau. So we exchange one beauty for another, and it's a pleasant view at any season.

I was in the bathroom last Saturday, and thought I could hear singing. Just distantly at first, then closer. I pushed up the window, and it came soaring in, clear as a bell -

Worthy is the Lamb, worthy is the Lamb, Amen.

A man was striding along the trail with his head up, lost in song, lost in praise.

It was a beautiful day and a beautiful moment and I'm glad I got to hear it.  It echoed in my heart all day.

Praise.

And it just keeps echoing, friends.  I see it and hear it in your serving hands. Your generous, shoebox-packing hands. Your kind, soup-delivering hands. Your organizing a pop-up free store for the homeless. Your fundraising concert for suffering veterans. Baking treats to make someone feel special. Donating your skill and time to repair a broken ceiling. Supporting your friends' Go-Fund-Mes. Taking your music and happiness to lonely seniors. Buying presents for needy kids. Organizing a food drive. Giving someone a ride. Taking time to listen to that hard story. You see a need and show up to meet it.

Not for the kudos but just from love.

And your song soars out to ears you don't even know.

Oh my beautiful friends, your generosity makes a weary world rejoice. I love you.