My attention just isn't captivated by rules about priests and traditions and feasts.
So I asked God to show me something about Him in this - because He's hidden Himself all through His word. And of course, He did.
Last week we included a Christmas carol in our Bible study for the first time this year. (Yay!) We sang O Little Town of Bethlehem (which has never been one of my favourites). I was struck by the line the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight. Really? Fears? That seemed kind of out of place in a Christmas hymn. As far as I can tell, other than that odd line about 'scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmases long long ago,' fear isn't really a big Christmas carol theme.
It made me think of that shivery passage in Isaiah:
Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy,
and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread.
But the Lord of hosts, Him you shall honour as holy.
Let Him be your fear, and let Him be your dread. (Isaiah 8:12-13)
And I don't know about you, but I needed that reminder. To fear God, and no one, nothing else. Not the future, not my own failure, not whatever might face my children, not exhaustion or repetition or insignificance.
I seem to have fallen into a funk lately - worrying about all sorts of things. Unconsciously fearing a handful of big unknowns that I have no control over, and letting that fear colour my mood, robbing my joy. Fearing things that very well may come to pass - but things that I can't control.
The other day I was feeing Pascal while the kids were playing Super Mario. (Let me be honest. Sam was playing Super Mario, while Vava and Kachi held empty controllers.) Sam died, and Vava asked him how many hopes he had left.
And that made me smile all over the place because she didn't mean to preach to my heart but she did.
God so gently took my heavy heart and pointed me away from my fears to my Fear and I found hope. What is my hope? Jesus. Not that Jesus will save me from my fears (He'll probably lead me straight into them, because He's got bigger things in mind for me than assuaging my fears). Not that Jesus will give me a trouble-free future (He told us we'd have trouble, after all). But that Jesus is splendid and glorious - and His heaven waits, where all of this long life will seem like a breath, a vapour, when He takes me, at last, into His presence. Oh, I do not need to fear the future. My fear, my hope, is Jesus.
Like Super Mario on the easy setting, I will not run out of hopes.
I don't know where this post finds you. Maybe you, too, have been clenching your teeth a little more lately, furrowing your forehead a little harder every time you read the news. Whatever fears are stalking you, I pray you bring them to our only Fear, our eternal Hope, and that He gives you peace and joy as advent begins.
Merry Christmas, friends!
There will probably come a day when you doubt that your big, beautiful, smart, funny, amazing siblings like you.
At some point you might feel like they see you as an annoying little brother and not much else.
I get it.
I'm the fourth too.
So I thought I would take a picture of this moment to remind you.
Because you probably won't remember the way they all cluster around you the moment you coo or gurgle.
You will likely never hear them fight over whose brother you are.
You won't hear Kachi's soft baby voice gasp "baby Pa'cal so coot!"
You won't hear Vava declare "my baby brother is just adorable!"
You won't hear Sam exclaim in all sincerity, "babies are much preciouser than phones!"
And if there comes a day when your heart feels lonely, I hope you look at this picture and remember.
You are coot.
You are adorable.
You are much preciouser than phones.
A few weeks ago I was driving a friend home when we saw a woman standing in the middle of the street. It's not terribly uncommon for prostitutes to hang out in the crosswalks in our neighbourhood, so I thought she was likely just working, but she had a glassy look on her face, and it took her a long time to walk to one side. So instead of just nodding hello, we rolled down the windows to make sure she didn't need help.
"Am I alright?" she repeated back to me, one eyebrow raised.
'Yes - do you need help?' I asked.
"Noooo ... I don't need help ..." she replied, looking both defensive and bewildered, "are you going to throw eggs at me or something?"
We assured her we weren't, and told her we were glad she was okay, and drove on. It was an awkward, heartbreaking exchange.
As if life hasn't been bad enough.
As if the circumstances that lead someone to prostitution aren't enough of a painful mess.
People feel the need - or the right - to add to that and attack hookers.
Someone in our neighbourhood painted a gigantic sign, complaining about the fact there are hookers on the street. One entire side of a garage screamed a complaint against prostitutes (not johns!) in big ugly letters.
Today, I saw a different sign that someone put up, right where 2 or 3 prostitutes can be found almost any time of day.
A sign that declares what God thinks of prostitutes. Johns. Angry neighbours. Haters. People who want to help but aren't really sure how. What He thinks of you and me and why He sent Jesus to bear the punishment for sin.
A sign that declares the truth in one simple Word.
It's beautiful, isn't it? :)
Today, the bags under my eyes could have their own postal code. Pascal was awake so much last night. Kachi was up coughing and sneezing. Vava had a bad dream. And Sam needed a cuddle. That all added up to me getting less than three hours of sleep by the time our morning alarm rang.
And because I am no longer in my first bloom of youth, three hours of sleep does not quite equate to a coherent mama.
This was one of those mornings where Patrick cemented his rock star status by sending me back to bed (I really wasn't functional) and staying home to get the big kids ready for school and onto the bus before going to work. (Two extra hours! God bless that man!)
Kachi spent the rest of the morning playing by himself, while I dozed off and on, feeding Pascal.
I am not worrying about the toys all over my living room floor or the furniture we pulled out to make a fort. I am ignoring the mountain of unsorted toys and clothes that need to make their way into dressers or donation bins. I am just fine wearing my hoodie and cut-off stretch pants and will probably stay in them all day.
Because no matter what supermoms tell us and no matter what post-partum magic celebrities use, the hard work of bringing a baby into this world lasts much longer than a contraction. True labour does not end in the delivery room. No. That's where it begins.
The other day I texted my sister that I was embarrassed because I opened the door to receive a friend who came with presents and food, and I was wearing my spit-uppy pjs, my carpet needed a vacuuming, and Kachi was running around in a diaper.
And my sister (with her own quick wisdom) pointed out that it shouldn't be embarrassing to have a life where I'm able to stay home and cuddle my baby, stay in my jams, and have a relaxed morning with my toddler while a friend thinks of me and brings me gifts. This is something to be grateful for.
She is, of course, beautifully right.
Because God just keeps teaching me this, over and over, that gratitude isn't a matter of perfection, but perspective.
From the world's baggiest eyes, and a pretty lucky mama,
I have not been looking forward to this day.
The past few weeks, every time I went into a store that sells school supplies, I've had a little weepy meltdown.
I wasn't able to buy Vava anything for starting school because it was shattering my hormonal pregnant heart.
(My daughter is going to school!)
Each time, I tried to steel myself and reach for the lunch boxes and water bottles, and each time a giant aching wave surged right behind my eyelids. I had to walk away.
I didn't expect to be such a wreck.
I thought Pascal would be born in good time for us to enjoy much of August preparing together.
I thought I'd have had a chance to fill our days with reading The Kissing Hand and cuddling and being silly playing together until her heart was filled with security and confidence to carry her through.
But I spent most of August in a waddling haze, lumbering from one nap to the next in overdue exhaustion. I didn't feel like cuddling anyone, let alone a knobby-kneed squirmsicle who seemed to find the most painful places to put her bony elbows. No, August wasn't what I'd hoped and all of a sudden I wasn't at all prepared and my daughter is going to school.
So when last weekend arrived and I realized I had to buy what I needed or Vava would truly be missing out, I didn't quite know how to manage. I figured I'd have to endure the embarrassment and just shop with a purse full of kleenex for the tears.
But then we watched The Good Lie.
(If you haven't seen it yet, do! It's on Netflix.) It follows the story of Sudanese children, who walked almost 800 miles through war zones and deserts and unbelievable loss to find refuge.
And as we watched it, God reminded me, as He so often does, that I have been given an opportunity that moms all over the world battle for.
My daughter is going to school.
She will pick out her clothes every day from a full closet. She will take more food for lunch than she needs. She will learn from educated and kind teachers who care about her. Her school is warm and dry and safe and just around the corner from home.
My daughter is going to school.
So when I finally went shopping and reached for the lunch boxes and water bottles, my heart surged with gratitude. My eyes filled with tears, yes, but tears on behalf of children who aren't able to attend school this year. My heart ached for mothers who long for a day like this day, when their daughters might go to school.
And I thank God for this good gift:
My daughter is going to school.
There was a moment - right in the last few seconds before Pascal burst into the world - when all the pain seemed too much. Like I couldn't be strong any longer.
I like to close everything out, when I'm hurting. Close my eyes, clench my teeth and fists and toes, close my attention to the world, and zoom out away from it all in my mind. Sit up on God's shoulders and just know it's happening from afar.
But I couldn't, right then. I needed to listen to my body, to be completely aware, to push along with the contractions.
So instead of bracing myself and squeezing my eyes shut, I found myself wide awake and present, looking up into the eyes of the two people who were waiting and hoping and labouring along with me.
"This is the hardest part," I gasped, feeling the fear start to rise, "I don't think I can do it."
And my mom's eyes shone like a lighthouse, so full of assurance and believing in me and - most of all - joy. "You can!" they sang, "you can! You can! You can!"
And with that, I did.
My mom's joy was my strength - and oh, just when I needed it.
You might not have your mom standing beside you in your hard moments. You might not have anyone physically present at all. But the scriptures assure this: the joy of the Lord is your strength.
And He rejoices over you with His song.
Wherever you are, whatever you are facing, I pray that you will open your eyes and look up. Look into the eyes of one who knows you - loves you - rejoices over you. Let Him be strong and joyful for you, when you fear you can't.
And see His eyes shine.
You can! You can! You can!
I want to share the funny moments and the crazy moments and the sweet moments and the heartachey moments but for now I need to sleep.
So I'm just popping over to share that baby Pascal Laurent arrived on Sunday, big and beautiful and astonishing.
We are all, of course, wildly in love.
If there's one thing I've learned in the last few weeks, it's this:
I stink at waiting.
I have been uncomfortable and Pascal has been low for 3 months. That definitely adds to the difficulty. But the hardest part, I think, is not knowing when he will arrive.
It could have been last month. It might not be til later this month. And while I know he WILL come, I don't know when.
And I'm dying to meet him.
Yes, I want relief from the discomfort.
Yes, I want deliverance from the constant burden.
But most of all I want to meet this darling and see his face and cuddle him all soft and nuzzley against my neck.
I want to get to know his personality and watch him carve his own niche in our family.
I want to see him interact with his siblings and see their lives and habits change as they become his big brothers, big sister.
I am longing for and eagerly anticipating his arrival.
Technically I've been ready for him to arrive since August 3 - hospital bag packed, with his homecoming outfit and soft blankets ready to go - but every day or so I think of something else to do to become even more ready.
I boiled the soothers.
I opened the box of newborn diapers.
I found the playpen sheets.
I peeled the tinfoil cover off the Penaten.
I asked Dad to cover the important but forgettable chores of emptying the dehumidifier and putting out the garbage if I'm in hospital.
And along with all that, I've chafed against the waiting.
Every morning I wake up thinking this might be the day!
Every night I go to sleep thinking this might be the night!
And as tossing night follows humid day I groan.
A few years ago, I read an article that pointed out the best quality to find in a spouse is the ability to suffer well ... and that's not really me. I'm okay when things are going well, and I'm actually pretty good in a short-term crisis. But suffering well? Not my forte.
So when I realized I was turning into little more than a grumble, I asked God for help.
And I heard His great heart laugh as I asked what I could learn from Him in the waiting.
Because He waits for His children always. Like the father of the prodigal son, He waits for us to come to Him. He yearns to shelter us and celebrate with us and welcome us to our long home.
And He has built waiting into our journey too. When we receive salvation, we aren't wooshed into heaven. We aren't magicked into perfect versions of ourselves. Our characters are formed slowly, our Father's traits developed in us through trial and effort. Sloooowly. We wait. And while we wait, we feel it - all of creation, groaning for redemption, aching for deliverance. The dissonance between what we want and where we are is only known in the waiting.
It reminds me of what Paul wrote in Romans 8 when he described waiting for Jesus' return and the redemption of all creation: all creation groans together in the pains of childbirth. The ache of waiting and the groans of longing will be more than worth it - more than worth it! - for the glory that waits.
So maybe the gift in my waiting for Pascal is this reminder: good things are worth waiting for. Jesus will come. And He will redeem this aching creation in the freedom of glory.
So I'll take a breath and try to suffer well in the waiting. Sooner or later, this baby will come - and oh, he will bring so much joy with him.
Remind me to wait in hope, friends.
Thanks for your prayers.
I've got a little growing collection of unpublished selfies.
Not because I'm addicted to taking pictures of myself.
But every night lately I go to bed thinking "what if this is the last night?"
The last night I'm pregnant.
And that's a pretty big moment.
One that I want to remember.
Especially because cameras seem to do magic over time, and turn ordinary moments into something softer and lovelier.
I'm guessing that I won't be looking back on this picture and feeling the ache of weary bones, the stretch marks, the heartburn.
And hopefully I will forget the sheer impatience I battle daily.
Hopefully I will forget the twelve weeks of Braxton Hicks and the soreness of carrying this baby in my tired body.
Hopefully I will forget the heat, the humidity, and the way I'm maybe longing for a cool quiet room and some time alone face-to-face with my new miracle.
Hopefully I'll remember that my body curled around my darling boy, this vivid, living surprise, this evidence of grace.
Hopefully I'll remember that clothes and skin and family all stretch glad in welcome.
Hopefully I will soon take my last belly-selfie and start filling up my memory card with pictures of Pascal himself.
Every day begins
So soon, your world will collapse.
Your sky, your ocean, will pass away
And you will experience pain and the wild suffering
Of - all unwilling - entering the unknown.
It will be the hardest
And we will hold you in our arms
Will - all along - have been the same thing.
It is like nothing you can imagine
And it is exactly what you were made for.
Someday, you precious little soul,
You treasured darling,
You will walk that path again -
The pain of loss will overwhelm you,
And everything familiar will pass away.
I pray that in that moment
You will remember:
It will be the hardest
Your Father will meet you with aching joy
Like nothing you can imagine -
Exactly what you were made for.