Tuesday, September 29, 2020

A love song for the skinny guy in the ugly apartment building across the street

Biking home with
A takeout tray balanced in one hand
Bearing
Two cups from Orange Julius
All the way from downtown.
Two cups
Arm up
All the way home. 
Looks graceful
Looks delicious
Looks exactly like
Love.

Friday, September 25, 2020

A Love Song for September

We drove for fifteen minutes
Through a wonderland of colour
Trees in brilliant gold, orange, scarlet, purple
And we didn't notice a thing.

But when one saucy tree 
Shook her leaves in the sunlight as we rounded the bend
Suddenly we saw them everywhere
Arresting, captivating, beautiful. 

Every bend in the road led to yet more delight 
Every field, ringed with magic
The children clapped their hands
And gasped look! Look!

So much beauty,
Hidden in plain sight. 
Not just autumn.
And not just trees.
In you, too.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Thriving

I wrote this piece and performed it at a spoken word event last fall. Bringing it out again because I need the reminder these days.

Xo.



I’ve never 

Been very good at thriving.

A month after I was born, the doctor sent me back to the hospital, because

While other babies squalled for milk

All I wanted to do was sleep.

He told my mother to hold on, and 

They cared for me with bottle after bottle after bottle

Until, inevitably, I grew.


I was four years old

The first time I thought about suicide.

(Of course

I didn’t know its name and so
I didn’t really think about it so much as ached for it, 

Longed to disappear fierce and sudden like a lightning bolt.)


I spent most of my childhood

Living in other worlds

With so much more than just my nose stuck in a book

Sometimes I would surface from the pages and take a moment to remember where I was.

Coming back to my own life was

Almost always a disappointment.


I particularly loved The legend of Tam Lin, who is captured by fairy folk, and how his brave beloved Janet rescues him.

At midnight one All Hallows Eve, she waits by the crossroads where the goblins and witches will pass on their way to sacrifice Tam Lin to the spirit world.

The night is dark and she hides in her hooded cloak while the dreadful procession approaches. Her heart pounds and her knees quake but she leaps up and wraps her arms around Tam Lin and defies them to make her let go.

The wicked Fairy Queen casts spell after spell on Tam Lin, turning him into a biting swan, a fierce lion, a pillar of fire. 

But 

Janet holds on 

Through the biting, the roaring, the burning, until the magic tricks are spent, and the evil ones shriek with rage as they slink away without Tam Lin.


I used to read that with a shiver and a thrill, longing to be like Janet

But missing the metaphor entirely.


When I was thirteen I 

Met Jesus and

Had a Very Hard Time with the concept of Heaven.

Not that I disbelieved it - 

No, I believed it

A lot.

I wanted to go there more than I wanted to meet my friends at the mall

More than I wanted to find my place in the world and

More than I wanted to face a barrage of days and

More than I wanted to endure

The sheer difficulty of existing

Here.

Very hard time 

With the concept of Heaven.


Recently a friend asked me about perseverance 

And I found myself telling her the Legend of Tam Lin and 

The importance of holding on

When life feels like a biting

A roaring,

A burning.

And it gave her hope.


The irony was not lost on me.


And when I was mulling it over with Jesus 

He said

Look at your life.

And I looked.

And it was good. And I started to weep, because it has always been So Good.


All this time, it has been so good, and yet

It has felt like a monster, a curse.

A biting, a burning, a roaring thing.

My life has been Tam Lin

And Jesus has been my Janet.

I have not 

Been holding on at all

I have not

Been holding on at all

I have not 

Been holding on at all

(I have never been very good at thriving)

But I have been held.



Monday, March 23, 2020

Why doesn't God just poof it all away?


At lunchtime, we prayed for everyone affected by the coronavirus, and Sam asked why God doesn't just poof it all away, and all the kids agreed that yes, He could definitely do that if He wanted to.

Let me tell you a story, I began. When Jesus was walking around down here, he had some friends, two sisters and a brother. And they liked to hang out together. So one day, the brother got really sick. He got worse and worse and worse and the sisters knew that unless a miracle happened, he was going to die.  They sent a message to Jesus: quick! Our brother is dying - we need you to come!  And Jesus got their message and he was like: yeah, he's dying. So I'm just going to stay here for a few more days.  So Jesus didn't go.  And then, of course, the brother died.

And all around the table the faces were aghast. JESUS did that?! Tender, loving Jesus didn't go heal his friend? WHAAAAA?!

So I went on. Jesus showed up for the funeral. He saw the sisters crying, and he cried too.  He was so sad that their hearts were broken, and their brother was dead.
And the sisters were like - if you had only come when we called you, we know you could have healed him!
And Jesus was like - you think you know me, but I want to show you something so truly glorious. And he prayed, and then called the brother to come out of his grave. And he did.  He did more than just healing him. He reversed death in a crazy unexpected astonishing moment.

And they thought about that for a few minutes and I asked them if they thought God was most interested in keeping us comfortable or in something else.  "It could be both," they decided, "He cares about us but He also wants to show us things."

So I read them this verse from the book of Isaiah, chapter 66, verse 9:
I will not cause pain without allowing something new to be born, says the Lord.

And I can't speak from a place of knowledge or pain in this pandemic. Nobody I know and love is suffering. My friends and family are safe.  So take all this with whatever grains or buckets of salt you need. But in our current distress, I have seen some glimpses of unexpected and astonishing beauty.

People are working together to try to protect the vulnerable and elderly.  They are so often forgotten, ignored, pushed aside. But now that they are particularly threatened, we are remembering what particular treasures they are. Not because of their productivity or income ... but because they have an innate and precious value.

We are realizing how terribly, beautifully connected we are.

We can see so clearly who comprises our living supply chain - have we ever thanked, noticed, and prayed for our drivers, cashiers, and pharmacists like this before?

We are unable to watch athletes amaze us, but we are celebrating health care professionals and janitors, people who daily serve our indignities with dignity.

We are cheering one another on and reaching out emotionally when we can't reach out physically.

This isn't nothing.
There is something holy afoot; I believe it.
Something new is being born.
xo.








Wednesday, March 18, 2020

What I Didn't Realize I Would Miss

I went for a walk tonight in the dark, once the kids were all tucked in bed.  I needed to get out, to breathe and have some space around me.
To think.

Due to moves and new jobs and regular life changes, I've found myself quite a bit more lonely this school year. And like a contrary and confusing person, when I feel lonely I tend to pull away from whatever longsuffering people are still around.  Scally and I haven't done very much with our days between bus stop drop off and pick up.

So I really didn't expect social distancing to feel any different than any other day.

I didn't realize I would miss the bus stop moms.
I didn't realize I would miss my favourite cashiers and servers and the secretaries at school.
I didn't realize I would miss the bustle of Wednesday night Awana, the quick hellos and smiles of the other parents.
I didn't realize I how completely I would miss Sam's friend's mom when she drops him off and picks him up every day.


But dang.

On my walk tonight, I realized that my days are filled with unnoticed, unremarkable, but very present friends. Their familiar faces and unexceptional hellos are a gift. Checking in and watching the kids play while we wait for the bus is not nothing. Making inconsequential chitchat while the cashier scans my purchases is more than just noise.  Sharing coffee with a neighbour isn't just a coffee.

It's bread. It's bread.

It's not the chocolate cake of best friendship, not the sparkling fizz of a night out with a crowd. It's not memorable and it's not something I'd write about in my diary.

But it's there.
It's good.
And it keeps us together, every day.

So here I am, confessing to all of you people I barely know:
I love you.
I love your makeupless faces and your pj pants and your cups of coffee and your crossing guard sign. I love your habit of folding the receipt in half before you pass it to me and I love that I can tell who you are from the drive through speaker. I love that you ask me how my day is or pause to comment on one of my kids. I love you like I love bread fresh from the oven, like I love bread and butter, like I love bread and wine.  You are beautiful to me and you matter in my life and I hope you are well.

I love you, and I miss you.
My life is so quiet without you.
Stay safe, my friends, and God bless you.
xo.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Christmas is About Being with the Ones You Love (Advent Day 24)


I haven't seen my sister and brother-in-law since August of 2018. Right now they are tucked into a hotel somewhere along the Trans Canada Highway.  They have just survived their second-busiest week of the year, and as soon as they locked up shop, they got in the car to drive here.  They could have stayed home. Mom would have cooked them a delicious Christmas dinner, complete with homemade cinnamon rolls for dessert.  They could have slipped into their own bed and slept until they were rested. They could have been opening presents under their own beautiful tree tomorrow.
But they're not.
They're racing through the dark and snow, tired eyes forward, to come and be with us.
Because Christmas is about being with the ones you love.


It's about being with the ones you love.

(It's no surprise. I've sung this song all month long.)

Jesus did it first.  He came all this way. Because the love of his life turns out to be ... us.  And He came an unfathomable distance to spend Christmas with us.

Immanuel.  God with us.
 
And I am telling you this in full confidence that even if you are utterly, entirely alone, you are not alone.  Even if no arms hold you tight, you are held tight. Even if you see no gifts, and no tree, He is your gift, and He stretched out and died on a tree to bring you home.
We are so loved.
So very loved.

The waiting is over. He came.

Merry Christmas, friends.
xo.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Neurogenesis (Advent Day 23)

It is just shy of nineteen years since I graduated from high school. I've travelled, moved away, moved home, moved away again ... and today I ran into a friend from elementary school while I was shopping in Costco.
Nineteen years later, two thousand kilometres away, and a lifetime in between.
I stopped in my tracks.

I had taken the kids and my nieces up to the wave pool, and just ran into Costco for a few things before heading home. Kachi and Pascal had insisted on coming in with me, so I had them both in the cart, wrangling my way through a tangle of Christmas-Eve-Eve shoppers, and we finally made it to the line.  And there, right in front of me, was a friend I had stood next to in class photos for years.  She was one of those friends that I'd always wished I knew better.  We had played together at recess, worked on occasional projects together, and I'd always been more than a bit intimidated by her intelligence.  She was smart - gifted - and always carried herself with a gentle self-assurance.

After saying goodbye to my old friend, I felt a sense of loss, and a fair amount of awkwardness. Was it weird that I hugged her? Should I have just slipped by and pretended I didn't see her? And I definitely talked too much. Gak!  Normally I would have just stuffed the feelings away, but I was listening to a podcast this morning that talks about healing in the brain - and how, when we're able to pause and think about how we're feeling, what we're feeling, our brain creates new neurons. This is called neurogenesis. It isn't a revival of dead cells; it's the creation of new cells in neural pathways that were dead.  Yes: resurrection (not resuscitation). And yes, we can actually cause them to be born by pausing. Stopping. Paying attention: how am I feeling, what is causing this?

So I tucked my feelings into a shelf to think about later, and when I found a few moments, pulled them back out to look at more closely.
I think I was feeling weird because part of me wishes we had been better friends ... and my insecurities jumped up, telling me I wasn't a desirable friend, she wouldn't have wanted me for a friend. And that could be true. I don't really know who I was back then.  Was I awkward? Bossy? Quiet? Loud? Kind? Cruel? I don't know.  (I guess I shouldn't be surprised that I don't know - I'm still trying to figure out who I am, even now.  I can be all of those things in the span of a few minutes.)


But I felt a lot better for having pulled my feelings out and looked at them. And someone else I've been reading a lot about lately also did that kind of thing: When the Shepherds came and worshiped Jesus, they told everyone what the angels had said. And Mary - Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart (Luke 2:19).  Right there at his birth, there's a whisper of his resurrection - that treasuring, that pondering, it causes new life to spring up.

In the busyness and bustle, I wish you a Christmas that points your heart forward, dear friends - with new life, new hope, and friendships new and old around you.
xo.




Sunday, December 22, 2019

All the People

I found a fantastic movie on Netflix last week: Holiday in the Wild.
Not the story - the plot is pretty predictable.
Not the acting - I can't take Rob Lowe seriously after he spoofed himself so magnificently in The Grinder.
But it's got two big things going for it ... it's a Christmas movie, and it's set in Zambia.  Two of my heart's loves in one go!

One of my favourite parts is when the main character, Kate, is chatting with her friend in New York, and the New York friend asks "so what's Christmas in Africa?"

And Kate says, "well, I can't speak for the entire continent, but here at the elephant orphanage they celebrate all week and there's no shopping involved."

Because I loved the little perspective it offered - the reminder that Christmas is different all over the world. That it's not marked the same way - it looks different in Ontario and in Zambia and in Australia.  But underneath the wrapping, the fact is ... we celebrate Christmas all over the world.

We pause and mark the fact that God sent us the hugest gift.
We rejoice that He came.
We do things differently, because He came to us.  All of us.  The angel declared, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people."

Merry Christmas, people.
xo.
 

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Barren (Advent Day 21)

Patrick and I zipped up to the city today to do a little shopping while our nieces stayed home with the kids. We listened to a podcast while we drove, and the host talked about how barrenness in the scriptures is a metaphor for hopelessness. No life, and no prospect of life.
The mothers of the first three generations of our faith were barren.
It took my breath away.

Barrenness.
I have known the ache and sting of being barren.
Of longing for life, longing to be a mother, watching others' arms fill up while mine were so empty.  So very empty.
The shame of enduring the casual comments: just don't try so hard; or God will send children when you're ready for them.
The medical scrutiny; new types of tests and exams that I could never pass.

The mothers of the first three generations of our faith were barren.

The mothers of the first three generations of our faith were barren.

Which means, of course, that eventually they weren't.
Eventually, another heart started beating where no heart had been.
Eventually, God showed up to meet the deepest longing of their hearts.
And those mothers, who had been sick with hope deferred, saw their hopes embodied and kissed those sweet faces and welcomed new life where no life had been.


And of course I couldn't help but think of the world, longing for a Messiah. Longing for redemption, restoration, longing to know God.  And in the waiting, silence. The prophets didn't speak. No psalmists sang. And then, in the weariness, Mary bloomed with life without any natural cause - hope rushing and swelling, born to the whole world, born to heal and love and rescue - the hope of nations.

I don't have much to add.
I just wanted to share this, in case you might be feeling hopeless, daunted, overwhelmed.
In case some corner of your life is a stab of emptiness.
The mothers of the first three generations of our faith were barren.
I was barren.
The weary world was barren.

But we did not stay that way.
We did not stay that way.

Merry Christmas, friends.
xo.

Friday, December 20, 2019

All the Kings of the Earth (Advent Day 20)

Look what I found: the classic worship scene tucked all the way back in the book of psalms, which were written a thousand years before that holy night.

sketched by Ash

 
All the kings of the earth shall give you thanks, O Lord,
for they have heard the words of your mouth,
and they shall sing of the ways of the Lord,
for great is the glory of the Lord.
For though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly,
but the haughty he knows from afar.
Psalm 138:4-6

I love writing Advent posts. Once I start looking for Jesus, I find Him everywhere.  Thanks for following the star along with me, friends.
xo.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Loreal was right (Advent Day 19)

Anna and Simeon spent their lives watching for Jesus until they were old.
The shepherds followed the angel's instructions from the back fields through midnight into to Bethlehem.
The wise men followed the star from a far country until it led them to the new King.

Worth it.
Worth it.
Worth it.

Staying up late, running hard, going far.
It's how we love.
You already know it.
You've been up late stretching budgets and wrapping presents and preparing surprises and finding new and beautiful ways to show your people they matter.  You do it all the time, and you double down at Christmas.

Worth it.
Worth it.
Worth it.

God waited until the fullness of time was come.
He sent messengers to announce the news.
And He sent Jesus ... from heaven to earth; from glory to humanity; from being served, to serving.

And Jesus looked right at us - yes, you, and me - and sang

Worth it.
Worth it.
Worth it.

Merry Christmas, dear friends.
xo.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

On Spelling, and Loving (Advent Day 18)

Pascal is really into reading out all the letters we come across lately.  We meet a stop sign at every intersection, so he's suuuuuuper familiar with those ones ... but because his name starts with P, it's his favourite letter, and he's adamant that every stop sign is actually proclaiming POTS.

'P - O - T - S!' he reads, and then again at the next street, 'P - O - T - S!'



When he's happy that the kids are coming home, he spells out their names.
'S - A - M! V - A - V - A! K - A - C - H - I!'

And thanks to a brother who finds bathroom words hilarious, he can also spell butt.

When he's cranky or upset, he usually turns to that one. These days we go to more stores than usual ... if we're shopping and he wants to buy a toy and I've said no, out it comes: 'B - U - T - T!'

I tried to replace it by teaching him a new word.  A few weeks ago I said "can you spell love? L - O - V - E." And I spelled it for him a few times. He wasn't interested.

Today we were walking home from the bus stop and he was sad the kids had all gone to school. 'B - U - T - T,' he sulked.

"What about L - O - V - E?" I spelled.  I didn't expect him to remember, but I thought it might distract him from his bad habit.

'No,' he refused, shaking his head, 'I don't know how to spell love.'

Ha!

But I knew exactly how he felt.
Sometimes I'm cranky and I want the signs to spell my name and I spit the worst words out of my mouth. I straight up act like I don't know how to spell love.
But I do.
And if I am ever tempted to forget, I'm reminded every Christmas. 

Stores are filled with shoppers looking for just the right way to bring joy to someone else's heart.
Groups and organizations host dinners, pack hampers, stuff closets full of clothes.
Thoughtfulness and generosity are foremost, and it is so deliciously beautiful.
Every part of it sings, shouts, and whispers about the heart of our Saviour.

Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love.
-Hamilton Wright Mabie
Amen and amen.


Merry Christmas, friends.
xo