Sunday, September 18, 2016

His Banner Over Me is Love

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? :)
Xo

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Messily, Gratefully, Mama

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,

Xo. 

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

My Daughter is Going to School

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.

Xo.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

You can! You can! You can!

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!

Xo.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Pascal Has Arrived!

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.

Welcome, darling!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Waiting

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.
Xo.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Hopefully, Selfies

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.
Maybe ever.

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
And ends
In hope.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

To Baby, About to be Born

Darling Pascal.

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 best.

And we will hold you in our arms
And dying
And living
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
And best.

Your Father will meet you with aching joy
Like nothing you can imagine -

Exactly what you were made for.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Bad Guys and Cranky Mornings

Sam is all about bad guys and zombies lately. He's got a thousand questions and they're never far from the surface.

So it wasn't totally unexpected when he asked me earlier this week, "Mama, does God kill bad guys?"

I was so thrilled to be able to tell him instead that God redeems bad guys. "He doesn't kill us," I explained, "he loves us and saves us and changes us into good guys."

His eyes popped wide and his jaw dropped and he burst out, "That's so much better!"

(It is!)

And this morning I woke up cranky as a bear, with angry eyebrows and surly snarls, because it was 6am and the kids wanted breakfast NOW and I had kind of been counting on another hour's sleep.

So after I grudgingly made them breakfast I snuggled down to read my bible and pray and I poured out my sour heart and told God I was sorry. 

And God gently reminded my immature self that I was looking at it upside down. He hadn't given me a bad morning at all but one packed with glorious gifts. 

My horrible children were actually healthy, growing, articulate, quite reasonable children (and breakfast isn't an unusual demand).

They had woken up today. There was no mourning here this morning.

I was able to come downstairs and make them each what they love best from a well-stocked kitchen without wondering where our next meal was coming from.

And then I was able to cuddle under a soft blanket and hold a warm cup of coffee while reading my Bible (which I am allowed to freely do, without fear, in this great country).

So I had a morning that mamas all over the world can only dream of.  And instead of punishing me for being so blind and churlish, God did what God does ...

redeemed it.

Loved me where I was and made it good.

Because God is a redeemer.

Of souls.
Of bad guys.
Of cranky mornings and upside down hearts.

Xo.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Can I Trust You?

The other night, I was getting ready to drive our sitter home when I noticed a couple having trouble in the middle of our street. The boyfriend was moaning on the ground and the girlfriend was trying to make him stand up.

I asked Patrick if he could help them, but as we drove away I saw that they had waved him on, refusing his help.

Our sitter lives close by, so I figured they'd still be near when  I came home.  I took a spin up the block and found them struggling along.

I rolled down the passenger window and turned on the truck's interior light so they could see me and I asked if I could help.  The boyfriend burst into a fresh round of wailing and huddled into his girlfriend's shoulder.  The girl - I think they were both around 17 - seemed to fight past a fog to speak. I don't know if they were high or traumatized or what, but anyone could see they needed help.

Finally she made her way to the truck window and asked the shaky question that seared into my soul.

"Can I trust you?"

The weight of her question wasn't lost on me. I'm white, and she's from a First Nation. In a city rife with racism, getting into the wrong car can be deadly.

'You can trust me. I won't hurt you - I promise. And I'll try my best to help you if you want. I won't hurt you.'

She paused to consider my answer.  She looked up and down the dark street, unsure of what to do.

"Can you help me get my boyfriend home?" she asked at long last.

I pulled Sam's booster seat out of its place and they climbed in.

Their destination wasn't far.  I dropped them off and zipped home. 

It keeps echoing in my head, that question.  Can I trust you? 

It's not a question we ask in an equal power dynamic. It's a question that unveils vulnerability and acknowledges power.  We might ask it when we want to share something confidential with someone and thus put ourselves at their mercy. We might ask it when we aren't strong enough for a task and require help. It's only a question we ask when we're the vulnerable ones.

I read a tiny little story on Facebook today that describes vulnerability and privilege, and why All Lives Matter isn't a problem-solving slogan. 

Say there is a table full of people, and everyone has a plate filled with food except Bob. Bob says "Bob needs food!" And everyone replies "Everyone needs food!" But until they look up from their own plates and realize that Bob has no food, their statement is empty (though factual). 

And we're sitting at the table.
And we've got food.
And if we're Christians, we know food isn't something we earned. It's all given.

The gorgeous thing is, we know what Jesus expects us to do.  He wants us to give to those who lack. He wants us to defend those who are weak. He wants us to love (actively, not just theoretically) those our culture might declare unlovable.

Jesus came and sat at my table and saw that I had nothing and gave me the food off His plate. And He says "go and do likewise!"

Louis CK tells a story about his daughters arguing over who's got more food in their bowl. And he tells them - the only time we ever look in someone else's bowl is to make sure they have enough. Never to gloat over how much we have.

And, Christians, we have been given so much.  Our plates are heaped high. We need to be the ones who are actively searching for Bob, proactively finding people with empty plates because we have such full ones. We don't need to worry about protecting our food or ensuring we have more than others.  That's not the example of Jesus. Jesus pours out. Jesus feeds Bob.

So ... who needs food?

It's a fact that everyone needs food.

But Bob's argument is the strongest.  The most vulnerable - the most hungry - the most oppressed - are the ones we need to worry about. So unless we're looking around at our neighbours' plates so we can share with them, we're missing out.

We're missing out on applying our beliefs to our lives (if everyone needs food, and I see that someone is lacking food, how can I reconcile the difference?). We're missing out on justice (did everyone take a little too much, thinking about their own plate and not remembering to share well?). And we're missing an opportunity to love well (actively doing something for someone else's benefit).

I found that little extended metaphor really helpful. Bob needs food. Bob is the most vulnerable person at the table.

And maybe in your city Bob is black or Asian or Lebanese. Maybe in your city, Bob is women or poor people or immigrants. Maybe Bob is someone with mental illness or a history of being abused.

The thing is, Bob needs food.
And Bob needs someone to share with him, to love him well.

Bob needs to hear a giant chorus of YES from Jesus' people when he is brave enough to ask the question ...

Can I trust you?

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Rich

You know how there are stories - events, moments, incidents - that just somehow stick with you?  And long after they happen, the weight of them is settled in your soul, where they press and shape and influence you much more than you'd ever imagined they might?

Well I've had one of those stories lurking in the back of my mind for a few weeks.  I've probably blogged about this man more than once.  His story is so unexpected and beautiful and filled with hope and gratitude.  Maybe I hold it so close because I want those qualities to rub off on me. I'm not sure.

It was a hot sunny Sunday in Zambia.  I had walked to church on a path of fine, soft, incredibly dry dirt; the sound of rich, joyful singing growing louder with each step. Butterflies swooped and trembled in patches of shadow and sunshine, and army ants marched in strict formation.

If it wasn't for the gorgeous singing I'd have been hard pressed to go inside. But there is nothing - really nothing - like Lunda harmonies. They just get into my heart and make it soar.  In Zambia I really began to understand the verse that says God inhabits the praises of His people. He is right there in the living rhythms.

Because of the number of short-term volunteers in the area, there was often a translator, but not this day.  I enjoyed the chance to practice my Lunda a bit, but I wasn't sure I was following the message.  The speaker was an elder, a short old man with tears glittering in his eyes and an unmistakable joy on his face. His text was Ephesians 3:8, so I was expecting a message on the riches we have in Christ Jesus. I tried to pick out words I knew, but I just kept hearing him say death, dying. His sermon was punctuated by heartfelt amens, hallelujahs, and vigorous nodding from the congregation.

The missionary beside me leaned over and explained the gist of his message. He's all alone, she told me, his grown children have all died, his wife just died, and he's rejoicing in the riches we have in Christ.

I looked at this man, this old man who clearly had no earthly riches - not even the comfort of having his family around him in his old age. And he was standing there, fiercely rejoicing in the sureness of the riches in Christ.

His wife and children are all in heaven, my friend continued, they are suffering no longer. He has peace and joy in the confidence that he will see them again, and that they are now happier than they could have ever been on earth, because they see Jesus' face. He is encouraging us to remember the riches in Christ that we have now, and to set our hearts on things to come.  He's praising God for the hope He gives His people.

I was deeply stirred and challenged by this.  If I lost all of my darling family, would my testimony be one of hope and gratitude? Would I stand and proclaim His excellencies with fervor when my heart was overwhelmed?

And it stuck. It plays in my head and echoes in my heart and pulls my soul to dig deeper - to push away the shale and pebbles of transient comfort and seek the rich soil of this sureness: my riches in Christ.

This past week was rough. Patrick was away and I was parenting alone for six long days. We had spills and upsets, forgotten appointments, tantrums, storms, and just the plain old wear and tear of a long week without the one we all love.  Hearts were tired and tempers short. Braxton Hicks decided to move in permanently and that isn't my favourite.  I found myself grumbling an awful lot.

But this story kept beating in the background like a distant drum, and when I finally paid attention to it, I heard its message.  Why am I complaining? I have a husband who works hard for his family and loves us like crazy. Our hearts are lonely for him precisely because he's so wonderful. I'm tired because I have three busy kids with healthy bodies and vivid minds and they need me to keep them that way.  My burdens might take a lot to carry, but they are worth carrying. I am rich.

And when it's all over and I find myself empty-armed and exhausted at heaven's gate, I will see Jesus. I will walk into His heaven and be welcomed as a daughter. Entirely because of His mercy and totally apart from anything I've done, I'm forgiven, chosen, loved, blessed.

Rich in Christ Jesus.

I don't know what kind of storms and loss are breaking around you these days, friends, but I pray that your hearts will be planted firmly in the joy of the Lord. I pray that you will stand strong with tears on your face and a heart full of hope that every one of your burdens is a good gift.

And when all around you is swept away, I pray that your heart will sing and blaze, knowing you are so rich - and the best is yet to come.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Do You Hear That?

The other day, climbing into our truck way out in the country, Vava suddenly stopped me with a look of awe.

"Do you hear that?" she asked, "listen!"

The only noise I could hear was the distant hum of truck tires whirring on the highway. Nothing that would make me stand still, nothing that would make me close my eyes to hear more perfectly.

"What do you hear?" I whispered.

"It's God," she explained softly, thrilling, "singing!"

Her heart is so often tuned to hear Him, when everyone else hears traffic.

In the aftermath of the Orlando shooting, I expected to hear the ugly sound of callous judgment. I hurt over the raging hatred that pulled a trigger over and over; wept over the lives lost and the aching hearts of mourners left behind. I prayed for God's comfort and deep, gospel-peace to sweep in where evil had made itself so bloodily evident. And as I prayed I heard something unexpected and beautiful.

Not a lick of criticism.  Not a breath of self-righteousness. Nothing ugly or cruel to rub salt in raw wounds. Just tender expressions of sorrow and sympathy and practical, Scriptural love.

Love.

Like the good Samaritan, Christians are meeting needs like donating blood and making meals and praying for everyone affected.

I cynically expected the whine of trucks on cement and I heard instead the tender heart of God, mourning, and singing.

I'm sure there is a lot of hateful rhetoric flying around already. I'm sure there are people who have confused what God asks us to do (love) with what God has reserved for Himself alone (judge).  But I love that it's not the loudest sound. I love that Christians are reaching out to comfort non-Christians and to serve them in any way they can.

Do you hear that?
It's God, singing.