Thursday, December 25, 2014

No Crib For A Bed

Emmanuel.  God with us.  Yes.  He arrived.

The baby Jesus, long awaited, much anticipated, greeted with angelsong and starlit glory, was born, and they laid Him in ... a manger?

The first few weeks after he was born, Kachi's bed was adorably unorthodox.  He slept at the foot of our bed, cozily swaddled in a blanket, lying in a drawer.  I'd bought him a Moses-basket, but he was so long when he was born that he filled it, head to toe.  So we turned a drawer into his bed - lined it with blankets made by his grandmothers, wrapped him warm, kissed his head, and tucked him in.  He slept soft and comfy, and it made no difference to him at all that the drawer wasn't built for that purpose.

I imagine that the baby, Jesus, knew no discomfort in a bed of sweet hay, warm and well-fed and wrapped for sleep.  But it kind of stabs at the heart, doesn't it, and at first glance makes me think that His arrival was so eagerly anticipated but so inadequately prepared for.  I guess I always attributed it to the fact that Mary was in Bethlehem when He came, not in her own home, nowhere near the comforts and conveniences she might have planned for Him.

But God knew exactly where He would be born.  So why not have a soft cradle nearby?  Why a manger?

I think the symbol is awesome.

It's said that the stables of Bethlehem were used for the keeping of temple sheep.  So the manger where Jesus was laid?  That was where the flock found their food.  Where God's sheep were nourished.

Oh.
Yes.


It's no wonder God sent shepherds to find Him that night.  I picture His tender heart yearning over them as they crowded into the stable to worship the babe.  Who better to understand the message?  The Shepherd had come to feed His flock.  

He came as our Hero, our Saviour, our King.  But He came to be the bread of life - to lay down His life - for the sheep.  His body, His life, laid down for our blessing.

The gnawing emptiness that aches, the dullness of prolonged hunger, it can tear at a heart as well as a belly.  We were made to contain more, and greater, than anything we can find here.

You know it deep and true, don't you - there are some hungers that a meal won't satisfy.   There are some longings that can never be met by the gifts under the tree. But Jesus? He is the nourishment that fills and satisfies the soul.  Here He is, the heart of Christmas: behold the babe, lying in a manger.

This Christmas, I pray you will find yourself worshiping the Newborn King - feasting and satisfied and filled with joy in His presence.

God bless you, friend.
xo.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Clever Princess Vava

Lately, Vava hasn't been calling me mama.  Instead, she calls me Rider. Sam is Chase, Patrick is Rubble, and Kachi is Zuma.  We call her Marshall.

They're all characters from her fave show, Paw Patrol.  It's about a team of talking pups who help people in trouble and save the day.

She pretends all day long.  It's really precious.  This morning she spent more than half an hour standing on the back of the couch reaching up the wall, imagining she was on her firetruck ladder, rescuing kitten after kitten stuck in a tree (a LOT of kittens).  When she woke up from her nap this afternoon, the first thing she asked was "where's Chase? Zuma?"

She and Sam have also created an imaginary family, closely based on reality, made up of Dragon Mama, Dragon Papa, Stinky Kachi, Brave Sam, and Clever Princess Vava.  One of her favourite bedtime stories is the one where Clever Princess Vava and Brave Sam rescue Monkey and Zebra from having fallen in a hole.  (They use her necklace as a rope to lift them out.)

She loves being a hero.  It's really sweet hearing her soft voice asking "you okay?" when one of us gets hurt.  I absolutely adore her brave and tender heart, and I love that she sees herself as the rescuer.

She walks in the truth of that beautiful story - the story of the Baby, the Hero, who came a long way down to save the world.

It's built right in, isn't it? 

His bright goodness is always going to captivate our hearts.  The story of our Rescuer pierces dark history, plants hope in eager soil, blossoms wild and bright.  It's what we love about Christmas - wise men venturing long; old prophets clinging; heartbroken husband trusting; brave girl daring to say yes; Son of God seeking the lost ...

May your heart beat brave this Christmas, friends: our Rescuer has come! 
xo.

Monday, December 22, 2014

So Loved

Tonight I took my precious niece to the airport. I waited and watched as she did the security rigamarole.  She was standing there all alone, stylish and slim and so beautiful and still.  There were clumps of people milling around her: a glamourous woman with a tiny dog, a chatty security screener, a tall man who blushed when he had to remove his belt.

My darling girl stood there with her peculiarly perfect posture and graceful bones, a duffel bag swinging from one shoulder, completely alone.  Her self-possession and independence startled me.  She responded sweetly to the chatty screener, and helped the glamourous woman with one of her purses, and I felt a little bit like the mama duck saying quack quack quack, watching her swim off so perfectly, so effortlessly, through the airport.

She's intelligent and kind and private and vulnerable and well-read.  She is bright and open and talented and funny.  She has always had the most curious, gentle mind.

It was really scary to send her out into the wide world alone, back across this wide country to her mama.  Not because she can't handle herself (she so can), but because I want everyone to know how special she is and to treat her with exceptional care.

The man behind her in line wasn't watching where he was going and almost ran into her.  I felt myself shooting mental darts at him, hissing "don't you dare hurt my niece!"

I can't even fathom what it must have been like to look down through the stable roof that starry night. To look down and see Heaven's best as an utterly helpless newborn babe.  To see Him snuggled close in young arms and realize He could be dropped, handled roughly, even ignored or neglected.

I wonder if the angels' hearts yearned and shuddered, witnessing the weight of glory hidden, borne beautifully and lightly in His mother's arms.  What was it like for them to see Him in a squirming package of skin and bone, unbelievably fragile and tiny? 

Did they try to shoo away bleating lambs? Were they aghast at the sight of Him lying in a manger?  Did their hearts long to wing Him home, back to His glory and radiant might?

Ah, but ... 

God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. 
So loved.

So loved.

Suffering Produces ... Hope

This afternoon, Sam went to the potty.  When he was done, he demanded that Patrick pull up his underpants for him.  Patrick said no, that he would definitely help Sam, but he wouldn't do it all for him.

Enter WWIII.

"Pull them up NOW!" Sam demanded, "One ... two ... three ..."

It was kind of hard not to laugh.  Sam standing in the livingroom with his underwear around his ankles, insisting like a small tyrant that his papa pull up his pants.

The funny thing is, he's very capable of pulling up his pants.  It's not like we were asking him to try something new, a scary new skill that he wasn't sure he could handle.  We were expecting him to do something he does regularly, and he just decided he didn't want to do it.  

He's learning new skills all the time.  Testing his boundaries, trying to find where he fits and what his role is, what ours are.  His tantrum, I think, came from suddenly wanting to be a baby.  Wanting to have everything done for him, to cry and have his parents do everything they could to comfort him.  So he drew a line.

But as parents, we had a line too.  We had the heart-tugging line of wanting to comfort him, to assure him we care.  But we have a bigger goal, the goal of helping him become a capable, independent young man.  So we had to gently assure him we would help, but refuse his demands that we do everything for him.  We coached him through the steps, cheered him on at each success (over the knees! over the bum!), and saw his face light up with big-boy-joy when yes, he finally pulled up his own underpants.

It would have been so much easier to cave.  The screaming, demanding, sobbing little boy would have been quieted quickly ... but he would have learned that he gets his way when he yells orders at his papa.  He might have formed an expectation that he has the right to insist others do things for him simply because he doesn't want to do them.  He wouldn't be growing in maturity.

You know that saying "don't try to make a better world for the children; make better children for the world"?  It's a whole lot of hard work.

God did it that way.  

He could have sent Jesus the easy way - straight down on a bed of angel-wings, incarnate as a fully-grown man, his head glowing in a halo from a renaissance painting.

But He picked the hard road.  He picked the road with the most to teach us.  He picked the road that was hard on Mary, on Joseph, on Jesus.  The Bethlehem road, and the Calvary road.

Because He is building better children for the world.

Children who choose gentleness instead of harshness, like Joseph chose to love Mary.
Children who choose faithfulness instead of doubt, like Mary trusting God.
Children who choose to love others, instead of themselves ... like Jesus.

If you're going through a hard road, friend, and you just want someone else to pick you up and take care of everything for you, you're not alone.  We all crave easy.

But trust this: He didn't spare His Son, because He had His eyes on a bigger goal than Jesus' comfort.  

Cling to this good truth.  He won't spare us this necessary suffering - even when we throw tantrums, even when we demand to be relieved - because He has his eyes on a bigger goal: our blessing and His glory.

The ache and longing of Christmas reminds us that suffering brings hope.  The good news of Christmas is the truth that hope in Him does not disappoint.

We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame ... (Romans 5).

Whatever you're hoping for, look to our Saviour.  The deep aches and heart cries and soul longings all find solace in Him.  He won't spare us the suffering, but He will use it to build us and give us His sure hope.  And He will help us, every step of the way.

Merry Christmas, friends.
xo.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Veiled in Flesh

Guys.

You know when you're getting ready for a party and you have more food to prepare than table to put it on and your kids are in the tub and overflow it so much it leaks through the living room ceiling and rains dirty water all over your carpet?  And the whole day, cooking, whipping, chopping, cleaning, you have a sense of foreboding because your son is just getting the hang of potty training and you fear an impending accident?  And then you discover, when you're stealing the last five minutes to dress and make yourself pretty, that your foreboding was right?  So instead of fixing your hair and face you are wiping a (cute, if naughty) bum and praying the smell won't mingle with the scent of fresh cookies and sodden plaster.  So you answer the door in the first dress you found and without a lick of makeup on and did I brush my teeth today?  And somehow it doesn't matter, because God is teaching you something about hospitality.  And you're impossibly slow to learn, and you need this lesson over and over and over ...

Hospitality is not about having a perfect house and perfect food and cute dishes and a great outfit and flawless makeup when I open the door.  No.  That's a photoshoot.  Hospitality is about opening my door to friends and welcoming them in.  Making them comfortable, looking out for their benefit, creating circumstances for their joy, definitely yes.  But most of all?  Taking pleasure in their presence.

Enjoying them.

He made it really obvious, didn't He?  He came as selflessly as possible.  He was born in a stable.  He was poor.  And He didn't spend a single drop of ink describing what He looked like.  He veiled His glory.  He didn't come among us to inspire our admiration.

Why did He do it then?  Why did He choose to come to us?

For the joy that was set before Him.

What was that joy, exactly?  Yes, you know it ...

Us.

The whole journey, the whole point of Christmas, the whole reason He came - He takes joy in our presence.

Soak that in, friends.
xo.

Anticipation

I felt such a happy little spark as I was unloading groceries from the car tonight.  We're throwing a Christmas party tomorrow, and there's just something so exciting and happy about planning good things for others.  Will they feel loved as they bite into a white chocolate peanut butter cookie?  Will the twinkly lights and scented candles set festivity alight?  Will Christmas music and conversation make them glad?

I want to set the scene and provide the ingredients for a happy neighbourhood, good friendships.  I want to spread a little good cheer.  I want to soak up moments with my friends at their best, most sparkly with joy.

I think that the heart of God must have beat glad with anticipation.  Excitement that Mary would soon look on His face, kiss His soft head.  Glad joy at the prospect of shepherds receiving with awe the good news.  Triumph that He would fill the longing of everyone hungry for a Redeemer.  See the light dawn as we receive His best gift.

I love that God spreads out His arms and invites the whole world to Christmas.
xo.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Bad Dreams

Sam's been talking about bad dreams a lot lately.  Apparently, he had one where Spiderman took him (he's never seen Spiderman), and he called for me and called for me but I didn't come.

It kills me. 

I hold his little face and I look into his eyes and I promise him this: 

I will come for you.
I will always come for you.

I've had to repeat it a few times, because the fear from his dream comes back and grabs him and he tells me about it again.

I understand that kind of fear.

The news has been pretty awful lately.  Murdered children.  Missing women.  Torture.  Hate. Greed.  I try not to dwell on it and I hold my kids' hands tight.  The planet spins and the nausea rises and is there any waking from this nightmare?

And Christmas - 

That star that stabbed into the darkness and poured down on the Light of the World born in a stable - 

Christmas is nothing less than God taking our face in His hands, looking into our eyes and promising us

I will come for you.
I will always come for you.
All the way to a stable, all the way to the cross -
I will always come for you.

Hold your loved ones tight and celebrate because He came - at Christmas.
xo.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

I Love You

This afternoon I gave the three kids a bath.  Vava adores baths, and Sam and Kachi enjoy them too.  When I tell Vava it's bathtime, she doesn't just hear those words ... she hears I love you.  Sometimes we have an idyllic hour, where the big littles laugh and play with bubbles while Kachi floats blissfully before being tucked, clean and sweet, into fresh jams.

Today was not that day.

I had washed Sam and Vava, and was peeling off Kachi's clothes so he could join them.  Vava started wailing, and wanted out.  Since my hands were as free as they'd be for ten minutes, I laid Kachi down, pulled Vava from the tub, and quickly began to dry & lotion her.  She didn't stop crying, and finally I could make out the words "back in."  I double checked, and yes - she wanted to keep bathing.  By this time, Kachi was beginning to cry for his bottle, and Sam was slowly but surely turning the bathroom floor into a river.  Lo and behold, as soon as Vava got into the tub, she wanted back out.  (Join the club, sister!  What happened to happy hour?)

We finished the bath with sobbing in stereo.  Kachi got a lick and a promise - maybe minus the lick - while the bathroom floor got a (definitely overdue) thorough cleaning.  

It seemed to be a day like that - things just piling up on each other, and I would have had to be an octopus to have enough hands to deal with everything.  Why did I bother with a bath again? For my (now sobbing) Vava?  I just wanted to say I love you.

It gets that way at Christmas especially.  Trying to squeeze in a few extra ways to say I love you - buying presents, baking treats, planning parties, writing cards - can overflow the schedule.  It's busy.  But Christmas will pass all too quickly.  The good memories will shine bright, and the exhaustion will be forgotten.  The love we kindle, the friendships we affirm, the joy we nourish ... worth the busyness.

What we do for the least, Jesus counts as done for Him.  He hears I love you in the late-night gift-wrapping.  He hears I love you in the Christmas hamper you pack.  He hears I love you when you choose patience with the screeching toddler ...

I want Him to hear I love you.

And I fully intend to nap slack-jawed on the couch come January ;).
xo.

Let Every Heart

My lovely, wonderful, smart, gorgeous, amazing niece arrived today.
I haven't seen her for two years.  TWO YEARS!  She's here for almost a week, and it's better than a treeful of presents. 
I keep calling Vava by her name.  Seeing them together is kind of bending my mind a bit, because I remember adoring spending time with her when she was Vava's age - smart as a whip, and unbelievably cute - except now she's the age I was back then.  It's weird how time folds in on itself.
I got her room ready last night.  I put a zillion blankets on her bed, because our guest room is chilly.  I filled up the humidifier, emptied the garbage can, fluffed the pillows.  I found out what some of her favourite foods are and made sure to have them on hand. It made me so happy to get things ready for her.
And that's Advent, isn't it - preparing room for Him, getting my heart in order to celebrate and welcome His arrival. It reminds me to pause and ask if I'm preparing Him room every day.  Taking time to do what He loves - show mercy, generosity, hospitality?  Love my brothers and sisters?  Forgive, and seek forgiveness? 
I've got sparkly lights up all through my house, but what I really need to do is make sure His light is glowing in this corner of the dark world, for His glory and my blessing and the blessing of those around me.
And unlike my tree, that is the kind of Christmas decoration I want to leave up all year round ;). 

Monday, December 15, 2014

Sweet Little Jesus Boy

Kachi turned 2 months old today.  He's adorable.  He loves to coo and babble and try to imitate conversation.  Patrick and I are both sure he can say hi, and he has a fairly awesome fist-bump record.  He's a hulking 14 lbs, and as tough as Sam and Vava can make him.  He loves to be sung to, and he relaxes with evident bliss in the tub.

The most precious thing he does, though, is look up into my face, gaze right into my eyes, and break out into a winsome smile.  I don't know how he does it, but he manages to make a drooly, toothless grin the deepest joy of my day.  I love the sweet weight of him cuddling in close, the way his fingers curl around my collar, his lips moving as he dreams.

I think it reveals something spectacularly dear and lovable about God's character that He chose to come to us as a baby.  Sweet and small and snugglable.  How astonishingly kind, for Him to choose such tenderness.

Gift.  Every facet of His enterprise ... gift.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Ear-Noculars

Patrick and I started watching Community this week, and it's making us laugh.  It's not my favourite or anything, but tonight one of the episodes grabbed my heart a little bit.

One of the characters, Pierce, buys ear-noculars, and continually eavesdrops on distant conversations.  In the last moments of the show we see him sitting on a bench without them. His classmate, Jeff, asks him what happened to them.  Pierce says he got rid of them, and then explains that he thinks we were designed to hear whatever people are saying when they're close ... because the people who are close to us are the people we love. 

It made me think about what I say to the people who are close to me.  I hope they hear I love you.  

And it made me think of Jesus ... who came all the way here so that He could be close to us.  So we could hear Him - and He could hear us - up close and in person.

Sometimes I think my soundtrack is on a continuous loop - my alarm buzzing, spoon clinking in my coffee mug, kids saying hilarious things, whining, crying, microwave beeping, more spoon clinking, phone beeping, water running, kids laughing, patrick praying, quietness, snoring, repeat.  It's easy to get absorbed in the sounds of my life.  It's easy to ignore other sounds, keep them in the background, tell myself I'll pay attention to them later.

Christmas reminds me to look up from my busy days and listen close.  Listen close to the song that star sang over Bethlehem.  Listen close to the glory of angelsong in the night.  Listen close to the willing surrender and meekness.  Listen close to the Father who placed His most precious darling right here in our world and came all the way into human skin to say Merry Christmas.  To me.

Merry Christmas, friends.
xo.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Yes, Switchfoot -

My lovely friend, I'm praying for you.

Your heart, stretched and tired
Like crumpled paper.

(Mine too.)

It seems like one batch of trouble
Barely ends
Before another one
Is bubbling over.

I've always thought it strange
The tense He used, when 
(Before the cross)
He assured His disciples about troublesome days to come.

In this world you will have trouble
But -
Take heart;
I have overcome the world.

Not I shall, but
I have overcome.
Already.
Before the cross.

Could it be
That He overcame the world
Just by being?

(My daughter was asking about shadows
And I found myself explaining that nothing casts a shadow on the sun.
Light and dark cannot dwell together.
Light always trumps dark.)

In His sheer existence, He
- Incorruptible, Glorious, True - 
Overcomes the world
And all its trouble.

When the world presses in
And you just want to hide under your pillow
And tell everyone you aren't home -
I pray that you will find the deepest soul-rest
In His sheer existence
And that the message of incorruptible triumph
Will resonate from beyond Bethlehem's manger:

In this world you will have trouble
But -
Take heart;
I have overcome the world!



xo.
ps: this song.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Comfort and Joy

Today, we were driving down the road and Sam peered ahead through the front window.  He stared intently into the distance, then finally concluded, "that's either a flashlight, or a bear with two thirsty dogs."

I don't even know.  I can't wrap my head around the mental processes that come up with that kind of result.  But I love it.  I laughed so hard I cried.  

I've been feeling a little soul-frayed.  Just tired.  Every day seems to steamroll from one hour to the next, and tomorrow morning begins before I realize that today's ended.  You know?  Just a blur.

I'm so glad for my silly kids.  I'm so glad for Sam making me laugh, because goodness knows I wouldn't stop to do it without his irresistible prompting. 

This morning, Sam and Vava were anxiously awaiting sunrise.  They wanted to go to playgroup, but I told them we wouldn't go until it was light out.  When breakfast was over, Sam suddenly realized it was daylight.  "Oh look!" he exclaimed in genuine surprise, "Thank you, God, for making the sun shine!"  His gratitude took my breath away.  I think, this morning, God sent the sunrise just for him - and glory shone from His glad heart.

I'm trying to let every scrap of joy shine straight into my bleary, tired heart.  Soak up the laughter, luxuriate in delight - gratefully, gladly unwrapping every gift He sends me.  

Thank you, God, for sunrise ... and for flashlights and bears and two thirsty dogs.
xo.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Love Has a Way

Like most women, I suppose, I have a bad habit of standing before the mirror and criticizing everything I can find.  This morning, I unintentionally made an exception.  I saw, unmistakably present up high on my forehead, an age spot.  An age spot.  And my heart thrilled.
I laughed when I realized the absurdity of my response, but there it was, as evident as my age spot - what I was feeling was happiness, plain and simple.
You see, when I was young, my heart was knit tight into the heart of a very kind, very loving, impossibly dear old man.  He was thin and had a hookish nose, and yes - his hands and face were generously covered in age spots.
I can't see him as anything other than beautiful.  So when I see myself starting to look like him, even a little bit, I'm glad.

It's love ... love makes all the difference.  Love has this way of making everything beautiful.

I pulled out my photo album and tried to see if my Grampie was actually a handsome man - if perhaps those age spots were distinguished, well-placed, artistic.  I couldn't tell.  I couldn't see anything but how wonderful he was.  But I suspect that someone who didn't know him might not think his photos to be anything extraordinary.

I think the traditions of Christmas are kind of like a photo album.

To someone looking on, someone who doesn't know Jesus, the whole thing must seem a bit silly.  Excessive, even.  A month of counting down, to a day that likely wasn't the actual day of His birth, with candles and nativity scenes?  Sunday school plays and the same boring hymns, year after year?

But for those of us who know His love, Christmas is warmer and brighter than sun-soaked August.  We love to turn back the pages, again and again, to see His face.

The Christmas story? We don't just see a poor family with a baby sleeping in a manger.  We see glorious God, making Himself humble, coming to take our place.  We see love ... and love has a way of making everything beautiful.








Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Like Us.

This morning, all three kids were in the tub together.  Sam was playing pretty vigorously and I warned him not to splash on Kachi's face. 

"Or Jesus will cry?" he asked, "Little Jesus?"

"Jesus wants us to be kind to each other, yes - but He's not a baby anymore," I explained.

"Is He a big boy like me?" Sam asked.

"No, He grew all the way up," I answered, "but He was a boy like you. He was a baby, and a kid, and a grown-up." 

"Like Baby Kachi?  Like me and Vava? Like you and Papa?" Sam asked.

"Yes ... like all of us."

Like all of us. :)  That's the reason for all the comfort and joy, for everyone telling you to be of good cheer, for the thrill of hope ... He became one of us. That first Christmas day dawned a day of grace, God with us, Jesus, Son of man!

Like you, friend :).
xo.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Advent(ure)


Vava woke up from her nap yesterday, and said, in her soft voice and ordinary way,

"I'm feeling brave.  Let's do something awesome."

 I love this kid.  I wanted to pack our suitcases and hop on a plane to Zambia.  Because I love it there, and going there - alone, without knowing a soul before I arrived - is probably the bravest, awesomest thing I've done.  

I went because God asked me.  He gave me that restless stirring in my soul that wouldn't settle until I went.  When I told Him yes, I felt the wildest flare of adventure, and the deepest sense of rest.  The boldest sort of peace. 

“There is no way to peace along the way of safety. For peace must be dared. It is itself the great venture and can never be safe. Peace is the opposite of security." - Deitrich Bonhoeffer.

I want to teach my kids to follow that voice. Not to follow the safe paths, the ducks-in-a-row paths, but to chase hard after the voice of God and settle for nothing less than the peace of being true to Him.  (Even if they have a deep-down horror of snakes and He tells them to go live where they will see snakes, maybe even touch them.  Even then.)

When Mary turned up pregnant, Joseph was prepared to do the good thing.  He supposed she had slept with someone else, and prepared to quietly divorce her, instead of exacting his legal rights against her.  It was a gentle, safe course.  But an angel came to him in a dream and brought a message from God - marry her.  This child is the Son of God, she hasn't sinned against you. And this babe will save His people from their sins.

It's all kinds of crazy.  It takes all kinds of bravery to do something this awesome.  To trust against logic.  To step into God's will when He's asking you to do something outside of your comfort zone.  To acknowledge the restlessness and dare to seek His peace.  

I think Joseph woke up from his dream feeling wild and sure.  I think he looked at his betrothed and said,

"I'm feeling brave.  Let's do something awesome."

Wishing you that extraordinary peace, friends.   
xo.

O Come O Come Emmanuel

In 2009, after we'd miscarried again, I couldn't seem to stop crying.  Any time my heart was touched, I overflowed. Everything lovely - and certainly everything sad - gave me pain. 

My mom had tickets to a ladies' event at the Full Gospel church, and she invited me to come.  It was in their beautiful new building, with soft lighting and pleasant seating.  The worship music and prayer were deep and sincere and - yes - made me cry. 

I'm not a pretty cry-er.  My eyes get fiercely, horror-movie red, and my nose runs.  It's pretty embarrassing, and the last thing I want is someone noticing me.  It was right at this sob-tacular time that an old friend of my mom's recognized her, and came over for a hug.  My mom quietly explained my sore heart, and I found myself wrapped in kind arms and a tender voice began to pray for me. 

Before we left that day, she told me she was going to keep on regularly praying for me, that God would bless me with children.  Five years later, with three wonderful kids and my hours full to bursting (and my heart), I am so so glad for her prayers. 

The precious thing is, we haven't been in touch.  All this time, she's been praying for me, not knowing that her prayers have long been richly answered.  And recently my mom spoke with her again, and told her the good news -

It made me think of all those who were praying for the Messiah, before Jesus came.  They weren't all informed of His birth.  The Shepherds knew, the Magi knew, Anna and Simeon knew ... but most of them?  They just kept right on praying. And waiting. And waiting. In hope.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel has come to you, O Israel.

The Saviour has come.  The prayers have been heard.  The baby is born.

He hears.  He's here.  Our God is with us.


Sunday, December 7, 2014

Love Is Worth

We watched Twelve Years A Slave tonight. It was so hard, so gut-wrenching I had to keep turning away. There was one horrifying part where a mother and her children were sold to separate buyers. There are no words ...

I thought about my own kids and their personalities. If we were separated, how would they fare? Would Sam continue to be the buoyant, determined little scrapper I love? Would Vava be tender and kind, in an abrasive, abusive setting?

I want them to be stone-strong, impervious to the injury and violence of the world. I half wish I could barricade their souls against threat or attack. My heart constricts at the thought of what life might bring their way.

The prophet Simeon told Mary about this feeling when she & Joseph took Jesus to be presented in the temple. Knowing what would happen to that sweet babe, Simeon warned her that a sword would pierce her soul also ...

That's a pretty good description of the weight we bear for those we love. A sword piercing the soul. 

But who would trade it in? Would I give up loving these children so as to not suffer pain? Never.

Love is worth the sword in the soul.

Ask Mary as she bows and says "I am the servant of the Lord." Ask Joseph as he worships the babe his virgin wife brought into the world. Ask the Magi who left all, to bow before this crownless King. Ask Jesus, as he leaves glory and radiant splendour for a hateful world.

Yes. It will hurt.

But ... Christmas shows us the truth, God's glorious heart laid bare in the manger:

Love is worth the sword in the soul.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Too

[Official Video] Little Drummer Boy - Pentatonix: http://youtu.be/qJ_MGWio-vc

I love this song.

It's so simple, but it's about me, about us, and the way we're all poor and emptyhanded when we come to worship our Redeemer.

I used to listen to this on the radio, sitting in the backseat of our car while my parents drove through December rain.

I always thought that the too in "I am a poor boy too" was referring to previous description of the drummer boy ... these wise men brought me suddenly, I didn't know what to bring you, and on top of that I'm poor.

But of course the really astonishing beauty is that Jesus came as a poor boy.  The blessed Messiah, Emmanuel, really really came to be with us. Not just walk among us, but became one of us - too.

I AM, a poor boy too ...

The best gift that Christmas wasn't gold, frankincense, myrrh ... or even a song. It was the tiny poor boy - named Jesus. :)  

xo.

Friday, December 5, 2014

If Only In My Dreams

This afternoon, Sam came upstairs with me to wake Vava from her nap.  She wakes up so gorgeously - her eyes flutter, she stretches, closes her eyes, lies still.  Then she opens up those deep blue eyes, wide awake all at once, puts out her arms for a hug and asks (always the same question): "Sam?"

It just gets me.  It's clear that she can't imagine a moment without him.

There's something about siblings that can't be replicated.  It's the togetheriest togetherness I know. 

I miss my sisters and brother so much.  Living so far apart is really hard.  I can't believe my brother has a son I've never met - and I have a son none of my siblings have met.  I'm so grateful we can keep in touch online and share pictures and stories, but my heart hungers for the day when I can sit next to them and introduce them to my kids and we can all love each others' people in person.

That's one of the craziest things about Mary's journey to Bethlehem.  As far as we know, she went alone with Joseph.  No mother, no sisters to hold her hand and bring her fresh towels and comfort her through the whirlwind of pain as she delivered.  No father or big brother to smile down on that precious brand new darling, to hold him in their big hands and make him seem even more impossibly small. 

(Because that's how we are. God builds into us little reflections of His character - His three-in-one-ness echoes in the way we thrive in community, in family, in intimacy.  We crave closeness because it's part of His character.) 

She must have ached, that silent night, for a their voices, their experience, their presence as she bore this perfect Baby. 

(And that baby, God incarnate, separated Himself from Heaven and crossed the chasm to humankind. He came to bring a Heaven full of siblings home ... but that's a story for another day ;).)

When the distance stings this time of year, and your dreams are filled with home and family, and you can barely keep from reaching out for them when you wake: take comfort.  This longing?  This love that aches and stretches across the wide earth and does not diminish?  This, this is the heart of Christmas.

xo.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Merry and Bright

Late afternoon is our tough hour.  The kids and I have been around each other all day, and all the tasks seem to need (re)doing at once - making supper, feeding the baby, and tidying up.

Today, just around 5, I was feeding Kachi while Sam and Vava were supposed to be picking up their toys.  They spent most of this time wrestling and yelling, interspersed with the occasional crying spell.  The one exception? After a visit to the potty, Sam decided not to put his pants back on, but crouched down and pulled his sweater over his knees.  He waddled around the living room making silly noises, crowing "wook-a-me!"  I started to scowl.  I really did.  I felt my eyebrows draw together and I almost barked  "you're supposed to be picking up toys!" But it was so funny and silly, and a welcome change from the tired & wired scrapping ... so I relented, and let it in.  I let that happiness right in, and laughed along with them.  Vava was thrilled with her short, chubby brother, and Sam was impressed with his own skill at squat-walking, and their laughter was irresistible. 

It's easy, in the Christmas rush at the end of the year, to be focused on work and the crush of demands.  To think about my have-to-do list instead of my get-to-do life.  Of course God used my kids to remind me that the One who came to us as a child welcomed the interruption of children ...welcomed them right in, and declared that "of such is the kingdom of Heaven".

Ahh I need the reminder every day.  I tend to Scrooge when I get my head stuck in my own schedule, my gaze focused on my own plans.  I guess that's probably why He sent me these exasperating, interrupting, hilarious kids ... curious arrows, who keep pointing me out of myself and straight to the expansive joy found in the welcoming heart of God.

May your hearts be merry and bright, friends.
xo.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Love Actually Is All Around

I had to text Patrick earlier this week and apologize for my attitude lately.  I've been a bear.  I think the glossy happiness of Kachi's arrival had worn off sometime between weeks 5 and 6, and the excitement had turned into plain old hard work and sleep deprivation.  I expected it, the hard work, but somewhere along the way it's all I started to see.  And that's the thing about my heart - I find it much easier to see the gloomy things than the good things, even when they're both present.  Someone must have been praying for me this week, though, because God knocked on my heart and reminded me to keep my eyes open ... there is so much good.  At the risk of sounding like a Christmas cliché, love actually is all around.

The thing is, I need to set my eyes on seeing it, instead of seeing the misery.

This blog post rolled around my facebook newsfeed a while ago.  I skipped over it until it was probably the last thing left to read.

Maybe I had a hunch it would be as convicting as it was.

The author states that the most overlooked characteristic in seeking a spouse is whether or not they suffer well.  I knew before I'd half finished that I have a lot to work on. 

I think I'm actually pretty good in a crisis.  When something goes wrong that's dramatic and sudden, I'm your woman.  Need to rig up an emergency survival kit with a used kleenex, bent nail, and soggy receipts?  I can do that.  (Okay, not that exactly, but I'm fairly resourceful.)  Need to feed an unexpected crowd with scant groceries?  No problem.  Even in the pinchiest pinch, I can manage well. But suffer well?

I stink at it.

I chafe in long term endurance.  It takes me a realllllllly long time to accept suffering as being out of my control.  I'm not good at holding my peace, resting, trusting in the midst of suffering.  I stew about it.  I brood.  I think about the way I wish things were, I think about ways to end it all, I desperately scrounge for any other way but the suffering way.

And I'm miserable in it.  I'm not like one of those people in a movie montage, striving against suffering with their chin up and eyes fixed on some mystic horizon.  I'm just a grouch.  And oh, if anyone on this earth deserves more in their spouse, it's Patrick.  He suffers well.  He endures with hope. (Ha! He gets lots of practice, enduring me ;) )

I think that my response would have been less like Mary's, and more like Zachariah's.  When hearing that God had chosen me to bear the Son, to bear the disbelief, to bear the shame - I would have been scrambling for a way to make it work on my own terms.  To rig up some sort of in-a-pinch fix to hide the pregnancy until marriage.  Begging God for proof against gossip and criticism, some heavenly sign that I hadn't done anything wrong to show the world.

But Mary?  She didn't trust in her own contrivance, but believed God.  I am the servant of the Lord, she said, Let it be to me according to your word.  That was her hope - His Word. 

As I count down these days to Christmas, waiting, like Mary, and walking in hope, I want to cling to her example.  To believe God that His Word is enough.  To say - I am your servant.  Let it be

And suffer well, with my eyes on all the good that surrounds me, til the delivery of joy.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Gloria

We took the kids to see the Holiday Train tonight.  It's all lit up for Christmas, chugging across the country, stopping in towns and putting on a Christmas show to raise money and collect donations for local food banks. It was awesome - freezing, and way too late for our early-to-bed babes, but awesome. 

The bliss-moment that made both Patrick and I grin came at the end of the first song.  The crowd had been singing along with the band, kids dancing and glow-sticks whirling - and as the drums boomed the song to a close, the whole crowd burst into cheers and applause, and both Sam and Vava joined in - shrieking with delight and clapping their mittened hands as hard as they could.  Their eyes shone like stars.  I don't think I could feel my toes at that point, but it didn't matter.  That great gorgeous feeling - a big communal joy - flowed through the crowd in a riot of glory.

I think the night when the angels came and announced Jesus' birth to the shepherds must have been kind of like that.

I miss it, quiet in my room, reading sedate words on the page.  An angel appears and announces Jesus' birth  ... it just reads a lot more sedately than it must have been.  But seeing the kids glowing with wonder gave me a bit of a glimpse -

I think it was a lot more like that shivery joy, that big wave of bliss.  An angel appears, and a spotlight shafts through the velvet night.  His voice must have boomed like it was carried on amplifiers as he pronounced that This Is THE NIGHT - The Saviour Is Born This Day!  And the astonishing words hovered, briefly, in the stillness ... then the accompanying host stepped out of the wings and began to sing.  And I'm not picturing it as a cluster of two or three demure angels either, because the Scriptures say it was "a multitude of the heavenly host."  A multitude!  I'm seeing a crowd, happiness mounting as they look from one to another, singing with everything they had - harmonies and hands clapping (and maybe a little beatboxing?) and joy resonating from heart to heart.

There's something in me that wants to worship God alone, in the quiet and stillness of my own heart.  But there's something in me, too, that wants to worship Him in a huge and glad crowd, lost in that swell of community and gladness.  It's what makes me love flash mobs and concerts and the whole congregation standing to sing in church. 

Gloria in excelsis deo, from a thousand lips.

I hope you find yourself in a happy crowd this Christmas, friends!
xo :)

Monday, December 1, 2014

It Begins, Of Course, with a Baby


This Sunday, a woman stood in front of the congregation and shared her salvation-story.  It began, like many of my favourites, with adoption. (I love a good adoption story.  The classic themes touch my heart - family, redemption, love, happily ever after.  The correlation with Jesus' journey here to bring us back home makes me crack wide open.)  But this one was a little different.  It wasn't a baby that God was bringing to her, but that God brought her to himself, through her baby.

She was adopting a child, and while she waited for her to arrive, was struck with her own inadequacy to raise a child.  She knew she needed more, something better, someOne bigger, to help her.  So she went looking, and found a gospel church where she was led to the best help - the Saviour.

As Advent begins, we're already thinking about Christmas - the birth of the baby who came to bring us to God.  And to think that God still sends babies to bring us to Him? Ahh, a deep breath of wonder.

My own life is crazy these days.  Full of the mixed-up stress of juggling and loving three needy littles.  Filling them up with goodness because every minute counts.  Staying up half the night, lolling half-awake on the couch half the day because the tyranny of every moment counting has to collapse somewhere.  It doesn't look a lot like the gospel, really.  But Jesus must matter whenever there's need - because that's what the gospel is.  Good news for the broken.  And in my broken exhaustion, how does the gospel heal?  How does the Bethlehem Babe matter?

He came right into the mess, didn't He? He didn't shimmer down through angel wings and a stream of gold to a pristine cradle.  He came into the world in a glut of mother-pain and was welcomed into the everyday messiness of a stable.  And angels sent shepherds right on in, right there, to worship.  They didn't wait til He had grown up and made order from the mess.  They came and saw and bowed, in awe at the strange and staggering glory of Emmanuel - God, with us.

So here, in my own mess?  He uses, of course, my children, to point me to Him.  Their quick forgiveness.  Their delight in loving.  Their sheer miraculous existence.  He's here - changing my stubborn heart, working and reworking my character to make me holy.  Prying the self-idol out of my grasp.  Laughing with me at my absurd expectations of this messy world.  He's right here in my stable and I -

What can I do?  I can look at the unsatisfactory stable, or I can see the One who makes the mess irrelevant.  I can see a manger, or my Saviour.  Here in my own not-enough-room.  Here on my own journey far from home.  Here in my not-what-I-planned life.  He meets me in my mess, and His holiness stills my heart.  I bow and worship, babe in a manger, Son of God, Son of man.  Right here, bone-tired and flecked with spit-up, I worship.

Have a blessed advent, friends.
xo.