Sunday, December 25, 2016

Happy Christmas

I've never been one to achieve perfection. I'm always chubbier than I want to be, my house is always messier than I'd like, and the list of character-qualities I'm working on is always longer than the ones I've mastered.

So Christmas at our house was never going to be the magazine photo-op I always envision but fall short of.

We had already done a turkey last week when mom and dad were here, so today we threw tradition to the wind and just made exactly what we wanted.

We made stuffing because we love it, and grilled cheese sandwiches, and tomato soup. And we ate it by candlelight. The kids were entranced by the candles and actually ate their supper without anyone crying. Kachi distributed kisses and Sam resisted the urge to touch the flames and Vava only fell off her chair once. There was happy conversation and more than one I love you.

Kachi thanked God for supper sincerely and enthusiastically. Our hearts were glad and it was perfect.

It wasn't magazine-perfect. It wasn't pinterest-perfect. It wasn't even picture-perfect.

But it was just perfect.

Whatever yours looks like, I'm wishing you that kind of a perfect Christmas, friends.
Xo.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

An Awful Lot Like Disappointment

Ahh, Christmas Eve.  We made it.  :)

Supper tonight was as crazy as you would imagine with two babies and two toddlers and two kindergarteners, all buzzing from a play date with their best friends, from Christmas baking, from the sight of half-hidden presents waiting.  Rob and Angele made a delectable ham with whipped mustard cream, and with it we had tabbouleh and rice.  I think I could happily live on tabbouleh and roasted ham! It was such a nice meal, as far as food goes ...

but as for enjoying it?  Well ... it was a doozy.

Vava, who had fallen asleep in the playdate chaos, was whiny and tearful and had to be coached and helped to each bite.  Tyler and Kachi couldn't sit still - couldn't even stand still, and jumped down from their chairs over and over again.  Grant was happy as long as he was held, and Sam, seeing Vava and Grant on laps, wanted to sit on a lap as well.    It was more than a bit of pandemonium.  Any notions of a merry Christmas dinner were well and truly dashed.

We gave up on our hopes of making it to the evening service at church.

And after the kids were tucked in bed, Patrick and I began to tackle the kitchen clean-up.

"How are you doing?" he asked, "I'm sorry we didn't get to spend Christmas Eve at church."

I think - I don't know, but I think - Joseph might have said something similar to Mary.  Something acknowledging that this didn't seem like the best way to bring God's Son into the world.  "I'm sorry we weren't at home for his birth," or "I wish you could have had more sleep after our weary journey," or maybe "I'm sorry I couldn't even find us a room in Bethlehem."

I think the very first Christmas Eve could have looked an awful lot like disappointment and loneliness.

Could have, except ...

He had come.

God's great gift, precious and perfect and the answer a million prayers, at last.  Here.  God with us.  He shall save His people from their sins.  The answer to the hopes and fears of all the years ...

And He was here!

So what matter a manger?  A golden cradle would have been no closer to matching His glory.  Would Mary fuss about losing sleep, when she was awake to bring the very Son of God into the world?  Their bodies could have enjoyed softer circumstances but their hearts must have burst from the joy and relief and weight of this unspeakable gift.

That first Christmas might have looked like disappointment, perhaps, but only on the outside.  Only to the briefest of glances.

God still sends His gifts to us in disguise.

I think normally I would have sighed a little bit and told Patrick I was sad that my plans had gone awry.  But Christmas grace fell on me light and beautiful as snow, and suddenly I could see all that we got to do.  Not what we didn't get to.  What we did.

We sat at the table with family.  Family, right here in Thunder Bay!
We had more than enough food, more than enough to drink.
We sat in our warm house in our warm clothes with our children in our arms.
We spilled fresh water when carrying glasses to the table, and didn't bat an eye to worry because it pours from our taps in abundance.
Neighbours and friends brought treats and gifts to our door.

Every one of these things, sheer gift from God's hands.

And before we fall asleep tonight, we get to close our eyes and lift our hearts and thank Him - that baby, who was born so long ago.  That best gift, Jesus, who came to our disappointment and pandemonium and stretched out His arms to love us right where we are. Mary's comfort and joy is our comfort and joy: Jesus.  He came to us.  God with us.

When Christmas is looking a little ragged, I pray He grants us grace to look at the glorious gifts He has given.  I pray He gives His peace to our hearts when children are crying and jumping off their chairs and running around.  I pray He turns our attention to His great gift as we open our small gifts.

And may our hearts be full with the glory of God with us.

Merriest of Christmases, friends!
xo.

Stories

We've been getting lots of Christmas love in the mail this week - cards and pictures and even, today, a gift from my Nana.  She wrote out her life story and my aunt had it bound and mailed it to us.

It is amazing to read her story in her own words, trying to imagine all the pain and joy hidden behind her brief sentences. It's 1am and I should be in bed because morning comes loud and demanding and all I want to do is keep on reading.

My nana is here, and my Grampie, and my own little mama, and her brothers and sisters and family friends who have nipped in and out of stories I heard all my life.  Here is the tale of my uncle drinking turpentine, my aunt getting hit by a car, my young grandmother fainting with fear when her aunt jumped out and scared her.

These are the stories that shape us.  My Nana's stories are my mom's stories are my stories are my children's stories.  We are all curious collections of those who came before us, those whose expressions and habits become inevitably our own.  Reading these is all the more fascinating for me because the stories of my beloved grandparents are the stories that help me make sense of me.  (I, too, hate when someone jumps out and scares me!)

The Christmas story
Is our story.

I read it and reread it and still it keeps unfolding new thoughts, new beauties, that echo loud in my heart.

Hope.
Courage.
Patience.
Persistence.
Faith.

I pray that you will open up the scriptures and let the Christmas story - Jesus' story, our story - fill you with its jewels.

Merry Christmas, friends.
xo.

Friday, December 23, 2016

With Us and For Us

Tonight, my friend's church had a Blue Christmas service.  This is how they described it: For many, Christmas can be a time of difficulty as they go through mourning while others are so cheerful.  The good news is that this pain is exactly why God sent His son to us.  To suffer with us and for us.  If you, or someone you know struggles during the holiday season, come join us for Blue Christmas.

How very tender it is to care for those who mourn and ache through the harsh juxtaposition of this bright season.

Before I met Patrick, I didn't love Christmas.  I felt particularly lonely at Christmastime, and dreamed about spending the holiday holed up somewhere with good books and good food, where I could at least be left alone in peace.  I wasn't mourning, but I was hurting, and the dullness in my heart clashed with the merriment of Christmas.

But the true Christmas story isn't all shimmer and song.  It holds the deepest of hope, yes, but that hope came cradled in a poor manger in a dark night.

The Christmas story is bloody with tragedy - Herod demanded the murder of all males two years old and younger, because he feared for his throne when he heard the King had been born.
Indescribable sorrow.

And it isn't without loneliness.  Joseph and Mary and Jesus fled to Egypt for refuge from the slaughter, leaving home and family far behind as long as Herod was in power.
Longing.

And even fear. Foreshadows of the cross rippled across Mary's awareness, when the prophet Simon told her Jesus would be opposed, and a sword would pierce her own soul.

If you are heavy with sorrow at this season, friend, I pray that you will sink into this story and see all that Jesus came for.  He came to suffer with us and for us.  He didn't come to heal those who are well, but those who are sick.  He didn't come to comfort those who rejoice, but those who mourn.  Yes.  Immanuel, God with us.  God with us, always, but particularly in our suffering.

May He reach you in your loss, in your fear, in your tragedy.  May you find rest and peace and comfort in His presence as you grieve, as you suffer, as you ache.

God with us, friends.
xo.


Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Like Everyone Forgot

In the middle of the night last night, Sam came into our room.

"Mama! Papa! My tooth came out!" he announced.  He's been wiggling this loose tooth for what seems like ages.  It's only his third ever, so he's still pretty excited about it.

I barely twitched.  "Don't wake up Pascal; whisper!" I responded automatically from the depths of tired-mama-land, "put it somewhere safe and we'll look at it tomorrow."

"But it's got blood on it," he whispered.

"Wash it off and go back to bed," Patrick replied.

Sam tiptoed back out and closed our door, went to the bathroom and washed his tooth, tucked it inside the cupboard, and went back to bed.

Patrick and I both completely forgot.

Sam was in the middle of putting on his snowpants and talking a mile a minute this morning when I noticed his missing tooth and it all came rushing back.  His tooth!  We didn't even wake up and get excited with him, we didn't even help him, we didn't anything - just shushed him and sent him back to bed as if nothing out of the ordinary happened.

And then forgot.

I can't help feeling like the same thing happened with the Christmas story.

There was this astonishing night, this star-spangled sky, angels singing, shepherds rushing away from flocks, a virgin giving birth in Bethlehem, prophets rejoicing in the temple ...

and then nothing.

It was like everyone forgot.  Everyone came down with the same middle-aged amnesia that Patrick and I have, where anything that happens before coffee is a blur.

And when He began to teach and do miracles, when He claimed to be the Son of God, I wonder ... did any shepherds nod and smile to themselves, having expected this all along?  Did any wise men direct the king to worship this man, whom they had bowed to in his infancy?

Or did they just all forget?

Do we forget?
Do we forget that God sent His Son, that He came to bear our sin, to offer full forgiveness?  Do we forget through the year that Heaven poured out its brightest gift for us on earth?

In the blur and busyness of everything we've got going on, I do.  I forget so much.
I forget my grocery list and the occasional appointment and a loose tooth and the incredible active kindness of God.

Christmas rolls around every year and reminds us:
He came! He came! He came!

Because we forget.  The ordinary blur is strong.  We need reminding.

Christmas.
God with us.

Merry Christmas, friends.
xo.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Fear Not

My favourite verse in scripture is Isaiah 41:10 -
     Fear not, for I am with you;
     be not dismayed, for I am your God;
     I will strengthen you, I will help you,
     I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

It's been my favourite since I first became a Christian.  It has comforted and guided me over the years - it walked with me through Ottawa's cold streets, carried me to the beauties of Zambia, and held my hand through the joys and sorrows of my life with Patrick.

I never noticed until tonight how stuffed it is with Christmas.

On that first Christmas night, when the angel announced Jesus' birth to the shepherds, he began with those words, "Fear not." Of course, there's the specific instance of them being frightened by the sudden appearance of an angel, which would make any of us afraid, but I think the angel's "fear not" is a lot bigger than that.  He doesn't say, "fear not, I'm an angel!" or "fear not, I won't hurt you!" He says, "fear not ... for unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord."  His words offer courage and joy against all their fears.

Lay your fears to rest, shepherds; God has come to us.
Settle your hearts, worriers; He is born unto you.
Take courage, dear ones: Jesus your Saviour is here.
Do not be afraid of the future; the Lord is come.

The angel's announcement that first Christmas night sounded a lot like Isaiah 41:10.  That last line of Isaiah 41:10 - I will uphold you with my righteous right hand - I think it was a little foreshadowing of Jesus himself.  He, of course, is at God's right hand (Hebrews chapter 8, verse 1).  He holds us.  He holds us.

And it's the most comforting thing we can cling to.  It isn't a promise that nothing is scary, it isn't a wish that everything is easy.  It is the outrageous unfurling of pure joy anyway in the face of fear, because Jesus is with us.

Courage, friends.  Courage at Christmas and all the year through.
Jesus is with us.
xo.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Like Family

My parents have been visiting this past week.  They will go home Wednesday, and we will miss them like crazy.  They watched our kids this weekend so we could have a little getaway, and all the other days we have spent with them and with my brother and sister in law.

There's no one like family.

They come over, and everyone helps in the kitchen.  Dad asks for a list of things that need fixing, and appoints himself chief dish washer.  The kids play and fight and take turns in time out.  Mom watches the kids so I can go to appointments and shop solo.  We try out new recipes and revisit old favourites.  When energy flags, someone has usually made a pot of coffee.  It's a comfort and a blessing, to be with family.

So I was really surprised to read the instructions in Leviticus for loving your brother.  Check this out: "If your brother becomes poor and cannot maintain himself with you, you shall support him as though he were a stranger and a sojourner, and he shall live with you." (chapter 5, verse 35)  Support him as though he were a stranger and sojourner - with the implication being that such a person would be well treated?! So then I had to look up instructions for welcoming strangers and sojourners.  Turns out ... "When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God."

I love that God requires us to be hospitable.  I love it because it means He is hospitable.  And yes, the psalmist begs God to care for him on the basis of his being God's sojourner, God's guest: "Hear my prayer, O Lord, and give ear to my cry; hold not your peace at my tears! For I am a sojourner with you, a guest, like all my fathers." (Psalm chapter 39, verse 12.)

Especially at Christmas, this teaching boggles the mind.  At Christmas, when love for our family is easy and rich, when we make plans for one another's comfort and joy, when we rejoice to care for our brothers and sisters, our moms and dads - this is how we should care for strangers and travelers.  This is how we should care for the homeless.  This is how we should welcome people who aren't our family - and how we should welcome our family, too.

Because that's what Jesus did.  For us.

To love us as Himself.
To make us strangers, His brothers.
To stretch His arms wide in outrageous hospitality, and welcome all who come to Him.

He loves us as Himself.
Gave His life to swing the door wide open.
And we are loved and welcomed like family.

Merry Christmas, sisters.
Merry Christmas, brothers.
xo.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

My Own Ugly Van

I had a panic attack this November.

I'd been outrageously busy, the kids had been sick, and I had a mounting to-do list that I couldn't touch while taking care of them.  The thought of my un-mailed thank you cards was gnawing away at me something fierce, but I couldn't mail them.  I needed to print off photos of Pascal to attach to the front of the cards. And they were so horribly overdue.

Sam and Vava finally went back to school.  It was the first morning in forever when I could actually get things done, and I'd had a gorgeously productive morning, so I thought - why not? Why not get it done now?

I found a picture I liked and tried to order prints from my phone but the Walmart site wasn't working so I turned on Patrick's desktop and it lumbered its way to life while the clock kept whirling and I started to reconsider.  I had a doctor's appointment scheduled for 130pm.  After his rotten behaviour at our last appointment, I didn't want to take Kachi without at least an hour's nap, and we had to leave by 115, so that meant I had to have him asleep by 1215.  So he needed to be eating lunch by 1130 at the latest.  And here we were, 1015 now - could I get it done?

I could feel the uncomfortable squirm of failure twisting at the base of my spine.

And so it began.
I can't even get out the door to pick up thank you cards. FAILURE!
I can't even order thank you cards. FAILURE!
After two and a half months. FAILURE!

But I gritted my teeth and determined that these cards would not be one day later than they already are.  NOT ONE!

After another fifteen minutes of wasting time, trying to figure out how to order prints and failing, I decide to put the kids in the car and go down in person to see if they could do instant prints from my phone.  Surely someone has figured out how to make that magic happen.  We were already dressed, so I just had to put Pascal in his carseat -

Pascal.  He had apparently spat up and I hadn't noticed.  He was soaked and globby from neck to navel, and starting to paw at his mouth.  Hungry and absolutely in need of a change.

And this is when I heard an animal groan come growling out of my mouth.  I felt like my body was being squeezed between what I had to do and what I had to do, my chest and back pressed tight. I felt like I couldn't expand large enough, couldn't reach in enough directions at once.

I heard myself panting, "I ... can't ... do ... it!" and the calm part of my brain observed the panic in my voice and told me to go make Pascal's bottle and find him fresh clothes.

Kachi played in the porch, already wearing his jacket, while I did.  FAILURE!  NO WONDER YOUR KIDS GET COLDS!
Pascal fussed and only took half of his bottle. FAILURE!  HE CAN SENSE YOUR STRESS!
I changed him as fast as I could and left his dirty clothes and used diaper on the floor. FAILURE!  IF YOU CAN'T BE PRETTY OR PROMPT YOU SHOULD AT LEAST BE A GOOD HOUSEKEEPER!
I plunked Kachi down more firmly than I intended on the bench by the door to put on his boots.  FAILURE!  YOU'RE MEAN TOO!
I buckled him into his carseat still wearing his winter jacket, instead of changing him into a safety-approved fleece for the 5-minute drive. FAILURE! SAFETY MATTERS!
I strapped Pascal's carseat into the truck and realized his blanket was dirty.  Obvious spit-up was crusted on the outside.  FAILURE! YOU DIRTY MOM!
'It won't matter,' I told myself, 'it won't matter.  It won't matter.'

But by the time I reached the end of our street the tears began because it DID matter and I knew it shouldn't matter and yet it, inescapably, did.

And then God sent me mercy in the form of a sleeping toddler.  Kachi had fallen asleep before we got to the store, in less than two minutes.  Just drive, God told me.  So I did, I drove and drove for an hour and listened to sad songs on the radio and got coffee in the drive through and the boys slept.  And naptime was taken care of and I cried out all my ragey, panicky tears and just drove.

The sun was warm through the car windows and the sky was cloudlessly blue.

And after an hour I parked back at home and Kachi woke up and asked if we could go to the store.  Pascal started to fuss again so I dashed inside and grabbed another bottle and a clean blanket (because it does matter) and we drove to Walmart and I fed him in the parking lot, sitting in the backseat next to Kachi.  Kachi pointed out all the things he saw and chattered away, happy as a clam, and thankfully oblivious to his mother's blotchy face.  And Pascal burped up all over his fresh blanket too and Kachi and I giggled.

And while we sat there, God sent me more grace.

A woman came through the parking lot, carrying a heavy lot of bags.  She was wearing an elegant black dress coat, and her blonde hair shone in the sun. She was slim and beautiful and she was parked beside us.

In a rusty mom-van.
And when its door slid open, I caught a glimpse of her life.

The middle row held two car seats, and I could see a booster in the back.  From where I sat I could see empty juice boxes and a timbit box and a skipping rope and a big rock that was obviously too irresistible for a toddler to just leave behind at the beach.  There were several single mittens and an empty coffee cup and I could not believe that this beautiful mom was, according to the evidence, an awful lot like me.

And it was okay.
It was okay to be like me.
Somebody slim and beautiful was like me.

And that was enough to help me get out of my head and out of my truck and into the store without even thinking once about Pascal's blanket.

She was just what I needed.  I needed to be reminded that not everyone has everything together, that there are other moms with messy vans and hard days and unmailed thank you cards and it is okay.

That glimpse into her van was a gift straight from God.

My thank you cards? Yeah, I still have a few undelivered. Or more than a few.
I still struggle to find balance with the clock.
I still fight against that harsh critical voice labeling everything as failure.
And my truck is almost always a mess.

But God keeps sending me gifts.  The perspective-shifting that comes from reading His Word.  The catharsis of writing.  You, friends, when you share your own inadequacies with me.  When you see me ugly-crying and pray for me, pray with me.  When you love me anyway.

I don't know where you are, what you're struggling with, but I wanted to share this giift at Christmas - a glimpse into my own ugly van.  Because maybe you need to be reminded that you're not the only one who struggles with panic or anxiety.  Maybe you need to take an hour to just drive.  Maybe you really do have it all together and need to remember to be gentle with those of us who don't.

And when you're out this week with your Christmas shopping, don't rush to close your doors.  Someone like me might just find relief in your cluttered car ;).

Merry Christmas, friends.
xo.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Potted Plants

A friend of mine shared an article today, about potted-plant parenting. It talks about the way that our kids need us to be present, physically present in the background of their lives even when they're growing in independence and don't have anything to say to us or need anything from us.  We add value and security just by being there.

It's such a simple and beautiful analogy, and I remember when I was a teenager feeling exactly that way - feeling like things were right when my parents were puttering around in the house, but missing them and feeling a little lost when they were gone.

I'm old and have kids of my own now, but I still feel that way about mom and dad. They're comforting and beautiful and my life is better because they're in it.  Their conversation and presence is like oxygen.

I don't know about you, but I find myself daily humbled by my own children. I didn't know how much my parents loved me and cared for me and how much hard work they poured into my upbringing until I had kids of my own. 

When God sent Jesus, hope of the world, He planted Him right in the care of a mama and a papa who would keep Him safe, care for him, love him.  Jesus is His gift to the world, but Mary and Joseph were His gift to Jesus.

Mom and Dad: thank you for loving us so much. For visiting us. For taking care of us. For just being here. 

Merry Christmas, friends.
Phone your parents and tell them you love them.
Xo.

Because of the Manger

Sam told me a few weeks ago that he wants to be like God because God is nice and good.
I told him that was great, and went back to being busy.
What I should have told him is that he can be like Him ... because of Christmas. That Jesus became a Son of Man so that we can be called the children of God.  And in the same way that Sam resembles Patrick and I in his actions and attitudes, he can resemble his Heavenly Father too.  That he is creative, because God is the Creator.  That he loves baby Pascal because God is Love.  That all the good and glad things in his heart are there because God is good and glad.

I was saddened to learn of the passing of my friends' father this week.  He was one of the most deeply good men I have ever known.  He was bright and energetic and kind. He loved Jesus and his wife and his children actively and joyfully. His beautiful character was an echo of God's own heart in the world.  He was like Sam's wish - nice and good.

And this year, his family will mark Christmas without him, without that kind and joyful presence among them. But they will not grieve like many. They will grieve with hope.

Because of the manger.
Which led to the cross.
Which led to the grave.
Which led to the sky.
Where Jesus will bring many sons and daughters to glory.

If there are empty places around your table this Christmas, my dear friends, I pray that the manger will whisper its hope of a forever-Christmas to your heart, and give you comfort and peace.

Merry Christmas, friends.
Xo.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Something They Will Love

I haven't bought many presents yet.  Patrick and I haven't shopped for the kids yet.
I know, I know.  It's December fifteenth.  
It's not that I don't want to ... but moments to shop without kids are few and far between.

(It'll get done.)

We did the important presents a few weeks ago.  We took turns taking the kids to the store, and having them choose presents for each other.  They were so adorably excited to have mini dates with mama and papa.

When I took Vava into the toy store, she chose a gift for Sam really quickly.  It was a Doc McStuffins medical kit. I knelt down beside her and pointed to the present.
"Do you think Sam will like this?" I asked.
"Well, he can open it, and I can play with it," she replied.
"The point of a present is to choose something the other person will love," I told her, "try to think about what they like, and choose that."
Armed with that advice, she chose excellent gifts for Sam and Kachi.  I can't wait to watch them open each others' presents.

Sam and I were lying in his bed the other night, doing our little bedtime routine of stories, songs, prayers.  As always, I thanked God for giving us Sam, Vava, Kachi, and Pascal.
"You mean, thank my Tummy Mummy for me," Sam interrupted quietly.  So we thanked God for Sam's Tummy Mummy, who gave us Sam, our enormous and wonderful gift.
"Did she know you would love me?" he asked.
"Yes," I replied.
"That's good," he concluded.

And as always, the beauty and ache of adoption slayed my heart and tears rolled down my cheeks in the dim light as my darling drifted off to sleep.

That selfless gift.  That beautiful gift.  That heart-wrenching gift.

That godly gift.

Because God, too, sent His Son.  Sent Him to be adopted into this world, that we might be adopted into His.

"When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.  And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father! So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, than an heir through God."

The very best gifts can't be bought or sold.
We couldn't buy a babe in a starlit manger.
We couldn't buy a Saviour who came to make us heaven's sons.

The very best gifts must be wholly given, and wholly received; something the other person will love.

Merry Christmas, friends.
xo.


Christmas Fancy

Tonight was a pretty magical night.
Little Miss V had her first ever dance recital.

She was so terrified, going in.  She cried and begged us not to leave her, so we promised we would stay as close as we could.  Patrick and I walked her across the gym, packed with adoring parents and grandparents, to the fluttering cluster of youngest dancers.  "Hey, Vivian!  Come on over!  Don't be scared; this will be fun," her teacher greeted her, his kind eyes smiling right down into her own.  And she went.  Those little hands slipped quickly out of ours and she sat down beside her classmates, criss-cross-applesauce.  "We'll be in our seats," I said to the back of her head, unnecessarily.

She did great.  Their brief routine was precious.
And the whole way home she was rapturous with delight.

I remember Christmas concerts when I was a kid. It was always the fanciest feeling - hair curled and tied with ribbons, swishy dresses (so peculiar and out of place inside the school gym), waiting behind the long velvet curtains for our class' turn to perform.  Parents and neighbours sat eagerly in the audience, ready to applaud at every turn.  The whole world was dim and dark, except for the pool of light - our pool of light - onstage.  And after all the intoxicating thrill and shivery fear of performing, we received the reward that the fundraising committee knew our parents couldn't resist - little paper bags filled with fudge.

So fancy.  All the boys in button-down shirts and pants with creases, not a pair of velcro sneakers in sight.  Dress coats and mary janes and tights that never seemed to fit quite right.  Purses instead of backpacks.  I am sure it didn't seem terribly fancy to our parents, but for me no outing has topped that rich, elegant-for-an-evening feeling of my elementary school Christmas concerts.

That first Christmas?
Fancy.
Not in the garland-and-tinsel way, either.

Rich.  Holy.  Glorious.

Angels announcing.
A new star a-spangle.
Kings, gold-laden.
The One True King, arriving at last.

We keep Christmas pretty simply at our house, but my heart dances in the glory of this story like I'm princess Vava at a recital.  This is the kind of holy Christmas splendour we can sink into like deep velvet, that gleams with fadeless gold.

Merry Christmas, friends.
xo.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Not Forgotten

Today, a little kid on our street got off the bus and his mama wasn't there to meet him.

He could have gotten back on the bus.  The bus driver would have phoned his mama, would have taken him around the route, would have even returned him to the school if there was no answer.

But he looked up at me, face crumpling, eyes flooding with tears, and asked, "Can I come with you?"

Of course he could.

(I wouldn't have said yes if we were strangers, but I've watched him after school before, so I'm on the list to meet him at the bus. And I couldn't turn that pleading face away.)

We checked his house to see if there was anyone inside, and then just went home to have a snack and play with Sam and Vava. (It turns out a relative was supposed to meet him, but didn't have the correct time - anyway, all was well.)

"Can I come with you?"
Of course he could.

Because that feeling of being forgotten is the absolute worst.
Forgotten by your mom.
Forgotten by your friends.
Forgotten by your loves.

Forgotten stinks, whether you're a little kid or a big old grownup.

It doesn't get any better.  We might be older, less inclined to cry and ask a neighbour for help, but it's no better.

And that is why Jesus came.
That's why there is Christmas.
Why God sent His Son in the flesh.

He came to tell all humanity: we are not forgotten.
We are not abandoned.
We are not alone.

Immanuel.  God with us.

God with me.
God with you, sister.  God with you, brother.
He came to us.

Merry Christmas, friends.
xo.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Somewhere Still

I was attending a ladies' event at church tonight when I had to pop out to the car for something I'd forgotten.  I didn't bother grabbing my jacket, just snagged my keys and zipped out.

The moon was full and bright, and the world was covered in a good dusting of fresh snow. Even the air seemed to radiate, clouded only here or there by puffs of smoke from cozy homes.  The tap tap of my shoes echoed loud in the stillness.  Everything was silvery, luminous, snapping cold.

I'd forgotten about that peculiar solitary delight: the sweet crispness of stepping from a bright, warm, full place into the sudden silence and cold of a winter's night.  It's one of those rare feelings that can't be improved upon by sharing; it's at its absolute best in solitude.

I haven't had a lot of solitude the past few months years.
Sometimes I wake up early to find it - sitting with coffee and a pencil and my Bible, immersing my heart in the stillness, in the words and the Word.  Sometimes it steals down on me like a blanket of snow - the kids all fall asleep, my phone is out of reach, and the hush is wide and deep.  And sometimes I borrow it for a few sweet seconds when I forget something in the car, in the moonlight.

Just me ... and Him.

I hope your Christmas holds the gift of solitude, friend.  In the midst of making merry, giving generously, and receiving gratefully, I hope you find yourself somewhere still, taking a deep, gorgeous, solitary breath in His Presence.

Mmhmm.

Merry Christmas, friends.
xo.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

John, Too.

I'm reading in Numbers, where God tells Moses to gather a man from each of the twelve tribes of Israel to gather a census.
He calls them by name.

Elizur.
Shelumiel.
Nahshon.
Nethanel.
Eliab.
Elishama.
Gamaliel.
Abidan.
Ahiezer.
Pagiel.
Eliasaph.
Ahira.

God spoke their names.

I love it.  I can't help loving it.  He knows us.  He knows our names.

When I was pregnant with Pascal, Vava was incredibly curious about the development of babies in utero.  We watched these animated informational videos from Babycentre together, and learned a lot.  In the first one, the narrator describes sperm racing toward the ovum, which waits "like a mysterious star".   As soon as the egg is fertilized, the mother and father's genetic material merge to create one distinct new life, and the baby begins to grow.  Almost all of the baby's characteristics are determined at that moment.  That's nothing new, I know, something we all learned in school, but no matter how many times we watched the video, my heart burst with joy each time I saw that gorgeous glimpse of God's knitting.  It's like I could almost hear Him say, "let there be ... Sam!"  "Let there be ... Vava!" "Let there be ... Kachi!" And the baby blooms, wondrous, into life. "Let there be ... Pascal."  And there was Sam, and Vava, and Kachi, and Pascal, and God saw that it was good ;).

In the Christmas story, we read that He did just that with both John and Jesus, naming them Himself before conception.

John too.
John too.
It wasn't just the holy conception that He planned, chose, named.
John too.

Kerneled inside that Christmas story is the truth that each one of us is precious and known and named from the beginning, knit together for His purpose.

Jesus - best and dearest of all, Jesus.
But John, too.
But us, too.

Merry Christmas, friends!
xo.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

What Kachi Knows

This afternoon, Pascal was coughing.  Kachi looked up from his play and said, "God bwess you, Pa'cal."

Then Pascal fussed a little bit, and Kachi rushed over.

"It okay, Pa'cal," he crooned, swiping his sturdy little toddler-hands across Pascal's head in a bumbling but good-hearted caress, "it me. It me.  I all here.  I all here."

Because even just-turned-two Kachi knows that the first comfort, the best comfort, is the assurance that we aren't alone.

And Christmas is this annual comfort, this sweet reminder that God reached out and came to us.

Immanuel.  God.  With us.
It's okay.  It's okay.  Jesus came.

God with us. 

God bless you, friends, and Merry Christmas.
xo.


Friday, December 9, 2016

Moles and Signs

Our kids brought home presents from school.
Not the good kind.  Not the kind wrapped with love, placed with anticipation under the tree.

The lousy kind.

The guy at the drugstore hesitated halfway through his "have a good day," seeming to realize that the woman buying lice treatment at 6am was not likely going to have a good day.

Well ... it wasn't all good.  Nope, it was a lot of work and I'm sore and tired and my fingers are raw from the scalding.  But when I was tucking Sam into bed, he was so tired he didn't even notice, but he prayed that we would love God with all our hearts and moles and signs and strength.  Moles and signs!  I felt like that was my day.  Good things, like moles tunneling sly alongside without me noticing, and like signs, pointing my attention upward.

My home and family are all much cleaner today than we were yesterday.  We are all going to sleep in freshly laundered beds, with freshly washed pyjamas and squeaky clean, fine-tooth-combed hair.

The kids were well-behaved all day; through four hours of hair treatment and combing and scrubbing, through a constant laundry marathon, through the most thorough vacuuming their rooms have ever had. (Apparently there's nothing like a creepy crawly feeling to motivate me into cleaning every crack and crevice.  NOT that I want a repeat motivation ... but it does feel great to have so much housework done.)

I finally hung up my painting, despite not being satisfied with it, to get it up and out of the way so I could concentrate on bigger - well, smaller - things.  That satisfying click when it slipped onto the hook felt like a tiny cry of victory, and it tilted my heart joyward.

Kachi saw me crying over our lice-olation and asked "I hold you? I kiss you, mama?"  Ohh that tender-hearted boy is no small comfort.

And Sam and Vava and Patrick and I all finally have new haircuts.  Not the prettiest, maybe, but new, nonetheless ;).

I hope your gifts are all bright and beautiful, friends ... but if they aren't, I pray that you will find something good and fresh hidden alongside, to redeem your heart from despair and to point you to hope.

And may you love the Lord with all your hearts and moles and signs and strength ;).

Merry Christmas, friends.
xo.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

A Note To My Readers

I almost didn't write my post yesterday.  I didn't have anything amazing or deep to share, didn't have anything cute or funny to write about.  (And here I am metablogging, which is my least favourite kind of post to read - please feel free to tap out!)  But I wrote anyway, because it's my favourite way to prepare for Christmas.  I feel like if the gospel matters at all, then it has to matter in everything ... but it's really easy for me to forget that.  Especially now, with so many little needy people to maintain and grow, I get blinded by the urgent and neglect the important.  So taking twenty-four days to look at my life through an Advent lens is my way of refocusing on what's important, seeing things more truly in the light of Jesus and His good news.

If I look around the house tonight, there's no denying it's starting to get Christmasy in here.  The tree is up, and even decorated (patchily; we had three eager helpers), and there are a few decorations peppered through the kitchen and living room too.

This year, it has been a slow process.  We haven't had a big clearing out of regular things and accumulated junk, and a big replacing with Christmas things.  I didn't get bitten with the Christmas bug this year (I think I'm just too tired); haven't broken out my CDs (yes, I still love CDs), haven't played many Christmas movies, haven't done much shopping.  The Christmas boxes have been underfoot for a while.  Uneaten Halloween treats still clutter up the kitchen shelf.  The kids' drawings of Thanksgiving turkeys are still taped to the wall by the couch.  I just erased a list of summer-boredom activities from the window.  We've definitely got an all-seasons motif going on.

But my parents are coming next week.  I've got to tackle it without delay - clear away the debris of old holidays and leave room for rejoicing.  I need to throw out that puzzle with missing pieces and bring up the board games from storage.  I need to dust and sweep and mop.  I need to take the bag of coats and mittens and unloved teddy bears to the donation centre.  I need to clear out, clean up, and prepare.

And in just the same way, I need to sort through the accumulated junk in my heart.  I need to open up my eyes and ask if this mental habit needs to stay, or if that can be tossed.  I need to pick up the stacks of loose thoughts and rifle through them for the good ones, the true ones.

You know?  It's hokey, but if I don't take time to do a little considering, I'll end up living even less intentionally, swamped in junk and dust, unable to find the valuable things and unable to enjoy them.

And that's what this blog is ... just me, sitting bleary-eyed in my half-decorated house, sorting through my thoughts and holding up scraps and bits of my day next to the Christmas story, trying to see it all clearer in the light of Advent.

And you, friends - your encouraging comments and chiming in "me too!" and letting me know it helped you see something a little clearer, a little lovelier - you're like the visiting company, the impetus to work harder and care just a little bit more.

Thanks, guys.
Merry Christmas.
xo.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Just Joy

I've been working on this painting for a solid week now.

I bought a big ugly picture from Value Village - it was a wolf, nestled under a tree.  The frame was forest green and the mat had a plastic-mettalic rim.  It was really ugly, and covering it up would be a kindness.

I just wanted to make some Christmasy art to hang in the living room.  The tree is in the dining room, and I don't feel like making a garland of balls in the window again this year, but I wanted the room to have something.  I envisioned this quick shabby-chic project being hung up on the wall a few hours after I began - a little white paint with a sponge on the canvas, a little gold to cover the forest green frame, and maybe a word stamped in turquoise or gold.  Joy, I think.  Or hope?

It's still not done.
I've brought it up from the basement almost every day, but ...
I keep messing up.  The kids keep needing me.  I keep stopping to make a meal or fold laundry or wash dishes instead.
And this silly painting has taken way longer than I imagined.

But every time I putter away at it, I'm happy.  I dance while I work.  I sing to myself.  I know I am no artist, but it feels really good to be absorbed.

I'm still torn on the colours (I was thinking gold or turquoise ... but now maybe red and gold? Or red and turquoise?) and the way things are going it probably won't be finished anytime soon.  But it feels so good to be stresslessly happy.  It's already brought me way more simple joy than it will when it's finally done.

I hope your Christmas is deep and rich and holy, friends.
But I hope it is sweet and glad and delightful, too.  I hope you find yourself lost in something that makes you smile and dance and sing, something with no ties or obligations attached - just joy.

Happy Christmas, friends!
xo.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Soft

My day with the kids was bookended by yelling.

It is NOT something I was hoping for.
It's pretty much the opposite of what I was hoping for.

My word of the year for 2016 was soft.  I prayed that I would let trials soften me, smooth my rough edges like sand and salt water on a piece of glass.  But here I am, three weeks left on the clock and still I splinter like a dropped dollarstore dish.

We had a great morning.  Everyone was happy, things were rolling along swimmingly, but all of a sudden it was 2 minutes til bus time and I hadn't yet packed their lunches and instead of flying into their snowsuits both Sam and Vava were lying on the floor whining that they needed help putting on their snow pants.
Yes.
I yelled.

And we had a repeat at bedtime.  A sweet friend brought us a lift-the-flap Advent storybook to read, and I sat down with the big kids to read it to them before bed.
"You will get to turn pages and lift flaps," I promised them, "but please don't do it before I tell you or you will ruin the surprise."  Sam's hand inched toward the page, flicked out to flip the flap.  "No, Sam," I warned him.  He couldn't resist.  He tried again.  "Not yet!" I said sternly.  He reached, grabbed, flipped open the flap and I flipped my lid.
"Sam!" I jumped up, yelling, "That's it! You can't ..."

But I couldn't finish that sentence.  He can't what?
Can't read the rest of the story with me? Really? When we're reading the story of the Saviour who spread open His arms and said 'come unto Me' - ?
Can't open any of the doors on the pages of a book about the very one who opened Himself to declare 'I am the door' -?

Sam started to cry.  "I'm sorry! I'm sorry!"

I know Sam wants to be good.  I know it in my bones because I live it.  I want to be beach-glass soft.  I want to lead and teach my kids firmly, but not sharply.   I don't want to cut them on my own immaturity.  But my temper flicked out fast and swift and I met the same thing Sam did ... the heart of a Saviour who steadfastly refuses to turn us away.

I couldn't finish that sentence because none of the anger-fueled things I might have threatened would have represented His open door, His open heart, the whole reason for His advent.

No.  I couldn't finish that sentence with anything true.

I sat back down and we finished reading, with a repentant Sam snuggled against his repentant mama.
Soft.

Merry Christmas, friends.
xo.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Love Came Down at Christmas

Earlier this fall, my friend wasn't feeling well.  I watched her son for a bit so she could rest, and after not getting any better, she went to the clinic and told me she was diagnosed with vertigo.
I felt bad for her, but I had no idea what she was going through.  My sympathy was real - I cared that my friend was sick - but, since I had never experienced vertigo, mostly empty.

Yesterday morning, I got out of bed and fell into the wall.  The room spun and I crawled to the bathroom, certain I was going to vomit.  I had a hard time focusing my eyes, and spent considerable energy trying to convince myself that the room wasn't bucking like a ship at sea.

Vertigo.

You already know who I texted.
My friend who'd been there.

She came over as soon as she could and took me to the clinic.  She offered me her arm as we went outside because she knew the world was tipping for me.  She drove carefully and gently, having experienced the peculiar sensation of driving in an earthquake-for-one.  She brought us supper, because she knew how little she felt like cooking when she was suffering the same thing.

There's the sympathy that looks on, and then there's the sympathy that knows.

And oh, she was so much kinder and more helpful to me than I was to her.  Because she knew.

And that's the thing with this God-Man, this second Person of the Trinity, this Jesus.
He knows.

He was a baby, like me, like you.  He isn't distant.  He came so very, very close to us, to know us as one of us. Mary's boy-child.

When the world spins and tilts, He knows.
He is touched by our infirmities (Hebrews 4:15).
He's been here.

Comfort, comfort at Christmas, friends!
xo.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

I Have Always Loved You

While Patrick was away last week, the kids were really amazing.
They had a few rough patches, but over all, they tried hard, listened well, and didn't fight bedtime.  They understood that there was only one parent, so they had to split their snuggling time and it was alright.

Tonight, though, they seemed unable to settle down.  They wanted multiple snuggles and stories for ages.  I hadn't been around most of the day, knocked flat on my back by my first ever case of vertigo (boo to THAT!), so they wanted more attention than I was feeling up to giving.

I was taking Sam and Vava upstairs for stories when Vava decided she wanted her tiny toy seal.  We went back downstairs and looked but couldn't find it.  Finally I said we would have to find him tomorrow and you'd think I'd reached into her chest and ripped her heart right out. I half-carried her upstairs and put her in bed.  She threw herself right back out at me, howling.  "BE NICE TO ME!  LOVE ME!"
(Because, like her mama, she always demands love in the least lovely ways.)
I told her that I've loved her and have been nice to her since the day she was born, and she made it clear that she didn't believe me. (The words 'stinky butt butt' might have made their bold and fearsome appearance.)

It all depended on this one toy, this one moment.  If I couldn't produce her seal, she couldn't see how I could ever have loved her.

And there was a deep sweet pointed laugh ringing from somewhere beyond the North Star that helped me remember feeling the same way.

I'm not much different from my sulky and saucy four-year-old daughter.
I, too, experience things that make me question whether God has ever loved me.  And maybe they're less important than I think, maybe they're a little more like a toy seal and a little less representative of His constant heart. Things that could never compare with the ways He has shown His love to me, since long before I was born or thought of.

He loved me enough to make Christmas.
To wrap up His Son and decorate with a new star and send the first carolers a-singing.
To make Easter.
To send that Son to the cross to trade His righteousness for my sinfulness and make me His own.
He loves me that much.
He's always loved me.

As the calendar dwindles to its last few pages, Christian, maybe you're finding that 2016 didn't hold the treasures you'd hoped.  Maybe the job you wanted, the relationship you wanted, the adventure you wanted didn't work out.  Maybe somewhere in your heart something sullen asks 'if I'm your child, why aren't you being nice to me?'

Let Christmas whisper its assurance to your disappointment:
I have always loved you.  I have loved you with an everlasting love.  This, too, is my good gift.

And may you turn your eyes to Him until you see His everlasting love on that tree.
We have always been loved.

Merry Christmas, friends.
xo.


Saturday, December 3, 2016

Christmas In Leviticus

I've been reading through Leviticus.
(Slowly.)
My attention just isn't captivated by rules about priests and traditions and feasts.
So I asked God to show me something about Him in this - because He's hidden Himself all through His word. And of course, He did.

I hadn't read much this past week while Patrick was away, but I did read about the feasts the Israelites were to celebrate.  And I especially liked the Feast of Booths (Leviticus 23:33-44).  This was an annual tradition to remember God bringing the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt and keeping them while they traveled through the desert.  As well as building temporary shelters, this memorial included fasting, sacrificing, pouring out.  And then it was followed by feasting and celebrating, and followed by fasting again.

And I hadn't ever noticed before how much like an Old Testament feast Christmas really is.  

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, we squeeze our budgets thin, don't we?  We choose not to spend on ourselves, fasting from self-centred buying in order to pour out generously on others.  Some of you rearrange your schedules, volunteering your precious time to serve the needy or welcome strangers and refugees.  Some of you empty your cupboards and give to food drives.  Some of you bake treats and write cards to remind your friends or those without friends that they are loved and valued.  Some of you pack shoeboxes full of presents for children you'll never meet.  Yes.  Christmas is a time when we choose to fast, to sacrifice, to pour out.

And then we feast!
On Christmas music and friendships and gifts and games and songs and conversation and good books and egg nog and good movies and the Christmas story which gives it all its depth and value.  We celebrate loudly and gladly, quietly and peacefully, alone and with friends and at home and at church.  We rejoice.

Did you know where Boxing Day comes from?  I feel really silly that I didn't learn until a few years ago why December 26th is called Boxing Day.  It's the day when people traditionally packed up the leftovers from their Christmas plenty - yes, in boxes - to give to those in want.  Yup.  Just like the Feast of Booths ... a fast, to follow the feast.

Yeah.  Every year we keep this Old Testament style feast.
We celebrate that God sent a Saviour to bring us out of slavery.
We rejoice that He leads us through weary days and brings us Home.  
We learn over and over again that we grow rich in the giving, gain life in the sacrificing, and are filled by pouring out.

Merry and Holy Christmas to you, dear friends.
xo.

Friday, December 2, 2016

The Best Time of the Year

I woke up this morning, so incredibly excited.
TODAY IS THE DAY!
After five and a half loooong days, Patrick is finally coming home.

I just cannot wait to see him.

At first I missed him because I missed what he does.  We have fun together, we're best friends, and I missed having him around to talk to.  And as the week went on, I missed him for his hard work around the house, for his tireless coparenting, and because it's pretty darn hard to run into the store to grab a gallon of milk when four little people have to come with me.  Yeah.  I miss the convenience of having him.

But all day today I've just been missing him for him.
Not because he makes my life easier, happier, tidier, better (which he does SO well). But I just miss him.

I miss sharing laughs with him over something funny the kids do.  I miss his thoughtful perspective and talking things through with him.  I miss kissing him goodbye in the morning through the mad scramble of getting everyone ready and out the door.  I miss texting back and forth and popping in to his work with coffee.  I miss him.

And tonight, he's coming HOME!!!

It's funny - I heard his plane go over a few minutes ago.  It's early.  It shouldn't be landing for another ten or fifteen minutes, but I know it's his.  That invisible string that connects us at the heart just stopped pulling quite so tight.

I feel like a kid at Christmas.  Actually - I really do - because the best part of Christmas was when Dee Dee and Uncle Ken and Bekah arrived from New Brunswick.  Ahh.  That sweet clamour for hugs and more hugs and sitting down at the table for board games and laughs long into the night.  The lights were up, the tree was lit, but family arriving?  Yes ... now it's Christmas.
And now that I'm an adult, I hear it all the time.  Are your parents coming? Any family planning to be in town for Christmas?  It's not about thoughtfully purchased gifts or skilfully decorated homes.

The best gifts are always people who love us.

Because that First, Best gift? A Person who loves us.

God bless you and your people at Christmas, friends.
Xo.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Fears and Hopes

Last week we included a Christmas carol in our Bible study for the first time this year.  (Yay!)  We sang O Little Town of Bethlehem (which has never been one of my favourites).  I was struck by the line the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.  Really? Fears?  That seemed kind of out of place in a Christmas hymn.  As far as I can tell, other than that odd line about 'scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmases long long ago,' fear isn't really a big Christmas carol theme.

It made me think of that shivery passage in Isaiah:
     Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy,
     and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread.
     But the Lord of hosts, Him you shall honour as holy.
     Let Him be your fear, and let Him be your dread.  (Isaiah 8:12-13)

And I don't know about you, but I needed that reminder.  To fear God, and no one, nothing else.  Not the future, not my own failure, not whatever might face my children, not exhaustion or repetition or insignificance.

I seem to have fallen into a funk lately - worrying about all sorts of things.  Unconsciously fearing a handful of big unknowns that I have no control over, and letting that fear colour my mood, robbing my joy. Fearing things that very well may come to pass - but things that I can't control.

The other day I was feeing Pascal while the kids were playing Super Mario. (Let me be honest.  Sam was playing Super Mario, while Vava and Kachi held empty controllers.)  Sam died, and Vava asked him how many hopes he had left.
Yup.
Hopes.
And that made me smile all over the place because she didn't mean to preach to my heart but she did.

God so gently took my heavy heart and pointed me away from my fears to my Fear and I found hope.  What is my hope?  Jesus.  Not that Jesus will save me from my fears (He'll probably lead me straight into them, because He's got bigger things in mind for me than assuaging my fears).  Not that Jesus will give me a trouble-free future (He told us we'd have trouble, after all).  But that Jesus is splendid and glorious - and His heaven waits, where all of this long life will seem like a breath, a vapour, when He takes me, at last, into His presence.  Oh, I do not need to fear the future.  My fear, my hope, is Jesus.

Like Super Mario on the easy setting, I will not run out of hopes.

I don't know where this post finds you.  Maybe you, too, have been clenching your teeth a little more lately, furrowing your forehead a little harder every time you read the news.  Whatever fears are stalking you, I pray you bring them to our only Fear, our eternal Hope, and that He gives you peace and joy as advent begins.

Merry Christmas, friends!
xo.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Much Preciouser

Dear Pascal,
There will probably come a day when you doubt that your big, beautiful, smart, funny, amazing siblings like you.
At some point you might feel like they see you as an annoying little brother and not much else.
I get it.
I'm the fourth too.
So I thought I would take a picture of this moment to remind you.
Because you probably won't remember the way they all cluster around you the moment you coo or gurgle.
You will likely never hear them fight over whose brother you are.
You won't hear Kachi's soft baby voice gasp "baby Pa'cal so coot!"
You won't hear Vava declare "my baby brother is just adorable!"
You won't hear Sam exclaim in all sincerity, "babies are much preciouser than phones!"
And if there comes a day when your heart feels lonely, I hope you look at this picture and remember.
You are coot.
You are adorable.
You are much preciouser than phones.
And
You
Are
Loved.
Xo.

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.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Ready for Jesus

I overheard a cute little conversation on Sunday. My brother-in-law (who is as awesome a dad as his little brother) was reading his Bible. His daughter came up and interrupted him, but instead of shooing her away (as I would probably have done), he told her about what he was reading - the story of Jesus and blind Bartimaeus.

It was a story she'd heard before, so he asked her some questions about it. "What was blind Bart doing?" he asked. I thought she was going to say "sitting on the side of the road, begging," but her exact answer was so much richer than that.
"He was ready for Jesus," she replied.

Ready.
For.
Jesus.

Blind, begging, and ready for Jesus. 

He meets us, of course, at the point of our need. Where we can't help ourselves. Where we're trapped and can do nothing but cry out to Him.

I always think of that place as the worst of circumstances. But my niece has it right. It's not. It's not. It's where we're ready for Jesus.

I heard a sermon a few weeks ago that's been ringing through my heart ever since. The preacher encouraged us in Psalm 4, to bring our anger to God, lay it all out before Him, confess with a broken and contrite heart, and just rest in His sufficiency and presence.

I don't know about you, but I struggle with anger as my big fat blind spot. It flares up ugly and strong when I feel unfairly treated, judged, self-righteous, tired, pressured ... so, yeah, pretty much all the time. But bringing my anger into God's presence has given me so much freedom from that. Not that I don't feel angry, but I don't suffer from the slow burn, the smoldering resentment, rehashed indignation. Because He really does give His peace to my broken heart.

My anger is where I'm ready for Jesus.

Yeah.

I can't beat it on my own. No matter how much someone tells me to relax or settle down, I can't change that blind rage into peace.

But He can.

Right there, where I'm blind and begging.

And maybe your blindness is something else, and you've begged God to take it away.  Maybe you, like me, have never seen it as the open door, an invitation to glory.

Instead of thrashing against it, I pray that you find hope in knowing that this is your roadside, and that is your Saviour, and you are not just blind, you are not just begging.

You are ready for Jesus.

Xo.