Sunday, December 24, 2017

The Night Before Christmas

'Twas the night before Christmas
And all through the stable
There was no place to rest
 - not even a table.
Mary lay on the hay
And she looked awfully sick
As the baby inside her
He kicked! 
The baby was coming
But there was no crib;
No teddies or bottles,
Not even a bib!
Joseph was worried
And pulling his beard
- a baby from God?
It was good! (it was weird!)
Then over his shoulder
A huge star unfurled:
The Messiah had come,
The Light of the World!
The wise men, they saw it,
And set out to travel,
A new star in the sky,
A new truth to unravel!
The Lord's angels sang out,
In awe shepherds huddled.
And Mary?
And Joseph?
And baby?
 - they cuddled.

Merry Christmas, friends! 
Thanks so much for reading along with me for another year.
God bless you & yours.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Night-shift Field-hands

Know what I want to know?

Why shepherds?

Of all the people around Bethlehem that night (and there were lots of people, crowding in for a Caesar's census), why did the angel of the Lord announce Jesus' birth to shepherds?

God was writing this story, so it could have been a little foreshadowing of the fact that Jesus had come to be the Good Shepherd, to give his life for His people, His sheep.

It could have been a nice balance, a nice juxtaposition with the kings who came bearing gifts - the recorded visitors being the night-shift field-hands and the wise men, to show that Jesus had come to all of us, rich and poor.

It could have been one of many reasons, but the one that makes sense to this tired mama is in Luke chapter 2, verse 8: "And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night."  They were there, and they were awake ... so he gave them this special treasure.

Being awake when the whole world sleeps is hard.

A few nights ago, Vava came into our room at 3am and wimped and whined and started to cry.  I was so tired.  I couldn't figure out what she was saying.  Kachi had already made his way into our bed around 1, and I was worried Vava would wake him up, so I took her back to her room and cuddled into her bed.  She finally cried out that she was too worried about bugs (we'd had a lice-letter from school, and I had checked everyone's hair carefully before bed).  I asked her what would help, and she told me she wanted me to check her head again.  So we tiptoed downstairs and sprayed her hair and went through it with a fine-toothed comb.  It was clear.

So we tiptoed back upstairs and snuggled back into her bed.  She laid her head on my shoulder and nestled into my arms and fell asleep.

There's magic in that, even when you're beyond exhausted.
There's something heartbreakingly sweet in comforting a fretting heart to sleep.

I have good sleepers, I do, but there are four of them and even if each of them only needs me twice in a week, that's eight wakeful nights out of seven :).  But there are treasures on the wrong side of the clock - extra snuggles, extra conversations, extra closeness.  Sometimes I don't have a chance during the day to whisper "fear not" over a particular child's secret worry, but at night - it's just us.  We can whisper, snuggle down, and I can hold them close and pray with them until their fears cease and they sleep in my arms.

I love that the angel of the Lord appeared to those who were keeping watch over their flocks.
He came with good news - great joy - in the middle of the night.

If you're up in the night this Christmas, I hope you find treasures and unexpected joy there.  Even if you have to break out the nit-comb at 3am ;).

"Fear not, for behold I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord."

Merry Christmas, friends.

Friday, December 22, 2017

For the Middle of the Night

I'm a mom, so I can almost always sleep.  I'm so sleep-deprived that I lie down in that soft bed and it doesn't require any effort at all - I just drift off to dreamland.

Also: I'm a mom, so I can't always sleep.  Once I plunge into the glorious depths of cozy dreamland, there's no guarantee I can stay there until morning.  Someone might be lonely, or have a bad dream, or need a fear aired and calmed.  Someone might sleepwalk or remember something funny or absolutely definitely right now need different pyjamas.  Someone might need a drink and have forgotten how cups and taps work.

And then there's the rare night that I lie in bed and yucky things from the news niggle in my mind and I worry about the future and what my kids will have to face and -

and I can't sleep until I remember what the angel of the Lord told the shepherds, who were also up, keeping watch in the middle of the night.

"Fear not, for behold I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord." (Luke 2:10-11)

Fear not.
The good news: Jesus is with us.

And I don't know what kinds of flocks you're watching over, friends, but I pray that the good news will meet you where you are.

Fear not. Jesus is with us.

Hunting for Presents

Sam has been hunting for presents for a solid week.

There are only a few under the tree, and he knows I bought more, so he's been prowling around the house, trying to unearth them.

Last Saturday, Patrick and I took the kids out to buy presents for each other.  Doing errands with four kids in Christmas crowds - well, a bit taxing.  By the time we got home, I wanted to hide in our room for a while, or better yet, jump in the car and just drive.  Patrick read my mind.  "Why don't you run up to the city and go to Costco?" he suggested. "I'll give the kids supper and have them ready for bed by the time you come home."

I grabbed the grocery bags and took off.  A Christmas shopping trip, alone!  I turned on the radio and sped off through the sunshine to Costco.

The store was busy.  I didn't have to take anyone to the bathroom when we got there.  I shopped in a blissful haze of kidlessness. I filled up my cart and then loaded it into the truck.  It was full.  Every carseat had something buckled into it - I was astonished to notice that I actually had a truck full of groceries.

There was a time not too long ago when Patrick and I were poor students, getting by on leftovers that we brought home from work.  We certainly didn't have a truck or groceries to put in it.  And suddenly I realized that this wasn't a truck full of errands.  So much more than mere groceries.  It was jam-packed with gifts.

Just like Sam's presents in our bedroom, in the front closet.  He can't find his presents because they don't look like presents.  I haven't wrapped them. They're sitting meekly in wrinkled plastic bags or brown Amazon boxes. They look like groceries.  Like errands.  He pushes past them every time, expecting something that looks different -

Sometimes God cleverly disguises gifts as groceries.
A few minutes to myself.
A thoughtful husband.

And I miss them, walk right on by, worried that He might forget me.
And the gifts actually are all around -

Merry Christmas, friends.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

A Chance to Give

Sam and Vava's school does the sweetest little fundraiser with the kids in grades K-2.

In December, the school asks parents for donations of gently-used or small, new items. Then, in the last week before Christmas break, they set up a store where the kids can bring in small change ($.25 - $2), and shop for two presents from the donated items.

The parents get surprise gifts, the school raises funds, and the kids get an opportunity to give.

Sure, every year we take our kids out one at a time, give them a little budget, and help them choose presents for their siblings.  But it's always with us. 

This is pure them.

Sam and Vava climbed off the bus today with gift bags swinging importantly from their hands.  They're usually falling all over each other trying to dump their backpacks on the stroller, but they weren't too tired to carry these - this was special.

They warned each other not to tell me what they bought for me - but they couldn't wait to tell me what they bought for Patrick.  As soon as Patrick came home, they dashed to tell him they bought surprises (and showed him what they chose for me).

They tucked their presents under the tree and grinned. 

I remember the first year that it occurred to me that I could give presents too - not just receive them.  I was way older than these guys.  And my gifts were always really lame - ahhh they still are.  Gift-giving is my least-fluent love language - I'm so grateful for Sam and Vava's teachers helping them to learn the joy of speaking it early.

(Teachers deserve huge presents always, but especially this time of year!)

Merry Christmas, friends.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

The Weary Mama Rejoices

This morning started in classic Janelle style - dashing like mad to the school bus stop, standing there for ages, winded from running the stroller through shortbread-dough-snow, before a kind mom drove by and rolled down her window and told me the school buses were canceled today.

I had to take Pascal to an appointment on the opposite side of town, so there was no way I could walk the big kids to school and then turn around and walk all the way to the appointment.  So we turned around and headed home.

I was trying to figure out what to do.  Taking all four on a trek through slush and then keeping them quiet through Pascal's vaccines - I wasn't really sure I could manage it. After having strep twice in a month I am not feeling terribly strong and I was already wiped from the morning bus-dash.  My heart cried please help, Jesus! And then my phone buzzed and my brother was texting to ask if I needed any help today.

Just like that.

Some people really are gifts from God.

So they drove all the way down and took us out to Pascal's appointment and the only effort I had to exert was climbing into the van.

I was so tired and overwhelmed and God heard my prayers and sent someone to extend His sweet kindness -

A thrill of hope, the weary mama rejoices!

The gospel is so beautiful, wherever it echoes, and today it rang loud in my tired-out heart.

Merry Christmas, friends.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Also Ordinary Days

When the kids come home from school, they sit up at the counter and have a snack while I prep supper. 

I make sure to have a snack all laid out before we leave to meet them at the bus stop, so they can go straight from boots-off to bar-stool.  Everyday I imagine them racing in the door, climbing up at the counter and laughing together about the funny moments in their day, including Kachi and Pascal in their conversation.

The real post-school-apocalypse is more like they fight over who won on the way home (because everything is a race), complain, demand additional snacks, and share absolutely zero details of their day. 

My kids are normal little humans who just busted their butts all day doing their best and need a little down time.  After being around people, Vava always craves solitude. Like her mama, she is a frustrating mash of introvert and extrovert.  Sam doesn't have much to say about his friends or class until the last ten minutes of his day, when we're snuggled in his bunk, whispering so we don't wake up Pascal.  That's so fine.  My kids are fine.

But my expectations are in serious need of adjustment.

You'd think I'd have adjusted them already.  This isn't the first week of school.  But here I go, day after day, planning on a smooth and blissful afternoon reunion that happens so rarely-

Actually, it happened today.
Today Sam climbed up on his stool (after complaining about it not being his favourite one), and picked up a paper-doll that Vava had made and left on the counter.
"Vava, did you make this?" he asked, waving it at her over Kachi's head.  She nodded, her mouth full of popcorn. "Vivian is so good at drawing and art," he told me, "I love all the things she makes."  And two stools over, two blue eyes were wide and two cheeks were flushed with joy.  Then she responded in kind.
"I love all the things Sam makes with Lego and on Minecraft," she told me, "he's really good at building."
And I was standing by the sink, eyes flooding with tears because this was magic.

But it is definitely rare.

I don't know if we'll keep on doing counter-snack after school.  They need to eat and I love seeing all their faces together after hours apart.  But whether we keep that up or find a different way to welcome them home, I know that expecting those golden moments every day is silly.  I need to plan for the reality that my kids are tired and hungry and will likely be rude to each other, forget their manners, and need some alone time.  Not that I shouldn't correct misbehaviours when I see them, but if my seeing them also includes disappointment of my absurd expectations, that's a lot harder for all four of them to bear.

And I get that way about the 25th.  I have so many happy golden memories from Christmas day that I start to expect the day to unfold in a feel-good montage of flawless ease.  (HA! It's like I forget I'm a parent!)

On her birthday, Vava lost her temper in the hugest way over a small incident.  On her way upstairs for a serious timeout, she let slip the reason why: "everything is supposed to be perfect on your birthday!"  And her outrage over the difference between her expectation and the reality made for a cranky and frustrating afternoon.  I sat down on her bed and assured her that her birthday is not a perfect day.  It's special because we're celebrating, there will be presents, and special company, but it's still a normal day where things might go wrong and we'll probably feel bored or sad or angry at some point and that's okay too.

And as Christmas approaches, God keeps using my kids to remind me of that, reminding me to adjust my expectations, to plan for reality.  Special days are also ordinary days.

Even Christmas days.

Merry (mostly) Christmas, friends!

Sunday, December 17, 2017

A Teeny Tiny Christmas Prayer

In Sunday School today Sam and Vava made little ornaments, paper-plate Jesuses with swaddling clothes. 

Vava carried hers around with her all day and tucked it into her bed at night.

She gave it a kiss and closed her eyes and said, "thank you for being Jesus, God."

Which is much as I imagine Mary might have tucked him in, that first trembly night. 

And it's the way I prayed when I first realized Jesus died for me.

Thank you for being Jesus, God.

Merry Christmas, friends.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

A Reminder from Sad-Janelle

Know what?

I didn't always love Christmas. 

It used to be the loneliest and most awful.

Once they got their licenses, my big sisters would always be off doing stuff with their friends, and I'd be stuck at home like a little kid (I was a little kid) with my brother (who I hadn't yet come to adore).  And then they got boyfriends and got engaged and got married and were gorgeous and happy and grown up and amazing and I was too ugly and never had a boyfriend and was 99% sure that nobody would ever love me or want to marry me ever ever ever and I stared down the long decades of miserable Christmas solitude with bitter tears.

So okay, I was hilariously melodramatic, but it didn't feel hilarious then, you know?  It felt so so so sad, and lonely, and everybody else was merry&bright and gushing about Christmas when all I wanted to do was bury myself in my room with stacks of books and jars of dill pickles ... which I did, lots.  And it's pretty easy for me to make fun of sad-Janelle and dismiss her (groundless, thank you Patrick) fears now.  But she taught me some really important things.

Not everyone is happy at Christmas.

Sometimes I think I almost might forget that now.  We get together with friends, and yeah, everyone is telling each other to be of good cheer! it's the most wonderful time of the year!  And there are lots of laughs and generous presents and kindness and goodness and - as Vava told me today - it's easy to see that the meaning of Christmas is love.

And there's no sadness in sight.

But I think there should be sadness in sight.

Did you ever walk into a room and realize that you were the only one who looked like you, so you felt uncomfortable for a few moments and then left?
Did you ever show up somewhere and realize that there was a tacit dress code that nobody had spelled out for you, so you felt uncomfortable until you could leave?
I have.  When I feel out of place, I leave.  Goombye, please!

Sometimes when I'm around a group of beautiful, slender, fashionable friends, silently longing to be less freckled, less enormous, and less frizzy, God whispers to my heart that maybe someone else will come along who is also big and freckly and frizzy and she will feel comfortable here because there is someone else who looks like her.

And so if you are struggling with the Merry&Bright part of Christmas this year, will you remember sad-Janelle and just be yourself? Just go to that Christmas thing you're dreading and cry if you need to.  Or make wry comments to yourself in the corner.  Or high-tail it to the kitchen and find a jar of dill-pickles.

Because maybe there's someone else who wants to join in but can't because there's no one who looks like them.  Nobody else with that broken heart, that ache, that loneliness.  Nobody else who isn't feeling particularly Christmasy.

I'm willing to bet there are a lot of people who will be blessed by your authenticity, who will laugh at your sarcastic jokes or cry with you in the cubby under the stairs.

And everyone who loves you will be glad to have sad-you around.
Even if you're too ugly and have never had a boyfriend and are 99% certain nobody will ever want to marry you ever ever ever.

Merry Christmas, friends.

Friday, December 15, 2017

A Baby Too

Ohh my Pascal.
He is so heart-stealingly sweet.

I did my Christmas shopping online this morning, while he and Kachi amused themselves for an hour and a half. By the time I was done, they were both more than ready for some hands-on mama time. They're both big readers, so we cuddled on the couch with board books.  After we'd gone through all their favourites, some twice, Kachi was good to play some more. But Pascal threw himself into my arms and laid his head on my chest and just stayed there, quiet.

And I felt anew all the soft deep sweetness of being his mama, holding my darling, being exactly who he needed.  And in that time-foldy way parenting has, I was for a moment a baby too, remembering resting the same way on my mama, the way she was soft and strong and being in her arms was always just right.

And I wonder about Jesus, making the world, and I wonder if He knew that same feeling in reverse -- Cradling creation in His palms, knowing He would one day be cradled in their arms.  (Yes - all along knowing it. Because Christmas wasnt His backup plan: it was His good plan.)

I'm a lot dimmer than Pascal and I go a lot longer before I realize I need Him, but in the same way, when my heart is overwhelmed, nothing will comfort me like the presence of Jesus. I open His Word and seek His heartbeat, listen to His voice, rest in His strength.

And He knows.
He was a baby too.
He holds me close because He knows.

God with us.
Merry Christmas, friends.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Faith Does

I'm reading the book of James, which was written by Jesus' brother, and I notice something cool.

James writes in a proverbsy style, circling around from theme to theme, then back again. And one theme keeps me wondering if he's thinking about his Brother -

Because one idea that echoes and re-echoes is "be doers of the word, and not hearers only [...] faith apart from works is dead [...] by his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom." (James 1:22, 2:26, 3:13)

My kids love hearing their birth stories. Sam's, weighted with giving and love; Vava's, scary and dramatic and triumphant; Kachi's, happy and easy; Pascal's, funny and horrid and fast. They love hearing about the days they each made their way into the world.

And if the book of James is any clue, I'd say that Jesus' family loved that too.  Because this book, like their big brother's Nativity story, is drenched with the idea that faith does.

Faith receives God's Word, like Mary, like Joseph. Faith goes far, like Jesus, like the wise men. Faith waits, like Simeon, like Anna. Faith rejoices, like the shepherds, the angels.  Faith does.

Christmastime? Christians everywhere, working hard to show more love, to give more generously, to pray with more diligence, worship with devoted hearts ... that potent mix of doing and believing.

Giving. Sharing. Serving. Loving. Worshiping. Waiting. Rejoicing.

It breaks my heart wide open, the way you live the Nativity every year, you beautiful ordinary, messy, crazy family.

Merry Christmas, friends.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017


Sam started sleeping upside down in his bed. He untucks his blankets and puts his pillow at the foot of his bed so his head is next to the window. He slides his curtain aside and looks out, looks up through the snapping cold.

In the summer, of course, he can't see them. Bedtime is too early. But in the long dark night of winter, bright bits of beauty sparkle and gleam in the sky.  He loves to lie in bed and look out through the dark to see the stars.

And I think we all follow stars.  We all chase after the lovely thing, the rare or precious sight or experience or feeling we want to keep, want to hold.

And at Christmastime?

I was shopping (briefly, amazingly alone!), when I felt a few moments of communal happiness. There really is no better word for that feeling of finding for just the right present than delight - just being caught up in anticipation, imagining the recipient's reaction, knowing you'll surprise them with a little sliver of gladness.  And all over the store, people were doing the same. Picking up something, pausing, considering if this would suit their loved ones, if maybe that might bring more joy, or even this one over here --

It was really cool to realize I was right in the middle of an eager flood of love and generosity and joy, a whole store full of people buying things to give away. I love that.

Gifts are good and important ways to show love, ways to say "you matter to me" and "I see you."

And it's crazy how easy it is to follow that so-beautiful star, to focus on its lovely glow -

But gifts aren't the star. No, Christmas isn't reserved only for people who can buy or make gifts, not just for those who have someone to give them presents or someone to receive their presents.

Lonely or swamped, rich or poor, near, far - we can all follow the star. It leads us to Jesus.  And we will never miss Christmas when we take time to turn our routine around, pull back its pages, and let the story of the Messiah shine into our hearts.

I pray we all find ourselves kneeling before Him, worshiping, this Christmas.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Ghost of Christmas Future

I stepped outside to shovel the driveway this afternoon in the last few minutes of Pascal's nap. We got tons of snow today and I wanted it to be an easy return home for Patrick after his long day's work.

When I left, Vava was painting at the table, and Kachi and Sam were setting up a stuffed-animal army to face off against a Lego squad.

I'd shoveled about a third of the driveway when the door opened and a polite voice asked, "can I take care of that for you, mama?"

I paused.

The snow was swirling around in the exact same way, and I was wearing the same clothes, and the house hadn't changed a bit - but surely ten years had passed?

Five at least. 

Hadn't I left a boy playing with stuffies inside? Who - how -

And there he was, standing in the door, pulling on his boots and jacket. "You don't have to do any more," he called, "you can just leave your shovel there."

And that blessed boy still talks with that little-kid accent, or whatever a lisp is called when you can't manage Rs, but here he was being considerate and helpful and deliciously polite and sounding so much older than six.

And he thinks that his gift to me was his hard work, but the bigger gift was this glimpse of this wonderful young man, this flash-forward of a kind son I'm already so proud of.

Merry Christmas, friends.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Light For a Blue-Christmas Sort of Day

I had a super homesick day.

I think I've avoided homesickness since our move by just not thinking about it. Not thinking about the usual events and routines and happenings in Thunder Bay. Just burying my head in the sand I guess.

But then, hanging the ornaments with Sam brought on the tears and I haven't been far from them since.

And that homesickness, that ache for something missed, the longing for something loved and lost - it can get pretty fierce this time of year. There's something particularly painful in your first Christmas without.

I spent most of Pascal's naptime wallowing on Google earth, scrolling around the streets I miss.

But after I had a good cry, one of my wise friends pointed me hopeward today: "Imagine the fullness and the satisfaction of our souls when we finally go to our eternal home. Almost unfathomable to believe that all our longings and yearnings will be satiated forever. No more homesickness - One day!!!!!!"

The restlessness, that chafing in the soul, that deep weariness - all whisper that we're longing for our true home. We're not there yet - not yet.

I can't think of a better balm for the ache of a lonely Christmas than this: one day, we will go to our Father's house, to be with the One who traveled so far away from it to bring us safe home.

Merry Christmas, friends.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Haste, Haste to Bring Him Laud

Our kids love to fight over who gets to pray at mealtimes. (Sigh.)

Sam's prayer is quick and simple: Dear God, thank you for the food. Amen.

Vava's changes based on the season: Dear God, thank you for the food and Merry Christmas.

Kachi's is my favourite: Dear God, thank you for God. Amen.

And I think he's onto something. Because all our gifts come from God. All our food, all our comfort and family and joy, all our shelter and warmth and peace - all from God.

And at Christmastime, especially, when we remember that babe who traveled so far -

Thank You, God, for God.
It's a pretty good prayer after all :).

Merry Christmas friends.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

All This Took Place

This morning, the kids woke up at 6. (Sam was too excited about Saturday aka Minecraft day to sleep, and once one kid is up and twitching, it doesn't take long for the others to join.)

I got up with them, fed them breakfast, read Pascal stories, made coffee, unloaded the dishwasher, wiped the counter a hundred times, changed a stinky diaper, made a grocery list, mediated some fights, set out some more food for the big kids, turned on the tv, and finally Pascal was ready for nap. I tucked him in and tiptoed up to our room to slip back under the covers with Patrick for a few more minutes of sleep. 

I did all those things because they set everything up for me to enjoy some cozy rest with Patrick.

Matthew chapter 1.  It tells us that Mary is pregnant with a child from the Holy Spirit, and that Joseph was told by an angel in a dream to marry her anyway, because this baby was God's son, who would save his people from their sins.

Then -

'All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: "Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel" (which means, God with us).'

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken [...] which means, God with us.

All of this crazy stuff - the immaculate conception, the angel dream, the warning from God - means one thing: God with us.

God with us.

You know how it feels, that happiness that blooms when you go out of your way to be with people you love? You're probably thinking right now of a bunch of examples all more amazing than me getting the kids set up for some solo play while I cuddle with Patrick. Maybe you flew across the country for a family event. Maybe you planned and prepped and sweated hard over a dinner for ten of your favourite friends. Maybe you arranged to sit next to your sister on her flight when she had no idea you'd be traveling  too.  (Well I know some of you have done these things because I'm stealing your examples!)

And I don't know about you but it kind of takes my breath away.

It's beautiful.

God did all this -  to come down and be with us.

And that's what all the fuss is about, all the nativity plays and carols and candlelit services and all the glimmering whirlwind of Christmas ... we're celebrating the peculiar holy gift of God-with-us.

Merry Christmas, friends.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Merry Christmas from a Sulky Prophet

I've been reading Jonah lately.

I love that book. It's organized like a palindrome, and I love palindromes.  And Jonah is just so contrary and selfish and emotional ... kind of like a certain person I see in the mirror everyday. I get Jonah. He's a familiar kind of exasperating for me.

Anyway, there's this part near the end where Jonah is sulking and ranting at God,

'And he prayed to the Lord and said, "O Lord , is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster."' (Jonah ch.4 v. 2)

Yes, you read that right. He's mad at God because God is gracious and merciful.

He didn't want to proclaim something that wouldn't happen. He didn't want to risk being misnamed a false prophet.  He was worried about his reputation, and not at all concerned with the lives that would be lost - or saved, by repentance.

He only went to Nineveh under duress (like, spat up by a huge fish sort of duress).

He had been angry that God sent him to preach repentance to Nineveh because he knew God would relent if the Ninevites repented ... and here he was, correct and sour and wishing God had wiped out the Ninevites after all.

But Jesus?

Jesus was the opposite.

God didn't have to kidnap him and make him come to us.  Jesus didn't think about His reputation or comfort.  He laid down His rights to flawless glory and embraced broken humanity in the flesh.

And God sent Jesus for the same reason He sent Jonah -

Yep. Kerneled right there in the stormy rant of the sulky prophet, we have foreshadowing of Christmas grace - You are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster -

Joy to the world, friends, He is :).
Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

For Tbay, With Love

Sam and Vava helped me decorate the Christmas tree last night.  We didn't bring our Christmas balls when we moved, so we just had our one box of unbreakable ornaments - handmade ones, wooden ones, a bird or two - the really special ones that mean something.

Sam pulled out an ornament he'd made at Ogden, their old school. He held it for a minute, then looked up at me with tears in his eyes. "This makes me feel sad and happy at the same time," he choked. "Is that a feeling?"


That's a feeling.

It's the kind of thing you feel about something you love, something you've lost.
It's the kind of thing you might feel when you wrap up your baby, God's baby, and lay him in a manger.
It's the kind of thing you might feel when you give up your Son for the salvation of the whole world.
It's the kind of thing you feel when you move away from your friends, your precious friends.

I pulled him close and told him to treasure that feeling.
"That feeling, Sam?  It's love. And it hurts because you loved your friends so much."

He squeezed me tight and hung his ornament on the tree.

This Christmas hurts a little more than the others.
We miss you, Thunder Bay.
Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Sam's Christmas List

After school on Tuesday, Sam sat down with his paper and pen and said, "I'm making my Christmas list and it's very important."

And he wrote the following (Ash is Sam's cousin and his all-time favourite person) -

-Play with Ash on Minecraft.
-Ash sleeps on atop my bunk. Yes or No?
-I hope that you like this idea. Yes or No.

And Sam might be only six years old and he might not be great at remembering to pack his lunch bag but he is excellent at knowing that spending time with people he loves is the best gift.

Just like Jesus.
God with us.
Came at Christmas to a lost and lonely world.
Comes into lost and lonely hearts every day.

Merry Christmas, friends.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017


I'm itching to get my decorations out.  I want those little lights and ornaments on the tree, I want to hang the stockings and see if they can survive being pawed by toddlers for another year.  I love all the scents and twinkles and ribbons that make a home feel - well, Christmassy.

The funny thing is, the first Christmas wasn't Christmassy at all.

It was more like a back-country baby shower with guest list problems.

The only stockings were Joseph and Mary's, and they sure weren't getting chocolates in the toes that morning.  There might have been a shepherd's crook propped up against the door, but it was no Christmas tree.  And the Christmas gift wasn't wrapped in thick paper and wire-lined ribbon - He was wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.

All the Christmas extras are fun (for me :) ) but they sure aren't Christmas.

Two people looked at me today and told me they were Grinches.  "We don't really like any of it," they said, "it's just a hassle." 

And they can say that, but they're crazy because they live Christmas like you wouldn't believe.

They're the kind of people who would still be friends with you if you showed up pregnant in the months before your marriage, still claiming to be a virgin.
They're the kind of people you'd want to be lying next to in a field of sheep, talking with and looking up at the stars. (And the kind who would race into town, looking for an angel-announced baby, wild with awe.)
They're the kind of people you'd want to run into if you were stuck on the side of the road with a pregnant wife and a tired donkey and not a single room in sight. 

They radiate mercy. They give generously. They travel far to show love.

If you visit them, you might not find yourself leaning up against a fir-decked mantle, sipping mulled wine, listening to Michael Buble's velvet holiday tunes.  But you will find yourself welcomed in the truest Christmas way - joyfully, loved, and helped along the way.

Me? I'm still going to hang my decorations (maybe tomorrow!?).  And you better believe I'm still going to dance to Christmas music in my kitchen until New Year's Day.  But I hope I can be really truly deep-in-the-soul as Christmassy as those glorious Grinches, every day of the year.

Merry Christmas, friends.

Monday, December 4, 2017

See the Lights and Gold and Gladness

I'm trying to raise kids who grow up to be kind, courageous, capable adults.

Usually that just makes me look at myself and laugh, or cry, because I am still working on that right in my own heart too.

This year, for Sam and Vava at least, I've been trying to keep my own voice out of their heads, and encourage them to think and plan ahead for themselves.  So while my instinct is to pack their lunch bags all tidily into their backpacks, I've been trying to pull back and ask them, "do you have everything you need to take today?" And that gets those little brains in gear and they start to remember their lunch bags, their reading reports, their library books.

This morning I was helping Vava with her ponytail when I asked Sam, "do you have everything you need for the day?"
"Yes," he. replied, stuffing his snowpants into his back pack.
"Stop and think about it -"
"I already put them in!"
 "Did you put your lunch bag in your backpack?"
"Uh - yes ..." he giggled, with that look of glee that sparks out only when he thinks he's pulling the wool over my eyes.
"I can see it on the counter," I called over my shoulder, chasing Pascal down the hall, wrestling him into his snowsuit.
"I mean the invisible one!" he hooted, winning.
"It's time to pack the visible one now," I ordered, helping Kachi into his socks.

And then one more time, just to be sure, as we were on our way to the bus stop.  "Did you pack your visible lunch?"
"Uh huh!"

But he's six and I should have checked the counter to be sure -

Because of course you know what I found when I got home.

So after a quick breakfast, I packed the kids back up into their snowsuits (the littles, and Vava too, because she was home sick today), and we made the trek to school to deliver Sam's lunch.

It wasn't a happy walk.  The kids were cranky.  We only had two stroller seats, so Pascal rode while Vava and Kachi took turns dawdling and complaining about the other person hogging the ride.  It took an hour and a half and it felt like three times that.

My perspective was nose-to-road, get-this-done, should-have-worn-a-warmer-jacket, move-those-boots-and-puhlease-stop-whining.

But if I'd just taken a step back, I would have seen something beautiful.

The kids weren't blaming Sam.  They were hoping to catch a glimpse of him, barely an hour after hugging him goodbye at the bus stop.

Instead of being cooped up inside, we were getting fresh air and exercise.

Most of the houses we passed had Christmas decorations up.

There isn't any snow right now, so we weren't fighting with ruts or ice on the sidewalks.

Objectively, I should have enjoyed myself.

But there I was, clomping along with boots and heart too heavy and dull.

I am unfailingly dumb.
I am so ready to plan and coach my kids along the paths they should walk, but I, too, forget to pack the things I need for the day.
Oh, I remember the visible ones for the most part.
But the invisible ones?

Eyes to see all the things Jesus holds out, to trade for my weariness.

And I stagger along with my empty backpack and my teeth grinding down in a get-this-over grimace. 

I forget to lift my heart, to see the lights and gold and gladness.  Days can roll by, weeks, of nothing more than to-do-lists and endless laundry.

But Christmas - Christmas is this annual reminder that the Holy Story matters everyday if it matters at all. The gospel floods in with its story of glory and faith and no room in the inn and it brings the Good Gift, time and again, to fill up an empty manger and an empty backpack and an empty heart.

So tomorrow I will do it all again.  The lunches, the backpacks, the snowsuits, the bus stop -
and tomorrow I will stop, and I will fill up my own soul first.

I will open up those pages and I will sit with the King who was born in a manger until my eyes are ready to catch the glory in the ordinary.

And then I will run downstairs and kiss those faces and pack those lunches and walk those kids off to school.
With full backpacks.
And eyes wide open to all the good gifts.

Wishing you eyes to enjoy an ordinary, glorious, Merry Christmas, dear friends.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

I Already Know That

A few weeks ago, Vava was having a hard time getting ready for school in the mornings.  With a little bit of prying, I found out why - she was afraid of the bus ride.

Their bus driver doesn't assign seats, and doesn't help the kids find seats.  They pile onto the bus and hope for the best.  Sometimes the big kids sit together, and sometimes they each take a seat, and refuse to let the younger kids share.  Sam helps Vava find a seat, but he told me that he had to sit on the floor because he couldn't find a spot for himself.  (Once I stopped shaking from fury, I called the bus company and the school and got that sorted out.)

Anyway -
Even after she was getting a seat, Vava was still scared.  So I asked her if she'd like me to pray with her.  She nodded.

I wrapped my arms around her and began to pray.  "Dear God," I whispered, "please be with Vava on the bus - "
She interrupted me with a disgusted snort and a shake of her head.  "You don't have to pray that. He's always with me. I already know that. Just pray that He helps me to be brave."

Thus advised, I adjusted my prayer accordingly.  And she's been brave. And Sam still helps her find a seat.

But my favourite thing is the Christmas truth that rings deep in that scrappy little heart.

He's with her.
She knows it.
God sent Him.
Immanuel.  God with us.

And we've all been there. Frozen with fear that grabs us deep and saps our courage and keeps us shrinking back.

When that cold comes, I pray that you will find Him so very close.  And I pray that He will help you to be brave, as brave as my Vava facing those big bus steps day after day.

He's with us.

Merry Christmas, friends!

Saturday, December 2, 2017

I Love You, with Elbow Grease

My mom sent me a picture of my Nana today.  I burst into tears, right out in public. I just love her so much.  So much.

When I was little, I was kind of scared of her. She was brisk and busy and didn't have a lot of time to sit and read with me, or take me for walks, or listen to me tell endless stories.
That was Grampie's job, because he couldn't do much else. (Alzheimer's disease can steal you from your mind but it can also slow you right down to a toddler's speed and make her world almost heaven.)
And Nana juggled the world around him, keeping it spinning and orderly and warm and tasty and impeccably tidy.

Because there are some people who say I love you with words and cuddles and a listening ear, and there are some people who wash the floor and make your supper and clean your hands and keep the freezer stocked and make sure you don't get lost when parts of you start to wander.

And God didn't just send His words, His messages of repentance and outrageous mercy.

Not just words.
The Word, incarnate.

He came.
He came and He worked and He served and He fed and He healed and He died for the whole lost wandering world.

Because love shows up.
In a dark night, in a manger, ordinary and streaming with glory, Love showed up.

And He shows up and He shows up.

And my Nana's heart has been beating for ninety-three Christmases,  hard ones and joyful ones and lonely ones and full ones, and still she swells with tears of love and gratitude when she counts His mercies, counts all the ways He's shown her he loves her.

Wishing you an advent full of gratitude, friends.
Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 1, 2017

Some I Love Yous

Pascal goes down for his daily nap right after he and Kachi share an early lunch. They're both good eaters in the first half of the day, so they sit and gobble quite a bit before he finally shakes his head and says "Na-naw" (which I think means all done).  Yesterday, after I had washed his hands and face and de-crumbed his lap, I lifted him out of his high chair.  He leaned past my shoulder and waved to Kachi, and said "I ya yo!"  It was definitely I love you - Kachi didn't even blink, just replied, "I yuv yoo, Pa'cal," and kept on eating. 

My heart! That's my boy.

I know every family is different and shows love in different ways.  Some people keep the phrase "I love you" for special occasions, relying on actions to display their feelings in the everyday moments in between.  But I grew up doing the exact opposite of that.

Heading out to the store? I love you!
Popping across the street to see a friend? I love you!
Dropping your mom off at work for the day? I love you!
Phoning to ask Dad for a ride home? I love you!
Heading up for a nap? I ya yo!

For us, it didn't mean less in the ordinary everyday because we said it so much.  It was the little assurance, the small whisper, you matter to me.  I still need those little whispers in my day.  I still need to hear and say I love you when Patrick leaves in the morning, or before the kids climb onto the bus.  It's just who I am.  I grew up in an I love you house.

Every Christmas, we'd wake up to find an envelope tucked in among the branches and decorations on the Christmas tree.  Dad would take the time to find a loooooong sappy card for mom, to tell her how much she meant to him, and sometime on Christmas Eve, he'd nestle it into the tree for her to find Christmas morning.

And that mattered too.

Everyday reminders sometimes grow dog-eared if they aren't buoyed up by something a little more special, a little more tangible.  We need them both.

The little, throw-over-your-shoulder I love yous, and the elegant embossed Hallmark ones. 

And now December is here and carols are ringing about a Saviour being born and lights shine out glorious in the dark and cold and Christmas is coming -
and Christmas is like that big fancy formal I love you.  It shows up every year and assures us: God loves us. God loves us. God loves us.

And there are a hundred different ways He whispers it, shouts it, sings it, laughs it, paints it, creates it, all through the year. It's there all along. But in case we forget, in case the heaviness of the ordinary everyday clouds our ears to His song, at the end of every year there's Christmas. 

When God sent His Love to us, a baby -
Have you heard, broken world?
I'm sending Jesus to save you - because I love you!

Merry Christmas, friends.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Do You Hear What I Hear?

Our new house backs on a walking trail. There's a stream directly behind us, and a little woods, which screens us from passersby in summertime. Once the leaves fell, we discovered we can see all the way across the trail to the Rideau. So we exchange one beauty for another, and it's a pleasant view at any season.

I was in the bathroom last Saturday, and thought I could hear singing. Just distantly at first, then closer. I pushed up the window, and it came soaring in, clear as a bell -

Worthy is the Lamb, worthy is the Lamb, Amen.

A man was striding along the trail with his head up, lost in song, lost in praise.

It was a beautiful day and a beautiful moment and I'm glad I got to hear it.  It echoed in my heart all day.


And it just keeps echoing, friends.  I see it and hear it in your serving hands. Your generous, shoebox-packing hands. Your kind, soup-delivering hands. Your organizing a pop-up free store for the homeless. Your fundraising concert for suffering veterans. Baking treats to make someone feel special. Donating your skill and time to repair a broken ceiling. Supporting your friends' Go-Fund-Mes. Taking your music and happiness to lonely seniors. Buying presents for needy kids. Organizing a food drive. Giving someone a ride. Taking time to listen to that hard story. You see a need and show up to meet it.

Not for the kudos but just from love.

And your song soars out to ears you don't even know.

Oh my beautiful friends, your generosity makes a weary world rejoice. I love you.

Monday, October 30, 2017

A Cranky Whine

I'm snuggled up with Kachi and I'm frozen.
Because I stood outside in a parking lot with no jacket all afternoon.
Because Kachi locked me out of the truck.
And my keys and phone were inside.
Ten minutes before I had to go get Sam and Vava from the bus stop.

I had to leave Kachi and Pascal in the truck, run into the store, beg to use the phone, and call my brother to help me.  (Because brothers are amazing).

Then I dashed back outside and stood in the cold for an hour, trying to keep Pascal happy with peekaboo and silly faces (Kachi had fallen asleep). 

While I was waiting, sweet people tried to help.
Two different men came by and offered to break into the truck for me. Two women who worked in the store came out to make sure I was okay.  An older man who had seen what happened brought me the number to call a tow truck.

Just before Rob showed up (having called the school and rescued the big kids), a police car pulled up.

Someone had called the police about a woman who locked her kids in the car.

And unlike the kind people, the police officer treated me like I'd done something wrong.
As if I'd deliberately locked my babies in the car.
I had to give my information, explain what happened, a few times, and then he said "well ... it doesn't seem like there's anything wrong here." But he sounded doubtful.

It was baffling. And unnecessary. And tiring.  And now I'm cold and cranky and feel yucky about the police and feel bad about that.

Guess I need to remember my last post - and let this shadow pass over me weightless.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Less Than Nothing

My nephew introduced me to a clever and interesting YouTube channel, VSauce, where all sorts of ideas and questions are prodded and poked at until answers come out.

Sometimes when I'm puttering around I turn one on because listening to something intelligent feels good on a be-toddlered brain.  And the things they tunnel into are really interesting and unexpected.

This video asks - and answers - how much does a shadow weigh.

In The Great Divorce, CS Lewis writes an allegory of a man traveling on a visit into heaven, where things are so real - so much more real than people - that the visitors are like shadows walking. Blades of grass pierce their feet, because the non-heavenly people are not solid enough to bend the grass beneath them.

In God's High Country, things are solid and heavy and weighty with glory.  Everything else is insignificant and pale, weightless and fleeting and small.

There's this moment when the protagonist realizes he's come up - up - up an immense distance, scaling a massive cliff, which, from heaven's perspective, is a mere nick in the floor, and something in my brain grasps a glimpse of the magnitude of Jesus' willingness to be made flesh.

And I am in awe of - and longing for -  that true realness, that weight of glory.

So when VSauce is asked how much a shadow weighs, the Lewisian answer that came to mind was: less than nothing.

And guess what.

It's less than nothing.

But light - glory - has weight.  On a sunny day, Chicago weighs 300lbs more than it does on a cloudy one.

And I know it's silly but that gives me so much hope.  Sometimes things seem so very dark.  Bad people doing evil things, rhetoric of hatred, entitlement and selfishness and abuse.

But shadows weigh less than nothing.  Insignificant.  Ineffectual.

But the good good news, the glory of the gospel, the light of Jesus can overwhelm that darkness in a heartbeat.  Shadows? Less than nothing.

If darkness looms, let me find my hope in this: shadows weigh less than nothing.
If my heart is heavy, let it be heavy with the weight of glory.
And if I am longing for my true home, let me find it pressed and printed everywhere.

Even on VSauce :).

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Three Little Pigs

Kachi loves the story of the three little pigs, and every variation of it.

He has a copy of the classic story that Nanny gave him, a spin-off big wolf tale (Mr. Wolf's Pancakes by Jan Fearnley - hilarious), and Patrick tells him a Sam-Vava-Kachi version.

So he was pretty pumped to find yet another reworking on Netflix.  I was puttering nearby while he watched it, and was startled when the narrator summed up the moral of the tale: if something is hard and takes more time to do, it's worth it in the end.

And I found myself realizing that I'd spent thirty-four years misunderstanding the story, because I always thought that it was telling me: if you need help, run to your siblings.

And maybe that says more about my amazing sisters and brother than the story of the three little pigs.

I run to their houses all the time. 

Car breaks down? I call my brother.
Have to have an uncomfortable conversation I don't want to have? I call a sister and ask for tips and maybe a practice run first.
Need advice on my kids? Sibling.
Argument with Patrick? Sibling.
Need a place to live? Sibling.
Scared? Sibling.
Feeling stupid? Sibling.
Need to laugh at myself?  Sibling.
Need someone to pray with me? For me? Sibling.

I am definitely Piggie Straw, over and over again. I run squealing and out of breath to their sturdy welcome and they keep me safe and turn my troubles into hot comforting soup.

Dear sisters, dear brother: I love you like crazy. Thank you for being my brick neighbours always, no matter how far apart we are.


Sunday, September 10, 2017

Displays of Affection

My Sam.

He's six.  He's into Super Mario, creative Minecraft, and Lego. He's shy, doesn't like to be noticed or singled out, and wants to make movies when he grows up.  He's a good helper, he's funny and brave and independent, and has a current fierce resistance to all displays of affection.  We do our goodbye hugs and kisses before we leave the house (preferably when the other kids aren't watching), because there's no way he's giving me one at the bus stop!

Last week I was changing a poopy Pascal, and found that I couldn't keep his own hands away from the mess.  So I asked Sam to come and hold his hands.  Poop and hand-holding are pretty high up on Sam's refusal list, but he came over quickly and helped me out.  "Don't worry Pascal," he comforted, "I know how you feel. You want to move your hands. It's okay. It will be over soon." And it struck me then as a really sweet, mature thing to say.

Today we drove up to Ottawa to go to the beach, and ran into a bad patch of traffic. The kids were being really rowdy and I gave them a stern warning to stop roughhousing because they were disturbing me and making it hard to drive safely. They kept it down for about sixty seconds before Sam decided to grab Kachi's head and shake it from side to side, yelling something for sound-effects. 

I reached back and smacked his arm away from Kachi and yelled, "stop it now!"

There was a chorus of quiet sorries, and they sat pretty quietly til the traffic eased.

I tipped the rear-view mirror to catch Sam's eye. "I'm sorry," I said, "I shouldn't have smacked you. That was wrong, and I'm sorry I did it. Will you forgive me?"

"Yeah. I know how you feel," he nodded. "Sometimes I just get so mad at Vivian, like when she walks in front of my Mario, and I hit her before I remember I shouldn't. I forgive you."

And my beautiful son just holds out his heart and his bouquet of grace like it's no big deal and the day rolls on.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Afternoon Nap

I'm lying on the couch by the open screen door. 

A storm is rolling in. The sound of raindrops and thunder come right through the screen with the suddenly fresh breeze.

The house is quiet. My family is out, and I am home with a sleeping Scally.  I don't plan on moving til they get back. 

This perfect silence, this purring wind, this solitude is mine.

I fall asleep in the bliss of stillness ... and am jolted awake with a bang.

In confusion and fear, I think someone has dashed into my house and the bang is the sound of the door closing behind them.  Glued to the couch, but shaking in terror, I try to collect my thoughts and form a plan.

And then I realize ... the bang was the sound of a mouse trap being tripped, and I have been saved from a different sort of intruder.

The shaking slows, stops, and my heartbeat quiets to its usual rhythms. I can breathe normally again.

If I lie here long enough, someone else will come home and get rid of it, right? 


Tuesday, July 18, 2017

This Does Not Define You

I didn't think anything could bump The Iron Giant out of my favourite Disney slot ... but have you seen Moana?

*spoiler alert*

I know I'm super late to the Moana party, but wow.
That scene at the end?
It gets me every time. I turn into a crying mess. (Which Sam adores - he loves when I cry over a movie, and he asks a million questions to untangle precisely why I'm tearing through the kleenex.)

If you who haven't yet seen it, here is a super-condensed summary. Moana is our heroine. She's the daughter of a chief on an island, and in order to save the island she has to voyage across the sea to restore the stolen heart of the goddess Te Fiti.

Her final and greatest obstacle is the lava monster, Te Ka, who lives on a reef surrounding the island of Te Fiti.  When she overcomes and finally reaches Te Fiti, Moana is taken aback because ... Te Fiti is gone.  She turns, bewildered, to look back at the raging lava monster, and suddenly sees that the heart (a stone with a spiral pattern) fits exactly into the seething lava chest of Te Ka.

Te Ka is who Te Fiti became without her heart. And I feel like I'm looking at a picture of humanity as God made us, and humanity as we are now.

At Moana's request, her friend the ocean separates and makes a path to Te Ka.

Te Ka, no longer impeded by the water, races across the ocean floor to kill Moana.  She doesn't run or scream or hide - Moana holds the gleaming heart up high and walks toward Te Ka, singing, "I have crossed the horizon to find you.  I know your name!"

The music is moving, beautiful, and the images are poetry.  The lava monster, sheer rage, howling and snarling; Moana, full of hope and pity. 

But the part that gets me isn't the incredible talent that was poured into the movie.

It's the familiarity of it.

This is my story.  My story. I know that rage, that helpless wounded anger of being hurt, changed, into a person I don't want to be.  My heart stolen, and being trapped in misery.  Yeah. I feel you, Te Ka.

But even more - deeper, older - ... it's our story. We long for better.  We ache to be restored, to be whole and pure and flowing with life.  We want that Garden, where we walked with God and worked without impediment and rejoiced in love. 

Moana keeps singing: "This does not define you. This is not who you are. You know who you are. Who you truly are."

We know this isn't right. Greed, arrogance, violence,  ... they're not the way things have always been.  They're monstrous and they hurt us because they ruin.  There was better. Once we knew wholeness and life and joy. This is not who we are.

And Jesus crossed a horizon to find us. And Jesus knows our name (our names!).  And Jesus came to restore - oh, not just one heart, but every heart.  And He walked right up to the fierce lava monster and stretched out His hands and restored its heart.

And my heart.

And my heart.

Yeah. I love that story. My story.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Weeds and Wildflowers

I saw the sweetest little moment today.  I was sitting in the parking lot with the kids while Patrick ran into the store to grab some things. It was raining, and a couple walked out of the store.  The woman opened her umbrella and walked to the car while the man stopped to tie his sneaker.  As he followed her across the parking lot, a smile stretched across his face and he pulled out his phone and snapped a picture.

It was just sweet.  He thought she was so beautiful walking with her umbrella - it made him smile, made him want to save the moment.

Because love sees beauty.

On our way to Michigan for a family vacation last week, I had the opposite experience.  We'd been driving for a few hours and it felt like Vava had whined for every single one.  I snapped at her and told her to stop, which (you guessed it) prompted more whining.  I lost my temper, yelled at her, and then felt like a rotten parent. And when she whined again less than a minute later, I'd had enough. I asked Patrick to pull over so I could take a walk and cool down before I lost my temper again.

I stalked off up the highway, growling to myself about her whining, picking my way past weeds and occasional litter.  After a while, I noticed a stem of tiny little orange flowers blooming, and part of my mind thought "Vava would love those!" And a crankier selfish part stepped stubbornly over them.

And I saw them again, and God gently stopped my mental tirade, asked me what my frustration could accomplish, what purpose could it serve.

It could make me yell and fill me up with rage and ruin our day.

But on the other hand, maybe it's like a check engine light and it could make me aware that something is wrong. Maybe Vava's having a bad day, maybe she needs a little extra love, maybe she needs a bouquet of flowers.

I opened up my ragey, knotted little heart and shook the anger out.

I picked up the flowers and turned back.

I saw some more flowers - blue ones this time; she'd love them. So I picked those too, and found some daisies.  I laughed.  I'd walked right over all these wildflowers and hadn't seen a thing.  Brown-eyed Susans, right in my path.  Foxtails and cattails and tiny white stars.

By the time I got back to the car, I had a bouquet.  I gave them to a thrilled Vava and told her I loved her and asked what was wrong. We had a quick chat to sort out the problem that was stewing between her and Sam, a hug and kiss and went on our way.

I couldn't stop thinking about the way my anger had made me blind to the blooming wildflowers. I hadn't seen them at all.  What had I noticed?  Weeds and garbage.  But as soon as I chose love? I saw beauty.

Anger and love see such very different things.

I'd kind of forgotten about it until tonight when that happy little vignette reminded me that love sees beauty.  So I thought I'd write it down over here and try to remember.

If it's been a weeds and garbage weekend, I hope you have a wildflower Monday tomorrow, friends.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017


This afternoon, Kachi was playing on the floor while I held Pascal on the couch. Kachi lost some cars beneath the couch so I got the broom and rescued them. 
I pulled the last car out just in time to see an oblivious Pascal lean too far off the cushion.

I reached out and caught him.

In the face.

He landed on my hand full force, and I scooped him up and cradled him and cooed over him and kissed him. But he looked at me with the most baffled, reproachful expression. To him, I think, he'd just been happily watching Kachi when I suddenly womped him in the face with an open hand. 

My hand, no doubt, was a softer landing than the floor.  But he couldn't understand that I'd saved him from pain - he just felt hurt and betrayed.  He didn't feel loved.  He didn't feel rescued.  But he was.

I feel like God has been saving that lesson for me for a while.

Sudden difficulties or sorrows feel like a smack to the face.
But they're not.

It's love.
It's rescue.

That's the kind of hands He's got.

So maybe I'll remember more easily, next time, that I'm as oblivious as Pascal - and that womp on the face was Him saving me from the floor.

He didn't feel loved.
He didn't feel rescued.
But he was.


Monday, June 19, 2017

The Quiet Moments

They aren't the first moments that come to mind when I look back.  I seem to remember the dramatic moments most clearly of all - the night the cat died, the time we spun on ice and landed in the ditch, the times you let us stay up late to shop at Midnight Madness.

I don't remember the quiet moments so easily.  Hardly at all, in fact.  I don't remember ever fitting on your lap (although there are photos that assure me I did). I don't remember lying down with you to read a book or look up at the stars.  I don't remember tracing your skin, memorizing your hair and freckles and scars.

Each evening I lie, impatient, with my children and try to tune out thoughts of the things I need to do.  It's usually a wrestling match between the mom I want to be and the tantalizing lure of solitude.  And I doubt they'll remember the moments, the boring, everyday moments of cuddles, stories, praying.  But still we do them, night after day after night - not to be remembered, but to press into their soil that solid, steady base that I hope they aren't even conscious of.

Because while I don't remember any single instance of cozing with you, my whole life is weighted and steadied with your arms.  At some point I must have studied your face, your arms, your hands so intently that I memorized your freckles and lines.  (There is a mole on my neck now that matches yours - I love it.)  The rhythms of your speech, your breath, are calming to me - when I can't sleep, I find myself imagining I'm a kid again, curled in a nest on your floor, matching my breath to yours until I sleep.

Thank you for enduring every long and boring and frustrating day.

Thank you for filling me up with good and glad things.

I love you.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017


My brother and his wife have had to go out of town - at the exact same time we needed a place to stay between houses.  So we've got their whole house to ourselves, full of toys and treats and everything we need.  We haven't needed to unload anything from the van or trailer, just came in with our suitcases and made ourselves at home.

Their house is big, but they have a super short driveway - er, parking spot. From curb to garage door, it's exactly the length of the 15-passenger van I'm driving.  Dad backed it in, and I pretty much planned on leaving it there all week. I'm a fairly confident driver but not when my mistake would ruin R&A's new garage door.

Mom and Dad left yesterday.
I don't know what we'd have done without them.  For a month they worked so hard and put up with us at our worst and most stressed out and loved us and made us laugh and cheered for our kids and babysat and took us out to eat and loaded up boxes and the trailer and our hearts with steady love and hard work.

It was hard to say goodbye. I woke up horrified that I had slept in, leaving them to pack up while caring for my kids, and I kissed them goodbye half-dressed and uncoffeed.

Before he drove away, Dad slid an anvil behind the van's back tire. 

Today was rainy and grey and Kachi wasn't feeling well and before lunchtime everyone had gotten hurt at least once.  So this afternoon I loaded them all up in the van and we took a long prowly drive, bought coffee and ice cream and visited Patrick at work.  And then I drove home and backed that big old van into that tiny little spot because my dad had made it possible for me to park. My back tire bumped the anvil and knew I was back as far as I could go before scraping the garage, and just far enough off the curb to not get hit.  Done.

And that one act, that thoughtful and kind gesture with the anvil, is so much more than just a parking aid. It's the way my parents have loved me my whole life.  Believing in me and helping me to do what I don't think I can.

If I were leaving my kids in the same situation, I think I might have slid the anvil in front of the tires, to keep the van safe and stationary.  I probably would have suggested they stay home for the week until they could park it in their new driveway.

But my parents believe in me.
And help me.
Even when they're gone.

I love you, mom and dad.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Goodbye, TBay.

I'm writing from bed.  I'm pressed on either side by the sleeping and slanted bodies of my two oldest children.  The baby is asleep in his playpen at our feet. And the toddler is sleeping with Grandmaman.

I fell asleep with them at 830.  I don't think I've gone to bed that early unless I was sick since 1989.  (Suddenly feeling incredibly old.)  But they need the cuddles. They need the extra security of mama at bedtime because we've just turned their world upside down.  We moved away from the only home they've ever known and it's going to be a few weeks before we press our feet against the floorboards of our new home.  We're spending a week with the grands en route, and then a week house-sitting.  It's disorienting, strange.  I took V to Emergency yesterday and when they asked for our address I was all at sea. We're between addresses. Like a letter, sent, but not yet received.

And yet ... being in this limbo is special. Not easy (all four kids melted down at suppertime), and lonely (Patrick stayed behind to work), but special, because instead of just thinking about the next thing, we have time to cherish the last thing.

When we came to Thunder Bay, my parents drove us up in their Honda Civic. My dad's little trailer hauled our few possessions, and it was just the two of us hunting for a place to call our own.  Now, six and a half years later, we're going out with a huge trailer and a van load ... and four precious children.  We came to the city so empty, and we are leaving so full.

I remember our drive up to Thunder Bay, passing a sign welcoming us to the district  (about three hours before reaching the city proper). I couldn't help but read it with that ache, the sorrow of loss and emptiness that miscarriage bleeds into the future - trying to imagine what opportunities awaited, trying not to think about the empty backseat that should have held a carseat or two. I remember holding Patrick's hand and being so glad I was with him.

Prepping for moving away, I didn't have much time or mental space to wax emotional. There were kids to manage and a million decisions to make (and ohhh I hate decisions!) and goodbyes to say or not say and couches to carry and meals to cook and noses to wipe and did I mention the decisions? So I hadn't really given myself any emotional space until I saw that sign.

And I was driving past it again.  This time without Patrick -

But so, so full.

Our gorgeous firstborn was holding up a rattle for the baby to grab. The two middles were laughing and pretending to be Dora and Boots. And mom and dad were moving us once again.

Full.  I'm telling you.

My stupid heart burst wide open, and Sam asked, "why are you crying, mama?"

"Because I love you so much," I replied.

So, dear Thunder Bay, thank you.  We came empty and you sent us out full. You look industrial and adventurous and I had no idea that you would be such a gorgeous garden where our family would grow.

God bless you, city. I love you so much.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Do Not Go Fearful

A prayer at close of day, with apologies to Dylan Thomas
(read the original gorgeous poetry here.)

Do not go fearful into that strange night
Old age should burn and long for close of day;
Ache, yearning for the rising of the light.

Wise ones at their end know dark is slight
Because their shadow will be brief, though awful, they
Do not go fearful into that strange night.

Good ones know their deeds in time aren't bright,
He shines on them, the sun on a green bay;
Ache, yearning for the rising of the light.

Wild ones who ran from the eternal Son in flight
And learn, in time, He sought them on their way
Do not go fearful into that strange night.

Grave ones, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes will flare with sunrise and be gay,
Ache, yearning for the rising of the light.

And you, my dear one, there on that sad height,
Grasp His whole blessing with both hands, I pray.
Do not go fearful into that strange night.
Ache, yearning for the rising of the light.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Love Gift

Pascal is growing and changing so quickly.  He's already in the hilarious and clumsy stage where he tries to shove his soother - his sucie - into my mouth.  He shakes and pants with happiness, yanking it out of his own mouth and grinning wildly while pushing it toward mine. And while I obviously don't want it, I'm just smitten with the fact that his heart is already beating with the gorgeous truth that pervades all existence ... when we love someone, we give them our best.

Love gives.

And gives.

And gives.

And so I find myself with streaks of drool on my face, staring into the joyful generous eyes of an 8-month-old, heart pounding with love.  Because the fingerprints of the Great Giver are everywhere.  Yes - even on a raggedy old sucie.


Friday, April 21, 2017

Happy Birthday

I wanted to wish you happy birthday.

I started to write
I'm so glad my childhood included you.
Sounded stiff like a Hallmark card so maybe

I love you. 
Too mushy, or maybe too weird without any context, and it's been ages since we last walked around the block watching our shadows darken while the stars came out, so maybe

I miss you.
I miss running through the woods with you, the way the earth felt spongy and strong underfoot.  I miss building whole-basement forts and doing homework and watching TV with you. The way I could dial your phone number without looking. That time you called to let me know my favourite song was on the radio. Sleeping out and catching fireflies. Hide and seek in the dark. That time we went to the store with your mom and at the checkout she realized her pants were on backwards and we laughed and laughed. (By the way, I understand how that's possible now.)  I always felt a twinge of pointless jealousy every time you told me about a new girlfriend but they came and went and I wouldn't have traded our endless adventures for a few months of holding hands at the movies anyway.
I hope my kids have friends like you. I hope their childhood is full and sunny and happy, like ours. I hope they have good friends who tell them when they find frog's eggs clustered around cattails in the brook, who bike with them to Ripley's for ice cream on hot and boring summer days, who build homemade teeter totters and - even on rainy afternoons - knock on the door and ask if they wanna play.

I miss you. I love you.  I'm so glad my childhood included you.

Happy birthday.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

No, Actually.

This past weekend, in the wake of too-tempting Easter chocolates, the kids were struggling to get along and needed some quiet time.

We sent them upstairs to do whatever they wanted, as long as it wasn't with each other.  Kachi cuddled up on our bed with his blankies and a story, Sam puttered with Lego in his room, and Vava stretched out on the bottom bunk with her paper and pencils.

She wasn't feeling well, so I lay down beside her and rubbed her back.  After a few quiet moments, she broke my heart with this little bit of news:

"Some girls in my class called me a loser."

I felt a rush of mama-bear anger and defensiveness, tempered with pity for the kids who had heard that term at such a young age.  Most of all, I felt a stab of fearful sorrow that she would believe them, that such an ugly label might have kerneled into her heart to grow into something crooked later. 

And I couldn't help thinking of all the insults that I've just let slide right into my heart and make themselves at home.  Even started using them on myself.

Ugly. Embarrassing. Stupid. Fat.

They've become part of me like dandelion roots.

I didn't want to overreact or give her the idea that she should hate them or use mean words in response, so after sputtering through a few false starts, I just asked her what she had done when they said that.

She told me that she had corrected them with, "No, actually; I'm an author-illustrator."


Isn't that the best response ever?
She didn't even give their insult air time.  Didn't twist her own heart to insult them back. Just shielded that attack with her own definition of herself instead. 

So now I've got a new strategy in my pocket. Next time I hear an echo of some ugly label in my heart, I'm going to slay it with a line from my favourite four-year-old author-illustrator: No, actually.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Emptying the Garbage Can

No matter what task I'm doing in the kitchen, my first necessary job is always emptying the garbage can.


Putting away groceries, washing dishes, making supper, cleaning the fridge, packing lunches ... I always need a fresh trash can.  If it's full, it's the place where everything stalls.  Junk piles up on the counter instead of getting tossed, then my work space grows cluttered, and I get cranky.  Because I need to empty that garbage can.

And you're like ... um, big surprise, Janelle. It's kind of a daily task.


But I'm over here trying to juggle my life and adding new activities and new humans and new busynesses and 

never emptying the garbage. 

So things build up and I've got about a hundred things I would like to be doing at any given time but I can't because it's full, the garbage can is full, so the counters are full so the table is full so the house is a mess and ...

You get the idea.

And the metaphorical overflowing garbage can? Migraines, or running late, or scheduling two things at once, or being unreasonably cranky (apparently, that's my overflow go-to).

So how do you empty your garbage can?  How do you clear your schedule, clean out some mental space, keep internal tidiness? What works for you, friends?  Give me some pointers.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Tell Them

My Uncle Ken died yesterday.

He was married to my mom's sister Esther, my Deedee, and I was a flower girl in their wedding. 

We loved going to visit them in the summer and at Christmas time.  The best part of the visit, hands down, was driving with Uncle Ken.  We would put on our seatbelts in the slippy slidey leather back seat of their huge white Lincoln, and off we would go.  We coaxed Uncle Ken to drive faster, faster, until we were flying over the roads and our stomachs would dip out from under us.  There was one hill in particular that never failed to make us cheer, and Uncle Ken sailed over it every time.

I thought he was wildly romantic, because he always held Deedee's hand when they drove, or else she played with his hair, and sometimes they would kiss at stoplights.  (I still think that's romantic.)

When we were a few years older, the swoopy, twisty road was replaced by a highway.  It was quicker of course, but boring to drive on ... but that didn't stop Uncle Ken.  If we weren't close to any other vehicles, he would swerve in big S shapes or pretend to pass ghost cars.  (I was embarrassingly old before I understood just what a ghost car was.)

If we weren't driving in the Lincoln, we were playing inside the bunk of his transport truck.  There were always a half-dozen air fresheners hanging from the mirror, at least two each of vanilla and leather and evergreen.  That combination never fails to call up the happiest memories of climbing up ... up ... up into the cab, pushing and pulling a million buttons, and watching - incredibly! - a tiny little black and white tv from an actual bed inside a gigantic truck.

He would pull up at our place and honk that huge horn and then take us out for ice cream or french fries or whatever we wanted.

When I was supposed to be grown-up, living on my own for the first time in Ottawa, Uncle Ken and Deedee joined my parents and sister and drove all the way to Ottawa just to see me for less than a day before they had to get back for work.  All that way, just to ease my homesickness.

Uncle Ken was fun, and loving, and kind, and patient, and generous.

It's silly - it's stupid, actually, because I'm a writer and I spill words all over the place - but I can't remember actually telling him how much I loved him, or thanking him for making ordinary things special.

So if you're reading this, and you're lucky enough to have an Uncle Ken, or Aunt Lynn, or Grampie, or Grammy, or whomever you have, please please please take some time to tell them the ways that they have made your life better, happier, sweeter.

Tell them.

In honour of my wonderful
Uncle Ken.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Stop and Do Something

Last fall, my sister-in-law was hanging out at our house, and we were making spaghetti for supper. I sliced my finger on  the lid of a can of tomatoes, and, because the cut was so deep and I already had someone to watch the kids, decided to head off to Emerge.

On my way, I drove over a little bridge by a shopping plaza where a young woman was trying to wrestle herself out of the grip of a man.

They were on the other side of the road, but I rolled down my window and yelled, to let them know I saw them and also to get the attention of anyone else who could help. "HEY!" I bellowed with all the volume I possess, "HEY! NO!"  (And as a mama with practice yelling across an entire playground, I like to think I've got considerable volume.)

I wrenched my wheel and zoomed into the parking lot and grabbed my phone and ran to the bridge.

When I got there, the man told me the woman had just failed her driving test and was upset and he was trying to keep her safe.

Something about it all felt wrong.

Another woman pulled over and was calling the police.
The man kept his arm on the young woman and tried to walk away.

I wanted to keep them there until the police came, but obviously couldn't prevent them from going, so I tried to talk to the young woman.
"Can you tell me what happened?" I asked, and when the man spoke up I looked right in her eyes and said, "miss, I want to hear your story from you.  I'm Janelle."
'I'm Paris,' she told me, her expression carefully blank, 'I'm fine. I'm sorry.  I'm fine.'
The man kept his grip on her the whole time. They walked away and got into the backseat of a jeep. I wrote down their license plate, and drove off.

I couldn't fight the urge to do something. My bleeding finger was way less important than this girl, and you will probably dismiss me as a religious nut but I felt like God had sent me out for a drive at just that moment for precisely this reason.

I saw 2 police cars parked in a lot at the next intersection. I pulled in and told them what happened and gave them the license number.

As I finally headed off to the hospital I was overwhelmed with a feeling that my guts were right, and Paris wasn't upset about her driving test but that she was trying to escape being trafficked.

I wish I had been able to do more.
I wish I had thought about trying to get her away from the man so we could talk privately.
I wish I had some way of following up, making sure the police checked it out.

I am not interested in creating fear where none exists, but I'm sharing my story because I read this article today and it reminded me so much of my short interaction with Paris on that bridge.

Take a moment to read it, and keep your eyes open for people who might need help.

And please, pray for Paris.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Persistence and Setbacks and Perspective

This wasn't exactly my favourite day.
Vava's been sick, and after struggling to control her fever and cough for a few days, I phoned the telehealth line. The nurse recommended she be seen by a doctor, so Patrick came home from work and I set off with Vava for the walk-in.

The first one: full.
The second one: full.
The third one: closed for vacation.
The fourth one: full.
The fifth one: closed for vacation.

I'm not going to lie.  My typical tolerance level for persisting through setbacks is pretty small. But I've been trying to deliberately instill determination and persistence in the kids, talking with them about setbacks and attitude and reframing bad situations with positive words, so I guess it was time for me to practice what I've been preaching.  But after driving all over the city, dragging my feverish little girl in and out of the cold, I felt the last of my small store of pluck give way as we saw the closed sign on the fifth clinic's door.

A kind lady nearby recommended the emergency room. "They're usually a little quicker with the young ones," she smiled.

So I straightened my back and we buckled in for one last try.

And they were great - the Thunder Bay emergency room is one of the fastest I've ever been in.  We were assessed and saw the doctor straight away. Somehow there was a mix up though, and we waited for maybe 2 hours after seeing the doctor before we were sent for xrays.

Vava was awesome. Sweet and good and funny. But her eyes were red and her fever was determined to return and she was shy.  She was hungry, but told me she'd rather wait for pizza from her favourite place than buy anything at the hospital.  She cooperated through her swabs and xrays without a peep.  Finally she was diagnosed with strep throat and we left with a prescription, four hours after pulling into the parking lot.

As I helped her hop out of the van to go buy pizza, she squeezed me tight and sighed, "oh mama, thank you for a lovely outing!"

♡ ♡ ♡

It's always always always about perspective, isn't it?

What was a really challenging day for me was a chance for uninterrupted cuddles and one-on-one time for Vava.

Wherever you are, whatever you're doing, I hope you, too, can find something in it that's lovely.  A four-year-old can almost always help.


Monday, January 23, 2017

Grownups Have A Lot of Chores

I was cuddling Sam a few nights ago and he asked me if I was sad that I was a grownup, "because grownups have to do lots of chores?"

I laughed for a moment, then asked if he knew one of the great secrets of life.

"I know it," he said, "the secret of life is that life is challenging."

I love this kid.

When I was his age, I probably would have said that the secret of life is burying yourself in a stack of Judy Blumes. 

I don't know about you guys, but I'm feeling kind of tired by all the work there is to do. Dustbunnies and clutter and dirty dishes seem to build up endlessly. Everywhere. In my house. In my character. In my small corner of the world.

And yeah, I do still want to bury myself in a cozy place and just read til I'm a little old lady with enormous glasses and papery skin, but I'd miss out on a lot.

Because life is challenging. 

Life is challenging.

So every day I get up and feed six people and pack three lunches and dress the kids in clothes and snowsuits and put them on the bus and wash dishes and wipe the table and fold some clothes and make beds and vacuum and make lunch and sweep and feed the baby and put the kids down for naps and make snack and greet the big kids off the bus and unpack their backpacks and feelings and lunchboxes and read some stories and wash more dishes and start supper and get out the art supplies and feed the baby again and teach the kids how to set the table for the hundredth time and change bums and let someone help me cook and serve and eat supper and wash the dishes and make bedtime snacks and get the kids ready for bed and brush teeth and cuddle Kachi, and cuddle the big kids, and feed the baby and then tackle one area to declutter and

right about this time of night I start to think that maybe Sam isn't wrong, and being a grownup is synonymous with doing chores.  There's always something that needs doing.

And I guess the difference between maturity and immaturity is how I treat the to-do list.  Because kid Janelle only knew how good it was to ignore the list and lose herself in a good book; grownup Janelle knows how good it is to work hard. Not necessarily because it feels good to have dishpan hands, but because a clean kitchen is a great place to make food for my family. Because clean clothes and a full lunchbox are evidences of ordinary grace. Because uncluttered spaces nourish uncluttered thoughts and uncluttered hearts.  Because when I pour myself out for my family, I build something a whole lot richer than if I stayed in bed with some good books.

To sum it all up, Sam? You're right. Grownups do a lot of chores. And life is challenging.  But it's not sad.

The great secret of life is that it's worth it.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Lord Hear Our Prayer

"Lord, hear our prayer."

Today I saw that comment on facebook.  I don't often read public comment sections because they make me sad. (So much hate. So much misunderstanding.)  But I read a post from a blogger I follow and browsed through the comments.  Someone posted about an ache, a sadness in their heart, and a lady replied, "Lord, hear our prayer."

And I can't think of a kinder reply, a better reply, to the cry of sorrow.
No criticism.
No answers.
No advice.
Just those four words.

I want to be that kind of friend.  Because I know that sometimes I need someone like that - someone who puts their arms around me and just stands beside me as they take my burden and place it in God's hands.  Because sometimes we're just so weak and weary from the sorrow that we can't even lift it from our hearts to place it in His care on our own.
We need someone to stand with us and pray.

Lord, hear our prayer.
This sorrow.  This burden.  This ache.
I am here with my sister, my brother.
Hear our prayer.

Maybe it's something we can't articulate.  Maybe it's something that hurts too badly to put into words. Maybe it's something so tender, so private, we can't even speak of it.

It's okay.  We don't need to share details.  We can stand together, kneel together, be silent together, and just cry "Lord, hear our prayer."

My friend, I see you.
I see you trying so hard, fighting so much.
And I am praying with you.
I am praying with you.

Lord, hear our prayer.