Monday, March 23, 2020

Why doesn't God just poof it all away?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are realizing how terribly, beautifully connected we are.

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

What I Didn't Realize I Would Miss

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

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

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

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

But dang.

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

It's bread. It's bread.

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

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

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

It's about being with the ones you love.

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

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

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

The waiting is over. He came.

Merry Christmas, friends.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Neurogenesis (Advent Day 23)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 22, 2019

All the People

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

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

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

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

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

Merry Christmas, people.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Barren (Advent Day 21)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merry Christmas, friends.

Friday, December 20, 2019

All the Kings of the Earth (Advent Day 20)

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

sketched by Ash

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

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

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Loreal was right (Advent Day 19)

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

Worth it.
Worth it.
Worth it.

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

Worth it.
Worth it.
Worth it.

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

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

Worth it.
Worth it.
Worth it.

Merry Christmas, dear friends.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

On Spelling, and Loving (Advent Day 18)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Merry Christmas, friends.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Connecting (Advent Day 17)

When I was a kid, the most content I ever felt was when we were driving, all seven of us together in the car, and my Mom and Dad were singing.  Sometimes when we drove they chatted with all of us, which was nice; sometimes they argued, which was not so nice; but when they sang - when they sang on the road I felt that sweet combination of freedom and security which is like nothing else in the world. 

Now that I'm an adult, my best feeling is still inspired by the same things - being close to, and being at peace with my loves. Deep in a conversation with my sisters. Snuggled up with my kids when I know their hearts are filled and at rest.  Cooking with Patrick, listening to a podcast and pausing it to talk it over and sparking ideas left and right and just filling right up -

When I know and feel and experience that I'm not alone.

We're made that way. We need connection, 

I love that when God sent us a Saviour, He sent us ... Himself.

He didn't send us a treasure map to decode or a list of heroic tasks to complete (both of which would have been cool, let's be honest). He sent us a person. Our shelter, our joy, our exhilaration, our strength ... it's all found in His presence.

May your Christmas be filled with those best moments, those holy and true and joyful moments when you connect with those you love - and with the One who loves you best.

Monday, December 16, 2019

His Love Endu - Well That Took A Weird Turn (Advent Day 16)

When I lived in Zambia, one of the things I loved so much was the call-and-answer style of singing. Someone would sing out a line, and the whole congregation would sing the response in a thunder of harmonies. There's nothing quite like it.
It's so beautiful.

Psalm 136 sounds like a call and answer song to me.  The whole psalm follows that pattern - a declaration of who God is / what He has done, and the refrain His love endures forever.

 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.
His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of gods.
His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords:
His love endures forever.

And after reading that line twenty six times, my heart is ready to repeat His love endures forever.

I love that that's the refrain He wants us to carry.  I think so many of us expect it to be something else. I find myself so often working with the merciless daily refrain of:
be perfect, be perfect, be perfect
or its regretful sister:
you weren't good enough, you weren't good enough.

But that is not the heartbeat He offers.  It's this:

To him who alone does great wonders,
His love endures forever.
Who by his understanding made the heavens,
His love endures forever.
Who spread out the earth upon the waters,
His love endures forever.

Each time the refrain echoes, it's like a something wraps firmer, sturdier, stronger around my weaknesses.  The affirmation of God's eternal, enduring love is pounded out here over and over and over again, like the snare in a Scottish pipe band, the techno beat on your running mix, a dragon boat drummer guiding the rowers.

That echo, that beat, gets in and drives.

He remembered us in our low estate
His love endures forever
and freed us from our enemies.
His love endures forever.

The other night we were driving home in the dark. Our kids are not used to being out at night, and Pascal was scared.  So I reminded him of the comfort that my mother used to share with me: 
"God is holding us, baby."  
'God is holding us?'
'God is holding me?'
'God is holding you?'

The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.

Mary and Joseph held their baby that first Christmas night, but His everlasting arms were holding them.
And He holds us still; His love endures forever.

So as I was sitting here writing this in my quiet house, full of my soundly sleeping family, an alarm went off.

But it wasn't any of our alarms.
And my super panicked freaked out brain remembered that people down the street woke up with an intruder in their house last week
And all I could think was they're in our house and it's their alarm
And my senses got all fuzzy and started to hide
And I couldn't think straight, or even listen straight
Because I was so afraid.
It was, I eventually discovered, a toy with a dying battery.
And now I am sitting here with my heart pounding, laughing at myself,

But I still mean it.  His love does endure forever.  And I'm going to go back, and put God's refrain in that story and see what happens:

As I was sitting here writing this in my quiet house, full of my soundly sleeping family, an alarm went off.
His love endures forever.

But it wasn't any of our alarms.
His love endures forever.
And my super panicked freaked out brain remembered that people down the street woke up with an intruder in their house last week
His love endures forever.
And all I could think was they're in our house and it's their alarmHis love endures forever.
And my senses got all fuzzy and started to hide His love endures forever.
And I couldn't think straight, or even listen straight
His love endures forever.
Because I was so afraid.
His love endures forever.
It was, I eventually discovered, a toy with a dying battery.His love endures forever.
And now I am sitting here with my heart pounding, laughing at myselfHis love endures forever.
For quiet nights or frightful nights, it's a good echo to in the heart. Sleep well, friends. His love endures forever.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Stand by Night (advent day 15)

Come, bless the Lord, all you servants of the Lord, who stand by night in the house of the Lord!
Psalm 134:1

It's been a few years since I was up feeding a baby in the night, but every time I read this verse it takes me back to the sleepy, largely unwelcome moments when I was.
Nobody likes getting up in the night. Especially with a ravaged body and an energetic toddler or two eager to greet the dawn. But I also knew it was important and holy work: standing guard against hunger, neglect, loneliness. Building into my kids the ability to trust and love in the future. Showing them again and again that they are loved and cared for.

I love imagining the servants of the Lord, standing in the temple at velvet midnight, torches ablaze.  There was no light pollution to compete with. The temple light would have gleamed for miles.

The shepherds, too, were serving at night, keeping watch over their own flocks. And when the angels announced the birth of the Saviour, they blazed and sang "Fear not! There is born to you a Saviour!"

I think a lot of you stand by night in the service of the Lord. Watching over your own particular flock of heartache. Caring for your children. Weeping over a hidden sorrow. Praying for restoration, redemption.  I know what that's like. The world sleeps, but your light is on. It might be unseen by those sleeping around you, but it is not wasted. Your wakeful work is kindled in the compassionate, tender heart of God Himself.

He sees. He knows.
And He has not forgotten.

"Fear not," He sings to your longing heart, "there is born to you a Saviour."

And the light of that torch gleams for miles.

(Come, bless the Lord, all you servants of the Lord, who stand by night in the house of the Lord!)

Fear not. There is born to you a Saviour.
Merry Christmas, friends.