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.