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

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.
Every.
Single.
Day.

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.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Happy Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

But it was just perfect.

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

Saturday, December 24, 2016

An Awful Lot Like Disappointment

Ahh, Christmas Eve.  We made it.  :)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Could have, except ...

He had come.

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

And He was here!

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

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

God still sends His gifts to us in disguise.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merriest of Christmases, friends!
xo.

Stories

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

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

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

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

The Christmas story
Is our story.

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

Hope.
Courage.
Patience.
Persistence.
Faith.

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

Merry Christmas, friends.
xo.

Friday, December 23, 2016

With Us and For Us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God with us, friends.
xo.


Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Like Everyone Forgot

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

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

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

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

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

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

Patrick and I both completely forgot.

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

And then forgot.

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

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

and then nothing.

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

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

Or did they just all forget?

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

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

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

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

Christmas.
God with us.

Merry Christmas, friends.
xo.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Fear Not

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 19, 2016

Like Family

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

There's no one like family.

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

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

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

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

Because that's what Jesus did.  For us.

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

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

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

Sunday, December 18, 2016

My Own Ugly Van

I had a panic attack this November.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merry Christmas, friends.
xo.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Potted Plants

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because of the Manger

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

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

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

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

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

Merry Christmas, friends.
Xo.