Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Soft

My day with the kids was bookended by yelling.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merry Christmas, friends.
xo.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Love Came Down at Christmas

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

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

Vertigo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comfort, comfort at Christmas, friends!
xo.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

I Have Always Loved You

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merry Christmas, friends.
xo.


Saturday, December 3, 2016

Christmas In Leviticus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 2, 2016

The Best Time of the Year

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

I just cannot wait to see him.

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

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

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

And tonight, he's coming HOME!!!

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

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

The best gifts are always people who love us.

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

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

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Fears and Hopes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merry Christmas, friends!
xo.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Much Preciouser

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

Sunday, September 18, 2016

His Banner Over Me is Love

A few weeks ago I was driving a friend home when we saw a woman standing in the middle of the street. It's not terribly uncommon for prostitutes to hang out in the crosswalks in our neighbourhood, so I thought she was likely just working, but she had a glassy look on her face, and it took her a long time to walk to one side. So instead of just nodding hello, we rolled down the windows to make sure she didn't need help.

"Am I alright?" she repeated back to me, one eyebrow raised.
'Yes - do you need help?' I asked.
"Noooo ... I don't need help ..." she replied, looking both defensive and bewildered, "are you going to throw eggs at me or something?"

We assured her we weren't, and told her we were glad she was okay, and drove on.  It was an awkward, heartbreaking exchange.

As if life hasn't been bad enough.
As if the circumstances that lead someone to prostitution aren't enough of a painful mess.
People feel the need - or the right - to add to that and attack hookers.

Someone in our neighbourhood painted a gigantic sign, complaining about the fact there are hookers on the street. One entire side of a garage screamed a complaint against prostitutes (not johns!) in big ugly letters.

Today, I saw a different sign that someone put up, right where 2 or 3 prostitutes can be found almost any time of day.

A sign that declares what God thinks of prostitutes. Johns. Angry neighbours. Haters. People who want to help but aren't really sure how. What He thinks of you and me and why He sent Jesus to bear the punishment for sin.

A sign that declares the truth in one simple Word.

It's beautiful, isn't it? :)
Xo

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Messily, Gratefully, Mama

Today, the bags under my eyes could have their own postal code.  Pascal was awake so much last night. Kachi was up coughing and sneezing. Vava had a bad dream. And Sam needed a cuddle. That all added up to me getting less than three hours of sleep by the time our morning alarm rang. 

And because I am no longer in my first bloom of youth, three hours of sleep does not quite equate to a coherent mama.

This was one of those mornings where Patrick cemented his rock star status by sending me back to bed (I really wasn't functional) and staying home to get the big kids ready for school and onto the bus before going to work. (Two extra hours! God bless that man!)

Kachi spent the rest of the morning playing by himself, while I dozed off and on, feeding Pascal. 

I am not worrying about the toys all over my living room floor or the furniture we pulled out to make a fort. I am ignoring the mountain of unsorted toys and clothes that need to make their way into dressers or donation bins. I am just fine wearing my hoodie and cut-off stretch pants and will probably stay in them all day.

Because no matter what supermoms tell us and no matter what post-partum magic celebrities use, the hard work of bringing a baby into this world lasts much longer than a contraction.  True labour does not end in the delivery room.  No.  That's where it begins.  

The other day I texted my sister that I was embarrassed because I opened the door to receive a friend who came with presents and food, and I was wearing my spit-uppy pjs, my carpet needed a vacuuming, and Kachi was running around in a diaper.

And my sister (with her own quick wisdom) pointed out that it shouldn't be embarrassing to have a life where I'm able to stay home and cuddle my baby, stay in my jams, and have a relaxed morning with my toddler while a friend thinks of me and brings me gifts. This is something to be grateful for. 

She is, of course, beautifully right.

Because God just keeps teaching me this, over and over, that gratitude isn't a matter of perfection, but perspective.

From the world's baggiest eyes, and a pretty lucky mama,

Xo. 

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

My Daughter is Going to School

I have not been looking forward to this day.

The past few weeks, every time I went into a store that sells school supplies, I've had a little weepy meltdown.

I wasn't able to buy Vava anything for starting school because it was shattering my hormonal pregnant heart.

(My daughter is going to school!)

Each time, I tried to steel myself and reach for the lunch boxes and water bottles, and each time a giant aching wave surged right behind my eyelids.  I had to walk away.

I didn't expect to be such a wreck.
I thought Pascal would be born in good time for us to enjoy much of August preparing together.
I thought I'd have had a chance to fill our days with reading The Kissing Hand and cuddling and being silly playing together until her heart was filled with security and confidence to carry her through.

But I spent most of August in a waddling haze, lumbering from one nap to the next in overdue exhaustion. I didn't feel like cuddling anyone, let alone a knobby-kneed squirmsicle who seemed to find the most painful places to put her bony elbows.  No, August wasn't what I'd hoped and all of a sudden I wasn't at all prepared and my daughter is going to school.

So when last weekend arrived and I realized I had to buy what I needed or Vava would truly be missing out, I didn't quite know how to manage.  I figured I'd have to endure the embarrassment and just shop with a purse full of kleenex for the tears.

But then we watched The Good Lie.
(If you haven't seen it yet, do! It's on Netflix.)  It follows the story of Sudanese children, who walked almost 800 miles through war zones and deserts and unbelievable loss to find refuge.

And as we watched it, God reminded me, as He so often does, that I have been given an opportunity that moms all over the world battle for. 

My daughter is going to school.

She will pick out her clothes every day from a full closet. She will take more food for lunch than she needs. She will learn from educated and kind teachers who care about her. Her school is warm and dry and safe and just around the corner from home.

My daughter is going to school.

So when I finally went shopping and reached for the lunch boxes and water bottles, my heart surged with gratitude. My eyes filled with tears, yes, but tears on behalf of children who aren't able to attend school this year.  My heart ached for mothers who long for a day like this day, when their daughters might go to school.

And I thank God for this good gift:

My daughter is going to school.

Xo.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

You can! You can! You can!

There was a moment - right in the last few seconds before Pascal burst into the world - when all the pain seemed too much. Like I couldn't be strong any longer.

I like to close everything out, when I'm hurting.  Close my eyes, clench my teeth and fists and toes, close my attention to the world, and zoom out away from it all in my mind.  Sit up on God's shoulders and just know it's happening from afar.

But I couldn't, right then.  I needed to listen to my body, to be completely aware, to push along with the contractions.

So instead of bracing myself and squeezing my eyes shut, I found myself wide awake and present, looking up into the eyes of the two people who were waiting and hoping and labouring along with me. 

"This is the hardest part," I gasped, feeling the fear start to rise, "I don't think I can do it."

And my mom's eyes shone like a lighthouse, so full of assurance and believing in me and - most of all - joy. "You can!" they sang, "you can! You can! You can!"

And with that, I did.

My mom's joy was my strength - and oh, just when I needed it.

You might not have your mom standing beside you in your hard moments. You might not have anyone physically present at all. But the scriptures assure this: the joy of the Lord is your strength.

And He rejoices over you with His song.

Wherever you are, whatever you are facing, I pray that you will open your eyes and look up. Look into the eyes of one who knows you - loves you - rejoices over you.   Let Him be strong and joyful for you, when you fear you can't.

And see His eyes shine.
You can! You can! You can!

Xo.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Pascal Has Arrived!

I want to share the funny moments and the crazy moments and the sweet moments and the heartachey moments but for now I need to sleep.

So I'm just popping over to share that baby Pascal Laurent arrived on Sunday, big and beautiful and astonishing.

We are all, of course, wildly in love.

Welcome, darling!