Sunday, February 18, 2018


Sam is almost seven. Seven!

I've always been daunted by seven. One of my favourite authors says a person's character is more or less set by age seven.

I don't feel at all like I've done enough or prayed enough or led by example enough to build in him a strong character in these brief and precious years.

And every now and then I worry a bit. He doesn't like to talk about his feelings, he'd rather learn from watching another kid than listening to an adult, and does he really know, deep down in his soul, how much I love him?

Yesterday, his friend, E, came over to play.  At lunchtime, Patrick asked him if he plays any sports.
E said, "hockey and sockey."
Having heard E struggle with the "er" sound before, I knew he meant soccer.
Patrick, not noticing my frantic eyebrow-signals, asked, "is sockey an indoor hockey game?"

E squirmed, unsure of what to say.

And Sam spoke up matter-of-factly, "E has trouble with saying "er." He plays soccer."

And the conversation rolled on.

I was so proud of my boy.
So proud.

He was kind and forthright. He didn't tease, and didn't ignore the confusion, but he set it right and moved on.

I love my Sam.

Sunday, January 7, 2018


My two best friends in the whole entire world moved away this week.

My heart is sore and tired and afraid.

Life has been so good with them close. They love so comfortably, so easily. They don't demand or expect. They help. They laugh. They give.

They're fun and kind and without a single shred of pretension.

They're amazing.

And now they're gone.

And the yawning emptiness they leave behind makes my heart tremble.

I know I'm a wimp. I just can't picture  life without them.

In church this morning, we were reminded not to be afraid.

Not because our troubles are small.
Not because they don't matter.

No, Jesus never trivializes our pain, our fear.  But He tells us not to fear because He is with us. He does not leave us. He walks with us, all the way through it.

I needed that today. 
And maybe you need it too - the reminder that whatever you're going through, whatever makes your heart ache, whatever leaves you in tears - He is with you.

All the way through.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

The Night Before Christmas

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

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

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Night-shift Field-hands

Know what I want to know?

Why shepherds?

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

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

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

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

Being awake when the whole world sleeps is hard.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merry Christmas, friends.

Friday, December 22, 2017

For the Middle of the Night

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fear not. Jesus is with us.

Hunting for Presents

Sam has been hunting for presents for a solid week.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merry Christmas, friends.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

A Chance to Give

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

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

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

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

This is pure them.

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

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

They tucked their presents under the tree and grinned. 

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

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

Merry Christmas, friends.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

The Weary Mama Rejoices

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

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

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

Just like that.

Some people really are gifts from God.

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

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

A thrill of hope, the weary mama rejoices!

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

Merry Christmas, friends.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Also Ordinary Days

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

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

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

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

But my expectations are in serious need of adjustment.

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

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

But it is definitely rare.

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

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

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

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

Even Christmas days.

Merry (mostly) Christmas, friends!

Sunday, December 17, 2017

A Teeny Tiny Christmas Prayer

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for being Jesus, God.

Merry Christmas, friends.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

A Reminder from Sad-Janelle

Know what?

I didn't always love Christmas. 

It used to be the loneliest and most awful.

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

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

Not everyone is happy at Christmas.

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

And there's no sadness in sight.

But I think there should be sadness in sight.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merry Christmas, friends.

Friday, December 15, 2017

A Baby Too

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

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

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

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

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

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

God with us.
Merry Christmas, friends.