Sunday, August 14, 2016

Waiting

If there's one thing I've learned in the last few weeks, it's this:

I stink at waiting.

I have been uncomfortable and Pascal has been low for 3 months.  That definitely adds to the difficulty. But the hardest part, I think, is not knowing when he will arrive.

It could have been last month. It might not be til later this month.  And while I know he WILL come, I don't know when. 

And I'm dying to meet him.

Yes, I want relief from the discomfort.
Yes, I want deliverance from the constant burden.

But most of all I want to meet this darling and see his face and cuddle him all soft and nuzzley against my neck.
I want to get to know his personality and watch him carve his own niche in our family.
I want to see him interact with his siblings and see their lives and habits change as they become his big brothers, big sister.

I am longing for and eagerly anticipating his arrival.

Technically I've been ready for him to arrive since August 3 - hospital bag packed, with his homecoming outfit and soft blankets ready to go - but every day or so I think of something else to do to become even more ready.

I boiled the soothers.
I opened the box of newborn diapers.
I found the playpen sheets.
I peeled the tinfoil cover off the Penaten.
I asked Dad to cover the important but forgettable chores of emptying the dehumidifier and putting out the garbage if I'm in hospital.

And along with all that, I've chafed against the waiting.

Every morning I wake up thinking this might be the day!
Every night I go to sleep thinking this might be the night!
And as tossing night follows humid day I groan. 

A few years ago, I read an article that pointed out the best quality to find in a spouse is the ability to suffer well ... and that's not really me.  I'm okay when things are going well, and I'm actually pretty good in a short-term crisis.  But suffering well? Not my forte.

So when I realized I was turning into little more than a grumble, I asked God for help.

And I heard His great heart laugh as I asked what I could learn from Him in the waiting.

Because He waits for His children always. Like the father of the prodigal son, He waits for us to come to Him. He yearns to shelter us and celebrate with us and welcome us to our long home.

And He has built waiting into our journey too. When we receive salvation, we aren't wooshed into heaven.  We aren't magicked into perfect versions of ourselves.  Our characters are formed slowly, our Father's traits developed in us through trial and effort. Sloooowly. We wait. And while we wait, we feel it - all of creation, groaning for redemption, aching for deliverance.  The dissonance between what we want and where we are is only known in the waiting.

It reminds me of what Paul wrote in Romans 8 when he described waiting for Jesus' return and the redemption of all creation: all creation groans together in the pains of childbirth.  The ache of waiting and the groans of longing will be more than worth it - more than worth it! - for the glory that waits.

So maybe the gift in my waiting for Pascal is this reminder: good things are worth waiting for. Jesus will come. And He will redeem this aching creation in the freedom of glory.

So I'll take a breath and try to suffer well in the waiting. Sooner or later, this baby will come - and oh, he will bring so much joy with him.

Remind me to wait in hope, friends. 
Thanks for your prayers.
Xo.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Hopefully, Selfies

I've got a little growing collection of unpublished selfies.

Not because I'm addicted to taking pictures of myself.

But every night lately I go to bed thinking "what if this is the last night?"

The last night I'm pregnant.
Maybe ever.

And that's a pretty big moment.
One that I want to remember.

Especially because cameras seem to do magic over time, and turn ordinary moments into something softer and lovelier.

I'm guessing that I won't be looking back on this picture and feeling the ache of weary bones, the stretch marks, the heartburn.

And hopefully I will forget the sheer impatience I battle daily.
Hopefully I will forget the twelve weeks of Braxton Hicks and the soreness of carrying this baby in my tired body.
Hopefully I will forget the heat, the humidity, and the way I'm maybe longing for a cool quiet room and some time alone face-to-face with my new miracle.

Hopefully I'll remember that my body curled around my darling boy, this vivid, living surprise, this evidence of grace.
Hopefully I'll remember that clothes and skin and family all stretch glad in welcome.
Hopefully I will soon take my last belly-selfie and start filling up my memory card with pictures of Pascal himself.

Every day begins
And ends
In hope.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

To Baby, About to be Born

Darling Pascal.

So soon, your world will collapse.
Your sky, your ocean, will pass away
And you will experience pain and the wild suffering
Of - all unwilling - entering the unknown.

It will be the hardest
And best.

And we will hold you in our arms
And dying
And living
Will - all along - have been the same thing.

It is like nothing you can imagine
And it is exactly what you were made for.

Someday, you precious little soul,
You treasured darling,
You will walk that path again -
The pain of loss will overwhelm you,
And everything familiar will pass away.
I pray that in that moment
You will remember:

It will be the hardest
And best.

Your Father will meet you with aching joy
Like nothing you can imagine -

Exactly what you were made for.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Bad Guys and Cranky Mornings

Sam is all about bad guys and zombies lately. He's got a thousand questions and they're never far from the surface.

So it wasn't totally unexpected when he asked me earlier this week, "Mama, does God kill bad guys?"

I was so thrilled to be able to tell him instead that God redeems bad guys. "He doesn't kill us," I explained, "he loves us and saves us and changes us into good guys."

His eyes popped wide and his jaw dropped and he burst out, "That's so much better!"

(It is!)

And this morning I woke up cranky as a bear, with angry eyebrows and surly snarls, because it was 6am and the kids wanted breakfast NOW and I had kind of been counting on another hour's sleep.

So after I grudgingly made them breakfast I snuggled down to read my bible and pray and I poured out my sour heart and told God I was sorry. 

And God gently reminded my immature self that I was looking at it upside down. He hadn't given me a bad morning at all but one packed with glorious gifts. 

My horrible children were actually healthy, growing, articulate, quite reasonable children (and breakfast isn't an unusual demand).

They had woken up today. There was no mourning here this morning.

I was able to come downstairs and make them each what they love best from a well-stocked kitchen without wondering where our next meal was coming from.

And then I was able to cuddle under a soft blanket and hold a warm cup of coffee while reading my Bible (which I am allowed to freely do, without fear, in this great country).

So I had a morning that mamas all over the world can only dream of.  And instead of punishing me for being so blind and churlish, God did what God does ...

redeemed it.

Loved me where I was and made it good.

Because God is a redeemer.

Of souls.
Of bad guys.
Of cranky mornings and upside down hearts.

Xo.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Can I Trust You?

The other night, I was getting ready to drive our sitter home when I noticed a couple having trouble in the middle of our street. The boyfriend was moaning on the ground and the girlfriend was trying to make him stand up.

I asked Patrick if he could help them, but as we drove away I saw that they had waved him on, refusing his help.

Our sitter lives close by, so I figured they'd still be near when  I came home.  I took a spin up the block and found them struggling along.

I rolled down the passenger window and turned on the truck's interior light so they could see me and I asked if I could help.  The boyfriend burst into a fresh round of wailing and huddled into his girlfriend's shoulder.  The girl - I think they were both around 17 - seemed to fight past a fog to speak. I don't know if they were high or traumatized or what, but anyone could see they needed help.

Finally she made her way to the truck window and asked the shaky question that seared into my soul.

"Can I trust you?"

The weight of her question wasn't lost on me. I'm white, and she's from a First Nation. In a city rife with racism, getting into the wrong car can be deadly.

'You can trust me. I won't hurt you - I promise. And I'll try my best to help you if you want. I won't hurt you.'

She paused to consider my answer.  She looked up and down the dark street, unsure of what to do.

"Can you help me get my boyfriend home?" she asked at long last.

I pulled Sam's booster seat out of its place and they climbed in.

Their destination wasn't far.  I dropped them off and zipped home. 

It keeps echoing in my head, that question.  Can I trust you? 

It's not a question we ask in an equal power dynamic. It's a question that unveils vulnerability and acknowledges power.  We might ask it when we want to share something confidential with someone and thus put ourselves at their mercy. We might ask it when we aren't strong enough for a task and require help. It's only a question we ask when we're the vulnerable ones.

I read a tiny little story on Facebook today that describes vulnerability and privilege, and why All Lives Matter isn't a problem-solving slogan. 

Say there is a table full of people, and everyone has a plate filled with food except Bob. Bob says "Bob needs food!" And everyone replies "Everyone needs food!" But until they look up from their own plates and realize that Bob has no food, their statement is empty (though factual). 

And we're sitting at the table.
And we've got food.
And if we're Christians, we know food isn't something we earned. It's all given.

The gorgeous thing is, we know what Jesus expects us to do.  He wants us to give to those who lack. He wants us to defend those who are weak. He wants us to love (actively, not just theoretically) those our culture might declare unlovable.

Jesus came and sat at my table and saw that I had nothing and gave me the food off His plate. And He says "go and do likewise!"

Louis CK tells a story about his daughters arguing over who's got more food in their bowl. And he tells them - the only time we ever look in someone else's bowl is to make sure they have enough. Never to gloat over how much we have.

And, Christians, we have been given so much.  Our plates are heaped high. We need to be the ones who are actively searching for Bob, proactively finding people with empty plates because we have such full ones. We don't need to worry about protecting our food or ensuring we have more than others.  That's not the example of Jesus. Jesus pours out. Jesus feeds Bob.

So ... who needs food?

It's a fact that everyone needs food.

But Bob's argument is the strongest.  The most vulnerable - the most hungry - the most oppressed - are the ones we need to worry about. So unless we're looking around at our neighbours' plates so we can share with them, we're missing out.

We're missing out on applying our beliefs to our lives (if everyone needs food, and I see that someone is lacking food, how can I reconcile the difference?). We're missing out on justice (did everyone take a little too much, thinking about their own plate and not remembering to share well?). And we're missing an opportunity to love well (actively doing something for someone else's benefit).

I found that little extended metaphor really helpful. Bob needs food. Bob is the most vulnerable person at the table.

And maybe in your city Bob is black or Asian or Lebanese. Maybe in your city, Bob is women or poor people or immigrants. Maybe Bob is someone with mental illness or a history of being abused.

The thing is, Bob needs food.
And Bob needs someone to share with him, to love him well.

Bob needs to hear a giant chorus of YES from Jesus' people when he is brave enough to ask the question ...

Can I trust you?

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Rich

You know how there are stories - events, moments, incidents - that just somehow stick with you?  And long after they happen, the weight of them is settled in your soul, where they press and shape and influence you much more than you'd ever imagined they might?

Well I've had one of those stories lurking in the back of my mind for a few weeks.  I've probably blogged about this man more than once.  His story is so unexpected and beautiful and filled with hope and gratitude.  Maybe I hold it so close because I want those qualities to rub off on me. I'm not sure.

It was a hot sunny Sunday in Zambia.  I had walked to church on a path of fine, soft, incredibly dry dirt; the sound of rich, joyful singing growing louder with each step. Butterflies swooped and trembled in patches of shadow and sunshine, and army ants marched in strict formation.

If it wasn't for the gorgeous singing I'd have been hard pressed to go inside. But there is nothing - really nothing - like Lunda harmonies. They just get into my heart and make it soar.  In Zambia I really began to understand the verse that says God inhabits the praises of His people. He is right there in the living rhythms.

Because of the number of short-term volunteers in the area, there was often a translator, but not this day.  I enjoyed the chance to practice my Lunda a bit, but I wasn't sure I was following the message.  The speaker was an elder, a short old man with tears glittering in his eyes and an unmistakable joy on his face. His text was Ephesians 3:8, so I was expecting a message on the riches we have in Christ Jesus. I tried to pick out words I knew, but I just kept hearing him say death, dying. His sermon was punctuated by heartfelt amens, hallelujahs, and vigorous nodding from the congregation.

The missionary beside me leaned over and explained the gist of his message. He's all alone, she told me, his grown children have all died, his wife just died, and he's rejoicing in the riches we have in Christ.

I looked at this man, this old man who clearly had no earthly riches - not even the comfort of having his family around him in his old age. And he was standing there, fiercely rejoicing in the sureness of the riches in Christ.

His wife and children are all in heaven, my friend continued, they are suffering no longer. He has peace and joy in the confidence that he will see them again, and that they are now happier than they could have ever been on earth, because they see Jesus' face. He is encouraging us to remember the riches in Christ that we have now, and to set our hearts on things to come.  He's praising God for the hope He gives His people.

I was deeply stirred and challenged by this.  If I lost all of my darling family, would my testimony be one of hope and gratitude? Would I stand and proclaim His excellencies with fervor when my heart was overwhelmed?

And it stuck. It plays in my head and echoes in my heart and pulls my soul to dig deeper - to push away the shale and pebbles of transient comfort and seek the rich soil of this sureness: my riches in Christ.

This past week was rough. Patrick was away and I was parenting alone for six long days. We had spills and upsets, forgotten appointments, tantrums, storms, and just the plain old wear and tear of a long week without the one we all love.  Hearts were tired and tempers short. Braxton Hicks decided to move in permanently and that isn't my favourite.  I found myself grumbling an awful lot.

But this story kept beating in the background like a distant drum, and when I finally paid attention to it, I heard its message.  Why am I complaining? I have a husband who works hard for his family and loves us like crazy. Our hearts are lonely for him precisely because he's so wonderful. I'm tired because I have three busy kids with healthy bodies and vivid minds and they need me to keep them that way.  My burdens might take a lot to carry, but they are worth carrying. I am rich.

And when it's all over and I find myself empty-armed and exhausted at heaven's gate, I will see Jesus. I will walk into His heaven and be welcomed as a daughter. Entirely because of His mercy and totally apart from anything I've done, I'm forgiven, chosen, loved, blessed.

Rich in Christ Jesus.

I don't know what kind of storms and loss are breaking around you these days, friends, but I pray that your hearts will be planted firmly in the joy of the Lord. I pray that you will stand strong with tears on your face and a heart full of hope that every one of your burdens is a good gift.

And when all around you is swept away, I pray that your heart will sing and blaze, knowing you are so rich - and the best is yet to come.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Do You Hear That?

The other day, climbing into our truck way out in the country, Vava suddenly stopped me with a look of awe.

"Do you hear that?" she asked, "listen!"

The only noise I could hear was the distant hum of truck tires whirring on the highway. Nothing that would make me stand still, nothing that would make me close my eyes to hear more perfectly.

"What do you hear?" I whispered.

"It's God," she explained softly, thrilling, "singing!"

Her heart is so often tuned to hear Him, when everyone else hears traffic.

In the aftermath of the Orlando shooting, I expected to hear the ugly sound of callous judgment. I hurt over the raging hatred that pulled a trigger over and over; wept over the lives lost and the aching hearts of mourners left behind. I prayed for God's comfort and deep, gospel-peace to sweep in where evil had made itself so bloodily evident. And as I prayed I heard something unexpected and beautiful.

Not a lick of criticism.  Not a breath of self-righteousness. Nothing ugly or cruel to rub salt in raw wounds. Just tender expressions of sorrow and sympathy and practical, Scriptural love.

Love.

Like the good Samaritan, Christians are meeting needs like donating blood and making meals and praying for everyone affected.

I cynically expected the whine of trucks on cement and I heard instead the tender heart of God, mourning, and singing.

I'm sure there is a lot of hateful rhetoric flying around already. I'm sure there are people who have confused what God asks us to do (love) with what God has reserved for Himself alone (judge).  But I love that it's not the loudest sound. I love that Christians are reaching out to comfort non-Christians and to serve them in any way they can.

Do you hear that?
It's God, singing.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Ready for Jesus

I overheard a cute little conversation on Sunday. My brother-in-law (who is as awesome a dad as his little brother) was reading his Bible. His daughter came up and interrupted him, but instead of shooing her away (as I would probably have done), he told her about what he was reading - the story of Jesus and blind Bartimaeus.

It was a story she'd heard before, so he asked her some questions about it. "What was blind Bart doing?" he asked. I thought she was going to say "sitting on the side of the road, begging," but her exact answer was so much richer than that.
"He was ready for Jesus," she replied.

Ready.
For.
Jesus.

Blind, begging, and ready for Jesus. 

He meets us, of course, at the point of our need. Where we can't help ourselves. Where we're trapped and can do nothing but cry out to Him.

I always think of that place as the worst of circumstances. But my niece has it right. It's not. It's not. It's where we're ready for Jesus.

I heard a sermon a few weeks ago that's been ringing through my heart ever since. The preacher encouraged us in Psalm 4, to bring our anger to God, lay it all out before Him, confess with a broken and contrite heart, and just rest in His sufficiency and presence.

I don't know about you, but I struggle with anger as my big fat blind spot. It flares up ugly and strong when I feel unfairly treated, judged, self-righteous, tired, pressured ... so, yeah, pretty much all the time. But bringing my anger into God's presence has given me so much freedom from that. Not that I don't feel angry, but I don't suffer from the slow burn, the smoldering resentment, rehashed indignation. Because He really does give His peace to my broken heart.

My anger is where I'm ready for Jesus.

Yeah.

I can't beat it on my own. No matter how much someone tells me to relax or settle down, I can't change that blind rage into peace.

But He can.

Right there, where I'm blind and begging.

And maybe your blindness is something else, and you've begged God to take it away.  Maybe you, like me, have never seen it as the open door, an invitation to glory.

Instead of thrashing against it, I pray that you find hope in knowing that this is your roadside, and that is your Saviour, and you are not just blind, you are not just begging.

You are ready for Jesus.

Xo.

Monday, May 16, 2016

To the Tree Currently Blooming

I almost miss it, every spring:
The annual explosion at your core
Is one of such unhurried delicacy.
Like a burst of fireworks suspended,
Trembling,
You bloom in agonizing slow-motion.

You spread your blossoming display
Over our house like a blessing, a grace,
And the glory at your fingertips
Unfurls in your own deliberate time.

You caught my eye tonight
Without the slightest whisper of a boom
With stars and a lumpy moon
Tangled in your branches;
And your bare beauty stayed my steps.

I paused under your canopy,
Riveted,
While my heart whispered ooh and ahh
Like children on the first of July.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Guest Post: Mother's Day Blog

Mothers are some of the most underappreciated people in the world. A mother knows what it’s like to sustain and nourish another human from her own body. A mother knows what it’s like to give her body and her strength, to give up her waking hours and her sleeping hours, and even to give up her life for the care of her children. A mother knows what it’s like to deplete herself to the point of exhaustion, to give all of herself for the little people who depend on her for their very life but treat her with such disregard and disrespect all day long, always demanding more and never showing any appreciation or giving anything in return. Mothers, if this is any encouragement, God knows exactly how you feel.

God identifies himself with mothers and motherhood in at least three ways. First, in His sufficiency; second, in His self-sacrificing tender-kindness and loving-care; and third, in His unrequited love. By examining how God identifies Himself with mothers and with motherhood, we can learn a little about God and we can draw comfort from knowing more of God’s companionship with us and His care for us.

God chooses to identify Himself to us primarily in masculine terms, He wants to be known as the Father. But God, as the perfect parent, is the one who protects and provides for His children and nourishes and sustains them. Furthermore, human fathers and mothers both are created in the image of God. Genesis 1:27 says, “In the image of God, He created him; male and female he created them.” It follows then, that God’s parenting of His children has the characteristics of both fatherhood and motherhood.

God identifies Himself with motherhood most strikingly in the use of His name, El-Shaddai. El-Shaddai is the second name by which God chooses to identify Himself to man. He reveals this name to Abraham in Genesis 17:1-2, “When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, ‘I am God Almighty (El-Shaddai); walk before me and be blameless that I may make my covenant between me and you and may multiply you greatly.’” The name El-Shaddai is mistranslated as God Almighty in our English Bibles. The name El signifies strength, power, or might and is used through the Old Testament as the word “God” or “god,” it indicates to us the power of God Himself. Although there is still some ambiguity around the origins of the name Shaddai, it is believed to be derived from the Hebrew word, shadaim, for breast. This indicates sufficiency or nourishment. Some have made the ill-advised suggestion that the name El-Shaddai be further translated as “the many breasted One.” A more appropriate translation might be something like God All-Sufficient. God introduces Himself to Abraham as El-Shaddai with the promise that He will “multiply [him] greatly.” God also introduces Himself as El-Shaddai to Jacob, repeating the same promise to him in Genesis 35:11, “I am God Almighty (El-Shaddai): be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body.” God introduces himself as El-Shaddai and associates this name with the promise of offspring. Later, Jacob, now known as Israel, invokes El-Shaddai in his blessing to his children, most notably in his blessing on Joseph in Genesis 49:24-25:

“His arms were made agile by the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob (El-Shaddai, God of Jacob) … by the God of your father who will help you, by the Almighty (El-Shaddai) who will bless you with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that crouches beneath, blessings of the breasts and of the womb.”

Jacob, looking forward from the brink of the population explosion he has been promised in Genesis 35:11, appropriates the name of El-Shaddai, and calls down distinctly maternal “blessings of the breasts and of the womb” to his children and grandchildren. God, does not only provide multiplied offspring—blessings of the womb—but also promises to nourish and sustain them—blessings of the breasts. Of the Patriarchs it is Jacob who is most associated with the name El-Shaddai. Jacob himself calls El-Shaddai “the Mighty One of Jacob,” and afterwards, through the Old Testament, the name El-Shaddai is often used next to the name of Jacob. We can imagine Jacob, who was so close to his mother, having a particular appreciation for God as El-Shaddai, the God who nourishes and sustains. The prophet Isaiah invokes the same maternal imagery when he writes, “You shall suck the milk of nations; you shall nurse at the breast of kings; and you shall know that I, the LORD, am your Saviour and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob (El Shaddai, God of Jacob)” (Isaiah 60:16), and

“Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice with her in joy, all you who mourn over her; that you may nurse and be satisfied from her consoling breast; that you may drink deeply with delight from her glorious abundance. For thus says the LORD: ‘Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the nations like an overflowing stream; and you shall nurse, you shall be carried upon her hip, and bounced upon her knees. As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem’” (Isaiah 66:10-13).

Through the prophet Isaiah, God promises to comfort the people of Israel with the restoration of Jerusalem, “as one whom his mother comforts.” In this translation it seems the consoling breasts belong to the city of Jerusalem, but still, it is God who provides the nourishment that flows through them; God is the true comforter and here he is a maternal comforter, comforting His children like a mother. The breasts are a metaphor for both nourishment and comfort, like a mother comforts and nourishes her child with her breasts, God will comfort and nourish His people. The Bible does not use this imagery reluctantly, God is not afraid to be identified with motherhood.

As we see in the passages quoted, El-Shaddai is the God who nourishes and sustains. His power is sufficient to all His children’s needs. He provides for them abundant blessings. He uses the imagery of breasts as metaphors for the way He nourishes His people from Himself. El-Shaddai is the God who provides Manna for the Children of Israel in the wilderness. He is the God who, through Jesus, says, “I am the Bread of Life” (John 6:35) and invites us to feed on His body and drink of His blood (John 6:54). This is the God who gives life by the breaking of His body and the draining of His blood. He is the God who, by His own self, nourishes and sustains life.

In this way, God is not being like a mother, rather the imagery works in the opposite direction. Mothers are image-bearers of God, they reflect His tender nurturing heart when they tenderly nurture their children. The mother who sustains her child with her own body, who nourishes her child from her breasts, and who comforts her child with the closeness of her body until that child thrives reflects the God who is our El-Shaddai. The God who is sufficient to all our needs. The God who births us by His Spirit. The God who sustains and nourishes us from His own self. And the mother who exhausts herself for the nourishment, sustenance, and comfort of her children can be sustained, nourished, and comforted from the resources of El-Shaddai who is sufficient to all her needs. Perhaps you, mother, exhausted in the late hours with an unsettled child in your weary arms have been comforted to find yourself cradled in the everlasting arms of El-Shaddai.

God also identifies Himself with motherhood in the way He self-sacrificially cares for His children. This is expressed by Jesus in Luke 13:34; He laments over Jerusalem,

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”

He draws on the imagery of a mother hen, sheltering her chicks from danger with her own body. He points to the instinct in mothers to put themselves in harm’s way to protect their children. In His lament, Jesus is referring prophetically to the time when, by the breaking of His body, He shelters His people from wrath. In His sacrificial death, Jesus holds nothing back, thrusting Himself fully into danger to secure the safety of His people. The fact that He likens this to the care that a mother hen has for her chicks is evidence that God has purposely designed motherhood to reflect Himself. The loving care and tender kindness that a mother has for her child reflects God’s care and concern for His children. Like a mother, awake in the night with a troubled child, God is the one who “will neither slumber nor sleep” (Psalm 121:4) as He cares for His people. Like a mother who sets aside her busyness and her work to hold a needy child, God cares for His needy children, “In His arms He carries them all day long.” Indeed, His attention to His children, described in Psalm 121 is a kind of maternal care:

“He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. … The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The LORD will keep you from all evil; He will keep your life. The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore” (Psalm 121:3-8).

We can imagine the Heavenly Father, here paying close attention to His small child’s every step as He walks beside His child, He protects His child from the glare of the sun with His body, casting a cool shade. In this way, a mother who forgets her own needs and desires to be diligently attentive to the comfort and safety of her child reflects the tender care of God for His children. Further, God is the God who “swears to His own hurt and does not change” (Psalm 15:4). This is intentional, He does not make promises carelessly, not realizing the cost; no, God weighs the cost, and considers it worthwhile. In this way, a mother who, for the love of her child, endures the pain and labour of childbearing and the personal cost of caring for her child through the day and through the night and considers it worthwhile, is an image of God’s self-sacrificing care for His children.

A mother who gives of her body, her spirit, her attention, and her energy out of love for her child and finds her love unrequited knows something about the love of God. Motherhood is a thankless vocation. To a child, a mother's sacrifices are expected and demanded; her desires are meaningless or nonexistent. Her child openly believes in his own supreme importance: mother is of no more value than a dispensary. Her commands are taken as idiotic suggestions, or completely ignored. She rescues her unwitting child from danger and is thanked with screaming resentment. Her child repeatedly returns to the danger and ignores her mother's warnings. A mother knows exactly what God means when He says, "All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people" (Romans 10:21). God holds out His hands in grace, giving and giving. Each moment of life is a gift from God, each breath, each new day, the food that sustains, these are the least of His gifts but if He withheld any one of them no one would survive. How like small children we are. We depend on God's grace but give Him so little thanks. We complain about the good gifts He gives us because they are not precisely to our liking. We grow bitter towards Him when we don't get the things we want, the way we want them. We often remark on the foolishness of the Children of Israel when they complain to Moses in Numbers 21:5, "Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” "There is no food ... and we loathe this worthless food," how ridiculous, how like small children they are. But how like them are we? There is no love like God's love, no one could give more than He gives. But His love is unrequited every day. Arrogantly, we receive His gifts with no regard for the giver. Still, God gives. He gives at such cost, He gives His greatest treasure to win us. Jesus, God's great gift, for us. But His gift is largely ignored or rejected. We fail to value it, we don't appreciate the cost. We treat God with the disregard of small children for their mothers. Still God loves us, He chooses to see past our unreceptive hearts and He loves us with the kind of tender love a mother has for her small children. The mother who smiles at her children's petulance, who patiently serves her children with a love that makes her forget their unkindness, reflects the love God has for His children. Our God is kind.

Today is the day the world sets aside for the appreciation of mothers. We should appreciate mothers all the more for showing us something of the great love of God for us. He is the God who, like a mother, nourishes us from His own self, gives to us at such great cost, and whose gifts we receive with indifference and contempt. We should appreciate mothers for reflecting the kindness of God in their care for small children.

Sorry I Didn't Send a Card

On Mother's Day, I can never find the right card.

Not for my mom -
There are a million sappy rhymes, but not so many that say "thank you for tearing yourself open from the inside out for me" -literally and metaphorically, ongoing.  Not so many that say "thank you for giving me the hook in my nose that I am loving more every day because it is beautifully yours."  Not so many that say "I wish I could go back and erase every obstacle you've faced but God has used them to craft you into this amazing person and I pray every day that my daughter grows up to be as fun and wise and elegant and generous as you."
You know. Those kinds of things.

And it's hard to find the right card for my mother-in-law - something along the lines of "thanks for giving me your son, with all the good qualities you prayed and laboured into him ... I daily reap the rewards of your hard work without even realizing it."

And I can't find the right card for my friends, sisters, sisters in law -
There just aren't a lot of cards that say "thanks for helping me realize I'm not the worst mom in the world if my kid maybe tried to eat a frozen dog poop." I haven't found one yet that says "thanks for sharing wipes and diapers when I show up to the park with poopy kids and a bag full of shrapnel that somehow doesn't include those two items."  I'm still hunting for the one that says "I love you for hanging out with me even when I obviously haven't showered in days."

I haven't found a good card for my friends who are currently facing infertility, who long for the days when they might find themselves complaining about boogers on their shoulder and bags under their eyes from a week of no sleep.  Who maybe feel alone in their struggle but aren't - not by a long shot.  There aren't a lot of cards that say "hope you can get through this day with a minimum of heartache as you celebrate your own mom without bursting into tears in public (but it's totally okay if you do!)."

I haven't found a good card for the mother whose selfless love made me a mother.  I'd like to find one that might say "thank you for nourishing that baby with your heart and soul and mind and strength and then giving him to me and I love him with everything I've got. I am trying hard to raise him well in gratitude to you and God but I feel woefully inadequate every day."

I haven't found a good card for Patrick, because they seem to save the dad cards for Father's Day. I'd really like to give him one that says "thank you for enabling me to be a functioning mother, instead of an exhausted bag of stale air.  Thank you for working your butt off every day so that my mothering isn't just survival, but joy."  And even that wouldn't cut it.

I haven't found a good card for my aunts, who love me with that unconscious bias and goodwill that makes being in a family so cozy.

I haven't found a good card for my best friend's mom, my other mother, who raised my heart-sister and loved me through my unlovable teens.

To all the women who have mothered me - to the friends who mother alongside me - and to the people who have made me mother:

Thank you. I'm trying hard to live up to your examples ... thank you for your grace and commiseration when I fail.  I love you all so much.

PS Sorry I didn't send you a real card. I went to the store with three kids last Friday at 430pm ... not only was it impossible to find the right one, but I probably scared away the other shoppers with my traveling circus and scary-mom-voice and they didn't send you one either.

Xo.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Sidewalks, Poop, and Flashlights

Patrick and I are having an awesome getaway. We spent the day prowling around Toronto: buying presents for the kids and enjoying the sunshine. Today I'm wearing a beautiful blue sweater from my mom, and I feel gorgeous in it. It makes my belly pop, and I'm pretty happy about this baby, so I kind of like that I'm obviously showing these days.

Just as we were walking back to the hotel so I could enjoy putting my feet up a bit, we passed some people sitting on their front step. I smiled politely at them like a good Canadian, and suddenly one of the women shouted at me, "Oooh biiiig woman!"

Yup. She was calling me fat.

We kept walking. I wanted to tell her off, to call her on her rudeness, to dismiss her as trash. I wanted to say lots of mean things, because I was hurt.

I've always been sensitive about my size, but on this day when I was feeling especially lovely and evidently pregnant, it seemed to hurt extra.

My sister's yoga instructor recently encouraged her class to practice walking outside with their hands turned - palms up, 'to receive what the universe has to give.' So the next time she walked her dog, my skeptical sister decided to give it a shot. She uncurled her fists and flattened her palms toward the sky. And when she looked down to see what she'd been given, she had to laugh. In her hands were two unsurprising items: a flashlight and a bag of dog poop. Her life tools, perhaps?

And it keeps sticking in my head because it's funny - and kind of true in a big simple sense. The things people give us can either make it easier to walk our path - like flashlights - or they can make it harder - yep, like piles of dog poop.

And when I'm walking along minding my own business and someone hands me a big stinky glob, I just want to hurl it right back. Which, I know, is precisely the opposite of what Jesus wants me to do.  Because He gave me His lamp - His word - and it says to do good to those who are unkind to me. 

So I get to choose. Every time. Do I return evil for evil, or do I turn on my flashlight and step around it instead?

Today, turning on my flashlight looked like walking by without retorting.  Even though I'm pretty fiery of temper.  Even though she was mean.  Even though I felt my face burn with a pretty harsh combination of anger and embarrassment. 

I get to choose.  And sometimes I do let my temper reign, and find myself regretfully cleaning it up later.  But for every stinky mess I encounter, God quietly reminds me I am not without light. 

God bless you, friends. May your sidewalks always be clear - and if they aren't, may your flashlight be bright.

Xo.