The Gift

It has happened. I have turned not just another year older, but another decade older.  All with the passing of one day.  Funny how so much can change between a sunset and a sunrise.  How something that was always on its way, feels like it came suddenly.

Son Rise

As my husband discovered the ill-fated birthday he came home to hear me belting out Joni Mitchell to loud sobs, my birthday can leave me melancholy. Oh, I wish I had a river so long, I would teach my feet to fly. I wish I had a river, I could skate away on . . . Every year on the day that marks my passing of time, I can’t help but look back and wonder if I’ve been enough.  I usually come up short.  Sometimes I want to skate away from it all.

This year is different. I haven’t had to look back and wonder.  Enough has been the theme.  I’m not enough and don’t have enough.  It’s like the itchy sweater that wears so close I can’t forget I’ve got it on, or the cheeky jack-in-the-box popping up to surprise me when I forget.  Uncomfortable at best, scary at worst.

This is the year I saw more clearly, my gift is in the lack.

You know that dream most everybody has? The dream where you’re in front of lots of people only to discover you’re not clothed?  You can’t hide what you really want to keep covered?

I sort of feel like that. Except it hasn’t been a nightmare because nobody laughed.  Instead they got up and covered me.  They shared what they had and my lack became enough.  What I couldn’t do alone, became a burden shared with joy.  When I didn’t have and couldn’t get, trickles became rivers of generosity.

I lack the words. How do you say thank you to grace that doesn’t run away from ugly exposure but moves closer to cover it?  How do you accept with humble gratitude, more?  More than you expected with more grace than you deserve?  How does a mere mortal live beside and walk with the heavenly?

I have been gifted with stripping away and exposure to be covered by more than enough. I didn’t wake up singing about a river I could skate away on, but rather woke up breathing out praise.  Because in the grace of ordinary people who are no mere mortals, I have felt the breath of heaven.  I have seen the greatest gifts wait for those who lack.

When you know you’re not enough, the sunset that birthed a Son-rise, is the best news. A new day with a Saviour in a manger.  When a baby is wrapped up like a gift and laid in a feeding trough to the song of Glory, you can know there will be enough.  Because the morning that was always on its way has finally dawned, and not enough becomes more than enough because the baby covers us.

It is the start of my new year and there is much ahead of me.  The stripping away has unwrapped the gift.  He will be enough.

This is my story, this is my song,

Praising my Saviour, all the day long.

The Dance

I want to tell you a story, but I don’t know quite how to start.

Do I start by saying that I need to get real and tell you the truth? No.  That doesn’t feel right because it has all been real and I have always tried to share the truth – about me and my situation, and about the One who is Truth.

Do I start by saying today you are more likely to cry than to laugh? No.  That doesn’t feel right either, because I don’t write to ‘make’ you feel anything in particular.  We are human beings created with emotions and feelings and they just kind of ooze and seep.  Sometimes we are laughing when others are crying and it can feel like that’s not right.  Sometimes we are crying when others are laughing and it definitely doesn’t feel right.  It is the human condition.

This is a story tied up with kittens.

I have watched them grow. The older they get the harder they are to contain and suddenly they are climbing into everything, onto everything, and they are everywhere.

Perhaps that is the way with this story. At first it was small and fit easily into a box.  I padded it with soft things and closed the door on it at the end of the day.  But it grew and kept wanting to climb out of the box and sneak out the door.  Even when I want to keep it locked up, it leaks out.  I would rather laugh than cry – it feels better.  Most of the time.  Oddly enough, not always.  If you are sharing your time with me, I would rather see you laugh than cry.  Except if you can’t.

The story I’m trying to tell you, is that this past year has been a dance. It has been a dance that has sometimes made it hard to breathe.

Early in spring, Momma Cat gave birth to a litter of kittens. They were born in the wee hours of the morning, as our day was beginning.  By the time the fullness of the day was upon us they had all slipped from life into death.  My children had dreamed of each having their own little kitten to love and care for and play with, and instead they laid four little kittens gently in the earth and watered them with tears.  That morning my husband stayed with my children to dig a grave and bury dreams.  That morning I stepped out tentatively to serve in a way that had been my dream.

Birth danced on the edge of a grave.

The first weekend in summer, as day turned to night, Momma Cat gave birth to another litter of kittens. As the sun slipped away to mark the end of a day, four more kittens were born.  It was the day we stood on the edge of another grave.  The day dear family lowered beauty into the coolness of earth, wet with tears.

Every day one of these little kittens tumbles across my path, I am reminded of how life and death have danced.

This year took my breath away.

I have seen more beauty and experienced greater joy than any one person can contain. I have worked with women for whom words are not adequate so I relegate them to the realm of music.  Their kind of beauty is best felt.  Experienced.  I have come to know many women from many places and situations and I am at a loss to describe how amazing it is to be part of a group of women such as these.  In the safety of their support I have stepped out to serve in ways I hadn’t dreamed I could before.

This year has made it hard to breathe.

Beauty has shared a seat with that which is decidedly not.

I have watched my husband fight. I see him fall and get kicked while he’s down, and I know sometimes, he wants to stay down.  But I have seen him glance at me and the kids and get up to fight again.  Every.  Single.  Time.  Because he’s fighting for us.  And I want to show him how much I love him by fighting in his place.  But I can’t.  Because I’m not strong enough.  And I don’t know how.

I am watching my kids adjust to a new school. And they are being brave.  And they are strong.  But I know it’s hard and that sometimes even when they are not alone, they are lonely.  And I want to wrap my Mommy arms around them and tell them it’s all going to be okay.  I won’t let anything or anyone hurt them.  But I can’t promise them that because it’s not true.  And just like they had to learn to crawl and then to walk, they will have to learn to dance.

I’ve had doctors appointments where they tell me there is something growing where it shouldn’t. I have waited with the unknown, battling fear.  I have felt the relief of hearing it’s not the big one.  But they still have to cut it out.  And I am scared.  I don’t want any more cutting away.  It hurts.

This year laughter and tears have walked side by side. Joy and pain have danced as awkward partners.  One does not make the other less real.  Maybe, they each make the other more real.

rainbow

Our last weekend of summer holidays my family sat on a hill by a lake. We waited for fireworks and music.  As the sun slipped away, having done its work of warming the day, the clouds crept in with the darkness.  They could not contain their fullness and opened over us.

Cold and wet we sat in the dark watching for bursts of light. Raindrops chased the tears down my cheeks as I watched my brave, strong family huddle together under sleeping bags, determined to see the light in the night.

I cried for the dance. Because sometimes it is so beautiful it takes your breath away.  Sometimes it hurts so bad it takes your breath away.

I think of how humanity was just dust until God breathed His breath into us.

And I choose to breathe again, even when it hurts. Maybe because it hurts.  Maybe because in the pain of each intake of breath I feel the whisper of the Almighty.

 

My flesh and my heart may fail,

but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Psalm 73:26

Mennonite Olympics

Every culture has their thing that they’re known for. In the inner circles.  By the members.  Usually it’s not the lofty creeds or inspiring words of the founding fathers.  It’s something more ‘rubber meets the road,’ an everyday life kind of thing.

I am a Mennonite. Our ‘things’ are God, food, and cleanliness.

The order is not written this way intentionally as all three are mysteriously interconnected with each other.  Try telling a Mennonite woman the adage, “Cleanliness is next to Godliness,” is not in the Bible.  I’ll bet you dollars to donuts (because I’m a Mennonite and deep fried dough is pretty appealing) that a strong Mennonite woman can spin a couple of verses to convince you that while the words may not be there, the thought certainly is.

Enter the church potluck. The Olympics of Mennonite culture.  It is here the things we value deeply are put on display for all to see.

Pride is not something Mennonites look kindly upon. In fact, our founding father placed emphasis on simple living, shunning the sin of pride.  Therefore, the church potluck is an event ripe with temptation.

On the surface it may appear this is a women’s only event. It may seem that men are only passive participants.  If you truly believe this, you have either married into the Mennonite culture, or though you were born in, you have lived among the English for too long.

Don’t get me wrong, if your husband cooks at home, that had better be your family secret. The cooking component of the event is not open to male participation.  It is also best not to send him down to the church basement to deposit your casserole dish on the buffet table.  His presence will not be welcome; the expectation is that you will be the one to carefully position your dish.

If you’re new to this, don’t worry. You will not be alone.  A committee of woman will be walking through the process together.  They will practice moving through the buffet line, trying to decide if it makes sense to put the sausage casserole next to the wareniki one, or if these Mennonite delights should be spaced further apart.

During this time, it is your responsibility to ensure your dish is expertly located next to one that will show yours off to its fullest potential.  Young Mennonite women dream of the time that their dish is moved to the front of the line; it is here the full impact of hungry stomachs and culinary craft collide.

There are some liberal men who will insist on carrying the casserole dish down for their Frau’s. (Again, if it’s because he has cooked it and wants to navigate the complexities of buffet placement himself, you must keep this to yourself!)  The man who carries the dish down must be well prepared with a series of off-hand comments that sound natural and unrehearsed.

“Where would you like me to put this?”

“I’ve carried this for my Frau as it is such a hearty dish loaded with meat and potatoes I feared it was too heavy for her.”

“Sorry to impose on you – I’m on my way to set up tables and chairs and needed to carry the casserole dish because my Frau’s arms are full carrying the baby(s).”

Any of these will do.

The initial phase of the competition is for the women.  But men have a critical role to play too. When the time comes to load up the plate, they must be focused and strategic.  There will be much temptation to give in to base desire and simply choose the food that looks best.  The buffet table is a minefield of temptation.  However, a strong Mennonite man will not succumb.

He will have trained and prepared on the drive to church and will know which dish belongs to his wife.  This sounds simple, but there will be similar casseroles in confusingly homogeneous dishes.  Often times casserole dishes are passed down, and though they have been used for generations they still look brand new because they have never seen the inside of a dishwasher.  It is critical to know if your wife brought the white dish with the blue flowers or the white dish with the green ones.  Does your wife’s casserole have the onions, or is it the one without?

Knowing which dish belongs to his wife, it is imperative the husband also be aware of where the dish is located on the buffet table so he can be sure to save room on his plate for her food.  There will be temptations and distractions, especially for the husband whose beloved’s dish is at the end of the table, but he must stay focused and be strong.  Many men have the added stress of attending the same church as Grandmothers, Mothers, Sisters, and Mothers-in-law.  The complexity of their role increases in direct proportion to the size of their family.

The men walk through the line first as they women look on in eager anticipation. They blush as their husband toss around comments like, “We were almost late for church because my Frau had to go get the vegetables out of the garden at the last minute so they were fresh.”

They nod humbly as their husband’s stifle yawns and stage murmur, “Sorry I’m a little tired.  My wife came to bed late after putting the casserole together last night.  She likes it to be able to sit overnight so all the flavours come together nicely.”

There are tense moments when husbands go all ‘deer in the headlights’ when confronted with nearly identical casseroles in similar dishes while wives try desperately to make eye-contact and offer support.

Finally, stomachs are full and the Mennonite Olympics come to an end. Medal winners are hand washing casserole dishes that have been scraped clean, while those who did not place are humbly putting plastic wrap or tin foil over their leftovers.  For them, it will be a quiet ride home.

The husband has two options. The first is to avoid eye-contact and be silent.  Do not comment on the plumpness of your mother’s warenikis or the tenderness of your mother-in-law’s sausages.  Simply ride home in silence.  You will compete again on another day.

The second option, and you must play this right, is to comment on how there was way too much food, was it because there was much less people than normal? (You must have a keen awareness of average attendance before trying this one.) Perhaps you can slide in a comment on how secretly you’re glad there are leftovers, because now you can look forward to supper tomorrow.  Tone is everything.  You must convey both enthusiasm and longing and never allow fatalism or resignation to linger on the fringes.

Many a Sunday afternoon nap has ended up with husband and wife in separate rooms because he has remarked how good the food was and how full he is, before noticing the casserole dish of leftovers on his wife’s lap.

The Mennonite Olympics are not mere cultural musings for me.

I have competed.

I created a dish that was both nourishing and delicious.  To top it off, it was beautiful.  It was in a brand new red dish that looked antique.  I was sure it would be the first to disappear.

In a well-engrained bout of Mennonite efficiency, I attempted to carry the dish in one arm, my baby in the other, while still holding the hand of my barely one-year old.

It ended catastrophically. The dish fell.  And broke.  The baby cried.  The one-year old was splattered with what could have been the pride of the potluck.

I showed up late with a terrible secret. The contents of my dish had been picked off the floor.  It was a freshly washed floor, of course, and I only took that which had not touched the floor directly, but there was no hiding the fact it was an end of table dish.

I had learned a quintessentially Mennonite, and definitely human, lesson. Where there is pride, a fall is sure to follow.

I Have Kids, They Ride a Bus

September is once again upon us. I’m not sure how it snuck up so quickly.  I can’t exactly recall how the lazy amble of July rolled into August and the summer slipped by; but it did.

Now the days of playing outside in various states of dress/undress have been replaced with my stern reprimands of, “Yes you must put on both a top and a bottom. People are going to see you.”

‘Mornings’ of eating breakfast at what would be much closer to lunch, have been exchanged with eating at a time they used to be asleep and needing a lunch that can be transported in a backpack. (I have heard in my ‘Mom circles’ that sending a can of Alphagetti’s with a can opener is frowned upon.) (But seriously, who has ever even been tempted to do that?!)

My kids have been back in school for a week and I have no pictures to prove it. Because the calendar still said August; I just couldn’t.  As per last September’s post, I Have Kids, They Go to School, you will just have to trust me on this one.

But something has changed this year. Last year I just had kids that went to school.  This year, I have kids who ride a bus.  Some of you are familiar with this magical orange mechanical device that transports your children from place of residence to place of learning.  If you are one of those Moms to whom this ‘bus’ thing is almost mundane, perhaps ordinary, take a moment to glimpse life from the other side.

From September through June, thousands, maybe even hundreds of thousands of moms, (could it be millions?!) load their little darlings into the family vehicle to transport them to school. These unsung heroes marshal their troops with the courage of a five-star general.  Backpacks?  Check.  Lunches?  Check.  Water bottles?  Check.

Sound-off as you buckle your seatbelt.

And go.

And guys, this is a big deal – harder than it may sound. Because while Mom is the general, it often feels like her troops are fighting for the resistance. At least one is always MIA, and there are some who behave like POWs.  A search party has to be sent out to locate and extract before the transport can depart.  Once located, do you send the reluctant POW with only one shoe, or do you adjust the schedule to find the second?  Decisions like these need to be made in the heat of the battle; you don’t have time to second guess.  The school bell sounds when it will sound, and it waits for no one.

Stage one of the battle is executed. Troops are locked and loaded, the engine is started, transport is underway.  Our brave and tireless General distributes rations (and there is never enough) while fighting traffic and racing against the always threatening warning bell.  At last she arrives at her destination.  The doors slide open as children and garbage spill out.

Our fearless leader turns to head home.  Surrounded by eerie silence and evidence of the battle.  Evidence that very likely hides a water bottle, a lunch kit, a back pack, or a shoe.  (Yes, shoe, not shoes.  I don’t know why.  I don’t know how.  I just know it to be true.)  And as brave Mom surveys the battlefield through her rear-view mirror, she knows that in less than six hours she will engage again.

That, my familiar with a certain orange mechanical piece of magic friend, is life from the other side.

But this year I am one of you. This year, I have kids who ride a bus.  Every morning a kind, though slightly frazzled looking lady, pulls up in a bus, opens the door and Lets. My. Children. In.  I share a nod of solidarity and a closed fist heart thump with her as the doors slide closed.   Every afternoon, these same doors open, and my children walk off of this bus.  They have been to school and back.

This lady, who shall remain nameless, has gone to war on my behalf.

Because sometimes the battle is too big and you need someone to fight in your place.  And that’s okay.

When the Music Plays . . .

It was a quiet afternoon. I was working at the table with Max sprawled across several chairs beside me, lazily flipping through his sister’s piano book.

Suddenly, he sat bolt upright, his bright eyes snapping. “Mom, listen to the words of this song,” he breathed excitedly.  Curious as to what so captured a seven-year-old boy in a beginner piano book, I leaned in as he read,

“Pancakes, pancakes, yum, yum, yum.

Pancakes, pancakes, yum, yum, yum.

I love pancakes.”

The last phrase was still trailing from his lips as he leapt from his chair and ran to the piano in the office, clutching the book.

The quiet afternoon slipped away in the cacophony of discordant inspiration as Max spent the next half hour or so playing piano.  He banged out his version of the Pancake Song, singing lustily.  He went on to compose several more Odes to his favourite foods, as well as songs of appreciation for Charlie the dog and Grey the cat.

And then he was done and the ‘music’ ended.

Sometimes what could be music plays all around us. But we don’t hear it.

Until we do.

music2

On the day we hear the music may we respond with the unpolished enthusiasm of Max.

 

 

Then sings my soul

My Saviour

God

to Thee,

How great Thou art . . .

Soft

We were leaving the home where my Grandma lived, piling into the mini-van in comfortable chaos. Above the noise, I heard Koby speaking, “Mommy.”

Making sure everyone was buckled up, I turned to him as we pulled out of the parking lot. Driving away from Grandma.  Unaware of time’s relentless march, and that we had just seen Grandma with the breath of life in her, for the last time.

“What, Koby,” I asked.

“Mommy. Your Grandma is so soft.  It’s ok with me if you want to look like her.”

Tears rushed to my eyes at his sweetly innocent words. Because, you see, I have battled against the kind of softness he was referring to most of my adult life.  I wilt inside every time one of the kids hugs me and gushes about how soft I feel.

I have fought softness.

But my Grandma, whose name ‘Maria’ which means bitter, was soft.

When I look at the circumstances of her life, it looks more like a battlefield; a valley of dry bones. She faced much that wasn’t easy.  She could have succumbed to bitterness and let it make her hard.

Because bitterness can do that. It can suck life, eat away softness, and leave nothing but dry dust.  Death comes slowly as decay devours softness leaving dry, hard, bones.

But Grandma lived in defiance of her name.  She resisted the pull of bitterness, and let life fill her. I look at pictures and see the filling and the softening.  I see how more of life brought her more softness.  I see how the filling expanded her.

Grandma5Grandma4Grandma3Grandma2Grandma

He that believed on Me, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. John 7:38

People once believed that belly to be the seat of life.

When the belly is filled with the Bread of Life and Living Water, the fullness of it softens you and spills out.

And I wonder why I fight so hard against the softness.

Why have I let a world conditioned to hardness, to gnawing aching huger, blow its dry wind over me?  Why do I look into emaciated eyes for answers?

The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry.

And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?

And I answered, “O Lord God, you know.”

Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.

Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.”

So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.

What if we let God raise up an army of people not afraid to surrender their bitter valleys of dry bones for a River gushing life? An army of people who embrace the filling and seek the softening.  People who break and share the Bread that is offered in overflowing baskets to the multitudes of hungry?

What if we became an army with rivers of Life gushing from our bellies?

We placed my Grandma’s body in the grave. We put it there because there was no more breath of life left in her.

It sounds like the end of hope. It sounds like in the end, the softness did just become dry bones.

But it didn’t.  Because God wasn’t done yet.  God tells Ezekiel that these bones are the chosen people of God, and that the people are saying that their bones are dried up and their hope is lost.

No. The grave isn’t the end of hope. There is always the breath of the Spirit . . .

Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people.

And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people.

And I will put my Spirit within you,

and you shall live!

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city . . .

 

(Italics taken from Ezekiel 37:1-14, and Revelation 22)

 

 

If You Have to Feed it With a Stick . . .

It had been a long week. My to-do list was happily spitting out another bullet point every time I turned my back, mocking my efforts to stay on top of it.  Our Sunday evening church service felt like the first time I could sit back and relax.  And I did.  Until I started mentally running through my list for the coming week.

Right at the top of the list – kid’s lunches. A mental trip through my fridge and pantry assured me that no matter how creative my efforts, my children would not be taking anything sensible for lunch unless we stopped at a grocery store on the way home.

As soon as we pulled into the grocery store parking lot, there was a chorus from the back of the van,

“I’m starving.”

“We haven’t even had supper.”

“My stomach is eating itself.”

“How are we supposed to survive without food; it doesn’t work, you know.”

Though it sounds dire, this is a predictable pattern. We almost always eat before heading to church.  The church always provides a substantial snack after the service.  And yet every Sunday this refrain is repeated.  We assured the children that our plan has never been to starve them, and that the whole purpose of our trip to the store was to purchase some form of sustenance for them.

Knowing a ‘quick’ shopping trip with four kids is an impossibility, Rob and I turned up the radio, opened some windows, and locked the doors, before heading into the grocery store without our offspring. We raced through the aisles with great efficiency, made it through the line-up incident free, and drove our overflowing cart out the doors in record time.

As is likely always the case, starved prisoners are quick to spot approaching rations. Our children began calling to us through the open windows as soon as we entered their line of sight.

I shoved a bunch of bananas and a pack of croissants into Rob’s hands and asked him to distribute the food while I quickly put the groceries in the back of the van.

Now, we are used to getting looks from passing strangers, and most of the time it’s warranted. But as I was loading the groceries into the van, I noticed a lady watching us very closely.  She walked slowly and lingered a little before calling out as she passed by, “Are they wild?”

Rob answered with something I didn’t hear, I laughed and shrugged. But inside I was a little offended.  I mean, yes, they are loud and a little crazy, but they’re mine.  And it’s one thing for me to make comments about them, but it’s another thing when comments come from a complete stranger in a situation where they seem unwarranted.

I parked the empty cart and hopped into my seat before turning to Rob. I noticed he was chuckling to himself.  “What was that all about,” I questioned him.  Rob laughed and proceeded to tell me, that he had never even opened the van door.  He had been shoving bananas and croissants at greedy hands reaching through open windows.

hungry lion

Sort of like using a stick to push a carcass at a hungry lion.

And I got to thinking. Is there anything I’m feeding from a distance?  Things I’m pushing food at from behind my side of a protective barrier?

Because, maybe, if you have to feed it with a stick, you shouldn’t.

Sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.

Genesis 4:7

Bounce

A friend and I were texting each other pictures of ourselves from before we had kids; admiring each other – and ourselves. (Just being honest here). We dwelt in the ‘then’ for a while before we returned back to ‘now’ when my friend texted, “And they say you bounce right back after having kids. Bah humbug is what I have to say about that!”
My experience after having kids – you don’t bounce back, you just bounce.
Your brain bounces around between who likes mayo on their sandwich and who doesn’t. Who eats green things but nothing red and who eats red food but none of their food can touch. Who has to sleep with the door open and light on and who can’t sleep until it’s dark and the door is closed.
Your time bounces between laundry and school projects.  Did you pay the guitar teacher twice but forget to pay the piano teacher? It bounces between husband, kids, friends, and family until you call out the dog’s name for your husband and your brother’s name for your son.
Your body bounces. Yes. It is bounced off of. It is bounced on. And then one day, when nobody is bouncing on or off you, you notice it’s just bouncing on its own.
All that bouncing is starting to make me feel like I’m landing in a mid-life crisis. I always thought I’d be a career woman – a mover and a shaker. I feel like I’m just shaking.
I’m not even trying to hit the world’s ideal, just my own. Still, I can feel lost and unimportant. Not pretty enough. Not thin enough. Not smart enough. Not accomplished enough. Like those crazy bouncy balls my boys love to get from vending machines. Fun for the first while but soon left bouncing aimless and unattended in a corner.

bouncy ball.png
But He calls me loved.
He calls me chosen.
He has a plan for my life.
And when His plan for my life ends, He will bring me home to glory.
That’s enough to put the bounce back into my step.
Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.
2 Thessalonians 2:16-17
May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.
2 Thessalonians 3:5

Risk

Warning: Some issues will be exposed in this post and I will not come out looking good. However, what I am about to share with you is all true; at least two family members can vouch for it.

I have an issue with games. As far as I can tell it applies to all games but not to all people I play against.  There are many situations in which I can play games while behaving respectably and enjoying myself.  However, put me in competition against my husband and I will do most anything to win, losing most rational thought and action in the process.

We were well into our marriage before we discovered the problem. Rob and I were on the Spanish Canary Islands for our fifth wedding anniversary.  Up until that point, it had been a beautiful holiday; relaxing and enjoyable.  One evening, tired from a long day out on the ocean, we decided against any more activity and chose to sit on our balcony which overlooked both the ocean and the resort pool.

Lulled into a false sense of peace one of us suggested we pull out a deck of cards and play a game of Buy. (No idea if it’s Bye, By, or Buy . . . )

I’m ashamed to say how quickly the quiet evening turned into a fighting match that only ended with one of us storming down to the pool to cool off. (Yes, it was me.  In my defence, Rob had a statistically disproportionate number of wild cards in every single hand.)  For the sake of our vacation, and perhaps even our marriage, we decided to put the deck of cards back in the suitcase for the remainder of the trip.

The problem surfaced here and there after that but did not have much opportunity to manifest as our lives were busy with work and then with four young children.

The children are growing and recent years find us with more leisure time for each other.  This is a good thing.  Mostly.

So I was surprised by the heated trash talk that emerged during a game of Sequence a couple of years ago.  Rob and I both insisted we were the better player.  Having reached an impasse and needing to know for sure, we decided to place a notebook in the game box to keep track of important statistics such as wins, loses, and number of wild cards used by each player in order to find out for certain.  We tracked statistics for almost a year before conceding that surprisingly, we were very evenly matched.

This détente lulled me into a sense that my problem with games was mostly under control.  I was shocked when the war flared up in earnest again this year.  The carnage quickly grew to epic proportions.

risk1

Our oldest son is quite the game player himself, so this Christmas he innocently asked for the game of Risk, and we happily gifted him with it.  No one could foresee that our first-born son would unwittingly become the pawn in our quest for global domination.

Early into our first game an unexpected problem arose. You see, for me to decimate Rob, I would have to annihilate Shay in the process.  I couldn’t do it.  I could not look at the precious little boy who still feels like my baby and knock him out of the game he was so happily playing.  Rob, on the other hand, had no such inhibitions.  He did whatever it took to win.

The game swung between two extremes. Either I was freaking out at Rob for crushing his own child – calling him heartless, cruel, a despot – or I was freaking out at Shay for standing in the way of my quest for power.  It became such, that Shay was banned from playing the very game he had been gifted with, and was relegated to placing troops for the neutrals while Rob and I fought to the death.  (I know.  It’s not my proudest moment.  Through the catharsis of writing this post I am convicted of my behaviour.  Henceforth Shay will be allowed to play and can do so confident he will not face verbal assault from me.)

The funny thing is, after Shay had been kicked out of the game and it was just Rob and I playing, I noticed a weakness in my strategy. When I got to the point in the game where I felt confident of victory I would ease back.  Seeing the Blue Crush dominate the board, I would let up on the Red Army rather than finish it off quickly.  My offence was anemic and my defence was lax.  The result was I lost ground to the enemy.  (A couple times I just lost a few battles, but one time I completely lost the war.)  Because I was scared Rob would feel so bad about losing that he wouldn’t want to play with me anymore, I went easy on him.  (I know!! Am I 10?!)

I can’t help but wonder, how much risk are we willing to take in the real battle we fight? Are we lulled into a false sense of confidence that causes us to ease up the attack?  Do we concede ground to what we love or to that which seems safe or familiar?

Or do we fight like everything is on the line?

Because it is.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.  1 Corinthians 9:24

But as for you, O man of God, flee these things [cravings that make you wander away from the faith and that pierce you with many pangs (verse 10)]. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. 

Fight the good fight of the faith.  Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 1 Timothy 6:11-12

May I reach the end of my fight and be able to say . . .

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. 2 Timothy 4:7-8

I Still Do

Many years ago today we committed our lives to each other. The decision was based somewhat on emotion; we were in love.  It was based mostly on naiveté; we really knew very little of each other and what we were getting ourselves into.  It was based completely on the fact we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together; through better and worse until death parted us.

The better and worse of time has changed us. What I know of you has grown.  Our love has expanded.  The passage of time has grown us richer.  Not because time itself makes anything better, but because of how we’ve chosen to spend our time.  Being together.  Sharing more of ourselves with each other.  Giving more of ourselves for each other.

Though we still don’t love each other perfectly, we do love each other better. Our compassion grows as our mutual need for grace softens the hard edges.

We’ve passed the years with shared intimacy. Running to each other first.  Living through moments we’d never share with another.  Holding on tight when temptation threatens to pull us apart.

Years of frustration, hurt, and pain have forced us to tear down what’s been poorly constructed and to start building again.  With years of memories, experiences, and love neither of us fully understands or feels we deserve.

It hasn’t always been fun or easy, but it’s been beautiful. In that beautiful way that channels are carved across the landscape of one’s life to make room for love to flow.

And I marvel that this institution of marriage is a picture given to us by our Creator God.

A picture of faithful covenant.

Of steadfast love.

Of undeserved favour.

This knowing completely yet loving deeply.

And I will betroth you to me forever.

I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice,

in steadfast love and in mercy.

I will betroth you to me in faithfulness.

And you shall know the LORD.

Hosea 2:19-20

couple

Expectation

Expectation – a tricky thing at any time, but a significantly greater land mine at this time of year. I know this from personal experience.  The pressure to meet these expectations is in large part what keeps me so busy during this season.

christmas hope

Junior (x4) needs to bring cookies for the class Christmas party. I flirt with the idea of sending bags of Oreos.  But I can’t.  For I know the expectation leans more heavily toward hand decorated Christmas trees.

We are heading over the hills and through the woods to celebrate Christmas at Grandmother’s house. I can’t shake the compulsive need to leave the house immaculate in the event my family never returns.  Should others need to enter our home, what would they think of me if they were to discover cluttered closets and sticky floors?  (My apologies should the unthinkable happen.  The above scenario is a very real possibility.)

Every item of clothing we own must be washed before I can leave.  What if we were to return, but to a catastrophe of epic proportions?  Wouldn’t I feel better knowing my family would face the frightening and unexpected with reserves of clean underwear?

I think my spouse and I have communicated travel expectations, only to discover that he does not view the departure time he threw out there as a wish/dream/best-case-scenario.  He actually intends for all luggage to be loaded and members of the family to be buckled in their seats and out on the open road by then.

And don’t get me started on the fact that my birthday, Christmas, and our anniversary all fall within nine days of each other. I start the season with festive excitement, convinced this year it won’t matter that two significant days get absorbed into the hustle and bustle of a wonderful family Christmas.  But every year I find myself quietly shrugging back the disappointment of unmet expectation.  (Except the one year I lay with my head on the kitchen table sobbing and mournfully singing the lyrics of ‘I Wish I Had a River I Could Skate Away On . . .’ That year unmet expectation did not die quietly or with any measure of grace.)

Expectation – the burden of Christmas for thousands of years.

The world waited for a coming Messiah; a conquering King to throw off oppression. Instead, they knelt before a helpless baby.

The world longed for the brightness of the star to chase away darkness. Instead, many parents closest to this Redeemer had their own babies ripped from their arms by a cruel despot.

We wait.

We long.

For security, for peace, for great joy.

Expectation.  The hope of Christmas’ for thousands of years.

We cling to hope.

A sure hope.

A hope that will not disappoint.

A hope that will blow our expectations out of this world.

“Let’s go Christmas shopping together as a family,” we said. On a Saturday two weeks before Christmas, no less.

“This is a good idea, we will make memories as a family,” we thought.

Well, we did make memories. We were right about that.

It had been a long time of tough slogging. Too much pressure.  Too many meals that eerily echoed a previous blog post (https://aspaceforgrace.me/2015/10/13/recipe-monday-on-a-tuesday/).

Yet, struck with a sudden jolt of Christmas spirit, we decided to head out for pizza and wings, see some lights, and do a little Christmas shopping together.

Having enjoyed our supper, we marched into Toys ‘R’ Us undaunted by the full parking lot. The six of us armed ourselves with five carts and entered the stimulus overload that is a toy store at Christmas.  We barrelled in with enthusiastic shouts of, “Hey, look at this . . . Mom check this out . . . Can I have this for Christmas . . . I can’t see anything they’re all walking in front of me . . .”

We jostled down the narrow corridor.  Six people, five carts, oh please don’t knock anything over . . . the sweat started rolling.

We are sort of an event unto ourselves because of the sheer size of our group. But somehow we feel the need to add to the show.

Early in the shopping trip we discovered that after having many meals which consisted of the aforementioned cereal and toast, pizza and wings can wreak havoc on one’s digestive system.  Let’s just say that I bore no responsibility, but also no small amount of shame, for the cloud that persistently followed us around.

It was clear we needed to split up. In an admittedly cowardly move, I relegated the troops to head general and snuck off on my own to pick up a couple of things I’d been wanting to buy.  Yes, I heard them occasionally.  I saw glimpses of them as I snuck inconspicuously up and down aisles.  But for the most part, I enjoyed my shopping.

Until I couldn’t. Until the shouts, “Mom.  Mom!  MOM!!” were no longer able to be ignored.

I suddenly realized that if they could see me they could see the cart.  Having no layers I could part with, I immediately petitioned my husband to sacrifice layers of clothing for the joy of preserving Christmas surprise.  He grumbled about how far I was going to take this, and I assured him only comfort would be foregone no laws would be broken.

Down to a t-shirt (yes, despite his suspicions otherwise, he was allowed to keep his pants) we joined our offspring standing in front of a display of goods that ensured they could shoot stuff at each other and not get hurt.  Several of our darlings had decided that if they pooled their money together and didn’t buy gifts for anyone in the family they could buy this Styrofoam wonder.

Upon hearing they were being forced into giving and selflessness a mutiny broke out. There was loud lamenting about the dictatorship being run and no small amount of dissension against its perceived leaders.  Into the noise one dear child attempted to inconspicuously release the by-product of his supper, while another happily chattered noisily about all the wonders her eyes beheld.

It was loud. It was smelly.  It was stressful.  We had to escape.

And thus we did.

After braving a long line up and a runaway cart we pulled out of the parking lot with no small amount of relief.

We should have stopped there. We should have known better.  But once cocooned in the somewhat less chaotic confines of our mini-van, we suffered enough delusion to think we could make one small stop at the grocery store.

We were out of milk, and eating dry cereal – well, that’s just crossing too many boundaries.

We all went into the store. Again.

You see, the children had decided that if they bought each other a chocolate bar for Christmas, they would have three whole chocolate bars to themselves.  And, if they requested a different one from each sibling, they would also have a variety.  It was a genius idea they thought.

For the second time that evening, a family of six with five carts descended upon a store. We were all at the end of our reserves and chaos quickly ensued.

“Stop looking at my cart!” they shouted.

“Now he knows what he’s getting from me,” one cried.

“My arms can’t carry this flat of pop anymore, I’m dying!” wailed another. (Case of pop – a whole new story/conspiracy)

“Where are the bathrooms?!?!?!?” came a final loud and desperate cry.

We descended upon the checkout. Six people.  Five carts.  Five separate transactions.  One store loyalty key fob mysteriously missing from my key chain.

I should have let it go.  I should have succumbed and allowed everyone to pay full price.  I could not.  I am a Mennonite.  The savings is only ten cents a chocolate bar, you may say.  But times that by twelve.  That’s a free chocolate bar.  We don’t take those things lightly.

A young girl stands behind the register. Flustered I think by the size of our group.  Unsure of who goes with whom.  Confused by so many children buying so many chocolate bars while incessantly yelling at each other to stop looking at my stuff!  And completely baffled by one stressed out Momma who keeps shouting out one of four possible phone numbers in an effort to save a dime.

Merry Christmas.

This was our attempt to get into the spirit of the season. Because in all honesty, it’s been hard this year.  I’d love peace on earth and goodwill toward men, but truthfully, peace in our own house has been hard to come by.  There is a heaviness and a hurting.

Kind of like the first Christmas I guess. Yeah, there were the shepherds in the field who got the wow moment with angels singing to them and the amazing announcement from heaven itself.  There were the wise men who had a pretty spectacular road trip on camels while following a star.

But for the most part, the first waiting broken by the arrival of Emmanuel, was quiet.  Hard to see.  Harder to understand.  There was no revolution.  No instant banishing of darkness.  Salvation came quiet and slow.

The light shines in the darkness.

The light shines.

But there is still darkness.

And we are waiting once again. Lighting candles in the darkness.

A second advent.

The world waits for a miracle

The heart longs for a little bit of hope

O Come O Come Emmanuel

Someday the light will not just shine into the darkness. Someday it will come to shatter the darkness.  Someday every tear shed by every longing heart will be wiped away by the Light of the World.

And hope will be non-existent.

Because there will be nothing left to hope for.

For all who wait

For all who hunger

For all who’ve prayed

For all who wonder

Behold your King – has come! Emmanuel!

 

Wake Up!

The first frost kisses the landscape with a blanket of silvery white. Everything is going to sleep.  The flowers we planted and watered, the trees we placed and coaxed to take root, they begin their slumber under the fresh cover.  Bold colours and busy bees quiet as the coming winter brings dormancy.  They sleep; it is as it should be.  The call to wake up must wait for spring.

hoarfrost

Yet it is against this serene backdrop that everything inside me cries, “Wake up!” Coming through several months of study in the book of Revelation my pulse is quickened with an awareness that though the season of slumber has come upon the land it must not come upon us.

The opening pages of Revelation tell us that this book is the revelation of Jesus Christ and it’s to show us what must soon take place.[1]  We are urged to read it, hear the words, and do them because the time is near.[2]

This is not the time to sleep.

Joshua Mitchell, a professor of political theory in the government department of Georgetown University, published an article entitled, “The Age of Exhaustion.” In this fascinating piece, Mitchell argues that having worked to secure our freedom we have lost the energy to do the work required to maintain or defend it. We don’t care so much if we lose the freedom, as long as those in power promise us security and entertainment.[3]  We follow politics not out of a desire to better our world, but to be entertained by the spectacle.  Barney becomes our philosopher; we are content with sharing is caring and everybody gets a prize.  We silence voices that dissent, not with public lynchings but with public shaming via social media.  We refuse to listen to each other but are slow to think for ourselves.[4]

In this age of exhaustion we are content to slumber. To answer the call to wake up seems like too much work.

The pages of Revelation are a wake-up call. They do not offer passive entertainment we can critique from our couch.  They urge, they push, they uncover – and it is all for our good if we will but listen.

In the beauty that is the gospel, extended invitation is always mixed in with the siren call.

Grace to you – undeserved, unmerited favour from Almighty God.

Peace to you – though sin has brought hostility between God and man, the One who is, and was, and is to come, offers the peace of restored relationship.[5]

The One who loves us – not because He has washed us clean but before He washes us – sets us free with His own blood.  He is coming back and every eye will see Him.[6]

And that will not be the time to wake up.

In the coming days/weeks, I hope to share some of the fruit of my study in Revelation. It is my greatest desire that what I write here will turn you to the pages of Scripture itself.

At the end of each entry, I’ll include a passage of Scripture and some points to think about.  I would love to see discussion break out over what you have read and where it has led your thoughts.  I write with a sense of urgency because time is short.  No, I don’t have a timeline.  I believe the Author of Scripture is far more interested in having you seek out the One who holds time rather than busy yourself seeking a timeline of events.  Time is short because we are wise to number our days.  Even 80 years is short in light of eternity.

Blessings to you my friends near and far – I anticipate the journey!

Read: Revelation Chapter 1:1-8

  • What are some different ways God is described in this passage (names/titles)
  • To be ‘blessed’ essentially means to be approved/find approval. According to Revelation 1:3, what are the blessings of this book?
  • In verse 6, who are we priests to? What does this mean about the direction of our focus?
  • Verse 7 talks about wailing. What do you think that’s referring to? How does Zechariah 12:10 and Matthew 24:30 help or change your understanding?
  • Read verse 8 and then read Exodus 3:14-15 – what is God saying about Himself?

[1] Revelation 1:1

[2] Revelation 1:3

[3] Joshua Mitchell, “Age of Exhaustion,” The American Interest, October 10, 2015

[4] Ibid

[5] Revelation 1:4

[6] Revelation 1:5-7

Secret to Life

My husband works in construction and uses this thing they call a wobble light. Obviously its purpose is to give light, but I can’t for the life of me figure out why it is constructed the way it is.  It appears to be unstable.  Like a strong wind could easily blow it around making light shine in unpredictable places.

wobble light

This has happened to me. At times I have decided that there is an issue or relationship in need of exposing light.  I have got out my bright light and tried to aim in one direction only to have the light wobble around and shine back on me.  (Like here for example.)

Earlier this month, my husband and oldest son went on a hunting trip with family. It was a male bonding, rite of passage experience.  (Or maybe it was all about the moose.  I honestly don’t know.  This is a part of their lives that completely eludes me.)

The first weekend they were gone I tucked the youngest three into bed and faced the long lonely evening stretching ahead of me. I decided to curl up on the couch and watch a movie that Rob would never watch with me.  Seldom content to do something halfway, I decided to watch the epitome of chick flicks.  It was called The Women and does not have even one male actor.

Now, when I watch a movie I tend to vacillate between two extremes. I either surrender myself completely to the emotion of the movie and refuse to question any degree of unbelieveability.  Should anyone mention that the scene is ridiculous, cheesy, or completely improbable, I will silence them with a look.  (Pride and Prejudice, Little Women, Ever After, You’ve Got Mail . . . )  My other reaction is to attempt to completely deconstruct the movie looking for cultural assumptions or world views that are being promoted and use this as a trigger for deep philosophical discussion.

This particular movie made me do the later – probably because I didn’t like any of the characters enough to want to lose myself in their story. The main character was experiencing breakdown in several areas of her life. A light had been shone on the things that defined her, and so to cope she was processing these revelations at a spa.  Having reached her ‘breaking’ point, she needed to decide if she should break away from what had been and forge something new, or should she break away from all that could be and return to what was.  The movie was building up to the turning point of the story, the scene that changed everything.

It was a scene that lacked any sense of subtlety.  The main character turns to her roommate for advice, and her roommate sits her down to explain what she calls her secret to life.

“Don’t give a ______ about anybody. Be selfish.  Because once you ask yourself the question, ‘what about me?’ everything changes for the better.  I mean, after all, who are you? What do you want?”

The main character spends a restless night tossing and turning before returning home. She takes the advice to heart and pursues what she really wants.  In true Hollywood style, the result is spectacular success on every level.  Armed with a new look and a new career, she makes the people in her life sit up and take notice.

Part of me sitting there and watching wanted to point my finger at the rest of the world. Isn’t that the problem with our world? Isn’t a large part of our problem the fact that everyone is so fixated on caring for themselves above all else they have little regard for others or opposition? (Having emerged from the circus that was our federal election, I could speculate that this is what’s wrong with our country.)

But the wobbly light turned back on me. Because the other part of me sitting on that couch wanted to ask myself the questions posed by the roommate and just run with it.  This part of me wanted to listen to the seductive whisper that asked me to imagine what all I could become if I got really selfish.  What kind of image and name could I build for myself if I started every day with ‘what about me?’

Forget the world for right now, selfishness and pride are the problems that most taint my marriage, my parenting, and my other relationships. Forget the rest of the world.  I’m the problem.

In the beautiful paradox that is the Gospel, the Good News, I see why the narrow path is found by few. Because it is not those who look in themselves and see unlimited potential that will ultimately succeed, but those who look inside and see poverty of spirit – a complete inability to help ourselves – to whom belongs the Kingdom of Heaven.  It is those who are humbly gentle and free from pride who will one day inherit the earth.  Those who crave more of Him rather than more of self, they will be the ones who are satisfied.

When we get busy writing our own stories they will surely end like the tower of Babel. Seemingly impressive at the outset, but scattered and incomplete in the end.  Great will be the fall of it.

But when we spend the best of ourselves telling His story, we are called Blessed. We are promised a reward in heaven that will be great.[i]

So in my broken imperfection, I keep trying to tell the only story that can change the world.

If I told you my story

You would hear Life, but it wasn’t mine

If I should speak then let it be

Of the grace that is greater than all my sin

Of when justice was served and where mercy wins

Of the kindness of Jesus that draws me in

Oh to tell you my story is to tell of Him

This is my story, this is my song

Praising my Saviour, all the day long.

[i] Scripture referred to is from Matthew 5-7, the Sermon on the Mount

Recipe Monday – on a Tuesday

It’s October and we haven’t had recipe Monday since June. There may be some of you out there desperate for some fresh dinner ideas. Have no fear. It is October and we are having recipe Monday on a Tuesday.

With a weekend of turkeying behind us, you might suspect I will try to offer you some jazzed up variation on turkey. I won’t. For some reason, the same children who can eat chicken nuggets for weeks on end can spot turkey leftovers from a mile away. I can try to trick them disguise the turkey with pretty layers or fancy names like Pilgrim Bake of Mayflower Hash, but they know what they’re getting.

So in a complete departure from turkey, I will open my vault and share my secret supper recipes for those nights when you can’t think of anything.

cereal

This meal is always a hit because it includes a lot of autonomy for the kids. They choose, they serve, and they clean up. Everyone wins.

Before you get all crazy and start throwing ingredients together without reading ahead, put down the bowl. In our house, it is imperative that the milk be poured before the cereal. (Except for Rob, but he’s always been a little unconventional when it comes to cereal. We won’t get into that any further here.)

One of my nephews is baffled by this order of operations and always asks how we know how much milk we need if we don’t pour the cereal first. I ask you, Mr. C – how do you know how much cereal you need if you don’t pour the milk first?

toast

You may feel let down by the apparent lack of flavour complexity here. If that is how you feel, you are an amateur so allow me to enlighten you. Toast is merely a base. Where it spins off from there is anyone’s guess. Do you go sweet or do you go savoury? Do you layer the toppings (peanut butter, honey and cheese is a personal favourite of mine) or do you let a single flavour shine (tomatoes. Straight up. No cheese, lettuce, or bacon.)

One word of caution. You are making toast not simply drying out bread. Put some colour on that thing! (If it’s too much colour you can scrape off the darkest parts and no one is the wiser.)

tomato soup

Ok. I’ll admit it. This one requires you to stand over the stove and stir. (Don’t even mention the ‘M’ word – it doesn’t taste anywhere near the same without the little layer of burnt soup at the bottom of the pot!) Some people are content to merely follow the directions on the label. However, mix up the water half and half with milk and you have a whole different flavour profile. We like to bulk it out with some crackers. (One time I was feeling gourmet and threw some noodles in. They have never let me forget it.) (I won’t even mention what Rob throws in. Of course, the kids love the round nitrate bombs that float in their soup when Dad is in charge of supper…)

There you have it. Three ideas in one post. You’re welcome.

Obviously this is not the caliber you have come to expect from Recipe Monday. Angela, who has done Recipe Monday’s, is not able to contribute regularly this year. Life happens. Thank you, Angela, for setting the bar so high. Should you be able to return, we anxiously await with open mouths.

When A Name Changes Everything

I was pretty adamant we were not getting a dog. They were too much work. I had four kids. That was enough.

I was outvoted. Charlie came to live with us.

Sure, he’s cute. But he’s got some issues.

charlie

Charlie is super smart, but doesn’t socialize well with other dogs. At all.

He’s curious, but it can get him into trouble. A lot.

He’s full of love, but at times his demonstrations of love are overwhelming. And a little painful.

He’s loyal, but it manifests in his marking everything. Every. Thing.

I wasn’t planning on liking him to be honest. But somehow his personality grew on me. Slowly at first.

Maybe it was the first time he ran to hide under my chair because he’s scared of fireworks. Maybe it was the time Koby got the back of a hammer stuck in his leg and Charlie refused to leave him until help came. Maybe it was when I cried from a wasp sting, and Charlie tried to make me feel better. Whatever the reason, the critter found a place in my heart.

charlie3

One September afternoon, the day before school started, we were sitting outside enjoying the sunshine when we noticed Charlie was not running and playing with the kids. He lay on the grass, but not even at our feet as he was prone to do. He looked awful. As the evening progressed, Charlie kept getting sicker. He couldn’t hold anything down and we were getting genuinely worried.

The following morning, I took the kids to school and Rob took Charlie to the vet. The news wasn’t good. Charlie had contracted parvo virus and they didn’t think he’d make it. They started him on antibiotics and gave him fluids but cautioned us that if he didn’t improve by the next morning, there was nothing else they could do.

The kids and I stopped in to see Charlie on our way home from school. We walked into the clinic and waited for someone to take us back to his kennel.

And that’s when I saw it. Looking from the waiting room into the clinic area I saw a whiteboard with the patient list. His name was on top in big bold letters. Charlie Bergen. The name changed everything.

I started to bawl. I had never thought of a dog as having a last name.  (Still don’t to be honest.) (Though when I am upset at him I call him Charles Dickens.)   But somehow, seeing our family name associated with him changed my feelings for him. In my mind, Charlie became fully ours. He belonged to us.

Suddenly, the fact that he was so sick and needing help just to survive felt like my responsibility. Though it seemed somewhat irrational to Rob, I felt strongly we needed to do everything in our power to save him. He carried our name and that meant something.

You see, historically, husbands have given their wives and children their last name as a symbol of intimacy and protection. It’s a sign to the world that these people are loved, cared for, and they belong. While this symbol has been distorted somewhat in our modern culture, I imagine if you are in as desperate a state as Charlie was that day, you’d give anything for one who has the power to protect and care for you to exercise that ability.

Friends, apart from Christ, we are no better off than Charlie was that day. We lie at death’s door, desperate for someone to intercede on our behalf. We need someone to put their name on us and declare we are loved, cared for, and that we belong.  We need someone to intervene on our behalf.  Jesus did just that. And in Revelation 3, he promises to those who overcome, that the world will see he loves us. He even says he will write his name on us.

A name changes everything.

charlie4

(Charlie made a full recovery. I’m thankful. Really. The vet bill was ridiculous. How thankful I am that our Saviour has unlimited resources to go along with his infinite love.)

Sometimes, You Need A Crock Pot

You know those times with friends where you laugh ‘til you snort? I had two of them last week. The first visit ended with me posing in front of a camera – an experience that dredges up all sorts of issues we may delve into in coming weeks. (If I’m brave enough.)

The second visit was with a homeschooling Momma who’s also a woman of business.  Shortly after getting there, my friend introduces me to her amazing assortment of bags. She has bags for everything.

Pretty purses for those nights out on the town we dream about and need accessories for just in case they actually happen.

Functional bags for sorting outdoor gear, laundry, homework, and groceries.

There are small bags to fit within larger bags, totes to carry the larger bags, and bins to slip the totes into.

And, will wonders never cease, there was a shoulder bag large enough to hold a preschool age child.

My head spun from the myriad of organizational possibilities. I began to envision a purposeful laundry room. An organized mud room. A functional space behind the back seat of my minivan. I’ll admit it; my mind wandered as I entered an imaginary world where chaos was banished.

I was quickly snapped back to the conversation with an introduction to the next bag. It was an insulated zippered beauty with a shoulder strap. My friend explained with no small amount of reverence that it could actually carry your crock-pot.

crock pot

The crock-pot, an appliance of long, slow simmered flavours had just become portable. We quickly descended into the nonsensical and hilarious.

No longer would soccer moms be pulling out cheese strings and crackers for sideline snacks. Certainly not! Those chilly nights on the field would be warmed with a home cooked, slow-simmered chili.

Rushing out for a quick coffee with some friends? Why settle for coffee shop quality fare when you can carry a pot roast in a bag slung over your shoulder?

For the working woman, your power purse with packaged and processed protein punches to get you through the work day has been replaced with a new kind of power bag. You’ll be the envy of the office as you ladle out a post-meeting stew.

Why stop there? Sling the bag that can hold a child over one shoulder and the slow-cooker bag over the other, and run your errands never having to worry about hearing the ‘I’m hungry’ whine.

We were moving from howls to snorts, before I became aware of the napping baby and the husband who was home sick. My profoundest apologies.

But something about the image my friend and I had found so funny, kept simmering away in the back of my brain. (No, I’m not about to invent some battery operated crock-pot fanny pack.)

We are a society far more used to microwave cooking and drive thrus than slow cooking crock pots. And I’m not just talking about food.

How many of us practise a brand of microwave faith? You know, where you read the power devotion for the day to say you did it, and move on expecting it will sustain you. We grab onto a favorite verse or a promise like it’s a protein bar, applying it to our lives all quick, neat and tidy thinking far more about ourselves than the God it’s meant to reveal.

There’s nothing wrong with snacking, but if all you do is snack and you never eat a hearty meal, you’re missing out on valuable nourishment and nutrition.

What if we stopped relying on easy access packaged snacks, and supplemented them with heartier fare?

What if we worked through the Bible slowly, with the intention of long term nourishment rather than hurried nibbles to tide us over? What if we let a verse or a passage simmer as the flavours sink deep?

I suspect our spiritual health would improve.

We may live in a microwave world, but we have a slow-cooker faith.

I’ll leave you with something that’s been simmering in my heart the last couple of weeks. (I don’t know that it has a perfect fit, but it’s what I keep mulling.) It’s from the book of Ezra. The people of Israel had been taken into captivity because they had forgotten their special place as a people set aside to show God to the world.

In the book of Ezra, they were finally returning home.  Some of them anyway.

Many choose to stay in the land of captivity because it had become home to them. The returning ones were reminded and warned not to become like the people around them. They were to live among the people, but to be different from them. To stand out.

…and never seek their peace or prosperity, that you may be strong and eat the good of the land . . .

Ezra 9:12

Dolphins May Not Make Good Birth Coaches

As I skimmed the news last week I came across this headline. Unable to resist, I continued to read what would surely contain sage words of wisdom.

As I began to read, I was introduced to a couple who was planning to venture out onto the open seas for the birth of their child, hoping to be assisted through the process by dolphins.  They had heard of other dolphin assisted births where the mother, newborn, and dolphins frolicked together immediately after being born.  They were enticed by stories of dolphins bringing babies up to the surface for their first breath of air. The article hinted at research showing that children who were brought into the world in such unusual, albeit magical fashion, had superior development and intelligence, and were able to speak dolphin from birth. (Ummm . . . because somebody is interpreting this? Should I be kicking myself for not having had the squeaky noises of my own kids interpreted?)

Unable to coordinate an advance plan with the dolphins, the couple was simply planning to head out onto the ocean at the onset of labour, hoping that if they showed up, the dolphins would too.  They realized that there was no tried and true way to summon these helpful midwives.

dolphin4

Ok. I don’t know how to say this without too much unnecessary detail, but, I’ve given birth. Four times. In not one of those experiences did I think a dolphin would have improved the situation. In the mind-numbing pain and fatigue of the event, I never once thought of my distant mammal relation.

In fact, truth be told, I was at times loud and a bit thrashy. I don’t know that this would be the best time to be out on the ocean. While I can swim a little, I certainly wouldn’t trust my skills out in the middle of the sea while in the throes of labour.

I’m thinking if life jackets are mandatory while boating, they would probably come in handy while giving birth in the ocean. But where would you put them? Would you wear floaties around your arms and legs? I guess you’d have to wear one around your neck to ensure your face didn’t go under water – a lot of good it would do to have your arms and legs above the surface if your face wasn’t. I can’t quite imagine how to accomplish the required buoyancy.   (Snorkel? Scuba Gear? It would definitely change breathing technique.)

I’m also saddened to admit it, but I was also somewhat unkind whilst in the midst of labour. During the worst of it, everyone annoyed me. That might even be putting it mildly. The chatty nurses, the doctor who wouldn’t say much, the birth coaches who Would. Not. Tell. Me. The. Time. No matter how often I asked. Don’t even get me started on the snacking sounds and smells.  It all made me feel a little crazy.

dolphin3

I’ve heard dolphin chatter in the wild. It’s sort of cute. For a little while. After about ten minutes though, it begins to sound like a room full of toddlers asking for snacks, telling you they have to go to the bathroom, wondering why they can’t put a knife in the socket, or why the sky is blue. It’s redundant and grating. I don’t imagine they smell altogether pleasant either.  Having found medical professionals and loved ones annoying during labour, I can’t imagine the dolphins would be soothing.

I must finally point out another concern. All that bloody thrashing commotion seems like it could draw the attention of more dangerous ocean inhabitants.  Like, for example, sharks.  (Anybody seen Jaws?)

Not all was rosy, the article conceded and it even went on to sound a warning.  It admitted that though there is scant evidence to prove this, (sheer lack of evidence, perhaps?) researchers are beginning to wonder if dolphin assisted births may pose a danger to both mother and child. It speculated that though dolphins are intelligent mammals, they could potentially prove to be unpredictable and perhaps even aggressive. (I pause here to think how I would feel should some distant relation decide to show up unannounced and give birth in my living room.)

The article concluded by finishing the story of the couple it started with. Despite their best efforts, they were unable to make it out onto the ocean in time and ended up giving birth under much different than expected circumstances. (Not an altogether shocking outcome, I’ll admit.)

I make light of this article, but to be honest, as I read I shook my head. I was struck by our proclivity to seek solutions in the strangest of places.

We live in a world riddled with problems.

We also live in a world ripe with grace.

Where will we look for help?

I lift up my eyes to the hills. 

From where does my help come? 

My help comes from the LORD, 

who made heaven and earth.

(Psalm 121:1-2)

 

I Have Kids. They Go to School.

It’s September. ‘Back to School’ season is upon us, and for those on social media, it can be a daunting time.

Beautiful children in new outfits line my facebook feed. They sport backpacks and hold chalkboards or fingers indicating what grade they are entering.

Pictures of sandwiches shaped like butterflies, homemade healthy snacks, and fruit arranged like bouquets pop up on Pinterest.

Thirty days of crockpot meals you can pull out of a Ziploc bag and thirty bins of thirty food choices taunt you from twitter.

It’s inspiring. Really, it is. I love to look at the pictures, and truth be told, I made a couple of charts myself.

The thing is, lovely as my charts are ( – they’re gorgeous. I’ve colour-coded them with each child having their own colour, and each activity a coordinating shade. It’s a rainbow of delight) they are pretty two-dimensional on their own. I’m the third dimension. I’m the one who has to translate the paper dream to hard-living reality.

The first two days of school were great. Healthy, homemade lunches were packed the night before and preserved with a cold-pack. The children were well-dressed and arrived at school on time.

Day three was a little different. Lunch was made in the morning. Only one of the kids got a whole-grain wrap (I miscounted. Don’t ask how I decided which one to bless with the nutrients) so the others are eating white, refined carbohydrates. We can’t find the cold-packs; I guess bacteria won the war today. ‘New’ t-shirts are being re-worn, even though they sport some of last night’s supper.

And those pictures remain untaken. For the fifth year in a row. I have no cute photos of my four darlings lined up in the sunshine, sporting smiles and clean clothes. I have nothing to prove my children are advancing ever onward.

So I have decided to post another genre of picture. Instead of first day of school pictures, I will be posting, ‘I have kids, they go to school’ pictures.

My proof you ask?

Backpacks on the floor.

backpack

Newsletters on the counter.

newsletter

Fundraising campaigns which are already underway. (Yes, I know you want an hour or two to celebrate a quiet house, but there are coupon-books to sell!)

entertainment books

And these gorgeous little people.

kidsplayinggames

kidsswimming

kids

They are my kids and they go to school.

Happy September!