Getting In On The Secret.

There have been a handful of people I’ve met over the years who have something I can’t quite put my finger on – but I know I want it. The kind of people who when I meet them I somehow have this longing to be nearer to them, to learn from them. There’s something about them that’s contagious and it draws me in instantly. It’s a bit like they’re always in on some sort of secret just on the cusp of being revealed. There is a joy, an understanding and a twinkle in their eye.

I want it. I want in on the secret.

As I’ve met these people along my path of life I ask them one question, “How?” How is there a constant bubble of joy just right there at the surface. How is there time to look each person you meet straight in the eye and make them know that you see them and value them. How did you come to this place?

It’s far more than just a bubbly personality or an over the top greeting. It’s a way of life that these precious people know.

Each time I’ve asked I’ve received the same answer.

The mode of our heart is a choice each day.

Each of these people know something I often forget. They know every single day they can let self-pity creep in. They can let pride take over. They can give their hearts over to self importance, which makes us so inwardly focused we become haughty, unable to see those around us or just plain rude. They know anger is a real emotion which can overtake. They know belittling words flow off the tongue much easier than words of praise and encouragement. They know if we don’t make a choice for something different, our hearts will so easily wander and lead us astray, down paths that are destructive and dangerous.

So, each day they choose Jesus. They choose a heart mode that says you above me. Service over self pity. They realize playing the victim because life is hard leads to wallowing, bitterness and blame, and these are not the ways of joy.

I’ve learned time after time, the people who seem to know the greatest joy, have walked the most difficult roads. These aren’t happy people because life has shown them an easy ride. They are joyful people because amidst the trials, the loss, the grief, they’ve sought a different way. They’ve made a deliberate choice to say Lord, if this is what you have for me today, help me walk through it with my eyes on you.

The thing about people who make this choice, who walk through their life this way, is they make me cry. Every dang time they look at me. And if they pray for me? I’m a puddle on the floor.

It’s been on my heart lately to consider how I receive people. When they’re near to me do they feel valued and respected and seen? It doesn’t really matter the who of it all. I’m talking the mail carrier who knocks on my door with a package I have to sign for, or the person bagging my groceries, or the family sitting behind me at church that I don’t know. The kid kicking the back of my seat all through the movie, or the person I pull up to at border patrol or my best friend in all the land.

I’ve asked myself the question on repeat – am I a receiver of people or a pusher of what I want – my will, my way, my agenda. I have to admit, the latter is often true.

As I’ve spent the last week amongst the most amazing receiver of people I think I’ve ever met, I couldn’t help but want what he has. Each time he looked at me, straight into my eyes and asked if I was okay, my eyes began to well with tears. It started to feel silly after a time, to say I was good – great, in fact – with glossy eyes but it was true. The way I was received only made me teary because I felt like I had never been so close to Jesus as I was when I was with this person modelling His care.

How would Jesus receive the people we pass by each day? I think it’s worthy of our time to consider. Would He rush by in the manner we do or would He sit right down, look straight into each ones eyes and say, “Are you good? Because I really care if you are or not.”

Having someone near who loves the way Jesus loves means you can’t help but want to love that way too. Being cared for by humans who care like Jesus cares shows me how I want to care for the people around me better. Being received by someone who makes you feel like you’re being received into the arms of Jesus, and to realize this is but a glimmer of the goodness of God right here on earth – well, it just about changes everything about how I want to live my days.

I want to receive people in the way Jesus would. I want them to feel His love through me. I don’t know how to accomplish this on my own but I’m willing to ask Him to do it in me. If the people who love Jesus loved like Jesus and each person we encountered felt received in love the way we feel received by the grace of God, no matter how much of a mess we are, I really believe we could change the world.

Let’s change the world. Not because we’re smart enough or made really wise choices. But because we love in such an extravagant way people can’t help but see Jesus. I want the world to see Him – don’t you?

 

 

 

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To Live Out Multi-faceted Kindness

It’s so exhausting to think about where all of our products come from.

It’s tiresome to even try and have a conscience about all of it.

We can’t know everything, so why bother at all.

The alternative is women not having a job and that’s even worse.

Is it?

All of these statements arise every single time I open up a dialogue about the fashion industry. Or the harvesting of chocolate. Or talk about how watching pornography is linking you to sex trafficking.

I wonder how many other things we would say this about?  

If we’re buying a car would we be exhausted by the research it takes to know which one is our best spent dollar?

When planting a garden do we stop ourselves from putting carrot seeds in the ground because we don’t know the mechanics of how a tractor works?

We get a bit uncomfortable when our choices are challenged, defensive even.

So we’re not here to tell you where to shop and where not to (though we do have some super cute links at the end that you should definitely check out) what we’re here to talk to you about is kindness.

Rarely do people get up in arms about kindness. Guilt and shame don’t get piled on when we speak simply about the basics of how we should treat one another. We learned these things from our mama’s long before we ever stepped foot into a school and decades before we made a purchase from a clothing company.

So let’s start there, as we should, with kindness and see where it takes us. A journey of kindness isn’t scary, or exhausting or elusive, right?

We’re Jena and Rhonda – Jesus lovers, wives and mamas, bloggers and a million more things – including kindness advocates! Below is simply a conversation we want to bring you into. We hope you join in the dialogue!

When did you first give more thought to the things you were purchasing?

Jena: I don’t remember when I started waking up to the reality that my purchases impact other people across the globe. A few years ago the term ‘fast fashion’ caught my attention and conscience. Maybe it was sitting at a friend’s Noonday Party watching a video on how their goods are handmade by artisans in developing countries receiving fair wages for bettering their families and communities. Perhaps it was news of the Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh in 2013 where over 1100 people lost their lives working in unsafe conditions in a garment factory. It could be because most employees in the garment industry are women, and I’m raising three daughters of my own.

Rhonda: It all started for me when I ‘accidentally’ watched a BBC documentary on the chocolate industry and the harvesting of cocoa beans. I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I clicked ‘play’ but after watching, I knew a great shift had occurred in my heart and my perspective. I could no longer close my eyes and just consume. I had a desire to know what the effects my personal wants had on others. What I found was that my choices didn’t align with what I had long been teaching my kids – be kind to others, always.

How do we balance owning our part of the responsibility?

Jena: Over time, it’s all added up to an evolving belief about purchase power. How we spend our money matters. Is it my fault that women are suffering in oppressive work conditions in countries thousands of miles away from my billing address? No. Do I have a responsibility to educate myself and daughters on the realities of a broken supply chain so we can support people working to fix this cycle of oppression? Yes. Do I have a responsibility to “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8 ESV) as it applies to people sewing my t-shirts? Yes and more yes.

Rhonda: I’ve wrestled with this for over a decade. The place I’ve landed is one step at a time. In so many areas of my life I’ve made choices to change just one thing. Whether it’s eating healthy and exercising or making changes to the chemicals that come into our home – I can’t know everything all at once but that doesn’t mean I should just sit back and do nothing. If we simply commit to learning, to researching what we can instead of living in ignorance, and make small adjustments bit by bit – it’s truly amazing how far we can go and the differences we can make over the years.

Start where you are and do what you can is a brilliant slogan. So you can’t shop exclusively at fair trade shops? Start with t-shirts. Commit to that. A year later it will be so normal you won’t even blink at it. And once that’s in place, maybe tackle jewelry.

It’s the small consistent changes over time that have massive repercussions in our world!

Where do we even start?

Jena: I have to be honest with myself. I’m not a front line pioneer of labor reform practices. I’m a elementary homeschooling/ public high school mom of three daughters. I’m wife to a corporate road warrior. I don’t shop often, but when I do I’d like it to be enjoyable and uncomplicated. I prefer quality over quantity in my closet. Cost per wear is something we talk about often in our family. In light of all that, evolving into a more conscientious shopper comes down to three key elements for our family:

  1. Know what we believe – What does the Bible say about how we’re to treat others? Are our actions consistent with our beliefs?
  2. Get informed – What are current industry standards for the companies we’re supporting? Are they transparent about their sourcing and labor agreements?
  3. Compile a list – Find companies selling what we need and like. In an age of convenience where it’s tempting to shop in one-stop-shop box stores, having a list of go-to companies can prevent compulsive buying of fast fashion ‘sale’ items. Many online stores offer free shipping and returns, so take advantage of planned shopping from the convenience of home.

Rhonda: We can overwhelm ourselves with all the questions of where to start and how to research and give up before we’ve even begun. I think the most important step towards kindness in the fashion industry is to just start. Find one company whose mission is to care for their employees from harvesting to your closet. Choose one item to change in your closet. Rarely is anything in life sustainable if we feel overwhelmed from the start. But like I say to my kids when I drop them off at school each morning, “I love you. Be kind to someone today.” If we simply adopt that approach in our consumption, of being kind to someone today, just one person – it will be the tiny bit of momentum we need to make the changes we want.

We think this is an important conversation and we don’t want it to end with just one blog post. What are your thoughts? We’ll be honest and say that $4 t-shirts at certain shops are enticing and we’re not saying we will never fall prey to it. But we do commit to loving the Lord by loving our neighbour insomuch as it depends on us – knowing who we’re buying from is just another way to do that!

And now – onto the good stuff! We’re here to help! Check out these amazing shops with clothes you’ll want to wear! And some are just as affordable as where you’re shopping now. Check them out!

Brands we love:

Everlane

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At Everlane, we’re not big on trends. We want you to wear our pieces for years, even decades, to come.

Each factory is given a compliance audit to evaluate factors like fair wages, reasonable hours, and environment. Our goal? A score of 90 or above for every factory.

We believe our customers have a right to know how much their clothes cost to make. We reveal the true costs behind all of our products—from materials to labor to transportation—then offer 
them to you, minus the traditional retail markup.

Krochet Kids

Our products, our non-profit partner, and our community work in unison to help people break the cycle of poverty.

We provide life-changing job opportunities to women in need. With each purchase you make we introduce you to the woman who made your product and invite you to visit her online profile to learn more about her.

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People Tree

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ABLE

The goal was to provide an alternative that would provide these women with the opportunity to earn a living, empowering them to end the cycle of poverty that kept them trapped. Armed with multiple studies illustrating how the employment of women benefits and strengthens an entire community, the ABLE team set out on a mission to end generational poverty, one job at a time.

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DL1961

We’re on a mission to rewrite the way denim is made. It’s no secret that traditional denim production is considered to be one of the most polluting processes – but we don’t believe it has to be that way.

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And a few more:

PACT Apparel

Patagonia

Fair Indigo

Raven and Lily

 

To Bestow On Them a Crown of Beauty

We wander back to our temporary home on the base and we begin to unravel. We sit in silence and just let the streams fall from our eyes down our dusty cheeks. There are no words to speak. Without knowing it at the time, it was in this moment that God lovingly and gently began to nudge us closer to a new mode of our hearts and a new path for our lives.

My boy who is strong and stoic, logical beyond what I’ll ever be looked at me, his cheeks a mess of dirt and tears. In his eyes I could see that he’ll never see the same again. His words tell me the truth of what I’m feeling.

“I’ve been traumatized, Mom, but in the best way.”

Quiet decisions were made right there. Resolutions that life simply couldn’t be the same. An unspoken conclusion of what following the Lord looks like.

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.”

This was the day we set out to find our girls. If you’re new here or missed it you can get the backstory in this post.

We had no clear idea of how it would go but we prayed and pleaded with the Lord that He would lead us to where they were. We trusted His timing. We trust that He loves them even more than we do and so He would lead us.

As we bumped up and down in our hard seats, navigating deep grooves in the dirt roads we were quiet save for the constant rattle of the broken latch on the window. It was the theme song of our day. It was the reminder of our own lives. Broken. Unhinged. Apart from our Saviour who binds us to Himself we are the latch, swayed by every rut in the road, clattering with every change, finding no steady rhythm rather tossed by whatever comes our way.

Our skin crawled with the feeling of darkness that was over the area. My thoughts dashed between wondering about my own safety and fearing only for the girls. All the while the words in my head were a constant plea to the Lord. Lead us.

We pulled the van over at the first person we saw and asked if they knew the family. They gave directions exactly to where they believed them to be and we continued on our way passing homes unfit for any child. Unfit for anybody.

Arriving at the given destination I began to doubt. Like Peter, we had stepped out of the boat and put our foot on that water but once there, the fear creeped in and the doubts came and my heart began to sink. Surely, it couldn’t be that easy. One person. One set of directions. Did Peter feel the same thing? Surely I couldn’t actually be on the water. Surely you can’t sustain me here. Surely you can’t keep me from drowning.

A little head peeked around the corner of the dilapidated trailer. Then another and another until we saw three beautiful faces, three heads of thick dark hair, three pairs of beautiful little eyes looking straight back into ours.

Dear Lord, was it them? Their sunken cheeks and disheveled hair made us question if these were the same three. Their once smooth skin was now peppered with marks. The spark of joy we had known in their eyes now a more vacant stare. And then we saw a smile and it was all we could do to not fall to the dirt and break right there. Lord why? Why would you do this? Lord they are so hungry. Lord what are those bites, that rash? Lord where is the joy we once saw? Why would you let this happen? Why?

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The questions came at a rapid pace, one more tumbling on top of another. Before I even had a chance to think a thought another came crashing. And as the questions started piling up deep and those precious girls piled into our arms and onto our laps, I knew.

“He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.”

We boarded a plane for home the very next day. We came back to every comfort we could ever want. Outside we may have looked the same as before we left, but each of us knew something very different. We had images – lives and hearts and eyes and smiles –  lodged in our minds and our hearts and woven so intricately into the very fabric of what now made up our family. God, in his goodness, was answering our prayers to give us new eyes and new hands and new feet and new skin and new hearts that pumped blood that was just a little different then it was before. He had heard my cries to bring us to the end of ourselves so that there was space, abundant space for more of Him.

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These girls are just a glimmer of why we’re going, moving our family. Their story is not unique in the area. Their need for safety is imminent. Their need for the most basic provision of food is urgent. The need for a community to come alongside this family and journey with them through the struggles of addiction, loss and trauma are so necessary. No one in their position could make it alone.

These three have captivated our hearts but more than that the Lord has captured our lives. To follow Him to the place He calls. To be His village to those who don’t have one. To use our hands and our feet to show tangibly His love and to use our mouths to proclaim the hope that we have in Him. And for those girls…

“…to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.”

 

 

 

 

Learning Who I am from I AM.

I’m a mess. Chaotic. Muddled. Disorganized.

I’m weak. Unsteady. Uncertain. Definitely not brave.

I’m imperfect. A lousy friend. An agitated mother. A heartless wife.

We say these things about our lives with a shrug and a laugh. We wear our self-deprecation like a crown and hail the almighty voice of sarcasm where we put ourselves down and sneer against those who seem like they might just have it altogether.

I’m not sure when it happened but at some point striving became a character flaw and honest and authentic meant taking up a this-is-just-how-i-am mantra.

In recent days I’ve noticed it seeping into my own repertoire, this script of self belittlement. I can’t help but think it’s soaked into me from the culture at large. That this is how we’re expected to speak. Because heaven forbid we actually admit we’re good at something. The words arrogant and self-promoting quickly follow behind the backs of anyone who might actually dare to speak that.

We’re a culture so quick to judge. Sure, we hide it behind the guise of our instantaneous wit but it’s there in our hearts, nonetheless.

This judgment saturates our minds. Infiltrates our thoughts. And soon enough we’re speaking these unkind words, not only to others, our kids, our spouses, but to ourselves as well.

Are we a people known for encouragement and support? Unfortunately the answer to that is rarely an exhubarent yes.

Are we individuals who allow the words of the Lord to permeate our own thoughts about ourselves? If you’re like me – not really.

But here’s the thing. Scripture doesn’t call us a mess. It does mock us by holding up the worst picture of ourselves and comparing it to Suzie Sunshine down the street. It doesn’t shame us for our imperfection. Weight us down with the guilt of not measuring up.

I don’t mean to get all #itstime on you, but I think it’s time. Not for women to fight men. Not for belittlement of those who may have done wrong. Not for our voices to be the loudest in the square. I think it’s time for us to believe who we are in Christ. To bathe our minds and our hearts in the words Scripture speaks over us. To let them wash over our very soul until we can no longer make jokes of the fact that we’re angry mom or lazy lover or the most unpinteresting human on the planet.

Do you know who we are, Church?

Isaiah 62:4 says, “You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate, but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her…”

My Delight Is in Her. If only we could believe it.

When we think of our position before the Lord is that what we see? Do we stand knowing that He delights in us?

More often than not we take the position of messy and broken and not enough. We carry the weight of must try harder and must pray more and must use bigger theological words.

It is crushing our souls to hold the position of grimy. It crumbles away at our hearts to hear our own voices speak that we are smudged and spotted and stained. The heaviness of these lies become too cumbersome to carry and they bring out the very best in our cynicism, bitterness and doubt.

Do you want to know what Scripture actually calls you?

A delight. (Isaiah 62:4)

Accepted. (Romans 15:7)

The Righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

What might happen if we speak these over ourselves instead?  There’s more.

We are Chosen (John 15:16), Holy (1Peter 1:16), a Child of God (1John 1:3).

How often do we think of ourselves as Royal, Holy, a Special Possession of God’s. (1Peter 2:9)

Do we ever feel as though we’re Treasured, Blessed, Set Free, Complete, Beloved, God’s work of Art and oh so Valuable. We are a Light, a City set on a hill, a Citizen of Heaven, a Saint and a Servant.

How might our perspective of ourselves, our lives, our world change if we soaked these in each day? How might we combat the enemies lies that we believe if only we knew exactly who we are?

We are Heirs of a King, friends. And while that makes me want to talk like Lady Mary and Dress like Her Royal Highness, the Duchess of Cambridge – the truth is, all I need to do is live my life, the one I’ve been given, believing these things are true and encouraging my brothers and sisters to believe them, too. They are the most empowering words we could ever hear.

We don’t need to do more to change the world. We simply need to take God at His word and believe we are who HE says we are. That’s the world changing stuff, right there.

 

 

The Power of And

Over a decade ago we lived in a little apartment building in the middle of our suburban ‘city’. We somehow felt like if we lived near the heart of it all it would somehow be reminiscent of the days we lived in the actual city. It was and it wasn’t, but none of that is the point.

I got into the elevator one day and a neighbour who I had spoken with many times before said hi and asked if I was new to the building. I looked at him puzzled. Was I that unmemorable? We had for sure had actual conversations.

I laughed and shrugged it off and stated I was in 403. You could see his confusion and surely mine was evident. I couldn’t fathom what was going on in this painfully awkward moment.

I’ve since realized that the world is distinctively more comfortable being just one thing. Having just one look, one passion, one voice.

Yes, he usually saw me in yoga pants and nikes surrounded by children and this day my hair was actually blow dried, I had jeans on and maybe even glasses, with not a child in sight. But did he not realize there’s more to me than work out gear and kids?

This focus happens in our online spheres as well. Beautifully curated feeds using just one filter, just one colour scheme, or just one way of living. It’s like there’s this feeling of having to choose. Are you whole30 or coffee first? Nikes or blunnies? Yoga or fashion? All white or vibrant colours?

It seems that multiple feeds are needed for the various facets we wish to portray as well. Because heaven forbid you give voice to the product you sell on your personal feed or share about your family gathering on your health feed. (what the…?!)

Have people never had a salad and chased it down with a few gummy bears? Just me?

What I’ve found is that I’m really terrible at being just one thing. I have no basis if this is a positive or negative in my life – it just is.

I can’t just be work out girl or eat healthy girl cause I also want to be sit on the couch girl and let’s eat a lot of cheese girl. I can’t just be one filter on instagram for the perfect looking feed because some photos need to be dark and brooding and others bright and eclectic. My house will never look cohesive because the truth is I like modern, and rustic and really really old things that tell tales of years gone by. And I can’t be ripped jeans every day and nor can I be all of the heels.

Of course I’d love to say that I’m party mom but the truth is I’m way more quiet and thoughtful than I am fun, but that doesn’t mean I won’t die laughing when I freak someone out on their way out of their bedroom. (try it. so funny.)

I use to feel a bit chaotic about this multi-faceted nature of myself. Like I was doing it wrong because I lacked focus on just one thing.

But then I realized it’s okay to like books AND tv. Kale AND cheesecake. Rap AND worship music. Missions work AND fancy date nights. White AND red. Broadway AND sports. Crowded cities AND forest hikes.

This world makes us feel like we have to choose. Pretty feeds make us feel like we aren’t worth a follow if we aren’t cohesive. But they’re wrong.

I prefer real to curated any day of the week and so as I did my New Years “unfollow” (do it – unfollow anything that makes you crave more, feel judgy, or jealous) I looked at each feed and thought about what they brought to my life.

My criteria was not beauty or perfection but diversity. Can this person inspire me to try something new, watch something different, think about something in a way I may not have before. Are they honest enough to show the joys and the hard places, the perfect meal and the time the edges got a leeeeeetle bit crispy. I really wanted to ask – is there a heart and a human behind the feed or just a bunch of perfect photos?

While I’ve wrestled with my own heart on being okay with multi-faceted (my word for ‘all over the place’) I spent some time thinking about who Jesus was and how He lived his life.

Jesus didn’t ONLY hang out with prostitutes and tax collectors. He spent time with the religious elite in the temple and had a close community in a few of his disciples. He went to the places that were edgy AND safe. He had emotions that were angry AND gentle. He spent time with crowds AND in solace. Went to big parties AND gathered quietly in homes. Knew joy AND sorrow. Happiness AND tears. Fought for people AND called others out.

He wasn’t just one thing. Wasn’t only one filter. Only one emotion. I can only imagine that had He taken photos along His journey that He might have had one of the most eclectic feeds that ever existed and I love that.

We’re very quick to judge a person by the places they shop, the church they attend, the circle they roll with. But what I’m finding is that there is never ending joy in the surprise of being proven wrong in our judgements. When the people you least expect to like show you the beauty of their heart and soul and you can’t help but scold yourself for the fact that you had already categorized them.

Our God is a masterful creator as evidenced in the big and beautiful world He made. I can only imagine that we’re but a tiny reflection of that. Not all oceans or all trees but deserts and jungles and great underwater reefs and every other thing in between.

Let’s live boldly into the many ways God has created us to be, the things He’s laid before us to do, the passions He’s impressed on our hearts and allow others to do the same. For the kingdom of God is not North American, not city or suburban, not pentecostal or baptist. It’s every tribe and nation. I can’t imagine a more chaotically beautiful sight.

 

Christmas: it’s more than a feeling

CD68D912-51AF-4E19-817A-353BD604AD09.jpegIt just doesn’t feel like Christmas.

I’ve heard this thought on repeat since the first carols began somewhere near the beginning of November.

It came from everywhere. All around me. The grocery store clerk, all amidst my social media feeds, even from within my own home.

It doesn’t feel like Christmas.

We live in a culture hooked on a feeling. Transfixed by what feels right and good. So much so that we’ll go to great lengths to follow what we think will produce the feeling we long for.

Spoiler Alert:

it never does.

I began to question all around me, friends and strangers alike – what does Christmas ‘feel’ like?

Oh, the pat answers came quickly. Joy and wonder. Cozy warm vibes with family. The right cookie that mom use to make.

But as I pushed further for the answer, the ‘feeling’ it seems that everyone is chasing is more.

More family. Missing the ones who’ve left or wishing for a spouse or child.

More traditions. Maybe if we see one more light display, make one more gingerbread house, play one more Christmas album or host one more party – that’ll do it.

More stuff. Perhaps a few more decorations this year, a bit more twinkle, more gifts will surely get the kids fired up!

It seems, as a culture, that we’ve tapped into very specific aspects of the Christmas feels – none of which can be remotely true.

Let’s be honest, we are not giving our children more gifts because the wise men brought such luxurious ones. We can’t even compare what we do to that. Sure, it’s a nice excuse to up the Christmas budget but Jesus wasn’t a child with a room already full of toys. He wasn’t a teen connected to every electronic on the planet. He wasn’t a woman with a perfect kitchen and just the right wardrobe or a man with … I dunno a garage already packed with toys?! (Forgive the stereotypes)

Jesus was a newborn baby and the gifts were not to surprise him. They weren’t to build excitement. There weren’t more so he’d feel more appreciated. They weren’t luxurious to bring about that wonder and joy.

They were gifts of worship. I promise you, in our culture, our kids are worshipped enough. It is not another gift they need.

And mamas, hear me for a second while I explain the Instagram cycle.

1. Oh, the wonder of Christmas! Tie up all those presents and put them under the tree! This will be the merriest of christmases!

2. Christmas morning comes and hot cocoa and matching jammy’s abound. THIS! This is Christmas!

3. Someone cries. Someone wants what their sister got. Someone sleeps in too long and doesn’t respond to their gifts with the joy we thought they would. Someone says something rude. Someone didn’t even say thank you.

4. Ah, the food will make up for it. The traditional breakfast. The working tirelessly to have all ingredients on hand, to whip up the meal to perfection. All of the effort put forth to have that moment of joy. The laughter around the table. The heart felt appreciation from your family around you. But more likely someone spills all over the perfect white setting, no one is hungry because they snuck all the candy from their stocking, someone’s over tired because naps don’t happen on time and right in the middle of it all someone throws up.

5. Fast forward 2 months: the same gifts that were perfectly ribboned and wrapped under the tree and were to bring such joy are now cluttering up every corner of the house and your kids rooms are making you crazy because #minimalism and you get all of the Instagram applause when you pack it all up and ship it off to goodwill and have a spotless house back!

It’s madness, this search for a feeling. It’s illusion and it’s destructive and it’s making us all sorts of crazy. (Merry Christmas?!)

Christmas isn’t a feeling. It’s not something to strive for and chase.

Christmas is a truth. A truth!

A historical happening.

A, bust out the history books and study when Quirinias was Governor of Syria, kind of deal.

Its not a fantastical story that makes for a great movie script. It’s actual events. Actual timelines. Actual humans – some good, some evil, many confused.

I’m not really sure when this Christmas ‘feeling’ became our goal. I can guess it might be around the same time that Coca-Cola hijacked St. Nicholas but I don’t know.

Christmas can’t be about snow because much of the world doesn’t have it. It can’t be about shortbread because vast nations have no concept of what that is. It’s not about gifts because the majority of the human race can’t afford the luxury of one gift, let alone the masses we North Americans place under the tree. It can’t be certain songs with a jingle bell beat, or a weather pattern or how many family members gather together!

When we view Christmas for what it is – a truth and not a feeling, when we study deeply the time and the place and the events that went down, it’s here that we find wonder and awe and joy.

Angels appearing. Prophecies of old happening. Stars guiding. Humble hearts willing. Long treks. Birth pains. Angry rulers. New mothers – young and old. Faithful husbands. A baby born to save us from our kingdom of self. Born to save from all the ways we’ll chase feelings instead of truths. Born to set us free from striving and performing and working so hard to attain.

Find the joy, find the wonder, find the awe in our Saviour. Not a moment, not a feeling, not another trinket under the tree.

I promise when you do, the instagram pictures may not look quite as good, but what our hearts get, how it changes our lives, will be worth so much more.

Merry Christmas.

From our family to yours.

How Do You Wrap Up Your Heart?

When I asked them this year what they wanted for Christmas they shrugged. “I don’t know, Mom,” they floundered. “There’s nothing we need.”

And it’s true. There’s very little any of us actually need in terms of material possessions, but there’s so much that each of us need beyond what can be wrapped in plain brown paper and tied up with the simplest of bows.

How do we wrap up  love?

How do we give honour?

Can we put a bow on eyes that say, I see you?

A pretty little tag that says, you are enough?

There’s no box big enough in all the world for the forgiveness we all so desperately need, I know that full well.

But the wise men came with the finest of gifts for One who needed nothing.

The woman used her hair and tears to wipe the feet of the One who had no use for gifts.

It’s our very human nature to want to give something tangible to show what’s in our heart, though it never quite encompasses it just right.

So my children need nothing this year. I still love them beyond ways there are to show it, so what do we do? How can I take out my heart and wrap it and place it under the tree to show them just how valued they are, how respected, what a gift they are in my life each day?

To the hurting in our world to which a trinket from the mall can never bring back the spouse they loved or the child they never got to meet – what can we give?

To the lonely, the weak, yes even the bitter and angry – is there a store from which we can purchase a golden ticket that will take it all away?

God gave us the only gift we’ll ever need in his Son. Wrapped up as a gift cradled in His mother’s arms that night and later wrapped again, bloodied and scarred, after He gave the gift of His life and was placed in a tomb.

When we’ve been given the greatest gift what more could we possibly need?

God gave Himself and the only way I see it is that we give the same. We give ourselves.

To the hurting, the weary and broken, we give ourselves.

To the orphan, the abandoned, the alone, we give ourselves.

To those struggling with questions, why disease, why loss, why me? To the ones shaking their fists, we give ourselves.

To our own kids this Christmas let’s give just the same – let’s give them us.

Yes, presents that will make them smile but also being present with them.

Let’s give the gift of pursuit, the way our Heavenly Father pursues us. Let’s pursue their hearts and their minds and foster relationship in new ways. Asking the questions and listening attentively for the answers, relentlessly chasing them and where they’ve gone astray woo’ing them back.

Let’s gift them eyes that say I see you and you are enough. Can we put aside the ways they’ve let us down, the ways they’ve messed it all up, the ways they never seem to learn? It only takes one quick look at my own wretched heart to see I’m just the same. Yes, they’re likely different than you thought they would be and life might look far from the way your mind imagined it – but this is it. These are your gifts, these children. Do they know that you see them with the same eyes the Lord see’s you with? Not disappointment or frustration. Only love. Always love. Patience. Kindness. Overwhelming goodness.

If each of us gave the gift of ourselves, to the Lord, to our families, to the neighbourhood we live in, across the oceans far and wide – consider what that might look like.

It might look like shoeboxes stuffed to the brim, or donations to clean water. It might be adoption or fostering or making meals for those without family. It might look like new shoes on feet that have never worn any or safety and counselling for the children just rescued from violence or slavery or trafficking. It might look like a plate of cookies brought next door or a simple smile in the grocery store line. A kind word on facebook instead of harsh. Making one more invitation instead of exclusion. Making eye contact with that person ringing the bell. Answering the door. Kneeling at bedsides in the quiet of the night. Washing feet. Serving meals. Going. Serving. Staying. Giving.

Would you dream the dream with me this Christmas season? Find one small place to give yourself. Buy all of the gifts and decorate all of the things and laugh and be merry at all of the parties. And give yourself. Somewhere. Anywhere.

The impact of God giving God is so much greater than anything we can fathom. I have a feeling that if we all gave ourselves, the same might just be true.

Looking for a place to give this season? I have some ideas…

Casa De Luz Scholarship Fund – Help single mom’s finish their education and break the generational cycle of poverty ($2000 of $5000 goal currently raised)

Operation Christmas Child – Fill a shoebox with toys, love and the gospel of Jesus

The Salvation Army Centre of Hope – Provide food hampers, emergency shelter, gifts for children in need and Christmas dinner for those who would never otherwise have it.

Mercy Canada – Help young women break free from life-controlling issues, including eating disorders, self harm, drug and alcohol addictions, unplanned pregnancy, depression, sexual abuse, and trafficking.

 

 

Give a Gift with Purpose

The gift season is upon us and in our striving to not have it turn into an all out frenzy we’ve been thinking through how we’d like it to be different.

There are so many ways we can shake things up. Giving experiences over more stuff that just clutters up our kids bedrooms. Ever buy a gift and then only months later want to chuck it in the midst of yet another kids closet purge?

Ensuring that gifts are something that can be used up is another way to go. Whether it’s food or a favourite product – something you know the person loves but won’t end up in a landfill is a nice idea. It also never leaves the receiver with the guilt of making sure to display that vase/candle holder/trinket the next time you’re over!

I truly love the idea of supporting that Mom at school who sells a product, be it oils or spices or cleaning products or body wash. Whatever her reason for selling, it’s contributing so directly to the life of someone you know. Maybe it’s  because working from home allows her the flexibility to be with her kids more and contribute an income to their family. Maybe it’s a second income because a ‘regular’ job just doesn’t pay all the bills these days. It could be contributing to an adoption fund or so that her kids can play sports. Whatever the reason – each sale is directly impacting her life and that’s really cool.

But I think my favourite purchases for gifts in recent years have come from places that I know add quality of life and so much value to the maker. Gifts that are using skills that women have to create beautiful products, clothes, jewelry, bags – so that they are gainfully employed. So that they can work and earn and provide for the ones in their care. So they don’t have to rely on hand outs but feel the accomplishment of doing it – for themselves.

There are so many organizations that produce incredible goods and some of my favourite items I own come from these. Sure, it might be easier to head to Winners and buy a purse – but why not use our dollars to help small villages thrive and become self-sustaining instead? Yeah, I know the necklace might be cheaper at that place in the mall – but some of these come with a name attached so you know the exact woman who worked hard to make that beautiful piece you’re wearing.

There’s something really special about this and I’ve compiled a list here of just a few of my favourites. I would truly be ecstatic to receive anything these organizations offer as a gift, so I have a feeling some of your family and friends might too.

Would you check them out?

ABLE – “ABLE is a lifestyle brand focused on ending generational poverty by working with women who have often overcome extraordinary circumstances. If we are to end generational poverty, society must create jobs for women lacking opportunity.”

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Who wouldn’t love to unwrap one of these beauties from ABLE?
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I have the above tote from ABLE and it is the most gorgeous leather I have ever owned. I use it daily for all of the things!

Zuri – “We firmly believe that sustainable economies develop from businesses that operate fairly and ethically and create products that people want…We hope that by paying fair wages, sourcing locally, and making a product that our customers truly love, we will be helping to support a long-term, sustainable economy in Kenya.”

And if you want to know who makes them? No problem.

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One of these dresses from Zuri has been on my wish list forever. I’m waiting for my favourite print to be back in stock. A loose fit dress with 3/4 sleeves and pockets? Come on!

 

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SOKO is focused on creating sustainable livelihoods and an alternative to prostitution and poaching in a region of Kenya with the country’s highest rates of unemployment.

Amazima – “Every week, a group gathers. Benches form to make a circle. Ladies come carrying their little ones, out from their homes, up from their mats, leaving their cooking saucepans. They gather to sell their necklaces, but more importantly, they gather to see their friends, share their hurts and victories and hear about the Gospel. These 31 ladies have become our friends, and they all have a story. Our desire is to empower these women, to provide hope for their families, and to see the Gospel to take root in their lives.”

See the beautiful faces who make up this beading circle and tell me you don’t want to wear one of the necklaces they’ve made while gathered there. I don’t think it’s possible.

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Amazima is the ministry started by Katie Davis Majors. If you haven’t read her books, Kisses from Katie or Dare to Hope – you should add them to your Christmas List!

These are just a very few organizations that are working to help end generational poverty. Help women escape abuse and prostitution. Breathe life and hope into families through the gospel.

Making a purchase from these places is so meaningful and I have no doubt the receiver of the gift will be endlessly thankful that you spent your money in such an honouring way. Even if the gift is for yourself 😉

 

I’ve Been Tricked!

Walk into my home and you may come to a few quick decisions about me. You might decipher simple and orderly is high on my list of musts. You may ascertain our family is a bit quirky when you see what’s hanging on our walls. You might decide we’re super trendy with our paint (non) colour of choice or maybe we decorated a bit too early for Christmas!

We live in a society that feels the need to portray our inner most being through our things. We desire for the things we own, the car we drive, the art on our walls or the shoes on our feet to speak about the inner parts of our character – who we are at our very core.

Oh, you’re Adidas not Nike? I see.

Oh, you’re feature wall over all white? Hmm.

Ah, brand new sofa. Interesting.

It’s a constant conversation in our home with 4 teenagers. How do we not come to assumptions about people based on what we see flashing before our eyes. How do we not predict their priorities, their bank accounts, their style, their heart when we see how they adorn themselves?

How quickly are we to make judgments? How upset are we when people are quick to judge us?

So while you might walk into our home and think certain things, I’m pretty sure I could kaibosh them all with the stories behind them.

Our home – it holds quite a tale of prayer and release and somehow God landed us here.

The white walls – choosing a colour gives me nausea for days and I’m a terrible painter and white is so forgiving.

The shoes – whatever was on sale.

The quirky stuff on the walls – our friends are amazing artists – we display their gifts.

The Christmas decorations – they’re not! I just happen to like twinkly lights on dark fall nights.

We all have likes and dislikes and I think that’s amazing. My favourite food is different than yours and these are the beautiful things which make us unique.

But when we’re deciphering the things in our lives, the wants versus the needs, the choices we make which may fill our need for identity, for validation, for acceptance from people – we can easily deceive ourselves.

We do know how easily deceived we are, right? How we can turn wants into needs by justification. How we can trick our minds into thinking our choices are wise by comparing ourselves to others and the choices they’re making. How we can validate our thoughts, twist words, rationalize anything. Just me?

The words of God in Isaiah 55:8-9 have been stirring in my heart for weeks now.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

I like to think I’m decently smart. That my decisions are mostly good and right and wise. I like to think I’m not deceived by my own ways or desires. But this passage tells me I’m altogether wrong.

God’s thoughts are not my thoughts.

God’s thoughts are higher than my thoughts.

My ways are not God’s ways.

God’s ways are higher than my ways.

He doesn’t soften the blow here. My ways and thoughts are not His. How deceived am I to think they are. How delusional to consider I can come up with things in my own brain which would match His. I can’t. My ways are not His. My thoughts not His.

Last night as we gathered around, bibles open in our laps, large teenage bodies strewn out over every inch of furniture, we sought to unpack this concept.

So what do we do? How do we make our ways in line with God’s ways? How can we line up our thoughts with His?

Thankfully it doesn’t have to be tricky. We were given a pretty specific manual of His thoughts, a fairly straight forward guide to His ways.

In fact, it’s not tricky at all. There’s no rocket science involved. But it sure isn’t easy. Our hearts are so bent to benefit ourselves and God’s ways are exactly opposite to our natural inclinations. Ask me what I want on any given day and it can be summed up in just a few words – comfort and ease.

Now open up the Bible and get some insight into the mind of our Maker and what exactly He calls us to. Spoiler alert: it’s not comfort and ease. At least not as long as we live in a world where things are not as they should be. Yet.

God’s kingdom is upside down to everything my heart instinctively wants.

I want someone else to do my laundry, cook my dinner and please, would someone else wash my truck? God calls me to be the one to serve.

My actions show I care a great deal for myself. From the clothes in my closet to the phone in my hand to the food stock piled in the freezer. God calls me to love my neighbour as if they were my own flesh and blood.

My thought process involves much human thinking and a decent amount of justification. His ways tell me to always pray.

His ways say deny yourself. Mine says lavish yourself. You deserve it. It’s been a hard week.

His ways are for me to love those who harm me. To embrace those who speak ill of me. To do good for those who hate me.

His ways are to give not only generously, but sacrificially. Not to myself. I’m really quite skilled at giving myself good gifts. Clearly that’s my thought, not His.

Speak truth. Rejoice in adversity. Be joyful in sacrifice. Love in suffering. Don’t be angry. Be patient. Make disciples.

Ironically, we’re reading through the book of Luke just now and the very passage we were on after discussing all of these things was Luke 6:46,

“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?”

Needless to say, some nights we don’t get further than one line.

 

 

When The Weight Feels Too Much

I’ve never felt such a longing for Christmas before. I know, it’s not even Halloween and I’m not talking about putting up a tree or decking the halls or playing the music or any of the trinkets we’ve made Christmas to be about.

I know I’m not the only one feeling the heaviness of living in a broken world. It’s all around us if our eyes are open to see it. If our hearts are raw to feel it. If we’re willing to take the risk of walking right up beside it and let it affect us. Katie Davis Majors, in her new book Dare to Hope, says it like this, “The reality of living in a fallen, broken world is that there is always a storm.”

Can you feel the storm? Is it pressing in a little too close? Is it hurting in ways you can’t understand. I think if we’re feeling the storm we’re paying attention. One of my favourite bloggers calls it, ‘the ministry of paying attention’.   It resonates, doesn’t it? Because it’s not always about heading far and wide across oceans (though sometimes it is) and it’s not always about big, bold moves (though sometimes that, too). I can’t help but think that more often than not it’s just about looking up. Raising our eyes to look into the faces of whomever God has placed right in front of us. Look right to the close friends and family He’s given you. Look left to the people you normally just walk right on by. Stare them in the face. Know they are created in the image of the Almighty and ask about their story. If you dare.

Chances are it involves a storm. It just always does.

I don’t know where your boat is being tossed just now but I think what I want you to know is mine is, too. Cancer diagnoses all around me. A new one last night and I can’t help but ask – dear Lord, why?! Our family is seeing so much devastation at the hands of addiction. Drugs, alcohol, pornography, self-glorification, pride, food – you name it. The result is never only left to affect the addict themselves but every single person who walks near enough to them to feel the ripple of their decisions. Wives, kids, care workers, family, those brave enough to say, ” I see you. Let me journey with you.”

There’s divorce and there’s fires and there’s hurricanes and guns. There’s mental health and there’s trauma and there’s deep rooted anger. Hurt. Betrayal. Miscarriages. Death. Misunderstandings that divide for years. Misconceptions that make us judge and build walls. Bodies aching. Children scared. So much weeping.

It should never come as a surprise to us. It is a fallen and a broken world and we’re a mess of a people. But Christmas brings a certain longing in the depths of all the hurt, the tears, the deep, deep aches.

Christmas feels like a light of hope. A timely reminder all is not lost. All is not despair. Quite simply, all is not as it should be.

But a babe sent. A Mama willing. A Daddy just wanting to get it right. A humble entry. The hope for all of us bundled up with the sweet, sweet smell that comes with newness of life. The fragrance of hope we can inhale deep inside of us and can’t leave us feeling overburdened, overtired and undone.

Instead we know, though broken and messy, the babe came to make all things new. Came to set a twinkle in our hearts and shine in our eyes. Came to give us courage to step right up to the broken. Came so we might not be afraid to get too near. There is no too near. In the wake of the tossed boats, in the very midst of the storm, that babe came so we might wrap our arms around the hurt and offer everything we have to ease the earthly burden. We can. We can because we know this isn’t the end of the story.

It might look bleak right now but hold on. Hope is just around the corner.