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.

 

 

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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 😉

 

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.

Teach Your Kids That Others Matter

I’m not one to be doling out parenting advice at all. Over the years we’ve, by the grace of the Lord alone, done a few things right but we’ve also made some monumental errors. No two kids are alike. No two families are alike. No two set of circumstances even come close to comparing. Personalities are vastly different. Sin struggles are varied and many. There are more days that I feel crazy as a parent than I feel sane.

So hear me when I say I’m not bragging here. The lists of triumphs are there, but behind every victory is a million I’m sorry’s, a thousand mess up’s and hours and hours and hours of pleading with the Lord.

But there is one piece I’m extremely thankful we did, as parents. It was a bit scary the first time but has proved abundantly worth it. And of course, we don’t know the end of our children’s story but we do know, for now, that what we see in them because of this is worth the scary!

It began when our oldest was 13. No wait, it probably started before that. If I rewind the rolodex in my mind I’m thinking that it  started when our kids were around 5, 3 and 2. Or at least that’s the story I’m going with.

It all started with getting our first sponsor child through Compassion. Like many churches do, we had the table with packets holding photos of the most beautiful little faces. Of course, after hearing about it our oldest simply knew the right thing to do was choose the packet and make this child’s life better.

We took time, though, to explain it a little more. We didn’t pick a child that particular day but we went home and talked about what we could give up as a family in order to help a child. While $30 a month wasn’t a ton, the learning opportunities were abundant. We wanted our kids to know that giving to others means sacrificing of themselves. Because we aren’t simply called to give out of our abundance (ie. parents bank account) but we’re called to give sacrificially. We wanted them to be a part of this in a real way. And of course, thirty bucks being auto withdrawn from our bank account had very little impact on their lives – if that’s how we would have gone about it.

So we talked with them and offered suggestions as to what they could give up that might equal $30 a month. We settled on juice. At 5, 3 and 2 juice was a luxury item. Those boxes of apple juice were something my kids loved and yet, we decided together, that giving up juice in order to help a child was something we were all willing to do.

The next week at church we let the boys choose a child together. I can’t even handle this process because how do you choose one and leave the others? It’s too much for my heart so I was happy to let them do it.

They chose a small boy right about their age. They chose him because he was wearing pink shoes. They definitely felt that giving up juice was worth it in order to get this boy out of his sisters shoes! We laugh about it now. But for whatever reason, it’s who they were drawn to and who we supported.

I just want to own the fact that we were the worlds worst sponsor family ever. Yes, we gave up the juice, and yes we sent the money, but we only sent a letter to this child once when it was new and novel. Then we just sort of forgot.

We would get a reminder that his birthday was coming and so I’d check the box that allowed for an extra donation so that he could get a birthday gift, but we never went out of our way for personal connection with this boy. When I look back now I’m sad about it. But also, we were learning and it’s part of our journey.

Fast forward a few years to when we learned about the Joshua Project. Through their website we signed up to receive an email once a week. This email held the name of one unreached people group along with statistics on where they live, how many people belong to this group, what obstacles there were to ministering to them, and how few of them knew Jesus.

Each week we would read through the email together, giggle at the name of some of the people groups (which I’m sure we weren’t even saying correctly!) and write it up on a chalkboard in the boys room. Each night for the following week we would pray for this unreached people group, as well as the other groups that were already on the board.

It’s a small thing, but it’s also huge! Our kids eyes were opened to groups of people they would never hear about otherwise. We were all shown how many people there are in the world who have never heard of Jesus and maybe never will. We prayed that people would be brave enough to go to these tribes and nations. We prayed that one day maybe we would be the ones brave enough.

I think these conversations about  people around the world are what planted the seeds in our children to even care. How would they know what existed around the world if we weren’t talking about it? How would they know that people needed to go and spread the gospel if they thought everyone lived just like them? How would they fight being entitled simply because we live in such a rich nation, without grasping that this here – this is not ‘normal’.

So, at 13 our oldest boarded a plane and left us for 5 weeks. He jet-setted across the ocean  to be part of a youth outreach mission called Impact Ireland. It was made slightly easier by the fact that we have family in Ireland but still, he was 13 and he was out of our clutches for 5 weeks.

But what he learned that summer was more than we could ever teach him. He learned about service work and how yucky it can be and yet joy can be found there. He learned about street evangelism. He learned about setting aside what may be considered “uncool” and diving into that skit in the park because children are watching and listening to the gospel being presented. He learned about feeling oh-so-tired. He got to know older teens whose life had been transformed by Christ and he got to hear them share their stories and watch people be moved by it. He was young, yes. But he learned big things.

Our next boy went when he was 14 and he did it a little different. He moved right in with a family we didn’t know. He spent his time being someone else’s child and learning from them. He served, he prayed, he heard words from street kids that he still to this day won’t repeat to me because they’re so bad. I got messages from his new mom saying how impressed they were with him – his willingness to serve, to ‘take it’ when things got tough, and the maturity they saw in him as he reached out to a rough culture.

These things mean so much more than playing video games all summer.

This past summer we had the opportunity to go and serve in Mexico as a family and I was blown away by our kids response both during and after. It’s currently the only place they want to go – ever, and the conversation of family vacation will never exist because it will only and forever be Mexico. (at least for now!)

Our oldest boy, now 18, just hopped a plane a few days ago to head back for 2 months to serve. We couldn’t be more pleased.

I’ve heard parents say they can’t imagine their kids leaving. I’ve heard the worry in their voice about heading to unknown lands.

As a parent, I can honestly say there is nowhere I’d rather my kids be than giving up the comforts of home to serve the Lord. I haven’t for one second wished he wasn’t going. I haven’t for one second wish he’d be back. Do I miss his goofy antics around the house? Of course. But there is little worry of what if’s. What about university? What about money? What about the danger of an area? What about fires that are raging nearby? What about hurricanes and earthquakes? What about it?

Following the Lord is never a promised easy road but it is one of assurance. We know it’s where our boy is supposed to be and we’re so thankful.

Christian Mama’s and Dad’s, I urge us to introduce missions to our kids early and often in ways that we can – even when they’re small. Talk to them endlessly about the world and its people and the love that God has for all of it! Teach them about first world privilege and riches and what it means in light of scripture. Teach them daily about what giving of themselves sacrificially actually looks like.

Yes, it might mean that one day they’re going to move away from us. But shouldn’t that be a place of rejoicing, not mourning? When we teach our kids that other people matter, it shouldn’t shock us when they want to do big things for people. Nothing has made my Mama heart happier! Whether it’s contributing to IJM, taking on a sponsor child of their own through Casa de Luz, or going and being hands that serve and a voice that shares Jesus love – it’s worth it!

Slow living and calmer mornings

As the seasons shift and new routines get put into practice, I’ve been wondering how I can hold on to some of the feelings summer brings. Summer has always been my favourite. I like sunshine and undone hair and flip flops and slow, unstructured days. Of course, those aren’t a reality all through the year – at least around these parts – but I wonder if I can hold onto just a bit of summer throughout the year. The parts that mean the most. (And I’m willing to try my hardest to make it so!)

My very favourite part of summer is the slow starts. Waking up and not having to dart out of bed and rush, rush, rush into the day. I like being able to lay in bed for a few minutes without a rolodex of to-do’s flipping through my mind.

I like to get up and make my coffee while everyone else is still sleeping. To sit outside on our covered deck and sip slow with a book or my bible in hand.

I like sleepy headed kids that saunter out with not a hint of frantic in their pace.

I know that mornings during school and work days can’t be exactly like that. But I do think I can adopt a few new practices to keep things slow. To not fall prey to the mad dash of the busy – at least for a bit of the morning.

So, this is what I tried on the first day of back to school for the kiddo’s and back to work work for me. I set my alarm for 45 minutes earlier than I would normally get up on a school/work morning. I know, I know. Some of you can’t handle the thought of losing 45 minutes of sleep or rolling out of bed while it’s still dark. I think it might be worth it. Even though it’s EARLY!

I think pace and tone are everything. I set both of these for my whole family in the morning. If I’m stressed, they feel it and become stressed too. If I’m rushing about like a crazy woman, they get a bit rattled and crazy too. But if I’m calm, they’re calm. If I’m pleasant and happy, they’re so much more pleasant and all around happier. Dare I say there’s even a feeling of joy – even though it’s morning and we’re all preparing for our day!

For the first 15 minutes I stayed in bed. Not falling back asleep and waking from the  snooze alarm again and again, but just laid there. I thought, I prayed, I told myself I didn’t need to be anywhere else just then but right where I was. Comfy and awake and just enjoying the moment. Y’know, like summer!

From there I mozied into the kitchen to make a coffee, grab a book and just like the summer mornings I love, I headed outside to cozy up in a chair and read. On a work and school morning! (Can you even believe it?!) I sipped my coffee, read some good words, watched a few hummingbirds dart in and out of our flowering trees and asked the Lord to prepare me for the day ahead.

By the time the clock hit my normal wake up time I had relaxed in bed, enjoyed my coffee, finished a chapter in my book and marvelled at nature. What a great start to the day!

I did it all week and I’m doing it again next week, too. I hope to keep it up all through the fall! Sitting outside felt weird and wonderful on a school/work morning. Almost like a guilty pleasure. Though there was nothing to feel guilty about. I hope I keep it up through the rainy months and even the snow. I have a feeling it might become something special and very possibly my very favourite part of the day. But I’ll report back when I’m more than one week in.

By the time we had to leave for school drop offs and for me to head into work, (this happens at 7:30 am) I had already thoroughly enjoyed my day! Do you think losing 45 minutes of sleep is worth it? Or does it sound crazy to you?

 

Vacations Don’t Build Memories, People Do. (and people are everywhere!)

There’s a social protocol heading into summer around these parts. We ask every person we meet the same questions. “Any plans for the summer?”

Most summers I fumble with niceties around our personal answer to this question. Oh, we’re just sticking around here. I mean, it’s so nice in the summer why would you leave?

But the truth is, we didn’t leave in the fall either. Or the winter, or subsequent spring. Most people gasp when we tell them we don’t vacation. But it’s true. We don’t.

This isn’t to say we’ve never vacationed. We have. As a family we’ve done a few vacations. My parents took us to Hawaii back when there were just 4 of us and our kids were very tiny. My mom took us to Disneyland the Christmas after my dad died and we road rollercoasters on Christmas Day instead of having turkey dinner with an empty seat at the table. Only once in our history have we paid for a family vacation. We went to Whistler. Which is under 3 hours away. This was big for us!

Of course we’re endlessly thankful we have family with property we can camp on only 20 minutes from home. It’s what we’ve done every summer for the past 17 years. A few days surrounded with trees 20 minutes away. It’s glorious. And we’ve done a night in a close by city here and there so it’s not like we never go ANYwhere. We move within a 2 hour radius. ha

But people look at us dumbfounded. You NEVER vacation? They ask, staring.

Um…nope. Not really.

But what about family memories? What about relationship building? What about relaxation?

I contend that if a week on a beach is what it takes to build memories then the state of our families are in trouble. Memory making is more than a hashtag on an instagramable photo. Memories are something built daily in our family. Our kids don’t ever feel deprived for not having seen vast parts of the world via vacation (they have seen parts of the world for the purpose of missions work) and we certainly don’t feel like the strength of our family has been weakened by never experiencing a cruise ship buffet or staring at the Mona Lisa together.

Would all of those things be wonderful? Probably. But are they necessary for memory making? Not a chance. (This is my point, people. I’m not judging where you went this summer)

Of course I’m not implying that family vacations are a terrible thing. Of course they aren’t. We have our reasons for not taking them which revolve around how we spend our finances, the timing of being self-employed and most importantly, what we speak and practice in our daily life and walk with God lining up with how we spend our time off. We simply don’t want to operate one way in ‘normal’ life and another way on vacation. I know every families ways are different and I’m simply sharing ours – not judging yours. (Can you tell I’m feeling like some opposition may come?)

In our home we decided well over a decade ago that if we believe what we say we believe, then it meant our lives would involve sacrifice. We started in small ways including our boys in what this would look like. For example, if we are going to fund the schooling for a small child in a poor country – what were we willing to give up so that we could do this. We’re called to give sacrificially and that’s what we wanted to impress upon our children.

We all agreed it would be juice. If we stopped buying juice in our home or juice boxes for lunches it would add up to enough to have a sponsor child. And those funds, from our children’s sacrifice of juice, could pay for another child’s meals and clothes and education. So, we gave up juice.

There have been many other ways we’ve done this over the years. It’s become a normal part of our family culture, assessing what giving looks like and wondering what we can sacrifice to do so. It’s influenced many of our family decisions, including where we live, foster care and how we vacation.

But back to the question of no vacations and building family memories.

When we look back with our boys over their lives there are things I want them to remember more than a monument or a certain city or how great a tan they got on vacation. Memories don’t just happen away from home. In fact, we want their strongest ones to include our home – the place we spend our most amount of time.

I want them to remember the kitchen table that we sat around. How we ate dinner together and told ridiculous stories. How we played games and laughed our faces off. How Mom and Dad got in a fight over Monopoly and have decided never to play together again – because we like being married. How there were always extra people at the table, another plate added, another table grabbed from the garage. I want them to remember sitting atop the table while I cooked dinner and they played guitar, or peppered me with questions, or we chatted about that thing that happened at school that day.

When they look back at our family memories I want them to remember important conversations that happened in our ‘coffee shop’. I want them to remember how we challenged them, how we cried alongside them, how we read the bible together here in these chairs, how we prayed on these couches more often than we can count about things we were so thrilled about, things that terrified us, and things that had our eyes stinging with the threat of tears. How we yelled and said all of the wrong things and then sought forgiveness in the very same spot.

When they look back I want them to remember the smells of home, the ritual of bedtime, the feelings of safety and love. I want them to remember our mistakes, how mom would go into rant mode and they might as well just listen until she was finished. I want them to remember the jokes that came later about that very same rant and the apologies that followed and the explanations that we don’t have a clue how to do this parenting thing right, but thank the Lord we have prayer and forgiveness.

I want our memories to be the journey together. The calm of reading books aloud. The jokes about Dad always taking forever to make a coffee before we could begin. The music that we sing loud to even though not one of us can sing on key.

Vacations don’t build memories, people do. Intentional practices do. Laughing together does. Taking time to enjoy one another will. Fighting and making up can. This can happen on the other side of the world, sure, but it can just as easily happen across the street at the park, or in your very own living room. The culture we’ve built into our home, the way we live our every day lives, is what we want our kids to remember most.

So if you can’t afford to vacation, be encouraged. Build memories into your every day and your kids will be just fine.

If you can afford to vacation, be challenged. How do you spend your time, money and energy while you’re away. Does it line up with the things you preach and practice at home? Or does it suddenly become all about self?

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Don’t Just Act Like You Know Where You’re Going

I recently had the privilege of sitting in a meeting with someone 4 bajillion times smarter than I am. I’m not kidding. This woman knew stuff.

I use to find myself quite nervous in situations where I knew there was a vast chasm between my knowledge base and that of the person I was talking to. My mind would tell me I wasn’t good enough, smart enough, or have enough letters behind my name. (FYI: I have zero) My posture would overcompensate for my lack of college degrees and I would follow the advice a random stranger gave me while I was wandering the streets of Chicago with my camera many moons ago.

“Just act like you know where you’re going. Act like you have every purpose to be where you are and you’ll be fine.”

It hadn’t crossed my mind to be worried about where I was going but clearly the gentleman saw a naive girl nearing territory she may not want to be in and felt compelled to warn her. I thanked him and stuck to the main streets from then on.

Act like you know where you’re going might be decent advice when you’re lost and don’t want to fumble in dark alleys with a map. I can see that. But as far as wisdom for life, I’ve come to learn it’s pretty terrible.

If we pretend like we know where we’re going, how on earth do we know where we’ll end up?

If being in a certain place at a certain time is all about acting like I belong there, faking it to fit in, impersonating those who’ve figured it out – then all I do is a sham.

I know it sounds high school-esque and trying to get in with the popular crowd but it goes so far beyond that. I know, we like to believe we’ve advanced as we head out into the real world post graduation, but how often have we soaked in the culture of a work place and made it our mission to fit in. Or maybe we’ve taken part in a bible study and been worried about speaking out loud for fear our words might not be big enough or christian enough for those listening. We stay silent until we know which words the culture in that room uses and then we spout forth our wisdom once we know we’ll get it right, once we’ve assimilated enough.

It can happen in any setting even as adults. We like to fit it, to belong, to be a part of and this can become a lot of acting when our minds or our hearts don’t know the right notes to sing with a particular group just yet. We’re not so great at harmonizing with a crowd, each of us taking on our part. Instead we long to sing the same note that everyone else is singing because at least that way we don’t stand out quite so much if we happen to get our part wrong.

Over the years I’ve learned that the older I get the less I actually know. Turns out, the less I know the more I need to learn and the more I need to learn the more open I had better be to dropping the disguise and getting on with the business of asking questions.

If I take one man’s advice and act like I know where I’m going, sure it might keep me safe this time. But is it not wisdom, rather, to ask some questions and learn which path I should actually be on? Isn’t that what will keep me safe in the long run.

It’s taken time but I find myself rarely intimidated by those who possess much greater wisdom than I do. Instead, I want to sidle up next to them and ask them all of the questions I have no answers to. I want to sit with them for hours and pick all of the facets of their minds and hearts and like a toddler pepper them with a thousand, “but why’s.”

If we look at the world, our country, our cities, our schools, our churches, our neighbours, our spouses and our kids and we stop pretending like we know where we’re going and in humility admit we don’t have all of the answers does it not force us to ask a few more questions? To find the people who know more and ask them why without simply assimilating for the sake of looking smart or fitting in or whatever our excuse is. Would we not know so much more if we opened our hearts to hear some answers as to why instead of waxing poetically all the live long day but never really understanding the truth.

Before I left the meeting with the woman whose mind knew so many things, I looked her straight in the face, craving one last nugget of truth, and asked, “Do you have any more wisdom for me?”

“No,” she said. “But if you have any more questions you may ask.”

I laughed. Of course she didn’t. She had already given me everything I needed. Because sometimes there’s no need to belabour a thing you’ve already been given the answer to.

She told me to walk forward in confidence. Right. I could use a dose of that just now. I’m learning the pattern, slowly slowly slowly learning the pattern. Obstacle. Humble heart. Ask questions. Petition God. Rely on His Spirit. Move forward in confidence. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

The Lord’s justice will dwell in the desert,

his righteousness live in the fertile field.

The fruit of that righteousness will be peace;

its effect will be quietness and confidence forever.

Isaiah 32: 16-17

(Read the whole chapter for context here)

When We Thought We Knew Everything

I see 20 year olds now and from this vantage point they look like babies. But on this morning 20 years ago, at 20 years old, I awoke in my bedroom in my parents house and set about with the primping – preparing to marry the man of my dreams.

This year it’s official – I’ve been married longer than I was not married.

When I think of the first 20 years of my life it feels like so much more changed. From tiny baby to toddler to riding a bike on my very own. School and then high school, and sports and clubs. I learned to speak, to feed myself, to be a friend, to drive….plus all of the words to some pretty terrible salt n’ peppa songs.

It’s hard to think that anything can top the learning curve of the first 20 years of life. But I dare say I’ve learned just as much in the second 20 years simply by being married.

Sure I already knew how to talk but I certainly wasn’t a good communicator. I might have known how to be a friend but I knew nothing about being a wife. I’m going to bet I’ve even become a better driver. And learned to appreciate better music.

The learning curve hasn’t stopped even for a second.

Of course I set off into marriage thinking I knew all. We knew exactly what our life was going to look like and of course we knew exactly how we were going to raise our kids. Expertly, I might add.

But that first year was an eye opener of so many kinds. While setting up home was fun and cooking together was always interesting, we were caught up in our own selfishness. We were blinded by our own expectations of the other – sometimes even of ourselves. We had no idea how to serve the other above ourselves, let alone communicate our wants or needs.

Did we have some fun? Of course.

Was the world our oyster and everyone a tad bit dumber than us? Yes and amen.

I couldn’t have believed it at the time – all of those ‘old’ couples who told us it only gets better. How could it? Time only means more responsibilities, children who drain you financially, bad hair and an even worse wardrobe!

No, life at 20 and marriage in year one was where it was at. Earl’s Restaurant cooking us dinner pretty much nightly, movies and concerts whenever we wanted, skateboarding around the city to get where we needed to go. What could be better?

Turns out it really does get better with time. Because above the need to be cool we now totally get that we’re not and are 100% good with that. In fact, we’re happy to be the ‘old’ people now telling other couples that it only gets better. Because there’s a knowing behind our smiles now. A knowing that the vows we said when we had no idea what life would look like were actually ones kept. It’s easy to say richer or poorer when you’ve never been poorer. And it’s simple to think you’ll stay in sickness and health when there’s never been an illness beyond a cold. We scoffed at the better or worse because it would always be better but, my oh my, did we learn that there was going to be a worse.

And yet – here we are. Having waded through muck and mire, seasons of storms, and so much more. We still look at each other and smile – though we smirk a little more now. Sometimes we downright laugh at all of the things we thought we knew and where God has brought us today. It’s a life we could never have dreamed.

The beauty comes in having lived the good, the bad and the ugly together and still being able to walk away holding hands. The best parts of marriage are realizing that you don’t have to win or be right, but that we can totally disagree and still love and respect each other unendingly. The mystery comes from realizing we have a few more wrinkles, a less hip wardrobe, 4 teenagers that suck every one of our resources away and yet we still have love, in fact, an even deeper love, respect and appreciation for each other.

If we’ve learned this much in 20 years I simply can’t wait to see what the next 20 hold. We still have so far to go!

Gary Thomas says that cherishing is seeking to enhance the life of the other in both big and small ways. I can’t wait until we rock at that. We try. But so often we’re tired or stressed or still a li’l bit selfish. It’s our year 20 goal. Enhance each others life in small ways. We already do it in so many ways but we want to do it even more.

Because we can’t wait to be 60 with even more wrinkles, a worse wardrobe and yet still look at each other and smirk because those 40 year olds who think they’ve got it all together? Well, they look like babies now.

Here’s to 20 more, my love! You are not my everything. I hope you never will be. I can’t wait to get my first grandma perm and to see you wear your first pair of suspenders. Walking this path of life with you is the best gift.

 

When School Isn’t Made For Your Kid

Early in his school years a teacher stated to my son that if he didn’t sit down on his chair, which he never did, she would take it away. He said, “Okay!” handed in his chair and continued to happily stand for the remainder of the year.

In seventh grade he failed to tell me there were any sort of sign ups for sports. It wasn’t until nearly Christmas when I clued in he was fairly free after school and there hadn’t been any sort of after school sign ups. When asked about it he said, “Oh yeah. I didn’t sign up. I don’t want to play sports.”

When the other kids were outside running around the neighbourhood my boy was filming them with a video camera. When they went inside for dinner, he took his spot behind the computer screen and edited it all into a little montage complete with title sequence and closing credits.

His days were spent writing scripts for plays that he could never rally enough kids to actually participate in. His nights were spent with his nose buried deep in books.

In eighth grade he begged for piano lessons.

All along I couldn’t help but think – who is this kid? While I loved every facet of what he was doing and the creative things he was pouring himself into, I also worried. Because kids need an outlet and when the outlet is creativity and not sports, they don’t necessarily fit in naturally at school.

I’m so thankful for a teacher who told me, when he was still so young, this kid of mine – he was an outside the box thinker and school wouldn’t necessarily be the place he shone. She understood a regular sit, read, answer questions curriculum didn’t resonate with him, though we also agreed sometimes you have to do the things you don’t love in order to learn important facts.

She told me to get him through. Don’t worry myself too much with grades. He’ll do big things once he’s out of school and off in the world where there is more to explore out from the confines of a desk. Where there’s a place for diving into your passions, creating things that are beautiful and where you might even find a few more people who think like you do.

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That teacher saved me from years of questioning my parenting with her words. She clarified what I couldn’t. She told me that he would go places, that he would find his niche, probably a bit later in life because the younger school world didn’t cater to this type of kid.

I wrapped those words up as a gift and kept giving them to myself whenever I needed them. Whenever I worried about him. Whenever I felt like he just didn’t fit in.

Through middle school he stayed inside and read novels through lunch. He poured through Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy and dove into cult favourites like A Wrinkle in Time, The Outsiders and soaked up characters like Holden Caufield in A Catcher in the Rye. I couldn’t keep up with his reading so I finally just had to let him troop on and choose what he liked.

Friends in the arts assured me that he’d be okay. As long as he had an outlet.

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He found his outlet in writing. Every single night we’d find him curled up somewhere frantically typing out a new story. Or adding to his novel. Or casually saying, “Hey Mom, want to read my new poem?”

When your kid doesn’t fit the mould, when they don’t fit into categories of ‘normal’ or just do what all of their peers are doing, it can be difficult as a parent. We can wonder if they’re going to be okay. We can question if we’ve done it all wrong. We can fear for their future.

17 1/2 years into this deal I’ve learned that he will be okay. I learned early that there’s nothing wrong with him.  I learned to stop trying to make him answer questions the way I thought they should be answered. I learned that I didn’t need to explain why he wasn’t in sports to other parents.  I learned not to worry because he’s different then his peers. It can be a hard place to parent a kid who’d rather discuss the latest character in a novel he’s read than the latest comic book hero and who thinks his generation is being ruined by every selfie posted and every meme made.

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At 17 he doesn’t understand his generation. He feels like he’s been born in the wrong era and yet he knows that God made him for just such a time as this. To have no social media accounts in a world of snapchat. To write books in a sea of video game obsessed children. To wear jeans with rips made because he doesn’t care about fashion and his jeans have literally worn threadbare, not because rips are cool and so he needs the latest trends.

It shouldn’t have surprised me that he’d want out of high school as quickly as possible and that he’d choose to graduate early and get out of the place he deems all drama and narcissism. And it shouldn’t surprise me that he didn’t attend his graduation ceremony two nights ago when he should have been donning cap and gown and received his diploma.

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“I don’t understand festivities,” was his answer. “So I finished classes I was supposed to finish – why does that need a celebration?”

So I have no photo of him walking across that stage or in his school colours and I’m totally fine with it. Because to have a kid like him, one who doesn’t follow the crowd, one who maintains strong convictions of who he is and what he believes, one who doesn’t care if everyone is doing it or not – well, that’s something special.

It’s such a privilege to raise each of our kids, mamas and dads – no matter what they’re like. Sure there are days we don’t get it, there are times we wish they would have said something different in public, there may even be times we’ve been embarrassed – but looking back at what I’ve learned from him and what I’m continuing to learn every day – I wouldn’t change it for anything.

 

 

When We’re Short on Time but Big on Love

My husband snuck into the house late last night. It’s been that sort of season. So much work. Travel. On set shoots. Long days. Little sleep. Even less time at home.

I rolled over but I couldn’t lift my head off of my pillow to greet him properly. This many days of single parenting and keeping up with the schedules of 4 teenagers takes a toll. A toll that means once I crawl into bed I’m not moving for a solid 8 hours. (don’t judge. some of us like our sleep!)

It’s not how we like our schedules to be. The visions of happiness in my mind look more like kneading bread dough on the counter, growing vegetables in our own soil, writing with pen and paper and long drawn out talks around the fire late into the night.

These days, however, look more like frozen pizza and a bag of baby carrots, quick text messages with all of the abbreviations possible, and Cole’s notes versions of all of the things we want to share.

It may not look exactly how we want life to be just now, but we’ve also been married long enough to know that these seasons don’t last forever. They show up with force, barging their way in and then they slowly mosey along and leave the door swinging behind them.

The thing is – what’s a couple supposed to do in the meantime?

One day together in the last eight is not the best streak. Most days we aren’t even able to see each others eyes (either because we’re not in the same city, or because mine are already closed!)  And yet we know that in order for our family to maintain its strength, integrity and any semblance of sanity – we need to stay connected – the hubs and I.

We’ve figured out a few ways that work for us, thank the Lord, and while they aren’t as good as Saturday morning coffee in bed, or long walks along dusty trails under a canopy of trees, they do what we need them to do in this particular season of crazy.

What do we do? We rely fully and completely on technology!

I know you’ll find a thousand articles online stating that communication through technology is not true connection. But when there are no other options for a married couple to talk – I contend it beats letter writing and waiting 2 weeks for our thoughts to arrive!

So we text constantly. Of course there are good mornings and good night’s but there’s also everything in between. There are quick questions about home details or kid schedules or weekend plans. There are long paragraphs about what we’re thinking about or going through at the moment. There are one liners of encouragement when we know the other is in a tough spot. There are apologies for the irritated tone we got the day before. There are prayers lifted up, inside jokes thrown back and forth and basketball games watched ‘together’ though we aren’t together at all.

I can’t even explain what a gift this is to our marriage. When hubs is at work and I’m working/kid driving/all of the other things – we can’t very often sync up times to actually talk for more than 4 minutes. But texting back and forth gives us opportunity to reply when we can and feel connected all day long.

This constant way of staying connected to my husband has given me a new picture of what scripture means when it tells us to, “pray without ceasing.”  I could never grasp just exactly what that meant – how can we be constantly in prayer and yet live life? But I think I get it just a little bit more. Because while I’m not endlessly on my phone texting my husband, I am constantly in communication with him, whether listening or reading what he has to say, or formulating my own thoughts back. The action isn’t the unceasing part, the mode of the heart is. So I would say that, “I text with my husband all day!” But of course that doesn’t mean I’m texting every second. In the same way, I think we’re called to be constantly in connection with our Heavenly Father. Does that mean our mouths can never speak a word to another human and interrupt our prayers? Of course not. It means that our hearts and minds are always turned to Him in everything that we’re doing. The same way my heart is staying connected to my husband when we aren’t in the same city or province!

I know our lists probably look different but I’m sure you’ve been in a season of busy, as well. What do you do to foster connection with your spouse when you’re just not getting tons of face time together?