A New Year’s Blessing

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Blessings come in all shapes and sizes. I would hazard a guess that you can easily name a few of your own. As this new year starts afresh, I want to embark from a place of thankfulness. As I leave 2018, I feel blessed to have witnessed my first-born wed and to welcome a new daughter into our lives as a result.

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I’m thankful to have seen my youngest go off to school for the first time where the transition, after homeschooling, was seamless. I’m thankful my novel is now in the midst of its second edit. I’m blessed to have ended the year surrounded by family and friends I hold near and dear. Such priceless blessings.

The start of a new year brings a sense of hope and wonder. Anything is possible. New adventures await. So as you enter 2019, I wanted to pass along this blessing I wrote a while back in hopes that it will stir your faith and rekindle your heart to God.

A New Year’s Blessing

I bless you this year, that you would rise up and give your Maker the first fruits of your time. May you draw close enough to hear the sound of his voice, the breath of his gentle whisper into your soul, the gesture of his hand beckoning you to sit awhile and listen to things too wonderful for you, yet meant for you alone.

As a child longs to be gathered onto his father’s lap, to be dandled on his knee, to be comforted, may it be your irrepressible desire to draw in close to the Lord. As a lover longs, with a full heart, to be with their one true love, may the Lord’s love likewise overwhelm you, fill you, and warm you with a burning desire to remain in his presence.

May you remove yourself from the entanglements of the world, the snares and numerous enticements that war for your time, affection, and very soul, and come away to be with the Lord. Jesus made a way for you to enter the Holy of Holies, “for the veil was torn in two” (Mark 15:38). So it was that the physical barrier that separated us from God was removed.

May you enter boldly (Heb 10:19-25) and lay your offering – your very life – at his feet. In that secret place, may you be devastated by his love, utterly undone in the presence of Almighty God (Isa. 6:1-8). May you be transformed, renewed, washed, filled, as a love deluge washes over your soul, cleansing away the soul-silt and rocky barriers that prevent you from being both cleansed and moving forward.

May you leave that place carrying the aroma of God, like incense, with a lingering cloud around you; the very scent of heaven saturating your skin, spirit, soul. May you be ushered into the places you are to tread, where those nearby would stop and lift their faces, and breathe deeply of God’s love, goodness, and mercy that is affixed to you.

May you leave that holy place confident of his abundant love for you, filled to overflowing with his outrageous love, so you will likewise love others without limits and barriers. May you walk in the knowledge of the miraculous things of God, fully expecting his kingdom to come on earth, your faith bolstered by all you have heard and seen, so that nothing can convince you otherwise. For you have lingered in the presence of God and will never be the same.

May you have the desire to return again and again, that action would replace longing, so that you dwell in the secret place, humbling yourself in his presence. Jesus being your intercessor, may you enter freely, fully, and often, so that your iniquity be taken away, and your sin purged (Isa 6:6), that you may be transformed by the renewing of your mind (Rom 12:1-2), in the world but not operating by the world’s system (John 17:14-16), and set apart to speak to the nations (Jer 1:5).

May the winters of your soul melt away, the rains disappear, the flowers blossom within your spirit, and your life.

Blessings to you this new year, in the name of Jesus.

Amen.

My beloved spoke, and said to me: “Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away. For lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come. ~ Song of Solomon 2:10-12

Christmas is a Love Story

 

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This is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year. I’d like to enjoy every moment, yet it’s easy for it be sabotaged by being too busy and distracted—a general theme at any time of year, but especially at Christmas.

There’s the shopping, the preparations, the parties, the presents, the dinners, and time with family. All of this can be lovely (except maybe the shopping), but it can also be stressful and exhausting.

The high hopes surrounding this one day can add a lot of pressure too. I typically have a picture of how this day will shake out. I should fully engage in each moment and live out of the peace and joy ever at my disposal, but it’s easy to enter Christmas exhausted and exit it disappointed when the hype failed to match the event. I wonder if Jesus’s mother struggled this way too.

Mary had anticipated her son’s birth, and then, nearing her due date, she endured a 90 mile trek on a mule’s back to register for a census in the town of her husband’s ancestors. But the hardship didn’t end there. You know the story. When they arrived in Bethlehem, there were “No Vacancy” signs everywhere. In the Christmas rush, they must have neglected to arrange an Airbnb.

At this point, I’d be on the verge of a meltdown. Between the pregnancy hormones and “this is not what I thought it would be” emotions, my husband would be walking on eggshells. Some cross words would likely spill out to the effect of: “I thought you were dealing with this!” and the atmosphere would worsen. As expected, he’d go into fix-it mode and a stable would be a less-than-ideal solution.

It’s interesting that this first Christmas resembles our Christmas. Frenzied and imperfect. I think that’s exactly how God planned it. The census, the stable, and all that surrounded the birth of Jesus was marked by hardship. Could God be trying to show us something?

The God of the universe could have provided ideal circumstances, ensured his son be born in a palace with a grand feast prepared to fittingly celebrate the king’s birth. But in his deep compassion for humanity, not only did he come humbly in human form, he experienced all that we experience, and more. If you wonder if God can understand your pain, think of Jesus—God in the flesh.

Christmas is really a beautiful love story. It’s the continued story of God declaring his massive love and faithfulness to us. It’s him seeking us, finding us, living among us, and ultimately dying for us. It was part of his plan from the beginning. All part of his extravagant love.

It’s my prayer that we replace the scurry and worry and find lasting joy in Jesus. That our hearts will be more full than our tummies. That despite the pace we will find peace. That we will love as God does: completely, unconditionally, and sacrificially.

But most of all, I pray that we will have a deep understanding of how fully we are loved. Know this: God send his son to be born to die for you. You matter that much to him. He made a way for you, amid all your personal struggles, failures, and pain, to receive the gift of salvation through Jesus.

This Christmas, I pray you’ll take hold of this life-changing, eternity-altering, heart-healing gift, and unwrap a new life in Christ.

Merry Christmas from my home to yours!

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” 

John 15:12-13

 

 

 

 

 

 

The God We Didn’t Know

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Sketch of Napoleon crowing himself. ~ Drawing by David, kept at the Louvre.

I’ve noticed that a lot of animosity hurled toward God is misdirected.

God has become the cosmic scapegoat for many misdemeanors of mankind. He’s the fault of others’ failings. The illness for the ills injected by humans upon humans. The ugliness freely deposited by others. And this blame drags heavy, like the cross he staggered beneath and heaved up the hill to his death; unjustly accused even then.

Let’s be honest, humans are notorious for redirecting blame.

How could God allow children to starve? we exclaim as we dab our mouths, rub our bellies, and declare how stuffed we are. How could God allow women and children to be abused? while our insatiable appetite for pornography helps fuel the multi-billion dollar human trafficking industry. How can God allow mass genocide? as we welcome the supposed savior and then keep silent to save ourselves. How could God allow the homeless to freeze overnight? as we cross the street, lock our doors, and add an extra blanket to our beds.

Our hostility towards God can also be fueled by former hurt. We may have been wounded by those who should have known better; some who even claimed to know God. With that layer of proximity, there can be a propensity for the hurt to spill over and affect our perception of God. Sometimes we purposely distance ourselves from God in the aftermath of such disillusionment and disappointment, ascribing undo blame and fearing to love a God whose people behave so poorly.

But abuse and neglect, hatred and homicide, others’ judgment and exclusion, is not a reflection of God’s nature, but more accurately a picture of people who have forgotten who he is. Perhaps they never really knew him in the first place, or what they do know of him, they dislike or disregard. Possibly they prefer to pick and choose the parts they can accept and reject the rest. In all truth, often we’re so caught up being the ruler of our own little kingdoms that we sacrifice others in our self-coronation. So caught up, in fact, that we don’t really understand who God is, and often could care less.

And like any relationship, fraught with misunderstanding and confusion, fault lines and frayed edges, unscalable distance and disappointment, so too is our relationship with God. It’s difficult to know someone we’ve never really encountered or regularly spend time with.

This world, and all that’s in it, is a gift. As with all gifts, after they’ve been given, it becomes up to the receiver how they’re treated and maintained. God generously gave and let us be the caretakers. He offers help if we make room, but so often it’s too crowed in the kingdom of one. That’s when things tend to get ugly.

But every now and then, we make room and let Him in, and we begin to see beauty, and truth, and love.

We begin to realize that:

The LORD is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. The LORD is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made.”  ~ Psalm 145:8-9

We learn that:

“Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”  ~Lamentations 3:22-23

We hear that:

“The LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you or forsake you.”.  ~Deuteronomy 31:6b

“A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.”

~Psalm 68:5

When we encounter and accept the truth of God’s surprising love, both our heart and outlook is altered. We are sorry for our failings. We understand how we’ve misplaced blame, and learn to face our faults. Our relationships begin to shift, and instead of exploiting, we look at all the things he entrusted us with a little differently. Some of the things that formerly preoccupied us fade in significance. God’s gentle, patient, kind, healing, and unconditional love propels us, and as we grow stronger, we in turn help strengthen. Beauty ensues and love stands a fighting chance.

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1. In what ways have you blamed God for the failings of others?

2. In what ways have you contributed to another’s pain or misfortune? Ask God for forgiveness, for the strength to change, and, if possible, make restitution.

3. If you sense you’ve never really known God, He is just a prayer away.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After the Rain – Seeing Life’s Hurts & Disappointments Differently

 

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In our youth, we race headlong into this one life filled with idealistic optimism. The world is an expansive unknown stretching far beyond us and filled with unending possibilities waiting to be harnessed. At this stage, there are no limits to what can be accomplished, no unforseen roadblocks or impending disasters, and no reason to believe our dreams will not be realized.

But then, as it’s prone to do, life happens. Some of it by our choosing, and some coming upon us as an unexpected downpour, and we discover that life isn’t perfect. After some repeated saturation, we may look at our life and declare, “This is not how I expected things to turn out.”

At this point, we often choose a pity party, sometimes even a tantrum, stomping and flailing about how unfair it all is. Or, we can towel dry our hair, gather courage and hope, and discover ways to dance despite the downpours and drink of the falling drops. Because here’s the truth: the most fragrant beauty radiates after the rain, and sunsets are most spectacular as the storm clouds recede.

Even though you never asked for any of it, even though you thought you would be further along in your journey, or imagined your life differently, this is it. No matter what has passed, or what you thought it would look like, you cannot change one single bit. This is your one life. And you have a choice. Will you let what has happened this far shape you – rearrange you if needed – to grow, to overcome, and to fully flourish?

We ignore the blessings we’ve been given when we focus on how our lives failed to unfold how we imagined, when we linger on the wreckage of what went wrong, the injustices enacted against us, or the ways we’ve let down ourselves or others. In our misperceptions, we forget this place isn’t meant to be perfect, and neither are we. This is a rehearsal, of sorts, for things to come. When the last curtain is drawn, and we arrive at our final destination, then and only then will all be as it should.

I rather adore this verse:

“The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” ~ 1 Samuel 16:7

It reminds me that using the world’s measuring stick to determine success is rubbish. That God’s measurement for a successful life looks dramatically different. It’s possible that the very place we find ourselves, and the very person you and I are right now, is just where and who God would have us be, however inglorious, unattractive, desperate, downright ugly, or devastating it may be at present. That’s meant to be encouraging!

However disappointed we are with this patch of life so far, God doesn’t see your journey in any way wasted. However hard we buffet life’s storms, however unwelcome we make trials, even downpours can usher in beauty, refine character, and construct in us an enduring peace and patience the likes of which we had yet to know, not to mention prepare us to walk with added fury – a true force to be reckoned with – for the next leg of our journey.

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I like to think God looks at us – and our lives – rather like we used to as a child: full of possibility and hope, and without limits. And maybe, just maybe, from here on in, we would take His outstretched hand in ours, be led through the storms, navigated through the roadblocks and disasters, and follow Him out the other side, joining Him in puddle jumping, reclining by His side mesmerised by the sunset, while drinking deeply of the fragrant beauty of His love. Maybe then we will see our one life for the truly miraculous gift it is. Besides, by now you realize the best is yet to come anyhow.

I’ll leave you with this reminder:

“Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in the world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and the saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.” ~ Ephesians 2: 7-10

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  1. Start a list of things you can be thankful for.
  2. Ask God to help you redirect your heart and thoughts to thankfulness. Develop a habit of replacing disparaging thoughts with thankful ones.
  3. Pray over each disappointment/disaster, handing it to God to make beauty out of. This may take time, but it’s worth it!
  4. Memorize a passage of scripture as encouragement during the downpours.

 

 

Doubt, disbelief, and finding faith.

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I read these words the other day: Doubt does not discredit faith – disbelief does.

If we’re being truly honest, I hazard it’s impossible to be human and live without doubt. For some, the admission of doubt may seem unholy. I prefer to think that it’s impossible to have faith without it. Indeed there would be no need. But we mustn’t confuse doubt with disbelief. If, on occasion, we are assaulted with uncertainty, it doesn’t equate to a complete lack of faith.

I love this passage where a father brings his son to Jesus to be healed. The father’s honesty is striking:

…the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”

~ Mark 9:24

His words seem so contradictory, but we can just as easily echo his sentiment. We believe not because we have all the answers, not because all the things of God make perfect sence, or because we have seen Him with our own eyes. We believe because we came to a point that disbelief was no longer an option. That enough of this love story stretched across the dividing line between reason and experience and penetrated our hearts, that whatever else was left (the doubt) became secondary. Then, we leaped from disbelief to faith.

For some, that leap requires much more effort. The gap to God can seem so vast. It’s often blockaded not only with a plethora of doubt, but others things too. Things like hurt, pain, pride, reason, disillusionment, and distortions of God’s true character. It makes finding – and often keeping – faith an extraordinary act of will. But it took more than that. It took an extraordinary act of love.

Jesus broke through the hurt, the pain, the pride, human reason, disillusionment, distortion and doubt to reach us. Into all the confusion, He injected love. Love so pure, so real, so sweet and unconditional that our hardened hearts and stiff resolve softened. All the things that seemed so dear, so certain, so important, paled in significance. That’s where faith had a fighting chance.

It didn’t mean we had all the answers, but rather that what we did have was enough. Enough to understand the truth of our circumstance and what could be done about it. And so, with our mustard seed faith, we reached out to the open arms that were there long before we were: arms extended on the cross, and then wide and waiting with massive expectation. All at once we were enfolded, engulfed, consumed, and filled.

It didn’t mean that we would never doubt again, that we had all the answers, that our faith was rock solid, or we ourselves were unshakable. It didn’t mean that some circumstances wouldn’t bring us to our knees, or to the brink of a darkness so complete our eyes of faith grew dim. It simply meant that, at one point, we began a journey by placing our trust in the One who can be trusted. It meant that ever since, we walk by faith, not by sight (2 Cor 5:7) by putting one foot in front of the other to find firm ground beneath our feet, even when we can’t see one foot ahead.

Some questions will be answered. Others will remain a mystery this side of heaven and preside in the wobbly area of faith. Even now, we may have doubts, questions, and confusion, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have faith. It means we require it. It means if we don’t let it go, our faith will grow.

So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight.

~ 2 Corinthians 5:6-7 

 

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  1. In what ways has your faith been tested? What has made it stronger?
  2. It’s okay to doubt. God is not threatened by our doubts and questions. Bring them to Him knowing some will be answered and others will require faith this side of heaven.

 

Moving Mountains: or how I was literally brought to my knees.

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Ten years ago I could barely walk, sleep, or carry my own purse. I could no longer drive. That’s how intense the pain had become. I’d been a runner for 28 years. My motto was, “Why walk when you can run.” Now I had no choice. It was nearing two years, and over ten health care providers, but no one could help me. On top of it, I became pregnant and couldn’t take enough medication to dull the pain. It seemed I was trapped in a hopeless situation. Continue reading “Moving Mountains: or how I was literally brought to my knees.”

Strong & Free

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Right before the Canada Day long weekend, along with a sizeable crowd of hardcore people, I completed an exercise challenge called Rebellion. At the party to celebrate our achievement, I bought this t-shirt. The saying on the front resonates with me. The two obvious reasons are that it includes words from Canada’s national anthem (the country of which I officially became a citizen 33 years ago), and secondly, by working out and completing the challenge, I grew stronger and free from indulgences that might otherwise keep me off track. But a less obvious and deeper meaning for me began 29 years ago at age eighteen. Continue reading “Strong & Free”