Our Easter

This Easter is unlike any Easter I have experienced in my lifetime. Most people living at this point in history have never had their lives disrupted by a pandemic and had to celebrate without loved ones. Many I know have lived comfortable, predictable, safe lives. Now, many of us are figuring out first-hand what it feels like to not feel in control (we were never really in control) and not feel safe.

It’s not comfortable. It’s not easy. And we aren’t accustomed to it.

Despite how difficult the COVID-19 adjustment has been, I am inspired by the myriad of ways those around me are helping others during this crisis. Some of you are making meals for the sick, some are shopping for neighbors, family, or friends in need, others are keeping us well-informed. Some are sending encouraging text messages or emails, others are setting up prayer meetings or zoom calls, and others are checking in on their friends on the daily.

Our medical staff is using their training to care for and heal the sick, and the teachers have pivoted to teach and support our children online. Neighboring children are writing colorful chalk messages of hope on the pavements. My son’s in-laws are making fabric masks and helping collect items for the food bank.

As unique as we are wired, we will also uniquely go through this time. We will use our various giftings in individual ways, and it will be marvelous to witness humanity rising to the call. But let’s also remind ourselves that just because one person isn’t doing what you’re doing, or what I’m doing, it doesn’t mean they aren’t doing what they should be—or need to be—doing right now.

This is a collective hardship and we will each approach it differently. What appears a looming mountain for one may look like a rolling meadow for another. That might mean that doing a load of laundry and making dinner was what they could do today. If another is highly productive during this time, for them, keeping busy may be their way of coping.

For some, this break may feel like a much-needed vacation—a wonderful improvement from their former harried pace. For others, it may seem like not much has changed. For others, this may stir up feelings of unease and anxiety.

Let’s not judge one another based on our own ideas of what we deem right but accept and help one another. Let’s celebrate the myriad of ways we will traverse through this and the limitless creativity that will be exhibited by our fellow humans in the process. Let’s be kind and patient with each other’s shortcomings, and the ways we find we can—or cannot—cope. Let’s ramp up the love and care for one another and overlook the rest.

Mariana, Kiki and Monty at Cottage
We have been blessed to have my son, daughter-in-law, and grandson with us during this time.

This Easter, and this week, as we care for those around us, I hope we will also take some time to pause and reflect on the One who taught us how to love and who offers hope. One who came to heal us both on the outside but more importantly on the inside. One who gave his life to give us life. Who conquered death and rose from the grave to give us a fresh start. And though the way we celebrate may look a bit different, the reason we do so remains unchanged.

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Cozy, quiet morning reflections.

“And walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” John 15:13

 

 

Prayer for Today

Today has been declared a National Day of Prayer in the USA. Prayer is powerful. Imagine a whole country—a whole world—collectively praying. I have witnessed the power of prayer in my own life and in the lives of others. Though I’m Canadian, I join our neighbors in the US and share my offering below. Won’t you join me in praying in the midst of this health crisis?

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Lord our God,

We come into your presence with thankful hearts for your tender mercies and lavish kindness. We are grateful for your unfailing care and love. We are thankful that you never leave us or forsake us, and will never do so, especially in our time of great need. 

Despite the chaos we see and hear and experience in the natural world, we also understand and are reminded that you are still in control and haven’t left us or forsaken us. 

We confess our fear and worry and release it to you. In its place, we take your peace and find our comfort and rest in you. Please fill our troubled hearts and minds with your presence. 

We are grateful that you are our provider and have given us all we need. We confess that we have so often taken your provision for granted, behaving self-sufficiently as though we are the ones in control. Please forgive us and have mercy on us. Teach us greater trust in you. Continue reading “Prayer for Today”

I’m Almost a Grandma!

I’m about to become a first-time grandma. Even as I type this, I can hardly believe it. Since our son wed a year and four months ago, it feels as though time has unfolded like a map falling open all at once and I’m fumbling to neatly fold and navigate my sped-up life. One wedding, two published books, three grown kids relocated, one child attending ‘real’ school, and one grandchild, well… almost. 

Mariana and Me
Mariana and I – Christmas 2019

And now a grandma. Me? Already? Woah! Can we dial back this getting older thing a tad? I’m honestly thrilled at the prospect of having a grandchild, although I really do NOT appreciate the title (I am currently taking suggestions for other names). It’s just that some things happen sooner than you expect. I’m feeling vastly underprepared. I thought I’d be a stronger knitter by now and possibly NOT simultaneously have an eleven-year-old child still under our roof. 

All joking aside, there’s profound beauty in the fact that Mariana, our daughter-in-love, is pregnant. Before I explain why, a small sidebar. Mariana is an absolute treasure. Oddly enough, it struck me she was possibly ‘the one’ for Kurtis even while he was dating someone else (I know that sounds weird, but it happened). On the day of this uncanny revelation, I quietly mentioned to God in my prayer journal that if she happened to be the one for Kurtis could He (God) just sort that out. Then I stayed out of it. 

Mariana Pregnant

As it turned out, three and a half months later, without my uttering a word, Kurtis and Mariana began dating. Apparently, she too, even while he was dating someone else, thought that they were meant for each other. Around the same time I was scrawling in my prayer journal, Mariana was confidently relaying to her girlfriend that one day Kurtis was going to be her husband. 

The beauty in this story is compounded by the fact that Mariana learned she had cancer at age fourteen and spent the next three years fighting for her life. That sort of near-death experience makes you approach life differently—you tend not to take it for granted. 

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Mariana holding the book Our New Normal which includes her cancer story.

With this bold approach to her second crack at life, and armed from the get-go with a peculiar assurance that Kurtis was going to be her husband, she didn’t hesitate to tell him she loved him on their first date. She maintains Kurtis is her best cancer perk because if she hadn’t gotten cancer, she would never have been homeschooled and would not have met him at the homeschool co-op they attended.

It is also profoundly beautiful that Mariana is pregnant because it’s only six years since her body suffered and survived the ravaging effects of cancer and chemo. Ironically, she had her last cancer check-up while already pregnant. To me—grandmother title denial aside—Montgomery (their soon to be born baby) is a miracle—a sacred life birthed out of a saved life. 

Mariana and Kurtis
Kurtis and Mariana

And I can’t help but think this story is also our story. 

Our lives were also snatched from death’s grip. We may not have had cancer, but our sin was eating us alive. We had no hope in hell that when we die, we would make it into heaven… but for Jesus. He knew we couldn’t manage to conquer death, so he gave his life in place of ours. He was the substitute and paid our sin-debt on the cross to secure life-eternal and more abundant life here and now. 

So, I guess the question is, what are we doing with our second chance at life, and how are we making a difference to the sacred lives around us? 

While you think about that, I’ll be over here writing (or knitting) from my rocking chair with spectacles perched on my nose!

(Un)Tidy Christmas

christmas-tree-e1576380559953.jpgYou’ve heard me bemoan it before, my propensity to be imperfectly tidy. I admire organized living environments, but, being a recovering perfectionist, I’ve never quite managed the feat. 

I blame it on my artistic side that dominates the majority of my endeavors. I’d rather write a blog (or an entire novel), paint a painting, or plant untold numbers of flowers before applying the Marie Kondo Method to a closet or dragging a vacuum around a room. 

Being the Christmas season, I think about the birth of Jesus. If I gaze at the serene nativity on our side table, I’m tempted to see tidy. In reality, the whole thing was messy and imperfect. No planned pregnancy, no elaborate travel itinerary to Bethlehem, no opulent hotel reservations, not even a sanitary spot to deliver a baby.  Continue reading “(Un)Tidy Christmas”

O To Be Like My Christmas Tree!

Christmas Tree FarmThis past weekend we made our annual trek to the Christmas tree farm. My husband is a pro at determining whether the tree is a suitable height to fit beneath our 10′ ceilings. This is important because trees always look a lot smaller in the field… until you get them home.

Once we heaved this one through the front door and it relaxed in its new environment, its boughs rather reminded me of Father Christmas’ midsection. I’m sitting beside the fully-decorated tree as I write. Its girth is like an extroverted Enneagram Type Three in my space, its expansive boughs making quite a statement. Continue reading “O To Be Like My Christmas Tree!”

Story Tellers

Everyone has a story.

Each story is sacred and beautiful and composed of both broken and glorious moments. We carry these stories like artwork scrawled into our souls: a vast array of imprints and scars, beauty and brokenness. Like fingerprints—like us—no two stories are the same.

Stories are made to be told. To be heard. To be understood.

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Yesterday, I had a book signing in our local mall. My favourite part about book signings is the people and the stories they share. At signings, or other times when I explain the theme of my devotional (Soul Focus: Trials), I’ve had the privilege of hearing various stories from other’s lives—precious and profound stories. Continue reading “Story Tellers”

The Perfection Antidote

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In last week’s blog post, I glanced back on my modeling career and, in doing so, recognized how many things have changed. I modeled during the pre-digital, pre-Photoshop era. I recall arriving on location for a particular photo shoot and the make-up artist and photographer were in a dither because I had a broken blood vessel on my cheek. 

Of course, they had reason to be ruffled since this made their job exponentially more difficult. To provide the client with the best possible image, glaring imperfections would have to be expertly covered up by the make-up artist, and the photo itself would require retouching by hand.

There wasn’t any fixing an out-of-place strand of hair after the fact, slimming a few extra pounds around the middle, or the addition of a filter for a wow-factor. Whatever was captured on film was what you got. So they took a lot of pictures and selected the best one from printed proof sheets. 

Even back in the 80s’, perfection permeated the business. Of course, we models weren’t perfect, but it helped to be as close as possible: no pimples, no scars, no visible cellulite. Young girls looking at magazines back then may have seen slightly retouched photographs but weren’t digesting expertly manipulated images. Perfection is so sought after that, these days, we don’t even know how much of what we’re seeing is real. 

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But we don’t need photoshop to serve up perfection. We regularly present a perfect facade in multiple forms. 

We exhibit Photoshop-like qualities whenever we choose to relate to others by presenting polished, untouchable forms of ourselves seemingly void of cares or troubles. Our Facebook and Instagram posts display the highlight reels of our lives, all imperfections blotted out. We present perfect when we strive to be flawless, Photoshopping away our limitations and imperfections and disregarding our human need to rest and refuel. We deny imperfection by refusing to peer honestly at our weaknesses and extending kindness or forgiveness to ourselves. 

We may even deliberately or subconsciously grasp for the retouching tool by expecting perfection from those around us. By placing unspoken or unattainable expectations on others, we withhold grace and forgiveness for others’ pimples and instead substitute distant, unloving shadows of our true selves in such relationships. 

What is the antidote for this perfection crisis? A reality tool that enables a reversal allowing us to see what is real and true.

Here are a few truths that can act to reverse our perfection problem:

  1. You are loved as you are this very moment. (Romans 5:8)
  2. You are so precious to God that he gave his Son for you. (John 3:16)
  3. You are imperfect but have been made perfect through Jesus. (Hebrews 10:14)
  4. You are forgiven. (Ephesians 1:7) 
  5. You are free. (John 8:36)
  6. You have all you need to live a Godly life. (2 Peter 1:3)

Jesus is our reality tool. In Christ, we can release our notion of perfection and receive his grace and love, extending the same to others. We can exchange our striving—and just surviving —for his gentle leading and perfect peace. We can draw on God’s power and strength to be transformed and to live the Godly life he purchased through his death and resurrection. Using cover-up to mask our imperfections loses its allure as we settle into God’s love.

I’ll leave you with The Message version of Romans 3:21-26 as a truth summary:

“The God-setting-things-right that we read about has become Jesus-setting-things-right for us. And not only for us, but for everyone who believes in him. For there is no difference between us and them in this. Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ. God sacrificed Jesus on the altar of the world to clear that world of sin. Having faith in him sets us in the clear. God decided on this course of action in full view of the public—to set the world in the clear with himself through the sacrifice of Jesus, finally taking care of the sins he had so patiently endured. This is not only clear, but it’s now—this is current history! God sets things right. He also makes it possible for us to live in his rightness.”

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  1. In what ways are you masking your true self in an attempt to present perfect?
  2. Do you think letting go of the cover-up would enhance your relationships?

 

Coming Nov 12th, 2019: SOUL FOCUS – Trials

New Release: One More Tomorrow

ISBN: 978-1-4866-1537-7

Print Availability: Chapters/Indigo, Amazon, Word Alive Press, and wherever fine Christian books are sold. eBook Availability: Amazon’s Kindle Store, Apple iBooks, Kobo, Google Play, Scribd, and in Adobe PDF format for additional vendors.

Why Are We Still Starving Ourselves?

modeling picIn the mid-’80s, when I was fifteen years old, I decided I wanted to become a model. A Toronto agent agreed to represent me but explained that I needed to lose weight. I had been a cross-country runner for five years and never in my life had I given a second thought to the scale. This particular year, I had discontinued running and had stopped growing. I was 5’7” tall and weighed 127 pounds. Now, for the first time in my life, someone was telling me I needed to consider what I ate.

I hadn’t a clue how to diet so I went to my family doctor for advice. He gave me a pamphlet that explained how to count calories, and so I began to figure out how to limit my food intake. Each Friday, I had to call into the agency to let them know how much weight I had lost. They wanted me to lose a pound per week. It was no small thing to change my eating habits since spending time with friends usually included things like ice-cream, candy, chips, pop, and McDonald’s visits. 

After managing to drop fifteen pounds, I was booked for a fashion show at Harbourfront in Toronto. I had been hard at work figuring out how much food I could eat and still lose weight. My agent had come to watch and afterward commended me on how well I had done in the show but told me I still needed to lose more weight. So I ate even less and landed at 108 pounds. For me, that meant virtually starving myself. 

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Penny Noble Model Management – the agency I modeled under for 8 years.

I’m not sure how, but my sixteen-year-old brain realized that this wasn’t going to work. That not only did I dislike such a restrictive eating behavior, but that this lifestyle wasn’t realistic for me. I met with my agent and told her that I didn’t want to diet anymore or be a part of her agency. She told me that was a shame, but that if I could ever keep the weight off she’d be happy to have me back. After months of sometimes eating as little as 200-400 calories per day, it took nearly two years for my metabolism to return to normal. I’m thankful I chose to put a stop to the strict dieting before developing anorexia.

Two years later, and twelve pounds heavier, I decided to give modeling another try. I met with two agents who both extended invitations to join their agencies. Neither one mentioned my weight. I continued to model for several years after that in Toronto, Montreal, and on contract overseas. I realized that the problem with the first agent was that she was trying to make me something I wasn’t. She wanted me to be a thin, high-fashion model when I had a more girl-next-door commercial look. 

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Don’t misunderstand me, I endorse exercise, healthy eating, and self-care, but just like my initial modeling experience, when we attempt to become something we aren’t—when we go to extreme lengths to be accepted but deny our true selves—we run into trouble. We become trapped on a treadmill of never-enough’s, people-pleasing while attempting to fill a soul-hole that can never be satisfied with the things of this world. 

Because here’s the thing, there will never be enough weight to lose, enough money to gain, enough compliments to receive to make us feel full. We’re starving and seeking to fill the emptiness with junk food. The lack of nutrients leaves us feeling even more depleted, but thankfully there is a remedy.

The Bible says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Matthew 5:6) When we seek God, we are satisfied. When we desire God, the other fixes fade in importance. Our taste buds change, and we see the former things for the empty calories they were. No longer trying to be something we were never made to be, our identity grows secure in Christ and his love, and we partake of his rich blessings.  

The apostle Paul put it this way, “Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ.” (Philippians 3:8)

We find that all we ever needed and wanted—all that satisfies—is found at the feet of Christ. There we discover security, acceptance, healing, love, forgiveness, hope, peace, and joy—all the things we searched for but couldn’t find. In Christ, our true identity surfaces and an internal work of growth and transformation begins that no amount of earthly accoutrements could foster. From here on in, we are fueled by faith and nourished by the word of God secure in his promises.

I’ll leave you with this verse to ponder:

“And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?” (Matthew 16:26)
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  1. In what ways are you starving yourself trying to fill the soul-hole that only Jesus can fill?
  2. You can gain the whole world and lose your soul, or you can find Jesus, save your soul, and gain eternity.

A Roomful of Love

71051079_388729618467623_1034085484717932544_nThis past Tuesday, a life-long dream of mine came to fruition. My debut novel was released. The very same evening a supportive crowd of approximately eighty family and friends gathered to celebrate my book launch. 

The scene was surreal. The room was full of people from all different facets of my life all gathered in one place. I was flitting around the room working hard to bury my nervousness.

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It’s one thing to write a book, but quite another to release it to the world. All the while I was tapping out words on my laptop, editing streams of sentences, and pouring over various details, I was secure in my creative bubble. Now the book was launching and would be in the hands of readers, I felt a little exposed. 

The evening flowed beautifully and the enthusiasm of the gathered crowd encouraged me. I explained the book’s inception, my writing process, and offered details about the characters and themes. I enjoyed reading excerpts and left time for questions. 

My publicist had encouraged me to take a moment at the launch to look around the room, soak it all in, and ponder the gravity of what I had accomplished. I was attempting to do that between conversations, photo ops, and a trip to the bathroom to pray! I finally managed to take that moment just before I began to speak. I scanned the room, seeing the faces of the seated guests, and smiled. How is it that they all came here for me?

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What struck me the most wasn’t so much my accomplishment, but how blessed I am to have these dear souls in my life. When you really think about it, what would anything big in our lives be without others to celebrate with? To laugh with, cry with, to be silly with, or to accompany us through the hard bits of life? The people in the room represented love to me. A packed roomful of love. 

And there was something else. When I finished speaking, I exited the room to make my way to the signing table. Seated just outside the room was our pastor. Having had another engagement that night, he had come late to the launch and sat outside so as not to disturb the presentation. I can barely explain how much comfort and support his presence offered at that moment, but seeing him seated there was so beautiful. 

It struck me as a picture of Jesus. I envision him sitting nearby, his steady, comforting presence celebrating in our midsts and cheering me on. And truth be told, he was there. His presence among my friends, weaving through our conversation, amid my whispered bathroom prayers, and on the empty stool as I read from the book he helped me write. And like my gathered guests and their show of affection, my book would be nothing to celebrate without my Saviour. 

We can do a great many things in this life. We may write a book, receive a special award, earn multiple degrees, reach all our goals, but for me, it would be empty and futile if I didn’t know Jesus. His sacrificed life saved me. His offered love changed me. His spirit helps me. His presence comforts me. 

He gave everything and in doing so gave me life.

I’m thankful for God’s grace, and all the dear people he has seen fit to tuck into my life. Those I’m honoured to journey with and celebrate life’s events alongside, and with whom I’m privileged to help bear a burden or who help carry mine. As hard as this life can be, there’s much beauty in our midst. Sometimes we just need to take a moment, look around us, soak it all in, and ponder its gravity.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)

 

Shielding Ourselves From Hurt

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The bad news is that we’re not going to be able to protect ourselves from getting hurt in this life (but you already know that). But boy, do we try! 

We dislike pain and avoid it at all costs. We don’t care to repeat it—ever. Though we may not articulate it, in order to protect ourselves from getting hurt again, we often manufacture a protective piece of armor. We use these shields in an attempt to keep others out, or at least keep them from getting too close.

Our shields take different forms. We might assume an arms-length shield where we keep people at a safe distance. There’s the tough-guy shield nothing can penetrate, or its close model, the overconfident shield that exudes control. Some hide behind a porcupine shield, ready to expel missives at the slightest hint of hurt. While others hide inside a box shield becoming disengaged, closed-off forms of a former self. Others assume the surface shield emitting an everything’s-perfect false facade.

Each shield is a fearful and futile attempt to protect ourselves from facing the uncertainty and vulnerability needed for authentic relationships. No matter which model of shield we assume, it blocks us from the exact thing we most need. Love and intimacy. 

The hurts we experience rip us wide open. Like a sucker punch in the gut, they rock us to our core and bring us to our knees. We think we won’t manage the next breath, let alone the next step. But our shields don’t help us. They hinder and hurt us even more. Not only do they steal from the fulness of relationships they also keep us from finding healing.

A shield is a lie that prevents us from the freedom to be found on the other side of our pain.

When we are torn open, light can pour in. And though perhaps not the reason you ended up on your knees, it is a pretty decent posture for prayer. The tears washing over your cheeks could be the start of a soul-cleansing you would have never thought possible.

But not if you refuse comfort. Not if you shield yourself from love.

Because no matter what has happened. No matter how horribly you’ve been hurt. Despite how used or abused or rejected you’ve been, or how much you’ve inflicted harm on others as a result of your own hurt, there’s a place for all of that pain.

It’s found at the foot of the cross.

It’s found at the feet of the one who loved you so entirely that he died for you. The one who loves you more than anyone ever could. Deuteronomy 31:6 says, “The Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”

All the pain you’ve ever experienced as a result of the thoughtless or intentional actions of others can be brought to Jesus. He won’t undermine the pain or treat it carelessly. He understands it intimately because he died for all of it—all the sins of humankind—past, present, and future. 

In dying for this sin, he defeated it and offers each of us freedom from not only the harmful sins of others but from our own sin. God’s love is pure and trustworthy. When you give him your heart he will not damage it, he will renew it. He is both able and faithful to heal the broken bits of our lives. His miraculous love soaks into the deepest places and reaches our deepest needs. Nothing to compare to the limitless love of Jesus.

Deuteronomy 31:6 also tells us, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them.” It seems we have a part to play. And so we take courage. We set down our shields. We turn our backs on our fearful hiding.

Ironically, the lowering of our shields ushers in the kind of love we desperately long for—complete, unconditional, unearned love—the kind of love only God provides. When we drop our protective measures, admit defeat and our desperate need for this soul-saving love, God meets us in our pain, he joins us in our wrecked and ruined circumstances. We no longer have to suffer or survive alone.

Since God has promised to go with us and never leave us, we can take his outstretched hand and move forward into the hope, healing, and wholeness Jesus died for. We only look back to see how far we’ve come. Instead of our fearful shields, we’re engulfed and secured in God’s healing love and protective peace.

Now, when we’re mistreated and rush to raise our shields, the balm of his heavenly love soothes us and reminds us to be courageous and keep our guard down. We feel the hurt, but we also understand how it feels to be forgiven, and so we forgive others just as he forgave us. God’s remarkable love gives us the courage and strength to love others more fully and unconditionally, and to be loved more fully ourselves. 

Little by little, and sometimes all at once, our pain dissipates. And somehow, God miraculously takes all that was broken and makes beauty.

In the end, we don’t need the shield. We need the Saviour.

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  1. What sort of shield are you using to protect yourself from getting hurt? Is it working?