Friday, November 8, 2013

Glimpses of Beauty in the Lingering Ugly

It's four months and counting since the flood. Time does fly. We have yet to begin repairs on our home, but feel we are close to beginning. As we contemplate Christmas in our 400 sq ft trailer, we remember that we are starting from scratch with the Christmas decorations. I'm contemplating whether we should get a tree this year. Will we sacrifice our already slender play area for the beautiful symbol of Christmas? The boys think a mini tree might work, but one boy is concerned about how we will fit all the presents underneath!

There are so many things weighing on my mind lately--so many things unfinished or unknown. I am thankful that God has been teaching me to celebrate the little things in life. Far too often I dwell on things unchangeable or not yet happened, but I am beginning to see the importance of engaging in the present, slowly and thoughtfully.

Each accomplished step in an ongoing project completed. Celebrate.

A special conversation with one of my boys. Give thanks.

A mealtime feast surrounded by faces that I love. Breathe deep. Praise God.

There is always a tension between anticipation and contentment. The load of the future can crush the joy of today. Learning to be content with things being unfinished is difficult. Thankfully, God's mercies are new every morning. (Lam. 3)

But lately I've been bothered by this question: How hard should we fight against the effects of 'the fall'? That rebellion in the garden has real consequences for us today. Surely we should not be complacent about sin. But illness, storms and aging are also consequences of fallen creation so in a certain sense it seems appropriate to fight against them as well.

But when do we cross a line and attempt to usurp the role of Jesus Christ--the One who entered our sin-broke world and began a new creation? Do we think that we can do better than him? Are we trying to create heaven on earth when He has promised us a temporary cross?

At times, I ache with the tension of "the now and not yet." Jesus has begun his new creation, but it is yet to be complete. I long to squirm out of the discomforts of the moment. The effects of sin constrain me and put me in a narrow place. (literally and figuratively!)

But what if we are not meant to be free of it? It's the bitter that makes the sweet so sweet. The sorrow that makes the joy so precious. As food tastes so much better after fasting and the sun's rays warm the soul after weeks of grey. In the same way, foretastes of hell make eternity with Jesus so much more precious. New Creation has broken into the present and my soul glimpses the beauty even in the lingering ugly.

It takes practice to see good in the difficulties--to be intentional about noticing tokens of grace. But can a person who has been blessed with a glorious inheritance act as if she is in poverty. The tokens and foretastes are everywhere if we slow down enough to see.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Trying to Block the Sun with a Speck of Dust

Everywhere I go, I see the t-shirts, "Come Hell or High River." There is a sense of camaraderie. A sense of overcoming something very difficult together. It feels good to be an overcomer. Even so, there are whisperings around us. Uncertainties surface when we least expect it. Will it happen again? Will someone I know be washed away? And then the waves overwhelm because nothing is normal yet. Windows are still boarded, homes are still gutted and there is still no timeline for normal-ness.

Someone recently told me that I was so strong. It felt good to hear. I felt a moment of superhero-ish exaltation. Yet my conscience whispered to me that it rang false.

As ironic as it sounds, I've discovered that even in difficult circumstances, my inner light needs a little damper. Inflated egos are ugly. And I'm beginning to see clearly that my inner light and strength is a flickering wick compared with the massive inferno of God's power, beauty and light. My ego rushes forward to impress, hoping to eclipse an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. It's like trying to block the sun with a speck of dust.   I'm not sure how many times I need to trip and fall before I understand that God is not impressed with my strength. The power of Christ rests on me in my weakness. (2 Cor. 12:9)

There are some things that can only be learned though experience. God's way defies logic. The way down is the way up. The path to joy is through suffering. The way forward is never straight and easy. It is full of bends and valleys and mountains. It's hard to grow when you're carried from mountaintop to mountaintop, but what's learned in the valley is life changing.

The words of that great preacher, Charles Spurgeon, make me pause:
Those who navigate little streams and shallow creeks, know but little of the God of tempests; but those who "do business in great waters" these see His "wonders in the deep." Among the huge Atlantic waves of bereavement, poverty, temptation, and reproach, we learn the power of Jehovah, because we feel the littleness of man.
It can be easy to live in an illusion of greatness, but it only takes a quiet moment underneath the numberless stars or a long glance at the mighty ocean to feel how small we really are. I find it profoundly freeing to admit my frailty, especially because it causes me to lean on Christ. I feel his mighty power rest upon me in my smallness. In Christ, I become part of something bigger then myself. United to Someone stronger, brighter and infinitely more beautiful than myself, I am filled with hope.

As I walk, trip and crawl through this dark valley, I trust that even though I cannot see clearly, there is a purpose in it. I am learning to be content with weakness and trials because His grace is sufficient for me.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Post-Flood Exhaustion and Compassion

We recently moved into our single-wide trailer on the farm. My boys think it is fantastic. They've been able to go on all sorts of farm adventures. They have been busy catching frogs, shooting arrows, finding cow bones and riding horses.

Despite the carefree ways of our little boys, Clint and I have felt the tension of being displaced. The work to be done battles with our human limitations and so often weariness wins.


A few days ago my two-year-old pulled one of his usual two-year-old pranks while I was on the phone. How many uses can a toddler find for a block of butter? Five, to be exact. And so when this adorable butter-slathered boy comes to me laughing in his slimy glory, I somehow know that he didn't do this alone. Someone unwrapped the butter block for him and encouraged him in his mischief.

In a bad-mothering moment, I burst out crying and couldn't seem to stop. Three little faces looked at me with bewilderment and a maybe a twinge of sorrow. My eldest, feeling terrible about his part in the adventure offered to help me clean it up. As we cleaned, he ventured, "Mom, why did you cry? You never would have done that before. You would have laughed." I thought for a moment because it was true. I told him about the straw that broke the camel's back. To my amazement, he got it.

In that moment, I started to see how God is using our recent difficulties to expand the heart of my son. Namely, God is growing him in compassion. This humbles me and fills me with thankfulness to God because there are some things that I can't teach my children. In fact, I worry that I will damage my children with my mistakes. But it is just like God to show me that despite my weakness, he is able to  expand the hearts of my sons.


With everything being so unsettled in my life, I feel like I'm learning about the compassion of God in a new way. Not as an abstract attribute of God, but in a know-it-in-my-gut kind of way.

My heart is wearied by the constant chaos. There are so many unknowns--so many things that I cannot control. I feel like I have been disillusioned by flood and disease. Perhaps God knows that my illusions of stability need to be stripped away in order for me to see clearly.

One thing that has become significantly clearer for me is the compassion of God. It is a quality that I love to see echoed in humanity. Without fail, I am filled with hope because it so strongly points me to the source of all compassion. A.W. Tozer in his book Knowledge of the Holy speaks of the connection between God's mercy and compassion:

"Mercy is an attribute of God, an infinite and inexhaustible energy within the divine nature which disposes God to be actively compassionate."

Actively compassionate. Without limitations. He never grows weary in it, no matter how flawed his loved ones. "For I , the LORD your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, "Fear not, I am the one who helps you.""

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Flood, Sweat and Tears

It's hard to describe last week. It feels like a month since last Monday. I was driving to Spruce Grove to visit my parents with the boys when the call came. "They're letting us in tomorrow." After 11 days of waiting, they were finally letting us go home.

When I arrived at our place on Monday evening it was surreal. At first glance the town looked fairly normal, but on closer inspection there was an almost eerie quality to the abandoned town. Businesses were dark, shop windows broken from the powerful flood, and a thick layer of mud was on every surface touched by the murky waters. Ready to greet me as I stepped out of my air conditioned vehicle was the smell of rot--musty, stinking, moldy homes and garbage. As the week went on, more residents were let back in and the sights and smells accumulated. Mounts of mud soaked belongings strewn across every lawn. There was a slight sense of embarrassment among the residents to have their personal belongings so exposed to the picture-taking tourists driving by.  There was uncertainty in the air--everyone a little shaky and not sure where to begin or what to do next. And yet, everyone happy to be doing something because the waiting, without knowing, was excruciating.

At this point, Clint and I were blessed beyond measure by our church family and our own families. Crews organized by our good friend, Frank Evans, worked around the clock to serve us. The amount of blood, sweat and tears shed this week was enormous, but overshadowing it all was the love of God poured out through some amazing people.

This week wasn't without it's share of humorous moments. To mention a few, there was the time when I returned home from the laundromat to discover that one of the men working for us was directing traffic with a pitchfork in his hand. Another time, although I didn't witness this one, Hunter's rubber snake poked it's head out of the murky waters and I hear it made a few grown men jump.

One of the more poignant moments was when Clint loaded hundreds of his muddy library books into the loader to be dumped and noted various books that people had given him that had meant something to him. For me, I had twinges of regret seeing parts of our life battered and muddy--things that were familiar, things that were ours. But for the most part, we felt fairly free to throw away our stuff. At times it even felt cathartic.

 So it has been a week of incredible labour, of gutting and cleaning our basement, yard and garages. A week of discovery and paper work and documenting. A week of cleaning pictures and laundry, of sorting and throwing things away. A week of cooking for work crews and replenishing respirators and rubber gloves. Many who couldn't work prayed for us and for this we are incredibly thankful as well. And above all it has been a week of love. God's love poured out on us through his people. And once again we feel blessed beyond what we thought or hoped for.

There is still a long road ahead, but we trust in a Sovereign God who cares intimately for us. And this, above all, gives us hope.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Flooding and Lupus

As we drove home from church this morning, Clint and I looked at each other. Our middle son was belting out one of his original songs, and we were both thinking the same thing. We are blessed.

We have seen so many tangible tokens of God's grace in our lives.  We have three healthy, beautiful boys, a warm place to stay, a God who loves us and an ever deepening love for each other. We have felt so blessed by the love of our friends and family, and a host of prayers have truly upheld us.

I have been grieving the loss of our home. I wasn't there when the call for evacuation came so I was unable to save our wedding pictures or Knox's blankie. I wasn't able to pack a bag or save sentimental belongings. To lose the place we call home makes me sad, but I am also acutely aware that I have a kingdom that cannot be shaken. There are some things that cannot be touched by flood waters--things that are kept in heaven for me. For this I am thankful.

Last Thursday as the flood waters rose around our house, I was visiting a doctor in Calgary. The diagnosis was lupus. Results from a skin biopsy confirm it. We still don't know the extent of my disease and it may be awhile until I am able to see the specialist that would assess this. Lupus is not curable, but it is treatable and I am praying for a milder, more managable form of the disease in my own life.

God's words through the prophet Isaiah speak to me. I know His compassionate heart and tender care toward his loved ones.
"Fear not, for I am with you;
be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my
righteous right hand."

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Battle for Self

Lately I've noticed a battle within me. It's always been there, but I couldn't quite define it. The tension swells in difficulty. The question I ask myself is simple, but incredibly important: do I own the rights to myself or does God?

Instinctive Love of Self

Looking out for my own interests is natural--instinctive really. Even though the bible tells us to look out for the interests of others, it somehow feels morally wrong to look out for others interests at a cost to your own. Especially if the cost is never completely repaid. There is always a voice in the back of your mind screaming "injustice" when another person gets their needs met more often then you do. (Ironically the reverse rarely feels unjust.) And when Paul tells the Philippians, "Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves", it almost feels scandalous.

It seems proper to be possessive of our self. We desperately want exclusive control over it. It is hard to conceive that there could be One outside of us who has more of a right to us than we do. It offends the pride.

A.W. Tozer in his book The Knowledge of the Holy says,
"Because man is born a rebel, he is unaware that he is one. His constant assertion of self, as far as he thinks of it at all, appears to him a perfectly normal thing. He is willing to share himself, sometimes even to sacrifice himself for a desired end, but never to dethrone himself. no matter how far down the scale of social acceptance he may slide, he is still in his own eyes a king on a throne, and no one, not even God, can take that throne from him."
Christians are called to do the impossible. I do not think it is actually possible for our natural self to "count others more significant" than us. It is only by grace that we can even attempt this impossible feat.


I think if we are honest, many of us are fearful. Fearful that a life of service to others will cause us to nearly disappear. We instinctively want to live a life of significance. We are afraid of not reaching our full potential and of missing out on what might have been.

The powerful impulse of selfishness often causes us to be blind to the needs of others. I am guilty of overlooking others, underappreciating them and injuring them (often without intending to.) I find I am the most presumptuous with those closest to me.

The Peace-Making Alternative

I cannot help but think of my own Lord Jesus who "did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many." He died for his own creatures who rebelled against Him.

Living in a fallen world means that we need to be peacemakers like Jesus.
Loving others well requires much forgiveness, compassion, and prayer for those who hurt us.

The following truths compel me to resist self-glorification when everything in me wants to indulge:
  • The Lord sees what we do in secret and will reward us in eternity. (Matt. 6:4,6,18-20)
  • It doesn't matter if others don't see our worth. We do have value and worth because we are made in the image of God.
  • The God of the universe loves us more then we can even comprehend. He has revealed it powerfully so that we cannot misunderstand. "God demonstrates his own love for us in this, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."
  • God is pleased when we do good things because we love Him.
  • If God forgives our cosmic sin of rebellion against him, how can we not forgive others who sin against us?
Our strivings for self are like chains that hold us down. When we stop trying to vindicate ourselves, prove our worth and get paid in full for our good works, we may be surprised to find freedom, joy, rest.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Don't Forget the Generalist

One of the hardest things about being a homemaker is that you are forced to be a generalist in a world of specialists. Being really good at something is lauded in our society. People who are the best at something are seen as being extra special. Homemakers, on the other hand, must be able to do many things. In fact, their time is divided between so many things that they don't have time to be the best at one thing. I am a very average homemaker, but some of the women I know are amazingly capable in so many areas of life. One look into their lives exposes the amazing ingenuity by which they do life. The funny thing is that these women will never be recognized for it. They may be better cooks then most people, but not as good as a chef. They may have made their homes more beautiful and functional then the average person could, but they can never be as good as a professional interior designer. They may be incredibly skilled in finances, organization, hospitality, parenting, laundry, cutting hair, getting ink stains out of couches, shopping, gardening, counselling kids, teaching kids about every aspect of life imaginable, making viking ships out of cardboard boxes, etc., but there will always be someone better. There is always the specialist.

Another difficulty is how society disrespects homemakers. I'm sure there was a time when women who worked were shunned by the majority of stay-at-home-moms, but the situation has radically shifted. Many good things happened with the rise of feminism. I'm thankful for the right to vote and for equality for women in the workforce (at least theoretically). But one of the things I am least thankful for is the humiliation of homemakers. Every woman knows what I mean. You go to the chiropractor and fill out the form. Under "occupation" you hesitate to write. Why? Our society scoffs at homemakers. (One receptionist after reading my form told me I should have put "Domestic Goddess" and I did appreciate her sense of humor...but I digress.)

This leads me to ask the question: Would the world be a better place if everyone specialized? Is society benefited by a bunch of generalists?

Ken Robinson wrote an interesting book entitled The Element in which he argues that everyone must find the place where their unique talent meets their personal passion. This is their element. He argues that if everyone was functioning in their element the world would be a better place. I agree with a lot of what he says, but I have to admit that I am skeptical about one thing. I believe that the world needs generalists as much as it needs specialists. These generalists may not always be functioning in their element. They may just be doing what needs to be done.

I don't think I need to say why specialists are so great for society. We are all thankful for a good medical specialist, lawyer, banker, dentist or theologian when we need them. Not to mention how a really good musician or artist enriches our lives.

But generalists are the glue that holds the world of specialists together. They are able to cross boundaries and understand better the world as a whole. Generalists often have a supportive role--a role that helps others be the best they can be. Homemakers are not the only generalists in society. Pastors and teachers are other examples. They are often overworked and undervalued. I am sure there are many other examples of generalists in our society, but my point is this:

Maybe we need to reassess our definition of success. Maybe we need to stop pushing our kids to be the best at something. Maybe for some of us, there is a life of richness and fullness in the ordinary. Maybe we need to stop worshiping the Donald Trump's and Angelina Jolie's of our world and instead start giving respect to the people who are working in the background to enrich the lives of others.

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Who of Holiness

I recently read Kevin DeYoung's book The Hole in our Holiness. There were so many good points made in the book, but one sentence in particular stood out to me.

We must always remember that in seeking after holiness we are not so much seeking after a thing as we are seeking a person.”

Pursuing Christ

Holiness is a good thing, but it is not an end in itself.

Christ is the perfectly holy one and it is only in him that we can grow in holiness. In John 15:5 Jesus says,“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

If we seek to abide in Christ, we will become more like him in holiness. But the opposite is also true. If we seek holiness apart from Christ, we will grow in our self-righteousness. We will be less like Christ and more like a creature of our own making.

Deepening Communion

Before Clint and I were married, a friend advised him to make a PhD study of his wife. In other words, he should know me so well that he could write a research thesis on me. I have obviously reaped the benefits of this advice. There are immeasurable advantages to seeking to know and love your spouse for who they really are. Not the least of which is the ability (and the desire) to please your spouse.

In seeking to grow in holiness, a huge motivator for us should be wanting to please God because we love him. 

In order to grow in holiness we need to seek to know God better. Pursuing deeper fellowship with God does not make us more or less saved. Nor does it make us more or less loved by God. But it will deepen our love for him and increase our desire to please him.

Pursuing holiness is hard work. It is desirable and satisfying only because we are moving away from the sin that once held us captive and we are moving closer to the One that we love the most.

The Means

God has also given us means to know Him better such as reading the Scriptures, hearing preaching, prayer, and fellowship with believers. These means of grace are ordinary, but effective.

The Benefits

The benefits of growing in intimacy with our beautiful Saviour are immense. Not only does our relationship with Him increase in sweetness and meaning, but our desires also change to become more like Him. Sin begins to look meaningless and dissatisfying. And walking in a way that pleases God becomes more and more delightful.

A life of communion with Jesus Christ is a transformed life. He is the vine in which we flourish. So maybe in the pursuit of holiness the question is not so much what or how, but Who.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

An Invisibly Productive Day

This morning I was thinking though my priorities. I took pen to paper and made a list. Suddenly, I had an epiphany. I was struggling to feel like I was getting things done because the top priorities on my list required invisible work. This meant that if I spent the majority of my time doing the things that were most important to me, I would not see immediate results. I was beginning to see my need to embrace delayed gratification.  

Visible Work

There is something so satisfying about organizing my home, gardening, cutting my son's hair, painting the bathroom and making a beautiful meal. This kind of work is visible. At the end of the day there are results that are pleasing to me and to others. This is good work. Satisfying work.

But there is another kind of work that is sometimes not as immediately satisfying. This work does not always give immediate results. It requires me to be intentional and self-disiplined. The work I am speaking of is the work of relationships.

It seems like most women I know, myself included, choose to prioritize the visual kind of work. It is important to us to know that our life is a well-ordered smooth-sailing ship. Being well-organized and hard-working are good things. But here is the crunch: if our life is jam-packed full of visibly good work, what has happened to our relational work? Most likely it has been neglected.

Invisible Work

The fact is that good, healthy relationships require time, energy and effort and our visible work may have to take a backseat to it at times.

There is wisdom to leaving those crunchy Cheerios on the floor and instead spending 20 minutes of quiet, unhurried communion with my God. 

There is wisdom in an afternoon spent playing, talking and hanging out with my boys instead of cleaning the storage room.

There is wisdom in dropping a project for long enough to really see my husband, to hear what he is saying and to engage him with warmth and affection.

When I lay my head down on my pillow tonight I may have a crunchy floor, a disorganized storage room and some half-finished projects, but maybe I've done something of worth. Maybe I can close my eyes and thank God that I've had an invisibly productive day.