Our Skittles Experiment

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In our Sunday morning services we take a few minutes to focus on learning about God, kid style.  We tend to use shorter words, we find tangible examples and we like experiments!  We’ve been talking about prayer over the past few months, what prayer is and how we get started.  I know that no matter how old we are, we can all grow in our prayer lives, so even though this was ‘for the kids’, its really for all His kids, and this was what we talked about this morning.

We know that prayer is talking to God and we know that we can tell God anything.  Most of the time when we talk about prayer we talk about things we’ve asked God to do and how He answered those prayers.  Often we talk about prayer being a time to confess our sins and asking God to forgive us.

One thing we don’t talk about often is that prayer is worship!  When we pray we can acknowledge who God is, it’s kind of like telling someone what you like about them.  When we pray we can tell God things we know about Him and recall what He’s done.

Listen to this prayer from Psalm 100.

“Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.  Worship the Lord with gladness; come before Him with joyful songs.  Know that the Lord is God.  It is He who made us, and we are His; we are His people, the sheep of His pasture.  Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise; give thanks to Him and praise His name.  For the Lord is good and His love endures forever; His faithfulness continues through all generations.”

When I read prayers like this I can’t help but smile.  Praising God makes my heart smile and when my heart smiles, it leaks out onto my face.  When I pray: ‘God you are amazing!  You made everything and you love me!’ I can’t help but smile.

Now, it’s kinda fun to smile by myself.  But it’s way more fun to smile with other people, right!?!  That’s what happens when we worship God together, like on Sunday mornings.  When I’m praising God for who He is my heart is smiling.  And when the person next to me is doing the same thing their heart is smiling and before you know it, we’re all smiling together.

We see the smiles on each other’s faces, but it goes so much bigger and deeper than that.  And that got me wondering what does it look like to God when our hearts smile?  What does God see that we can’t?

I don’t know exactly what God sees, but when I saw this Skittles experiment it was just the mental picture I was looking for.

Each of the kids took a turn praising God, saying something they know about him and what He has done.  Then they placed a skittle on our plate.

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‘God is Holy’, “He forgives us’, ‘He sent his son for us’, ‘He heals us when we are hurt’, ‘He listens to us”, ‘He made the earth’.

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The Bible also tells us that when we gather together, He is with us.  His presence binds us together.

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Now our plate is full of praise, side by side, each of our hearts smiling, bound together in worship of our Father in Heaven!

Notice how the colours all mix together in the middle.  Out on the edges you can see what each Skittle contributes.  Our individual worship is like that.  God wants to talk to each one of us.  He wants to hear from each one of us.  But he doesn’t want us to stay all by ourselves, God wants us to worship together!  See how much prettier it is when all the colours come together!  God wants us to enjoy our place in His family!

Having a church family is great!

Maybe it’s been a while since you’ve made it to church.  Maybe the church has hurt you so you stay away or maybe the church community feels too risky so you haven’t given it a chance.   Don’t be shy, come grab a seat and get ready to taste the rainbow!

“Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in Him!: Psalm 34:8 

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Wanna do this experiment at home?  All you need is Skittles and hot water.  Place the Skittles on the plate and pour the water slowly so they don’t move, just enough water to make them wet, but not cause them to float around!  (At home my kids ate all the Skittles off the plate afterwards, just as yummy!)

7th Heaven

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We’re in the city this week, so obviously we’re going to make daily a few Slurpee runs. Today the kids got the ingenious idea to grab some of the coffee sleeves for their slurpee cups because they were so cold that frostbite was a real concern. (And the award for Drama Queen goes to…). Written on the coffee sleeves was the 7/11 slogan: ‘Oh Thank Heaven…’

This naturally led to a conversation about heaven. A topic in which all 5 kids are now experts having spent a week at an evangelism based back yard camp, not to mention that we billeted the teacher.

In my room in heaven there’s going to be a Slurpee machine.‘ quipped one.
My whole room is going to be Slurpee machines and I will have unlimited money because the slurpees are free.‘ Another confidently explained heaven economics.
Well my room will be half Slurpee store and half Dairy Queen.’ The middle child upped the ante.
Oh yeah, we’ll I’m also going to have a hover board.‘ The big boy decided he’d have the last word.

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The conversation then digressed into all the material possessions they would have in their heavenly mansions.

I was just about to open my mouth and launch into an epic ‘if-all-you-can-think-about-is-stuff, then-you’ll-never-get-ANYTHING-again’ lecture that would surely spur them to a monumental revelation, a spontaneous hymn sing and an ecstatic tossing of slurpees out the van windows. #parentingwin

But then I had a thought that totally caught me off guard.

How lucky are they that when these kids talk about heaven they fill it with the luxuries they have enjoyed on earth. How blessed are we that our kids think they could actually have a Slurpee store for a bedroom!

As adults we are totally stoked that heaven will be better than anything we could hope or imagine. Then usually we go to a dark place to imagine it. There won’t be any senseless shootings in heaven. There won’t be any racism in heaven.  There won’t be rape culture in heaven. No child brides. No sex trafficking. There won’t be millions of displaced refugees.  Everyone will be safe at home.  No plaque-like viruses. No incurable cancers. Kids won’t get sick.

I want my kids to get that. To feel the emotion of our lostness and brokenness.  To weep that we have been rescued from such wretchedness.

It literally stopped me in my tracks to realize that my kids were being kids in that moment. Their innocence and the security they have been raised in allowed them to have such a conversation.

So many kids do not have that luxury.

As a parent I take that for granted.  I hasten away their innocence so they can have correct theology.  Why in the world do I want to do that!?! They know that heaven will be wonderful. Today, slurpees are the most wonderful thing. Therefore heaven will be full of slurpees.  Gold star answer, Amen!

As we pulled into the driveway the conversation changed just a little.

There won’t be any brain tumours in heaven.‘ reminded the sensitive son.
In heaven I won’t be disciplined.’ Said my logical daughter.
Yeah.‘ they all emphatically agreed.

I teared up a little as I counted the blessing that their little lives have been so free of trial and trauma that escaping time-out is on the same playing field as no sickness or death.  (Even for my sensitive son who will literally love you to heaven and back.)IMG_0713

I know they get it. There are people in heaven they will be so happy to see. They know they will be there one day. They know it will be more wonderful than they can imagine.  Someone wise once said we could learn a lot from their child-like faith.

And I confess, a room full of slurpees sounds absolutely heavenly to me.

 

Courageous Creativity.

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I really like that God is creative.  Even more I like that He has made me creative.  Not because I’m a person that likes to cut and paste and use glitter, not because I derive satisfaction from making something I could buy.  He has made me creative because I am made in His image and He is creative!  That means you are too.  Yep, even if you find scrapbooking synonymous with paper cuts or the joy of painting is erased by your anxiousness over stain removal.  We are all creative in some way because that is how we we were created.

Today there was a line in my devotional that read like this: “[God] desires to be entirely creative with you.  Do you allow Him the freedom?” Absolutely, right?  How could I think of sunsets and mountain ranges and coral reefs and not want that beauty for me?  If I consider for even a second the majesty of forests and glaciers and waterfalls, I am going to crave that power in my own actions.  For a plain Jane like me, the idea of God’s creativity in my life is awe-inspiring.

Or is it?

To tell the truth, when I think of creativity I am not blown away by what God did in the beginning.  Instead I see my creative endeavours.  Sketches that never got off paper.  DIY projects that don’t look like the tutorials.  Materials bought still in their original packaging.  Gifts never delivered.  Projects half done.  Good intentions paving the pathway to my craft room.

I do not want God to do that with my life.

I can be tempted to think that He does.  He made me smart, but did He get tired before pretty?  He gave me ideas, but did He shelf me before adding courage?  He says he will give me everything I need, but did he remember to take it out of the package?

When I start a creative project it seems good.  I gather the materials, I have the idea, I may even have a picture to compare it to when finished.  I am set up for success.  As soon as I start that project though, things get messy.  Each piece needs to be crafted properly before it is fitted together in the whole to bring the project to complete.  If I stop in the middle, I am left with a mess.  If I don’t complete each piece the project will not be whole. I have to stick with it to the end for that project to remain as good as it started.

The truth is that we started out good.  Genesis tells us that after God finished His initial creative work He: “saw all that He had made and it was very good”.  The good news is that God finishes all of His projects.  Philippians 1:6 reminds us; “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

The reality is that we are in the mess of the middle.  When I look around that it all I can see, the creative chaos where the work takes place.  I didn’t have the idea for my life.  I don’t know the pieces that need to be put together.  I don’t have a picture of the completed project to compare today to.

Can I trust that what doesn’t make sense to me makes sense to Him?  Can I have faith that the mess will turn out beautiful?  Can I be brave enough to separate my life into tiny pieces- to stop trying to figure out how it all fits together- so that He can put me together according to His design?

Sunsets, waterfalls, coral reefs, mountain ranges; I get to see the beauty of the finished work.  The challenge is to see past that to the beginning, imagine the mess in the middle and see it all as amazing.

*Devotional mentioned “Whispers of Hope” by Beth Moore

Say…Seder

At Club DJ this month we have been following Jesus’ journey to the cross.  HIs entry into Jerusalem, the Last Supper he shared with his disciples, his death and resurrection.  We have been talking about sin, forgiveness, sacrifice, deliverance, joy and praise.

Each week we start with a few songs.  Usually upbeat ones with actions, although we have slowed it down a bit on occasion.  We talked about how we can praise God with all of our energy, that we can sing slowly and quietly- sort of like a prayer, and today we talked about praising God by remembering.

seder1 When we think back on the things that God has done for us, we are reminded of the things that only God can do and that brings us to praise.  Today we borrowed from a Jewish tradition of remembering- the Passover Meal.

We first learn about the Passover in Exodus 12- ‘On this day each man is to take a lamb for his family, on the day I tell them, they are to slaughter the lamb at twilight.  Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the door frames of the houses where they eat the lambs.  That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over a fire, along with bitter herbs and bread made without yeast.  This is how you are to eat it, with your cloak tucked into your belt and your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand.  Eat it very quickly, this is the Lord’s Passover.  On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every first born- both men and animals- and I will bring judgement.  The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood I will pass over you.  No harm will come to you when I strike Egypt.’

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The ritual of remembering Passover in the Jewish tradition is called the seder (sA-der).  It is a meal full of symbols, liturgy, story telling, rules, order and of course…food.

I truly believe that kids learn more when they can interact with content and so we today we used our 5 senses to experience a small part of the seder.  We had just a sampling of foods and talked about their meanings.

We started at the beginning, painting our door frames to mark us as belonging to God and talked for a few minutes about the seder being a meal.  That even though we were sitting on the ground we were going to treat it like a special dinner.

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We started off tasting some celery.  The celery stalks were dipped in salty water.  This helps us remember that the Israelites had been stuck in slavery in Egypt and they cried out to God for deliverance.  The salty taste reminds us of their tears.  Then we had a few pieces of tortilla, a bread made without yeast.  When the Israeliteswere given their instructions at the first passover the didn’t have time to make bread, they were to eat the meal with their cloaks and sandals on- ready to run!  Personally, I find this bit challenging.  The Israelites trust God enough to obey him immediately, not stalling even a few hours to make bread to sustain them on a journey.  Do I trust God enough to obey that quickly?  The next food we only smelled.  Horseradish was our symbol of a bitter herb.  The kids had mixed feelings on whether they wanted to eat it or not, but the majority of the children agreed it was not for them.  Bitter herbs remind us of the bitterness the Israelites endured under the Egyptians.    Their hearts had become bitter, which is understandable since slavery isn’t fun or nice or even fair.  God not only delivered them from slavery, but also from their bitterness.

Next we tried a simple charoset (ha-RO-seth), a sweet mixture of apples and cinnamon and raisins.  To be totally honest, I made a mistake here-lost my place in my notes and when someone suggested the sweet part of the meal was to remember how sweet it was to be free, I went with it, it made sense!  By the time I found my place and realized my mistake we had to move on- attention spans are only so long!  IF I had gotten it right we would have talked about the charoset being a symbol of the materials the Israelites used to make bricks while in slavery.  Even though I slipped up a little, the kids were happy to put the charoset on their tortillas and try it.  This was by far the favourite part of the meal and everyone ate it until it was gone.

seder5Next we passed around an egg and everyone made their best guess as to why this would be included in the seder.  The kids got it right away, the egg is a symbol of new life.  We talked about how exciting it is to run outside without our ski pants, jackets, hats, mitts, scarves and boots- how exciting it is when Spring arrives, (which did not happen today!).  All of our celebrations, the big ones like birthdays and weddings and the little ones like high fives and hugs- all these celebrations help us remember to be thankful for the life we have and that is a way we can praise God.


Lastly we sampled some lamb.  God instructed the Israelites to kill a lamb and use it’s blood to mark their home for the spirit to pass over and then they were to eat the lamb.  The lamb the family used would have been precious to them.  Some families would not have been able to have their own and so they would have come together in one house.  It cost the Israelites something to kill that lamb.

When we take time to remember how God delivered the Israelites from Egypt we also remember how Jesus came to deliver us from sin. We know that we’ve all sinned (Romans 3:23).  When we sin we are stuck far away from God, like the slaves in Egypt.  Romans 6:23 tells us that because we sin we deserve death, but God sent Jesus to be a sacrifice for our sins.  When we confess our sins and ask God to forgive us we are free from the penalty of sin right away (1John 1:9).  As we learn more about God we grow into something new (2 Corinthians 5:17).  We learn that living God’s way is sweet and good.

We finished off our seder taking some time to thank God for the ways he’s taken care of us and the things he has blessed us with.  I hope as you’ve read through our journey of discovering the Passover you too have been reminded of how God is there for you in hard times, or things he has delivered your from and all the blessings you have to be grateful for as we celebrate this Easter season.

Oh January.

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So this is January.  So chilly, so lonely, so unmotivat-Ed.

January sounds like grumbling, groaning, creaking, plodding along.  It’s cold.  It’s grey.  I have to wear shoes.  Is there anything good about January?

winter streetsWe do this, don’t we?  We come to January all the time.  Not just on the calendar, but in life.  We begin to doubt whether we can meet goals we set in shiny December.  We burn out from trying.  We plod along, every step hampered by snow drifts and then we just give up.  We curl up in a blanket, sit by the fire and act like that is just as satisfying as the hustle and bustle and aliveness of December.

It happens consistently, but catches us by surprise nonetheless.

“Do not be afraid to shed the familiarity of old patterns and old clothes” -Joanna Weaver

You know what I want though?  I wan to break the pattern and stay in December.  To just stop and get stuck in the eager anticipation, the energetic preparations, the colours, the aromas, the fullness of the season.

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Maybe we need more twinkle lights and ribbons and shiny packages.

Maybe we need to make extra time to appreciate people, searching high and low for the perfect tokens to express our love and gratitude.

Maybe the scent of familiar baking and the satisfaction of a guest ready home is the balm we need to ward of January’s chills.

The effort we put into life in December is incredible.  Sometimes we feel it.  When we shift our gaze- when we skip ahead to January, it can become absolute, almost unbearable drudgery.

But when we settle in to December, when we stay in the moment and immerse ourselves in the season we are fuelled supernaturally.

Fuelled by remembrances of what was.

Fuelled by gratefulness for what is.

Fuelled by hope of what is to come.

While January is full with new beginnings, new challenges, new resolutions and plans- it all becomes absolute, almost unbearable drudgery when we forget December.

There’s no reason to forget December.  We didn’t unwrap all the gifts on Christmas morning, the greatest is still to come.

Maybe those twinkle lights don’t need to go back to storage just yet.  Maybe some carols don’t have to be seasonal.  Maybe gingersnaps taste just as good without egg nog.

This January, let’s shake it up, set a new pattern and not let January rob us of December’s delight anymore.

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*word art found on Etsy at this listing and quoted from the movie You’ve Got Mail.  Photography credits on photo watermarks.

Christmas 2015

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Dear Family and Friends,

As you may know, I like to reflect on the Christmas Story when I sit down to write our annual Christmas letter. In recent years I have found myself identifying with the shepherds in the story. Regular, working class folk going about their ordinary days, but choosing to embrace the divine in their midst.

At the beginning of 2015 I assumed this year’s letter would be more of the same. I had recently started working in Medical Transcription, Nick was continuing on at the group home and the kids filled their days with school, sibling rivalry and sleep. But early into this past year we began to have an internal struggle about the direction our family was headed. The emotional roller coaster of Nick applying for vocational ministry positions and the anticipation of waiting for replies had taken a toll on our hearts and minds.  I had begun to think I had lived too wrapped up in church community and maybe it was time to look for a place to share my gifts and love outside of sacred walls.  The kids started to develop deep friendships and had claimed Georgetown as their home.

In early March it was beginning to look like I would relate most to the people in Bethlehem when it came time to write this year’s letter. Comfortable in my day-to-day life, doors closed to protect and invest in the people who lived behind them. Shutters drawn against any hint of the unexpected in the unassuming couple looking for refuge.

Then came April and someone knocked on our door.

Then came May and we peeked through the peephole to see who it might be.

Then came June and, despite our best efforts to proceed with caution and tread lightly on a new path, we were swept up in the hurricane of the Holy Spirit moving and we knew immediately the direction we were to pursue.  Life really hasn’t slowed down enough for us to catch our breath since June.

As the year draws to a close I know that Mary is the character in the Christmas story who will best sum up 2015 for our family. There she was going about her regular days, planning to follow the regular path and do life like all regular people and then an angel interrupted her, “Greetings you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you.” and from that point on nothing was regular in her life. I have also discovered that we tend to romanticize the story, and romanticize the adventures of life. It’s true that it is exciting to go new places and meet new people and do new things. But it’s also hard. And scary. And exhausting.

In past years when I have read the Christmas story I have thought things like ‘oh Mary, how amazing to be chosen to be Jesus’ mother’ or ‘could you imagine an Angel telling you exactly what God wants of you?’ or even ‘if only I could be that lucky!’ This year as I considered Mary’s part I realized how difficult it must have been for her.

Instead of enjoying an engagement, she had to endure gossip.

Instead of readying a home to welcome her son to, she had to leave everything she knew behind.

Instead of anticipating a lifetime of memories, she had to accept that he wouldn’t be with her for long.

How did she do it? How could she be so brave and strong and humble?

In 2015 we packed up our life in Ontario and headed back out west to Saskatchewan. We did it with excitement. We did it with trepidation.  We have grieved, as there is a place for that in change, and we have also rejoiced. We have had days of doubts and days of endless possibilities.

But perhaps the biggest lesson we have begun learning in 2015 is the same as Mary had to learn at the beginning of the story, ‘but the angel said to her, Do not be afraid.’ In order for Mary to fulfill her part in the story she had to look up. She couldn’t get caught up in her circumstances, her questions or her worries. She had to choose to trust and say ‘I am the Lord’s Servant’. The end of 2015 finds us saying the same and as so often happens when we choose to trust and obey, God does more than we could hope or imagine.

In July we had the opportunity to go to an amazing camp and build a deep bond with friends that even 3,000 miles can’t stretch thin.  We were blessed under a tent full to overflowing with love and well-wishes from friends who have become family to us. We said hard good-byes to relatives we were only able to make memories with because we obeyed God’s call to Georgetown in 2006.

In August we took our time road-tripping half way across the country and actually enjoyed it. We got to hang out with family and say ‘see you tomorrow’ and the kids were able to return to day camp at Rosewood which was a definite highlight.

September began with us purchasing our first home. A home bought not on our hard work alone, but with the love so many of you showed us in tangible ways. We are humbled by your generosity.

Since then we have been privileged in doing the hard work of building new friendships and learning a new culture.  The kids have been ice skating for the first time ever, we’ve been able to host parties and play dates. We have been welcomed with open arms and can truly say we are blessed beyond measure. In letting go of what was regular In order to let God do something extraordinary in our lives, we are ending 2015 like Mary at the end of the story as she ‘treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.’

It is our hope and prayer for you on the brink of this New Year that you too will find a measure of courage, humility and trust to look up and embrace the adventure waiting for you in 2016.  That the challenges and worries and circumstances will pale in comparison to the joy and blessing that comes when we choose to not be afraid, but trust that amazing things can happen simply by us letting go of what is regular in our lives.

We look forward to being a part of that in the lives of friends and family who are near and hope that those of you far from us know we love to hear what is happening with you too! We covet your texts and emails and calls (and look forward to seeing as many of you as possible when we visit this summer!)

Thank you so much for being a part of our journey and for letting us be a part of yours.

Merry Christmas and warmest wishes for a blessed New Year!

Parent Perks

By far, this is my favourite part of being a mom.

When she left for school in the morning, the house looked like this.

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Then she came home to this.

 

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I took these.

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And they made these.

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What started off as a question…..

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Became this answer.

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It’s true, I’m the janitor and kitchen staff and chauffeur.  I deal with all manner of meltdowns and tantrums and attitude. I am exhausted by discipline and teaching good habits.  ‘Weekend’ means nothing to me.

But, I am also Walt Disney and Mary Poppins and Ray Kinsella.*

By far my favourite part of being a mom is being the Maker of Magic.  The one who grants wishes and cures boo-boos with kisses.  The one who can sweep away bad dreams and leave them wondering… ‘how did she know that?’

I wasn’t lucky enough to attend Hogwarts, but I get to wield a wand and turn ordinary days into magical memories.  Parent Perk #1- I get to make the magic.

*Just so you don’t spend all day racking your brain over who Ray Kinsella is, I’ll tell you.  He’s the main character in Field of Dreams; you know, ‘if you build it…..’

Woah…Woe?

Vermont_5Tonight I’m marinating in Isaiah 6; the familiar throne room vision.  The “Whom shall I send?” and the “Here am I.” and the coal and the woe and the unclean lips.

I’ve read it a million times and I know the jist.  I am a sinner.   So unworthy.  But Christ has redeemed me- Now I will run and shout it from the rooftops and tell the whole world and….

I get hung up on the sinner part, (anybody?) and so naturally tonight I tried to dig down into my depths and count all my sins and promise to stay on my knees until they hurt and I know, really know, I’m white as snow and all jazzed up with fire in my veins to PREACH IT, amen!

But it isn’t working.  I swear there are a herd of crickets in my room.

I found this commentary online tonight and it points out that Isaiah is aware of his sin, and that he is totally unworthy to be in God’s presence, but his sin is no greater than his neighbour’s, or the people he is being sent to with a prophecy.  Sin doesn’t make him unique, we’re all doing it, you know.  And I realized that Isaiah is standing there in the presence of God with the glory streaming about him in a terrifyingly amazing way and instead of being led into an all out Hillsong concert, Isaiah is thinking of himself, of his state, of what should befall him for being there.  He’s not thinking “Woah man- awesome.”  He’s thinking “Woe, man.”

But tonight its not the sin that’s gripping me or even the good news of my salvation (gasp), but rather the “Here am I.  Send me.”

I always envision it being said enthusiastically and want to put it on some reclaimed pallet in distressed paint and vinyl cutouts- motivation to gird up my passions and hit the pavement so to speak.  I mean if Isaiah- a guy bringing a message of doom and gloom is all, ‘Let’s get this party started!’, then how could I not be pumped to share the good news?

And there is a part of me that wants to say I am.  The message I bring is good.  It may sting for a bit, but it’s honey, baby.  Even on the bee sting days, still honey.  So, “Here am I.  Send me!”  Just look at the other messengers; Beth Moore, Jen Hatmaker, Lysa Terkeurst, Ann Voskamp.  (Can you tell I have some girl crushes?)

I have what they have! Let me be them!!  Changing the world, popular, beautiful, published!!!

But what if I am just like them and no one ever knows it?  What if I dig into God’s word with Beth’s passion and expound it with Jen’s prose and have the peace and love of the Voskamp farm and the quirky, let-me-bring-revival-via-text-message like Lysa, but I don’t get to be popular or start any movements or be published?

Do I still want to go?

What if Isaiah didn’t say “Here am I.  Send me.”  with gusto and zeal?  What if he realized he was the only one who showed up to the service project (again) and shrugged his shoulders and said, “Well I showed up, I’ll go.”  Or what if he was just another Boy Scout looking to pin some more badges on his tunic?  Or a momma’s boy saying just the right thing to ensure some love?

Tonight the coals aren’t hot and the state of my sin isn’t bothering me, I’m all verklempt about whether or not I really want to go.  

I’ve been feeling it for a bit, a calling to a closer, tighter, more intimate, personal relationship with God.  And I’ve had to make some tough choices to start going that direction which have left me feeling like an outsider in my faith community.  And when I dig into God’s Word I start writing and my bedtime slips past and then I get so tired.  The sacrifices.  Do I really want to go?

What if going means more time alone with God and less with people- I don’t do lonely well.  What if He gives me an unpopular message and then equips me to deliver it, do I even want to?  Could I be that bold.  What if he could change my world, which I’m not exactly holding onto with vice grips, but the unknown….I don’t know.

And now I understand the aforementioned Woe.  Woe is me for I would choose any thing over more of God.  Woe is me, for I am standing here being invited into God’s courts and I’m considering other options.  Woe is me.

For the amazing truth of my salvation to pale beside my self, I must be crazy.  It’s always better to love God than to love life.  To trust Him instead of myself.  To be open to His opportunities instead of focused on my shortcomings.

How could I not want to go to Him?

Woe… Woah…. Here am I…. Take me.

winter road

So this is Christmas.

2014 xmasBefore I had kids I loved Christmas.  Twinkle lights were a part of my everyday decor.  I played Christmas music way too early. I love advent readings in church.  Seeing friends who are too busy the other 11 months of the year.  Christmas plays- I acted in them.  Christmas banquets- I served them.  Presents- oh how I love to search for just the right one and wrap it up like Martha Stewart and then leave it on a doorstep to be enjoyed a la surprise.

Before I had kids I loved to enjoy all things Christmas.

Now that I have kids I am becoming more and more Scrooge each year.  It’s not because it’s too commercialized.  I mean life is commercialized and you choose how much you want to give in to that.  It’s not because it’s such a busy time.  All the activities shut down for the month of December, if anything we have more free time.  It’s not because the christmas crafts and baking are messy, because they were just as messy pre-kids.  It’s not because of all the “I want” either.  Let’s face it kids are just as greedy in May as they are in December.

I do not like Christmas anymore because of the guilt.

You know what I’m talking about, maybe you even heaped some on this year, what with your “Keep CHRIST in Christmas” bumper sticker.  Or when you shared this Ikea commercial on your Facebook page.  When you made sure to put the right emPHASis on the right syllAble every time you said “Merry Christmas.”

Or maybe you’re drowning in a sea of it.  Buy presents for my kids?  But they aren’t aware of how selfish they are, why they haven’t offered to give last year’s toys away.  Prepare a Christmas feast?  But there are people starving, and I’m sure I did not give enough to the local Food Bank.  Bake Cookies?  Decorate the House?  But what about all the people who don’t know the reason for the season, I haven’t logged nearly enough soap box hours.  Enjoy the company of family and friends?  But what about those dealing with loss and grief, surely I should not be happy until I bring home a military personnel.  Memorize Christmas carols or words for a play?  But we rushed through our advent verses and the kids haven’t memorized even one of those.  Heck they still think Jesus’ daddy’s name is Santa!

If you’re a parent trying to raise up kids in the Christian Faith, then you, like me, may have a stocking full of guilt hanging on your mantle.

This has happened to me every year since I became a parent and I’m a bit tired of it.  But 2014 has been a year of consciously shifting my perspective and at the 11th hour I’ve begun to experience another shift.

It happened with one of those pictures on Facebook.  It was a manger and a star and a baby.  But this time it read: “Christmas is Jesus’ birthday.”  And I began to realize some things.

I do not need to wonder if I’m putting the CHRIST in Christmas because having Christ in the life of our family is not a seasonal thing.  We talk to Him and about Him every day.  He is not the centre of our celebration, He is the centre of our life.

I do not need to feel guilty for the amount of charity or service I have given this holiday season because we give and serve to the best of our ability all year long.  The Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto is our cause of choice and we support them 12 months of the year.  We build up the body with service all year long.

I do not need to feel guilty about the amount or quality of our educational experience because no matter how much we talk at our kids about our faith, it is the Holy Spirit who brings them understanding and zeal.  Knowledge about our faith is not a December campaign, it’s part of our everyday.

And I would hazard a guess that if you are a Christian parent, the same is true for you.

The thing about that simple statement, “Christmas is Jesus’ birthday” started a shift in my perspective because I can relate to that.  I have 5 kids and if you have spent any time on this blog you know we. like. to. party.

But the birthday of my child is not the only day I pay attention to them.  It’s not the only time I put them above everything else.  It’s not the only time I tell them I love them or do something to make them feel special.  But you know what a birthday is?  It’s MAS.  (Now I know it’s spelt MAS and what I mean is MÁS, but allow me some creative license if you will.)

When I am preparing for a birthday party we make a guest list.  At our house we invite everyone of the same gender in our class at school and our besties from Church.  Then we think about loot bags, what we’re going to give to people who come to say “thanks for celebrating me”.  We list the food and plan activities.  At our house we do this way in advance so that we can hunt for bargains or have time for DIYs done right.  We choose a theme and we decorate accordingly.  We even do frivolous things like helium balloons.  We talk about it for months, not constantly but when we’re bored party planning is one way we fill our time.  I search Pinterest for all the perfect things.  We all pitch in and for one day we go MÁS for someone.  We do it simply because we enjoy it.

Now it’s the 11th hour and I am not crazy enough to run myself into the ground and bankruptcy pulling off an incredible birthday for Jesus this year.  I am fine with the fact that the only Christmas decoration I put up was a ceramic Christmas tree of my late Nana’s that my Grandpa brought me (the pic at the top, ain’t it swell).  I will try and clean up the living room enough that we have space to open presents.  Some of our traditions have slipped this year, and some were done while I totally faked the Spirit of the Season, but I don’t think the kids have a clue.

Moving forward Christmas is going to be less about guilt for me.

I won’t let guilt keep me from creating atmosphere in my home.

I won’t let guilt keep me from giving my kids, (and the Hubster) good gifts.

I won’t let guilt keep me from enjoying the bounty on my table.

I am blessed beyond what I deserve every day of my life and I’ve begun to see that in the same way that one should not only celebrate that fact on Thanksgiving, one should not be guilted out of celebrating it at Christmas.

From now on I’m going to put the CHRISTMAS in Christmas, and if you want to, you can do it too.  No one’s going to make you feel guilty for it here.

happy-birthday-Jesus(PS: Here’s a bonus mom tip.  Have your kids figured out the art of snooping?  Do what I do, wrap their gifts and use them as mantle decor. )

Awareness

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When we first started planning The Shy One’s birthday party I was unaware that November is “Adoption Awareness” Month.  This month I have become very aware of adoption.  I read this post that a friend brought to my attention and since then I  haven’t been able to get this line out of my head; “bad things had to happen for adoption to happen.”  I think its something I always knew in my head, but it was overshadowed by the happy couples, unable to have their own children, holding babies in their arms.  Then a little while later a friend of mine who has adopted a son shared this: “You see adoption starts with loss, and not just a minor ‘hey look, I lost my tooth’ sort of loss, but a mind-bending, heart-wrenching, complete upheaval of everything you know sort of loss.”  and since then I have been thinking deep thunks about adoption and all the while planning The Shy One’s Puppy Adoption Party.

I’ll admit it, I stereotype people whose dogs have ended up in shelters.  Right away I think of bad people who have abused animals, or parents who couldn’t say no to entitled kids, or irresponsible folk.  All those images that pop into your head from the term “rescue” when it comes to pet adoptions.  In my new awareness of adoption I began to think of that family who lost their income and could not afford that one more mouth to feed.  Or the senior who moved into an assisted living residence that does not accept pets.  Or folks who have lost everything, including a pet who just didn’t come home.

There are all kinds of scenarios that lead to adoption and although our party was fun, kids learn through play, and so in a way we were planting seeds about adoption and what an animal’s needs are.

We started off with this basket of pups.  Each child got to choose one.  They picked a popsicle stick with a number on it, to make the order fair.

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Then we decorated dog houses.  I found these gems at Michaels for $1.99, (plus a bonus 30% off everything coupon!). I love me a deal.  The kids got to decorate them however they wanted with markers and stickers.

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Then came time for the supplies a dog would need.  We started with the “puppy treats”, a way to put some food into the kids loot bags.  Although none of the kids will ask, all of the treats had some meaning.  First, hershey kisses for the love a puppy needs and gives, rockets for all their energy, a candy necklace which is kind of like a collar and “dog food” (corn pops and cocoa pebbles and chocolate bone-shaped sugar cookies).

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We went on to fill the dog house with other things the puppies would need.  A ball for play, a blanket and of course an adoption certificate.

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We had the party at our church because we needed some space to do our second activity:  a dog agility course.  The Hubster pulled this one all together and it was great.

Weaving is a skill all dogs must prove in an agility course:

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The trick is to do the whole thing with speed… even up on the balance beam.

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Don’t forget to crawl under.

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They tested their hand-eye coordination throwing frisbees at targets.

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And finally sped through the bouncy castle, because no gym party is complete without the bouncy castle.

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We of course had some human treats,

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And no decor to speak of as I ran out of time and the space was HUGE.  But, on a scale of 1 to 10 The Shy One gave the party 1 million.

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The party and “Adoption Awareness” month have both wrapped up, but I know I will still be thinking deep thunks about adoption, of both people and pets.

I am so proud to know people who are doing the work of adoption.  As my dear friend says, “The most profound lesson I learned in the adoptive parent training is that we as parents are our child’s loss managers. We are to help them wade through the losses, give voice to the losses, confront the losses, overcome the losses, and not be offended and hurt when all that rage towards the losses is directed at us.”

I am now aware of the sacrifice of bringing healing to our hurting world through adoption and I applaud all those involved in the process.  Your strength, courage and long-suffering have humbled me and I thank you.

‘Cuz I’m Happy.

i am a joy addict.

Wedding pictures make me smile ear to ear.  Let’s face it, most wedding pictures are very similar.  There’s one of the ring, one of the dress, one of the groom seeing the bride for the first time, one of the bride and her daddy, one of the kiss, one of the flowers…..  But the smiles.  The smiles are so wonderful.  Their joy makes every wedding unique.  I enjoy every one.

New babies.  Being perfectly honest, just because one was just born does not make one cute.  But the smiles of the people looking at them. All the fluffy blankets and crocheted prop goodness.  Black and white editing.  I can’t help but be overwhelmed with joy for every little life.  The tiny bits they’ll grow into, what the future holds for them.  I cannot help but catch the joy of the family of a newborn baby.

Did you just buy a house, I am ecstatic for you.  I just love when a person finds that place they can call home.  When you walk in and you see your own pictures on the walls and the perfect places to stage your traditions.  Need someone to give a tour after you unpacked the umpteenth box and are so proud- call me.  I will seriously “Oooohhh”  and “Aaaahhhh” at all the right places and mean it.

Did you graduate?  Found the perfect prom dress?  Met the man/woman of your dreams?  Dream Vacation?  Lost the weight? Promotion?  Retirement?  If you have something you are joyful about, let me know cuz I can put some sprinkles on that.

It’s why I’m on Facebook an embarrassing amount of time, I just need to know what to be happy for!

Hi.  My name is Amanda, and I am addicted to joy.

(Today’s writing challenge:  Be as brief as you can, but complete your thought.  Trust me- it was way hard.)

An Open Letter to Helene Hadfield

Dear Mrs. Hadfield;

I want to sincerely thank you for sharing your husband with the world.

It was ‘Music Monday’ and my kids came home humming “If you could see our nation, from the International Space Station’, I had no idea what they were babbling about and then my daughter asked if she could use my computer to watch some You Tube videos.

‘Yeah, let’s do the teeth brushing one.’  ‘No, no I like the one about the food.’ ‘Oh, yeah and the song, let’s watch the song.’

I still had no idea what they were talking about, but there’s 5 of them so I was quickly outnumbered.  To keep the fighting to a dull roar I sat down with them and starting trying to find what they were talking about.  Ten seconds with a floating tortilla and I was hooked.

Thousands of people watched those videos, but I wonder how many of them stopped to think that he gave up time he could have been talking to you to educate us.  I eagerly awaited his next post, and I am just now considering that you may have been doing the same.  That while we waited to hear his voice, and see the sparkle in his eye, and be inspired by his awe of the universe- you were right there with us.  Except you also experienced the heart ache to get there, you were with him every step of the way, you were there on that space station; that part of your life that was missing on earth, and every time your world was whole, we were there watching too.

I had the opportunity to meet your husband, for a brief second and quite by chance.  We needed to go to Costco and kept on getting delayed in our day, by the time we went we just wanted to rush through and get home again.  We walked through the door to see the sign-and the line- to meet Mr. Hadfield.  Our kids were still singing that blasted song, (OK maybe I was too), and asked if we could stand in line.  We waited an hour which didn’t exactly fly by, but also wasn’t awful and when we finally got to meet him I wanted to rush the kids through.

‘Okay, just say hello and get the booked signed and let the next people in, they’ve been waiting as long as us.’ One of those brutal people pleaser moments where you don’t know if you should please your people or the people, and I was choosing wrong.  I was trying to rush them past the first ‘celebrity’ they had ever wanted to meet.  The person who expanded their worldview outside of the ozone.  And do you know what your husband did?  He smiled at them while signing the book and asked them a few questions.  Then he looked at me and my husband and said, ‘You’re doing a great job raising these kids.  They are so polite.  Thanks for coming to see me guys.’  I was stunned.  I didn’t know what to say.  I think my husband said something, and there were pictures.

And I was intrigued, so I actually read that book we got signed.

I want to thank you for being an example to wives that you can be fully supportive of your husband’s dreams and ambitions without having to deny yourself yours.

I know a little something about letting my husband have the freedom to follow his dreams.  We have moved around the country and while we have roots, we are ready to have wings at any time.  I’ve done a lot of single parenting in the name of a spouse’s passion.  I’ve learned to hold my plans in an open hand and not expect tomorrow to turn out the way I think it will today.

But, my husband and I, we are still two separate people.  We each have our own dreams and passions and causes.  I saw that in Mr. Hadfield’s book, each move became a new adventure and you explored it, not just for what it brought him, but also how it could enhance your life and expand your world.  You stepped back to let him go full tilt after his dreams, all the while doing things like going to law school or learning to ride a horse.  It was so refreshing to read a memoir that personified that saying: “Behind every great man there is a great woman,”–but dinner may be late because that woman is hiking the Inca Trail.

Your husband’s time aboard the ISS brought our home so many great things.  We got to see the end of a journey you walked every step of.  Thank you for cheering him on, for being his biggest support, for believing in him as much as he believed in himself.  Thank you for being so open and genuine and authentic with the world.

I want to say thank you for for your continued selflessness. chris3

Not just while he was in space, but during the book tour, and all the public events he will speak, or sing, at for us.  For taking the time to wait while he signs autographs, for your grace when your coffee is cold because he can’t even going to Tim Hortons without a crowd wanting some of his time.  Thank you for letting him go, when you just want him ‘come home soon’.  For letting us feel like we ‘know’ the two of you.

Thank you for stretching our your arms, empowering your husband to take flight, and being his soft place to land at the end of this long journey.  He is who he is, in part, because of you and I am so grateful that you shared yourself with us as well.  Thank you for letting us feel like family, or at least close friends, and I hope that we get the hint when you’re ready for some space- that you don’t have to go to the ISS to find it.

Sincerely,

Amanda

(My response to the challenge: publish a post for your dream reader, write to one specific person.)