Joy & Sorrow

Do you ever feel like you’re kind of two different people?

I’ve felt like that a lot this past year and its an unsettling feeling.  When we moved I was so sad about everything we had left, yet I was so happy about everything we were coming to.  I simultaneously loved my new life and missed my old one.  And its a weird feeling to be pulled in two different directions.

I think as Christians we become so focused on joy that we can forget about sorrow.  Or we try to anyway.  We want to move quickly past sorrow onto joy, like the speed with which we can do this says something about our spirituality.

But what if we could hold both?

II Corinthians 6:10 says, “As sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing”.   We have so much to rejoice over in our lives, yet there is always an element of sorrow.  But the good news is, sorrow doesn’t negate joy.  And joy doesn’t negate sorrow.

Maybe this Christmas you find yourself with that unsettled feeling I have found myself with.  You may have something hard this season – a memory of losing a loved one, a broken family, an illness, loneliness – yet you find yourself wanting to find joy.  Lean into the unsettledness.  For that unsettledness is just real life.  We always live in a state where we can find things to be sorrowful over and things to be joyful over.  I’m learning that I’m not two different people – I’m becoming one mature person who realizes that life is not all roses.  And that’s ok, because even in the sorrow, life is not all thorns either.  We can live our messy, complicated lives with hard things in them because we have the joy of the Lord in us.  We don’t always have to pretend that everything is perfect.  We don’t have to approach the Christmas season ignoring all the hard things.

Instead of trying to quickly move past the sorrow to get to the joy, we can lean into both.  Because no matter what difficulties are coming at you this month, I guarantee there are reasons to rejoice.  Our Saviour came for us!  That’s what we’re really celebrating at Christmas.  And just that can be enough to rejoice.

So acknowledge the hard, the sorrow, but make room for the rejoicing.  Hold both together – for joy does not negate our sorrow, but sorrow does not have to negate our joy.


A Merry Christmas – Expectations

Christmas is my absolute favourite time of year.  I love it when everything is so magical.  The lights are up and twinkling.  All the food is perfect.  The presents are all meaningful and wrapped beautifully and under the tree by December 1st.  The kids are perfectly behaved and grateful and say all the thank you’s at the right time.  There is no family drama and everyone is happy with my plans.  We all have the perfect mix of fun and remembering the reason for the season, including advent devotionals.  And there is a corny Christmas movie or two thrown in there just as the cherry on top.

Oh, your Christmas doesn’t look like this?  Ok, good.  Because mine never does either!  But I want it so badly.  I just love it so much and I strive to make every part perfect.  But I’ve learned a very important lesson in the past couple of years.

Expectations ruin everything.

And oh do I have them about Christmas – expectations everywhere.

My expectations can stress me out to the point that I’m the one ruining everything.  But when I can let them go and roll with it, I’m less stressed and things go so much better.  Like this past weekend, we planned to kind of open the Christmas season.  My parents were coming to take us out for breakfast and that was lovely.  Then we were going to go to the Santa Clause parade and see the lighting of the lights downtown, followed by decorating the tree.  Only it rained.  Like, poured rain all day.  And none of us wanted to stand in the rain and cold.  I was quite disappointed that my perfect opening ceremonies to Christmas was ruined.  And there may have been years past that I made everyone go and stand in the rain!  But instead, we found something else to do, and still decorated the tree.  And it was so much more fun than standing in the rain.

That’s just a simple story, but we can have much bigger expectations.  Like family peace, or a whole family, or financial issues.  Maybe peace on earth has you wishing for peace with a person in your life.  Maybe joy to the world has you wishing for joy in your spirit.  Maybe the twinkling lights have you wishing you could feel like you weren’t sitting in darkness.

What if we determined that this year we’re not going to let our expectations run away with us.

Its ok if not everything is perfect.  Its ok if we don’t have time for that magical experience with our kids.  Its ok if a couple of those gifts are not the most meaningful.  We can acknowledge that Christmas is hard – it comes with grief and drama and kids who are over tired and over sugared.  The real meaning of Christmas is simply to celebrate the joy of our salvation.  And if you’ve accomplished that, you’ve won at Christmas.  Even if your house doesn’t look like a Pinterest board.

This year I’ve determined – I will work hard and still try to accomplish all the things, but if they don’t happen, Christmas will not be ruined.  And I will be ok.


Praying

Some weeks I end up feeling like I’ve run a marathon.  Or like I’m caught in some endless marathon.  I’ve been feeling like this for a few weeks now – end of term at school means grades for all the kids, new songs to be chosen and recorded, etc.  Big conference at church means seven different practices on Sunday – you know the drill.  We all have those weeks, whether its work, or sick kids on rotation.

I was starting to get a little…maybe testy is a good word.  I was maybe not my best, most peaceful self.

Because of a few things, I spend a lot of time each morning in God’s Word.  Well, I’m sure I could always use more!  But its a decent amount of time.  But I tend not to pray first thing.  Mostly because I’ll always fall back asleep.  Just keeping it real.  So I pray throughout the day – while I’m washing dishes, or driving, or getting ready in the morning.  But I noticed this was starting to contribute to this feeling of no peace.  Usually it works well, but last week I was just overwhelmed.

While I was driving home from dropping the kids off at school one day last week, I was going over my to-do list in my head.  Laundry, cleaning, getting to work early to choose that last song, lets not even talk about the ironing.  And this quote from Martin Luther popped into my head.  I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.

What a challenge.  So I tried it.  I went home, dropped my stuff right by the front door, went and curled up in a comfy spot on my couch and set a timer for fifteen minutes.  It was the best decision I made all week.  In fact, when that timer went off, I set it for another fifteen because I was enjoying this peaceful time with the Lord so much.

That purposeful reset in the middle of my week was just what I needed.

Maybe you’re so busy right now that you need to just stop for a while too?  Multi-tasking is awesome and being caught up is awesome and getting as much done as you can in a day is awesome.  But sometimes our soul just needs to stop for a while and sit with Jesus.


Jesus Never Fails

Our pastor is currently preaching through the book of Hebrews on Sunday nights.  The theme of the series is Jesus is Better.  This week he used the song, Jesus Never Fails, as part of his message and the closing hymn.  The first few lines of the song say,

Earthly friends may prove untrue

Doubts and fears assail

One still loves and cares for you

One who will not fail

Jesus never fails

Jesus never fails

Heav’n and earth may pass away

But Jesus never fails

For some reason those words really gripped my heart this week.  I’ve been singing that song since I was a kid, but you know how songs just jump out at you anew?  Just when you need them?

Its been a bit of a rough year with people and I.  I have learned much about forgiveness, fighting bitterness and resentment.  And I have failed people this year too.  I’ve come to this conclusion – people are going to fail people.  Its just a fact of life.  I wish it weren’t so.  I wish I could say that other people have failed me but I’ve managed to not fail anyone else in the process.  Sadly, its not true.

But what if we could take every time we are hurt as an opportunity to remind us that there is only one person who will never fail us?  What if we could let every betrayal point us back to Jesus?  What if instead of a heart of bitterness, we could accept the failure of people as something that will always happen and allow it to create a heart of thankfulness for Jesus?

People fail.

Jesus never does.

What an amazing thought.


tired

Guys, I’m tired.  Like that bone tired that starts to creep into your soul, tired.

Its nothing serious.  It happens sometimes with my mysterious illness.  Especially when its been a long week, followed by a busy weekend, coupled with a child with a huge project.  You know where I’m coming from – the mom life.  Actually, you don’t even have to be a mom I think.  Just a person.

As soon as I’m this tired, I can start to get overwhelmed easily.  Then it moves from being tired, to a serious problem.  I might cry, I might get short with everyone around me, I might do the exact opposite of what I need to do and just stop working all together.

I have a mentor in my writing group that always says a phrase that has helped me so much in these times.  The phrase is, just do the next right thing in love.  Seems almost too simple.  Of course I know I should do the right thing and that I should do it in love.

But the word next is what is so helpful to me.  To focus on only one thing at a time is so helpful in the overwhelm.  Yesterday that meant fill out my meal plan, do groceries, say good bye to my mom, take Emma to piano, take a 20 minute nap, make dinner, take my remedy from my homeopath, clean the kitchen so I wouldn’t have a crazy morning, get all the music marks ready for school, say no to a late night get together, and go to bed early.  Simple every day activities, but just a matter of listening to my body, soul, and spirit.  Some yeses, some nos, but a simple way to fight the overwhelm one decision at a time.

Nothing super spiritual here – I’m still kind of tired! – but maybe some practical help from one person that tends to get overwhelmed to another.  Just take that next right step one at a time.  And remember the love.


riches, redemption, restoration

If there was a theme or a catch phrase for my past year I think it would be, Grace Overflowed, or something like that.  I have clung to the grace of God each day.  I have felt it overflow my spirit in ways I never thought I would experience.

This year has brought His mercy.  The kindness He has shown to me and my family has made me so grateful.

This year has also taught me much about forgiveness.  I’ve had to extend it and I’ve had to ask for it.

But something new has been coming up lately.  Its been a beautiful thing to watch as I see God working His restoration process.  We know that God works all things together for good.  We think of this with His name, Redeemer.  He can take any situation, any sin, any tragedy, and work it for our good.  It can be hard to believe sometimes, but if we let Him, He’ll do it every time.

We also know that one day He will restore everything in Heaven.  Everything will be made new.  It will be like there was never any sin, never anything wrong to begin with.  Everything will be back to His original intent.

As with many things, we get little glimpses of Heaven here.  An amazing church service, a beautiful meal with people, a day of family unity, a view of beautiful creation, all these things can give us just a little taste of the time when everything will be restored.

Once in a while we get to see it in our lives.  Where He not only redeems the situation, but restores it.  The life that we shattered, that we messed up, that was broken by tragedy, gets completely put back together.  With the patience and care of only the Heavenly Father, He carefully puts back each piece until its not only beautiful, but restored.

Isn’t our God amazing?  The love and care that He puts into each of our lives is incomprehensible.  That He would extend to us His grace, mercy, and forgiveness is already enough.  But He also redeems every situation, working all to our good.  And once in a while, He really brings glory to Himself with restoration, that we may see how truly good He is.


New Mercies

Its now been one whole year since we moved.

In the few days before we moved, I spent quite a bit of time with a dear friend.  She had some words of wisdom for me.  She told me to get through the first year, knowing that all the firsts would be difficult.  Then after that, it would be so much easier because there were no more firsts.  A couple of weeks ago I was telling some ladies at our church’s ladies auction that it was my last first.  The last thing on the church’s calendar year that I had never been to, had no idea how it worked.

Not only was it for firsts here, but firsts from my old life too.  The first time I missed Western Day.  The first summer of not being at camp.  The strange longing that comes with knowing you’re right where you’re supposed to be, and loving it, but still feeling like a piece of your heart is somewhere else.  I suppose we all experience a little of that at different times.

This past Sunday was Christian School Sunday at church and I was asked to give a testimony as a new staff member.  It made me continue my reflection on this past year.  Its a completely different life.  And I love it so much, even though there are people and places and things I miss from my old one.  But the thought that kept coming up was, His mercies are new every morning, great is His faithfulness.

God took my heartbreak and turned it into something beautiful.  He took the ashes of an old life and created the most wonderful new one.  And He’s still doing so, every single day.

And He’s been faithful for this whole year.  Faithful to walk beside me in each new situation.  Hold me up every time I wanted to quit.  Rejoice with me in every victory, even when it was just driving somewhere without a GPS.  Cry with me with every memory, good or bad.  Forgive me for my lack of faith or forgiveness.

I would have never made it through this past year without a daily dose of mercy.  Praise God that it never runs out.  We can never make too many mistakes.  Never cry too many tears.  Never forget Him for too long.  Every single morning we wake up, His mercies are fresh and new.  Just waiting for the taking.


Captive Thoughts

This past weekend was a little rough.

If you know me in real life, you probably know that its coming up to a year since we moved to Barrie, completely changing everything about our lives.  But this weekend, one year ago, started that whole process.  And it wasn’t pretty.

It was hard and terrible and not an anniversary I wanted to celebrate.

And as it approached it seemed that every day it got a little harder to breathe.  The weight of memories, good and bad, the weight of decisions made, decisions going forward, changes, all pressed down on me.

I kept thinking and thinking and over thinking until I finally realized that I hadn’t been praying about it.  And so I started.  And praying helped a lot.  But what helped me the most, besides it finally being over, was controlling how much I was thinking about it.  And what I was thinking about it.  And how much control I was letting it have over me.

I had let this event, this anniversary coming, grow to this huge thing in my mind.  Until it was all I thought about.

Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;  II Cor. 5:10

I’ve been repeating this verse to myself continually for years now.  Like, a lot of years.  As in, I have a very stubborn mind.

I finally realized that dwelling on the past and imagining worst case scenarios for the future was not helping me get through this weekend.  Not that I made it through unscathed.  For I did not.  There was some talking, some tears.  But I made it.  And I can breathe.  Because each day I’m trying to remember that I can ask the Holy Spirit to control my thoughts.  I can bring them into captivity.  I can make decisions about them.

And while its hard to let go of the feelings and the what ifs and all the thoughts, its so freeing when I do.  When I trust in God to take all those things and make something beautiful out of them, I can breathe again.  Its not about shoving them aside, or pretending that they don’t exist, its about bringing them into captivity.  Putting them in their place.

Do you have any thought patterns that need to be brought captive?  I have several!  But memorizing this verse was one of the best things I ever did.


Are We There Yet

Has your life taken you on some unexpected twists and turns?

My marriage definitely has.  From where I grew up, to the Philippines, back again, into the ministry and living at camp, and now to Barrie.  Definitely not what I envisioned when I started out as a newly married 20 year old!  I couldn’t have predicted the route we would have taken.  And because of this crazy road we’ve traveled, I wouldn’t even try to predict the route we have ahead of us for the second half!

I was privileged to receive an early copy of the book “Are We There Yet?” by Paul and Terrie Chappell.  In this book they use travel analogies to talk about marriage.  I knew it would be a helpful read because I’ve read many things written by them, but it was even better than expected.  It was full of Biblical and practical advice.

In a chapter entitled Unexpected Turbulence, the Chappells talk about what its like to go through trials together as a couple.  I thought this would be a helpful passage to share with you, as we look together for hope in hard times!

“Although you may not be facing intense persecution as a couple, perhaps you are facing an incredible time of trial or pressure.  You feel as though you are running from Satan’s attacks, hiding in a cave of loneliness, watching destruction come in the lives of people you love, or facing any type of ongoing trial.  Your trial may be financial – perhaps the loss of a job, trouble finding work, bills, debt, bankruptcy.  Perhaps yours is health-related.  Perhaps you’re dealing with doctors, test, treatment, hospitals, pain, exhaustion.  Maybe your trial is a child who is struggling, rebelling, or has left the faith.  Maybe you have lost a child or have not been able to have children.  Maybe it is an unfaithful spouse, the death of your parents, a child with special needs, a deep life disappointment, a …There are more possibilities than we can name here.  But none of these possibilities surpass the grace of God.

These times of trial have the potential to make or break a marriage. On one hand, they can drive us to the Lord and to each other as we seek His help and recognize our need for His grace.  On the other hand, we may respond wrongly to the trial and reject God’s grace and allow the stress to drive us away from one another.

God desires to bless you through your times of turbulence as well.  Trials do place pressure on the most tender places of our hearts.  But rather than allowing the trial to destroy your marriage, let God use it to strengthen your marriage. This happens when you together decide to respond to the trial in faith and trust.”

I hope that if you’re married you’ll consider getting this book.  It was a blessing to me and I know it will be to you too – whether or not you’re going through a trial right now.

Its available on October 17th, but you can pre-order it anytime.  If you click on this link, you can see what free bonuses you’ll receive when you pre-order.

Happy Reading!


our words

I also could speak as ye do: if your soul were in my soul’s stead, I could heap up words against you, and shake mine head at you.

But I would strengthen you with my mouth, and the moving of my lips should asswage your grief.  Job 16:4-5

I have this thing with my husband where I often ask him why he loves me.  He used to hate it.  Well, hate is a strong word, but it was not his favourite thing.  I used to hate his answers.  That might be slightly too strong, but not too far off.  It seemed like he was always telling me things that were out of my control, and therefore, not “me”.

I wrote a whole chapter in my book on how I realized it was really a control thing for me, that I was really asking, what can I continue to do to make you love me?  And I went on to talk about dwelling on God’s love for us.

But just because you write and have your own website, doesn’t mean you have your whole act together.

So I still ask.  All the time.

The other night I handed him a doozy.  I said, “I think you should tell me 15 reasons why you love me.”  I was mostly joking because I knew he would hate that.

But he did it.  All right in a row.  And they were all sweet and wonderful.  And you know what?

Its like it filled my soul.  I was amazed how much those words meant to me.

Its been a tough couple of weeks.  I started working part time, we had missions conference, I’ve been really sick, you know…life.  And those lovely words filled me back up.

As I’ve been studying Job lately, I’ve been amazed by the amount of chapters that his friends take up.  They berate him, tell him everything is his own fault, tell him to repent of his sins, basically, they decide they can speak for God.

In chapter 16 he gives them some advice.  I can’t decide if he blows up and loses it on his friends, or if this is said in a weary voice with tears. But he basically tells them they’ve been terrible friends and he needs their kind words.  Their strengthening, edifying words.

How we speak to people in their grief, in their sorrow, in their hard times, is so important.  Every time, we are given the opportunity to add to their load or to strengthen them for the task ahead.  Even when the week ahead is as simple as trying to get the laundry done and kids lunches made and music picked out.

Maybe you would join me this week in striving to build others up with my words?