Sunday, April 29, 2012

Motherhood & The Cross

My dream is that when Jake and Joshua and Ella Grace are grown, they’ll look back on their early years with me and be able to describe a Mom who raised them with continual gentleness, kindness, forbearance, patience, self-control - the kind of love that is the fruit of having the Holy Spirit at work in me.

And yet far too often my response to my kids, whether it be to their somewhat aggravating but innocent silliness, or at other times their sin, is to be impatient, angry, unkind.

This is not always the way. Some days I receive such abundant mercy, and words of grace and joy characterize my conversations with them. I gracefully nurture, and it comes almost naturally. Our home has peace, and laughter. These are such wonderful days.

But then there are the other days, the ones where I wake up sleep-deprived, already impatient, on the edge, angry words controlling my speech before we even start breakfast. I know from talking with other moms that this is not a unique experience. There are days where we hear ourselves speak, we see ourselves parent, and it’s graceless, joyless, severe.

I had a morning like that a few days back…

There is finally quiet in the kids bedroom as all three settle in for their afternoon rest. I walk back downstairs with some messes to clean up: messes left by the boys, messes left by daily routines, but mostly just messes left by my own sin. In the first few minutes of afternoon down time, I almost always tackle the physical messes first. Every mother knows this is the most practical approach. Starting the post-nap part of the day seems extra chaotic if you haven’t yet cleaned up from the morning.

But often, when this pattern is followed, there simply isn’t time left to clean up the messes that matter infinitely more: messes left by sin, like the broken commitments to love my children with patience, kindness, gentleness; the messes like a mother’s heart that is aching with the question of whether the impatience and harshness that I’ve shown my kids today might be that tipping point in their little lives, that moment where they’re more shaped by my sin than by my love.

The ache is made worse because children have such a deep capacity to overlook sin, to forgive, to pardon. “C’mon!” I almost feel like saying, “Be mad at me, my sons! Be rude and impatient back!” But no, Josh’s chubby hands pat my tear-stained face, his eyes meet my own and all I see is tenderness and love, and the desire to please. Kids know how to love, don't they?

So for this day at least, for a few minutes, I’m going to pause, leaving the Tinker-Toys and Thomas Trains strewn across the living room carpet, and I'm going to kneel at the place where mercy and forgiveness flow, the place where my sin is made no more.

My God has been here with me, behind me and before me, restraining me from worse sin I have no doubt, and yet even though my morning has been in plain view of my God, I still share it with Him:

“My Heavenly Father, there are so many moments from this morning that I long to redo: moments where I could have responded with gentle firmness, moments where I could have directed young hearts with humility, with understanding. There are so many moments where I could have been slow to anger and abounding in love, parenting Jake and Josh the way you, my God, parent me. Help me to count my days, to sense that they're passing. Sometimes these toddler years seem like they’ll last forever, but I know how quickly they’re actually passing by. And I know that it is the ordinary moments that are going to shape my three little ones more than anything else. This is why I ache, my Father. What if the graceless words of anger that I spoke today will leave scars, will leave an indelible mark on their tiny hearts? My God, would you forgive my sin? Would you provide strength where there is only weakness. Would you somehow give me hope even though I see so much past failure? Father, would you lift this burden of sorrow and replace it with… Christ?”

The impossible wish to redo the past couple hours, along with the near certainty that I will sin in the same way again. But here’s where even in the ugliness of it all, grace abounds. Strong, living, hopeful grace. It’s the grace found at the foot of a cross, where a sinless Saviour died, bearing the weight of my sin. What indescribable hope is found in this truth:

For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. ~ II Corinthians 5:21

I hear the boys' bedroom door creak open, the pitter patter of small feet coming down the stairs. Josh appears first. Shirt off. Face flushed rosy and lined from sleep, hair a little damp and curly from napping under his beloved brown blanket. Eyes bright, happy to see me. Jake walks down a moment later. A little grumpy, brow furrowed indicating his usual adorable, grouchy, freshly-woken self. I stretch out my arms to these two little men of mine.

“Come here, you two. I need to talk to you guys.” They’ve heard this before. “Did you have a good nap?” They settle into my arms. “Boys, I am so sorry that I was unkind and rude to you guys this morning. Mommy has sinned against you. I am sorry. My sin, boys, this is why I need Jesus so badly. Do you know that because I believe in Jesus, when God looks at me, He doesn’t remember my sin. Because of Jesus, God has taken my sin and thrown it so far away! Jesus died on the cross so that sinners like Mommy - and you boys know I’m a sinner, you see me sin against you all the time! – so that sinners like Mommy could be forgiven. Jake, Josh, would you guys please forgive me?”

And so from something ugly emerges something hopeful. Words I’ve spoken to my little ones, words of destruction, of sin, of death, give way to words of grace, of forgiveness, of life. Maybe my kids won’t be able to look back upon a childhood where their Mama was always kind, gentle, patient. But this I know: they will be able to look back on childhood and see a mother who desperately needed Jesus.

I wish that all of my days as a Mom were characterized by gentleness and peace. But the irony is that these other days, the days like today where sin abounds, I give thanks for these days too. My sin brings me to the cross like nothing else in life can. And the cross brings me face to face with a most gentle, patient, infinitely loving Saviour.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Cherry Blossoms

For about a week each Spring, people from around the GTA and even beyond flock to Toronto’s beloved High Park.

Cherry Blossoms: it’s not just that we look at them… we experience them. We walk under the canopy of soft pink, almost translucent petals, we breathe the sweet scent, and we experience this communally with those walking alongside us. Eyes meet those of a stranger, and there is such warmth, even familiarity. For this moment in time, we’re enjoying the beauty of life side by side. We’re Torontonians, neighbours whose lives have connected on this path. We see the young bride and groom up ahead, strangers, dressed in full array of wedding day attire, and though we don’t know them or their story, we’re a part of their picture, and we share their joy.

So much beauty above and around. And yet even as my heart is moved, thankful for a Creator who has shaped and fashioned with such detail and exquisite artistry, I find myself distracted. I’m endeavoring to re-focus, but my eyes return not to the petals on the trees above, but to the petals that have left, slowly falling, starting to collect in little heaps on the path. I’m not sure why some of us are wired this way; wired to feel the sorrow of what is passing instead of purely beholding the beauty of the present. Why is it that so many of the lovely things we experience in the natural world have timers built into them? Why does vibrant beauty fade? Why, even as I look up and enjoy, is this beauty making ready the moment of descent when it will fall, and then decay? We see it and sense it in so many ways: life is passing, and each day that we’re young brings us one day closer to when we’ll be old, when we too will fall and decay.
“Generations come and generations go, but the earth never changes. The sun rises and the sun sets, then hurries around to rise again. The wind blows south, and then turns north. Around and around it goes, blowing in circles. …Everything is wearisome beyond description. No matter how much we see, we are never satisfied. No matter how much we hear, we are not content.” 

Is that it, then? Have we been created to live and die, weary, doing much, even seeing indescribable beauty, but never to be satisfied? Or is this part of His perfect design? In the sadness of knowing it will fade, has our Creator placed in us a desire for a beauty that can never be satisfied in this world?

“Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart…” 

The picture begins to gain clarity. The built in timer, the passing nature of beauty, the swiftly passing quality of life… Maybe He designed it this way to speak to something more, Someone more.
"Lord, through all the generations you have been here. Before the mountains were born, before you gave birth to the earth and the world, from beginning to end, you are God.For you, a thousand years are as a passing day, as brief as a few night hours. You sweep people away like dreams that disappear. They are like grass that springs up in the morning. In the morning it blooms and flourishes, but by evening it is dry and withered. Seventy years are given to us! Some even live to eighty. But even the best years are filled with pain and trouble; soon they disappear, and we fly away."

From the sadness, the ache, the distraction of knowing how quickly this beauty will fall and decay, comes hope, comes a profound beauty that does not spoil or fade. The well known words of C.S. Lewis speak to this: “If I discover within myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”

“Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom. … Satisfy us each morning with your unfailing love, so we may sing for joy to the end of our days.”

High Park Walk


Wednesday, April 18, 2012


She’s got these eyes that dance, that sparkle, like she’s got some private joke, some source of amusement that the rest of us don’t know about. She loves to laugh, this little one.

She’s always got a lot to tell me, and even though her language is one that I obviously don’t fully understand, she communicates so much. It’s amazing, really, how much babies communicate to us without using a single word, isn’t it? Sometimes, after the boys go to sleep, Ella Grace and I will lie on my bed, a couple feet away from each other, both on our sides, and we’ll just talk to each other. We’ve had to kind of carve out this end-of-day time, her and I. Most days are so busy, with two older brothers who make endless noise. So some nights, when life finally quiets down, Ella and I share a few minutes, just the two of us.

At times during the past six months, I’ve wondered if Ella Grace is somehow missing out by having a Mom that is continually interacting with her older siblings. Sometimes, as she’s being fed or changed or played with in the hub of crazy activity, I’ll look at her knowingly and say “I know, Ella Grace. There’s not a moment of peace or quiet for you, is there?” But then again, there are some benefits to having her big brothers around all the time too. She is played with and spoken to and laughed with from morning until night. Jake and Joshua delight in her beyond anything I could have imagined, and continually speak words of love and adoration into her little life. (Today I heard Jake saying to her that she has “such fancy little diapers, sweetheart.” Um, they’re NoName, but I guess ‘fancy’ is in the eyes of the beholder – in this case, an adoring older brother.)

And now, the lament, that extremely cliché but altogether appropriate question: where does the time go? I know that right now Ella is still so little, and I still have lots of baby life ahead that I can look forward to. My goodness, she’s only six months old. She’s still SO young, right? And yet… and yet… there is already a chapter of life with my baby girl that has drawn to a close, and I know with certainty that the next six months are going to pass just as quickly as these first six have.

We love you, our little Ella Grace. Your life has brought so much joy and laughter. If there is one image etched in my mind more than any other, it is all of us together in the kitchen, and you sitting in your wee bouncy chair with two brothers kneeling in front of you, and they are delighted, laughing, altogether enchanted with their baby sister… and me, not far behind, watching them watch you, every bit as enchanted.

As you grow and change in the months and years ahead, I hope that you keep laughing, that your eyes keep dancing, that you keep delighting in the world unfolding around you. We are so thankful, Ella Grace, that you have been entrusted to our care.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Misguided Obedience

Like all kids, our boys will go through phases where they’ll say the same thing repeatedly, and we’ll see a little communication pattern develop. Sometimes these patterns are wonderful and Justin and I hope they last forever. Other times, we’re just hoping for grace to endure. And other times, it's just plain old funny. There are a few little ‘phases’ with both Joshua and Jake that Justin and I have gotten such a kick out of, that I want to start remembering on this little blog of ours before I forget permanently.

There were about two weeks of Josh’s little life where his dependable response to almost every instruction given to him was this: “I only obey God.” The first couple times he said this to me I was just like ‘who does this sanctimonious little toddler think he is?’ But then it became his response to pretty much everything in his life:

“Josh, you need to eat three more bites of your broccoli, OK buddy?” “I only obey God.”

“Hey Joshua, help your brother clean up the trains.” “I only obey God.”

“C’mon Josh, time to head upstairs for bed.” “I only obey God.”

During these couple of weeks, Justin and I found ourselves continually explaining to our two-year-old that although it was good that he was expressing a desire to obey, God had been very clear that He wanted children to obey their parents. I would explain to him that if he indeed wanted to be a pious little toddler who only “obeyed God”, then what he really needed to do was start obeying ME!!

My parents happened to be visiting here in Toronto while all this 'obeying' was going on. One night while they were here with us, Justin and I went out for a few minutes and my parents were hanging out with the boys. Joshua whacked his brother fairly hard on the head with a toy hammer, so my Pop intervened and was in the process of gently but very firmly sanctioning a time-out, when he hears the raspy voice of his two-year-old grandson declare: “I only obey God, Grandpa.” My Mom recounts with much laughter how my Dad kinda paused, startled, and looked at my Mom and asked “Nancy, did you just hear what I heard?”

Well, Joshua, I certainly do hope that as you grow older, you truly will obey God. And I hope, too, that you will always be willing to say aloud what you believe to be true. But… for now, kiddo, you’re going to have to be OK with the reality that you’re TWO, and that means that you’ve got to obey your Daddy and your Mommy.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Jake's Gift

A few weeks ago Jake came skipping out of Kids Club with Justin, and I could tell that he was unusually excited to see me. After hopping into the back of the car (where he’s strategically placed in the middle seat separating his two-year-old brother from his baby sister), he leaned forward through the two front seats and said “Hey Mommy, I have something for you. You’re going to love it.” He uncurled his tightly clenched fingers, and resting in his palm was a little plastic ring adorned by this huge, bright yellow fake jewel. I could hear the expectancy in his question: “Do you want to wear it?” Obviously, kiddo. With a little effort, I coaxed this tiny little ring onto my finger. “Aw Jake, I love it. It’s beautiful. Where did you get it?” His explanation was to the point; he’d earned a prize and he wanted to give it to me.

After the next week’s Kids Club, I was presented with a similar gift, only this second ring had a fluorescent pink diamond shaped gem instead of a yellow one. Again, there was such delight in Jake’s voice as he asked me if I liked it.

The week following, I received a third flashy, plastic diamond ring to add to my collection. For whatever reasons, in the previous weeks I hadn’t asked Jake too many questions about where these rings came from. Maybe it’s just that each time I’d been so touched, so thankful for this gesture of love from my little guy, the moment being so complete in its own right that I didn’t feel any desire to fill out the picture. But as tiny hands passed me this third ring, I found I was curious.

I asked, and Jake explained: each week at Kids Club there is a Gold Box that holds wonderful and exciting treasures. Depending on a bunch of factors, the kids often get to choose one. According to Jake, these “awesome treasures” range from funky shoelaces to colourful bouncing balls to cool spin-tops, all of which are things that any four-year-old finds pretty splendid. Jake is no exception, and was totally animated as he described to me the Gold Box options.

“So Jake” I prod him, “With all these fun choices, why do you keep picking things for me?” And I tell you, I don’t deserve the words I was about to hear. Jake shrugs, kind of casual, like the answer’s obvious. “Because I love you, Mommy. And I thought you would like to wear the beautiful rings.” We looked at each other and smiled. And even now, thinking back, my heart feels the joy and also the weight of such love. For a kid who’s four, sacrificing bouncing balls and funky shoelaces in order to be able to give your Mom a ring… to delight in that sacrifice even… now that’s love.

There are so many moments of parenting that can be challenging, discouraging, or even heartbreaking. But then there are the ‘ring’ moments too; moments of overwhelming beauty where I glimpse the person that my child is becoming, and I’m totally amazed by the grace that me and my little people are being shown.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Resurrection Sunday

With the approach of Easter this year, Justin and I found ourselves reflecting on how easy it is for both ordinary days and special days alike to slip by without making what is central in our faith equally central in our family conversations. Obviously we want our children's days to be marked by joy and laughter and the lighthearted stuff (egg hunts, candy, make-believe, silliness) that we believe should in many ways characterize the early years. And yet, we also believe that the patterns and traditions of our special times as well as our ordinary times are very quickly being established, whether we're being deliberate about it or not. So this year, this Easter, we were given the grace to be a little more intentional, and one of the ways we did this was to make an Easter Garden together. (I'm not the creative type who comes up with such ideas... but this woman is.) The centerpiece of our 'garden', the centerpiece of our table was a Cross, a visual for the kids, and a prompter for the parents, amid much hustle and bustle, to remember, to offer thanks.
With Jake now being four, our conversations have deepened. I'm surprised with the questions that a kid that age asks... and I just hope and pray that I'll be given the grace to answer with wisdom. These past days I was thankful for quiet moments with my firstborn to speak to him about our hopes and prayers for him, to share with him our deepest desire for him.
"There are so many things that we want for you, Jake. We want you to be happy, and healthy, and strong. We want you to be a boy who grows in kindness, in your ability to love your parents and your brother and sister. We're so thankful for the ways that we already see so many of these wonderful things in you, Jake. But do you know that the thing we want most for you, the thing that we pray for more than anything else, is that one day you would be given faith in Jesus. Above all else, Jake, we pray that you would believe that Jesus died for your sins and was raised back to life."
And of course, if this son of mine chooses a different path, if he doesn't one day share my faith, it won't change my love for him one tiny little bit. In fact, there is nothing that any one of my three kids could do that would lessen my love and acceptance of them. That's the truth. And yet, how my heart yearns to see Jake, and Joshua, and Ella Grace come to faith in my Saviour.
Easter Morning - the boys opened cards from Grammy and Grampy Eby, and also awesome little Easter bags from their Aunt Sarah. (In each of the cards from their New York Great-Grandparents was a five dollar bill. They were SO excited!! it boggles my mind how enthused kids are to be given money. Consumerism sure does begin young!)
Some family pictures taken after church.
These pictures of my baby girl have a profound significance for me. The dress she is wearing was hand crocheted by Ella Grace's Great Grandmother Turnbull 33 years ago. Grannie made this for me when I was a baby. My mom has pictures of me wearing it. My Grannie passed away earlier this year... and so this tiny little dress is a piece of my Grannie that I will treasure, and one day, Lord willing, pass down to Ella Grace if she is blessed with a daughter of her own.
Following our morning service, we were so thankful to have a bunch of our West Toronto church family join us for an afternoon of sweet fellowship and yummy food.
We find ourselves at a truly blessed time in church life where many of our church family are newer friends... and this was such a great afternoon to get to know some of these folks better and to grow in friendship with them.

We concluded our Easter weekend with Jill leading us in a few hymns. A moment of vivid grace for me, for a bunch of different reasons, was hearing voices in our living room sing out these words:
Ever since, by faith, I saw the stream, Thy flowing wounds supply, redeeming love has been my theme, and shall be till I die. Redeeming love has been my theme, and shall be till I die.

Egg Hunt

With three little ones, and with Justin generally heading to the church quite early, Sunday mornings tend not to be the best morning to plan relaxed family time. So this year we decided to have a special Easter breakfast followed with a little egg hunt for the boys on Saturday morning instead.
As we were finishing up breakfast, we listened to Justin read to us the resurrection account from the Gospel of Luke. As a rule, with a ridiculously active little two-year-old, these 'peaceful family readings' need to be kept fairly brief or Josh loses his mind with impatience. Nonetheless, it was a beautiful, peaceful, brief morning in our sunny little kitchen.
After breakfast we headed outside of an egg hunt! So easy to prepare, and such fun for little ones. (Josh kept repeating a refrain from one of his favorite books, and excitedly kept telling us "I'm going on a bear hunt!" instead of 'egg hunt'.)

Saturday, April 7, 2012

"Crazy Chickens"

One of our favorite places to visit, in the heart of Cabbagetown, minutes from downtown, is Riverdale Farm. On this particular Spring morning, my city-boys endured quite the traumatic experience. Here they sit, minding their own business, Jake having a little snack...
When all of a sudden a bunch of "crazy chickens" (Jake's words) saw the opportunity to find some crumbs, and started pecking their way closer and closer to us.
I grew up in the country, on a farm even, with chickens. So to me, this was fun and not a big deal. My Toronto-born-and-raised-kids on the other hand... totally freaking out. "They're going to kill us!" shouts Jake.
Click on the picture above to see the boys faces close up. It's priceless. They're totally freaking out because of a few chickens. Maybe I should add that in addition to capturing these moments on camera, I was also reassuring them that they were safe, and the chickens just wanted to share their snack. Jake and Josh didn't buy it. Utterly petrified, they were.
We got out of there. Walking through the farm we were able to enjoy so many beautiful Spring flowers. (Unfortunately not any baby animals yet.)
We stopped for another snack, at a place that seemed like it would be safe from the "crazy chickens"...
I guess chickens have a sense for when snacks are being eaten by tiny hands, because they rushed across the farm, once again looking for crumbs. The boys wound up atop a picnic table... this time, though, being the seasoned chicken warriors that they were, they found themselves a little less afraid, and a little more indignant at the intrusion.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Kate and her Noah

This is Noah. He is absolutely fantastic. I would probably love him regardless of what he was actually like, because he's the son of one of my favorite people... But the truth is that this little guy is objectively an amazing little 18-month-old dude. He's funny. He so evidently enjoys life. He's obviously ridiculously handsome. He's NOAH! My boys adore him. And so do I.
One of the significant blessings for me during the past few months has been that I've been able to see Kate and Noah fairly regularly. During this last little visit, Kate and I were reflecting on how easy it would be for both of us to be "too busy", to see each other only a couple times a year, especially since our lives play out in separate circles. But not so. The past year we've seen each other roughly a couple times a month, and our lives, intertwined since childhood continue to remain connected. I'm truly thankful for this. And I'm truly so thankful for this friend and sister in Christ... my time with Kate is always uplifting, encouraging; she inspires me to pursue beauty, to pursue Christ. Kate is one of those people who is so evidently walking in the Light that she can't help but radiate it. I laugh, sometimes, because I'll be trying to describe to Justin why I had such an encouraging time with her, and I can't quite pinpoint a particular thing that she said or did... it's just kinda who she is. Maybe more accurately, it's just who Christ is in her.
The boys all had a blast at the playground that is essentially the backyard of of Kate and Tim's place. A kid's dream!!
Watching the three of them play (a four-year-old, a two-year-old, a one-year-old) was a little glimpse into years ahead when suddenly the months separating these little guys is going to fade into nothing.
Thanks, Kate and Noah, for a wonderful Spring morning at the park!

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