Monday, April 29, 2013


Sometimes in conversation we hear ourselves describe a person that we love, and as our unedited thoughts leave our lips we realize anew why it is that we love this person so.

This happened to me the other night as I sat on my son’s bed, telling him a story about a man that I love. The conversation began with Jake asking me, through held-back tears, not to be angry with him for something rude he had said to another kid at his school. Assuring him that though I might be sad, I wouldn’t be angry, Jake then shared with me that, at school that day, he had called someone weird. From his beautiful little face, regret overflowed and I could tell his heart was hurting.

I shared with this five-year-old of mine how, even now, as an adult, I can relate to that feeling of sadness and shame when I’ve not treated someone with kindness. Jake and I sat on his bed and talked about having speech seasoned with grace and what that looks like for a kindergarten student. We talked about how he should be a boy who defends others instead of being a boy who joins his voice to the cruelty of name-calling. “Jacob, of all the kids in your school, it’s those people, the ones who other people sometimes make fun of, who you must love and be kind to most of all. Did you know that when Jesus lived on this earth, that was the kind of man that he was?”

I began to tell him the story about Jesus and the woman who touched his cloak.
There was this woman who had been sick for a really, really long time. For years and years she had been bleeding. There probably were a lot of people who were unkind to her, and said mean stuff to her. Or maybe they ignored her and didn’t bother saying anything to her at all. A lot of people probably thought this woman was strange and that she didn’t need their love or kindness.

And then one day, Jake, this woman meets Jesus. She is in the crowd, and she sees Him: Jesus, God Himself, the King of all the kings of the world, full of power and strength. She reached to Him, stretching her fingers toward Him, and she touched the bottom of His robe. And Jake, when Jesus felt this sick woman touch his clothes, He turned and looked for her. He found her. He saw her. He saw a woman who needed kindness, and love. He spoke words to encourage her and He healed her.
We tell stories to our children to help them understand and believe. But sometimes He takes our own words, intended for them, and circles them inward to pierce our own heart. Sometimes as the story unfolds, the reminder is actually for us.

When the battle with sin is ugly or when my heart grows cold or when wounds are deep and healing seems impossible, I look to a Savior who has let Himself be known to me in intricate, recorded detail: He was gentle; He was kind; He looked into the eyes of that woman and spoke to her with compassion and grace. In Matthew’s account of this story, it says that Jesus turned around, looked for her, and when He saw her He didn’t use His power only to heal her body or to save her soul, but also to encourage her heart. “Daughter, be encouraged! Your faith has made you well.”

Central to christian faith is Calvary, that place where Jesus made atonement for sin, rose again, and now stands, ruling in victory. This is as it should be, hearts fixed on the wondrous climax of redemptive history. But sometimes as I reflect upon the main events I neglect to properly remember the earthly life. Sometimes it’s when you tell your kid a story about someone you love that your own heart is overwhelmed with affection. 

Two thousand years later and the story is still being told. I wonder how many other mothers have told their daughters, their sons, this story and, in their own retelling, hear Jesus' voice tenderly speaking words of healing and grace. “Daughter, be encouraged! Your faith has made you well.” 

Friday, April 26, 2013


A perfect spring morning in Toronto goes something like this: Riverdale farm, warm sun and budding flowers, childhood friends watching their own little ones enjoying friendship, sleeping spring lambs, a picnic on the grass, talking through life and watching our children play as we walk through the farm in the heart of our city.

As we parted ways at the white, picket gate, Kate said it well: "It's been a joy filled morning." 

Friday, April 19, 2013


As the Adagio from Spartacus began, I was almost tempted to agree with the radio announcer. Right before the opening notes, the announcer had said in that smooth, soothing alto voice common to those in her profession, “Are you having one of those mornings? You know the kind I’m talking about. Do you need a reset moment? Reset, as you listen to this.”

Her words ended and the opening strains of Khachaturian's Adagio, performed by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, began.

Even as my mind calmed and my heart rejoiced in the music, I couldn’t help but question the announcer’s sentimental words. In all fairness, she was speaking in hyperbole and never intended her listeners to remember or deconstruct. Her words were meant to be a trivial encouragement, promptly forgotten, replaced by the music.

But her words lingered, because she unwittingly spoke truth in that simple encouragement. Her question was common: Have things gone wrong today? Her answer was insightful: You need a reset moment. Her specific solution, though, altogether deficient: Listen to this music and whatever was wrong will be made right.  

The Orchestra continued on, and I reflected upon my own experience of reset moments. The days when life has been turbulent, when fresh starts and resets are crucial, are most often times when sin has played a part. Not always. Occasionally there are crazy, stressful times when life reaches a frenetic pace and it has had nothing to do with either mine or someone else’s sin. But more often than not, when I’m having “one of those mornings” when relationships are breaking, when my children are driving me nuts, when I’m totally stressed out, when life is devoid of peace or joy, it takes but little reflection to see that I’ve allowed the sin of anger, or impatience, or worry, or selfishness, or pride, or envy, or discontent to hold my gaze a little too long.

When I’m being honest, mornings gone wrong are rarely about the specific situation itself and almost always about the specific sin in my heart.

There are days when a reset moment is desperately needed. On that point, the announcer was right. But though a transcendent classical composition might have the power to calm my nerves, slow the pace, or even inspire joy, it will never have the power to reset my heart. Beauty alone, powerful as it may be, doesn’t have the capacity to bring restoration to the soul.

When I sin, there is a fracture in my relationship with God. When I sin against someone else, whether it’s against my kids, my husband, or my friends, there is a break, of some degree, in my relationship with them. Sin not only fractures relationships but, when left, leaves ugly cracks in the heart. There is a desperate need for what is broken by sin to be reset, to be made right.

Wonderfully, there is such a thing as this: new mercies. The reset moment of the heart: confession, repentance, forgiveness. Then in Christ, the slate is wiped clean, the sin forgotten and made no more.

A morning gone wrong, a season gone wrong, even a life gone wrong can arrive at a moment of true faith where repentance brings forth new life. Is there any symphony in Europe that can make music more glorious than the melody of redemption? God’s redeemed people sing with voices adding to the harmony of the ages. And like all God’s people before us, and like all who will be saved after us, we sing of repentance and of grace.
God, be merciful to me; On Thy grace I rest my plea; In Thy vast, abounding grace, My gransgressions all erase. Wash me wholly from my sin; Cleanse from every ill within. ...Then with hyssop sprinkle me, And from sin I clean shall be. Wash me from sin's stain, and, lo, I shall whiter be than snow. Make me hear joy's cheering voice; Make my broken bones rejoice! ~ Psalm 51

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


The branches are yet bare. The ground is yet muted, dotted only sporadically with new life. The earth, though busy soaking up winter is yet to bring forth spring. From somewhere within there is this longing for buds to open, for new life to grow, for spring’s color to paint over the canvas of winter’s monochrome.

Landscape bleak and barren grows lifeless and we grow restless. We watch a city broken with sorrow, her people bearing the weight of grief, the spoken words of hope echoing hollow this time around. 

When will it end?   

Our hearts long for new life, for what is dry and withered to be remade into something new. There is hope in that longing. Until we know another day where darkness hides the light. 

Is it mere esthetics? Is it just, maybe, the hope for color and warmth after the cold and gray of winter? Perhaps it’s nothing more than the beating rhythm of life lived in seasons. Is it that? Is it just the desire for the new life brought forth through a new season? Or is it a rhythm from within, a rhythm that pulses within our very hearts?

Our bedroom is on the third floor and, because we’re high, our window opens to the massive and high-stretching branches of a stately old maple on our front lawn. In summer the leaf-filtered light is a vibrant green. In autumn, bright yellow and orange. When winds swirl, this tree of mine waves her branches and the leaves, they dance as though choreographed and rehearsed. She is breathtaking and, in a city where there is so much concrete and grayness of one variety or another, it’s taken little effort to look out this window and give Him thanks.

But then one by one, or sometimes as a corps, the fiery flashes exit the stage, dancing a final descent. Clinging to those last few days of colour does no good. The colors fall leaving branches naked and cold. 
Bare, and dark, for almost six months each year.

Not always. There are days when snow-painted branches and falling sparkles hold a beauty unparalleled by anything that the other seasons offer. There is a profoundly hopeful beauty in winter's white. 

But today I look outside and I read the news and winter seems to linger too long. When will it end? 

We’re longing for warmth and colour and, maybe most of all, new life.Winter lingers and spring seems stubborn as she begrudgingly makes her entrance. Even as I long for new life to emerge, breaking through soil and bursting open bud, I know the futile rhythm of wishing time to hurry. Spring will come. Flowers will bloom. Then petals will fall. The hope of spring will so quickly darken into the deep green of summer and all too quickly the fiery hues of autumn, and then a storm will come with gusts and heavy rain and the branches will again be stripped bare.

The seasons come and go, with all their beauty and poetry and metaphor.

I’m longing for new life and I’m unable to quiet the echo of that rhythmic pulsing.

New life.

We watch a city ache and we ache with them. We ache for newness to replace what is barren and hopeless. We so quickly forget that this ache for hope, for new life, this will pulse through our veins in spring and summer all the same as it does now. It’s not a condition of the moment but a condition of the human heart. 

I’ll still ache a month from now when I look out the window and see her flourishing, fresh and green. The color and warmth will be beautiful, but it will not satisfy. It was never intended to satisfy. The longing for spring is but a metaphor, but a whisper.

New life and the beauty of such hope can’t be found in the loveliness of spring nor the warmth of summer nor the vibrancy of fall nor the rebuilding of a broken city. 

New life only comes when the One who is Life breathes grace into what is barren, broken, and makes all things new.    

Friday, April 12, 2013


For the past few months during our church’s mid-week service, the younger kids have been learning the WestminsterCatechism, preschool version. It's been a fun and wonderful weekly study, with each question providing the topic for lively conversation about different theological truths. Though the questions and answers are rich, they’re also simple and age appropriate.

It’s been awesome to see how this weekly study is providing helpful categories and understanding to the minds of our little guys. Recently I overheard our 3-year-old say that God has wings and can fly around, to which our 5-year-old patiently responded, “No, Josh. God doesn’t need wings and he doesn’t need to fly around. He is already everywhere because He is a spirit and has not a body like men.”

In these studies we’ve talked about who made us, and why. We’ve talked about how and why they all, yet children, ought to glorify God. We’ve talked about the person and knowledge of God. We’ve talked about the Bible being the source of all our understanding about God.

Last week, we arrived at question seventeen. After an opening game and then illustrative story, I read the question and answer: Of what were our first parents made? God made the body of Adam out of the ground, and formed Eve from the body of Adam.

As I spoke this to the group of children before me, I couldn’t help but notice the animated response of my middle son, Josh. First, his jaw dropped in disbelief. Next, his eyes began to twinkle with delight. Finally, he brought both hands up to his face where he covered a surprised but delighted grin.

I wasn’t sure what was running through his young mind, but, well, kids can be crazy, right? I didn’t dare pause and ask him what he kept gasping and smiling about.

As is generally our habit when the answers have more than one clause, the kids and I practiced this answer with some dramatic gestures that would, hopefully, help us remember the words. As our recitation proceeded, Josh continued to look happily--almost scandalously--surprised, and he kept glancing at the children on either side of him to see if anyone else shared in his shocked joy.

If I had seen this response in another child, I likely would have paused and asked them for clarification. But Josh loves to laugh and has an intuitive silly streak in him, so I assumed he was just being silly and decided to overlook his antics since they didn’t seem to be distracting anyone else.

But when it came to Josh’s turn to recite the answer on his own, it all became clear. With perfect diction and just a hint of scandal, Josh spoke. “God made the POTTY for Adam out of the ground, and formed Eve from the POTTY of Adam.”

The children erupted into laughter and I, the teacher, couldn't help but do the same. “So that's why you were covering your mouth in shock, Josh. I get it now, buddy.”

As I explained to him that it wasn’t potties that had been formed but rather bodies, I couldn’t help but imagine how enchanted Josh must have been. Here I was, his mother, the one usually casting reproachful glances toward his 3-year-old potty humor, not only making potty jokes myself but doing it at church, while teaching! And then, if that weren’t enough to captivate the heart of any potty-joke-loving-3-year-old, I proceeded to--scandalously!--make all the kids in his class repeat the joke as well.

For those few minutes, to my potty-humor loving preschooler, I bet I was the coolest mom on the face of the earth.

Sunday, April 7, 2013


We are two hundred women of different ages and in different stages of life, gathered together. We are from many different church families holding different theological distinctives. We are women who have known different struggles, different victories, different sorrows, different joys. But tonight, we are His daughters united in Christ, singing of His promises and hungry for His truth. We are women saved by grace, marked by grace, longing to grow in grace.

We stand, expectant.

Women of Grace begins, as our voices join in song.

We will stand as children of the promise 
We will fix our eyes on Him our soul's reward 
Till the race is finished and the work is done 
We'll walk by faith and not by sight. 

As we sing these truths and even as my heart rejoices in the swelling of resounding praise, I pause, unable to sing past the lump in my throat as I think of a woman of grace whose work is now done, who is finally finished her race on this earth. A few hours earlier this day, I was in a funeral home holding the hand of my 98-year-old friend as we stood beside a casket and looked at the body of his 95-year-old wife. For the concluding years of her life her eyesight had been failing, and by the end, everything she saw was fuzzy and dim. Still holding hands with this gentleman, and both of us with eyes bright by unshed tears, I smiled and said, “Her faith has finally become sight, hasn’t it? All these years of waiting, and now she can see.” This woman, now departed from us but present with Christ, she is a daughter of the promise made to Abraham thousands of years ago. Through the days of her long life she fixed her eyes on Jesus, her soul’s reward. My friend has finished her race. Her work is done. And her faith, a faith so critical during earthly life, has finally been replaced with sight.

The singing continues and I look around at all these women, many of us quite young, and I consider how, by God’s grace, one day that will be us. Our time on earth will end and we will not need faith to behold our glorious Savior. 

But that is not yet. Our work is not done.

Right now we are women who are yet running this race, desperately in need of living water and spiritual replenishment and greater stamina and and reminders us of why we’re running a race that can be, at times, so hard. And maybe most of all, our eyes need to be re-focused on the reward awaiting us at the finish line. 

Like many, I came home from Women of Grace invigorated, nourished, energized for the next lap, pressing on, face lifted and looking towards the Reward, towards Christ.

There was much said by both speakers that was theologically rich and insightful, much that was applicable for Christian women in any stage of life. No doubt for all of us in attendance, there were concrete ways that we returned to our separate lives, our unique spheres of influence, with hearts enlarged, ready to love and serve and work. But amid so much that was so helpful and so good, the place where both speakers focused our gaze again and again was upon our eternal and most exquisite Bridegroom, Christ Jesus Himself. Even as we considered the genesis of gender and the pillars of biblical womanhood and singleness and marriage, the crowning centerpiece, designed to catch the eye, was always Christ and His beloved bride. 

The eternal marriage. The forever union. The love story of the Gospel.

Women of Grace concluded as it had begun, with voices and hearts joined in song. 

While I draw this fleeting breath, 
When mine eyes shall close in death, 
When I soar to worlds unknown, 
See thee on thy judgment throne, 
Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in thee.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013


It was a small thing that we did. It was barely more than a gesture, really. It took less than two hours of our time.

We almost didn’t do it, and when 5-year-old Jake asked me to spend more time at the playground instead of making this quick delivery of a meal, some flowers and some cookies to an elderly friend, I felt that familiar tug towards ease.

It’s such a warm, sunny day. It’s the first Spring day of genuinely enjoyable outdoor play. It certainly wouldn’t be wrong or sinful to not go. I haven’t even called her yet to tell her we plan to pop over. And really, being outside with my kids on a sunny afternoon is not only just OK but even a valuable use of my time.

Every thought was true. And in fact, there are times when a settled decision to play with my children instead of serving others would actually be the right one.

But I know the difference between those two, and this wasn't a philosophical decision but simply the inclination to have an easier afternoon. As the pull towards ease grew stronger I remembered something I had read a few days earlier that had left a lingering and powerful desire in my heart: the next time I found myself confronted with the choice to give or receive, I wanted to choose to give.

The choice in this moment, though, this was different. Perhaps I expected the choice to be between out-and-out selfishness versus humble, sacrificial service. On this afternoon the choice was much more subtle: it was between service that was easy (a sunny afternoon outdoors with my children) or service that required more effort (buckling three kids into the car and driving a few kilometers across the city).

It’s worth saying that there certainly are times when the right decision would have been to continue in play with my children. As a wife married to someone in full time pastoral ministry, I don't undervalue the importance of child-focused playtime, and Justin and I are committed to giving our little ones a playful, light childhood. But on this particular day, my kids had already spent several hours at the High Park Castle Playground as well as the High Park Zoo, playing, enjoying, being silly, being kids. By contrast, this elderly friend of ours was unwell, confined to her home, and probably hadn’t had face to face interaction with anyone in at least a couple of days.

The question: is it better to give or to receive? At the heart of this question on this particular day wasn't my money or my stuff but rather my time and my ease.

There are so many times when I have made the other choice, the easy choice. But today, by His grace, we went to see our elderly friend. She stood in the bright sunlight of her living room, bent over her walker, and her eyes twinkled merry as Jake held up a vase of cheerful, red flowers and said, “Happy Easter. We love you!” Josh, waiting his turn, handed over a cellophane bag of child-decorated cookies tied shut with a bright green ribbon. He then stretched up his arms, waited as she stooped, wrapped his arms around her neck and planted a sloppy kiss on her cheek. As I stood there watching this unfold, there was no room for doubt.

It truly had been better for us to give.

All of this, small as it was, because a brother in Christ had written words of encouragement that had stirred my heart to want to give, and love, and do good works even when--or especially when!--it wasn’t the choice of ease. Driving home, I found myself in fresh wonder at the living organism that is the body of Christ. Part of how we grow in grace is to hear or read words of encouragement from our brothers and sisters, and likewise part of what we’re called to as Christians is to speak those words of encouragement to one another.

Countless times I have known God’s love, grace and provision through the intentional good works of another. I wonder how often there has been a person behind the person, a person speaking encouragement behind the person doing the good works. As a family of faith, we're interconnected, intended to be used in each other's lives to stir up one another to love and good works (Hebrews 10:24). What intricacy and beautiful detail is found in this design for how we, the body of Christ, are intended to function.


On Friday night as we drove home from the second worship service of the day, Jake asked, "Mom, you're going to put out jelly beans and chocolate eggs tomorrow morning, right?" Justin and I looked at each other. I had forgotten to purchase the candy, had kept meaning to, but all the stores were closed. "Uh, we should be able to work something out, buddy."

Early the next morning I made a quick stop to our local grocery store, with Justin promising to keep the kids upstairs until I got home and had time to lay things out.

Last minute or not, the kids had lots of fun searching for their 'eggs' and enjoying their hunt. Ella couldn't resist the candy at her fingertips and couldn't keep it out of her mouth. She was a sticky, drooly mess in no time. Jake was such an awesome big brother and made sure that his younger siblings got lots of candy in their baskets.