The Rhythm of Rest

 

We sit cross-legged on weathered wood and look across the lake. Gentle hills, thick with trees, rise and fall on the other side. And in the water, lily pads rise and fall too.

“Dose weaves are walking on da water!” my three-year old exclaims.

Last weekend, thunder crashed and the lake churned. Lightning lit up the sky like a strobe. By morning, although we were without electricity, there was only peace. Looking at the sky and the trees and the lake, you’d never know there had been a storm.

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And those lily pads, they just rolled with it.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the idea of rest. Psalm 4:8 says, “In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.” Matthew 11:28-30 promises rest for our souls. Isaiah 26:3 says that He will keep in perfect peace those whose minds steadfastly trust in Him.

Time and time again, the Bible promises rest, often in exchange for trust.

The last six years have been filled with ups and downs—some big, some small. But even in the best of times, the only saving grace is His saving grace. Always. I’ve wrestled with the idea of rest, but those lily pads? They got me thinking.

Maybe a soul at rest still feels the hills and valleys. Maybe it’s not the absence of pain but rather what you do with that pain. Maybe your mind can be steadfast even as your world shifts and changes. Maybe walking on water means learning to roll with the rhythm of the waves.

Maybe it’s simply knowing that you’re held.

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Those lily pads are tethered to something that holds firm both when the water churns and when it rolls gentle.

And for us, through all the changes that life brings, one thing is for sure.

He is holding us through the ups and downs.

And He will never let us go.

 

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Revising the American Dream: What Homeschooling (and my Dad) has Taught Me about Life

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It was cool in the gazebo. Flowers bloomed boldly all around, cicadas buzzed in the treetops, and a little nuthatch tap-tap-tapped on the roof, looking for seeds he had hidden away between the gritty shingles.

Despite the beauty of the day, I was a little out of sorts. My dream house was for sale—and totally out of reach. I was telling my dad about it. Complaining, really.

When I had finished, my dad leaned back in his chair and spoke. I might not be getting all of his words just right, but the gist of it was this: “I was talking to someone last night. He was telling me about how much he works. He’s already replying to e-mails at six in the morning. He works long hours. He can hardly ever make it to any of his son’s hockey games.”

My dad worked hard too, before he retired. He would get up while it was still dark, do some work at home before leaving for the job site, come back and eat dinner with the family, and then work in his home office well into the evening. He is an amazing father, but it couldn’t have been easy for him to try to balance it all. I guess that sometimes, when you own a business, it sort of owns you too.

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A red squirrel scurried into the gazebo and then darted away as I shifted in my chair.

My dad continued. “I told the neighbour about you and Dave. You might not live in as big a house or have as much money, but you have a really good quality of life. You homeschool your kids and take them all kinds of places. You’re able to spend time with them. Sometimes, giving up things can make you happier. Quality of life isn’t always measured by material things.”

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Quality of life isn’t measured by material things.

It was a gentle reprimand. You see, I wrestle with this concept. I always have. In a world where success is measured by the size of your bank account and money is everything, living as though it’s not is counter-cultural. My husband and I make ends meet—but life could be so much easier if we shifted our emphasis even a little.

But what would that look like? What if we both worked long days? What if, instead of sacrificing money for time, we sacrificed time for money?

We’d miss out on God’s plan for our lives, plain and simple. It would be impossible for me to do what I’m called to do right now—homeschooling my girls. I wouldn’t be there to celebrate as they sound out words on a page or finally grasp those hard math problems. We wouldn’t be able to learn more about history and science and nature by exploring museums and beaches and farms.  We wouldn’t be able to build solar systems in the dining room or go on hikes when we need to just breathe.

There wouldn’t be enough time for any of the things that really matter to us right now.

 

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There are hard days. I lose patience. The kids fight. There are spills and messes. Sometimes, while changing diapers and scrubbing toilets, I think about people in power suits making their mark on the world and I feel a twinge of envy. There isn’t much glamour in sweeping up Cheerios and picking up toys day after day. But right now, I have an incredible opportunity to savour the fleeting days of my daughters’ childhood.

And I’m making my mark where it matters most—right in the centre of God’s will for my life.

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This is what I’m called to do. Not everyone is called to this. But, for some reason, I am. So instead of wishing away the days, I need to be grateful. I’m right where God wants me to be, and I truly wouldn’t have it any other way.

Because quality of life? It has nothing to do with the size of your bank account. (It doesn’t have anything to do with homeschooling either.) It’s about priorities. It’s finding out what God wants you to do—and doing it.  

(Thanks, Dad, for the reminder.)

Embracing Where You Are

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The sky was a brilliant blue streaked with wisps of white. As we walked through the forest, red and gold leaves gently fell around us.

“Look at that!” my daughter said, pointing to an old log. “It’s beautiful!”

The log was rotting and covered in fungus. We stooped low to examine it.

“Did you know that fungus helps break down the wood and turn it back into soil?” I remarked. “The soil is filled with nutrients, which gives the new trees good food so that they can grow tall and strong.”

“That is so cool!” My daughter’s enthusiasm makes me smile.

I love wandering through the woods with my girls—exploring new trails, watching the chipmunks and squirrels scurry around, and stopping to exclaim over the little details of nature.  Those moments are precious.

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And yet…

I wish so much that I could provide them with real adventures. The opportunity to travel and see the world. The opportunity to experience other climates and cultures. The chance to splash their feet in the ocean or climb the Eiffel Tower or watch fishermen on the Yangtze River.

So many dreams.

I have friends who have done some of those things—with their kids in tow. And I can’t help but feel a twinge of envy. It’s human nature to never be satisfied with your lot in life.

Right now, we need to scrimp and save so that my husband can get through college and I can be home with the girls. Is it always easy? No. But the greatest lesson that I can teach my children has nothing to do with having the nicest things or being able to travel the world.

It’s the ability to rest happily in the knowledge that, in this moment, God has us exactly where we need to be.

My contentment is a gift to my family. My children will not grow tall and strong in the soil of my discontent. My children will grow tall and strong in the soil of my surrender.

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Letting Go

 

1435807_71651021I lugged the heavy bins down the attic stairs, one at a time. Once I got them into the bedroom, I carefully opened the lids and peered inside. Mounds of clothes stared back at me. They were all shapes, colours and sizes.

There were clothes from when I was at my thinnest just over a year ago. There were clothes from when I was a more average weight. There were bigger clothes from various stages of kidney treatment.

Some of the items were brand new and still had tags on them. Other items, believe it or not, were almost 20 years old.

Four and a half giant bins of clothes.

I had been holding on to most of them for years, taking them out and packing them away again as my size fluctuated. Every now and then, I’d sort through the clothes, but I was never quite able to get rid of them.

What if you have another kidney disease relapse? I’d ask myself. You’ll need the varying sizes to accommodate the weight fluctuation. Or what if you lose weight and can’t afford new clothes? You better hang on to these just in case.

Fear. Fear of sickness. Fear of lack. It all boils down to fear.

And then there is one item that represents even more. I came across it today, its brown sheen peeking out from beneath a pile. I bought it with so much hope and expectation. Today, I found it buried at the bottom of a bin, limp, a symbol of disappointment and heartache.

God doesn’t call us to a life of fear. He doesn’t call us to a life of brokenness. He calls us to a life of fullness and wholeness.

So it’s time to move on and let go. It’s time to start over.

I’m down to one bin of clothes now, consisting of my portaging clothes and some key wardrobe pieces that I love. Everything else that isn’t damaged will be donated, given away or swapped.

Except for that one item. I threw that one in the garbage. Pushed it way down to the bottom.

It felt good. Very good.

Sometimes freedom can be found in the strangest places.

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How Gratitude Can Change A Life

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It is amazing how one little act can change your life.

I heard about Ann Voskamp’s book One Thousand Gifts shortly after it came out. What a neat idea, I thought. So in the spring, before I ever even sat down and turned a page of the book, I began writing down a list of things for which I was thankful.

It is now almost the New Year and I am eleven gifts away from the thousand mark.

No, it’s not about numbers.

It’s about a changed life.

Many of you are familiar with our story. I won’t go into it again except to say that things were tough for a while, specifically in our finances, health and, at times, marriage. I began to resent and (let’s be brutally real) even hate people who were living the “easy life”. When I saw someone in an expensive outfit or sporting a new piece of jewellery, I would struggle with envy. When I saw a vacation photo on social media, I would struggle with bitterness.

It’s not fair, I thought. What a whiner! We never lacked a single thing and I knew that full well! And yet (again, let’s be real), there were days where I wasn’t just wallowing in self-pity, I was full out drowning in it.

Until I started my “1000 Gifts” list. Slowly, my eyes began to open to the million little ways that God shows me His love every single day.

Then, a few months after I began my list, one of the pastors preached a message on covetousness. Believe it or not, until that point, I had never recognized that as the root of my problem. But that night, something changed – instantly, permanently and irrevocably.

Every time I add another gift to my list – my daughter’s giggles, a rosy sunset, the first few flakes of snow falling softly to the ground – I am overwhelmed by God’s attention to the little details of our lives.

As I reflect on 2013, this shift in perspective is by far the greatest and most dramatic change that has occurred. Through writing down the things for which I’m grateful, I have seen greed broken off my life. When I feel a twinge of envy, I’m now able to recognize it and deal with it before it takes root.

I’m learning to be content in every circumstance. My life is so very, very rich in all the ways that matter.

Most importantly, I know without a shadow of a doubt that I am loved.

The Thankfulness Tree

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Thanksgiving. We were just about to leave for a family hike when the phone rang. It was the hospital calling my husband into work. The sun was bright, the air was crisp and the red and gold trees were breathtaking. I wanted to be outside with my family, all of us together. Instead, I found myself maneuvering through traffic, a disappointed husband beside me and two children crying in the back seat.

I was angry at the way things had turned out. It wasn’t that my husband had to work – we need the extra shift. It’s just that it has been a crazy season of life and I was looking forward to having some long overdue family time. (Sometimes I’m such a whiner! LOL)

I heard a sermon on thankfulness the other night that really resonated. So as I drove my husband to work, I began asking Jesus, “What can I do to shift my attitude?”

It wasn’t until I was on my way home from the hospital that it hit me. What if we took some time to make a “thankfulness tree”? We could put it somewhere prominent where it could serve as a visual reminder to “be thankful in all circumstances”.

Collecting sticks at the park

As soon as we got home, I bundled up the girls in the stroller and we headed off to the park to collect sticks for our tree.

As we walked, I began to talk to my two-year old about thankfulness. “What kinds of things can we say thank you to Jesus for?”

“My new suitcase and my piggytail!” She exclaimed. “Paige’s Bible. Daddy. Aunt ‘Kissnina’.”

We had such fun at the park. My toddler and I looked for sticks, crunched in the leaves and chased squirrels (well, she chased squirrels). My one-year old watched us, smiling and babbling at our antics.

When we got home, I arranged our sticks in a vase. While the girls napped, I cut simple leaf shapes out of decorative paper and tied them to ribbons. In the evening, after my husband returned from work, we sat down at the table and wrote on the leaves.

“Laughter.”

“My lovely wife and my daughters.”

“Grandma and Papa.”

“My home.”

Each leaf a blessing. Blessing after blessing. Leaf after leaf. They hang there, beautiful, symbols of gratitude.

The tree, too, is a symbol. The branches were barren, blown down by the wind, useless. But now they also have purpose and beauty. They are barren no longer.

The Thankfulness Tree serves as a reminder that God always brings beauty to the barren times of life. Even when things don’t turn out the way we expect, God is still good.

Gifts

A lot of people have been tweeting about “1000 Gifts” by Ann Voskamp. I haven’t yet read the book, but wanted to write down some blessings anyway. I think there are about twenty gifts buried within this post. So here goes … some things for which I’m thankful:

My toddler, who has beautiful blue-eyes and hair so blonde that it’s almost white. She carries a special rock in one hand and a toy car in the other. She loves getting into her car-seat because it means we’re going somewhere. She can’t hit a single note and she makes up all the words, yet still she loves to sing. She’s confident. Secure. Carefree. She lays hands on her family members and prays for us daily. Lately, she has been pretending to drive her toy car to work. We ask her where she works. She says, “The moon.”

My eight-month old, who is a giggler. She has a dimple that could melt even the hardest heart and she has the sweetest little laugh in the world. What a precious sound. She has rolls of chubbiness on her thighs. She’s ticklish. She loves to cuddle and, when I’m holding her, she will look up at me every so often, just to smile.

The way my husband quietly serves. All the time. Wherever he is. His family, his friends, his co-workers, patients at the hospital, strangers on the street. Whether it’s changing light bulbs at the church, changing dirty diapers, or helping an old lady climb the stairs at the mall downtown. He never complains. He searches for ways to bless people. Lavishly. In any way he can. He gives. And gives. And gives.

My creaky old house, with it’s dark hardwood floors and thick wood trim around the windows. The chimney chute in the kitchen that has long been covered in drywall, a remnant of a time when ovens were fuelled by wood. The history this house holds, mysteries shrouded by time. The present. Sunlight streaming through the windows. Hallways filled with the pitter-patter of little feet. Laughter echoing through the walls. It’s more than just a creaky old house. It’s home.

The faces of the immigrant children at the park last night. Their eyes shone as we twisted balloons into shapes for them, painted their faces, applied temporary tattoos, and played games together. I now know why it is more blessed to give than to receive.

I could go on. But the girls are awake and a new day beckons. A day filled with other gifts waiting to be unwrapped and exclaimed over and then lovingly held close and cherished.

And you have your own gifts to unwrap. So enjoy. Every incredible, precious moment.

Canoeing the Desjardins

“The blessing of the Lord makes rich …” (Proverbs 10:22)

We had dinner out on the water yesterday. It was spontaneous and special. We threw the canoe on the car, packed the girls in the back, and drove off into the Hamilton wilderness. (That would be Cootes Paradise, for those of you who are scratching your heads and wondering where on the earth a canoe-worthy wilderness exists around here.)

I spoon-fed our seven-month old as my husband steered us down the Desjardins Canal with all the skill (and good looks) of a gondolier. Our two-year old, who was sitting behind me, splashed her very own toddler-sized paddle in the water while munching on a peanut butter sandwich.

As we glided along, two otters came and swam alongside the bow. Deer crept softly to the water’s edge and stooped to drink. They bounded into the woods with a crash when my daughter began to talk. A choir of songbirds sang, and frogs called to each other with voices that sounded like the twanging of a banjo. The music of nature is always the most beautiful.

Everywhere we looked, there were birds. There were swallows dancing through the air, pairs of swans nesting in the reeds, and red-wing blackbirds flitting among the bulrushes. Terns dive-bombed the water with a splash and then took to the sky again. Geese flew so low overhead that we could hear their wings slapping the air.

A man and his son canoed in tandem with us for a while, strangers, but with the instant camaraderie that is common among paddlers. They told us that a pair of bald eagles was nesting in the area. We swapped wilderness adventure stories while scanning the treeline for the iconic birds of prey. We didn’t see them.

The sky grew rosy as the sun began to sink on the horizon. It was long past the girls’ bedtime. Tired but happy, we paddled back to the car and drove home. Another day over. Another memory to cherish.

As I lay in bed last night and slowly drifted off to sleep, I couldn’t help but think that life is full.

Are we there yet?

I shall the effect of this good lesson keeps as watchman to my heart. (William Shakespeare)

On Thursday, I read a Bible passage that filled me with the faith to believe that a frustrating season of life was almost over. Two days later, when my circumstances hadn’t changed, I got discouraged.

“God, it’s been TWO DAYS! Why hasn’t anything changed? Where ARE You, Lord?”

Yep. Two days. Realistically, I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting would happen in two days. Just something. Anything.

The season in question has been extremely long. Seemingly endless, actually. It feels like it started before time began and that it will last until after time ends. (Okay, so that might be a tad bit dramatic. It’s been a year. Well, 10 months actually. So pretty much an eternity. Close enough.)

I truly thought I had finally learned the lessons that God needed to teach me through these particular circumstances. I really did. I thought I was ready to move on to bigger and better things. But it’s becoming very clear to me that the Holy Spirit still has … ahem … a teeny-tiny bit more work to do.

So what kinds of lessons should I be learning from the more-difficult-than-usual seasons of life?

1. The art of patience: Psalm 27:14 says, “Wait for the LORD; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the LORD.” Instead of waiting patiently, I’ve been more like that annoying kid in the back seat saying, “Are we there yet?” (But really, God. Are we there yet?)

2. A faith perspective: Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” It’s all about learning to walk by faith, not by sight – not just in theory, but also in practice.

3. Gratitude: 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, “Give thanks in all circumstances.” (Ha. I sure didn’t do that yesterday! Just ask my mother. Actually, I’d prefer you not ask her. Please. I’m serious. Don’t.)

Okay, Lord. Life lessons. I get it. Cool. NOW are we there yet? LOL.

Road Trip – Creating Lasting Memories

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The kids were safely buckled in their car seats. In the front, tucked behind my feet, was a bag filled with muffins, sandwiches, water bottles, and fruit. The diaper bag was stocked and we had toys to keep the girls occupied on the long drive.

My husband climbed into the car and looked at me.

“So, where do you want to go?” he asked.

Silence.

“I don’t know.” I finally replied. “Either north or south.”  I sat for a moment and savoured the pull of the open road, the fact that a whole day stretched in front of us in which we could go anywhere and do anything.

We flipped a coin and headed south.

We wound our way along the shores of Lake Erie through vast tracts of farmland and tiny port towns – stopping to explore marinas and watch gulls. We detoured to out-of-the-way historical landmarks that were nestled amongst orchards and berry fields. We pulled over at a roadside stand and bought some plump, crimson strawberries and deep red cherries. They melted in my mouth, their sweetness trickling down my throat.

At one point, we drove along a causeway, a narrow road with the lake on one side and a seemingly endless marsh on the other. We turned into a small parking lot, got out of the car, and stretched. A creaky gate led into the marsh. I pushed it open and discovered a path that meandered through the tall reeds. We followed it, the afternoon sun warm on our heads. It was glorious – a secret world filled with the trill of birds, the guttural voices of deep-throated frogs, and the whir of dragonfly wings.

We got back in the car and continued on. Pioneer cemeteries, an old grist mill, a peanut farm – we stumbled upon some of the neatest things. It was an amazing day.

Our road trip yesterday reminded me of my own childhood. Many times, I sat in the backseat with my sisters and listened to the hum of the car as it sped through fields and over mountains, along oceans and through forests. My Mom always sat in the front with the map open on her lap, my Dad behind the wheel. I treasure those memories.

My husband and I want to ensure that our children, too, will have a legacy of beautiful moments to treasure. So, every now and then, we pack the family into the car and go wherever the road takes us. And we create memories that all of us will forever hold close.