The Sparrow’s Home

 

The nest is tiny and delicately woven. The materials are simple and humble—field grass. It sits on the nature shelf in our dining room, a perfect little cup that once held the cream-and-speckled promise of life.

Even now, it holds a promise.

“Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O LORD of hosts, my King and my God.” (Psalm 84:3)

We squish our way along a muddy track through the woods—the girls and I. We’re looking in the trees for flashes of colour and trills of song. Signs of spring though it’s early yet. We spy some black-capped chickadees and some large, loud crows. Winter birds. Still, they are more interesting than the sparrows that frequent our yard at home.

We barely notice the sparrows anymore. They are common and nondescript.

There are no birds of note to be found anywhere quite yet, I think to myself. I’m not interested in crows and sparrows.

But God is.

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When we return home again, I spy the little grass nest on the dining room shelf, a gift from a friend. And it reminds me just how much He loves the sparrow. Psalm 84:3 is a promise for the year and for my lifetime.

Because even the overlooked and insignificant are seen and welcome in the most holy of places—the place where heaven meets earth.

Because I’m invited to make my home at the altar too, close to the Father’s heart—yes, even me, a common sparrow.

Because His Presence is life and I want our lives to be infused with His. He also wants our lives to be infused with His. My heart and my desire is to raise my little ones in His shadow, and He makes room for me there.

He desires to be with us. It’s a beautiful truth that changes everything. We don’t have to chase Him. He’s not playing hard to get. We don’t have to try to be anything other than who He has created us to be.

We’re invited to simply come and dwell with Him.

When I see this tiny grass nest, I am reminded. The little brown bird trilling its song is seen by the Father. It is heard. It is loved.

I, too, am seen and heard and loved.

I, too, have a place close to His heart.

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To the moms whose kids are grown…

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“Older women … are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.” (Titus 2:3-5, NIV)

I feel it acutely. There’s my mom, of course. She is an amazing, godly woman who is filled with the kind of wisdom that can only come from the years behind her. I’m lucky to have her. But other than that? There isn’t too much interaction between generations, much of the time.

Sometimes, I wonder if the lack of older mentors is the reason my generation—the generation of young parents—seems so lost. There are parenting books, of course. Online home management courses. Sermons and podcasts.

But few pour into us on a personal level.

We discuss it amongst each other—how to love our husbands, raise our children and manage our homes.

How to be self-controlled.

Pure.

Kind.

But there is something to be said for the wisdom that comes from long-life experience. Yes, we glean from those alongside us in the trenches, but we also desperately need those who have already fought our same battles and won.

(Or even lost. Because every scar tells a story.)

Last night, I drove 30 minutes down dark country roads to a complete stranger’s house. A friend had invited me. I parked on the street and stumbled up the driveway in the inky blackness, towards windows spilling warm light.

The woman who owned the house welcomed me graciously. Although her children are grown, she opens her home on a regular basis to younger homeschooling moms. Her heart—her beautiful heart—is to pour into the next generation.

Women from all over came—some drove longer distances than I did. She put out carafes of coffee, tea and dainty, floral cups. We packed into her living room to pray and learn together.

And she explained to each new, shy face how the Lord has called her to provide support, encouragement, and to live out Titus 2:3-5.

The Church needs people like this.

Older women, we need you.

We don’t always know how to say it, but we need you to open your lives to us. To open your homes to us. To offer advice. To come alongside us and tell us that we’ll make it through the hard days. To smile with us on the joy-filled days. To teach us what it means to be good wives and mothers.

You see, there’s a lot at stake.

Our families, yes. But according to Titus 2:5, how we manage our families and homes also affects people’s perception of the Word of God.

According to Titus 2:5, the gospel is at stake.

You, who are on the other side, have so much to offer.

And we, who are in the trenches, want to learn.

 

Remembering Grandpa Ron

 

Life is a funny thing. You think that it will go on forever. That there will always be more time. Another chance.

But it doesn’t work that way.

It’s not even that I knew Grandpa Ron that well. He was my husband’s grandfather, after all. But for the last nine years, he was my grandfather too, in a way. That’s what happens when you get married. The other person’s family becomes your family.

Their Grandpa Ron becomes your Grandpa Ron.

I liked Grandpa Ron. He said whatever came to mind. In a world filled with platitudes, people like that are refreshing.

“I want to give you my dining set as a wedding gift,” he said one day. “My friends and I used to play cards at that big table. Every single friend who sat there has died.” His voice was matter-of-fact. “It’s yours if you want it.”

You see what I mean?

So now our family sits around that table. Every day. We eat there. Talk there. Pray there. Laugh there. Learn there. So much of life happens at the table.

On our wedding day, we went to a local waterfall to have our pictures taken. Across the way—in a parking lot we didn’t even know existed—a man was standing beside a car, watching us through binoculars.

That’s strange, we thought. We had a sneaky suspicion that it was Grandpa Ron. It sure looked an awful lot like him.

“Were you watching us get our photos taken? Why didn’t you just come over and join us?” we asked him later.

“I didn’t want to intrude,” he replied. Bless his heart. We would have loved it if he had come on over.

He used to stop by the house on occasion, with no warning whatsoever. Usually, he had a friend in tow. Usually, the house was a disaster. And usually, the kids were running around like crazed monkeys that had just escaped from the zoo. But he and his friend would sit and visit a while anyway.

I always liked it when they came.

One Christmas, he showed up with a beautiful, pale pink flower for my daughter. “I wanted to be the one to give Evelyn her first rose,” he said. “I thought it would be special.”

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And it was.

It has been over a year since Grandpa Ron’s last visit. I haven’t seen him at any family functions either since then. He moved into my in-law’s house two weeks ago, and I thought that we’d have the chance to visit much more often, once he settled in.

They found him the other morning on his knees beside his bed. He had slipped away in the early hours of the day.

Grandpa Ron didn’t want a funeral. He didn’t want any fuss. It’d cost too much, he reasoned.

But he deserves to be honoured.

So thank you, Grandpa Ron. Thank you for your big voice and your big smile. Thank you for the visits. Thank you for the gifts you brought. And thank you for the stories you told.

But, mostly, thank you for being you. We’ll always remember you.

You were loved.

2016: A New Chapter Begins

 

It was almost midnight on New Year’s Eve. Soon, our sleepy neighbourhood would be loud with happy cheers and bursts of fireworks. But for a few more minutes, there was silence.

The year had been long and it felt good to turn the page. Spread out before us was a new chapter. No mistakes yet. No marks to mar the pages. Only God knows what our story holds.

In the brief quiet before midnight, my husband and I began to pray together. “Lord, lead us into this next chapter. Give us wisdom and direction as we head into a new season of life.”

I love when the Lord speaks. And, clear as a bell, He spoke to our hearts in that moment: “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labour in vain who build it” (Psalm 127:1).

Every year, I ask God for a verse to stand on. For 2016, this is it.

00DSCN9974.jpg“Unless the Lord builds the house…” What does that mean? As we were praying about it last night and as I continued to pray about it today, God showed us some specific areas to focus on:

1. Our Foundation

“No man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.”
(1 Corinthians 3:11)

“…And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus Himself.” (Ephesians 2:20)

It’s time to strengthen our foundation. Not just in our individual times with Jesus, but as a couple and as a family.

2. Our Walls

“Some of you will rebuild the deserted ruins of your cities. Then you will be known as a rebuilder of walls and a restorer of homes.” (Isaiah 58:12)

It’s time to rebuild our walls. The last few years have been filled with immense pressure. Small cracks have appeared. God’s heart is to restore.

3. Our Gates

“For He has strengthened the bars of your gates and blessed your children within your walls.” (Psalm 147:13)

 It’s time to strengthen our gates. The enemy would love nothing more than to bring disunity to our home. We need to make sure that we do not give him a foothold.

4. Our Roof

“Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.” (2 Corinthians 1:21-22)

We need the covering and the anointing of the Holy Spirit if we are ever going to fulfill God’s plan for our individual lives and for our family.

My husband and I have determined that, this year, we are going to be more intentional about turning our plans over to the Master Builder. God’s plans are far better than the ones we can dream up. So we are looking to Him for direction as we continue to build our home together.

Isaiah 54:11-13 says,

O you afflicted one,
Tossed with tempest, and not comforted,
Behold, I will lay your stones with colorful gems,
And lay your foundations with sapphires.
I will make your pinnacles of rubies,
Your gates of crystal,
And all your walls of precious stones.
All your children shall be taught by the Lord,
And great shall be the peace of your children.

I’m excited about the next chapter of our lives. Because, no matter what happens this year, we can stand unshakable in God’s beautiful strength when our house is built by Him.

 

The Wooden Chest

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There’s a chest in the living room. It’s fairly small and a bit scratched and dented. On its top sits a beige table lamp and, sometimes, some coasters. Most visitors probably don’t even notice it.

But it has a special story.

Years ago, in the early part of my mid-twenties, I became friends with a young man at work. He was tall, dark, handsome, smart and sweet—I tried hard to keep my distance, but I don’t think I’ve ever prayed quite so hard for someone’s salvation. One day, he came to church with me and asked Jesus into his heart.

The angels rejoiced.

And so did I.

One Christmas, this young man gave me a chest. Inside were various objects. There was a piece of quartz, a bag of sand, a rock, some crayons—all strange and seemingly unrelated. But all very special. They were mementos of various places we’d been together.

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The quartz was from a festival we went to with friends. He had carried it in his backpack for months.

The sand was from a trip to the beach half a year prior, when his grandfather was in the hospital.

The crayons were from the first restaurant we ever went to together.

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There were other things too. Each with a specific memory attached and each very special.

Time passed and we added a few more things. Like this, from the night that he got saved – because, even though we didn’t start dating until a year later, it’s a special story of answered prayers and God’s hand on a young man’s life.

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And this, because we both love adventure.

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We’re married now and not as young. We have three children, two cars and a creaky, old house in the East end.

With the passage of time, we lost some of our romantic idealism. We don’t always get along and we have battle scars.

But I wouldn’t have it any other way.

You see, romantic idealism doesn’t keep a romance going. It takes hard work—and grace. There were times where we didn’t think we’d make it this far. But we love each other and we’re in this for the long haul. So we do what it takes.

We’re a team.

We don’t add too much to the wooden chest these days. It just isn’t possible to save mementos from everything we do together—we do all of life together.

It’s interesting how love changes as you do life together. I make sure that supper is waiting when he gets home and that the house is tidy. He does the dinner dishes and puts the kids to bed.

We still have fun. We laugh a lot. We go on dates. We tease each other.

But, mostly, love looks a lot like servant-hood.

Every now and then, I creak open that small wood-scarred chest and I think about how far we’ve come and how far we have yet to go.

And I’m glad that we chose each other—that God chose us—to walk through life together.

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To The Moms Who Think They’ve Failed: A Story From The Trenches

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“Mom, is it still fall?” The question comes from a little girl growing too old too fast. She’ll be five next month. I’m trying to wrap my head around it.

“No, it’s winter,” I reply absent-mindedly. I maneuver the van around a car turning ever-so-slowly on a green light. Why doesn’t he just drive? Patience is not my strong suit.

“It’s not winter!” The voice from the back seat is insistent. “It’s still fall!”

Stray snowflakes are straggling out of the sky. There are patches of gray-brown snow pushed up against houses and ridges in the ground. It is January 24—and according to the calendar, winter began over a month ago.

I’ve learned to pick my battles with this child—some things just aren’t worth arguing about. She’ll learn. But I’m curious now.

“Why do you think that it’s fall?”

“There are still leaves on some of the trees.”

She’s right. Here and there, scraggly brown bits hang limp from bare branches. Occasionally, there is a mass of the bits all balled together. A squirrel’s nest, I think. I’ve always meant to look it up to be sure.

Our conversation leaves me deep in thought. For years, I was engaged in an epic struggle to believe that I was good enough for Jesus. Despite the fact that no one is good enough. Despite the fact that that’s why He died.

Despite grace all around.

It’s all too easy to define myself by the scraggly brown bits dangling from the bare branches of my life. Even when the truth is something completely different.

Eight months ago, my perspective changed completely. But the story begins before that…

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I huddle under the covers, warm tears on my face and a cold ache in my heart. Many nights throughout pregnancy are like this—me stifling sobs in the darkness, my husband gently snoring beside me. I envy his peace.

I’m such a failure! An unspoken prayer that always begins the same way. A third child? Lord, how am I going to do this? I’m so inadequate as a wife and mother.

There isn’t any real reason to feel this way, but the lie is rooted deep. So very, very deep.

No matter how hard I try, I can’t measure up.

It starts before children. I have high hopes and expectations for marriage. My husband and I both love Jesus, but things don’t turn out the way that we expect. And although everything looks rosy on the outside, inside I grow bitter. I’m not proud of it, but there are many, many times that I wish I could walk away.

I find solace in work. I don’t feel like a great housekeeper or cook and marriage is hard, but at work I feel important and successful. So when my first child comes along, I find it difficult to adjust to being at home. Then another daughter comes along. I love my girls so very much but I don’t love being a stay-at-home mom.

Just three weeks after finally returning to work full time, I find out that I am pregnant yet again.

I sweat and cry and push for only four hours in the hospital the day she arrives. We name her Chloe and it is love at first sight. Still, I am convinced, deep down in my heart, that the sweet little life that I hold in my arms—and the other two sweet little girls that can’t wait to meet her—deserve far better.

Not just better than I could ever offer. Better than I could ever be.

Less than a month after Chloe’s arrival, thanks to some dear friends, I find myself at a women’s conference at a large church in a small town in Southwestern Ontario, my newborn in tow. I look down at the gorgeous baby sleeping peacefully in my arms as music rises loud around. And the Holy Spirit whispers to my heart:

Would I entrust you with your precious family if I didn’t think you could do it? Where you are unable, I am more than able. I gave you this beautiful family because I love you. They are a gift! But you are also a gift. You are My gift to them! Just as I gave them to you because I love you, I gave you to them because I love them. You are exactly the wife and mother that they need.

The truth sets you free and I go home changed. Me—a gift. For the first time ever, I am able to give myself to my family without holding anything back. I’m able to truly love. Not that I didn’t love them before, but it’s different now. Deeper, fuller and more alive.

Life flows into bare limbs and I blossom.

Things aren’t perfect, of course. There are days when the children are fighting and the house looks tornado-swept. I get impatient, lose my temper and lean heavy on grace. But I see much beauty in the chaos.

I see Christ’s beauty in me.

When the enemy whispers his lies, I’m able to fight back with the truth of God’s Word. I no longer doubt that I’m where I’m called to be.

Right here. Blossoming in the middle of the mess.

I am not defined by the scraggly, brown, limp bits in my life. I am defined by grace.

What about you?

Do you struggle with feelings of failure? Maybe, as a wife and mother, you feel like you constantly fall short. Maybe you’ve made some mistakes. We’ve all been there. So let me encourage you, one woman in the trenches to another.

It started before you were born. While you were still growing inside your mother’s womb, God tenderly formed you. He wrote your story before you ever came to be (Psalm 139). He has good and perfect plans for you (Jeremiah 29:11). He has chosen you and placed a very special, unique calling on your life (Ephesians 1:4).

You are a gift.

You are a gift to your family. You are a good gift. You are a perfect-for-them gift from the Father above. He loves them so He gave them you.

Is it difficult at times? Yes. But where you can’t, He can. The Bible says, “My grace is sufficient for you. My strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). There is an abundance of strength and grace and beauty for you.

Rest in that.

Let the truth—His truth—flow into your barren limbs. Because as grace flows, the scraggly brown bits lose their hold.

So blossom, sweet woman of God.

You are exactly the wife and mother that your precious family needs.

Encouragement for Moms

I finally watched Mom’s Night Out the other night. If you’re a mom and haven’t seen it, you need to watch it. Like right this second. It’s so good. I felt a little crazy though because I was crying and laughing all at the same time during that whole first part. It was my life on a screen. The colouring on the wall, the makeup mishap, the mess.

Last month, my husband and I went up for an altar call. I didn’t know what to do with the kids so we left the baby in the car seat with a friend and hauled the older two along. Midway through, as one of the pastors was praying for us, my daughters got into an all out brawl. I’m talking pushing, shoving, crying. A brawl. They actually almost knocked me right onto my kiester. The prayer ended awkwardly as I tried to physically separate my children and I was more than a little embarrassed.

Those moments happen.

I love being a mom and I love where I’m at, but getting to the place where I can say that and truly mean it with my whole heart has been a journey. I’ll share more about it in another post on another day but, for now, let’s just say that I didn’t always deep-down love being a mom. I loved it at times. But not always and not always deep down. I didn’t always deep-down love being a wife either. I didn’t always deep-down love my home or the spills or the messes that come with having kids. (And I didn’t deep-down love the post-pregnancy stretched out skin on my tummy that I’m told only plastic surgery can fix. Something no one warned me about. But how I learned to embrace those battle scars is also another post for another day.)

The point is that there were times that I downright resented my life.

Mostly though, I resented myself. For failing so often and not measuring up.

I love that part at the end of Mom’s Night Out where Allyson is talking to the big, tough biker dude and she says, “I’m not good enough.”

“For who?” he asks.

Seriously. For who?

We so often put unrealistic expectations on ourselves. But no one else expects us to do it all perfectly. I’m sure I’m not the only mom whose kids have turned an altar call into an altar brawl. But even if I am, I’m okay with that. Because, in that moment, I was able to identify a problem area that I wouldn’t have otherwise seen.  I’m not perfect and my kids aren’t perfect. But I’m doing the best I can and learning as I go.

That’s all we can do.

A girl I know, Kathleen, has this on her Twitter profile: “This one thing I’ve learned, life is the messy bits.” I love that because it’s so true. Life isn’t about getting it all perfect. It’s about falling and getting up again and finding grace. Not beating ourselves up. Finding grace. Because when we let God’s grace envelop us, the messy bits become beautiful.

We become beautiful.

And we’re able to see that the messiest blessings are actually the most precious blessings.

It’s only when we embrace grace that we can truly embrace our lives. Mess and all.

{This post was also published on The Grace-Filled Home.}