When the Best Laid Plans Go Awry

The air was filled with sunshine and gunshots.

A white pick-up pulled up beside us and a ranger rolled down the window. “The park is closed for the annual deer hunt,” he informed us. “You can drive up Decew Road and hike over on the left-hand side, but this whole side of the park is closed.”

I was disappointed. My friend and I had been planning our hike at Short Hills Provincial Park for weeks. It was a kid-free outing. An escape and a chance to catch up after a busy few weeks. But now, the park was closed.

Following the ranger’s directions, we made our way to Decew Street. There were no trails that we could see. Not anywhere. But there was an old grist mill. Morningstar Mill, the sign read. I pulled into the parking lot.

“Can we stop and look around for a minute?” I asked my friend. The place intrigued me.

“Sure,” she agreed.

I grabbed my camera and jumped out of the car. The grounds were beautiful. There was a fully restored 1872 grist mill, a blacksmith shop, an old house, and a few other buildings.

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And in the back corner, there was a wooden gate.

We creaked open the gate and found ourselves on the Bruce Trail. This was what we had been looking for. The narrow path wound past Decew Falls and followed the creek to the edge of the escarpment. The views were breath-taking.  We could see farm and city, and in the distance, Lake Ontario.

As we hiked, I couldn’t help but think of all the times in my life when plans changed. Often, I have things laid out to perfection in my mind. But life’s greatest blessings have come from plans gone awry. New careers. A sweet baby girl. Precious friendships. A renewed sense of purpose.

Deeper faith.

“Many are the plans in a man’s heart,” the Bible says. “But the purposes of the Lord will prevail.” In Jeremiah 29:11, the Lord assures us that His plans are to prosper us and not to harm us, to give us a hope and a future.

Sometimes, God puts us on a different path—a better path—because He has different, better things in store for us.

The trail climbed a steep hill beside a hydro dam. At the top, a beautiful, man-made lake spread out before us. Canada geese flapped low overhead, honking loudly as they settled in the water. A long-tailed duck dove deep, then re-appeared. Swans swam in tandem, stark white against the water.

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We followed the edge of the lake, stopping to examine purple wildflowers and fresh-cut beaver trees. There was so much beauty here—beauty that we had almost missed.

I breathed in autumn and exhaled contentment. Like so much of life, this wasn’t the plan.

But it was perfect anyway.

The Promise of a New Beginning

It is November, but the day is warm. My mom has taken the girls for the afternoon, and I am free to wander the world at leisure. Alone. These quiet hours spent walking through woods and meadows refresh and recharge me.

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Many of the trees have already cloaked the earth with their canopies. Their stark branches scratch the blue sky. In the meadow, the milkweed has burst open, releasing seed clouds into the wind. Late-season raspberries ripen on thorny branches, and the goldenrod is fringed with white.

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A grey squirrel rustles in the leaves, busily gathering nuts—a portent of the days to come. He swears at me as I pass by, angry at the interruption. Further down the path, a fallen nest lies abandoned in the grass. Its owners have no need of it anymore. Their young have long flown away.

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I love the autumn, despite the fact that it precedes the grey days of winter. It is the end of the season, yes. But spring will one day come, and life will flow again. Even in death, there can be beauty and hope.

Every ending holds the promise of a new beginning.

So I savour the moment.

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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.

 

Be Held

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She’s crying in the darkness. Big, raspy, gasping, croupy cries. My husband and I run to the bathroom and turn on the light and the shower. As I hold her, she clings tight and the tears slow a little. The steam helps, but still her chest heaves loud in the night as she gulps in air.

It’s a long, sleepless night. In the wee hours of the morning, the croup seems to worsen, and we decide to pack her up and take her to the hospital. But just as we are about to leave, her breathing steadies a little. Are we safe? The minute she lays down, the rasping and gasping starts all over.

I gather her into my arms in the darkness and hold her—this five-year old girl who seems so tiny tonight. For some reason, only the holding helps. So I hold her close until her breathing evens into sleep. And then, even then, I hold her.

It is morning when I finally close my eyes.

I understand the need to be held. We all need it at times. In the seasons of darkness, of deep-down disappointment, of hurt. Those times when our soul is gasping for air.

But always, in the blackness, there are arms waiting. In the good times, too. Strong, powerful, everlasting arms. Beautiful, scarred hands.

And a still, small Voice that calls us close,

Be held.

As I hold my daughter and listen to her breathe in the stillness, I can feel it in those deep-down places.

I, too, am held.

And there is peace.

Chalkboard Truths

 

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“God’s way is perfect.”

I scratched the words in white chalk and hung them on the door. Four simple words to etch on our hearts this month. Our homeschool memory verse, but so much more.

It’s a reminder of a principle that’s easy to forget in the day-to-day and even easier to forget in the unexpected.

God’s way is perfect.

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My husband and I have felt the deep truth of this so many times—through job loss, health issues, unexpected pregnancy in the middle of it all and the incredible joy that all of those things have brought us. We’ve seen the hand of the Lord at work in our lives, bringing light into the grayness and making beauty out of the chaos.

Yet, I still need those dusty white words hanging on the door. I need the soul-peace that they bring.

Maybe I’m not the only one?

Whether it’s the everyday, the unexpected or the unknown that you’re facing, these words are for you too: God’s way is perfect.

His way is perfectly planned, perfect in love and perfect for you.

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The Queen of Sparkle

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“Wow, Mommy! You look just like a queen in that apron!”

Most queens, I bet, spend their afternoons makeupless and covered in splatters of a homeschool science experiment gone awry, while scrubbing a sink full of dishes in an apron. And this, of course, was just a couple of hours after disposing of a mouse that the girls insisted had been up all night. Which was why he was sleeping so soundly. In the mousetrap.

Because there’s nothing like sleeping off an all-nighter in a five-star sticky-trap.

(I’ll spare you a photo.)

My husband is on another work trip, and it has been an adventure to say the least. It usually is. The girls miss him, so I’ve been working hard to add a little more sparkle to their week while he’s away.

On Monday, that meant packing up our schoolwork and trekking through the rain to the coffee shop down the street. The kids spread out their books on a large table in front of the huge windows and watched the downpour while cozily munching on treats and finishing all of their least favourite subjects in record time.

Donuts for the win.

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That evening, once everyone finished dinner, I moved the coffee table out of the living room and spread out a picnic blanket. The girls brought their pillows, blankets and stuffies downstairs and we watched a movie and ate ice cream.

Yesterday, we did our schoolwork on the living room floor and then played board games on the rug. When my husband heard about how much fun we’ve been having with the extra space, he texted to suggest that we get rid of the coffee table permanently.

My husband is a keeper. The coffee table is toast.

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Today, we made popcorn. And a volcano. I’m still picking pieces of plaster out of my hair and we haven’t even erupted it yet. But hey, nothing says sparkle like popcorn and plaster volcanoes, right?

Of course, all this extra pizzazz doesn’t mean I haven’t gotten impatient.

Or yelled once or twice.

Or locked myself in the bathroom.

Or hidden under a pile of blankets (on the bed that I forgot to make) while desperately praying that no one would find me. They did in all of 0.003 nanoseconds.

There have been sibling wars, spills and paint on the kitchen floor. The bathroom cupboard broke and there was that incident with the mouse. And my four-year old may or may not have called Grandma yesterday to ask if she could move there. But I think that’s all the more reason to search for ways to make each day a little more fun.

After all, it’s the queen’s job to make things sparkle and they’ve dubbed me the queen—apron and all. In true homeschool-mom style, the girls even made me a neon pink sentence-strip crown.

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So sparkle we shall.

Here’s hoping your week sparkles too.

xo

 

Cell Phones, the 21st Century and Life-Changing Revelations

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I entered the 21st century recently. It’s a beautiful place. It all started when my husband bought me a cell phone. No one ever told me how wonderful those things are. Well, they probably did, but I’m old-fashioned and stubborn so I didn’t believe them.

Did you know that you can take Pinterest with you wherever you go? There’s a clock so you don’t have to worry about forgetting your pocket-watch (yes, I have a pocket-watch). There’s even a flashlight. And so many emojis or whatever those things are called.

And if you sit there with your phone in your lap without realizing that the camera app is on, you can unknowingly take 136 almost identical photos of your nostrils. (I discovered that exciting little tidbit at the fair yesterday).

But what I love most about this phone is my Bible app. Each day, I click on the reminder and it brings me right to that day’s spot in my reading plan.

A couple of weeks ago, my daily reading included Isaiah 7. Have you ever read Isaiah 7? I mean, really read it? If not, get out your Bible (or your phone) and check it out. It’s one of those passages that … well … honestly, I’d normally just skim through.

Honestly, I did skim through it at first.

But then I felt the Holy Spirit nudge me: Go back. I have something I want you to see.

Do you ever get the sense that God wants to speak to you through something, even though you’re initially not sure how or why? It was one of those moments. Over the last few of weeks, God has been teaching me to overcome discouragement with praise (see this post). And Isaiah 7? This is where it started. Because when I went back and read that passage again, the Lord spoke to my heart in a big way.

The passage is basically God telling the king of Judah not to be afraid. Let me give you some context. A bunch of kings got together and decided to wage war on Judah. They said, “Let us go up against Judah and terrify it, and let us conquer it for ourselves, and set up the son of Tabeel as king in the midst of it…” (Isaiah 7:6, ESV).

In a nutshell? The plan was for several groups of people to come together, look big and use fear to paralyze the nation of Judah so it would be easy to conquer.

I know. You’re thinking, “That’s a great history lesson and all, but where is this life-changing revelation?”

I wondered the same thing at first. But as I read the passage again, I had this thought: What does the name Judah mean?

Judah means “praise”.

And suddenly, light bulb.

Isn’t it so true that the enemy wants to steal our praise—and it often starts with fear? Whenever I hit a season of discouragement, it begins with very specific thought patterns. And when these insecurities take root?

Fear defeats me.

Fear paralyzes me.

Fear steals my praise.

Fear that isn’t rooted in the truth of God’s Word. Argh.

This is what was happening in Judah. But God had a message for Judah’s king. He said, “Listen up. [That first line is my interpretation.] It shall not stand. It shall not come to pass.

Have you ever noticed that most of the things that frighten us never actually come to pass? God is bigger than our fears. He’s bigger than our confusion. He is bigger than any enemy that we can face.

And He fights on our behalf.

But we have a responsibility too. Isaiah 7:9 says, “If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all.”

Ouch.

It’s not always easy to chase fear away with faith. It’s not always easy to stand firm. That’s why praise is so important. The Bible says that God is enthroned on the praises of His people (Psalm 22:3). When we worship God, we’re acknowledging His greatness. We’re putting our entire focus on Him in all His power and glory.

We become overwhelmed with awe and reverence.

God becomes big and our problems become small because His perfect love eclipses our fear (see 1 John 4:18).

So when the enemy tries to use fear to steal our praise, we need to stand firm in our faith that Jesus has defeated him on the cross. And we need to “yadah”—shoot out those arrows of praise—and watch the Lord send our enemies fleeing.

I love that.