The Art of Gift Giving

Have you ever received a perfect gift?  One that was uniquely thought of for just you?  That made you feel like you were known?  Seen?  That someone took the time to think about you?

It has nothing to do with money.  It has everything to do with the thought and consideration that went into the gift.

I recently received a gift like that.  The person put a lot of planning and thought into the gift and how the gift was delivered.  She made a “book” with the cover of one of my favourite authors, to house the gift that incorporated reading and dance.  I loved it.   I appreciated her thoughtfulness.  I felt seen and known.  It was a priceless gift at a turbulent time.

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I love gifts.  In church speak, it’s one of my love languages.  A long time ago, I  worked in a high end pewter gift store in Ottawa and Toronto.  We had a gifts for weddings, birthdays, anniversaries and graduations.  I learned a lot about gift giving and gift givers.  

In today’s fast paced world, the art of gift giving is becoming extinct.  We don’t have time to slow down and stop and think about gifts anymore.  For some of us, gift giving is not something we are especially good at.  Things can be complicated.  I get that.  But even if we are more of a gift card person or money person, we can still make the time to buy a gift card from a store the person likes or to buy things they love.  We can take the time to get or make a nice card, add some candy or chocolate to adorn it if that’s what the person likes.  Gift giving is about the other person not us.  The art of gift giving makes the person receiving the gift feel special.  

The bonus?  The gift giver gets the pleasure of seeing the gift enjoyed, which is a special experience all on it’s own.

The art of gift giving mirrors the one who gives us good gifts.  

So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.  Matt 7:11 NLT

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, with whom there is no change or shifting shadow.  James 1:17

The ultimate Gift Giver gives us good gifts because He is good and as James says, He never changes.  His goodness remains.  Even in the hard times.  I saw that first hand recently.  In difficult circumstances, God laid out some good gifts to help us through.  Gifts that were uniquely garnered to me (and my family).  He didn’t change the circumstances but He did let me know He saw me, He knows me, and He loves me.  He did it through those gifts.  Even though I doubted Him.  Even though I was mad at Him.  But He is good and He never changes.  Our doubts, our anger, our questions do not affect His character.  Or His love for us.  He offers us grace upon grace. 

From his abundance we have all received one gracious blessing after another.    John 1:16 NLT

As the Ultimate Gift Giver, God gave us the most perfect gift of all that none of us deserved.  His Son.  Jesus was the ultimate gift to a world that rejected him and still does. But He was given for all of us.  Freely.  Graciously and with deep love.  He is the perfect gift.  All we have to do is receive Him and then enjoy Him as we get to know Him.

As an added note, I realize that sometimes we give good gifts that are not well received for whatever reason.  God certainly understands that.  I want to remind you that the onus of that lies with the person receiving the gift.  As the gift giver, you’ve done all you can.  But don’t let that stop you from continuing to give good gifts to others.  You may never know the blessings that come from them in this lifetime but God does.  And one day you will too.  Keep giving good gifts.

From Ruins to Peace

You know the feeling.  That sinking feeling that comes when something is not where it’s supposed to be.

While writing my book Whole, I lost a completed chapter.  It disappeared into cyber space, never to be seen again.  It was my chapter on Esther, and I must admit I was pretty pleased with it.  It also represented hours of work.  And it was gone.  

At that point I wanted to quit.  I felt defeated.  But my friend and my husband cheered me on and so I got back up and started again.  In the end, it was a better chapter than the one it replaced.  

I tell you this because quite often we get to the point where we are enjoying smooth sailing in our lives and then the unthinkable happens. That sinking feeling rises up from deep within us. Disaster strikes, sickness sets in or the downward spiral just gets out of control.  Whatever it is, instead of enjoying the fruits of our labours, we are looking at ruins.  Instead of a forward momentum, we feel like we are moving backwards.    

I’ve been reading the book of Haggai in the Old Testament and it’s got a good word for those of us who feel like this today.  Who are looking at rebuilding and quite frankly feel like quitting more than anything.

In the book of Haggai, chapter two, God’s temple has been destroyed and has sat in ruins.  His people have been running about making sure their own needs and lives are running smoothly while God’s house sits in disarray.  The dust blowing through the abandoned site.  He wasn’t happy with his people and He tells them to get to work and rebuild.   

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He exhorts them to not be timid or hold back because He is with them.  “I’m living and breathing among you right now.  Don’t be timid.  Don’t hold back.”  (vs.5 Message)  

He tells them he’ll supply everything they need because “I own the silver, I own the gold.” (v. 8 Message)  

When we are staring at the ruins of what used to be glory, we can tend to forget about God. Maybe that’s the reason we are staring at a pile of rubble.  We’ve removed God from His rightful place and glory.  But He is God and He wants His rightful place in the centre of our lives.  He wants us to remember Him and put Him first.  Why?   Because he is living and breathing amongst us.  We may feel defeated and dead but the God of Angel Armies, as he is identified in this passage, is alive, ready to fight for us.  We need to put down our idols and see Him.   

Not only is He with us but He owns everything so we don’t need to be timid or afraid about getting back up, following wherever he is leading.  Our circumstances may not change, but we can expect great things of our God.  We can expect His glory.  We can count on His faithfulness to see us through whatever ruins we need to navigate, rebuild.

But that’s not all He says to those unruly people of His!  God then promises the Israelites, in verse 9;  ‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘And in this place I will grant peace,’ declares the Lord Almighty.”  Haggai 2:9 NIV

When we come to the place where all we see is ruins in our lives and we need to rebuild, we can remember He is with us.  He will supply what we need because he owns it all.  And he will take those ruins and make it even better than before.  And in that place of rebuilt ruins, He will bring peace.

Getting Rid of the Cluttered Mind

Has this ever happened to you?

I was out with a friend the other night and as we got up from our table at the coffee shop, I frantically was feeling my pockets for my keys.  I couldn’t find them and I said, “Where are my keys?!!!”  

My friend just looked at me.  Then she smiled.  “I drove you.”

I just stared at her, as my panic faded.  Oh yeah. How did I forget that?   

My friend told me what I already knew.  There’s so much going on and my mind can only deal with so much.  It’s cluttered.  You’ve been there, right?  I’m not the only one.

The TO DO, TO GO and WHAT HAPPENS NEXT lists are endless and our finite minds can only juggle so much.  So on the brink of summer vacation, I’m ready for things to slow down.  I mentioned rest in my last post as part of change that is happening in our family at the moment.  We are at a crossroads but with the gift of a rest as we wait on the Lord.  

So although I will be working for the summer, the rest of the household are not.  I’ve been thinking about how to rest so that we come out of this time refreshed and renewed.  On the path to health. 

I’ve come up with a few ideas.  These may be of help to you as you think about your vacation time this summer.  Or hopefully they will prompt you to come up with your own ideas of what kind of rest works for you.  These are mine:

  1. Perspective.  Although I’ll be working part-time throughout the summer, my job is pretty low key which I love.  I work in a place I love with books and get paid to do it.  Can it get much better?  For me, that’s a resounding no.  So I’m going to remind myself of that, every day I go to work when the rest of them are sleeping in or hanging out at home.  I am also going to remind myself that in a way, my job is a rest from the work of being a stay-at-home mom for the last number of years.  It’s so nice to let my husband take care of all the requests, chores and dinner prep, a few days a week.  He is more than happy to do so.  In fact, if I’d ever gotten a real job when the boys were young, he would have been the stay-at-home parent and been quite happy doing it.  Now he gets a chance to do it as he rests at home, out of the work place.  
  2. Say yes.  I’m going to say yes more than no.  When it’s appropriate and within my realm of doing so.  For many years now, I’ve said no more than yes.  Mostly to myself.  It’s been a mode of self-preservation and protection.  It means I don’t have to deal.  It lets me hide.  But I miss out on a lot.  Does it mean I’m going to go crazy and say yes to everything?  No.  But it might mean I go out with my family more instead of letting just the boys go.  It might mean I buy that London Fog once in a while.  It might mean leaving the comfy couch and my book for something else.  Or on the flip side, I give myself permission to stay there on said comfy couch some days because I’m tired.  Without the guilt.
  3. “Live in the moment.”  My husband and I have been talking about this lately.  He brought it up one day after a chat with his coach.  I thought it was baloney until he actually practiced it with real results.  It got me thinking.  I realized how much I live in my head.  I think about what has to get done next and where I have to be.  I daydream what I’d love to be doing instead of where I am at the present moment.   I’m hoping living in the present will help me say yes more.  I”m wondering if it will  make me more in tune to God’s voice.  Instead of worrying about the past or future, I’ll be focused on the here and now, open to a nudge or a quiet whisper.  I haven’t been in that spot for too long.
  4. Rest. Read. Rite.  Okay so it should be write but I couldn’t resist.  The three R’s for me this summer are these.  These things bring me life.  They make me excited.  So I will continue to do them but perhaps in more healthy ways.

Resting can be more than sleeping or lounging in a chair.  For some of us, rest embodies some ZZZ’s and a cozy place to sit.  A blanket.  For others, rest comes in different forms.  Rest is anything that brings your soul to life.  That makes it sing.  That restores your body and mind.  Doing the things we love can bring peace which is essential to rest.  It is an inside out rejuvenation of our mind and bodies.  For me, if I can find even a portion of what I’ve listed during this period of rest, then I’m heading in the right direction towards restoration.  

And remembering that my friend drove me to the  coffee shop.  

What about you?  What brings you rest?

A Season of Change and Rest

“Did she agree with his actions?  Campbell wasn’t sure.  The old law made her feel safe.  Protected…Yet her mother’s heart wanted her son happy…Given any other circumstances, she’d praise Nathaniel’s choice. So perhaps she should let go of fear and distrust.”   Rachel Hauck,  Once Upon a Prince p.320 Kindle edition

It’s that time of year.  Graduations and weddings fill up our weekends.   Year end banquets and assemblies fill our evenings.  An election is right around the corner here in our province.  The ending of one thing to start something new.  You can’t have a beginning without an end.  I think I read that somewhere.  What it amounts to is change.  

Do you have a love/hate relationship with change?  I do.  I like the thought of something new or different but at the same time, I get very comfortable in the old ruts, even if they aren’t always healthy or in any way good.

Change, however, can become our best friend, but we often treat it like our worst enemy.

Change can breed fear and distrust.  We fear the outcome of said change.  We fear God does not have our best at heart.  We fear disappointment and loss.  We distrust people.  Sometimes it is wise to do so if they have been abusive but many people are good yet we keep them at arms length.  We distrust the process of change.  I mean if it’s not broken, why fix it?

But it doesn’t have to be that way.  We may think the old ways protect us, like in the quote above, but do they really?  Maybe they need an overhaul too.  Just like us.  Just like me.

Part of me fears change because it means I have to examine the blackness of my heart.  Why resist so ardently?  Why fight so ferociously?  Honestly it’s easier to fight or hide than it is to face the hard truths about ourselves sometimes.  But change is a way God brings these things to our attention, doesn’t He?   

How?  Sometimes when change occurs, there is a stopping.  A rest.  It may be long or short but there is a break in the chaos, the milieu around us. There is a silence. Do we use it to root out the blackness or do we hide?  It’s up to us.

 

Is it going to be a pleasant experience?  I think not.  But it’s got to be better than the fear, the distrust, the anger that courses through our veins as we resist it, right?

It’s a time for healing not fighting.  To let God come near and do what needs to be done as we rest, and have time to reflect.

It’s a time to accept hard truths.  About ourselves. About others.  About circumstances.

It’s also a time to look at the lies and take them apart.  What have we believed that was not true?  About God?  About our circumstances?  About people? About ourselves?

It’s a time to gain strength as we stop and rest.  Because it’s not the end.  It’s the beginning of something new.  It’s a time to grow so we can enter into this new phase prepared for what God has planned not just for us, but for His glory. We forget, I forget, it’s not just about us.  God cares about each detail of our lives but there’s a bigger picture we conveniently forget about.  In the stopping, maybe we can get a new perspective too.

We have a choice as we enter a time of change or just the slower pace of summer.  We can stay in the fear and distrust.  We can remain stunted.  Or we can embrace the change, the stopping, and let go of it.  So we can continue to grow into the person God prepared us to be.  To be ready for the beginning of something new. 

Things We’ve Done Well As Moms

Once again it’s that awful Sunday in May knocking on our doors.  The knocking, at first, is soft but as the week goes on, it progressively gets louder, more insistent.  I don’t want to answer because when I do, the lies, the disappointment with myself, and the feelings of failure come pouring in.  Every single thing I regret as a mom, becomes starkly etched in my mind.  A highlight reel I don’t want to remember.

I look around and see the moms out there today and they seem so laid back, carefree.  As are their kids. Or so it seems.

I am not laid back and neither are my kids.  It’s one of those questions like the chicken before the egg.  Was it me or them?  And why do I feel like this is a bad thing?  It will drive me crazy before I will ever figure it out.  So let it go already, right?  But it’s these thoughts and doubts that drive us, as moms, to the edge isn’t it?   

I’m not sure if I’m the only one this happens to around this time of year, but I think I’m done with it.  I was reminded of something I read once by a woman who wrote some life-saving words about motherhood.  Julie Barnhill, in her book, Motherhood: The Guilt that Keeps On Giving, suggests remembering what we’ve done right as moms rather than focusing on the things we regret. She lists them.  

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I thought we could do the same.  Maybe for the next six days we can focus on what we’ve done well in the past and what we enjoy and are doing well today.  Replace the replays of mistakes with memories of good mom moments. Think of one for each day of the week, leading up to Sunday.

What did you do well as a mom?

Here’s a list of some things that maybe will help get you going:

One thing I did was I sat down on the floor and taught my kids to play.  I played with them even though I was dead tired and didn’t really feel like it.

Maybe for you it was baking and cooking with your kids…

Perhaps it was reading to them every night…

Maybe you let them play in the mud because why not?

Maybe you stayed when you wanted to leave…

Or you put down your phone and listened to them talk…

Maybe you braided their hair every day…

Or maybe you showed up, which at the time, was a herculean effort for you…

Maybe you worked so you could feed and clothe them…

Maybe you took care of yourself first so you could take better care of them later…

Perhaps you said “No” because that was in their best interest…

Maybe you put in boundaries and routines so you all could survive…

Maybe you hugged them when you really wanted to tell them off…

Perhaps you believed in them when they didn’t believe in themselves…

Mom, there are so many things you’ve done right along with the things you didn’t. We’ve all messed up, even those seemingly perfect moms.  And that’s the lie.  None of us are perfect and we never will be.  And you know what, that’s okay because our Heavenly Father has got this.  He’s got your kiddos and He’s got you.  And some day His perfect plan will all come together.  Hang in there and tell the lies to get lost.  You’ve done some good work and will do some more because it’s never too late.  

It’s never too late to change, to grow, to love.  One of our pastor’s at a former church used to always quote this verse from 1 Peter 4:8:

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.

That verse has given me such comfort over the years.  I’ve tried to correct where I’ve erred but that doesn’t always feel like enough, does it?  But we love our kids, don’t we?  Knowing that’s what counts the most gives me hope in my unperfected mess.  So go on and think of the things you’ve done well as a mom!  Then go love on them today and every day.  You got this.

 

When It’s the Wrong Season!

It’s April 17th and it looks like blizzard out my window. Yesterday was the first snow day of the year for the kids…in April. We spent the weekend huddled inside while snow, rain and freezing rain pelted our house for two full days. Friday and Monday were just starter and finisher days. Four days of foul weather and now today, snowing like it’s January.

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April 17, 2018!!!

I’m not sure about you, but that’s how life feels lately. Like a never-ending winter season. Now I love winter, maybe not as much as I used to I’ll admit, but I still enjoy the winter season. January is my birth month so I’m a snow baby. But sometimes when you are expecting spring and winter shows up again, even the most avid lovers can feel a little discouraged. I’m not only talking about weather here.

How many times have we dreamed about something, only to get something else completely different?

How many times have we assumed this or that, only to find out that our assumptions were wrong?

How many times have we gotten the wrong season, when we expected, no desired, a totally different one?

My first instinct is to resist and complain about the unfairness of it all. I don’t want to make lemonade out of the lemons life hands me. Really I don’t.At.All.

I think I deserve a good pity party and indulge myself in it.

This really accomplishes nothing beneficial. For me or those around me.  All it really does is make me more narcissistic, bitter, and angry to name just a few. I hide more.

Maybe I need to find a different response. I’m not saying be a Polyanna. I think there is something to being authentic about the troubles we face in our lives. We don’t need to be fake or lie to ourselves and those around us. Perhaps instead, we can acknowledge those troubles but not let them define us. Not let them master us or our days. I’ve let that happen too much. You?

I’m learning that if I let my focus stay on Jesus, that this is a good defence against that type of reaction. I used to think Jesus deserted me in the struggles and hardness of life. I didn’t want to admit it but deep down that is what I believed. He’s been telling me otherwise over the last year. That actually in the suffering, he steps closer to us. He may allow the difficulties, the sorrow but he doesn’t abandon us. He walks us down those lonely, rough roads. But if we let the hardness of the situation blind us by keeping us so inward-focused, we lose sight of him and we think we are alone.

But we are not alone. Ever.  Sometimes we just need to lift our heads, open our eyes and take a look around. He’s there beside us, holding us if need be. He breathes hope into us and instead of hiding, we can take a step towards living.  This is beneficial for us and for those around us.

It sounds easy but it’s not. I know. But maybe, just perhaps, today, we can take one step and just look up, away from the snow, the circumstances, the mess we may be in and look for Him.  He’s there waiting for us to see Him.  To breath life back into us, to give us hope.

If your road is a good one right now, still look up and see His goodness. Wherever you are today, look up and out. Sometimes a different perspective makes all the difference.

When Easter Becomes an Afterthought

Has Easter crept up on you this year? Maybe it’s the fact that after several years of having Easter in April, it’s surprising us in March this year. It could be that, at least here in Canada, it’s still feeling pretty wintery for spring. The Easter bunny is still hibernating here.

Whatever the reason, Easter is almost upon us and I’m just now beginning to think about it. If I’m not careful, I’ll get wrapped up in the events of the week and Good Friday will be here and my heart won’t be ready. The holiday weekend will pass by and Easter will be only an afterthought. A blip on the calendar. This is not how I want it to go but quite often, it is.

I’ll try to squeeze some Easter things into an already crowded calendar. More of a check list that “I Did Easter 2018.” Maybe along with some photos to post. It still leaves me feeling empty.

Every year I’m left feeling this way and it’s occurred to me more than once that I don’t think that’s how it should be.

Are we just too busy? I think that’s part of it. Do we take the time to contemplate the week leading up to the cross? No I don’t. I’m left trying to get through the week, only to find myself sitting in church on Good Friday, trying to get my mind to stop.

I could say I am too busy but is that the truth?  I heard author and pastor, Carey Nieuwhof say something to the effect, that we say we are too busy but what we are really saying is we didn’t make the time.   I didn’t make the time to step back 2000 years ago and walk that journey of the disciples, the many Marys, including Jesus’ mother and witness the horrific crucifixion.

I didn’t make the time for Jesus, prioritizing so many other things ahead of Him. The consequences of that choice is I’m left with Easter as an afterthought.

Obviously I need to change my priorities. How about you?

 

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I need to make time for Jesus first, not cleaning the house, writing or baking. I need to be more a Mary this week than a Martha. I need to chose the good thing, the better thing. I need to sit at His feet. Travel back 2000 years and read the scriptures with new eyes. Instead of whispering to myself that I know all that already. Maybe starting today, I need to pray and ask the Holy Spirit to do a new work in my heart. To show me new truths and insights into the Easter story. To remember it’s not just a story but a grace fulfilled, a love that stood in for all of us. A priceless gift that none of us ever deserved it but we are loved. That.Much.

What about you?

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. Rev 3:20 NIV

Maybe this Easter, He’s standing at the door knocking. He already has our hearts, but now He’s asking for our time. Our attention. For every part of our being.

It’s not too late for Easter to be anything but an afterthought.