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.

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. 

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.

A Map for New Year’s

Happy 2018!

It’s the start of a new year and people have been making plans, choosing words and verses, making resolutions for this next year. It’s all good stuff but what I really want for this new shiny year? A map.

A map to show me how to navigate the year 2018 because at the moment I feel profoundly lost. Also, bewildered comes to mind.

 

I no longer recognize parts of this world that I’ve inhabited for a long time. I feel like I’m in some other alternate universe or maybe how Alice felt when she fell down the rabbit hole.

I don’t understand the culture, the trends and the language. I doubt myself and then doubt those around me. Some days I don’t even recognize myself or how I got here. So a map would be super helpful. Because I don’t want to get further lost because I might not get back.

I’ve been fascinated with the theme of being lost. What does it really mean to be lost? Is being lost really a bad thing? Maybe it’s just a detour and in fact, you aren’t lost at all but are right on course.

If you are lost what happens if you aren’t found? Can you find yourself? Do you actually need someone to find you? If you are really lost, can you turn it into something positive? What if you don’t want to be found? Or is being lost just part of the journey? Because we all get lost sometimes right? See what I mean? Fascinating.

Honestly I don’t have any answers. I’m still trying to figure this out, hence the wish for a map.

Did they have maps in the bible? The closest thing I could think of was the wise men from the east, following the star for a very long time and at the end of their journey, they found Jesus.

You may be thinking you’d like a map too. But our maps may not be the same. My journey through 2018 is probably going to look very different from yours. So although we both have maps, our travels will be different and you may use a tablet or phone to look at your map where I may use a paper one. But in the end, we get to the destination we are supposed to. Hopefully.

Matthew Henry writes in his commentary, that the star was so out of the ordinary that the wise men took it to mean that some extraordinary person was born and since the star sat over Judea, that’s where the person was. He goes on to state that the shepherds were told about Christ’s birth by an angel. They were Jews, they would understand and believe in angels. The men from the east, understood a star because they studied them and worshipped them. “..to both God spoke in their own language, and in the same way they were best acquainted with.” God gave them their own unique maps which they could understand and follow.

So we’ll have individual maps. Which is awesome but the fact is, I don’t have any map at the moment. Not a star. Nor an angel.

As I read the wise men and the shepherds’ accounts, I realize that God did not give them the whole enchilada. He gave them one thing to follow. An angel. To listen to and then follow instruction. A star. To recognize it for what it was and then follow it. For a long time.

After the night at the stables, what did the shepherds do? We aren’t told. But God unfolded the maps of their lives in due time.

With the wise men we have a little more insight into what happened afterwards. They run into Herod in Jerusalem, find Jesus in Bethlehem and then are warned in a dream to go home another route. Each direction was given at the right time and the right place. They weren’t given more. They were given enough.

God often works this way. I don’t particularly like it. I want the whole map. Not just the next step. The story of the wise men reminds me of the truth. Although a map would be nice, we only get the next step. And when we’ve taken that step, then we are given the next.

Who gives the directions? Like the star and the angel, God sends us the directions in a way we can understand. It may be people, it may be through prayer and reading the Bible. It may be through circumstances. The one thing I do know is that God meets us where we are and he’ll use whatever He chooses to get our attention, to direct our paths. It can literally be anything. We don’t need the whole map, we just need to be open to following His lead.

 

Some fav Quotes about Being Lost:

“He showed me how to get lost, and then I showed myself how to get found. Maybe accident isn’t the right word after all. Maybe miracle is.
Or maybe it’s not a miracle. Maybe this is just life. When you open yourself up to it. When you put yourself in the path of it. When you say yes.” Just One Day by Gayle Forman, p. 367

“I wasn’t lost. Just because you couldn’t find me doesn’t mean I was lost.” The Edge of Recall by Kirsten Heitzmann p. 208

“God seeks the lost and pursues the broken.” Rachel Harter, incourage.me.blog Aug 30/17 titled, Lessons in Rock Hunting

Ezekiel 34:16(NLT) I will search for my lost ones who strayed away, and I will bring them safely home again. I will bandage the injured and strengthen the weak. But I will destroy those who are fat and powerful. I will feed them, yes–feed them justice!

Why NaNoWriMo Now?

So we are two days before NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) officially begins, November 1st. Then the insanity commences.

It’s my first year attempting to write 50 000 words in 30 days. Why am I doing this crazy thing in the middle of one of the busiest times of the year? (We’re only about seven weeks off Christmas, right?)

It’s doesn’t appear to make sense, I know, but last year I thought about it. This year I AM DOING THIS THANG.

Usually if I’ve thought about something like this for any length of time, it’s because deep down, I really want to do it. In the past, I would make excuses not to, justify them and feel let down and disappointed in myself because I didn’t do what I really wanted to do, deep down in my soul. That’s all changed. I now listen to my soul whisperings. And it’s telling me to do this wild, crazy thing.

I like a challenge but I used to run from them too, even though I’d be drawn in. Again I’d make excuses and justify why I couldn’t. I am done with justifications on why I can’t.  Like the Little Red Engine, my motto is “I think I can, I think I can.”

Another reason for attempting this little project? It’s my dream. Why not chase it now? I have no other answer but “Yes”.

Since I have no writing deadlines or projects in the immediate future. Except for this one: 50 000 words in 30 days.

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Also, I believe God is leading me into this adventure, saying “Follow me. This is the next step.” I know, right? Why would he lead me into this adventure that seems so frivolous? It’s my experience that God doesn’t always lead in what we would term rational ways. He is radical and we follow Him radically. Do you have similar experiences?

I also love the philosophy of NaNoWriMo. Quantity not quality. It’s not as bad as it sounds. The idea is to get the story told and worry about perfecting it (rewriting) later. Just get the ideas down on the page. The first draft. It’s for your eyes only. This is how I write. Fast and with a lot of mistakes. I form the idea and then go back and make it work. A friend gave me this advice a long time ago and I find it works for me.

Chris Baty, the founder of National Novel Writing Month, called it “exuberant imperfection.” He writes in his book, “It dictates that the best way to tackle daunting, paralysis-inducing challenges is to give yourself permission to make mistakes, and then go ahead and make them.” (p. 38, No Plot? No Problem) He goes on to make even more sense, “By giving yourself the gift of imperfection, you tap into the realms of intuition and imagination that your hypercritical brain normally censors. (p.39)

So true! I’m eager to see what comes out of this month of intense writing!

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Baty also addresses the fear. Fear is what has kept me from attempting this in the past. Fear I couldn’t tell a story. Fear I wasn’t good enough and didn’t have the talent. Baty writes, “At the first awkward line of prose or botched brushstroke, we hurriedly pack away the art supplies and scamper back to our domains of proficiency.” (p. 38) Don’t we though? I see it in my kids too. They don’t want to try things because they are afraid they’ll make a mistake. Or they think they should have it perfect the first time through. Why do we get like that?

For this time, I’m going to bash that fear of imperfection. Believe me it wins more times than I care to confess, but this once I’m not going to let it take over. I have permission to make mistakes and make it ugly at first.

I’m hoping that the courage to be imperfect is contagious and it catches on in more areas of my life. And maybe with my kids too. That they’ll be able to have fun trying and not worry about outcomes all the time. I think it’s a valuable life lesson.

I’m not alone in this either. I know there are lots of you out there that just need permission to make a mess and have a glorious time doing it. That’s part of what this next month is about. That’s somehow liberating.

The only thing fear is going to do is motivate me to finish the 50 000 words. That’s considered acceptable.  And if for some reason I don’t, I’m still ahead any words I do write.  Win-win.

So starting November 1st, if you see my family, you might want to extend a hand of sympathy to them as they are going to be witnessing the frantic writer/crazy person in first person. My best friends will be pre-made food (not a regular dinner guest at our table), coffee in my Wonder Woman mug and my chiropractor (aching back, headaches and carpel tunnel syndrome all possible in the next 30 days).

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Feel free to encourage, ask my word count (not every day please) and generally give friendly reminders to not give up even when the muse has walked out the door.

NaNoWriMo 2017: 50 000 words in 30 days or BUST. (That’s 1667 words a day for those of you who are challenged mathematically, like myself.)

What crazy dream are you following right now?  

PS: It’s very hard to push the Publish button on this one.  Once done, I’m accountable.  Ahhhhh!

The Life of Un-ease

Recently I travelled to a conference on mothering but quite honestly didn’t come away with too much about being a mom. Not because there wasn’t a lot of good information on mothering and raising the next generation. There was. The speakers and workshops were fabulous. What I heard however was something completely different.

It was an echo of a lesson that has been reverberating through my life the last couple of weeks. The lesson being an answer to a long held question. An answer I’m not sure I want to accept. Because it doesn’t make things easier. At least not my circumstances. That’s what we all want isn’t it, circumstances that are smooth, that slide along the journey of our lives barely making a ripple. I want ease and quiet. Our world in so many ways, tells us we can have it, that easy lifestyle within our grasps, if we only do this and this and this.

We chase after it, this lie of ease. At least I do. It beckons me and I reach and grab, only to lose it again and the chase starts again. Relentless.

Wouldn’t it be better to just face the circumstances?

I’m wondering if our lives have no ripples maybe we’re doing something wrong? The enemy would have us chase after ease because then we are too distracted, running after the wrong thing, to see the truth. Our lives are not supposed to be easy peasy. Following Jesus is not a crutch into an affluent, carefree, prosperous life that many mistakenly believe it is.

Jesus himself tells us this in the gospel of Mark 8:34-37 (MSG)
Calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for? (emphasis mine)

This is what I learn from these verses:

1.  We Follow, He Leads. That’s just the way it is. I’d like to say that I want to do that but if I’m really honest, no, I want control. I want to lead. My husband says that I want to lead when we dance. I like to blame it on my dance training but in reality, I want control. So we look good.
2.  We Follow wherever He Leads. “Don’t run from suffering; embrace it.” Most days I want to run from suffering and not follow wherever he leads. I fight Jesus every step of the way. I.Don’t.Want.This. I scream. Do you do this too? I feel like a two-year old. Maybe because I’m acting like one.
3.  He’ll show us how. How to embrace suffering, to stand and face our circumstances. If He shows how to do that, doesn’t that mean that He’s here, beside us, through it all? The suffering, the difficulties, the challenges, the good, the bad?

Whether our circumstances and situations are mothering challenges, marriage challenges, health challenges, work challenges and/or relational challenges, whatever they are, He is there right in the middle of the mess, the frustration, the angst. We don’t have to run away, instead we need to run towards Him and He’ll show us how to live, really live, even in those uneasy, desperate, noisy circumstances.

We can trust Him to stay because He has said He won’t abandon us. We don’t have to chase Him, we just have to grab onto Him or jump into His arms. He’s got us and He’s already gone ahead of us right into what we think is a murky future.

The choice is really up to us. Run after the relentless pursuit of ease only to find in the end, we chased after the wrong thing or face the suffering, the challenges, the difficulties, the unease and know He is right there, navigating us through it it all.

Navigating us through the darkness to a light and a reward. A heavenly reward yes, but today, the prize is Him. Jesus. Following those footsteps enables us to have an intimate, deep relationship with the real deal. But we have to let him lead. We follow into a glorious, loving relationship.