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.

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 God Seems Silent at Christmas

Christmastime.

Smiling kids, bright lights and the piney scent of trees all dressed up for show. It’s a magical time of year.

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Sometimes. For some of us, it’s a struggle. I’ve had years like that as I’m sure you have too. The very idea of putting up a Christmas tree is exhausting. Or makes you sad.

The pressure to DO Christmas seems to build more and more every year. Along with the pressure, comes the stress stealing the joy in our hearts. In many ways, Christmas brings out the worst in us as we fret and buzz around.

So I hide. I don’t think I’m the only one. Sometimes the busiest people are really just hiding in their business. Others of us, really do become hermits.

Why would we want to hide at Christmas? Isn’t it the time of miracles? The most wonderful time of the year?

One reason I hide is to avoid the inevitable disappointment. There have been times I’ve looked for Christ at Christmas but all I hear is silence. Ever happen to you?

I walk away from the holidays disappointed with God. Isn’t that the anti-thesis of Christmas? When it rolls around in twelve months time, I hide again, Afraid that down deep I’m doing something wrong. Christmas magnifies our hurts tenfold, doesn’t it? So we hide.

Pretty depressing, right? Isn’t Christmas supposed to be joyous? Maybe in our fantasy lives. Because in real life, stuff happens. Suffering happens. It doesn’t miraculously stop for Christmas.

Christmas in real life is very different from all the Christmas feel good movies and stories. But the miracle is still there if we can be open to seeing it.

In fact, the story of Jesus’ birth is not all unicorns and rainbows. Have you noticed that? Mary and Joseph didn’t have a place to stay and she was ready to give birth. Can you imagine the almost heart attack Joseph was probably having? Mary was going to give birth amongst animals. Without a midwife or help of any kind. I.Can’t.Even. Not to mention the gossip that followed them like a black rain cloud. What? You think that stayed in Nazareth? Probably half the village had to go to Bethlehem too. The gossips probably travelled with them. None of this was easy.

When we look at the story of Jesus’ birth we skip over some of these very messy details. One often overlooked is the four hundred years of silence from God between the Old Testament prophecies of Malachi and the birth of Jesus.

Four hundred years. Of Silence. We get fretful and anxious waiting twenty-four hours. Imagine waiting four hundred years!

It’s not like God’s people were cloistered either during those years. Those four hundred years were busy times indeed.

Major ancient world events were happening. Palestine was ruled by five different nations; Persia, Greece, Egypt, Syria and Rome.1 Some of it was brutal.2

The Jews were forced to worship pagan gods.2  It was a time of unrest and revolt.

Not a word from God.  His silence must have echoed like the winds of a hurricane. Here were His people under pagan rule and he wasn’t lifting a finger. Where was He?

Silent doesn’t mean absent.

I don’t know why God remained silent those four hundred years. I don’t even know why  he remains silent in my own life or in the lives of those I love. But what I’m learning is just because he’s silent doesn’t mean he’s not present. It’s just the opposite.  He’s right in the middle of it.

He had things under control back then.   He was putting into place the events of His Son’s birth and life and ministry. For the New Testament Church.

“Many things occurred that made the time just right for Jesus’ ministry and the writing of the New Testament. For example, the Greek language spread throughout the world, providing a common language, and the Roman period provided a time of unprecedented peace, magnificent highways, and uniform laws that aided the spread of the gospel by the first century church.” Kids Answers website

God was working everything together to put His plan of salvation in place.  And later, to spread that Good News around the world. He was there and he was getting ready to send His Own to us.

“All of these changes set the stage for the long-awaited Messiah, Jesus Christ, to come ‘in the fullness of time’ (GALATIANS 4:4).”1

In the fullness of time. It all rolled out just as God had planned. When everything was in place, God’s Son came down to earth to save us.  To be present among His people.  In the flesh.

Emmanuel. God with us. God may seem silent in our lives and maybe during the Christmas season but that doesn’t mean he’s absent. Look for his hands at work. Wait with expectation until you can see Him. But most of all know that He is with us, whether silent or not. Emmanuel. God with us. At all times.  In all circumstances.  In all joy.  In all suffering.  All.The.Time.  This is the miracle of Christmas.

1.  https://answersingenesis.org/kids/bible/years-of-silence/

2.  https://zondervanacademic.com/blog/what-happened-between-testaments/

Successful Failures

What happens when you’ve done great things for God, followed what He’s told you to do but in the world’s eyes (including the church) you look like a failure?

Have you ever felt like this?  Have you ever given one hundred percent, and more to God, only to have things tank?

It’s not something we, in the Christian community, like to speak about because it raises some questions, doubts. Why would God do that? It makes no sense to our mortal, small minds. Do I even want to serve a God who would do that? These are not thoughts we are quick to ease into conversations in the church foyer or even over coffee with a good friend. These are doubts we harbour deep inside, sometimes even afraid to whisper them to God, himself.

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No, we like to talk about the blessings that come from obedience and the success stories of following God’s will against all odds. The growing churches, the faith-filled mission trips and the walks of faith that defy all odds. But what if it seemed the odds were not in your favour? Are these stories still considered ones of success?

For the most part, I think many are dismissed as failures, even by those who live them out. We think to ourselves that the results speak for themselves. That our doubts about God and His ways, speaks volumes about failure and little about success.

We see the look people give us, the small shake of the head. “What did they do wrong?” or “What’s wrong with them?”

We begin to fall for those lies. We ask ourselves, “Is it me?”

I think this is a good question to ask ourselves sometimes. We need to do a heart check every once in a while. If, after examining our hearts and motives, asking God to reveal truth, if, after all that, we still would have done the same things because we knew that was what God was asking us to do, than we have an answer. No It’s not me.

Guess what? We are not alone in our successful failures.

I think there are some prophets in the Old Testament, some missionaries and their families and many other Jesus followers who defy the definition of success in today’s world. Jeremiah was thrown into a cistern because people didn’t like what he had to say in Jeremiah 38. He was put into the cistern and “sank into the mud.” Stuck in a pit, sunk in mud. That’s success for you, right? It doesn’t say how long he was down there but if I were Jeremiah, I’d probably be questioning God about my purpose right about then, wouldn’t you?

Was Jeremiah a failure? Not even close.

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We have heard stories of missionaries who have been murdered and we think to ourselves, “What was the point of that?” Does it make them a failure? No.

They were following God’s instructions and direction. It probably didn’t turn out they way they hoped or even prayed for. It wasn’t that they were sinning or disobedient. God had and has other plans. Divine plans that don’t fit with what we think of as success here on planet earth.

In God’s eyes, His servants did exactly what He asked of them. As long as we are obeying God, the outcomes are not our worry. God gave us free choice and so the outcomes lay in God’s hands not ours. All we need to do is keep our eyes on Jesus and follow where He leads us. Even into successful failures because wouldn’t we rather be deemed a failure by the world and be right in God’s will, than have all the success of the world and have sold our souls?

Why I Send My Kids to Summer Camp

Let me just get this off my chest. I am not a camper. My family did not camp. The couple of camping experiences I had were rainy. Very. Rainy.

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The church and girl guide camps I went to didn’t endear me either. I am not particularly fond of the great outdoors. I hate playing games of any kind. I got homesick.

Perhaps I gave up too soon. So why then, did I encourage my kids to go to summer camp?

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1. Strangely, I still like the idea of camp. Stories taking place at camp and boarding schools were some of my favourites. Maybe the idea of no parents was intriguing. I also noticed that many kids who went away to camp and liked it, were campers for life. Somewhere there was a grain of truth to camp being a good thing and I wanted to find it for my kids.

2. Camp is very different from when I went to camp, many eons ago. Adventure awaits, not crafts. Well there are crafts for those who want them but when I went, it seemed to this non-crafty person, a main feature. As mentioned, I am not outdoorsy partly due to the fact I am allergic to trees, grass, dust, animals, etc. That pretty much makes up a lot of the outdoors. Also as previously stated, NOT a gamer.
But today’s camp? Adventures to test your mettle await. It might scare you silly but who cares? Rock climbing walls, high ropes, and all kinds of other challenging things for kids to try that they don’t necessarily get to do at home. Maybe that’s what I was looking for as a kid. I wanted to prove myself. Today’s campers get to do that if they so choose. (And maybe I just went to the wrong camps!)

3. Kids learn to get along. There is always someone in the cabin who rubs you the wrong way. It’s Murphy’s Law. The cabins are tight quarters so you learn very quickly, to put up with them or work it out. This is a skill that our kids will take with them into adulthood and use many times. More adults should go to camp and learn this skill.

4. Kids learn independence. My kids suddenly learned skills they didn’t (and I didn’t) know they could do like wash dishes! They had to learn to keep track of their stuff and pack it all up to go home. They learned that they could work through homesickness and have a feeling of pride that they made it to the end of the week. This in turn, lets them know they have what it takes to endure, and persevere.

5. Even though I don’t like the outdoors all that much, I want my kids to. Camp provides them with a beautiful setting and lets them see and appreciate nature and God’s creation. They learn to respect it and how to live in it. They see the beauty and the danger. It creates a sense of wonder and awe, even if it’s momentary.

6. In today’s tech age, camp provides a reprieve from it all; Instragram, Facebook, Twitter and whatever else kids are on these days. Camp pries the phone from their fingers and puts it in Time Out. They get the chance to look up, breathe and actually see their surroundings. They have to talk to someone face-to-face at camp. They get to laugh and clown around with other kids, without a phone in their hand to take a selfie.

7. Camp gives kids a chance to discover their own personality. Without parental eyes looking over their shoulders, they have a chance to loosen up and try new things and test out behaviours. (Sorry counsellors!)

8. Finally camp opens up a new world. They meet new people from different cities. They learn about their new friends’ worlds. They try new things and foods. They learn about leadership and take away a few lessons of their own. We’ve had many discussions about what they like in a leader and what they don’t. What they might emulate when they are in a leadership position. Camp shows them that there is a bigger world out there and endless possibilities.

So that’s why I send my kids to camp. I want them to be campers. Call me crazy. That being said, we chose the camp our kids go to very carefully. As parents we are trusting our children into the care of these people. You want to make sure they are going to be safe because stuff happens. It’s a good idea to talk to people who went to the camp as campers or their parents. I was familiar with the camp as it was near a cottage we rent.

It’s also a good idea to review with your kids about what is appropriate and what is not. Secrets are not okay. Hopefully, they vet the workers but why not be preventative? Some things to think about if you are considering sending your kids to camp.  We all want it to be a positive experience, right?

I prayed hard before and while they were at camp.  They may not be an arm’s length away from me but they are never out of their Father’s hands.

Finally, I do want to thank all the people who volunteer and work at camps. This is a calling and I, for one, am thankful for those who are called because I am not. The cabin leaders and other volunteers can make a difference in a life.  You have much influence.  So thank you.

Until next year…

 

Asking for Directions

My scenery has changed this week. As I look out the windows, I see trees and cedars and I hear the waves crashing on the beach just beyond the front door. You can see the lake from the big front window.

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It’s a week to unwind, rejuvenate, and create. It’s a week I have begun to look forward to every spring. Last year I put the finishing touches on Whole here. Who knew then, what a year would bring!

This year I am in a different place on so many levels. I feel like I have ended, started and am in-between. Can you be in all those spaces at once? Do you ever feel like that?

I feel like I need to stop and ask for directions.

I’ve walked along the beach the last couple of mornings in the sunshine and wind. Watching and listening to the waves roll in is hypnotic, soothing. My shoes dig into the wet sand. (No I’m not a barefoot sand person!)

I see footprints (someone is a barefoot sand person!) shoe prints and dog paw prints in the sand. I notice the colour of the water – grey up close and a thin line of turquoise and cobalt blue along the horizon.

I beach comb by taking pictures of interesting things as I walk. Driftwood, rocks, little streams feeding into the Great Lake.

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As I reach the point where I’m going to turn around, I see a sailboat beached. It’s yellow and pretty. Reminds me of summer stories of fun, sea and romance.

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After taking a couple of pictures, I turn around and head back the way I came. I’m thinking about the boat. I liked it. I wonder about what it would feel like to sail it?

As I’m walking back, I spot another boat. A blue rowboat. It looks like it’s made of wood.  I hadn’t seen it on my way up the beach. I stop and take a few pictures. The beauty is in it’s rustic appearance.

How could I have missed it before? I had walked right by it.

Blind. How many times are we blind to things that are right in front of us? Like the rowboat, we pass by, absorbed in our thoughts, our worries, our stuff.

How do you walk? Do you walk with your head down? Where are you looking? I often walk looking at the ground, intent on where my feet are taking me. Do you do this too? We miss a lot because we are not looking up, don’t we?

I had caught myself a couple of times staring at the sand rather than the beautiful water and trees and sky around me. I was missing the good stuff because I was looking down instead of up.

Look up.

Wake up.

Get up.

It’s starting to become my mantra. Perhaps it’s the directions I’ve wanted to ask for.

Looking up instantly engages us in our surroundings. We see who’s there, what’s happening. We are free to enjoy the scenery. We become aware of where we are and our place in it.

Waking up frees us from our blindness. Sometimes we are so involved in our heads, in what we are doing, in just trying to keep up with everything, that we fall asleep to everything else. We miss the boat so to speak. We don’t see the offer of something else, something new, something different. We bypass the beauty because we are engrossed in our small worlds.

Getting up is action. Don’t just sit there but go investigate that invitation, that beauty. Get up close to the boat. Touch it. Get in it. Take the next step.

If we don’t start to look up, wake up and get up, what are we missing? I think we miss not only things in this world but also in the spiritual world. As we look up, wake up and get up we become engaged not just physically but emotionally, and spiritually. We become more in tune with what is going on in both the physical and spiritual realms. We are ready to receive the next directive.

We become available. “Here I am Lord send me.”

I’m not sure about you but I want to be that person who doesn’t just see the boat, but gets in the boat and heads out to sea, following the One who does know the way.

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Seeking His Face

I’m not a big socialite. But when I do venture out into the masses, I usually don’t go just for something to do. I go with a purpose. I am seeking someone or something.

If I go to a party or a gathering, there is one person I will seek out. I scan the crowd looking for the face I am seeking. I listen for their laugh and the timbre of their voice. I may be searching for my husband, my sons or a friend.

When we seek, we look until we find, don’t we? We are purposefully looking for someone or something in particular.  Children seek out Easter eggs on Easter morning.  They eagerly look until they find the brightly coloured sweet treats.

Today’s verse of the day from biblegateway.com was from Hebrews 11:6, The Voice. Without faith no one can please God because the one coming to God must believe He exists, and He rewards those who come seeking. (emphasis mine).

It was the last part of the verse that caught my attention. He rewards those who come seeking.

It struck me that all I have to do is come seeking Him. I don’t have to be anything else. We think we have to have cleaned up our mess first before we seek Him out.  We believe we need to at least try to have it together before we go to God. We tell ourselves we need to have solved our problems before we seek His face.

We have to be perfect.

But it doesn’t say anywhere in that verse or in the bible, that we have to have it altogether to come to God. To look for Him. To seek Him out.  The ill and infirm sought Jesus out.  Those who had blown it and those who were socially unacceptable came looking for Him. Those who had doubts came to Him.  He welcomed them all.  He didn’t turn them away.  He could handle it all.

We just have to come. Seek and you shall find him. (Mat 7:7)

If we had solved our problems or cleaned ourselves up, we wouldn’t need Jesus right? We’d be patting ourselves on the back.  We would be thinking we did it ourselves.  Our pride would tell us that we can handle it. No need to bother the Almighty. We got this.

It’s a big lie that we believe. Satan likes to keep us feeling like we are not good enough so we don’t seek God.  If we do manage to make some small progress bettering ourselves, then we believe we don’t need Him. It’s a vicious cycle.

However the verse from Hebrews is simple, Believe He exists and seek Him out. And he’ll reward you.

There may be other rewards but the main reward is Him. I AM, present in our lives.  His presence trumps everything else; the unsolvable problem, the explosive mess, the unredeemable relationship, the life that looks unsalvageable. His presence turns it all upside down and makes it workable. So the impossible is possible with God.  (Luke 1:37 The Voice)

All we have to do is seek His Face and He does the rest.