Monday 23 December 2013

Dear Everyone Who Put Up Christmas Lights

Thank you.

This hasn't been the easiest Christmas season for me. In fact, it's been the most challenging one so far. I've kept it slow and simple and that helped, yes, but your lights? Your beautiful bright Christmas lights? They meant the world to me this year.

Every evening as the sun starts to go down, I make myself a mug of tea and settle myself into my favourite chair with a warm blanket. I put on Christmas music - the mournful ones, mostly, the come, Emmanuel ones, because that's where my heart is this year.

And then I just sit there and watch.

I watch the sun spread its beautiful pinks and blues and oranges through the scattered clouds. I watch as the sky darkens and the colours fade, and then I watch as you replace that beautiful sunset with bright colours of your own. The sky turns deepest blue and you start to plug in your Christmas lights, one at a time, as you get home from work or notice the darkening house or usher your sweet children in through the door. All up and down the street, blink, blink, blink, houses burst into bright reds, blues, yellows, and greens, and I just sit there sipping my tea and singing those Christmas songs as I watch.

Thank you.

We don't have any Christmas lights this year - a new house and a shortage of spare money and a lack of mental presence all combined to leave our house dark - but your beautiful lights bless me every evening. They minister to me, speaking of hope, of light in the darkness, of brightness and joy where winter would offer only chilled silence. I sit there in the growing darkness and am reminded that darkness doesn't have the final word. Your bright lights shine in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

So I say it again, to everyone who took the time to put up Christmas lights this year, to plug them in each evening as the darkness gathers: Thank you. Truly and from the bottom of my heart.

Next year, I'll see what I can do about adding our own brightness to the dark nights.

Friday 20 December 2013

On the occasion of your fourth birthday

It's funny how it happens - one day you're three, and then you wake up the next morning as a newly minted four year old. The whole day is a celebration of you and you, beautiful boy, reveled in it.

After I got a birthday smile out of you (it's not hard - saying "stinky ____" usually does the trick, because you're you and you think talking about stinky things is just the funniest thing ever), I tried for a quick photo of all three of you. Amidst all the squirming and blinking and grimacing and fooling around, I managed to get this one. Your sister is actually looking at the camera, your brother is doing his very best to look and smile and not move a muscle, and you're just patiently smiling away. You know this is your day.

As group pictures usually do, the chaos soon morphed into your sister sitting on your lap trying to rip your jaw off while you laughed and laughed. She loves you and you are endlessly patient with her. Good thing, too, since this sort of thing often happens.

Then we took some selfies. Because selfies are cool, yo.

And yes, I'm wearing a scarf. Our new house is freezing. I miss the gas fireplace in our old house. The lovely husband laughs at me for wearing a scarf in the house, but I'm warm and he's cold so who's laughing now, huh? I knit that scarf a couple of years ago and it is the softest smooshiest thing ever.

Birthday pictures taken care of, you and your brother went off to play. You came out a few minutes later, having been transformed once again into a princess. Sometimes you're a knight, sometimes a princess; it's all good with you.

I snapped the picture, you gave birth to a baby, your brother caught it ("It's a girl!"), and the two of you ran off again. Congratulations on your new bundle of joy.

You came back every half hour or so to ask if you could pleeeeeease just open one present, but I made you wait until your daddy got home from work. Sorry buddy. We went to IHOP for lunch because that's what you asked for, then came home to wait out those last hours until you could finally see what was in those wrapped packages.

At last it was time.

You were thrilled to get the Lego Mirkwood Elf Army from your grandma. Lego and the Hobbit, two of your three favourite things.

Your daddy read The Hobbit to you guys as a bedtime story last year, and you soaked it all up. Now he's reading The Lord of the Rings - you three are nearing the end of The Two Towers - and none of us expected how head-over-heals you would fall for that world of elves and wizards and orcs and men. You know details that I don't even know, talk about it all the time, pretend to be Gandalf or Boromir or any of your other favourites. Nearly every day you come up to me and say let's talk about Lord of the Rings! or do you want me to tell you who I like best in Lord of the Rings? and I listen and nod and tell you my favourites too (Aragorn, without a doubt, and Gandalf too).

Your love for that world is so strong that there is, of all things, a Gollum hanging on our Christmas tree. I just never in a hundred years would have expected that, but there he is, swinging away next to my 1983 Baby's First Christmas bulb. You saw him on that day when we were choosing this year's Christmas ornaments and there was no budging. Gollum or nothing, that was your stance, so Gollum it was. Thanks, Hallmark.

You also loved the costume your Oma made for you. The accompanying card said that opinions varied as to what exactly it was - possibly a bear, a wolf, or a even beaver - but you didn't hesitate. "It's a Minotaur!" you roared, and you gave us an appropriately frightening growl. Minotaurs are your new favourite mythical beast, so sure, we'll go with that.

You had already received most of your birthday gifts when we celebrated your half birthday, because you had to wait an extra week past your due date and placed your birthday precariously close to Christmas, with its own influx of gifts. Still, your daddy and I couldn't resist the one present that was sure to earn us that long-lashed wide-eyed grin and squeal that we love so much.

Hockey shirts. Four of them, from four of your favourite hockey teams. When I said Lego and the Hobbit were two of your three favourite things, hockey would be that missing third.

"Winnipeg Jets!" you shouted, except that you pronounce it "win-a-pig", always, every time, no matter how many times I try to correct you. The Jets were followed by Chicago Blackhawks (and a little squirm of joy from you), Buffalo Sabres, and Nashville Predators. The teams that will never make it into our house if your dad has any say? Boston Bruins (the "big bad Bruins"), Ottawa Senators (this is a Toronto Maple Leafs home, thankyouverymuch), and Montreal Canadiens.

After a dinner of your requested birthday meal, salmon and rice, it was time for cake. You asked for a strawberry cake with pink icing, so I found an appropriate recipe and gave it a go. You were pleased, at any rate.

You blew out the flickering flames and started licking the icing off the candles.

Then you licked the icing off your slice of cake and declared yourself full.

A birthday just wouldn't be complete without one more little surprise before bedtime. Sparklers on the balcony were just the thing, I thought, and you and your siblings agreed.

The only birthday wish you didn't get? There was no snow for the snowman you'd hoped to build. Well, there's nothing a mother can do about the weather...but you just never know what God might have in store for you the following morning.

Happy fourth birthday, my beautiful boy. Two days ago you were my favourite three year old. Now you're my favourite four year old. I love you.

Wednesday 11 December 2013

Children Become What they See

Starr Meneely is the author of the recently-released children's picture book, What A Lovely Sound! This is a sweet story about Melody Jane, a young girl who travels out of the city and finds music in nature.

Today Starr is sharing a guest post on children and nature, as well as offering a copy of her new book to one lucky reader. Enjoy her post, and enter the giveaway below!


When my son was small we sat one afternoon waiting in the car for my husband to run an errand. I heard his sweet little voice comment suddenly from the back seat:

“Look! the trees are hugging!”

I looked up and out of our car. We were sitting next to a row of trees and the wind was tossing these tall elegant conifers backwards and forwards. I noticed what he saw and couldn’t help but smile. Where the trees met at the top, as they swayed in the wind, they did indeed look like they were hugging.

Once again, like so many times throughout my mothering, I marveled at the way a child sees the world around them and I was reminded just how important it is to give them beautiful things to look upon. It is, after all, the things that they see and hear and feel that become a part of who they are.

THERE was a child went forth every day;

And the first object he look’d upon, that object he became;

And that object became part of him for the day, or a certain part of the day, or for many years, or stretching cycles of years.

-Walt Whitman from Leaves of Grass

Sometimes I believe that life is not unlike this little verse. Of course, imagination and beauty can be found anywhere but our senses are heightened when we sit in Nature. Our thoughts soar above us and our hearts expand around us. We become just a bit of what we see and where we are.

I take my children outside because I want them to learn how to feel...wind, rain, mud, grass, cold, hot, and the freedom of wide open spaces.

I take my children outside because I want them to learn how to hear...birdsong, running water, the way their voices bounce all around them in magnificent echoes.

I take my children outside because I want them to see...tiny, up close, minute little things and vast, expansive, gigantic spaces.

Nature has a gentle way of inspiring imagination and creativity that cannot be replaced by anything else. We find nuance of colour, shading, light, and shadows that cannot be re-created indoors. We ramble around shapes, textures, edges, and curves that fall in and out of our eye line. These are the things that structure the way we think; build the way we live. These are the things that shape our children’s dreams and inspire their imaginations. I take my children outside because I want them to see beauty and become what they see.


Starr Meneely is generously giving away one copy of her children's picture book, What a Lovely Sound!, signed by both the author and the illustrator. For a chance to win, enter via the Rafflecopter system below.

This giveaway is open worldwide and will close Sunday, December 15th at 11:59pm EST.

About the Author

Starr Meneely is the author of the children’s picture book “What A Lovely Sound!” (illustrated by Susan Merrick). She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Piano Performance from the University of Alaska where she studied under Dr. Timothy Smith. She owned the Littlerose School of Music in Anchorage and taught at the Alaska Fine Arts Academy. Starr writes children’s books in a little village in Surrey UK, where she lives with her husband and four children. She loves to hear from readers both big and small.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Saturday 7 December 2013

Weekend Reading {vol. 106}

In which Advent is for the ones who know longing @ Sarah Bessey
If Christmas is for the joy, then Advent is for the longing. As I learned in particular through our lost babies, one after another after another, the joy born out of suffering and longing is more beautiful for its very complexity. The joy doesn’t erase the longing and the sadness that came before but it does redeem it, it may even stain backwards changing how we look at those days or years. But the joy is made more real, richer and deeper perhaps, because we longed for it with all our hearts for so many days.

Sometimes the only thing left to do is simply hold on to each other and dance in the darkness, waiting for the light.

Little girls, get up! Get up and eat! @ Momastery
Then she added: “Everyone at my table wrote ‘I want my mommy to be happy!’”

Holy crap, you guys. We’ve got to get our joy back. We think it’s love to allow our roles – mother, wife, volunteer, career woman – to consume us like a fire until we can’t even be seen anymore – but that’s not love. I think our kids want to really see us. They want us to leave a part of ourselves unconsumed so they can see us. I think our kids want to see us come alive sometimes. Our kids never asked for martyrs. It is not love to allow yourself – your spirit – to be buried and then fade away.

Every gift for children this year is terrifying — a walk over the Thin Pink Line in Target
But that was what struck me about these toys. Pretty much everything in the pink aisle was designed in a way that limited the number of stories you could tell with it. In the blue aisle, accessories vary. There’s a Batman with a submarine. There’s a ninja with a castle. Not in the pink aisle. Everybody just had hairbrushes. Merida’s bow didn’t work for archery; it was just a hair accessory like countless other hair accessories. Lego girls didn’t get attacked by pirates. If you wanted pirates in the pink aisle, you had to bring them yourself.

In conclusion, here’s a Hot New Barbie Set.

You will be relieved to know that this beautiful doll can be contained entirely inside her closet.

Of course she can.

They just don't do that anymore @ Steady Mom
I don't want to minimize the stage you're in. I don't want to tell you "Enjoy these days, they go by so fast." I don't want to patronize you.

Instead let me pour a little encouragement your way:

Go ahead and grumble, or be patient. You don't have to handle all the issues perfectly.

Go ahead and cry, and wonder if it's all worth it.

Go ahead and pray, for strength to make it through the next five minutes.

Because one day--often when you least expect it--often when you've come to peace with the imperfections and decided to be happy anyway--you'll wake up, look around and realize:

They just don't do that anymore.

And a video: Hackschooling Makes Me Happy by 13-year-old Logan LaPlante at TEDx University of Nevada

Wednesday 4 December 2013

Waiting and mourning and longing in hope

I've never spent an Advent in mourning, not until this one.

There have been Advents of joy, quiet ones, intentional ones, busy ones, uncertain ones. This is the slow Advent, simple out of necessity because my grief has little space for extras this year. And yet somehow, unexpectedly, the mourning fits. I mourn what is as I wait and long for what will be, and throughout it all is the hope that silences the temptation to despair. These past months have carried with them a deep, central, soul-level pain, but it is that pain itself which has served as an Advent reminder to me.

It was a reminder that the Kingdom is here but not yet fully here. It is coming but it is not yet fully here and in the meantime things are not as they should be. There is pain and selfishness and fear and quiet whispers in the night, please, please, let it be okay in the end. There is senseless tragedy and there are blissful moments before everything changes - you never thought, no, not that. We hurt each other and neglect each other and fail to truly see each other. Disease ravages and waves sweep away and children go to sleep hungry at night. No, things are not as they should be.

Things are not as they should be, and I am not as I should be. The pain brought that reminder as well, the reminder that the work in me is begun but not yet finished. It is begun but not yet finished and in the meantime I yell at my children when I should be patient, I fail to communicate well with my husband, and how many times, O Lord, have I been unfaithful to You? How many times have I forgotten my first love, despised you with my actions, remained silent and uncaring towards you and your presence? How many times have I sought the satisfaction of my own desires, derived my pleasure from that which is fleeting instead of finding my joy in you? How many times, O Lord?

Things are not as they should be, and I am not as I should be, and I mourn and long and wait, hope holding me up until the day hope is fulfilled and all is put right again. That pain we feel in the deepest part of us will no longer exist.

All will be well, all will be well, and all manner of things will be well.

One day.

For there is a Saviour who has come and is coming and will come again and somehow we can hold all these truths at once, in one hand, roll them through our fingers like marbles. He came. He is coming. He will come. It shouldn't make sense but it does.

And in the meantime we wait. These are the days between Sarah's first hope of life within her and the blessed day when that hope was fulfilled. These are the days of Simeon and Anna, waiting to see the Lord's Messiah. These are the days between a death on a cross and an empty tomb. These are the days in the belly of a whale. These are days of lament and our joy comes from our hope in the one day when all is as it should be.

Maranatha. Come, O Lord.

Sunday 1 December 2013

Slow and simple

It's December and I don't know how I feel about that.

Part of me is ready for the season, the way everyone is a bit more merry and everything a bit more sparkly. I want Christmas carols and bright lights and gift wrapping and the works.

The other part of me isn't ready. I'm still trapped in this well of sadness, there's no other word for it, and the joyous season just feels a bit too much amidst my grieving right now. I don't want to pretend everything is okay when it isn't, not really.

But December is here whether I like it or not. And we're here in our new house, slowly making it feel like home. It's beautiful and I'm grateful for it; I've even made my peace with the lack of carpets.

Slow, that's how I'm doing everything these days. I haven't the energy nor the mental presence to dive wholeheartedly into anything, so I'm just plodding along, one slow step at a time. Slowly I'm unpacking boxes and organizing rooms. Slowly I'm expanding our knowledge of our new neighbourhood - where to shop, where to eat, where to find the best library and the best produce and the best butcher and baker (and candlestick maker?). Slowly I'm readying myself to try yet another new church. Slowly I'm preparing to dip our toes in places where we can meet new people, although right now it's only preparing, I just haven't the headspace for new friendships, especially when I'm desperately missing old ones during this difficult time. Lonely, maybe that's how I feel. I need a coffee date with a good friend and someone's shoulder to cry on and a place to spill secrets and crushed hearts and goodness, I had no idea I was still so damn sad until I sat down here to write.

Anyway. Slow. Slowly I'm offering up one thanks after another. Slowly I'm taking two steps forward, one step back, then another two forward and we'll be okay in the end, I know.

It is my intent to approach the holiday season the same way. Slow, methodical, simple, I can't do it all and it's possibly best if I avoid Pinterest altogether for the entirety of this month. But I love Pinterest. So there's that. But if I can just skim past the endless holiday homemade decorations and recipes and crafts and everything else, I should be able to remember: slow, methodical, simple.

Slow afternoons with favourite Christmas carols and new library books and warm blankets, that's where I'm at right now. A box unpacked here, a photo hung there, a bit of Christmas cheer placed quietly on the mantle. Homemade cookies just because, and they don't even pretend to be healthy, just flour and sugar and butter and whatnot. Tea in the morning with a Bible or a baby on my lap; apple cider in the evening as the husband and I read aloud together. Maybe tomorrow I'll wash a window, maybe the next day I'll mop the kitchen floor. Maybe I won't.

These are our days, long and slow. We're not doing a lot and somehow it feels just right.