the gift of today

I’m always so sad to see December coming to a close, although (let’s be honest) probably this little afternoon ritual of coffee and cookies will be the hardest thing to see go. The salads promised by a goal-filled January will be great, I’m sure, but nothing like these buttery morsels.

This December also meant saying goodbye to 4-year-old Cecily, and that reality gave pause to both Ryan and me on the eve of her birthday — “December nineteenth!”, always declared with a wide grin — as our eyes grew wistful and full of memory. The little years of Cecily Anne have been truly delightful years, full of belly-laughter and deep-down joy.

But when our 4-year-old disappeared that night, we found in her place an equally delightful 5 year old and the hopes of a year yet to be lived.

And so it is, really, with all of the wonderfully rich days already enjoyed. They end, we turn off the light with a deep sigh, but the sun rises and invites us to embrace yet another day, made by and planned by and inhabited by God Himself. Can I do that? Can I release, with thankfulness, the gifts of yesterday and open my hands to what He will give today?

We chatted today, amidst pots of Sopa de Albondigas and rising orange-scented sweet dough and the beef tenderloin I wanted so badly to not mess up. We talked about finishing strong, and I reminded the boys of the human wonder names Usain Bolt who, among other obvious gifting, is capable of seeing a finish line and not slowing down at all. He runs right through that marker and leaves his opponents in the dust. We talked about how everyone’s inclination is to see the end and, in relief, slow their pace. “I’ve got this,” we think to ourselves, and then slow down. Usain Bolt and Caleb remind me of each other, in their ability to finish strong, and I am challenged. I’m only 39, and already I can start to understand the temptation to begin coasting. Entanglements, weights, sorrows, or just plain old, “I’ve got this.” Enough days of packed away treasures, enough mornings of waking to a more frail body, another disappointing circumstance, and we start to slow.

So I’m looking at a month of pictures, of memories, of days with my kids right here with me. Growing, happy, innocent, with me. It’s easy to sigh and have the echo of so many kind strangers ring in my mind: “These are the best days of your life.” And I know what they mean, and I’m smart enough to understand, but tomorrow, no matter what else it may bring, is full of the promise of purposes of God, and He invites me to live it strong, live it fully, live it with hopeful expectation.

Emmanuel, God with Us — today, tomorrow, forever.

joy for a weary world

“A weary world rejoices.”

Doesn’t that sum up what you’re seeing this year? Strings of lights in mid-November, trees up a good week before usual, the population in general chomping at the bit to sing Jingle Bells and spread Christmas cheer — the feeling of “we need a little Christmas right this very minute” has never been so widely shared.

And maybe this is good for us. Maybe it is right to occasionally remember that the Light came into vast and utter darkness. Joy erupted from a place of total despair. A savior was born because we actually needed to be saved. Not helped. Saved.

“A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn”

We have strung lights, too, and our tree beckons spontaneous morning and evening family gatherings. Favorite songs play while the girls color yet another Christmas coloring page. The fragrance of butter and sugar and nutmeg and rum fills the air. We are celebrating, but the best part is that we’re not celebrating the lights or the tree or the music and cookies. Those are the tools we use, but the object of our joy is so much less fleeting and circumstantial.

We sense hope, but it’s not just because we think a new calendar will magically usher in a better year. Fast-tracked vaccinations aren’t filling my soul with peace. Actually, there’s not a whole lot of joy, hope, or peace to be grasped — until you stop fumbling in the dark for something that doesn’t exist and start looking toward the horizon for the glorious morn promised by a Morning Star so many hundreds of years ago.

A thrill of hope, my weary soul rejoices, and more than ever, it’s not just because the sounds of the King’s College choir are magical (though they are).

We are a weary world, and if the tree and lights and Hallmark movies aren’t doing it for you this time around, may I suggest a better hope, a more lasting peace? May I remind us that the angels came to announce a Savior, and He is near, ready to save.

thanksgiving

I was dumping photos from my phone and saw this one — and had to laugh. Tired much? But I remember taking it, and I wasn’t thinking about how tired I was (or looked), but just was wanting to remember his little face buried in my neck, and the swirl of black hair on the back of his tiny head.

And in some ways, this picture is maybe a great summation of how 2020 has left me feeling: utterly exhausted and ready to fall into my bed and wake up to a new day, but also with a thousand blessings I want to never forget.

We’re kicking off this holiday season with the strangest Thanksgiving of my life, due to rules and regulations. But it feels awfully silly to complain about Thanksgiving. If there’s one day of the year when my grumpy self feels slapped upside the head, it’s Thanksgiving. And I need it this year, as much as — okay, let’s be honest, more than — ever.

Thanksgiving isn’t just optimism. It’s not Pollyanna-itis. It’s the fruit of a deep, deep encounter with God. It’s born out of a confidence that He is who He says He is, and that nothing can separate us from the love of God. It’s a shield against cynicism, bitterness, and disillusionment. It is, in some ways, the elusive Fountain of Youth the world has long sought after — not that it will keep you in your twenties, but it is the difference between hard and bitter, or sweet and joyful. For any who have set their hearts to run the race with endurance, it is absolutely essential. It is the lock and key that safely keeps untold treasures from being stolen away by the thieves of envy, jealousy, and negativity.

And so I’m seeing that yes, the circles under my eyes are extra dark — in so many ways, on so many levels. But also? My life overflows with blessings, not the least of which is currently snuggled in my arms as I write, making soft little baby sounds. I can succumb to the temptation to get lost in a sorry world of counted sorrows, or I can set my heart and my eyes on things above and find that His goodness and mercy have followed me every single day.

And a favorite quote regarding the first Thanksgiving:

“Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a more special manner rejoice together, after we had gathered the fruit of our labors; they four in one day killed as much fowl, as with a little help beside, served the company almost a week, at which time amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest King Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain, and others. And although it be not always so plentiful, as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want, that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.”— Edward Winslow, 1621

Jesus, my portion, + photos

O Lord, You are the portion of my inheritance and my cup;
You maintain my lot.
The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places;
Yes, I have a good inheritance.

My life, made by Him and for Him, is not my own. Not that such yieldedness comes naturally — oh, no. Far from it. We come into this world grasping and grabbing, and we grow into goals and certain assumptions. Clinging to days that we know slip like sand, the idea of letting someone else dictate our moments can be frightening, maddening, unclear.

And yet, there is this treasure to be found: life in Him, for Him.

You will show me the path of life;
In Your presence is fullness of joy;
At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

He calls us to Himself, calls out of us gifts and purposes, calls us into abundance.

Life seldom goes exactly as planned — by us, anyway. What freedom and peace to understand that His plans are good and His path firm.

Day after surrendered day, threaded together. Moments faithfully lived, stewarded and not hoarded. And suddenly, instead of being a statement of sheer faith, you look back and exclaim, “the lines have fallen to me in pleasant places!” Not always easy places, but oh, full of His presence and blessing. Joy and sorrow, mountain top and valley, tribulation and triumph — all made pleasant because He is our inheritance.

And so, more than ever, I declare that my boundaries — the lines of my life — belong to Him. He expands them, time and again, a greater territory than I feel up to. Responsibility, testing, even blessing — can I do this? Can we do this?

Yielding to His boundaries, and not clinging to my own life, is only the beginning of the faith He calls me to. Now there is a vast field, a harvest to come in, a wealth of treasure to steward, and there is little old me. Trust Me, He whispers, as I wake each morning to nothing fancier than a pencil and paper turned to to-do list. It is I who work in you both to will and to do for My good pleasure.

Will it always look the way we anticipated? Turn out exactly the way we assumed? Will His timeline for fruitfulness match our estimation? No. But our lives are yielded to Him, not to a formula. And so this yielding isn’t just about His plans and purposes on the earth, but about us knowing Him, trusting Him, loving Him. What fellowship He invites us into! This notion of losing our lives in Him — it truly isn’t about loss at all, but gain. Great, great gain.

Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.

He stills the tumult

This morning, as we add “fever-pitch fight over empty Supreme Court seat” to the uproar that already is 2020, I am settled by the profundity of this thought: Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.

A promise.

And our God is a promise-keeping God.

As my soul churns afresh, I glance up to see the first traces of pink lace the sky. Within minutes, there is brilliance bursting from the horizon, a yet-hidden sun declaring its coming. I am struck: He is able to oversee all the affairs of men. He graces my life with perfectly formed flowers, the warming nourishment of wholesome food, the knitting of a form within my womb, the growing of young men, moments alone with my best friend and a man I so deeply admire, candlelit mornings, distant Adirondack peaks breaking through fog, and mornings gloriously shouting of new mercies and omnipotent reign.

“By awesome deeds You answer us in righteousness, O God of our salvation,
You who are the trust of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest sea;
Who establishes the mountains by His strength,
Being girded with might;
Who stills the roaring of the seas,
The roaring of their waves,
And the tumult of the peoples.
They who dwell in the ends of the earth stand in awe of Your signs;
You make the dawn and the sunset shout for joy.”
(a portion of Psalm 65; go read the rest!)

take my moments

September. Such a month of beauty and change.

Dark begins to hem us in, bit by bit. I sit inside at 6am, because I need a light to read. We are tucking girls into bed by 8pm because there’s no sunshine outside, anyway. And I love the wild, free hours of summer, but I love this drawing in, too. More often than not, I am in the rocking chair in the little girls’ bedroom every nap time and bedtime, reading to a sometimes captive and sometimes not audience. A month ago the routine looked more like a tick check and washing feet and hurrying them onto their pillows before I turned into a pumpkin, but now there is time, space, slow. I am torn between missing the late night sounds of dribbling and swinging, and loving the lamplight on sweet faces around me. That is life, is it not? Torn between missing and fullness?

We are finding familiar rhythms, tweaked for this year’s needs. Mornings hum with activity and the day’s preparations. Heads bend over books, eager to finish and get outside. Afternoons give way to quiet and rest before another round of humming begins. It is full. There are people of every size everywhere, coming and going. There is the outline of Mama’s routine, but with older children employing self-discipline and goal-setting to see where they can be more efficient. Big girls to teach one-on-one, little girls to entertain and train. A running list of errands, phone calls, people who come to mind, thoughts from Scripture and national situations that take up space in my heart. Meals to plan (and then actually make). Temperatures dropping and suddenly I remember these kids can’t wear shorts all year — time to figure that out, too, I guess. Full.

Life, hurtling forward, and yet, given to us a moment at a time. We are not victims but stewards. This is our time to serve the Lord, our generation in which to shine. And a moment at a time, the serving and shining may not seem especially spectacular, but that is not my concern: faithful obedience to the Word of God, yielding to the call of God on my life is my role. I don’t need to try and shape my life into something I think is worthy of the word “legacy.” He shapes me. He molds me. And it is His legacy I want to leave, anyway. This is both a relief and a challenge: my moments count. My attitude counts. The way I think needs to be transformed by the Word of God, and my heart needs to come under His Lordship.

Today is what I have to give. This moment. And then the next. One foot in front of the other, with eyes fixed on Jesus.