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I started on January 1, committed. I was gonna do this read-the-bible-in-a-year thing. It’s not like I hadn’t tried before. I had. But this time I had an app.

We’d have a cool, modern relationship this time. This time, we’d make it.

We honeymooned through January, and I knew we could beat the odds. We’d survive where so many others had failed. We’d make this thing work.

But then, like always, you got boring. (Maybe no one has ever told you that before, but it’s true. You can be boring sometimes.) The drama of the early days faded and you settled into Leviticus and Numbers and I lost interest. I struggled to enjoy spending time with you and life got busy and I got distracted.

It’s not like we were enemies. I still hung out with you on Sundays and occasionally we’d catch a few minutes here or there, but let’s be honest. We drifted apart. I let the kids and the house and all the other things crowd you out.

I was only going through the motions, but you were patient. And in your patience I found you again or maybe you found me, and I remembered why I love you so much. Your ancient beauty has recaptured my heart, and my adoration of you has been rekindled.

I’m sorry for my indifference. I want to try again. Who cares if it’s August 11 and we’re only at Day 80?

Thank you for waiting for me.

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I read this over at Seth Haines’s blog this morning, how a friend of his was at the hospital bed of his dying daughter and a woman offered the solace of the admonishment, if you just had faith like a mustard seed, all this trouble would go away. And it’s true, scripture has been used this way. It’s been hacked up and thrown about, well-intentioned sound byte offerings of impotency or judgement.

But that’s not scripture’s fault, said Seth, and I like his conclusion. Scripture doesn’t always mean what people says it means, and that’s the sad and happy truth of it.

Yesterday our dear, faithful Servant of Scripture preached on Romans 13, and his thoughts have been mingling with my thoughts since.

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. (Romans 13:8)

And this is beautiful and makes me smile, because it means all the rules we like to emphasize and hammer on are made fulfilled if we love each other. Because if I’m loving you, how can I harm you or steal from you or gossip about you?

Love does no harm to a neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (Romans 13:10)

Let’s go about our days paying our debts of love. Lets love each other as best we can, in Jesus’ name amen, and I bet those mustard seeds of faith will grow like crazy.

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He was filling out an application yesterday, to help with our church’s Vacation Bible School this summer, and when he was done he magneted it to the fridge and as I was walking by, a statement caught my eye.

One of the points he was to address on the application read: Describe your current relationship with God, and I noticed he’d crossed out the word relationship and above it he’d written the word fellowship.

I asked him why he’d changed the word, and he answered, because I’m not dating God.

Relationship is just a weird word in today’s modern English language, he said. It’s a Facebook status implying romance… you are in a relationship with someone. That’s not God and me. We are a team, you know. I’d never say I’m in a relationship with my dad, or I’m in a relationship with my friend Jesse. That would be awkward. But we enjoy doing stuff together, which is fellowship, and that’s what it’s like with me and God.

Interesting.

It made me think about the things we say, and what we really mean by them. All my life, I’ve heard people talk about having a relationship with God, or wanting to be in relationship with Jesus, or that Christianity is a relationship, not a religion. Now, I’m kind of wondering what that means?

I’m thinking relationship is about status. I am a daughter. This is my relationship with my parents. I am a mother. This is my relationship with my children. These relationships will never change. A relationship is about blood or commitment.

Fellowship, maybe, is the living out of the relationship. It’s what makes a relationship good or bad, strong or weak, happy or troubled. How well I fellowship with those around me (or those with whom I have a relationship) is a function of time spent together, enjoyment of that time, and activities or experiences shared with each other.

Maybe this is just semantics, but I found it interesting that my son chose to make a distinction between the two. If nothing else, good for him for diving deeper into the language I typically accept without question.

I love it when my kids make me think about stuff.

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Life is a journey of beautiful contradiction and fortunate misstep. I am not where I set out to be, all those years ago, thank God.

Life is hard and sad, by times, but would you read a story that never posed a problem to solve or a tragedy to overcome? I’m learning there is a beautiful grace in hard and sad and while I don’t wish for the tough times ahead, I know they will find me.

This morning my foster son reads aloud these words from the book of Proverbs, from a little plaque that sits on the desk in my office space. We’re the only two awake in the house on this holiday Monday, and we’re cozy in our space while cool rain falls on the greening world outside our window.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, he reads.

The Lord is Jesus, he says thoughtfully, and he looks over at me and nods confidently. I nod back, serious as is he, and I think it’s not something I’ve taught him. I don’t think I’ve ever said to him, Jesus is Lord, and you should believe in Him.

My foster son is learning how to pray. He’s not done it before, and all this church stuff and believing stuff is new to him. He’s learning that Jesus might be more than a swear word.

The first time he asks to pray is at dinner and we bow heads with him and wait, and he says, I forget how to start.

Dear God, I prompt, and he’s off, thankful for the day and the food and the kittens and the toys, but it’s the ending that sticks my heart, when he asks for God to watch over the Ross family and his mom. I didn’t teach him to pray or tell him he should, but he lives here and we do it, and he’s been watching, of course.

I didn’t become his foster mom to turn him into a Christian. Or maybe I did. I think Jesus makes life better, so, maybe I did. I have no idea where he will go in his life or what he will believe. I certainly don’t want to give him tiresome religion, but I’m pretty sure he’ll face lots of hard and sad stuff of his own, and I’d love him to discover life-sustaining faith.

I know he’s watching, and I suppose I want him to see me watching, too.

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

Matthew 11: 28-30 (the message)

This scripture is working on me. I’ve been thinking about the unforced rhythms of grace. I’m trying to watch how He does it. I’m trying to walk with Him and work with Him. I want to get away with Him and recover my life. And who doesn’t want to live freely and lightly?

I’ll probably write about it some, in the days ahead.

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The burden of abstinence. That’s how he said it in the beautiful piece he wrote about being an addict who hadn’t used in ten years.

The burden of abstinence, and the words are stuck in my head.

I’ve only dabbled in the substances, so to speak. A little drink and some grass smoked secondhand, back in the day. Honestly it scared me more than it tempted me and I said no to the magic mushrooms that time they were offered and I watched while they got high and I drove my boyfriend home from the parties when he’d had too much.

I was the good girl in the room and to tell you the truth it was a real drag.

Mostly just wading in up to my knees, and it’s not enough to swim and it’s not enough to stay dry and the waves swirling around are pushing and pulling and getting the hem of my dress wet.

Soggy is no fun, not when everyone else is either skinny dipping in the ocean or singing worship songs around a campfire on the beach.

But I’d been raised the way I’d been raised and there was no way I could get those sermons out of my head.

I’d been raised on the gospel of abstinence and maybe that was what kept me safe during those years. Safe enough, anyway. Let’s just say I wasn’t a saint. Not even close. And the gospel of don’t-do-this can only get you so far and there’s a lot of guilt that goes along with it when you aren’t a saint, like I wasn’t.

But what he was referring to in those words he wrote about his own addiction and his ten years free was that curious nostalgia that creeps in sometimes in the looking back. I was never an addict, not in the way he’s talking. But by times I’d let the waves pull me in, and the swimming was crazy and fun and free.

Some of my friends found their loves early and married them quick, and they look back on those years differently than do I.

I didn’t marry my first love. I didn’t spend my twenties with a childhood sweetheart or a college romance. I traveled and tried my hand at Doing Things For The Lord and dated a guy or two and lost my way for a while. You could say I went swimming more than I praised God on the beach, or at least as often, although mostly I waded wet in the shallows.

Now, I’m a sold out praise-the-Lord-er, yes I am. And maybe that’s because of the abstinence thing, or maybe Jesus found me in the ocean, or maybe I remembered he was there – ocean or sand or wherever I was – all along.

The burden of abstinence is still a thing. I won’t pretend it isn’t, only now I call it grace.

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The fourth day of Christmas, dedicated to the Holy Innocents as they’ve been named, those slaughtered at the command of an evil king afraid for his throne, and it’s more than a mother’s heart can bear. It really is, but it’s history and so it’s the second-hand kind of sorrow that only filters in if I let it.

Tragedies are not all history, though, and as I sit in the morning of this day, this Childermas day, I think of the innocents of my time. Of today and tomorrow, when children will be sold into slavery or taken from mother’s wombs or hungered to death or killed in their classrooms.

It’s more than a mother’s heart can bear, but still I’m protected by distance and comfort and the ability to put it out of my mind. To be thankful for the health and safety of mine, and to forget of the lack of theirs. Those mothers, those families, those children who live without.

This week, friends of mine will be building a school in Mexico.

Next week, my parents and some of their friends will be building a home in Mexico for the family of a friend they met there last year.

I have friends who are heart-heavy involved with The Exodus Road, a nonprofit dedicated to fighting human trafficking and child slavery.

I have friends who have adopted or fostered or just plain loved the children in their paths who needed them.

These are a few of the beautiful things happening in my little circle of what’s going on in the world. You know of other groups, other people, who are helping as they can, where they can.

Today I’ll donate some of my money to some of these causes, in the name and memory of the innocents.

But more than that, I’ll see my own, really see them today, and I’ll know in my heart of the blessing of children. Those of my womb, and those of my heart.

I’ll make their favourite foods and I’ll laugh at their jokes, and I’ll miss the one who is missing, and I’ll heap prayers upon prayers for them, and for them all.

O Lord, hear my prayer.

And let my cry come unto Thee.

O Lord Jesus Christ, once Thou embraced and placed Thy hands upon the little children who came to Thee, and said: “Suffer the little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven, and their angels always see the face of my Father!” Look now with fatherly eyes on the innocence of these children and their parents’ devotion, and bless them this day through our prayers.

In Thy grace and goodness let them advance continually, longing for Thee, loving Thee, fearing Thee, keeping Thy commandments. Then they will surely come to their destined home, through Thee, Savior of the world. Who lives and reigns forever and ever.

Amen.

common prayer of blessing on the fourth day of Christmas

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I know it’s over. The gifts unwrapped and all, and the butter tarts and cookies all eaten. The big boy has already left and so, yes, Christmas Day has come and gone and I suppose I should be moving on.

I’m not quite ready, though.

Even though I plan to take down the tree and pack away the decorations and even though there is nary a crumb of sweet left in the kitchen cupboards. I’m not ready to let it all go.

It was sweet and simple and, I guess, filling. Christmas filled me just right – not overstuffed, not still hungry – and I want to linger in that satisfied place for a while.

So I am. This year, for the first time, I’m doing the twelve days of Christmas, and on Epiphany (January 6) we’ll feast a little and celebrate the visit of the magi and we’ll find some kind of giving way to mark that.

Really, I’ve not heard much about or commemorated these days in any kind of way in the past. And it won’t be much this year. I’ll spend a moment with Liz each day, and remember the babe for a while longer because heaven knows it will be a scant few weeks and we’ll be nailing him to a cross and thinking about all of that.

I’m lingering and listening and loving my people, thankfully and quietly stealing a few more Christmas days, and then maybe I’ll be ready for the new.

I have a middle son, and of all my children he is the most like me, I think. He loves to read and think and process and talk about all the things he reads and thinks and processes.

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On Sunday last, my middle son and I were tourists. He is an incredible fan of history, religious history in particular (at the moment), and he’d been wanting to go to Catholic mass for quite a while. We live in a French/English community, and so finding a workable time to attend English mass had taken some time, but on Sunday morning at 9:00 we were sitting in a pew at the Cathedral, waiting for the service to begin.

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It’s a beautiful building. My son knows its history and the architectural style and that there are other churches in Europe designed by the same architect and they are the spitting image of the one in our little town. He’s studied Catholicism and he knew the priest would be wearing a purple robe because of Advent, and he whispered bits of history and tradition to me throughout the morning.

There was a little man sitting a few rows ahead and to our left, and he was our guide. He was the first to stand or kneel or sit, the first to step into the aisle when it was time to do so, the first to come and shake our hands and offer a peace be with you when it was time to shake hands and offer peace. We watched him and followed his lead, like the tourists we were, and I unobtrusively snapped a few pictures because… tourists.

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I feel like a tourist at Advent. It’s not a familiar experience; we didn’t observe it when I was growing up, but it’s a place I want to see, a journey I want to take. So I read the books and blogs to see how others do it, and I follow the leads of those ahead of me and to my left, the one’s who know what they are doing and for whom it’s all second nature.

I snap a few pictures along the way.

And like a tourist, I find the things that connect me to the experience. Being pregnant. Anticipating a child. Giving birth.

I’m a tourist at Advent, trying to act like I know when to stand or sit or kneel, and I’m stumbling a bit, but the view is still wonderful.

The Jews are good at this. The candle-lighting and yarmulke-wearing and mezuzah-touching, all the remembering through ritual and ceremony. Tangible stuff full of meaning.

I get that.

I like to have things around me, things I can see and touch and by which I can remember. It’s why I have a tiny toy puppy sitting on a shelf in my bathroom, and it’s why I have pictures of my children on my fridge, and it’s why I write words. The turning of thought or memory or love into a thing makes remembering real(er) for me.

I’m reminded, by what I can see and touch, of what I can’t see or touch. I’m reminded to pray.

And that is why that boy of mine, when he left home, left something for his mother. He took the guitar pick he’d made, all beautiful-grained wood and smoothly sanded by his hand, and he drilled it. A hole right through it, and he gave it to me to wear around my neck, my mezuzah of sorts.

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I hung it on the chain with my beautiful blue heart from my beautiful friend, and when I touch it I think of him, and I pray my own mezuzah prayer over him.

Be with him, Lord, with his going in and his coming out.

It’s what we mothers do. All the time we are carrying and birthing and raising. We wait and we pray and we remember. And whenever we can, we touch.

It’s the season of Advent, the season of remembered expectancy, of remembering the waiting. It’s also a season of leaving.

I’ve been thinking about that, this Advent. I’ve been wondering why leaving is such a big part of the story? Why Mary had to say goodbye and endure that long trip and face that birth without her mother?

Mary is often on my mind, these weeks, and I wonder at her pregnant thoughts, her waiting time. Young girl, full of child, leaving home. Did she tuck in a trinket from home when she left? Did she carry with her more than memory on that long journey? Did she snip a lock of loved one’s hair, or did she carry precious memory from her mother’s kitchen?

I don’t know, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

I would have.

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One boy, stretching tall and skinny in the kitchen after a breakfast of leftovers. The pizza I’d thought we’d have for lunch, but oh well. The youngest headed downstairs to get to the shower first, before his brothers. The oldest still rubbing sleep out of his eyes, a large, bearded version of the firstborn babe he was. The new son bundled and backpacked and bussed away to school. Husband on his way to work, instructions for the boys lingering in the air after he closes the door. Check the water every hour. Make sure the trough heater is submerged.

It’s a cold November day out there.

The first week of the month is almost spent, and every day I read thanksgiving being poured out all over the internet. Thankfulness for amazing husbands or wives and wonderful children and the blessings of these or those things or people in our lives. It’s good, this month of thankful.

I’m thankful, too, for all that makes life sweet.

I’m mindful, though, of those for whom life is very hard. Those for whom a month, thirty whole days, of finding thankful is a challenge. Those for whom the admonitions to take joy in all things grow guilt rather than grace.

This is what I think. I think that sometimes life is wonderful and sometimes life is hard. And it’s not fair or equal or just. There is no balance, not really, and I don’t know why that is. I don’t know why some people seem to have more than their fair share of troubles and heartache and others seem to be especially blessed. I don’t know why some make it and others don’t. I do know it’s not always about trying harder or working longer or being more talented.

I don’t get all preachy very often, here, but when it’s hard, when I don’t understand, I go to Jesus. Because I believe this man lived – that God came from glory to be here on earth with us – had sweet times and very hard times, and this is what scripture tells me to do with that:

Keep your eyes on Jesus, our leader and instructor. He was willing to die a shameful death on the cross because of the joy he knew would be his afterwards; and now he sits in the place of honour by the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2)

This man did not dance his way through suffering, he suffered his way through suffering. He endured. His joy was not in the immediate, but in the future.

I’m not a preacher, not even close. I don’t know all the doctrine or all the definitions and I hate being asked to take stands on things that people have decided are religious issues. Here’s my catechism. If you are gay, I offer love. If you are in jail, I offer love. If you have aborted or stolen or lied or had sex before you got married or told a dirty joke or took the last piece of pie – I offer love.

If you are suffering in the midst of this month of thankful, I offer love.

Not mine, you understand, but his.

It’s not about religion, not for me. It’s about breathing him in, and breathing him out. And the breathing in and out of him, always, is love.