Thursday, 31 December 2015

Book List 2015


Farewell to the East End (Jennifer Worth)
Longbourn (Jo Baker)
Pilgrim’s Inn (Elizabeth Goudge)
The Bird in the Tree (Elizabeth Goudge)
The Heart of the Family (Elizabeth Goudge)
Anne’s House of Dreams (LM Montgomery)
North and South (Elizabeth Gaskell)
Hannah Coulter (Wendell Berry) - my first foray into Wendell Berry, looking forward to more!
A Child’s Christmas in Wales (Dylan Thomas)


The Geography of Nowhere (James Howard Kunstler)
Timeless Simplicity: Creative Living in a Consumer Society (John Lane)
A Year of No Sugar (Eve O. Schaub)
The Dorito Effect (Mark Schatzker)
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (Marie Kondo)


When Children Love to Learn (Elaine Cooper)
The Three R’s (Ruth Beechick)

And selections from:
A Charlotte Mason Companion (Karen Andreola)
Educating the WholeHearted Child (Sally and Clay Clarkson)
The Well-Educated Mind (Susan Wise Bauer)


On Hope (Josef Pieper)
The Gospel of the Kingdom (George Eldon Ladd) - excellent, worth revisiting
The Little Oratory (Leila Lawler & David Clayton)
Real Worship (Warren Wiersbe)
Whole Prayer (Walter Wangerin)
The Pursuit of God (A.W. Tozer)
Preemptive Love (Jeremy Courtney)
Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals (Shane Claiborne)

With the kids:
(In addition to dozens and dozens of picture books and poetry selections!)

Little House in the Big Woods (L. I. Wilder)
The BFG (Roald Dahl)
Old Mother West Wind (Thornton W. Burgess)

In progress:

How to Pray (R.A. Torrey)
A Tale of Two Cities (Charles Dickens)

Most influential:

Pilgrim's Inn by Elizabeth Goudge
I'd have to say the most influential book for me this year was Pilgrim's Inn. It's the first of Goudge's books I've read, and it came at just the right time. There's something about a well-crafted story that has the power to teach and transform and travel deep into the soul. This is the sort of book I want to hunt down a beautiful older edition of to read again and again. 

Real Worship by Warren Wiersbe
This was another one of those timely books, and I think I absorbed its essence rather than remembered its principles. I love it when that happens. It expanded my view of and approach toward worship.

Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals by Shane Claiborne
This book, a gift from Micah last Christmas, journeyed with me through the year as I set out live a more intentional life of prayer. It was key in forming a habit of morning prayer for me. Even now I start the day with this line going through my head: O Lord, let my soul rise up to meet you as the day rises to meet the sun...

What were your most influential reads of 2015?
What are your recommendations or would-love-to-reads for 2016?


Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Kitchen Sink Gratitude

Sometimes gratitude bursts upon you like a geyser in the spring floods. You're ho-humming your way through the dishes one evening, scrubbing pots and pans and thinking about the year that has been, when suddenly it all shifts into focus at the kitchen window.

The Narnian lamppost in the yard, and the two (soon to be three) rosy children who spent hours playing beneath it in the fresh snow, and the chicken dinner from your own backyard, and the husband stoking the fire the basement.

You think about the struggle and the wrestling that was, and realize how free your soapy hands now are, and how songs rise up out of dirty dishes and restless nights, and how strength has come dancing to you like hinds feet from high places. And from this vantage crest of year's end, you look down, and, like so many timeless moments before, the psalmist takes the words right out of your mouth:

"Truly, the boundary lines have fallen in pleasant places for me."

And you feel the safety and freedom of these love lines traced across your land, enclosing you in their embrace, all the while beckoning you to new heights in the center of it all.

Now even the dishwater seems to swish for joy, and the snowflakes fall like poems beyond the glass. There is nothing to do but smile wide and thank the Father of lights and keep on your grateful scrubbing.


Thursday, 24 December 2015

Once Upon a Christmas Eve

Merry Christmas to all! 
This little Christmas story is my gift to you. It is based on the old legend that the animals can speak on Christmas Eve, in honour of their witnessing Jesus' birth. 
The photos were taken just the other morning in the woods around our house. 

ONCE upon a Christmas Eve, the woodland creatures began to stir. The forest was dark, save for the patches of light the full moon tossed down through the branches. It seemed quiet enough, but the whispers were growing.
             It began with the mice, drawn into a little clearing by the moon’s glow. One small mouse looked up and sniffed the air. She twitched her nose, and a shiver ran from her whiskers down to the tip of her tail.    
            “It’s here,” she spoke at last.
            “It’s here, it’s here!” A chorus of whispers swept through the clearing. A dozen pairs of tiny eyes shone with the light of this understanding. From the perch of a towering pine, an owl hooted. And the funny thing was, the mice didn’t run for cover. They kept staring skyward, front paws raised in welcome.
            Then the first mouse made a sudden leap in the air and pirouetted into the center of the gathering. The others crept close, trembling with the energy of midnight.
            “It is Christmas Eve,” she said, and a cheer went up from the mice. “This is the one night of the year we are given a voice. This is the one night of the year we may gather without fear, and in unity with all God’s creatures. For we have a story to tell. Just like our voices, this story has been given to us. We cannot help but speak, and we cannot help but tell. For this is a wonder greater than us all.”

            As the mouse spoke, her voice strengthened and rang out like a silver bell in the silent night. As the mouse spoke, the gathering began to grow. The rabbits’ noses appeared first, and one by one they lopped into view. Voles, squirrels and chipmunks followed. Then came the gentle twittering of birds awakening and alighting on the branches of birch and spruce. A pair of skunks flashed into sight, then mink, muskrat and masked raccoon. Two white-tailed deer stepped quietly out of the shadows. They did not so much as blink when the red coat of fox slid past them toward the center of the clearing.
            “Are we all here?” mouse asked, her ears perked and eager. Creatures murmured, turning and looking around them. Where the shadowy branches marked the edge of the moonlight, a silver wolf and sleek black bear took their places. Once again the owl hooted to signal the treetops were filled from raven to wren. The mouse nimbly ascended a moss covered stump. She lifted her paw, and all the creatures fell silent.
            “This is the wonder we gather to remember,” she began. “That on this eve, an age ago, some of our humble kindred witnessed the birth of a miracle. In far Bethlehem, forests away and across the great sea, a boy child was born. He was a creature, like us, and yet he was not a creature. He came by way of the back door, the way the lowliest among us moved, and took up a bed where the animals fed.
            “My own forefathers beheld this child from the nooks and crannies where they hid. And yet they were not hidden from him. In his eyes they recognized the glint of the sun, the glimmer of water, and the gaze of their Maker. The fear that ties our tongues was loosed, and they burst out in a song that seemed to rumble through the whole earth, tumbling out of their mouths and rising to the heavens. Our tamer cousins, ox and donkey, were soon to join their praise, and it wasn’t long before the hillside pastures rippled with worship.
            “That glorious night, we were given a gift. The glimpse of a world made new, of the meeting of heaven and nature, and a taste of the promise that the lion would one day lie down with the lamb. This was the child who would lead them.
            “The Creator has come! This is our story.
            Creation is saved! This is our song.”
            The little mouse’s voice was soon drowned out in a great hoopla of fur and feather as the hushed gathering turned into one prancing, pawing chorus of “Glory to God in the highest!” Even the trees clapped their boughs for joy and the nearby river leapt out of its winter bed in shimmering delight. Overhead, northern lights twirled and crackled, lighting the black sky with streams of brilliant red and green.

            When the voices faded, tears were glistening on the mouse’s whiskers.
            “The Lord is come,” she said at last with great solemnity. “Let earth receive her king. Let all of nature sing. This gift is ours, for one holy night. The story is ours, to spread abroad in field and forest, hill and plain, beneath the ground and beyond the treetops. Let it be told in every burrow and den, every stable and pasture, every attic and secret shelter, and in every nook and cranny. For he came for both great and small.”
            The mouse looked to the bear, who nodded his velvety nose and bowed.
            “This holy night, we have been given peace on earth, and a voice to proclaim it. Tonight, we are all his messengers. Let the story be told!”
            “Let the story be told!” the creatures echoed, and before you could be sure they were even there, they disappeared into the dappled shadows of the woods.
            Where ears were open, the whispers could be heard that night. The ancient story was remembered, and the future foretold. And for the favoured ones, mostly children, the legend came alive and was welcomed with wonder.

* * *

            As the dawn of Christmas Day broke over the frosty forest, a bear slept soundly in his rocky den, an owl dozed in the thick cover of an evergreen, and a little mouse curled her tail over her nose in the warm corner of an old shed. 

          But if you listen very, very closely, perhaps you may still hear the whisper that danced through the woods once upon a Christmas Eve.


The One Word You Need to Hear This Christmas

There is no one word that can fitly capture Christmas.
It is a celebration of holy mystery, divine wonder, an ever deepening pool whose treasures increase as the seeker descends.
Trinity, incarnation, salvation.
Humility, intimacy, fragility.
Birth, death, new life.
All is here, wrapped in swaddling cloths.
This is the eternal word that ever speaks, and calls us to listen again and again - Jesus.


Sunday, 20 December 2015

The Good Stranger

In times of fear, how do we open our hearts to the stranger among us? How do we live when the neighbourhood looks less like our own, and the back yard neighbour is not “one of us?”

It is in times like these that we must lean ever closer to perfect love, and to the greatest commandments.

“Love your neighbour as yourself.”

It’s easy when the stranger is on the other side of the world. But when the stranger begin to make an appearance, to make demands in our own world, what then? What if the stranger moves next door?

Now is the time to put the command to work, right when it seems most inconvenient, most irrational, and most impossible.

This neighbour? This “other” with the wrong accent, the wrong beliefs, the wrong God?

Yes, for Jesus Himself redefined “neighbour” in the well-worn story we call The Good Samaritan.

It’s funny. The original question is this: “Who is my neighbour?” We ask from a place of security and self-righteousness, wanting to survey all the options before committing to such an impractical endeavor. “Just who is my neighbour?” we ask with barely veiled suspicion, as if we are in the position to pick and choose.

In the end, of course, the neighbour is not one of the old stock or religious establishment. The neighbour is the Samaritan, the half-breed, the undesirable “other.” It is he who fulfills the command and becomes the shining example. It is he who loves beyond requirement, beyond the letter of the law, beyond reason. 

And the tables are turned (as they often are in the Master’s stories), and the one who asked the question is actually the one dying on the road. This is life and death. What’s at stake here is nothing less than eternal life. The real question of this story is not “Who do I have to love?” but “Who will love me back to life?”

Could it be that we are the ones most in need? Could it be that we are indeed wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked? And where does the gold come from? The white clothes? The salve? The stranger.

And how do we receive this life? “Go and do likewise.”

Let us not think we have all to give, and they have only to take. That we are in the know, and they have but to learn.

The road from Jerusalem to Jericho is a dangerous place, if we are not walking with Jesus.

It is in showing mercy that we receive its full benefits. We are in need of what the stranger has to offer, and this humbling may be the narrow gate to eternal life.

For what the stranger shows us is the face of Christ Himself. We would do well to ask, “Where is Jesus in this story?”

And he answers, “For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to eat, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

Yes, the great commandments are for such a time as this, and for the least of these. For if we pass by on the other side, we may just miss Him.

How can we be sure to find Him? By recognizing that we too are in need of the healing only mercy can bring. By laying ourselves down for the bruised and broken and looking for the face of Christ in the ditches of the world.

Perfect love embraces the cast off.
Perfect love saves us from being cast away.
Yes, perfect love casts out fear.

Perfect love is the only way to live in these times, and we may just find it in the face of a stranger.


Sunday, 13 December 2015

The Secret of the Pink Candle: How You Can Have Joy Right Here

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

Yes, there is joy, even in the waiting, even in the absence of a promise fulfilled. It comes as a pink candle, the one the children have been asking about since the beginning of Advent. We light it now, this third Sunday, because joy cannot help sneak into the patient sequence, right here.

It's here in little bursts as anticipation bubbles up.
It's here, a song in the air, even as our hearts yet grieve the darkness.
It's here, a merry flame of rose and gold, the steady blaze of the far country.
It's here, lighting the feast of God's provision and defying winter's icy grip.

It's here, because He is here, and in His presence is fullness of joy.

When we abide in His love, which casts out fear and overcomes death, His joy fills us.

He is here, in the secret place, where the seed of hope awakens. He is here, in the hiding place, where peace is spoken to still the angry waves.

He is here, with us in sorrow and sighing, with us in uncertainty and shadow, with us in the watching and waiting.

Sometimes a pink candle is all it takes to make the children laugh, to remind us of the colours of dawn, to assure us that joy comes to us from another kingdom, and nothing on this groaning earth can take it away.

Joy is the laughter of God resounding from heaven to nature. It is the music of eternity reaching the ears of creation. It is His delight in us embracing our flesh and bone. It is the welcome of His presence right where we are, and the promise that He will never leave us nor forsake us. Joy is Emmanuel, God with us.

O come, o come Emmanuel...

Even now the lament begins to turn and spin toward joy. One more candle, one step closer. We can make out His face in the glow.

Rejoice! Rejoice!

~ lg

Saturday, 12 December 2015

The Slow Awakening

The clouds are blushing for the sun this morning in anticipation of his arrival: golden pinks and purple with a lavender secret, fresh scrubbed fleece and the far treed hillside on fire. It's a slow waking this December day. Muted greens and browns wait in the hush for the day to give them voice. A lone raven circles the riverbed, and he is first to greet the glowing king of the day.

A bird begins to sing outside the window. The little creature has my heart this morning, and I can't help but wonder, would the world change if we all stopped to watch the sun rise?

What if we stopped to watch the way a little boy runs headlong into his childish delights?

What if we stopped and held the sleepy girl a few more unnecessary minutes before moving on to matters of so-called import?

What if we stopped to breathe in the nuances of this morning's fresh air, and remembered to offer our thanks and praise?

What if we stopped and counted the colours of dawn, the heartbeats of a hug, and the notes of a songbird's hymn?

Perhaps this slowing would steady our tilted gait and ground us in the reality of our shared creation. Perhaps the light would heal our blinded eyes and reveal the hidden beauty. Perhaps the sun would cast his blush over our faces and kiss us awake to joy.


Wednesday, 9 December 2015

morning prayer :: 4

Awake my soul!
Time to rise to beauty, to light, to the sacred work of another day.

I recommit myself to the way of Christ.
To walk in His ways, to live in His love, to live out His love.

I submit myself to the work of the Spirit.
To His wind, His fire, His baptism, and His elemental transformation.

I commit my spirit to the will of the Father.
To reach for His hand, where I am held, recreated, and sent forth.

Awake my soul!
The glory of the Lord is rising.
Rejoice, for the day has dawned.


Monday, 7 December 2015

The Very Best Christmas Surprise

T'is the season for secrets, and this poem by George MacDonald got me thinking today about the very holiest of surprises.

"That Holy Thing"
They all were looking for a king
To slay their foes and lift them high:
Thou cam’st, a little baby thing
That made a woman cry.
O Son of Man, to right my lot
Naught but Thy presence can avail;
Yet on the road Thy wheels are not,
Nor on the sea Thy sail!
My how or when Thou wilt not heed,
But come down Thine own secret stair,
That Thou mayst answer all my need—
Yea, every bygone prayer.
* * *

To live in anticipation of a creaking stair, a door opening, a sudden appearance of a familiar face - this is the joy of a "secret stair." 

It was one of the things that attracted me to this old house when we bought it. A secondary staircase, leading from the old kitchen upstairs into what is now a bathroom. A narrow passageway accessed by a painted wooden door, tucked away in the corner. The stairs here are steeper, and there is no railing. This is not the grand ascension promised by our front hall staircase, with its pillars and swirling banister. This is not the guest's welcome. This is the hidden way for those accustomed to our home. We've always called it "the secret stairway." 

It can provide a quick escape to the upstairs rooms. It's a handy way to transport laundry. It is a perennial favourite in the children's games of hide-and-seek. And they delight to sneak down and surprise me in the dining room, throwing the door open to reveal their uncontainable laughter. 

It is this aspect of mystery, surprise, and intimacy that endears me to the crooked passage. It whispers of Irene's tower and Lucy's wardrobe, and I half expect to see a silver haired grandmother or prancing faun peeking down. 

So too does MacDonald's "secret stair" speak of the divine encounter. The way in is not always through the front door. Ladders from heaven drop unawares where only angels know the path. And sometimes we find that first step when we're not even looking, indeed, we may stumble over it in our haste. We look up from our stubbed toe and hear the whisper, "Come up here." And then there are times we are altogether astonished by laughter, because God has tumbled down into our dining room yelling, "Surprise!"

Oh, the doors are everywhere, and to live with such possibility is one of the sweetest delights of our sacred trust, and the opening to our hearts desire. 

Yes Lord, "come down Thine own secret stair." 


Sunday, 6 December 2015

"Advent Sunday" by Christina Rossetti

BEHOLD, the Bridegroom cometh: go ye out
With lighted lamps and garlands round about
To meet Him in a rapture with a shout.

It may be at the midnight, black as pitch,
Earth shall cast up her poor, cast up her rich.

It may be at the crowing of the cock
Earth shall upheave her depth, uproot her rock.

For lo, the Bridegroom fetcheth home the Bride:
His Hands are Hands she knows, she knows His Side.

Like pure Rebekah at the appointed place,
Veiled, she unveils her face to meet His Face.

Like great Queen Esther in her triumphing,
She triumphs in the Presence of her King.

His Eyes are as a Dove's, and she's Dove-eyed;
He knows His lovely mirror, sister, Bride.

He speaks with Dove-voice of exceeding love,
And she with love-voice of an answering Dove.

Behold, the Bridegroom cometh: go we out
With lamps ablaze and garlands round about
To meet Him in a rapture with a shout.

~ Christina Rossetti

Thursday, 3 December 2015

To the friend who's lost hope

My dear friend,

I've been where you are. Stumbling down a back road in the dark, trying to get away from myself and the mess I've become. Running from home, not because I wanted to leave, but because I didn't deserve to stay. I've cried up and down both sides of the pavement while the neighbour dogs barked, wondering how I ever came to be the person in these shoes.

And I've felt it. The clutching, gut-punching blast of hopelessness.

I've looked at the stars and known there is a God, and that maybe He even loves me, but He can't possibly change me. I used to believe He could. I pinned all my hopes and dreams on that belief when things got tough, when I faltered, and failed, and failed again.

But this time, the failure runs so deep and it's tainted everything, it has become me and I have become it. And sure, God is gracious and good, but when I look at myself I can't see how it's had any effect whatsoever. The problem's not Him. It's me.

I've lost faith. And I've trudged cold-hearted and shame-faced back home, only to stand in the yard and see the lighted windows and feel like a stranger.

And I've believed all the beautiful news can be true, but not for me. I've tried, and I'm still this sobbing wreck after all these years. This time, I can't go on. I can't go in.

And life goes on, and we keep going through the motions because there is nothing else. But we wonder how we'll ever walk in faith again. We cannot see past this dark night. We cannot see past ourselves.

My dear friend,

I am not so very far down the road, but I think I may just see the morning star. Don't get me wrong. I have not increased my capacity to create faith. But in the howling waste of hopelessness, there has been a humbling. I've been wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked, and I've known it.

And somehow I've been given the grace to hold on to the truth that God's goodness and grace are not dependent on how well I've performed with them. The promises have seemed so very far from me. And even now I don't know how and when they will get hold of me and bring about the change I so desperately need.

But even faith to believe in the far off is a gift. And maybe there are days I don't have it at all. But I know it comes from God the Faithful. All I can do is ask. All I can do is seek. All I can do is knock on that door. And wait. Wait for the sky to break and the sun to warm me.

There have been no magic words, no perfect days, no overnight miracles. There have simply been more days with the possibility of mercy slipping in the back door.

My dear friend, you are not alone.

And I will hold your hand when the sleepless dark seems like all there is. And I will sing of the morning star when it dawns. And we will wait for faith and hope to come, together. There is still a welcome, because He who calls us is Faithful.


Wednesday, 2 December 2015

The Grace of the Weighty Word

I am startled by the Scripture readings for December 1st and 2nd in Common Prayer.* Isaiah 1:1-20. A hard word, a weighty word, heavy with the justice of God.

Here is a broken Father, crushed by the inconsolable affliction of His rebellious children. Here is the Father weeping over the burned city.

And yet these tattered lepers insist on parading their so-called sacrifices through the courts, keeping up the charade of a glittering festival.

"Your whole head is injured,
your whole heart afflicted."

Stop the insanity!

"From the sole of your foot to the top of your head 
there is no soundness."

No soundness. Only noise.
No wholeness. Only fractures.
No peace, no shalom. Only the dizzying dance of hypocrisy even as the enemy draws closer.

Righteousness is under siege, and yet the parties and platitudes continue. The fatherless and widow cry out, but who has ears to hear?

Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble. tremble.

For who can stand against such an injunction? And who am I in the holiday parade?

And yet the word of justice contains a word of mercy. (Blessed be the faithfulness of God.) Here is a diagnosis, and that is grace to the gaping wounded. Here is the naked, ugly truth, and therein lies salvation.

I have known this word. I have sat in complete judgment, rightly accused by the righteous law, the weight of each commandment broken piled on me in succession. And oh, it was hard to bear. I would not have believed in the grace of such judgment had I not known His face. Truth makes free, but only in the ears of the humbled.

"Come now, let us reason together,"
says the LORD.
"Though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be white as snow;
though they are like crimson,
they shall be like wool.
If you are willing and obedient,
you will eat the best from the land;
but if you resist and rebel,
you will be devoured by the sword."
     For the mouth of the LORD has spoken. 

If I had not already known His kiss, I could not have received His rebuke.

And yes, every word of rebuke also breathes healing, if we come close enough to be washed in His tears. His face is turned to us, even in rebuke.

This is mercy - that He speaks at all.

This is favour - that He rips off our crumbling facades and exposes our aching bones.

This is love - that His word became flesh and bone to bear our sin, to stare us down and call our names, and to restore the ears our own swords have devoured. He does not turn away. He does not forsake.

This is love - do not miss it! This is the Word who will heal.

This is the Word of peace for the trembling.

"Come now." 

So I pray, in this season, for ears to hear,
for ears to receive the Word,
no matter how He speaks.

* Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals by Shaine Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and Enuma Okoro


BCP: Advent Prayer 1

The Collect for the First Sunday in Advent, from the Book of Common Prayer

ALMIGHTY God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which they Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious Majesty, to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, now and ever. Amen.


Monday, 30 November 2015

Elizabeth: The Other Woman in the Christmas Story

Today, you can find me writing over at Testimony Magazine:

Elizabeth: The Other Woman in the Christmas Story

"She shares my middle name, but not much else. She was born into a family of priests and was the wife of one. Most of her life’s years were behind her, though she had no child to take care of her and her aging husband Zechariah. The first thing we know after being introduced to her is that she is righteous in the sight of God, a blameless keeper of all the commands and requirements of the Lord. So we know it wasn’t her sin that kept her barren, though that’s what most of the market women said.
What a shock to have your husband come home from work unable to speak, and then a few weeks later to realize that the impossible had happened—pregnancy! But Elizabeth did not question, as Zechariah had, paying for his doubt with nine months of silence. And she did not laugh, as Sarah had, hiding behind the tent folds. She simply knew he had seen a vision there in the temple. Something, or Someone, had appeared in the clouds of incense, and now there was life bulging within her. Of course she could not help but think of the women of the Torah and the Writings, women whose empty disgrace had been removed by a miracle. But there were few miracles from God in these days. What could be the occasion of such favour?
For five months she kept her pregnancy secret. They were quiet months, anticipating months. Then in her sixth month, when she could no longer hide the life within, she had a visitor."


Sunday, 29 November 2015

Advent 1: Hope Is Enough

Hope says,

It’s ok if you’re tired. If your kitchen is a mess. If you gave all you had and it wasn’t enough. If your plans fell apart. If your kid is having a meltdown. If you’re the one having a meltdown.

Hope asks nothing but a small crack in your heart to be left open, just enough for one candle to peek through.

Hope doesn’t need your best, or your bravest.  Hope shines at rock bottom, and in what’s broken.

Hope is not a general wish for something better. Hope is a candle lit by a promise, held by an everlasting arm. And hope springs eternal because its essence cannot be snuffed by winds of temporality, no matter how they huff.

Hope is a light that illuminates the face of Jesus. And he whispers, “It’s ok. This day, hope is enough.” 


Thursday, 26 November 2015

Abraham's Advent - Sneak Peek!

Just for you . . . a sneak peek of Abraham's Advent!

Advent begins this Sunday! 
To continue the journey with Abraham, purchase the full ebook here for $3.99.
Your purchase will help Preemptive Love spread comfort and joy this season.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

The Fear of Longing

We have been walking this road a long time, and have seen a thing or two, oh yes. We weren't born yesterday. We have been through too many reality checkpoints. Hope can be a dangerous thing in this day and age. We manage just fine without it, feet on solid ground.

And so we have come to a smiling, sterile place where we are afraid to long.

Afraid to long?

Yes, that is it. It's not worth the taste of disappointment.

For that has been the result of my thirst. A mouth full of sawdust. So I have learned to take the hunger pangs and paralyze them like so many moths in a spider's web. I have made a web to catch the longing before it takes wing.

Afraid to long?

Yes. I fear where the longing may lead. Out on a limb and into the dark where I have no map. What if it leads to a place where there is no choice but metamorphosis because the ground beneath my feet is no more?

Afraid to long?

Yes, because my discontent may mark me as a stranger. What if my comforts no longer soothe? What if my qualifications no longer serve? What if my riches are no longer palatable? What if my cultural cocoon is no longer habitable? Oh then, I may have to search for another kingdom.

But here's the thing - when the emptiness of a life without longing confronts me in unexpected moments, the despair is too great. I know it will crush me.

Beauty calls, and it is like thunder. A change is coming on the wind.

If you feel hope calling, why not consider a little journey to Bethlehem? 
Abraham's Advent is a four week Advent devotional which follows the footsteps of one who knew what it was like to be a stranger in a strange land. Your copy is available here. 


afternoon prayer :: recalibrate

It's midafternoon.

I pause, savour the smell of chicken roasting and the peaceful (for now) sound of children playing imaginary games. There are still crumbs to sweep and bathrooms to clean, and life never really stops. That's why I need to.

Sometimes prayer is simply standing still. Standing still while the do-lists keep screaming from where they are buried under coffee cups and kids crafts and acknowledging I can't make it all happen. I can't control it all.

But the worth of this day doesn't rest on such things, and my worth is not made by wrestling these 24 hours into a Pinterest-worthy picture.

There's one image I really need to see when I'm in the thick of it. It's the one thing that does not move with the ticking of the clock and the checking of the boxes. It is always there, at the center of it all, and I can find it when I simply stand still. No, life never stops, but it actually revolves around Him, and when I am close I can feel it. Gravity.

His gravity gathers me in, along with the fragments of my day. There in the stillness I am renewed. I am re-calibrated.

The day is about to go on, and I with it, but the gravity remains, and it helps me let go of what I can't control and keeps me from flying off the handle. I remember He makes the day and I will rejoice and be glad in it.


And the winner is . . .

Jody Ward! 

Congratulations Jody, you have won a copy of Preemptive Love: Pursuing Peace One Heart at a Time! (An email is on its way to you.) 

Thank you so much to all who entered and were interested in finding out more about Preemptive Love. (The winner was randomly chosen.) If you are curious as to what this organization is all about, head over to their website and get an overview. The book is also available there with your donation!

Proceeds of my ebook Abraham's Advent are going to this heart-changing organization in Iraq. Thank you for partnering with peace this Advent. 


Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Don't Wait for January 1st: Begin Again Right Where You Are

{This is the second post in a series of what Advent is all about. Read Part 1 here.}

Advent is actually the Christian “new year.” It is the beginning, and a rather strange one at that.

It begins without fanfare, fireworks and flash. And we begin again, not when the spring bursts into new life, or even when the light returns. We begin again, even as the days are darkening. We begin again, when ice is settling over the world.

We begin with a longing.

A longing for the celebration of Christmas, the coming of the Saviour incarnate, and so many hopes fulfilled and feasted.

A longing for the day our Saviour returns, and a longing made all the stronger for the dangers, toils and snares we are now enduring.

We begin with tension.

The tension of a Christ who has come, and a Christ who will come, a kingdom in seed form waiting full flowering. 

The tension of ordinary life and all the things we cannot control, all the while acknowledging there is One who holds all things together by “one little word.”

We begin with hunger.

The hunger for beauteous light to break, for life to come, for the warmth of a God-kindled fire.

The hunger that takes patience as a journey-mate and trusts in One who is beyond time.

Traditionally, Advent was often a time of fasting. Not a revolving door of pre-Christmas parties, but a time to abstain in order to locate and live with the hunger so necessary to our right position before our Creator.


Why begin here of all places in the life of Christ (for that is what the liturgical calendar revolves around each year, that is what gives it its shape), and why begin now of all seasons?

There is an ancient wisdom to this.

How do we begin again? How do we contemplate a new year? How do we truly gain a fresh start, with fresh vision?

By putting ourselves in a place of longing, tension, and hunger. By recognizing our deep and abiding need for God. By acknowledging that we can never shape the coming year in the strength of our own resolutions, but that we must first allow the true shape of our darkness and need to emerge. Only then will we welcome the true Light when it comes. Only then will our souls weep for relief and joy at his appearing. We cannot begin without Him. And we cannot have Him unless we have known the want of Him.

This wisdom gives us a humble beginning.

This wisdom whispers – Make yourself small. Make your need known. Make space for searching.

And the promise of Advent? He will find you.

We begin with the promise that there can always be a new beginning, even when darkness is on the rise. Even when we can’t yet see the full light of day. Even without parties, even without “happy.” You don’t need a “happy” to have a new year.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, joy will come, unspeakable and full of glory.

But in the waiting? Yes, begin here. 
In the dull of winter gloom? Yes, begin here. 
In the hurting hunger? Yes, begin here.

For the promise of Advent is no empty sentiment. He is coming, and when, yes when He does, you will flat out run, and His embrace will be just the shape of all your expectations and the sweetest filling of all that was empty.

So don’t be afraid, though the days may yet be darkening. Your beginning is now.

If you would like to walk through this Advent with one who was no stranger to longing, might I suggest the Advent devotional Abraham's Advent: A Stranger's Journey to Bethlehem and Beyond? It is my hope that this little book will help keep things in focus in the weeks leading up to Christmas. 


Monday, 23 November 2015

How to Really Focus this Advent

Are things getting blurry out there yet? Ever want to close your eyes and just make it all go away?

Advent is a beginning. Right in the middle of the hustle and bustle, it offers an invitation to see the world afresh. It’s the beginning of the year, according to the Church’s calendar. Though connected to Christmas, it has its own focus as a season.

{The season of Advent lasts approximately four weeks, beginning the fourth Sunday before Christmas and continuing until Christmas Eve and the celebration of Christmas. The Church calendar, or liturgical year, is a way to pattern our days and months according to the greatest revelation of God to humanity – the life and death of Jesus Christ. Personally I love to live within its rhythm, which shapes my year according to major events of Scripture and not only cultural celebrations.}

And don’t we all need a little perspective this time of year? Advent offers us just that opportunity.

Historically, Advent has a double focus. The word itself means “coming.” The first focus of Advent is the coming of Christ two thousand years ago. Rather than jump right into feasting, many Advent observers have actually used it as a time of fasting. With so many holiday goodies around, why would anyone want to deny themselves the pleasure of treats? The intent behind fasting is to prepare your heart to fully receive the joy of Christmas. It is to taste the hunger and hope of humanity as they waited for the Messiah to appear. It is to insert oneself back in time, to relive the stories of the Old Testament, to wait right along with those who faith kept them looking ahead to the fulfillment of God’s promises. It is to join our voices with countless others and sing, “O come, o come, Emmanuel.” You don't have to fast to do that. But you can readjust your focus and purpose to live awhile with the ancient longing. 

It is this focus which makes the celebration of Christmas all the sweeter when it arrives. It is this focus that allows us to keep the heart of Christmas in central view. It is this focus which reminds us that the Incarnation really has changed everything.

The second focus of Advent might seem a bit strange at first glance. But this is also the time of year when the Church has looked ahead to the second coming of Christ. There are promises yet to be fulfilled. There are hopes yet to be realized. There are circumstances all around which make us cry out for salvation’s completion. We are not so different from those Old Testament saints, after all. The earth groans for redemption, and our heavy hearts groan along with it, whispering, “Come, Lord Jesus.” And yet our whispers are not without comfort and joy. For the same God who stooped to take on our flesh will one day come to reign over all. He will put things to right. He will put us to right. This is the promise we now hold, along with a reassurance from our Saviour that brings light to dark days – “Fear not!”

It is this focus that reminds us we are still pilgrims on a journey. It is this focus which lifts our heads in hope in times of fear and doubt. It is this focus which allows us to see there is more to come, and that Christmas may be a beautiful word, but it is not the last word.

Advent says to us, “You want to see clearly? Begin here. Begin by looking doubly at Christ.”

Have you ever done that experiment where you close one eye and try to complete a task that requires depth perception? We did this in high school. With one eye closed, we had to extend our arm and try to drop a nail (I think it was a nail? Why was it a nail?) into a small styrofoam cup. Without the benefit of both eyes open, we lost what is called “stereoscopic vision.” We had no depth perception. For most of us, the nail went clanging to the floor.

Perhaps more than ever, we need spiritual stereoscopic vision.

When we look doubly at Jesus, we place ourselves right where we ought to be – in the reality between the Incarnation and the Glorious Appearing. We are people who must live between these great poles of history, held up between fulfillment and expectation, in the necessary tension of a kingdom that is both “already” and “not yet.”

We begin by reminding ourselves not only of the origins of our faith in a humble manger, but by reminding ourselves of the end. Not the end of all things, but of this broken world as we know it. We know Jesus Christ will once again reappear and redefine our entire reality. We begin with the knowledge that our Future in Christ is drawing us on, calling us to be conformed to an image that is eternal.

It is only by looking at both “comings” do we see Christ clearly. It is only with both eyes wide open that we gain the perspective needed to walk ahead into a new season, and a new year. This is how we can aim for what is good and not have it all come crashing to the floor. 

This is the vision Advent has to offer. 

If you would like to walk through this Advent with one of the ancients, might I suggest the Advent devotional Abraham's Advent: A Stranger's Journey to Bethlehem and Beyond? It is my hope that this little book will help keep things in focus in the weeks leading up to Christmas. 


Sunday, 22 November 2015

An Advent Invitation

You are invited…

To: A journey of hope, wonder and promise

When: November 29 - December 28, 2015

Where: A Bethlehem campfire

Host: A stranger and sojourner

Bring: Hopes, longings, questions, and whatever faith you can muster

RSVP with your copy of the devotional 


Thursday, 19 November 2015

Knotty prayer: a prayer to anchor the day

Oh my soul - deep breaths. The day wants to sweep you away, but you don't have to be tossed. It's time to anchor.

It's time to go deep in the underlay of what is holding you together. Stop and sink into another reality, where time is not a parade of minutes passing you by, but an opportunity, a "fitting moment" - a moment to be fitted into the shape of Christ, to be knotted into the fabric of His being. A moment, however short, to be with Him and to be His.

Pause. Go deep. Make a knot. 

Anchor yourself to His living word, His sustaining breath. Anchor yourself to His truth, beauty and goodness. Anchor yourself to His will and good pleasure. Anchor yourself to His delight.

Draw the threads close and rest in this sacred knot.

And when you emerge, you will feel the tug. You will not be lost, but founded. You will not be tossed, but held fast.

Oh my soul - you will be steadfast.


Anchoring myself in this Word today:

The law of the LORD is perfect,
reviving the soul.
The statues of the LORD are trustworthy, 
making wise the simple.
The precepts of the LORD are right,
giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the LORD are radiant,
giving light to the eyes.
The fear of the LORD is pure,
enduring forever.
The ordinances of the LORD are sure
and altogether righteous.
They are more precious than gold,
than much pure gold;
they are sweeter than honey,
than honey from the comb.
By keeping them is your servant warned;
in keeping them is great reward.

Psalm 19:7-11


Wednesday, 18 November 2015

A Giveaway! "Preemptive Love" by Jeremy Courtney

A fundraiser for Preemptive Love Coalition!
Find out more about this project here

So I've been following Preemptive Love for a little while now. (In case you haven't heard, proceeds from my new ebook are going to this awesome bunch of people.) I've familiarized myself with much of what they do through their website and blog. But the founder, Jeremy Courtney, has also written a bestselling book of how the organization came to be.

Preemptive Love: Pursuing Peace One Heart at a Time
By Jeremy Courtney

From the back cover:

"From the front line of the struggle for peace, Jeremy writes a firsthand account of lifesaving and peacemaking in the world's most notorious war-torn country. In the heart of conflict, there is only one kind of love big enough to change a nation: a love that strikes first."

I must confess, I haven't finished it yet, but I'm totally engrossed. Drama, terror, hope and love, it's all there. It's a story worth reading, and a book worth sharing. 

That's why I'm going to give away one copy of Preemptive Love to one of the blog readers! 

If you win, I will ship the book to you, anywhere in Canada or the US. There are 3 ways to enter. Choose one, or choose them all to up your chances. :) You can enter by: 

1. Heading over to The Red Letters Blog on Facebook! While you're there, why not give us a "Like" or spread the word about the Abraham's Advent ebook?
2. Tweeting about the giveaway!
3. Leaving a comment on the blog!

The giveaway is NOW CLOSED.


Abraham's Advent: How It All Began

In case you're wondering what this Abraham's Advent ebook and fundraiser is all about. . . 

I remember when the ISIS crisis came to the forefront of media attention last August with the situation on Mount Sinjar. I felt crushed, helpless, and yet somehow responsibleI wrote about this feeling on my blog, and it seemed to resonate with many. The question remained - what could we do?

I cried, and prayed, and gave a few dollars, all we could manage at the time, to reputable charities helping out with emergency aid. And then in April, I cried again while reading Ann Voskamp’s blog. I clicked through the links at the end of her post, “Love in the Time of ISIS,” and that’s when I found Preemptive Love. The heart of Iraq called my name, and I knew, here was something

My husband and I made a donation. I asked for a Preemptive Love t-shirt for my birthday. And since then I’ve been following what they’ve been up to, loving and sharing the difference they’ve been making in the Middle East.

Preemptive Love provides heart surgery for hundreds of desperate Iraqi children. They provide emergency aid to those fleeing violence. They also help ISIS survivors return to their homes and rebuild their lives. They are love's "boots on the ground" in some of the darkest and most dangerous places in the Middle East. 

I’ve wanted to do more. I saw people fundraising on their own, many selling their own crafts and artwork. Well, I am not a crafty person, but I do love to craft words. And then an idea began to form for my own fundraiser. That's where Abrahams' Advent comes in. 

Abraham's Advent is a devotional that was birthed several years ago. It came out of a time when I was a new wife in a new town, studying the life of Abraham. There was something about the narrative that sucked me in. I felt like I was following in his footsteps, and as I walked with him through the pages of Scripture, the story came alive. I could smell the dust. I could feel the heat. My heart beat right along with his in moments of both elation and fear. I lived the promises with him. Christmas was coming, my first Christmas away from family. I was fairly new to the whole concept of Advent. Somehow, in a way I can't even remember now, I lived through that Advent with Abraham. I hoped along with him, each day jotting down thoughts and questions. And then I imagined what it would be like if past, present and future converged in Bethlehem on that oh so holy night. Somehow it all came together and formed itself. 

Over the years I shared it with friends and family and a few in our church. I wrote it for me, but Abraham seemed to resonate with some of them too. And then at the end of this summer, as my sister-in-law Megan and I were talking during one of her visits, the idea hit. Why not turn Abraham's Advent into an ebook, and use it as as a fundraiser for Preemptive Love? Yes! Here was a small something I could do.

I got in touch with a graphic designer friend of mine, Kathy Jimenez, and she generously donated some of her skills to the project. With her help (and my husband's!) it is now a beautiful ebook, with proceeds going toward Preemptive Love. This is my offering.

I still cry sometimes. When I think about Iraq, about where Syrian children sleep, about Paris, about this whole hurting world. But there is hope, thanks in large part to the work organizations like Preemptive Love is doing. I believe there is always hope in Jesus, and through the people who dare to be His hands and feet in some of the riskiest places

So this Advent, consider spreading some "preemptive love."Consider sharing in this peacemaking movement. Consider taking a walk with Abraham, himself a stranger in a foreign land, and learn what it means to live within the hope and promise of God. Prepare your heart to welcome Jesus.

Abrahams' Advent: A Stranger's Journey to Bethlehem and Beyond is available now for $3.99 (CDN). Click here to purchase and download in either EPUB or PDF format. 

Living in hope,

~ Lindsey

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Midnight prayer: Where do Syrian children sleep?

Oh God,

Where do Syrian children sleep? Only you know each troubled bed. Mine are safe under quilts and treasured blankies, wrapped in the security of home. Mine are sleeping deeply, even as I wrestle with the midnight thoughts and images I can't escape.

Don't let me escape them.
Don't let me forget them.

The world is a broken puzzle, with too many pieces missing. Blown to bits.

What do I do? What do we do?

I don't know the answers to the questions in their eyes, the cries in their sleep, the fear in their forms.

But I do know this...

Jesus, you were a child refugee, fleeing the evil of hell's forces loosed. Where did you sleep, on the run to Egypt? Did you know the terror that sped your parents' steps day after night after day? Would I have recognized you if you slept on my doorstep?

Jesus, you spoke of loving our enemies, and if ever we really needed to figure out what on this blasted earth you meant, now is the time. I do know love means risk. Love means the almost sure possibility of having to utter those heavy words, "Father, forgive them."

Jesus, you knew the bloodiest torture of your time. You know the nightmares they relive. You weep over their crumbled cities. You weep over those who reject your way, and send these children into the cold night. You weep over hearts harder than the trampled ground. You weep for each child who has lost a home, each home that has lost a child.

Jesus, you pronounced blessing on the peacemakers. How can anyone make peace with trembling hands, and when the recipe seems forgotten? Yet you spit into the dust and made a balm for healing. You give eyes to see. You took a severed ear and restored it to your enemy. You give ears to hear. You took everything hell had to throw at you, and you made salvation.

I am no miracle worker.

But I know the only way to take any step, to make any peace, to break any curse, is to stay close to you. To embrace you as the child, alone and frightened. To look into their eyes and pray, and really mean it - give me eyes to see. Give me ears to hear. Don't let me escape them. 

My children stir. They murmur and roll over. I will tiptoe close and tuck the covers around them, murmuring my own prayers of gratitude and blessing. And as I place my hands on them, I will pray for the others.

Yes, prayer may only be a beginning. But as we go forward, we can never leave it behind. For it is in prayer that we step close to Jesus and let him cross our borders.

Come, Lord Jesus.

{One small step I am taking - Please consider purchasing a copy of my Advent devotional, Abraham's Advent. Proceeds from the ebook will go to Preemptive Love Coalition, an organization that is making peace and healing hearts in Iraq and the Middle East.}


Monday, 16 November 2015

It's here!!

Abraham's Advent: A Stranger's Journey to Bethlehem and Beyond is now available as an ebook!

CLICK HERE to read more about this project and get your copy!

Thursday, 12 November 2015

The east window: how we begin

Enough! Too long! Child get the cloth! Quick to the east window, and wipe down the glass!

Enough! Enough dust and smudges and squashed fly remains, enough squinting through streaks to see the sun rise.

Wipe it all, inside and out. Let not this day's light be filtered by yesterday's dirt. A clear vision, a clean view - this is how we begin. Not a moment to lose, the day is almost crowning. Scrub and shine, right to every corner and across the sill. A final flourish of the cloth - now look.

Here is morning, and the world wiped new. Step back, the sun is here, and you shall see again.


Friday, 30 October 2015

Junco: a prayer for ears to hear

This morning, my ears feel numb. Dulled somehow to the wonder of the world, or the whispers of its Creator.

I clear a space in the muddled, meddling clutter, clear the view so I can see the sun shining on the sibling pear trees in the yard. I open the window, just a few inches, for it is nearly November.

The world breathes in. There is an underlying hum of the wind, conducting "Autumn" better than Vivaldi, and turning a wild dance with a golden, glittering poplar. A lone crow, a chickadee duet, the low clucking of ranging chickens - winged creatures speak over the wind's hustle.

The Manitoba Maple has been shaken bare of leaves. The brave skeleton stands firm, twisted arms stretching, protecting this house from the nor'east winds.

I have been one to speak with the wind. But I am tired, and cannot distinguish its tones. A junco hops by on a maple branch. It is in the know. This I can tell by its bright eyes, and the way its feathers turn to meet the wind. It doesn't stay long. It must follow the song.

I put my face close to the opening between my world and another. I breathe in. I pray. I ask to be shaken, like the poplar. I ask to be brave, like the maple. I ask to be merry, like the chickadees. I ask to be unbound, like the crow. But most of all, I ask for the junco's ears.

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