Saturday, 31 January 2015

Stories of Hope: Judy Gillis

This is the first in a series of "Stories of Hope," in which ordinary people share how hope makes them live differently. To read the introduction, click here. If you have a story of hope you'd like to share, why not send me a message?

Judy Gillis is someone I am honoured to call friend, someone who has been into the valley of the shadow of death and has come out the other side somehow radiant. If you've ever dealt with deep loss, her story will resonate. You'll find out what hope looks like to her. Thanks for sharing, Judy! 

Today, I saw someone I hadn’t seen in quite a few months. As we were catching up, we got to talking about the car accident, the one that instantly took our youngest daughter’s life back in October 2013, the one that turned all of our lives upside down. My friend had seen the notice in the paper and wanted to know a few details. I'm okay talking about it... now. 

Of course, whenever I talk about it, I still have to kind of separate myself from the fact that I’m talking about my baby girl. She was 21 … far from home, living in her car, trying to make  her way in the world, and trying to find a place to live. She was so tired; she fell asleep at the wheel … and losing her was harder than any one event I’ve ever had to go through. And yes, there are times – many times – I long to feel her arms around me, to hear her laughter or to see some of the zany facial expressions she used to come out with.

But … so many amazing things have happened that we could never have predicted – so many people have been touched and helped by her story that there is a part of me that understands (in some small way) some of why God welcomed a homeless girl into the best home she could possibly imagine!

I often thank God that He reached down into her heart and showed her that He is real, that she embraced Him only a little over a month before she died. We were able to share wonderful things with each other in those last 35 days. She still had a lot of rough edges (but then again, so do I. So does everyone.) Her conversion – her “white light” experience as I sometimes call it - has given me such comfort. Knowing that right now she is happier than she ever could have been here, and that I will see her again, helps me get through the tough times when I see someone who looks like her, or I hear a song she used to sing off-key on purpose just to make me laugh. The tears spring to my eyes … and that’s okay. It’s okay to miss her. It’s okay.

I get to tell her story often, and in the telling, I heal a bit more because her story reminds me that no life ever goes unnoticed. Every person has great worth. God is still in control, even when it seems like life is crazy and the pain is so great and so senseless. The very areas in which I have been wounded - those self-same hurts, that grief, those tears – God takes those and turns them around for good … so that when someone else is going through a hard place, I can empathize and come alongside that person with assurance that “He’s GOT this.” It’s not just words. It’s real. He is really there.

That’s really what hope is. It’s not the “I hope I win the lottery” kind of hope. It’s a knowing, a settled feeling, a sense that all is well. It’s a deep-seated assurance, based on a personal and vital experience with God. She had that. She had such a child-like faith, a calm assurance that everything was going to be all right – and I believe that if she wanted to leave a legacy behind, it would be that “I-know-so because He-said-so” kind of rock-solid confidence. That’s the kind of hope that is an anchor for the soul. He gives that.

So many times, I hear people say to me that God took our little girl (for one reason or another, maybe He needed another angel … or whatever the case may be). My hope, my trust in Him is not based on some arbitrary version of a God who would “take” someone, who would rob a parent of a beloved child. It might be seen as a matter of semantics, but I believe that God didn’t “take” her; He knew she was coming and He welcomed her home.

More than ever I believe that He is love. More than ever before, I believe that He is in control, that He works all things – even the seemingly horrible ones – together so that we can be more like Him (which is the best good there is!) I’ve seen Him do way too much in too many people’s lives (including my own) to believe otherwise.

Like today – my friend heard me talk about the accident, how the peaceful and tangible presence of God was in that car that night, and she felt what she described as “goosebumps” all the way down to her feet. I was able to give her my blog address on one of her appointment cards, and tell her how to find the posts I linked to, above, so that she could find out more about the few weeks prior to the accident. She thanked me and put the card in her pocket after writing my name on it beside the blog address.

This kind of thing happens quite a bit. God opens doors for me to share how amazing He is, and I just walk through them. And I am so very glad He does it.

You can read more about Judy's journey at her blogs Get Unwrapped and Iconoclastic


Friday, 30 January 2015

Sharing Stories of Hope

"One who has hope lives differently." (Pope Benedict XVI)


It's been a red letter word for me. When God first spoke it to my soul over a year ago, it was whispered into a place of disappointment.

I took heart. I took it as a promise that things would change. And they did, but not in the way I first expected. In fact, those circumstances remain unaltered. Yet God's word still stands. Because of that, I've been holding on to hope. I've been listening for it other ways. I've been looking for it in unexpected places. I've been noticing how "one who has hope lives differently."

The world around me abounds in hopeless, or, at the very least, hope-shrunk, situations. But hope is a watchword for our time, a banner unfurled, streaming down the mountainside with beautiful news.

The more I look, the more I see it. People who have every right to be discouraged, disappointed and downtrodden, yet continue to live with this buoyant hope. They live differently. This is good news worth sharing, and I'd like to share some of their stories with you.

Tomorrow I will introduce my first guest blogger in a series of "Stories of Hope." She is someone I am honoured to call friend, someone who has been into the valley of the shadow of death and has come out the other side somehow radiant. If you've ever dealt with deep loss, her story will resonate. You'll find out what hope looks like to her.

If you have a story of hope to share, why not send me a message? Maybe you'd like to add your own red letters to the blog series.

"Hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given us." (Romans 5:5) 


Monday, 19 January 2015

Confessions of the Real Prodigal


Could it be that you come with a tender word, even for the likes of me, long steeped in the economy of law and merits of righteousness?

How many times have I stood out on the back step, all too aware of my failings, waiting for my "time out" to be over, when all the time you are waiting for me inside?

How many times have I stared at my own stumbling feet, fearing your furrowed brow of disapproval, when I could have looked straight into your eyes and seen mercy reflected?

How many times have I tried to earn my way, prove my worth, and pass the test? You gave me a playground, and I made an obstacle course. You gave me grace and I rationed it so I would have enough for the next mistake. You gave me a home and I tried my best to be the perfect housekeeper.

But, oh, I don't have enough rugs to sweep the crumbs under, and I live like Cinderella in the ashes when you are kneeling before me with a basin to wash my feet. Why is it so hard to put down the broom, the score card, the record of my wrongs?

You give love, and I need empty hands to receive it. If it were a wage to earn, I'd work myself into the grave, but it's an inheritance that's given on the basis of a family name.

And here you call me little child.

You have every right to scold and berate and throw in my middle name for effect, so I know you mean business. But it's not business at all, and the only transaction in this whole equation is the one and only life you gave for me so you could give me your name forever.

"All I have is yours," you say.

No rationing, no interest fees, no conditions.

Pure gift, pure love, pure family.

So I can truly let go of my tarnished earnings and take your hand, come into the house where I will always have a home, be still and know you are Father.

(Luke 15:11-32)


Wednesday, 14 January 2015

When the Snow Crunches

At minus twenty, the sound of snow beneath my boots changes – it's the sound of my childhood.

When the snow crunches, winter has settled in, and no use fighting it. Its tune is infinitely more joyful than the slushy shuffle-step of warmer days. It is the sound of Dad splitting chunks of spruce and pine on the big chopping block, of chickadees seed-diving and scolding the squirrels, of a cardboard Polar Express racing through the backyard after dark. It is the sound of my fingernail scratching peepholes in the frost of my bedroom window, and the breathless hush of northern lights over the Slave River. It is a single sigh – the beauty of resignation.

When the snow crunches, we have an understanding, winter and I. Our friendship goes a long way back, to the dimmest of infant remembrance – me and my red parka tumbling off the toboggan in the shadow of Bear Rock. It embraced me from the start, and I had no reason to let go. There is freedom in bringing out the long johns and Sorels, which is the only real way to dance with the season. For after resignation comes delight. When the snow crunches my toes still tingle with the frostbite of our more intimate moments.

At minus twenty, the sound echoes in some deeper soul chamber, formed by a reality that chose me before memory, and shaped me like fast water flowing under the ice. No use fighting winter when the snow crunches. 


Monday, 5 January 2015

Relational Homemaking

This was a post I wrote back in June 2012 over at Little Hearth & Homestead. This is where the rubber of deep theology hits the road of daily life. 


I have the choice –
Is it a series of chores, or a sacred career?
Am I biding my time, or building the kingdom?

I need some kind of framework on which to hang the fingerpainting of my days.
I need a vision that puts the mundane into perspective.
I need the why behind the what.

At the end of the day, my home is a gift from God, and I am its steward. It is not an end in itself, and I am not the Master. I am a servant, and all we have belongs to the King.
My home is the environment and atmosphere in which my family grows, and so its design is crucial to the direction of our growth – toward or away from God, into or out of love.
Here the physical should mirror the spiritual. This is a place where what is most important should be most visible.

And I have decided that my goals as a homemaker are inextricably connected to my relationships. All my homemaking efforts should be directed toward four main relationships, which are also gifts from God.

It is what I call Relational Homemaking.

How does our home nurture my and my family’s relationship with God?
How does our home reflect the unconditional nature of God’s love?
How does the shape of our home form us into the shape of Christ?
How does our home point us to seek God’s kingdom first?

How does our home contribute to love and unity in our marriage? 
How does our home make room for intimacy?
How does our home bring us together in mutual activities and a shared vision?
How does our home promote co-labour as co-heirs of the grace of life?

How does our home encourage my children to know and follow God?
How does our home provide opportunities for loving nurture?
How does our home provide order and wonder for my children?
How does our home facilitate in the training of my children?

How does our home enable me to offer hospitality to others?
How does our home provide peace to others?
How does our home foster deep friendships?
How does our home point people to Christ?


Friday, 2 January 2015

Book List 2014

I feel quite sure I've left something out! But here is what I remembered to record:

Les Miserables (Victor Hugo) – On last year’s list, but I think it should count for 2014 too!
The Snow Queen (Hans Christian Andersen) - The original "Frozen" 
Anything (Jennie Allen)
The Birth House (Ami McKay) - Library book club
The Sisters Brothers (Patrick deWitt) - Library book club favourite 
Water For Elephants (Sara Gruen) - Library book club
Too Busy Not To Pray (Bill Hybels)
Anne’s House of Dreams (L.M. Montgomery) - Perennial favourite
Capital (John Lanchester)
Follow Me (David Platt)
Meditative Prayer (Richard Peace)
Toilet Training in Less Than A Day (Nathan H. Azrin & Richard M. Foxx) - truly life changing, ha! 
The Hobbit (J.R.R. Tolkien) - Re-immersion in Middle Earth 
Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview and Cultural Formation (James K. A. Smith) - excellent
The Mystery of Marriage (Mike Mason) - Highly recommended
Dared to Believe (Andrew Barron & Lindsey Gallant) - Revisiting what I wrote 7 years ago!
Rilla of Ingleside (L.M. Montgomery) - I cried this time
The Midwife (Jennifer Worth) - The real story behind the Call the Midwife series
Shadows of the Workhouse (Jennifer Worth)
Documents of Christian Worship (James F. White)

What's the best book you read in 2014? Any suggestions for must reads in 2015?


Prayer for a New Year

Let us walk over the threshold of this day with new hope.
Let us leave behind the shadows of a dying year, and journey in the light.
Let us press on to what lies ahead, and to the One whose hold will carry us through. 
Let us rise each day to the dawn of His countenance. 

"The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace." (Numbers 6:24-26)

Happy 2015!

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