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In which the Kingdom of God is also a small family leading worship

 

Every Sunday, during Advent, one family gets up at the beginning of the church service to read the devotional, text, and prayer. This Sunday’s candle was Love, and it was our turn. So I carefully dressed Evelynn in her older sister’s hand-me-down Christmas dress, but the older two couldn’t be bothered: fashionista Anne wanted to wear harem pants and a lotus dress, pragmatic Joseph preferred his red hockey t-shirt.

Initially, I handed Brian the full reading and text we were given without thought. Probably I would stand, beatifically, madonna-like, no doubt, surrounded by my children, behind him, supportive.

This up-front-stuff is the part of worship that The Daddy does, I defaulted, without thinking, slipping into my old pastor-wife groove. It was my husband who said, “No, this is Advent, and it’s church, and we’re a family: we’re all in this. Together.” (Usually, he’s the one reminding me that those old ways don’t fit a Jesus-shaped life, not anymore.)

.Of course, Anne was thrilled. There is no timidity or fear in her, she dances through church. One day, a friend of mine came over to me, with tears in her eyes, and said, “I know it might be odd but I need to tell that I think I heard a word from God about Anne. I was watching her dance, and somehow, in my heart, I heard Jesus say, “I love to watch her dance for me. It makes me so happy.”

Isn’t Jesus happy when children are happy in his Presence?

Now, all on her own, Anne often goes into a quiet room, turns on praise music, and spins and dances, just her and (I imagine, I wouldn’t be surprised) an Audience of One, dancing with her even. (I cried when my friend told me that Jesus was happy about Anne’s dancing. I tucked another moment into my own heart, Mary-like, we know what it is to ponder and remember for the rest of a life.)

Joseph is my singer, my worshipper. He memorizes the words to songs, and is always singing under his breath. I didn’t realize how easily songs came to him until I heard him singing to himself all the time, just working on puzzles, singing all the songs I sing. He loves to sit in the very front of church, but I’m a back-row soul so we usually clash about where to sit in church. Every once in a while, we end up in the very front, and he watches and learns, and he wants me to hold him close during worship, so I sing the words right into his ears (and Brian chases Evelynn back and forth across the gym because, have mercy, that child never sits still). He told me, in his Cookie-Monster boy-voice, that he wants to sing songs always, and someday, that will be him making up songs and playing the guitar. His favourite song, his top-of-the-lungs-gracious-that-is-loud-bellowing-song,  is Matt Redman’s Bless the Lord, Oh My Soul. And he means every word of it.

So Anne ran on stage, and I followed in her confident wake, sedate, the matriarch of this little tribe. Brian handed the microphone to Anne, and my girl, she read it strong: “This morning we light the second candle and we remember Love.”

The sound of her girlish voice through the speakers, rang out, in bell-ringing-clear proclaiming.

Brian sat down on the stage beside her and Joe, and he read, in his midwest man voice, “In a manger on that incredible night Love was born. Mary held Love in her arms. The shepherds from the fields came to worship Love. Years later, Wisemen would come to bring gifts to the King Love. Here was Love born to us. Love grew and touched those who could not be touched. Love forgave those who would not be forgiven. Love listened to those who had no one to listen to them. Love prayed for those who did not love him. Love gave life to those who were caught in the grasp of death. Love willingly died so that our sins were removed, forgiven, and so we could be face to face with God.”

Anne took the microphone again, and prayed, “May we be teachable to love like Jesus himself.”

Then I took the microphone and began to read the Scriptures. I had Evelynn balanced on my cocked hip, and I wasn’t nervous. For once in my life, holding a microphone, I wasn’t nervous. My daughters, my husband, my son, were all here with me, there was no need to fear because this, this was communal worship: not a performance.

“And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love,” I read from 1 John.

Then Evelynn grabbed the mic out of my hand and hollered “LOVE!” into it, bursting out laughing at the sound of her own loud voice. I laughed, too, relieved, and joked that we were raising a preacher in this one. (Seriously, this girl.)

“Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us.”

I handed the microphone to Brian, thinking we were done, but Joseph took his Dad’s arm, pulled it down to his wide mouth, and solemnly said, “A-men” in benediction. I lit the candles with a fireplace clicker thing, we walked back to our seats to sit amongst our friends.

I think the Kingdom of God looks like children, men, and women in worship together. We wait in the darkness together, so we worship together. Aren’t we all a picture of the restored life in the full light of day, how this new life means all are welcome?

So that the Kingdom of God is yeast and seed, and also a slender little girl, dancing for Jesus alone, and one little boy, singing songs, and one little family leading worship for the community, and one more candle burning, on a lampstand, lighting the whole room. It’s Angels on a hillside with common shepherds, and Kings in stables, and virgins having babies. It’s the uneducated Galileans as ambassadors for God, and murderous Pharisees as great apostles, it’s Mary Magdalene charged with announcing the resurrection, and little children as our examples.

So my children lead worship right alongside of the grown-ups, and their mama reads Scripture right alongside of the men, and their dad is the one who willingly gave up his own time in the lead, for the joy of giving his most-loved-ones a chance to worship out loud, too.

Isn’t it beautiful, all together? Isn’t it beautiful when young and old, male and female, rich and poor, broken and beautiful, all gather for Emmanuel, God with us?

Come, Lord Jesus, among us, and until you do, I have a little girl who wants to dance, and a boy who wants to sing, and a baby who wants to preach, a husband with a leader’s mind and a servant’s posture and a heart after God, and me, I am learning to be not afraid but to speak truth in love.

It’s just a small incarnational moment, hardly worth noticing for most of the world, but for me, this was a metaphor moment of life in the Kingdom, life in the glorious truth of worship in spirit and truth, Jesus-shaped leadership as servanthood, and so our family’s lighting of another candle within community, with their affirmation and prayers and participation, pushed back just a bit more of the darkness, and then we scattered back out again.

 

 

Continue Reading · advent, Anne, brian, christmas, church, community, Evelynn, faith, family, Joseph, women · 34

In which he wouldn’t do anything different (neither would I)

I can’t seem to bring myself to church more than three weeks in a row. On the fourth week, I wake up, and think, yeah, I’m so not going. I like to take Sundays off now and then from church, and I’m not sure that it’s as holy as recognising that the Lord made Sabbath for us, not the other way around, or if it’s because I’m just tired out from a full week of people-stuff, and I just want to go all pseudo-hermit, have a bit of worship that looks like soul-care. Even though I’m a proper church-goer, a provider of covered dishes, I don’t have an illusions about myself, I know I still like a bit of room, so I make that room for my own self, no one else will do that for me, I’ve learned.

I spent the morning in my kitchen with Evie while Brian took the older two to the garden and Home Depot. I turned on the soundtrack of Midnight in Paris, and I made a roast chicken and summer garden veggies for my friend – she just had the sweetest little baby girl. Sometimes the only ministry I can manage is the ministry of good food.

Then I gave my own family waffles and sausage for supper because I was tired out from all the healthy cooking. I hoped I wasn’t a big old metaphor for putting ministry first, but I was comforted by the knowledge that Joe would eat his body weight in sausage if I let him, and really, it’s just what they like, and honestly, who cares?

Evelynn sat on the floor while I cooked and danced and sang a bit off-key, she was banging pots and pans, and I kind of laughed because, you know, I always use that metaphor for calling others to freedom and wholeness, that image of myself standing in a field, calling everyone outside with kitchenware, truly appeals to me but, hey, did you know, that’s actually really noisy and obnoxious in your own kitchen? She’s a table top climber, she’s a for-the-fun-of-it shrieker, she’s a go-getter, a boundary-pusher, a look-you-in-the-eyes-right-while-you-are-saying-no-darling-and-do-it-anyway girl. I am always running with her, my mother thinks she’s a three-year-old trapped in a 16-month-olds body, and sometimes, when I see that intelligent and saucy look in her eyes, I’m inclined to agree. And then fast and pray about those pre-teen years, Lordhavemercy.

Brian spent the afternoon on a project with Joe. He has a big fold out work bench that he made for himself a month or two ago. It’s the project that I mentioned here in this [love looks like] post. (Brian is quite tall; the very first thing everyone says when they meet him is: “Wow. You’re tall.” So all the benches and counters and sinks are at least a foot too short for him.) He built this workbench that comes up to my shoulders, and it folds back into the wall like a murphy bed. Joe adores it, and so on Sunday, Brian made a little one, absolutely identical, for Joe. I couldn’t tell who was having more fun, Brian or Joe, but they were working together, making their own kind of art, Anne riding her bike, exploring, and I’ve noticed my tinies just like to be with us, it doesn’t matter what we’re doing, they just like to be there, and there is no greater longing of their hearts than to help, let me help, let me be a part of it all.

People keep asking me about my book writing. I have nothing to say other than: yeah, I better get on that, eh?

Then I made blueberry crisp. And organized the closet.

A few weeks ago, Brian lead a baby dedication in our friend’s backyard. It was so beautiful and regular, just a gathering of their friends and family, the many littles running around, swinging on the tree swings, while the adults visited and stood around. Back when Brian was a pastor, he would fold his Bible in half and stuff it in his back pocket, so that he always had it with him, and when he loped up to the stage to preach, he just reached around for his Bible and opened it up. I watched him in the backyard, with our friends, my sister was there, too, and he prayed, welcomed everyone, then he easily pulled that creased Bible out of his back pocket, an easy movement I hadn’t seen him perform in seven years, and some part of my heart didn’t fit in my chest any more, it was good – and sad – to see. He blessed that wee new girl, and her family, and it was that moment when the quiet unassuming one is revealed as their true identity in the movie, he’s still a pastor, still a teacher, even after all of the deconstruction and pulling apart and rebuilding of our faith, and our understanding of church and go-go-go-programs on the premise of compounds and build-it-they-will-come, coupled with a new understanding of vocation and ministry,  even with his business acumen, and the new normal life in the secular marketplace. But I can’t deny it, who ever could? He’s meant for this work, he’s a pastor, a teacher, a spiritual director, and there was something so good about seeing him in that role, in that office, for just a few moments in the backyard. Something good, and  yet it made me sad.

I mentioned this to him that night, I said, “Don’t you miss it? What do you think? Should we make it more of a priority to pursue some official kind of ministry life again?” And so, for the millionth time, we talked it through, and we yelled at each other, then: ssshhhhhh! the tinies are sleeping! and eventually, he was laying stretched out on the couch, his arm flung over his eyes, we needed to go to bed by now.

“I miss it, sure, Sarah, and I yearn for it, and I hope I do it for the rest of my life, someday, but today was today, and it was wonderful. I built a work bench with my son, and I wouldn’t do it anything different,” he said. “If all I ever do right in my life is love those kids down the hall, I’m satisfied, can’t you see?

And what can you do then, but go to bed together, it is enough, and this is glorious, and I brushed my teeth, he opened the windows wide, we like fresh air, and I kissed him kissed him kissed him under the red Ikea duvet.

 

Continue Reading · abundant life, brian, church, church planting, community, enough, Evelynn, faith, friends, Joseph, journey, marriage, parenting, rest, work · 31

In which Anne and Joe talk about God

I like to eavesdrop on Anne and Joseph these days.
They share a room and so their conversations can be quite educational.

Anne has that big sister tendency to always want to teach Joe everything that she knows.

“Now, Joe,” hands on hips, akimbo,
“God loves us all the time.
He made everything.
Everything except, um, beaver houses.
And Esther was a girl who saved her people because she loved God.
And…God makes you sing and make you rest.
He is the one that made the heavens and the stars.
He’s always kind and never bad-angry.


When you look at him, his face is love.

“Yes, my know, Annie,” Joe says, matter-of-fact.

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Continue Reading · Anne, faith, Joseph, moments, parenting, tinies · 11

In which I sing songs in the cold twilight

It had been a long day, you see, and my quickest remedy is this: Get Outside. Even though it’s flirting below-zero and the sun is setting, we need to be outside. So here, this is me, sweaty and wrestling three tinies into their winter gear, Evelynn doing her Maggie-Simpson-in-a-snowsuit impression, immobile on the floor as she waits, toques and mitts and boots for stomping loud are on us all, I strap that big baby to my chest and we head out, I am determined, in the dusk. It’s only 2 o’clock.

Here we go, walking up the slippery hill to the field across the road. We pass through the bent and ancient barbed wire fence and then there we are, in the wide opens spaces at last, breathing out a breath we didn’t know we had been holding. Anne is off exploring and I snap pictures of the back of her, gesturing wildly, narrating every thought. Joe isn’t paying attention – is he ever? – and nearly falls into a blackberry thicket, all thorny, so I hold his hand, thumb carefully stuck into the right spot of his mittens, he’s so proud, and we walk together.

I saw a rabbit, a little brown one with a snow white tail, leaping away from us and oh, I wish I had taken a picture but instead I held on tight to the little mitten hand and three-year-old Joe said into the dim, “You helpin’ me, Mumma. You a good helper. I really love ya. We not an angry family, we a love family.”

I said, yes, yes, we are. And I thought, most of the time, I hope, always aware of the miles to go.

We walked across the field, knee deep in last summer’s clover with ice now clinging to it, the sun low on the horizon, sinking into the graveyard before us. Anne dashes this way and that, her nose bright red, but Joe stays close, holding my hand still, Evelynn always looking right up at me, her blue eyes full of something brave and gentle. I feel the weight of them all in the late day hours.

Rosehips shrivel on the bushes and the tinies call the graveyard a garden. We wander through the old gentle stones on the way home, most covered with lichen, even the barest details of their lives now nondescript. We somehow find ourselves in the little corner from the 1950s for the lost babies, the stones with small lambs etched on them. I feel like sitting on the cold earth and crying for the babies lost 60 years ago, for the mama who made sure that they wrote “A Lifetime of Love” on the grave of her 6 month old boy. Anne and Joe walk slowly, well instructed in how to behave in this place, but they lay down the pretty leaves they’ve found, the red ones, for the lonely stones without plastic flowers or wreaths. We turn towards home.

I am the axis, we’re turning. Joe holds one hand and Anne holds the other, Evelynn still content because she is close to me. I sing old songs in the cold twilight as we walk, thinking of what to make for supper, my voice thin but the stars are coming out, the pines stark as black lace on the sky. Anne is clinging to my hand with both of her mittens, she feels it all, too, and her head is on my forearm, like she can’t be close enough. I’m carrying us all home.

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Continue Reading · Anne, enough, family, Joseph, parenting · 10

In which I choose to feast; this is Kingdom Come

The weekend’s hours have gone slowly, marching through feverish tinies with barking coughs, sleepless nights and never-ending weepy exhaustion. I woke up to Joe between us in the bed, feverish and clinging while his sister barked horribly in her own little bed across the hall.

It had been a long night for all of us.

But morning dawned and with it, coffee-as-grace for the weary. Still jammied, I’m curled into my chair, Brian is lounging on the couch, Anne at his side curled into his chest and Joe on his lap while they watch “Shaun the Sheep” on his work laptop.

I finally get to rest, finally get to eat my breakfast, finally get to drink my coffee and sit alone without anyone touching me at all. (Sometimes, I can be rather touched out.)

I’m reading Mark 2, about the time that the religious elite confronted Jesus about how his disciples didn’t fast enough. He replies, “When you’re celebrating a wedding, you don’t skimp on the cake and the wine. You feast. Later you may  need to pull in your belt but not now. As long as the bride and groom are with you, you have a good time. No one throws cold water on a friendly bonfire. This is Kingdom Come!”

Joe is a snuggly boy at the best of times and when he is sick or tired, he is a clinging monkey desperate to be held, twisting my hair around his baseball mitt of a hand. His eyes are ringed with purple shadows, his voice hoarse from coughing and he looks so forlorn, so sick, so little. And, despite my clear signals, my folded legs, my coffee in hand, even the enticement of his favourite show on the computer, his arms are outstretched beside me, asking for his Mumma.

For a moment, I want to send him back to the couch because, can’t he see? I’m reading The Bible after all. Isn’t this more important? Isn’t this the more holy thing? The better choice for me – for my own self-care, for my own spiritual growth, for my family?

But he’s standing here by my chair, holding out his poor wee arms and his nose is running and, I nearly missed it, the table is laid for a feast. These days when they are home, when there are crumbs on the floor and bleary eyes, when all of his troubles are easily soothed by my own weak arms, this is my feast. When they are gone, I will have all the time in the world to drink coffee in the morning. I’ll have hours to devote to study and novels and saving the world and Twitter. My floors will stay clean and laundry will be reduced to two loads a week again, my house will be quiet, my money my own and nothing to stop us from going out for coffee at midnight.

My mother once told me that, at this time of my life, the days can be long but the years will be short.

This wedding won’t last forever. (And it’s a stretch I know, not entirely theologically correct, because the feast and famine of scripture is about Jesus’ presence and I’m just me and they’re just them and, let’s be honest, sometimes it’s right and good to just take a break.) But right now in my life, Mark 2 has jumped off the page and into this small boy with the word “Mumma” on his lips, inviting me to the feast laid out, to the wedding dancing around the bonfire in my own home.


This is the presence of God, this is the holy moment, the cathedral, the great moment of surrender and selflessness happening not in the leper colony of India but for me in my own living room in Canada, the breaking of bread and daily manna of communion through a messy home with messy people, learning to love and take joy even when the toast is getting cold.

And when they want to be held, mama, just hold them.

This is my feast and wedding around the bonfire, the days I’ll long for when these three tinies think it’s weird that I want to kiss every inch of them paying special attention to their collarbones, for those days when my floors are clean and my days my own but it’s because they aren’t here.

When that day comes, I’ll be so glad that I put down that Bible, let my coffee get cold and pressed closer to the bonfire while it burns.

I hold him close while he curls around the ever-growing baby bump, his lips pressed to my throat so that I can kiss that spot just behind his ear and mean with my whole heart when I croon, “Mumma’s here, luv. Mumma’s all here. I’ve got you, baby.” His body relaxes into that baby-boneless peace, his snot pooling on my shoulder.

Kingdom come, I’m pulling up a chair to the feast of love at the table laid for me.

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Continue Reading · enough, Joseph, journey, parenting, scripture · 13