Mother’s Day

Her children rise up and call her blessed;
her husband also praises her:
“Many women have done noble deeds,
but you surpass them all!”

Proverbs 31:28-29

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day.

And for many Mother’s Day gives rise to a mix of emotions. One emotion is sadness. Because some of us mourn the loss of our mothers. My Mom passed away of cancer in June 2011–nearly ten years ago. I miss her. There are so many things I wish I could talk to her about or ask her. So many questions. And my kids–especially my sons–never really had the opportunity to know her.

And my Mother-in-Law passed away in December of 2014 of cancer. She was amazing, and she and my wife were best friends. She was also extremely close to our daughter. Our sons still miss her very much too. She was also a confidante of mine.

Losses still near enough to have a very real affect on us in the present. No doubt many of you feel the same way.

At the same time, Mother’s Day is also about joy. I am married to a wonderful woman, who is also a wonderful mother to our three children. So we get to celebrate her. Our kids make homemade Mother’s Day cards. We make a special meal. Give her a few gifts. We do our best to make sure she knows she’s loved and appreciated. Without a doubt, she deserves more than we can say or do.

For my wife, being a mother has had its share of challenges. During the second trimester of her pregnancy for our daughter, she experienced a very serious depression. With our twin sons, she had to have a caesarian section two months before their due date because she had developed hellps syndrome. After the delivery, she was in ICU for a few days. Her condition was quite serious for a time. Not to mention that our sons were in the NICU for 7 weeks and that there were some moments of touch and go with them too.

Now our daughter is 16 and our sons are 12. Those years hold a lot of memories, history, and emotions. As a mother, my wife isn’t perfect. But she needn’t be. No one is. And yet I still think she is the strongest, smartest, most committed mother I know. No one has cried harder or laughed louder because of her kids. In my eyes, she is a hero. I am in absolute awe about how our lives have been knitted together into the crazy, never-dull family that we are. And she is at the center of it all.

Reflecting on Mother’s Day is very much to reflect on life, our lives, and to experience both joy and sorrow, gratitude and loss. Mother’s Day is a reminder that each of us has (or have had) important people in our lives who are (or have been) there for us, who shape (or have shaped) us, hold (or who have held) us, and who cry (or who have cried) with us and for us.

So I am grateful for my Mom, for my late Mom-in-Law, and now, and most of all, for my wife. While many women have done amazing, wonderful things, for me she surpasses them all. Could I ever think otherwise?

Happy Mother’s Day, Alisha.

Joy and Thanksgiving


Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his faithful love endures forever.

1 Chronicles 16:34

Give thanks in everything; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5:18

Let them offer thanksgiving sacrifices and announce his works with shouts of joy.

Psalm 107:22

I give thanks to my God for every remembrance of you, always praying with joy for all of you in my every prayer, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.

Philippians 1:3-5

Joy and gratitude are cousins.

That is, whenever I feel joy because of my blessings, I find myself feeling grateful to God. Thank you, Lord!

When we find ourselves experiencing joy, we should take a quick moment to pause and offer thanksgiving to God for what gives us joy. Because, as James 1:17 puts it, Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 

Not only that, but when I intentionally stop to thank God for the many blessings in my life, joy often wells up in my heart. If I want to experience more joy, then I ought to take time, as the hymn says, to “count my blessings.”

After I spent time praying this morning, it’s this joy-thanksgiving connection that came to my mind. One leads to the other; they are two sides of the same coin.

For me, as for many of you, my biggest joy in this life is my family. When I stop and give thanks to God for my wife, two sons, and daughter, I experience joy. Or whenever I find myself feeling joyful because of my family, I should stop and give thanks to God.

Because truthfully my family is a gift. They are signposts of God’s love and grace in my life. I have no idea what my life would be like without them. I don’t even want to think about that.

Instead, I receive what God has given with joy. I give thanks to him for he is good.

Like I said, joy and thanksgiving are cousins.

What gives you joy? What are you thankful for? Take time out to reflect on these things. Allow the blessings of your life to direct your heart to the one who poured them out on you.

My Story Part 17: Fatherhood

Sometimes even if I can’t recall all the details of a dream, I can remember the way the dream made me feel. And years ago I had a dream in which I had a little boy, a son–I was a father! I don’t remember much else, whether in the dream I was also married or even whether I had adopted him or was his biological dad. But I woke up that day with a deep sense of joy and longing. Like I had experienced something wonderful but that was now slipping away.

When I had that dream, I was single. I could only imagine experiencing fatherhood. It felt a world away. But it was only a few years later when I was standing in a delivery room as my wife was giving birth to our firstborn, our daughter. That moment is etched in my memory. It was October 7, 2004, 11:42pm. Our little girl emerged into the world eyes wide open, curious and beautiful, changing our lives forever.

That was more than 16 years ago now. Less than 5 years after her arrival, our twin sons came along; and ever since our family life has been filled with ups, downs, unexpected twists and turns, tears and laughter.

I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

What’s truly amazing is how different our kids are from one another. Each has their own beautiful uniqueness that has stamped itself on our hearts. Watching them grow, learn, deal with life, and learning as parents how to navigate it with them, is indeed the highest calling I have ever had. Not that I always do this well or am a fount of wisdom in every moment. Even they have seen me make mistakes. But what a joy and privilege it continues to be to have these young souls in my life.

Yet, even though I am their father, their Dad, Papa, Daddy, I can’t control them or determine how their lives will go in the years ahead. Not that I want to do this. But don’t all parents want to help their kids avoid pitfalls and struggles, to ensure their greatest possible happiness in this life? Yet, they will have to make choices, sometimes hard ones. Our kids will make poor choices. And we will have to watch. They will have to take what we’ve been able to give them as parents and figure out how to navigate the waters they find themselves sailing.

No wonder parenting is a bittersweet joy, one tinged with sadness and unfulfilled longing. Because even now I can look back and wish some things had been different for them. I wish my daughter never had to deal with mental health issues. I wish all of them still had both of their grandmothers around. I wish that one of our sons and our daughter didn’t have some of the difficulties they do in getting along more consistently. I wish they didn’t have to experience disappointment, rejection, fear, and pain.

Of course, now is the time when I ponder the parallels between me being a Dad and what it must be like for our heavenly Father. He sees our individual uniqueness and beauty. He sees our failings and brokenness. Seeing all of this, his love for us exceeds every conceivable boundary. And he longs for us to know this love, to rest in this love, to find in his love peace, solace, comfort, and joy. When we fall short, he remains there. His love for us is undeterred by our straying hearts and lives. He waits to embrace us once again. We are always welcome home.

I want to be this kind of father for my children.

Not having had a father growing up, not having known father love during my most formative years, I repeatedly, frequently, insistently, and annoyingly tell each of my kids I love them. All. The. Time. I want my love for them to be bedrock in a world where there’s so little upon which they can rely. And I want, more than anything, for my love to point them, to open their hearts and lives up, to the love of their heavenly Father. Where I fail them, he will not. When I cannot protect them, he can be their refuge and strength. And when I am no longer a part of their lives because I have gone on to my eternal rest, he will still be with them. There’s nothing I want more for them than to know this love, to receive it, and to live and die being held by it.

Much like in that dream years ago, being a father brings me great joy. There are moments when I almost can’t believe how blessed I am. I look at my kids and I feel wonder. Indeed, what strange, wondrous creatures they are! Surely, this is an imperfect joy, one which includes its measure of sadness and longing, but for all that fills me with a gladness I thought I would never know.

Except perhaps in a dream.

A Journey’s End

I’ve now finished reading The Lord of the Rings. As I completed part 3, The Return of the King, a passage from the last chapter, the very end where Frodo leaves Middle-Earth, there is this wonderful description of what Frodo sees as he sails across the sea to the West:

And the ship went out into the High Sea and passed on into the West, until at last on a night of rain Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air and heard the sound of singing that came over the water. And then it seemed to him that as in his dream in the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise.

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

As it happens, these words are also used in the film adaptation. There they appear on the lips of Gandalf and are said to Pippin in the moments before they meet potential doom in Minas Tirith. It’s one of my favourite moments in the film. The conversation goes like this:

Pippin: “I didn’t think it would end this way.”

Gandalf: “End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it.”

Pippin: “What? Gandalf? See what?”

Gandalf: “White shores, and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.”

Pippin: “Well, that isn’t so bad.”

Gandalf: “No. No, it isn’t.”

The Return of the King (2003)

Here Gandalf describes what would be the Middle-Earth version of heaven, or so it seems.

Finishing the book trilogy is bittersweet. You really do feel like you have been on a journey with these characters with whom you have come to identify and to love and admire. Beyond that, it’s bittersweet because it’s not a fake, Disney-like, happily-ever-after ending. While couched in the narrative of fantasy, of an imaginative world of Tolkien’s making, there is an honesty and hope about the human condition. There is the acknowledgement of sorrow and death and how the truest and fullest joy is all the greater for them.

I’m sorry that the journey is over, but I am very glad to have taken it.

“Pain and delight flow together”

I’m closing in on the end of The Return of the King, and I have really enjoyed reading The Lord of the Rings trilogy again. When I last spent some time reading it, something in the text stood out. In the aftermath of the victory over Sauron and the forces of Mordor, there is a scene where a minstrel breaks out in song. Here is the description of the effect his singing had.

In the midst of the their merriment and tears the clear voice of the minstrel rose like silver and gold, and all men were hushed. And he sang to them, now in the Elven-tongue, now in the speech of the West, until their hearts, wounded with sweet words, overflowed, and their joy was like swords, and they passed in thought out to regions where pain and delight flow together and tears are the very wine of blessedness.

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

After I read this, I read it again, so beautifully did Tolkien capture our experience that “pain and delight flow together.” In a very real sense, our moments of joy are all the more joyful because of the pain we’ve known. So closely connected are experiences of delight and suffering that we can scarcely understand or experience one without having experienced the other.

Putting it the other way round, C.S. Lewis speaks of the relationship between joy and suffering in this way:

The pain I feel now is the happiness I had before. That’s the deal.

C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

In this instance, he’s speaking of dealing with the loss of his wife Joy to cancer. Grief is often the result of joy and love we’ve known.

This is why Tolkien says that “tears are the very wine of blessedness.” In The Return of the King, evil has been defeated, but there have been deep and painful losses along the way. Even those who have survived the War of the Ring have been profoundly marked by their experience of it. Theirs is a joy tinged with sadness.

It goes without saying that this is true of us with our own experiences of grief and loss.

Of course, the end of The Lord of the Rings is not the end of the story of Middle-Earth. More grievous ills may well plague those who remain. I can’t say, because this is all the Tolkien I’ve read, save The Hobbit. But for us, the story does have an end. The book of Revelation describes a key part of it this way:

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; grief, crying, and pain will be no more, because the previous things have passed away.

Revelation 21:4

According to Scripture, therefore, a time is coming when God’s kingdom will arrive in its fullness, when the pain and loss we know in this life will indeed be overcome. Whether our experience of the new heaven and new earth will lack all remembrance of our earthly sorrows, I can’t say. But it seems altogether certain that even if we do have some such remembrances, the joy of being in the presence of God eternally will be so overwhelmingly profound and full that they will no longer be dampened by our tears.

Again, at the end of The Return of the King, Samwise meets Gandalf for the first time since the beloved wizard (seemingly) fell to his death in Moria in The Fellowship of the Ring. Upon seeing him, Sam bursts out, “Is everything sad going to come untrue?” This is the promise–the sure hope–to which we are invited to cling, a hope made possible by the resurrection of the King, the Lord Jesus, and his eventual coming again. Echoing Samwise the hobbit, author Tim Keller once summarized all this wonderfully, when he said, “Everything sad is going to come untrue and it will somehow be greater for having once been broken and lost.”