Pomegranates by Chanan Mazal

Pomegranates by Chanan Mazal

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Exercising Joy

Exercise and Joy are not two words I typically put together in the same sentence.  

In fact, since returning from vacation, the only participation in physical activity that I seem to engage in has been from the comfort of my own couch - watching others sweat during American Ninja Warrior.  I know - so sad, but true. 

As I thought a little further about the subject, I realized that perhaps I actually do have an exercise routine.  And it just may be the best kept joy-filled secret health regime ever.

You will not likely hear about this from any trendy health programs, books or blogs.  This is something that any age or ability (non-athletic person like myself) can do and it is seriously a blast...

Wait for it... 

Sing!  More specifically - join a choir!

Yes -- I fully acknowledge that I am biased...but hear me out!
  
Author and choral member, Stacy Horn, uses the term, "exercising joy" to describe her weekly routine of getting out of the house to sing with her local amateur choir.  She claims "you can't reach heights like this singing alone in the shower."  Stacy shares the story of how her own happiness increased once she joined her local church choir.

Like Stacy, if you are looking to improve your health or desire to increase your joy - may I suggest you warm up your vocal chords and join a choir.

The Fountain of Youth
Those who are said to age well are people who continue to grow, learn and create.  Choral singing provides a creative environment to develop new skills as people learn harmonies, technique and memorization.  So if you want the secret to staying young, I say - skip the expensive wrinkle cream and join a choir!

Boost Your Brain
There is now scientific evidence to prove that singing has a positive impact on the brain.  The hormones that are released through the physical activity of singing actually help to lower anxiety, depression and reduce stress.  Who doesn't want that?
       

Here are some of the other benefits of singing in a choir that I came across in a Chorus Impact study.

Civic Leadership
According to the study, choral members scored high on participation in civic leadership.  Choir members were more likely than other groups to volunteer or contribute to philanthropic or political causes. They were found to be strong supporters of performing arts in their own local communities.  As I researched further I even found one article that linked choral singing to higher emotional intelligence scores - how cool is that!

Resilience
The chorus impact study also revealed high scores in being willing to explore areas outside of musical expertise.  This suggests that choral members experience increased confidence, flexibility and adaptability to change and trying new things.  

Fostering Unity
Choral work teaches people to work together as a team. Singing in groups helps to cultivate a listening ear and heart.  To sing as one voice you first have to learn to listen to all the other parts around you.  What a powerful life lesson!

Restore Your Soul
I admit there have been rehearsals where I begrudgingly dragged myself out to choir after a long day at work. However, after I started singing a strange thing happened.   I forgot about myself and my problems.   My disposition changed and my mood lifted.  I became attentive to God instead of consumed with things I couldn't change about the state of my own circumstances. 

I have seen this physical transformation first hand as I watch those I lead during rehearsal.  Some come to choir drained, quiet and with an unspoken weight on their shoulders.  As we begin to sing I notice their energy increase, they sit up a little taller, start to smile and end up leaving practice happier than when they first arrived.

As we learn to empty and surrender ourselves together in worship this enables God to fill the recesses of our hearts with the joy of His fullness. 

I see why Saul called David to play the harp for him when He was suffering in spirit.  Music is a powerful healing force.  Music reaches into the depths of our hearts to restore and allow truth to be heard.  Music quiets the soul placing us in the position to hear and respond to God.

Building Community
There are many people who suffer from depression, loneliness or are simply seeking a place to belong.  We learn to love each other as we grieve, rejoice, intercede, extend hospitality, patience and grace through the fellowship in this unique musical community.  God has certainly used my own church choir family to reveal the gift and beauty of living out the gospel in community - for which I am deeply grateful.  

Created In His Image!
I love the verse from Zephaniah 3:17 that reminds us that God rejoices over us with singing!  If God delights to sing over us and we are created in His image - then I believe we are also designed to sing!  We are wired to minister to Him in song and to also sing over His beloved.  Singing is built into our DNA.

We may not all be skilled and talented musicians.  In fact, the musical ability and performance is not the central priority.  God calls us to praise, to sing and testify to who He is, what He has done and who we are in Him.  We are to edify and encourage one another in song.  In the Bible, it is the choir (not the soloist) that leads the people into victory (2 Chronicles 20:21).  There appears to be strength in numbers.  

Carol Cymbala, author and conductor of the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, beautifully articulates the ministry of a choir, 


"to lead others into an encounter with Jesus
...and when our lives match the lyrics
 then we are truly singing."

Above all the other benefits ... singing makes God happy.  I believe when we delight God by learning to minister and worship Him together in song, we in turn discover true joy.  It is not a fleeting happiness, but an authentic lasting joy.

So get your comfy yoga pants on, grab your unsalted almonds and green juice and join your local choir to exercise your way to joy! 

My sister sent this to me, it cracked me up and I thought it might help you get started on your musical way...so here you go!  Hope to see you at choir!



Explaining Sheet Music  - Julian Cianciolo




 





Friday, 9 September 2016

Radical Leadership - A Shepherd's Heart


As I alluded to in the last post ... when it comes to leadership, the topics of healing and brokenness are not exactly trending let alone even part of the conversation.

Yet, I wonder... what if we dared to be vulnerable, speak out and expose our fear and inadequacy in this area?  Maybe we could together stop the rampant burn out rate of incredibly talented leaders. 

And in the process, help some wounded, yet overlooked, gifted sheep along the way?

The Good Shepherd ..."strengthen and heal the sick, care and bring healing to the broken."
Ezekiel 34





Most leaders support those who have a physical illness or who have experienced loss through practical acts of kindness - sending a card, flowers or perhaps arranging a meal.  

However, there is a different type of challenge that leaders face regardless of their title or position.  Whether you work at home, church or in the marketplace... you will inevitably run into the emotionally wounded sheep.  

 Warning Signs
  • The person may withdraw, exhibit passive-aggressive or confrontational behaviour, snap at others out of the blue, be defensive, overly sensitive, needy, critical or divisive.
  • You begin to notice that others on your team are complaining or avoiding activities that require interaction with that member. 
  • There may be poor attendance on your team or in your group.
  • As the leader, you start to experience signs of burn out, exhibit a loss of passion & entertain thoughts to retire early.
  • You catch yourself secretly praying that this person moves on to greener pastures elsewhere! 


If any of the above sounds familiar then it could be that there is an emotionally injured sheep in your midst.

I think it is time to be honest and acknowledge that leaders are prone to injury from wounded sheep.

We pour our time, resources and heart to invest in others, which places us in a vulnerable position to also get hurt.  I have sadly seen many great leaders over the years not only burn out, but end up resenting the very people they once loved to serve. 

So, how do leaders avoid becoming the next sheep in need of mending

and...

at the same time follow Ezekiel's call to bring healing to the emotionally wounded?

Here are some things I have been learning along the way...  

The transforming power of prayer
Prayer helps to avoid falling into the trap of presuming people will never change. We forget the powerful truth that God delights to heal our innermost hurts and wounds.  In my experience, prayer does not impact the person’s behaviour overnight, but it certainly has transformed my own heart and attitude toward the person who is acting out of their hurt.

Ask the Shepherd 

We are not on our own to figure this out.  God desires to lead His shepherds.

Ask to see the person from God's perspective.
  
Sounds obvious, doesn’t it?  Yet, I can’t tell you the number of times I failed to put this into practice.

Ask God for healing words of life to speak into this situation.

Ask God to reveal the areas where we ourselves require healing.  

What are our own triggers when we are interacting with the wounded sheep?

There are many articles today that speak to the benefit of leaders who have a high emotional intelligence.  One of the attributes of this type of leader is self awareness.  This is a huge asset when leading others, but the trouble with self awareness is... it still relies on ourselves!  Only God can search our hearts and minds to uncover our conscious and unconscious triggers when we engage with others.
  
I remember a number of years ago where I was struggling to lead a person who was quite critical.  Despite the stress, I felt like I was handing the situation quite well by providing context for the things that this person would complain about. 

God, however, had quite a different perspective on the matter.

By the end of our conversation together God had revealed that my goal had been self protection at all cost.  I would respond to the criticism with self-defense and my personal favourite... classic avoidance!

I had been adding to the dysfunction through subtle forms of exclusion through avoidance.  God then began to nudge me to sit next to this person in meetings and listen to the criticism without defending myself or saying a word.

I needed God to uncover what my "self" awareness was not consciously prepared to acknowledge - it was certainly a humbling moment!

Wait
Is this something I need to address or an offense I should overlook? Where and when should I have the conversation? Taking time to respond to the injured helps to avoid reacting out of our own emotional triggers - something I continue to struggle with!

Confide
Surround yourself with a network outside of the situation who will be there to support you as you seek to care for others.

Listen
Jesus was never too busy to listen to the needs of others.  Listening may well be one of the most under-utilized attributes of a leader.  Yet, when the art of listening is put into practice it can be the most valuable and healing resource at your disposal.


Lead With Truth and Grace
Grace certainly does not mean there will not be difficult conversations or outcomes.  When we speak the truth in love we respond for the benefit of the other.  The more we learn to receive and live in the fullness of God's truth and grace the more we will be able to extend it to others. 

Seek and Search
Jesus accepts us in our brokenness, knowing all of our unresolved emotional hang-ups!  He invites us to belong in our brokenness - not when we are perfect.

I believe this is why Ezekiel calls the good shepherd to seek and search for sheep.  Ezekiel 34:16

 
Those with raw exposed emotional wounds are often the ones who struggle to belong.  

I cringe when I think of the embarrassing displays of behaviour from the brokenness in my own life.  Despite my outward behaviour, God remained relentless in seeking after me.  He never gave up on me.  He unconditionally embraced and welcomed me into His fold.

I never had to earn my place back into belonging or contributing.

Should we not extend the same inclusion to those we lead?

I believe when we lead with a shepherd heart...

there will be a tremendous healing power that takes place
 as people are accepted,
 included and belong!

Take courage if you are leading a wounded sheep or if perhaps you are the broken sheep in need of healing. 

After Jesus broke the bread, He gave thanks and not only used the bread for His glory, but He multiplied it in order to nourish His sheep!  

Radical leadership is seeing brokenness as a beautiful opportunity for God to display His glory, to feed and restore His beloved sheep and shepherds.


Stuart Townend The Lord's My Shepherd

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Radical Leadership

When you think of the essential characteristics of a leader, what words come to mind? 

Integrity, visionary, inspirational or perhaps courageous?  All these traits are certainly important, but I'd like to suggest another attribute we don't often hear about ... a shepherd's heart. 

The day I heard God's call to lead others, I thoughtfully informed God (like He didn't already know) that I had no clue what to do.

As I prayed, I anticipated that God might direct me to a verse that referred to leading with excellence, the importance of unity or how to utilize the diverse gifts of those on the team.

Instead this was the passage He placed on my heart...

Irish Sheep!
“Woe shepherds of Israel who have been feeding themselves!

 ...strengthen and heal the sick, care and bring healing to the broken”
~Ezekiel 34




Not only was I was not working with people who were sick, but with a warning like "woe shepherds," it was not exactly the encouragement I was hoping for.

However, God began to use these woolly, pastoral creatures and their caregivers to form and shape me as a leader after His own heart.



What I have since come to know about leadership is this...

Every leader must first learn who and how to follow

God is deeply invested in sheep and shepherds

Strategies, vision and charisma are great, but if you have not a genuine love for God's people then your work will be nothing more than a clanging cymbal!   (1 Corinthians 13)

and... 

Regardless of your title or position you will inevitably encounter and have to lead people (sheep) who are broken.


Dutch Sheep!
Through this passage in Ezekiel I began to see the depth of God's love toward His people.  It was clear that God took the care of His sheep personally - which to be honest, scared the living daylights out of me!



As I looked at Christ's leadership through the lens of Ezekiel, I also saw the heart of a shepherd - strengthening, caring, and healing the broken.

I also discovered something else very interesting.  It was often the religious leaders and Jesus own followers who struggled to understand His true calling.

They had a very different idea of how Jesus should carry out His mission.  They often saw the broken and outcasts as unnecessary distractions from accomplishing their vision.

This hits home when I think about the times I have viewed others as unwelcome interruptions to my own work.

Christ, in His compassion, would stop what He was doing or where he was going to listen to the needs of those around Him.  In his tenderness, He would reach out to those who were hurting and they left healed and transformed.
  
Jesus was not distracted by tasks, position or power to remember His true purpose to care for God's sheep.

Jesus knew how to lead, but He also knew who to follow.  He did not operate on His own, but followed His Father's voice and will.

This kind of radical leadership mystified, baffled and even angered those around him.

If we lead like Jesus, I venture to say that those around us will also not always understand or agree with where we place our priorities.

This kind of leadership seems next to impossible with the constant barrage of expectations, demands or multi-tasking that we face each day.

We too will encounter pressures that deter us from our true call to care for God's wounded sheep.  There will be times where we will be tempted to focus on ourselves and our own ambitions instead of healing the broken.

The good news is that we are not alone.  Our Shepherd delights to show us the way.  

The more we know Jesus and learn to follow His voice, the more we will lead like Him.


Reflection Moments:

Ezekiel 34

Lord, you are our Good Shepherd,

Give us your divine love for your people.  Forgive us for the times we have been so consumed with tasks, performance and "good works" that we have have not stopped to listen and care for the broken in our midst.  Reveal the people we need to reach out and tend to this week.  Teach us Lord how to care, strengthen and heal those who are wounded.  We recognize that it is not possible without you working in and through us.  Help us to know your voice and follow after you.  Mold us into the leaders you desire us to be.

In the powerful, healing and saving name,
Jesus


Allow the Shepherd to lead you, listen for His voice...

Think back to when you heard God's voice calling you to the role you are currently in now.  What was that moment like?  What did you hear Him say?  How did you feel?  How did you respond?

Use a journal and prayerfully consider some of the following...


Where do I see myself right now in this passage from Ezekiel ... as the good or the bad shepherd?

In what ways have I been feeding myself instead of others?

What are the things that deceive and distract from my true calling?
(This may include pressure from people, tasks, performance, reputation, desires or ambitions)

Is there someone right now who needs some care or extra support? 

Who have I been following? 
  
Write down one or two actions you can take this week.



Let us follow and lead like Jesus
 Strengthen, care and heal the broken along our way
 Now that is radical leadership!


Jesus, Lamb of God













Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Live like your on vacation!

Many of you have been asking to see some photos from our recent travels to Ireland and Amsterdam...so here are a few captured moments!

Ever notice when you travel that the soul seems to wake up?

Cliffs of Moher
"The voice of the Lord is over the waters " Psalm 29:3

As I traipsed through Ireland and Amsterdam I noticed my mind and heart slowly come back to life.  My adventurous side kicked in feeling sheer joy with each new experience.  I began to see things with greater clarity and vision.  

Escaping from the everyday routines of life not only restores my soul, but I also noticed something else about "vacation Nicole."  When I am on holiday I actively seek to encounter God.

I walk slower and breathe deeper as my soul fills with gratitude with each new wonder.  I listen and watch with anticipation for God.  I eagerly take in everything all around me in hope of catching a glimpse of Him.  I don't want to miss a thing.

"The voice of the Lord is full of majesty"  Psalm 29
Pastoral walk taking in the mystery of Christ en route to Wicklow Mountains
"The voice of the Lord ...strips the forest bare...in His temple all say Glory." Psalm 29

What would happen if I woke up each day expecting to encounter God?

What if I didn't wait for time off work before I allowed Him to restore my soul?

We may not always be able to afford or get away for a holiday, but what if we lived each day with a vacation mindset instead of on autopilot?

Ken kissing the blarney stone!

What if we were to wake up eager to learn or try something new?

What if we remained flexible to accept the un-expected, un-planned twists and turns that come our way?

What would happen if we stepped out of our comfort zone or

My niece Emmy embracing Dutch fashion

took the time to get to know others to hear their unique stories?



What if we were to slow down and listen for His voice?


What if for a moment we stop the tasks and the performing to simply be with Christ?

Soak in His majesty, creativity and beauty in the ordinary... 





 and the extraordinary all around us. 

My nephew Caleb sitting near the top -  taking in the grandeur of the Giant's Causeway!

Wicklow Mountains
Kylemore Abbey - truly magical

Blarney Castle - with a blog name like arils and castles I would be remiss to not highlight at least one Irish castle!
The vibrant colours of Amsterdam
Powerscourt Estate, Enniskerry, Ireland
Glendalough Abbey
Enjoying Amsterdam via canal

What if we didn't wait for vacation, yet instead made the choice to live life each day attentive and alive in Christ?

My little nephew Xander capturing the sights and memories!


 Let's start today - awake our souls to taste and see His goodness all around us.

Why wait for vacation!
 
Sharing Poffertjes (yummy Dutch pancake treats) with Ken in the park!





Caleb, Emmy, Ken, Janis and Xan

May you be restored, hear His voice, see His wonders in the ordinary and extraordinary as you walk with Him today.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Freedom Beyond Walls

"God does not have problems. Only plans."
Corrie Ten Boom

It is good to be back home - I have missed all of you over the past few weeks.

While on holidays in Amsterdam and Haarlem we had the honour of visiting the Ann Frank Museum and the home of Corrie Ten Boom.



Both of these extraordinary people have left a profound impact on the world from their inspiring stories of courage, sacrifice and love in the midst of war.


Entrance to the hiding place in Corrie's closet

The false wall was built in Corrie's bedroom to protect the Jewish people from the Nazi authorities
 
Hearing their stories reminded me of another person who may not be as familiar to some of you.

In his autobiography entitled A Boy's War we get a small glimpse into the life and faith of a boy named David.

David's parents were Australian missionaries who went to China with the China Inland Mission, which was founded by James Hudson Taylor.

It was quite common during that time for MK's (Missionary Kids) to be sent to boarding school for their education.



At the young age of six, David left his parents to attend school.

When he arrived at the Chefoo school in 1939 his life would change.

World War Two unfolded, Japan invaded and occupied China.  David and the other Chefoo school children were taken to Weihsien concentration camp in Shantung Province, North China.

David and his sister Joyce would not see their parents again until six years later.

God Has A Plan

David's story is a powerful reminder that even in the darkest places we are never alone.

Even though David was held captive that did not stop God's plan for his life.  God began to shape David's spiritual journey from within the walls of the prison camp.

A man by the name of Eric Liddell was sent to the same concentration camp as young David.  Many of you may remember that name from the award winning film Chariots of Fire. This Olympic Champion quickly became a hero of faith to David.  

Eric Liddell Biography

"Uncle Eric" became a father figure to the boys and a glimmer of excitement in the midst of the devastation of war.

Just like David, God has a plan for our lives.  He places unexpected people along our path to bring us comfort, hope and help in our time of need.

The Gift of Wonder and Play

Similar to the account of Ann Frank, David experienced the war through the eyes of a child.  David was still an adventurous boy who loved to play.

This struck me as such a powerful lesson in life.

Have you ever noticed that it is almost impossible to play and also be anxious or afraid all at the same time?

When I am in pain or frightened I look for the quickest escape route.  I exhaust myself with worry and grasp to regain some sense of control over my circumstances.  I falsely believe that if I smile or enjoy myself that it is somehow wrong or irreverent.   

I wonder what would happen if instead I surrendered with a child like trust and dared to play just like young David?


Gratitude Sets Us Free

On the last day of our trip we sat in the living room of the Ten Boom family hearing the stories of Corrie giving thanks for the fleas and vermin in the concentration camp.


Corrie Ten Boom
God had a plan to use their horrific sleeping conditions for His purposes. The fleas kept their captors away and Corrie was able to keep her Bible hidden in order to continue to share God's word with the other women in the camp.


David was also able to recognize the gifts of God despite the hardships of captivity, separation, malnutrition and death. He was grateful for Eric Liddell and for his teachers in the camp who took care of him.

David Michell 
David was also extremely thankful for the seven American GI's who parachuted into the internment camp to rescue them.


Photo:  Signed parachute of the seven American GI's who resecued David and others in the Weihsien Concentration Camp

There is tremendous power in living with gratitude.
  
It is a thankful heart that helps the soul to heal. Gratitude releases us from the cords of fear and bitterness.  Thanksgiving is the armor to fight injustice and wounds that shake our faith. 


Extend God's Outrageous Grace

I have not known the devastation of war like the stories of Ann, Corrie or David.  Yet there have been times in my life where I have lived in a different type of captivity and torment.

I am quick to panic or be discouraged when circumstances seem hopeless and out of my control.  I am guilty of rehearsing painful wounds.  I even struggle at times to forgive over insignificant matters that have held me in bondage.  

David had every excuse to live life fearful and bitter with walls of protection around him.  He did not know if he would see his family ever again.  He did not know where his next meal would come from.  He did not know if he would live as he watched others who did not make it out of the concentration camp alive.

David was able to live in freedom because he devoted his life to trusting the One who is faithful in all circumstances.

The most incredible part of David's story was not just how he handled the years of captivity, but what he chose in his years of freedom.

David dedicated his life as a missionary (he served with Overseas Missionary Fellowship which was the former China Inland Mission).  

What is remarkable about this decision was the place that David chose to serve. 

David lived reconciliation and forgiveness in an extraordinary way. He chose to go to Japan to minister and care for the souls of those who had held him and his sister captive.  Now that is truly powerful!

Many of us struggle to forgive.   Many of us choose to forgive, but never forget.  The truth is that most of us protect ourselves from those who hurt us rather than devote our lives to serving them.

Not David!

David received the grace God gave to him and in return freely extended it to those in Japan. 

~
It has been an honour to introduce you to one of my own heroes of faith - David Michell, my Father In Law.

Sadly, I never had the opportunity to meet Dad in person.  However, I am convinced I do know him through my husband's humility, strength, generousity and grace.   

It is my hope that through sharing Dad's story we will all be inspired to live with gratitude and in freedom by extending God's outrageous grace everywhere we go.

No matter what circumstances you currently find yourself in, take courage and remember the words of Corrie ...

"God does not have problems.  Only plans."
  
Thank you Dad Michell for being a light in my life!

May your light always shine on!

August 17, 2015 was the 70th anniversary of the liberation.

Here are some photos of my husband (Kenneth) and Mum (Joan Michell) being interviewed in our home for the documentary - Weifang Forgotten Concentration Camp by Producer Elaine Yau of Innowave Limited.





Thank you to Elaine and her incredible team for ensuring these stories are heard and never forgotten!












Thursday, 14 July 2016

Marmalade and Moccasins

There is a couple from our church who I absolutely adore.  I call them Mr and Mrs C.  They are actually the parents of my brother in law. 

There was a story that Mrs. C shared many years ago that stuck with me.  It was about her labour of love.  

This labour of love entailed making homemade marmalade for her husband.

Making this delectable fruit preserve is not a quick process.  I researched a number of recipes on line and I now realize why she called it a labour of love.  I saw one recipe that gave a time of 25 hours and forty five minutes to complete this process.  Seriously...you really have to love your husband to make this spreadable delight.

What made this gesture so sweet was when she confessed that making marmalade was not something she particularly enjoyed, yet this did not seem to stop her. 

To this day I am still unsure if it was the taste of the marmalade itself that she did not like or if it was the chore of making it.

Perhaps it was both.





This act of kindness was her way of demonstrating love toward her husband.

The other day I felt like I had a marmalade moment of my own - except it had nothing to do with any condiments.

Ken came home the other evening and told me to close my eyes.

When I opened my eyes there before me stood my old pair of beloved moccasins made "almost" brand new.






Many well meaning loved ones in my life had attempted interventions of sorts to try to convince me that it was time to lay these moccasins to rest.  The threads had come undone around the toes so that the front of my shoes would flap wide open with every step.

I knew they were right, but I could not seem to part with these shoes.  Not only is it difficult for me to find a comfortable pair of walking shoes, but these moccasins had travelled everywhere with me.

These shoes had been to Colombia, Italy, Newfoundland and throughout the States.  There was something nostalgic about the memories associated with these well worn shoes.

Now I realize Ken did not exactly labour and hand stitch my old moccasins back together, but he did thoughtfully take the time to surprise me by having them repaired.

When I put them back on my feet the story of Mr and Mrs C and the marmalade came flooding back.

It is often the smallest acts of kindness that can have the most profound impact on others.

Is there someone you know who could use an act of kindness this week?  It might be your spouse, a friend, a colleague, parent or neighbour.

Why not demonstrate the love of Christ and make someone's day with a marmalade & moccasin moment!



Kenneth

Thank you for resurrecting my moccasins back to life!

I know I have not learned how to make you marmalade from scratch like Mrs. C, but hopefully you enjoyed the homemade preserve that was purchased with love!



Sunday, 3 July 2016

Wonders Great and Small


It has been six months now since I began my rule of life.  

Despite great intentions to live intentionally awake in Christ (pardon the pun) - I confess that I am a slow learner!

I remind myself that it is not about perfection or judging my own spiritual progress.  Nor is it about living in self condemnation over my apparent lack of progress...it is about the relationship.

The spiritual practise of being attentive to the beauty and wonder of Christ has been a vital part of deepening this bond of love.

It is true this discipline helps to foster a heart of gratitude for the beauty and wonder of God's gifts.  However, I have also discovered that it is about understanding the Father's heart toward us.

God longs and desires to make Himself known to us.  He is constantly drawing us to Himself out of His great love for us.

So what better way to capture the wonder of God's love than by celebrating Canada's birthday visiting one of the most spectacular and famous wonders of the world?

Ken and I spent the holiday with my sister, niece and nephews at the Falls and the Butterfly Conservatory in Niagara. It was certainly a day full of wonders - both great and small.


Glimpses of weekend wonders of love...


When I walked into the conservatory I was mesmerized by the beauty and flutter of each unique winged creature. God's word came alive.  They spread their stunning wings wide open revealing the glorious handiwork of the Father...


"under His wings you may seek refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark. 
Psalm 91:4





The fragility of the butterflies reminded me of the birds of the air; 

"they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?" 
 Matthew 6:26





God is a skillful architect.  He hand designs each intricate detail and pattern that is brushed on every tiny wing.  He is the one who thought to form and shape us. He knows and deeply cares about the smallest details of our lives.


 "I am fearfully and wonderfully made, your works are wonderful.  I know that full well."  
Psalm 139:14

Photo - taken by Janis Jones - thanks sister - love this shot!

If you want to bring out your inner child may I suggest you wander around a butterfly conservatory for a little while. Like little children we would smile, giggle and take selfies when the butterflies would land on us.


Photo taken by:  Janis Jones

Wonder is a gift that is meant to be shared.

Wonder is also infectious.

I watched the sheer joy and excitement through the eyes of my nephews each time they spotted one of the magnificent blue butterflies.  Xander would shout "look Aunt Nicole - there's another blue one!" 


This one particular blue species stopped to bathe in the warmth of the sun reminding me that God delights to cover us in His light.  He longs for us to rest in Him.  Thanks be to God for long weekends!




I was struck with both awe and fear as I stood at the ledge of the Falls listening to the roar of the cascading ice blue water.  The raging waters testified to the powerful hand of God. The overflow and plunging depths reminded me of the abundant generosity of our Father.  His resources never end. He is our hope and source for streams of living water.





I never grow tired of seeing the mystery of a colourful arch suspended in the sky.  The misty array of colour speaks to the wonder of the promises of God.  He is faithful to keep His promises.  He will never forget, disappoint or fail us. Our Father is fully trustworthy.



Photo - taken by Janis Jones - my sis!


As evening approached a glorious display of fireworks lit up the sky.  As the enamoured crowd cheered at the brilliant light show above I couldn't help but wonder what it will be like when every knee bows and exalts Jesus, the true light of the world.

I am reminded that we too have been given the very light of Christ to illuminate the darkness.  We are given the honour and privilege of spreading the glory of our Father of lights for all the world to see.

Photo taken by:  Emily Jones - my niece who happens to be a firework enthusiast!

May your weekend be filled with wonder both great and small as the Father of Lights reveals His love for you.