My Aunt’s Nativity: An Advent Reflection

This afternoon while the toddler was sleeping, my eldest daughter set up our nativity set. It is a beautiful porcelain one given to us by my sweet Auntie Shirley, who is a retired interior decorator with an eye for beauty. We are very honoured to have her nativity.

Going to her home as a child and having Christmas dinner with all the cousins was for me the essence of cozy family closeness. Being there laughing and singing with everyone gave me a warmth that stays with me today, and makes me want my home to be such an open, welcoming place as my Auntie Shirley and Uncle Bill’s was.

I hope everyone has a joyful place to be this Christmas, and that they know how loved they are, just as they are, by the God who became small enough to put his tiny hand in ours, even though his heart contains the entire universe. Sometimes it is hard to comprehend that we are loved unconditionally. We feel it’s impossible–that nothing in life is free–but in this case we are wrong. We don’t have to earn the love that preceded our existence.

“I’ve been alive forever,” my little son told me the other day with conviction. “Always and always.” “Well, you’ve always existed in God’s heart; he always had the plan to make you.”

It is hard for us to comprehend this kind of generosity…only as parents can we imagine it a little, knowing how much we love our kids, even before they are born. I think it’s partly why God came to us as a poor, tiny baby, smelling of hay and breathed on by donkeys–so we wouldn’t be afraid of loving him, and even harder, wouldn’t be afraid of letting him love us, just as we are.

Rather than a call to apathy, this love is a call to greatness, for can anything inspire us more to want to grow better, than the firm conviction that we are already loved, exactly as we are? It is mercy and not harshness that helps us live and love well. It takes great strength to love others while also helping them to grow. May we finish this year living with mercy, strength and love, and may we be helped to do so by the sweet God who loves us even when we fail.

Courage to Grow

Little Chestnut: I will not put out roots and shoots. It might not be safe. I’ll remain locked in wood–pure polished potential.

God: Will you not open yourself up and grow into a tree?

Little Chestnut: How can I become a huge towering tree? How do I know there will always be enough sunshine and rain? I am far too little to grow so big. It’s too scary to try. I prefer to keep the doors closed.

God: Little Chestnut, you are filled with treasure. I have made you for growth. I will provide the sun and the rain. But you must reach out with your shoots and roots to receive them. To sun and rain you must add risk. You must add the courage to try—to hope—to believe that it will take someone bigger than yourself to help you grow, but that together we can!

Little Chestnut: But it is painful to open myself up…to split open and expose myself to your gaze.

God: One thing I can promise–to always look on you with love. Will you allow yourself to be loved unconditionally? This is the beginning of growth.

Little Chestnut: So, fully aware of my weakness, I am supposed to hope for greatness?

God: Change is founded on hope. I have great hopes for you…for everyone! Will you take risk of cracking your polished exterior for the chance to grow into a great tree, one who will make the world a more beautiful place? Or will you slowly fade into the dirt, become wrinkled and rotten, and never look outside yourself for nourishment? I am offering you everything you need…but it is up to you to reach out and receive.

Little Chestnut, do you have the courage to trust?

It’s you, Dad

If there’s a reason 

I can understand

unconditional love,

it’s you, Dad.

If there’s a reason I feel 

that anything is possible

it’s you, Dad.

If there’s a reason I know

that understanding and compassion

matter far more than 

position or wealth,

it’s you, Dad.

If there’s a reason I know 

that gentleness and self-sacrifice

are the signs of true strength

it’s you, Dad.

If there’s a reason I can understand

that God is our merciful Father

who delights in being with us

it’s you, Dad.

Thank you for a life of tenderness.

Thank you for always cheering me on

and protecting my heart.

You will always be my father,

and I’m so glad it’s you, Dad.

Exactly As You Are: Loving Your Spouse Unconditionally 

Yesterday I wrote a guest post for my friend Bonnie Way on her blog The Koala Mom called “Exactly as you are: Loving your spouse unconditionally.”

Here is her intro and the link in case you’d like to check it out!

Today, contributing writer Anna Eastland is sharing what she learned in a late-night chat with her husband about loving your spouse unconditionally.

No matter how well you know your spouse, every now and then you learn something new, like a new skylight opened and illumined a corner of their soul you hadn’t seen before. You have one of those unexpected midnight conversations where you are allowed to enter an unexplored recess of their heart. How do you respond to this intimate revelation? With love.

Loving Your Spouse Unconditionally

“You’re pretty, Mama!” A Toddler’s Take on Beauty


“You’re pretty Mama!” My toddler said enthusiastically the other day as I stood in the kitchen in my pj’s.
“And I’m shiny!” she added beaming.
“Yes, you are.”

It’s true that she is. She shines, despite often scraggly hair and peanut butter in her face from lunch, because there is beauty within, and it can’t help but emanate from her.


It is said that the light of the eye enlightens whole body….children see beauty because they are filled with it, and they are filled with it because they can see and appreciate it.

We adults often fall into the trap of thinking that maturity means seeing primarily the darkness in the world, but often this cynicism is merely a defence mechanism. Instead of being vulnerable and enthusiastic, we remain critical and detached. We retreat into ourselves instead of connecting with the world.

The great British writer G.K. Chesterton wrote that there were two falls of man: in the first, man lost innocence by recognizing good and evil, and in the second, more recent fall, he fell again by losing sight of goodness and only seeing the evil.

The truth is that the world contains both. That reality is made up of light and darkness. That the tiniest candle burns away the darkness with an assurance of hope.


We all need to kindle this little fire inside ourselves…”Carry your candle, into the darkness, carry your candle, light up the world,” sings Chris Rice.

My little one’s candle burns brightly and joyfully. She isn’t afraid to wear all sorts of finery because she is confident of her beauty. A star isn’t afraid to sparkle, and I don’t mean an egotistical movie star, but one in the sky, which can’t help but shine.


Like a star she shares her light, and it falls upon those she sees. Recently we were playing in the grass outside the community centre where her big sisters have an art class, and we could see a class of older women dancing through the open door.


“Look at the princesses, Mama! There’s Ariel!”

Given that they were mostly older short-haired Asian women of various shapes and sizes, this was a bit of a stretch, but a lovely one. That were dancing, and that was enough to make them royally beautiful in her eyes.


She isn’t afraid to be herself, and because she accepts herself as she is, she accepts others as they are as well. Isn’t this the meaning of unconditional love?


If more of us lived this kind of love, the world would be a more beautiful place…or rather, our hearts would be open to see all the hidden beauty that is already there.

So go out and sparkle: chances are others will shine in the glow of your reflection, too.