Tuesday, July 22, 2014

On Opening our Doors

Photo by PBS companies (pbsdesignbuild.com)

As our church looks forward to opening the doors on a new building, I can’t help but think of the entryway to my own home. I want you to take this moment to envision your own front door. Now ask yourself: "How many women from our church have walked through that entrance?" (I understand that some people justify that they can't comfortably welcome people into their home. If that is the case with you, think about your front door as a theoretical one to your life.)

The other day, my friend came to pick me up for a girls’ night out. Peeking through my window, I saw her step out of her vehicle. Swiftly, I opened my front door just wide enough to allow myself to sneak out before she could ring the doorbell. To assure my escape to freedom, without allowing anyone inside the house to get away, I quickly shut the door behind me. Laughter welcomed the night before us as we pulled out of the driveway waving goodbye to the prisoners inside. As I breathed a sigh of relief, I felt God challenging me a bit about the picture I had just painted.

My actions had given every appearance that I needed to run away from the chaos. An examination of my heart, however, told the truth that I simply didn’t want to let anyone in. While I could have opened wide the front door of my home and welcome my friend, I chose to allow the mess inside to dictate my actions.
The parallel to my heart is uncanny. Putting on a smile, I step up to my role in this masquerade of life. I wear my mask, painting myself as a good church-going gal. I am afraid of what others will think if they know the truth about my real life. At all costs, it feels important to keep up the fa├žade that I’ve got it all together instead of revealing the raw truth that things are all too often a painful mess.

Recently, a close friend brought her children over so the kids could play while we caught up. When nap time came for her youngest, I had a choice to make. Our time could be interrupted or I could invite her to put her daughter down for a nap in my home. While everything in me wanted to offer one of my girls’ rooms for her infant to sleep, I knew the master bedroom was the one assured place she wouldn’t be disturbed.

I extended the invitation challenged by God’s calling for me to open wide the door of my life. Setting up the pack and play required taking a deep breath. My master bedroom had become the catch all. Baskets of clothes, toys, and odds and ends of all kinds covered every inch of our floor. There was hardly even enough empty space to erect the portable crib. It didn’t matter how much I told myself that my friend wouldn’t judge me… shame and embarrassment still threatened to end our time together.

As my friend walked through the door of my bedroom, I took another deep breath and left her alone to get her child situated. In that moment, I knew this was more than simply allowing another into the dirty places of my home. It was about tearing down the walls and saying “yes” to God.

Today, I realize that my girlfriend likely hasn’t given this moment a second thought. I, on the other hand, am sharing it to illustrate a passion God has given me for the women of Southfield. My dream is that no woman would ever feel alone in this community. I want women to associate the word Southfield with friendship and acceptance. Let’s tear down the walls. Open our front doors wide. Welcome one another into the mess we call life. Friendship isn’t just about celebrating together. It’s about knowing there is somewhere for you to turn when it all falls apart. Let’s make sure no one has to feel alone.

In her book, Bread and Wine, Author Shauna Niequist depicts my dream beautifully. I want to read you a part of it:

This is what I want you to do: I want you to tell someone you love them, and dinner’s at six. I want you to throw open your front door and welcome the people you love into the inevitable mess with hugs and laughter…

Gather the people you love around your table and feed them with love and honesty and creativity…
There will be a day when life falls apart. My very dear friend lost her mom this year. That same month, another friend’s marriage ended, shot through with lies and heartbreak. A friend I hadn’t talked to in ages called late one Sunday night to ask me how to get through a miscarriage… As I write, a dear family friend lies in a coma in a hospital bed.

These are things I can’t change. Not one of them. Can’t fix, can’t heal, can’t put the broken pieces back together. But what I can do is offer myself, wholehearted and present, to walk with the people I love through the fear and the mess. That’s all any of us can do. That’s what we’re here for…

… the presence, the listening, the praying with and for on the days when it all falls apart, when life shatters in our hands.

The table is where we store up for those days, where we log minutes and hours building something durable and strong that gets tested in those terrible split seconds. And the table is where we return to stitch our hearts back together after the breaking…

…It’s about showing up in person, a whole and present person, instead of a fragmented, frantic person, phone in one hand and to-do list in the other. Put them down, both of them, twin symbols of the modern age… The table is where time stops. It’s where we look people in the eye, where we tell the truth about how hard it is, where we make space to listen to the whole story, not the textable sound bite.

… I want you to live with wild and gorgeous abandon, throwing yourself into each day, telling the truth about who you are and who you are not, writing a love song to the world itself and to the God who made every inch of it.

I want you to invest yourself wholly and deeply in friendship, God’s greatest evidence to Himself here on earth.

Two verses come to mind when I think about the women of Southfield. First the Apostle Paul tells the Galatians in chapter 6, verse 2 to “Carry each other’s burdens and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Second, he writes to the Romans in chapter 1, verse 12: “When we get together, I want to encourage you in your faith, but I also want to be encouraged by yours.” I can only imagine what our relationships would look like if we kept these verses in mind.

While we have an incredible opportunity with this new venture we are on, I don’t want us to ever forget that WE are the church. As we look forward to our first day in the new building together, let’s prepare by opening wide our front doors for friendship. Let’s take off our masks and invite each other in to our real lives.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Spiritual Whitespace: Awakened to New Rest (A Book Review)

I wasn't confident that I needed Spiritual Whitespace when I picked up this book but I was surprisingly wrong. Reading this book agreed with my soul from the moment I opened its pages. So many of Bonnie Gray's words resonated with me on a journey of rest I believed I was already pursuing. At the heart of this book, I unexpectedly found myself awakened to my innermost self along with some clutter I was pretending didn't exist. The author of this book cultivates an environment that encourages us to stop the rat race and find true soul rest. "Whitespace is a movement to make the radical choice to leave the louder clamoring voices, in order to follow the one, quite voice inside." Whether rest is something your soul desperately needs or rest is something you confidently believe to be implemented in your life, this book is a must read! Although I thought rest was something I pursued at every moment possible, Spiritual Whitespace has awakened my soul to new rest where I invite God into every area of my life, unguarded.

Finding Spiritual Whitespace

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Desires for my Daughter

My daughter is center stage.

My oldest is away on her first trip with the church youth group. In her 12 years of life, I’ve never been away from her this long. Especially with no form of contact. Even though cell phone service where she is at is terrible, I’m second thinking our no cell phone decision.

We were excited to be able to give her this opportunity. My husband and I embrace any experience that will help her grow her relationship with God as well as her friendships. While this week is more of a service project than a “camp” experience, it is my understanding that there is plenty of fun to be had as well. She will be learning the value of hard work this week as well as building on the relationships we so desperately desire for her.

I was a little caught off guard by my emotions on the morning of her departure date. Tears hit me in a simple conversation and my daughter was quick to inform everyone about my response. When she asked me why I was crying, I gave her an honest answer. “Basically, it’s a week where I have zero control over your life.” That’s the honest truth. While I managed to keep it together as we dropped her off with her youth group, it was not an easy letting go. I trust the leaders completely and look forward to seeing how God grows her through this experience. I really do… but WOW…

The fact that God would use my daughter’s experience of going on a youth trip to grow my relationship with Him never really occurred to me. Yet, here I sit, recognizing that I am forced to trust God in a way that I am not when she is here with me 24/7. It’s a taste of the future I suppose.

So, I find myself praying for her safety and asking God to grow her relationship with Him. And in the midst of my request, I realize that the two may not go hand and hand and I think I understand. The act of maturing doesn’t always come with a guaranteed safety net. Most of the time, it happens exactly opposite of that. I realize it in my own life. It is in the hard times that I am forced to lean on my Savior. It isn’t easy but I tell God that I recognize she is ultimately His.

Phew! And I thought being inducted into motherhood was hard…

These years of adolescence are tearing at my heart more than the lack of sleep from caring for a newborn. I cheered her through those early years, thrilled to see her enter a point of self-sufficiency, only to find myself fighting against her initiation to adulthood. There was a reason I was in tears when I found out I was pregnant with her… I didn’t think I was ready to be a mom… and I was right. I’m still not. Nothing can prepare us for the way these children fill our hearts and tear them apart at the same time. Not a thing.

Will you pray for my daughter (and me)? I want nothing more than her to come back desiring more. Yet I know it will be difficult to send her away again next month.

This is a moment where I’m faced with the words I preach. I’ve quoted 3 John 1:4: “Nothing gives me greater joy than to hear that my children are following the way of truth.” Do I really believe it enough… that I would give anything to help cultivate that result? I want to.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

On Happily Ever After (Words to my Niece for her Wedding)

What girl doesn’t love a good romance? Every girl longs for her own story to end in “Happily Ever After”. Cinderella has Prince Charming. Belle is able to find true love with the Beast. It’s natural going into your wedding day, to feel a bit like Jasmine and Aladdin looking forward to the “whole new world” you and your new husband are going to discover together. Love is in the air. Planning a wedding allows you to feel like a princess and get swallowed into the romance of it all.

I just wanted to take a moment to say a few words about this “happily ever after”.

At a young age, we watch movies that leave us pining for our own love story. We read novels yearning for the day that our dreams really do come true. Our lives are spent building up our very own fairytale.

Honestly, no matter how young we are when we meet “the one”; no matter how long we date prior to tying the knot; no matter how truly wonderful we or anyone else finds our prince to truly be, our biggest struggle is probably that of fantasy v. reality.

Here are three things I need to remind myself about that I hope will help you too:

No matter how much you think he can or want him to, your husband is NOT a mind reader. He never will be. Remind yourself of this often.

You are not part of a fantasy of vampires and werewolves. Edward Cullen does not truly exist. If we’re honest, even with his mind reading abilities, Edward still couldn’t figure out what Bella was thinking. Men cannot read our minds and that is probably a good thing.

No matter how many times I hope your uncle will buy me the perfect Christmas gift or arrange the romantic rendezvous of my dreams, he will almost always fail. He is not inside my head. I have to communicate with him to give him any sort of hope. Even then, he wasn’t given a written script to avoid failure.

One time my husband asked me what my favorite flower was. I’m a bit lazy and don’t even want to spend the time caring for the precut flowers (that have no chance of living) to keep them beautiful for a day. I sarcastically answered Rod that my favorite flowers were the wild ones. The next time I received flowers from him, I no longer was gifted with beautiful roses. Instead I received an arrangement of flowers that seemed odd to me. This happened a few times leaving me a bit irritated when I realized that as far as he was concerned, I was happy. I finally informed him that what I meant was that I enjoyed seeing the flowers grow outside where they were supposed to be. Then I informed him that if he’s going to make the effort to bring me flowers, I’d prefer he bring me roses. He wants to make me happy but he doesn’t stand a chance if I just wish he knew me better. A marriage needs open and honest communication (even about a little thing like flower preference that may appear selfish). Your husband is not a mind reader. Give him a chance to make you happy by communicating openly and honestly with him. After all, becoming one doesn’t’ just miraculously happen when you say “I do”. It takes some work. Remind yourself that your husband cannot read your mind.

Very recently, I threw a bit of a pity party for myself. I just grew tired of not being allowed to live in a fantasy world. Reality wasn’t sitting well with me. My girlfriend knew this and texted me to see how I was doing. I texted her back that I was doing a bit better. Among other things, I just needed to remember who the real enemy is.

In The Hunger Games series, Katniss Everdeen, the heroine in the movie, was informed by her mentor as she entered the games to remember this very thing. It would have appeared that in a game where only one survives, every person she came against was the enemy. However, it was important that she remember who the real enemy was: The Capitol.

In the reality of our lives, we need to remember that our husband, our family, in-laws, employer, neighbors and even our friends are not the enemy. There is a real enemy. He wants nothing more than for our marriages to fall apart. The Bible tells us that Satan is like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. Marriage was instituted by God to reflect a picture of Christ and the Church. Satan doesn’t want an accurate reflection of this revealed. There will be times that you must remind yourself that your husband is not the enemy. Remember who the real enemy is!

Finally, and maybe most importantly (at least in my own life), is to remember that my husband is not my Savior. Cinderella is rescued from her evil stepmother by Prince Charming. Snow White is rescued from death by her prince. Jasmine is rescued by Aladdin from an arranged marriage. The list goes on and on. With all these fairy tales, it’s no wonder that we want a man to come rescue us from our own reality.
Sometimes it is a difficult childhood we look to be rescued from. Sometimes it is financial ruin. Sometimes we simply want to be rescued from our loneliness. Either way, looking for a human being as our Savior will only lead to disappointment.

God can use the relationship with your husband to bring some healing to the wounded places in your soul. However, every human being will disappoint and your husband cannot solve your every problem. To expect him to do so will set your marriage up for failure.

There is only one Savior and that is where your eyes must continually look if you want a successful marriage. In the moments where my next-to-perfect husband lets me down… because he does… a lot… we’re two selfish beings coming together… how can he not… I have to fix my eyes on Jesus. Over and over and over again.

Matthew 6:33 tells us to Seek the Kingdom of God ABOVE ALL ELSE, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. In everything, Seek God. Devote yourself to reading the Bible, studying His Truth and meditating on the Word of God. This is the key to a successful marriage. This is what allows you to cultivate open and honest communication. This will remind you who the real enemy is. It is in keeping our eyes on our true Savior, Jesus Christ, that we can face the disappointment of our spouse and still have a thriving marriage.

To end, I wanted to share with you some words that your Papa shared with everyone at my wedding reception when you were just two weeks old. Here is what my dad said about Rod and I: “I know his love will grow for her and her love for him because of first Christ’s love for them and then their love for Christ. This is the only ingredient needed to hold a marriage together… just to love and obey the Lord.” Take that wisdom from your Papa and apply it to your own marriage, Cassandra. I know it’s what he’d say to you if he were here. I love you!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

One of These Things is Not Like the Others

“One of these things is not like the others. One of these things doesn’t belong. Can you tell which thing is not like the others by the time we finish our song.”

As a child, this familiar song from Sesame Street signaled it was time to shout out the item that didn’t belong before the correct choice was declared. One thing was different. Usually the variance was slight but there was always one object that was unique; set apart.

I’ve always looked at being different as being good. It never bothered me to be unique. Honestly, I’ve embraced it. My very name allowed me to be set apart. Most people don’t know more than one “Tristi”. It’s always made me feel pretty good that I defined the meaning of my name by the way I lived. (Unless you look up similarities in different languages… than my name could be defined by sadness… Spanish/Italian.)

We tend to eliminate name choices for our children because we once knew a person with that name and bad memories accompany it. My name doesn’t usually evoke negative emotions unless I’m the one who caused them. I liked that my name is unique. So much so that I’ve attempted to pick uncommon names for my daughters as well.

It’s not just my name that has set me apart. Different is a word that has defined my entire life. I grew up in a suburb of Chicago and my family lived on the outskirts of our town. Because of this, I rode the little bus. There were a handful of kids that lived in the “country” and this was how we got to school. Preconceived notions about riding the small bus immediately identify children as “special”. Not that I minded. The comments meant as jabs by others were easy to laugh off because I knew the truth. What did it matter what they said if it wasn’t truth?

I had plenty of friends, but I was, without a doubt, different than them. Physically, I was fairly similar but our lives were different. I was only allowed to watch G-rated movies. I didn’t go to school dances. My ears weren’t pierced. I didn’t (still don’t) wear make-up. The current craze was never something I was privy to. When other kids had the popular toy of that year’s fad, I was happy to have a knock-off. (During the season that Cabbage Patch Kids were hot, I was overjoyed to receive a homemade version from my aunt. It didn’t even matter that Xavier Roberts wasn’t written on the rear!) I happily wore hand-me-downs and lived my childhood rarely dwelling on the fact that I had a different life than that of my classmates. It didn’t bother me because I was like the small circle in the video: just slightly different from the others. It was fun to be unique!

Our home was uncommon as well. We lived in an unfinished home on 5 acres surrounded by farm fields. My dad was building his dream home but never quite finished it. Just as a shoemaker’s children never had shoes, the carpenter’s children never had a finished home. Our house was cool to visit because it was so very different. The kitchen was on the top floor and our bedrooms were in the basement. On side of our home was a big room with a basketball hoop in it. Our friends always found it exciting to come play in our “gym”. We, on the other hand, thought it was no huge deal. We wanted what we found our home to be lacking. My siblings and I always begged our parents for a pool on what we found to be an otherwise empty 5-acres.

Our yard wasn’t really “empty”. It was filled with a garden and wood pile. Our summers were spent working in dad’s garden and helping mom can and freeze the vegetables for the winter. We also could be found hauling in firewood for the winter because our house was heated by wood burning stoves. As a kid, it seemed to me that we were always hard at work while “normal” kids enjoyed the lazy days of summer. We were rewarded for our hard work with ice cream, trips to the zoo and two-day excursions to Six Flags Great America. While I knew my life was different, I didn’t feel deprived. (Honestly, working so much was likely just my perspective as a child. We probably enjoyed a lot of unscheduled fun. It just felt like we were always toiling. As an adult, these differences are just fun facts to share.)

As an adult, I haven’t been so keen on embracing my uniqueness. Recently, I’ve grown tired of being different. My focus has been on the second line of that jingle from Sesame Street: “One of these things doesn’t belong”.

I grow tired of feeling like I don’t fit in. It feels like I’m always swimming upstream in opposition to the rest of the fish in the river. One of the songs from the 2011 Muppets movie has a way of summarizing my recent feelings. “I’m having a ‘me’ party, a party by myself. I’m having a ‘me’ party, I don’t need nobody else. A ‘me’ party, I’m the first and last to show. There’s no one at this party that I don’t already know.”

I’ve been feeling sorry for myself. I’ve grown weary of the effort it takes to not feel so different from everyone else. My “me” party has been a “pity party” celebrating selfishness. It’s not the way I want to live. I’ve temporarily taken my eyes off of the Author and Finisher of my Faith. Without my eyes on Him, I cannot love my uniqueness.



Set apart.

Thefreedictionary.com defines set apart as “to reserve for a specific use; to make noticeable”. Romans 1 tells us that the Apostle Paul was “set apart for the Gospel of God” (ESV). He was chosen by God for a specific use. We were too. In the right state of mind, these are good things. They can tell us that we are living in a way that pleases God. Paul’s words throughout the Bible are there for a reason. He knew what it was like to never quite fit in. 

Romans 12:2 (NLT) instructs us: “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” Being transformed means to “make a thorough or dramatic change in the form, appearance, or character of.” As Christians, we are called to be different; unique; set apart.

Christianity isn’t the “crutch” some think it is. The Bible is filled with encouragement to continue to persevere and never give up for a reason. If the Christian life was supposed to be easy, we wouldn’t need that type of instruction.

Some days it is hard to continually filter our thoughts and align them with God’s. Yet we cannot give up. We can love our uniqueness. Truly, we can. If we keep our eyes focused on eternity.

“We do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen but on what is unseen for what is seen is temporary but what is unseen is eternal.” – 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

The only way to love our uniqueness is to continually align our thoughts with God’s Truth (the same way I combated the comments about riding the little bus). Let’s help each other remember that being different; unique; set apart means that you are chosen by God for a purpose! Now that’s a reason to love our uniqueness!

HAH-Blog-Hop-graphic (3)Do you fight against being unique or do you embrace it?

(Today is the Third Thursday of the month. Time for the Hearts at Home Home Blog Hop! This month's topic: Love Your Uniqueness. Head over to Jill's blog to see what other women have to say on the topic.)