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. 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.)

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Dear Dad (Father's Day 2014)

Dear Dad,

I don't think about you as often as I used to. There's no longer the searing pain in my heart that was there when you first died. But this weekend, it's always hard. It was yours.

Even after we started our own family, my husband enjoyed your Father's Day tradition. So we continued it with you and it became his. This is the 7th Father's Day we're celebrating without you. It's been difficult to find my bearings without you here.

Just yesterday, we still had our zoo day. It wasn't on Father's Day itself, but it was close enough. Old Country Buffet lost its appeal a little more each year without you. So eating breakfast there never even came on our radar this year. We just ate our first meal of the day at home.

Andelise Randall is a few months shy of 6-years-old. Her name is a reminder to me that she never met you, her Papa. (She shares your middle name.) Her excitement for the day could not be contained! "Tell me when we see the signs!" Every sign indicating the way to the zoo built up the anticipation.

We got to Brookfield Zoo right as it opened, just as you taught us. It's not the same zoo, however. (Was the carousel even there before you died? I don't think so.) The bears are no longer in the same location. Although I suppose we should be thankful they still have bears. Ande wanted to go there first but I thought the children's zoo would be better. Bad idea. They've destroyed that as well.

I loved going to the children's zoo with you! It seemed you were so relaxed there. It was always so nice to spend time with you when you'd allow yourself to just rest. We took our time. There was never a hurry.

Dad holding me at the Children's Zoo with my siblings
What a disappointment that they closed the children's zoo! (I supposed if I really thought about it, I was probably informed by a friend that it was closed but still... It appears it is a thing of the past and it saddens my heart.) I informed the employee, that came over to explain the area was under construction, of my disappointment. It seems there is always more construction and less animals every time we visit Brookfield Zoo! If it weren't for your tradition, I think I'd turn to Lincoln Park instead. (At least there are no expectations there for me.)

We went and saw the bears. Jaycie took over my camera and snapped pictures of everything she could... including herself. I've got to learn how to quit being disappointed when my expectations aren't met and just enjoy the moment. I'm like you in that way, Daddy.

We decided to leave the zoo to eat lunch at Russell's. I know you'd always charge ahead to see every animal possible and then reward us with Russell's for dinner but changing this up worked well for my family. (Nikelle, who will be 12 later this month, was especially happy because her lunch at the zoo on a recent school field trip left her pooped on by a bird. Her one request was that we didn't eat lunch outside.) We didn't have to stress over finding a parking space or finding a table. Lunch was enjoyable.

While I now understand well why we didn't get a choice of what we'd order growing up, I let my girls choose. Ande ordered a hamburger. The rest of us would have made you happy as we each chose the 1/2 barbecue chicken meal. I was surprised Nikelle and Jaycie made that choice but it was the right one!

I wish I had my camera inside with me to take a picture of our little 8-year-old blondie gobbling up her meal. (We're still behind the time with our old phones that don't capture pictures like new technology does these days.) That girl enjoyed every bite of that chicken to the bone! We aren't even sure how she managed to fit it inside her little body! She was a mess with the tasty Russell's barbecue sauce all over her hands and face.

I could hear your laugh inside my head. You would have responded with such joy over this simple moment: Your granddaughter, devouring the adult-sized meal you so enjoyed as well! My heart was full as my eyes fought back tears. I still miss you.

We drove back to the zoo which brought us past a Menards. That store will always be identified with you. I rarely step foot into on because my heart still twists every time.

Then I knew it was coming... I decided that I would point out that stupid place to my girls this time: Loyola Hospital. I wish there was no story to tell but I told it. "Girls, this is the hospital that tried to help keep your Papa alive." It frustrates me that there's no emotions in my girls hearts over any of it because I still wrestle with it against my will. (They were 5, 2 and in the womb when you died. How could I expect them to feel any emotion when Nikelle struggles to remember you?)

Their daddy begins to tell stories about the many trips his grandparents spent at that hospital. He tells an account of how his Grandma broke a record with the size of a tumor doctors pulled out of her stomach there. I know he has his own stories but I'm still wrestling with demons as he tells his light-hearted story. I'm frustrated that I even have a story to identify with that hospital.

I try to wrap up my feelings as I inform the girls of a more tangible part of the story for them. "Your Grams spent many an uncomfortable night sleeping in that hospital caring for your Papa." That was that. My mind went to my cousin who is spending time with her 8-year-old daughter in a hospital in Michigan trying to determine why the little girl is in so much pain. I prayed for her as we went back to the zoo.

We saw the penguins despite Ande's aversion to the noise of the giant splashing wave. I assured her she didn't have to be scared. Memories take me back to the times you'd find great joy in positioning each of your grandchildren under the clear glass and wait with them for what you knew would catch them by surprise. Unknowingly, they would listen to their Papa only to jump when the wave crashed on the glass. You'd laugh and we'd join in because your laugh was always contagious.

Our girls enjoy the Hamill Family Play Zoo. It costs extra money, so I don't think you ever set foot on the inside of it. Nikelle helped Ande paint her face as a pink bunny and Jaycie enjoyed drawing art on her own arms. At the end of our day, Andelise braved touching a Boa Constrictor in the same type of setting we would have had opportunity to pet the pony at the children's zoo.

I suppose it didn't end our day - just our time at the zoo. We still followed the tradition of making the trek to The Plush Horse for some ice cream. We just were able to enjoy it a bit more since we weren't stuffed with barbecue chicken immediately prior to going. My girls each enjoyed one scoop of ice cream each. Yes, only one scoop. I know you'd never hear of anything less than a double scoop. Don't worry, Rod and I still enjoyed two flavors each. (And the girls couldn't even finish what they had.)

Anyway, thanks for having big expectations. At times, as a kid, it was difficult to sit by as you wrestled with the disappointment you experienced. As an adult, however, who struggles in the same way, I'm thankful your expectations were big. You simply wanted to give your children the full enjoyment of the things that brought you pleasure. They do, Dad. We do. Your grandkids do, too.

And I look forward to enjoying Heaven with you one day too.

Your Grateful Daughter,


Wednesday, June 4, 2014

An Invitation

This post is part of the  “Finding Spiritual Whitespace Blog Tour” which I am a part of, along with a group of soulful, journeying kindreds. To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE!  

Finding Spiritual Whitespace

“When we make room for whitespace… We uncover layers of ourselves we had to put to the side in order to deal with the stress at hand.” - Bonnie Gray, Finding Spiritual Whitespace

I have been burying sorrows (and even happiness) during the past 9 years or so “in order to deal with the stress at hand”. Seasons of a husband travelling all the time, raising daughters, dads dying of cancer, training for races, taking care of the home, building friendships… Life quickly has a way of pushing everything else aside as it demands our focus. There’s no time to sort through emotions, feelings, thoughts, problems, or even celebrations. Each day is faced by putting one foot in front of the other because we have to. For the first time in a long time, I feel free to explore the past. Life’s storm clouds have lifted just enough to take pause and breathe and just be.

More than anything, I have been learning to nurture my soul. God has been whispering to my heart the importance of guarding moments of rest. And I really believed I was responding well to His promptings. In reading the new book, Finding Spiritual Whitespace Awakening your Soul to Rest, by (in)courage contributor, Bonnie Gray, I was surprised at how much louder the importance of His message would become.

The early morning hours are mine. These are the moments no one else makes demands of my schedule. It’s a short period in the day rarely disrupted. Outside of this protected time, life feels defined by interruptions. If I can successfully tip toe down the stairs quietly, there is a peaceful calm that greets me. Any little noise, however, could cause my 5-year-old to bolt out of bed so as not to miss any moment of the day. Should my morning start with the greeting of a tired little girl, my time will never be easily recovered. I must be swift and intentional but I am learning even a few moments of rest are worth fighting for. Rest is now a daily rendezvous with quiet where God invites me to hear His voice that I long for more and more.

It’s me and silence (if I can quiet the thoughts in my head). This has not always been a comfortable place to rest. I have thought “rest” was emptying my mind or even replacing the noise in my head with the blare of the television. Now I am realizing that “rest” is found in giving everything on my mind to God. I cast my cares on Him by giving Him each thought and allowing Him to free me from the bondage I often create in my head. In pursuing rest, I am finding peace and freedom… and I want it more and more.

I used to utilize every possible moment to sleep in. Raising tiny children will invoke that desire in a person. When one cannot get a decent night’s rest, the mind is easily convinced to pursue every moment of shut eye it can get. Sleep still entices me as my body and mind are exhausted most of the day. It feels as though I can never truly get enough sleep but I’m learning that rest for my body can never bring rest for my soul.

There have been other seasons of my life where I used the early morning hours for exercise. Rolling out of bed, I would immediately dress myself for a run and get the miles in. It felt a bit robotic but it got me the physical utopia I was hoping for. It is still tempting to start my days that way especially because my body is not the epitome of healthiness it could be. Yet physical health can never cure an unhealthy soul.

Today I woke up early, remaining dressed for sleep but inviting my soul to awaken with God. I sit with my Bible and notebook along with my favorite current read and open my heart and mind to a Voice greater than the ones scrolling through my brain. Here I find the rest I am longing for. This allows me to seek health for my whole person. It begins right here in the quiet place of rest alone with God.

As long as I bury life under the layers, I will never find the good health I am working for. I want a quality life more than I want the quantity of years. This is where I start. I invite Him in. Are you willing to invite Him in?

“He’s calling us to find a new place of rest that goes beyond our ability to create it.” – Bonnie Gray

“You desire truth in the inner being; make me therefore to know wisdom in my inmost heart.” – Psalm 51:6 (AMP)


Bonnie Gray is the writer behind Faith who wrote a book about her inspiring, heart-breaking journey to find rest, which garnered Publisher’s Weekly starred review. I’m taking the journey to find rest through this guidebook and invite you to read it too.  You can get a copy HERE.

(NOTE: I know that a good night's sleep and exercise are important. This is not to diminish their importance. It is just a warning that even good things can get in the way of soul rest.)