Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas 2014

Dear Friends and Family,

As I think back on this past year, my mind has difficulty sorting through the stories in an effort to determine what to share in such a brief space. Time seems to move too quickly, making moments more difficult to capture. And yet, Christmas has a way of helping unwrap the memories.

The line “Nothing is impossible with God” from the Christmas story in the Gospel of Luke plays over in my mind. We have witnessed this in an extraordinary way in our own family over the past 12 months. Rod can give account of how he felt imprisoned by his job only to see God deliver him in a way that still blows our minds. He had no leads for a new job and yet found one placed in his lap. For the past six months, he has been enjoying the freedom of employment with Codilis & Associates. The story is amazing! If you haven’t heard it, you may want to ask him to recount the details. This current job is one he can see himself at for the rest of his life, God willing. There is opportunity for friendships as well as learning and growth. Most importantly, however, this job allows our family to enjoy his presence on a more consistent basis. Overflowing with gratitude, Rod is adamant that this precious gift of time he has been given will not be wasted.

I continue to focus my time at home. As the girls get older, my main role seems be that of taxi driver. Coordinating all of our schedules keeps me on my toes. When I’m not focused on running our household (who am I kidding… that’s my full-time job), I enjoy spending time with friends and serving in the church. I’m currently working to adjust priorities as needed in order to best live in the moment and for the day at hand.

As I read for Advent, I am reminded that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was likely only about 12 – 14-years-old. (The Bible doesn’t say specifically, but this was tradition back in those times.) With our oldest, Nikelle, being 12 ½, this fact brings the story of Christmas into a whole new light. In so many ways, she’s just a little girl. At the same time, this new stage of parenting has our thoughts more honed in on her future life as an adult. In just a handful of months, we will have a teenager! Our oldest is the musician and artist and is extremely even-keeled like her dad. Nikelle continues to play the flute in the school band. She has also joined the All City band which she loves. They will be travelling to Colorado in May and Rod will be chaperoning. (I think he’s ecstatic to experience the fullness of life as a band parent.) If you ask her, she will tell you music equals life. It may very well appear that way in her world as she has added piano lessons to her week this year as well. She’s excelling wonderfully and it’s a beautiful thing to listen to our daughter create music. We pray she will be able to use this talent to worship God and share His love with others. This past summer, she went on two trips with the church youth group. Getting a taste of what freedom from her parents (as well as from her little sisters) feels like, she is anxious for more trips in the future. While she has not yet quite passed her mother in height, she is taller than many adults at this point and cannot wait until she can look down at me. We are so grateful for this beautiful young lady God has given us to raise for Him.

As I think about what to say in regards to Jaycie, it just came to my mind how much she would have enjoyed being around the baby Jesus. She is a magnet for little ones. It’s such a joy to watch her take care of her little one-year-old friends. They just love their Jay Jay and she loves them! Most exciting is that her cousin, Cassandra, (who was married this past August) is expecting her first baby. I know Jaycie will work hard to win the love of this little one even with the competition of other family members vying for the baby’s attention! Jaycie is in 3rd grade now and makes us smile often. Our middle daughter is the comedian of the family as well as the deep thinker. It’s always around dinner time that she cannot seem to contain the goofiness. Constantly, questions poor out of her on every topic. Recently, I came across a post-it note she had written that said: "God is perfect. We are not. Listen to God and Poof! We are His!" It’s this simple mindset of welcoming God into her world that reminds us to keep our hearts open as well. Jaycie has come such a long way from the little girl who wouldn’t leave my side. Because she’s such a hard egg to crack, there are still many who are unable to witness the “real” Jaycie. Yet in our home, we thoroughly enjoy watching her blossom into the person God created her to be. And it’s especially fun when others get a sneak peek as well!

Andelise can sing “All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth” this December. It’s a bittersweet moment as we exit this period of parenting younger children and so many “firsts”. She is in her final year as a Kindergartener at Our Savior Lutheran Preschool. We are so grateful for the partnership these teachers have had with us in preparing our girls for a bigger world. While their collaboration in sharing Jesus with our children will be missed, we look forward to what is to come. If all goes as hoped, Ande will join Jaycie at Eisenhower Academy next year. Our youngest is full of life and a confident leader. She loves people and hates to be alone. As the athlete of the family, she is quite thrilled to have figured out the jump rope! She’s enjoying learning how to read as well as attend AWANA where Grams is her leader. Ande embraces each day early to be certain no one leaves without saying goodbye. “Wave to me and blow me a kiss” she reminds us as she reciprocates from the front window. She’s busy until the moment bedtime comes. And I won’t lie: bedtime is sweet relief for us all. 

Christmas brings with it all kinds of ideals especially as portrayed in all of the beautiful songs of the season. “I’m dreaming of a White Christmas…” “Deck the halls with boughs of holly…” “The fire is so delightful…” “Everybody knows a turkey and some mistletoe help to make the season bright…” “I’ll be home for Christmas…” “Have yourself a merry little Christmas…” And I feel these ideals clash with the realities of everyday life that doesn’t get put on hold because “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…”

However, one line from the song, “Joy to the World”, has been replaying in my mind and begs for me to revisit. “Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room...” I find myself pondering ways to do that. More specifically, I wonder what in our lives takes up space in our hearts making it difficult to include the very reason for this season.

One necessity to keep the joy in the season is to let go of these ideals written in the tunes that play through my mind. The reality is that head colds prevent us from enjoying the beauty of Christmas lights. Band concerts and school programs fill up our calendars stealing time away from the fireplace. 5 different people have 5 different desires and “family ideals” conflict in a way that threatens our holly jolly anything.

The most threatening destruction for this family is that of busyness. Busyness steals our intentionality. Busyness works to divide our family. Busyness does it’s best to keep us from God. Busyness creates chaos leaving the only option for living as response mode. This is not okay. More than anything, we want to be intentional about life. And absolutely nothing should be more important than preparing room in our hearts for Christ.

Not only during this Christmas season, but in the upcoming 2015, you will find our household making every effort to “Prepare Him Room”. Above all else, this is what matters to us. This is our prayer for you as well. It’s the very reason for this season as well as for our existence. “Joy to the World! The Lord has come. Let earth receive her King. Let every heart prepare Him room. And Heaven and Nature Sing. And Heaven and Nature Sing. And Heaven and Heaven and Nature Sing.”


Tristi and Family

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

In Search of the Ideal Christmas

We baked cut-out cookies yesterday. "We" really did. Usually, I don't care to have extra people in my kitchen. I'm not very good at delegating and since I'm such a procrastinator, things are just better done quickly by myself rather than overseeing that others do what they need to.

This year, as in the past, my daughters cut out the cookies. (Despite the fact that they didn't cut out the cookies in as little space as possible to eliminate the need to continually re-roll the dough.) I placed them on the baking sheets and put them in the oven. My girls did great. I, on the other hand, dropped one shape on the floor as it went into the oven and another on the way out (twice).


My oldest laughed.

And it made me smile.

Something is changing in my heart this season and I just want it to fully develop and remain there consistently in the future.

"Can we watch The Grinch?" my oldest inquired. It was past the movie watching hour. We still had cookies to frost. This does not make for an ideal family moment in front of the fire... but I agreed.

As is tradition with my controlling tendencies, I gave each daughter enough frosting to cover one of each shaped cut-out for herself. 4 cookies each for them to decorate as well as the joy of licking off any leftover frosting on their plate. As for the other 56 cookies, I frost them precisely on my own to be certain there is enough for each. Not to mention that they will appeal more to the eye. In the midst of my decorating, I heard my 9-year-old's request.

"Can I help you decorate the rest of the cookies?"

Calmly, I acknowledged that she had been heard. "I usually like to do this myself to make sure we have enough frosting for every cookie." (This, in itself, shows improvement because my first response would have been to try and ignore her and hope she'd stop asking... well, that or yell that I'm just too busy.)

"I can help," she assured me.

I quietly got her a plate and a knife to spread the icing. Her smile filled her beautiful face.

The Grinch began to play in the background as my two daughters who sandwich the one decorating with me sat down to watch it with my husband.

My little blond wanted me to hand her each cookie to frost. I was busy frosting cookies of my own. Quietly, after setting my own creation back on the cooling rack, I'd take the completed cookie from her hand, replace it with a new one and tackle another on my own.

I could feel the anxiety fighting to grab hold of my heart. Thankfully, the joy on her face and the peaceful scene in the television room in front of me won out. She was actually making the cookies appealing to the eye as well.

Something is changing in my heart this season and I want it to culminate and never go away.

This morning I read part of the Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke and pondered about the anticipation in my children's hearts. Why do kids look forward to Christmas with such excitement when adults... well... don't?

All my girls do from the moment Christmas is over is count down until the next year. Tears well up inside me as the certainty of memories of that feeling within myself have faded. Now, worries and anxiety threaten to fill up my soul and steal every ounce of joy.

God has been doing a work in my heart this season. Every morning, I give him my anxiety. Throughout the day, I cast my cares on Him again. At night, my worries are laid at His feet. I can't stop the thoughts from threatening me. They come. And they come again.

Like a hot potato toss I can't give my worries to Jesus fast enough in an effort to keep them from settling in my soul. The only thing I can do is offer them up to the only one who has any control. This moment is all I have. Should the next moment require some alterations, I pray He will give me what I need to do that.

I want the ideal Christmas. And yet, it's taken giving up the ideals to attain what I've so desperately wanted. Those heartwarming moments are found more often when I relinquish control than when I so frantically work to create them.

I am still unable to pinpoint exactly what is changing inside of me. It points to my children and their anticipation and the lack of thought to anything other than the excitement of Christmas Day...

Maybe what I'm looking for is all in the anticipation of Jesus. Maybe there is something to be said about Jesus' words in Matthew 18. "He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: 'Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me."

I need to quit making my list and checking it twice. My heart just needs to make room for Jesus... in the same unhindered way my children do. Then I might just find all that I've been frenziedly searching for.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Overwhelmed for I am Never Alone

Slow down…




I have found that I need this for my soul… to remember.

Honestly, I believe we all do. It’s one of the reasons God gave us the command to rest. We need to take time for reflection. Without it, we never really truly realize the weight of all He has done for us.

Today, I’m recalling the past 6-7 years. For my life, that was when the whirlwind hit.

February 27, 2008 was the day my dad died…

May 26, 2008 was the day my husband’s dad died…

September 3, 2008 was the day our youngest daughter was born…

She was named with a purpose to remember and honor her Papa and Grandpa.

Our Girls September 2008

We brought her to church the next Sunday just as we did with both of her sisters. For our family, attending church on Sunday mornings isn’t optional. It’s what we do. It’s where we want to be.

A couple of weeks after her birth, however, our church moved out of the building we attended since years before our oldest was born. It was a big change… especially considering we were moving from a building that was within walking distance to a school (not far from the land that would someday hold our new building), about 15-20 minutes away.

And today is the last time we will gather together as a church family in that school. Christmas Eve will feel a bit like entering the Promised Land as we gather at our new building. I don’t want to miss this opportunity to reflect.

Our Girls September 2014
Last week, our family had the privilege to do the Advent reading at church. Each one of our girls surprised us and confidently spoke into the microphone just as they were asked to do. That was the start of my emotional morning.

Our children have had the experience of doing “church” in a way that doesn’t claim a building. They’ve had the experience of helping “set up” church. There is behind-the-scenes work that they’ve had a hand in. And this morning, I am grateful.

It hasn’t always been easy or ideal doing portable church. And yet, this season for our church family has truly been a gift. I pray that my girls will always remember this time in the school so that they never forget this: The “church” is the people. The “church” is not a building. If we, the people, do not actively participate… attend… serve… give… there is no church. I pray that our time at Channahon Junior High will be a memory to reinforce this in my daughters’ minds… in my mind.

2008 was a tug-of-war with my emotions. If it weren’t for writing, I don’t even know how much I would actually remember. And yet, last Sunday, as I held my 6-year-old on my hip, those memories formed in tears. She sang the words of the final two songs in my ear and I could hardly keep my composure.

The tears poured because God has done an amazing work not only in my church, but in my very own heart. Oh, how true these words are. It’s the message God wanted me so desperately to grasp. In all of it… my entire life… broken friendships; broken hearts; broken lives… I was never alone… “Never Once” and that leaves me “Overwhelmed”. It’s not about me. It’s all about God.

I don’t want to forget. I want to always remember.

Slow down…




And remember…

He did it all because He loves me. He loves you. If we could only all grasp His message this Christmas. This is what the world needs. That’s why Jesus is the greatest gift ever given.

Never Once by Matt Redman

"Overwhelmed" by Big Daddy Weave

Join us at Southfield on Christmas Eve at 4:30 or 6:00 (located on Route 6 in Channahon, across from Turnstone Drive). If you can't make it then, join us on a Sunday at 9:30 or 11:00. I'd love to see you there!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Unchanging Identity

I’m his wife.

“Mom” is who I am to three girls.

I am daughter; granddaughter; sister; cousin; and niece.

To one, I am "friend".

And to another, I am "neighbor".

For a moment, I had to ponder I am still called "granddaughter" by anyone. I only have one grandparent living.

If I move I’m not their "neighbor" anymore.

And I can't control that she decided I’m no longer her "friend".

My identity feels like it can change at any moment. Sometimes, that is hard for me to cope with.

However, there is one identity I cling to that is unchanging: I am a child of God. If there is one thing I can teach my daughters, it is this: Your identity should be found in God alone. In this world where life moves faster than a spinning top, I am so grateful that my identity in God NEVER changes.

Maybe today you need to cling to that too.

“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” – 1 John 3:1

I'm linking up today with Jill Savage for the Hearts at Home Blog Hop, "Third Thursday Thoughts". Check out what other moms are saying on the topic, "Love your Personality," at Jill's blog.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Fit Him In (reminding myself)

I'm not quite at that Bah Humbug stage but could use this reminder in my life right now. While my life is very different than the season I wrote this poem, it's truth still resounds in my heart. 


The decorations need to go up
There are presents still to buy
More gifts are waiting to be wrapped
And the bows each need to be tied
Pictures need to be taken
Letters wait for me to share
Envelopes still need to be addressed
And Jesus asks me to fit Him in somewhere

The Christmas story should be read
The Advent wreath is lit
The Christmas play we must attend
And the school party I’ll attempt to fit
Thank you gifts for teachers
Christmas classics we long to see
Menus wait to be planned
Emotions of Christmases past grab me

There are church services to attend
Extended family I wish to see
Parties need coordinating
I hear of a family who is in need
My mind continues to mull over my list
Another good cause begs me to share
Cookies are in need of baking
And Jesus asks me to fit Him in somewhere

Weekly responsibilities still beckon
Work, school, homework and such
Math facts, reading, stories to write
There’s just so very much
The kids all still need bathing
Their little bellies need to be fed
There are diapers that are in need of changing
And that Christmas story still needs to be read
The house is in need of a vacuum
Dishes mount up and I begin not to care
Laundry still sits in waiting
And Jesus asks me to fit Him in somewhere

The dog is asking to go out
The ground has a coating of snow
My children will be begging to play
In the yard they will want to go
My husband’s eyes have that twinkle
I need to fit in some time with my friends
Exercise is in the back of my mind
Will these demands on me never end?

I should probably wash the windows
And the carpet, hallway, and kitchen floor
I still need to wrap presents and bake cookies
And yet everyone is asking me for more
People are pulling from every which way
Responsibilities are too much to bear
I go to bed praying... I can’t do it alone
And Jesus asks me to fit Him in somewhere

I wake up in the morning to the cry of my child
And thank God when she goes back to sleep
I remember I can’t get through the day without Jesus
I open my Bible with the prayer journal I keep

The Book of Luke tells me of the way
Christ Jesus came to earth
My heart is filled as I read the story
Of the angels announcing our Savior’s birth
The inn was too full for the gift
that came to Bethlehem that night
There was hustle and bustle from the census
As the shepherds out in the fields were filled with holy fright
I wonder if I would have missed it
if I were there back then
Would I have been too concerned with responsibilities
Or watching and waiting as the shepherds had been?

I need to be intentional
if I’m going to include Jesus in my day
I need to remember that Christmas is Jesus
And take the time to spend listening to Him and pray
Many of these things on my task list are a good and necessary part
It’s just none of them do quite as much
as hiding God’s Word deep inside my heart

I must not forget about Jesus
as I go from here to there
I must remember it’s all about Jesus
and find ways to fit Him in everywhere.

- Written 12/11/09 by TNT Carlson