Good, Boy

©2017 Bettis Photography

My granddog knows many commands, and he tries to listen and respond well. But sometimes he gets too excited or distracted.

I spent about a half hour with him recently to break up his long day at home by himself. It was a gorgeous day, so I knew he’d enjoy some outside time. I decided to try to wear him out a bit with a game of fetch. Before I threw the ball each time, I’d tell him to sit, speak, whisper, or lie down. He started to anticipate what I might say. He knew something was coming but wasn’t sure what. He was starting to get tired. And he’d just try anything to hopefully respond to the right command.

He’d go through all the possibilities until his action triggered a “good, boy,” and I’d throw the ball.

We do the same at times. We work through all the possibilities we consider might work in order to get the response we want instead of slowing down, paying attention, listening, and responding more accurately.

We might get the response we’re looking for sometimes, but why expend all that extra energy? Why not take the time to assess what God wants us to do? In fact, God is much less concerned about us triggering a specific affirmation than actually paying attention and listening. God wants us to connect with him, and that takes eye contact, time, and humility.

Otherwise, we’re just running through a bunch of possibilities trying to behave instead of trusting him to guide each step along the way.

Do You Miss God?

photo-1494342645198-ff89d7c12b8dFor those who have left God, do you miss him?

Do you miss what you believed about him or what you believed about yourself in the context of your faith in him?

Do you miss the comfort but also the discomfort, the give and take of the most truthful relationship you will ever have? Do you miss the consistency even in your ever-changing life? Or do you prefer to find some sort of peace in what you believe to be in your own control, managing your own life?

No matter what you miss and what you don’t miss, God is still God. He is still available. He still speaks and pursues and patiently waits. He still moves in your life and in others’ lives. He still loves you.

He wanted me to remind you of that today.

God Space

photo-1515256905698-6cdf82642d06The space we give God is often uncomfortable. It’s sacrificial. It’s unsettling yet soothing.

We don’t create a lot of space in our lives. We fill our hands, minds, and time with technology we have at our fingertips, to do lists to accomplish what we’ve determined to be essential – or at least important, and entertainment that we assess as deserved. We make connections with others, but sometimes those connections feel more distant than we’d like. Sometimes we feel a burden of connecting with others while we wish we had chosen to do something else. Our obligations extend beyond people to what we believe God would want us to do, including who we’re supposed to connect with and what we’re supposed to say to them to help, encourage, or challenge.

But even when we’re trying to honor God with our time and efforts, we tend to carve out little space for him. We feel as if we get an assignment, add it to our schedule, then check it off our list – when in reality, the task itself is rarely his point. He wants us to lean into him through the process. He wants us to yield space for him, give him our humility and authenticity, trust him even in the uncertainty.

He doesn’t want us to simply make contact with someone; he wants us to trust him for what to say, how to listen, what to give, and how to respond. He doesn’t want us to figure out the best way to handle a problem; he wants us to trust him with the next step even if we don’t see the resolution. He does’t want us to declare his name or mention him; he wants us to invite him to fill every crevice of our lives so he seeps through everything we do, say, and think.

Space can be uncomfortable. Whether it’s in a conversation or within our own thoughts, we can squirm a bit and try to fill the space to make ourselves and others more comfortable. But God is okay with space. He’ll patiently wait for us to yield it to him, then he’ll fill it in his own time. And he always fills it well.

When we create space for God, we give him our humble trust. We lean into him, knowing he gives us the core strength and wisdom to take the next step.

Creating God space isn’t a one time decision; it’s one that can be made a hundred times a day. Sometimes it’s a big space and sometimes it’s tiny. It all matters.

Stop Growing

photo-1503919545889-aef636e10ad4Several friends have recently posted photos of their kids on social media with a mention of something along the lines as “please stop growing.” I get it. They want to freeze some moments in time, but in reality, if their kids stopped growing, that would cause even more concern and heartache than the bittersweetness of watching them grow up.

Stop growing? Never.

Watching people grow can be sad in some ways because it involves transitions. Many of those transitions are good if we’re growing in healthy ways, but even when growth is good, it often isn’t easy. Life changes. People change.

God is never content to keep us where we are. He knows there is more that is possible. He knows we have continual potential to grow. To get stuck in a particular place or phase – even if we find it enjoyable – isn’t okay. He wants more for and from us. Of course, he wants to celebrate where we’ve been, but celebrating to camp under and find contentment versus celebrating to appreciate a moment as we keep it in the context of moving on are two different approaches.

Are you growing?

Are you growing well?

Savor moments. Make memories. But keep growing.

Friends of Hope

44326129_478776702531704_5555189539066085376_nI sat around the table with old friends and new. Stacks of brochures, letters, labels, and envelopes were piled on the table. Boxes were scattered across the floor, ready to be filled with envelopes to be mailed.

We came together for one purpose: prepare a mailing. There’s been lots of preparation leading up to that night. We’d designed brochures, drafted letters, written labels, contacted people, and so much more.

We’ve prayed. Lots of prayers.

And we’d cried and laughed together.

This was a group of people supporting Hope House of Central Illinois, a retreat home for parents and their families who are grieving the loss of a child.

These people I worked alongside were friends who had walked that dark road, and they are still walking it. They’re putting their hope into action so they can help others. They purchased the land and are hoping to break ground next year. Perhaps within a year, they’ll be welcoming parents and their families to stay several nights for free. Getting away on a retreat won’t take away the pain, but it might just give them a respite for healing and hope.

As I folded brochures and stuffed envelopes, I prayed about the people who would receive the letters asking for support. I prayed for the parents and families who will benefit from our efforts, despite not even knowing what they soon might be facing. I prayed for my friends, who continue to walk through grief every single day.

And I smiled as gratitude washed over me.

When you do life with others and walk with each other through the tough stuff, your rawness and vulnerability knits you together in friendship.

When you do life with others as you focus on a common purpose and hope for others, your mission unites you in friendship.

When you heal together, you grow together even when it hurts.

I am grateful for my friends. I’m excited about what they’re doing for others. And I’m thankful I get to be a small part of it.

If you’d like to learn more about Hope House of Central Illinois, click here.

This Year’s Decorations

photo-1514193880418-896682417f97I wasn’t planning on decorating for Christmas.

Last year was the first year I was on my own. I left the Christmas tree with my ex, so I got creative with decorations. I had used three small trees on the front porch at the old house, so I covered a small table with a blanket, then put the trees on top. It was simple but nice. I put a few other favorite decorations around the house, especially since my girls and I were celebrating at the house I was renting. After I had already put up the trees, I found a tree on sale, and I stored it in the basement for this year.

But this year, my girls and I are celebrating somewhere else. I’m still in the rental house, and I decided to wait until next year to put up the new tree, perhaps when I’ll have a house of my own.

A few days ago, I decided to put out a few decorations. I like Christmas, and the familiar decorations I’ve put out through the years are cozy to me. Even if I don’t have my own house, I have a home. It’s my safe, comfortable place.

Why not put up the tree? So, I decorated my home for Christmas yesterday. I turned on Christmas music, hauled totes and boxes from the basement, and smiled as I sorted and decided what to put where.

I sighed at the familiar.

Sure, it was a bit different. My ex always put up the tree and covered it with lights, then I (and often the girls) would finalize it with ornaments. But I opened the Christmas tree box for the first time. I broke the seal. I sorted the branches, and I followed the color-coded layers and shaped each branch. I wrapped each branch with lights I’d also bought on sale last year. I went through all the blinking options and chose a calming setting. I added favorite ornaments and set aside the ones with less-favorite memories. I decided on a creative, different tree topper.

I stood back and looked at the tree…and smiled. I finished choosing the rest of the decorations I most wanted around the house, then I put all the boxes and totes away and cleaned the house.

I was content. I brought pieces of the past into the present, and I incorporated newness of my future. And I was content.

Living on my own is new. Sure it’s been almost a couple years since my ex decided our marriage was over, but the suddenness of it all after so many years of marriage has taken a while to adjust. And I’m sure I still have much room to grow and heal.

But for now, I can look around and sigh, appreciating where I am, the many friends and family I love and do life with, and hope for the future.

Life is good. Because God is good. Life is always hard, but in the context of God’s goodness, I find peace and contentment.

The Grief of Christmas

photo-1482517967863-00e15c9b44beThree years ago, I knew it was my dad’s last Christmas. It was bittersweet. I didn’t know exactly when he would die, but I knew it would come before the next Christmas. It was shorter than I expected – only a couple weeks later. And it was difficult. Yet there was a sweetness to that Christmas despite the uncertainty. There were several moments that are etched in my mind, because I was intentional about looking around, noticing the details, and taking a deep breath to soak it in.

The following year was difficult, but I took the grief process one step at a time and learned a new rhythm of life. There were more moments of grief as a good friend’s husband unexpectedly died in an accident and a friend and mentor died after a short and ugly cancer battle. Death awakens us and adjusts our perspective on life. I also adjusted to a new job, enjoyed adjusting to a daughter and son-in-law moving closer to me, helped my mom as much as I could, and bought a house and moved with my then-husband.

Christmas approached, and while it had a taste of bittersweet to it, I also felt a deeply abiding joy. I had settled deeper into God’s presence through the grief process. I was healing. I sat in the corner and looked around the living room in the new house, filled with our family – our two daughters and the men they loved. We laughed, made new memories, and I sighed. Like the year before, I was intentional about looking around, noticing the details, and taking a deep breath to soak it in. I appreciated life and relationships in a clarifying way.

But I didn’t notice all the details.

What I didn’t know waa there was another person in that room, not physically, but relationally. My ex was in the process of leaving his family, and throughout that day, he contacted his girlfriend many times. It might have appeared as if he was there and invested in the rest of us, but he had stepped away emotionally. He was on his way out. He wouldn’t announce it until about six weeks later, but every Christmas gathering that year – with our immediate family, his extended family, and my extended family – included his girlfriend and his disconnection.

I was about to face grief yet again, although this time, I didn’t expect it.

Would it have mattered? I’m not sure. What I know is this: grief is a process. It looks different based on our perspective. It is difficult. It is revealing. It can be confusing and clarifying. It burdens us, yet we also experience uplifting moments as we do life authentically with others and heal along the way.

I know a lot of people will deal with grief this Christmas. Some are reeling from it. Some know it’s coming. Others, including me, have no idea what the day after Christmas or the new year will bring.

Regardless of what you’re aware of and what you’re experiencing, be intentional about looking around, noticing the details, and taking a deep breath to soak it in. Appreciate life and relationships in whatever snapshots you can.

Life can be bitter at times, but it is sweet, too.