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.

Thanks, Friends

photo-1517076731070-13c65bcb2e86I was not in town when the tornado hit. My youngest daughter and I were spending the day together, picking up a few Christmas items and shopping for her baby registry. Her husband messaged to let us know a tornado was heading his way. We also heard warnings from other family and friends.

Then it hit. It went through the middle of town.

Our phones quickly became flooded with people checking to be sure we were okay. We checked on people. In the hours that followed, I heard from dozens of area friends as well as friends from surrounding towns, especially other places I’d lived or served in ministry. The circle widened as I heard from friends in Missouri, Indiana, Colorado, Louisiana, and Arkansas. People called and offered to come help. (I personally had no damage, but they were ready to help anyone.) More messages came in the following day as people heard about the storm.

What a blessing to experience friendship in action. The concern was genuine, timely, and compassionate.

Generous compassion often comes in times of crisis, even from strangers. It also reveals the depth and breadth of friendships invested in during the peaceful times. Connecting in everyday life, inviting others into our lives, pours forward. Of course, we hope our friends don’t experience crises, but knowing we’ve laid the strong foundation to walk on through shaky times is something we appreciate when the need arises.

Thank you, my friends.

Invest in others today. Do life with others. Listen to others. Check on others. Care for others.

Disaster Recovery

photo-1527482797697-8795b05a13feThere’s a lot to do after a disaster. Some non-profits primarily exist to step in and help. Friends reach out. Businesses and individuals with necessary clean-up equipment and skill jump in. Then there are many others – people who want to do something but don’t want to add to mayhem. They want to respect people’s process. So, what can they do?

  1. Consider the wider circles of people helping, such as, insurance agents, businesses who stay open to serve people on the front lines, people who will be serving a lot of people living the trauma, such as convenience store employees. Stay out of the way of first responders, law enforcement, government officials, utility companies. Deliver cookies, sandwiches, or something simple to people in the wider circles. Avoid delivering food that must be eaten right away, needs prep or refrigeration, etc. The thoughtfulness and smile is more important than the item.
  2. Email a Starbucks or other gift card for a special treat. It’s not something the person needs, but they are likely focused on immediate needs. Giving a familiar splurge item can help them take a short breath. You can also personally deliver a treat, but your timing might not be convenient. If you stop by, keep it brief, give a hug, and let any conversations be guided by the person or need, not your own curiosity.
  3. Listen well to needs, then take action behind the scenes. Find the right people to help; facilitate and equip more than trying to personally solve every problem. Go shopping for and deliver the items you know they need. Include receipts or offer to make returns for them. Be practical in what you purchase, but a small extravagant item to help them feel cared for in a personal way is nice sometimes, such as, a shirt with a favorite slogan or a personalized coffee mug with specialty coffee (if a coffee maker is easily available). Consider a gift card for a movie theater or favorite restaurant. They might not want to use it right away, but it gives them something to look forward to.
  4. Be careful with donations of material goods. Keep it simple. Meet specific needs. Dealing with piles of donations takes space and energy people often don’t have. Cash and area gift cards are more convenient for people to use in ways they most need.
  5. Make a meal. If the person has electricity, take a Crock Pot meal. It can be eaten at any time and stay warm for multiple people’s schedules. Or take sack lunches or something else with no assembly or preparation needed. Keep it simple to consider a variety of personal preferences.
  6. Keep communication brief but consistent. Check in to remind people you care, but don’t expect a response. Listen to needs, but keep questions to a minimum. Try to limit the decisions you ask someone to make. For example, you might ask, “Does anything specifically sound good to eat?” If the person can’t easily process and answer, take the lead: “I’ll run by _______ and pick up _______. Is there anything you need or want while I’m out?”
  7. Be aware of boundaries. Get out of the way when other priorities/people are more immediately pressing. Broaden your perspective. It’s not about you or even how you would want someone to respond if you were in a similar circumstance. Take cues from the specific person, situation, and overall needs.
  8. Be careful not to criticize others who are making decisions. For example, “Why would they not want volunteers?” or “Why don’t they want donations?” We don’t have all the pieces of information. That’s not to say you shouldn’t speak up if something is being done poorly. Simply choose the best way to speak up. Find out the facts. Respectfully direct questions to someone in or close to leadership, being mindful of the limited time they have. Express concerns, but also be willing to help, fill gaps, and serve in areas that help people in leadership, even if those areas are not your first choice.
  9. Check your sources. Refuse to share until you check the facts. Sharing is easy, but rumors and misinformation are hard to sort through and stop as they ripple across social media and around neighborhoods.
  10. Respect people in need. Give them space when in the grocery store or workplace Let them know you are available, but don’t bombard them with questions and make them relive the details and memories. Give them space to breathe. Listen well when they are ready. Help when it’s convenient for them. Some people need you to step in and make a lot of decisions. Others need to make many decisions for themselves to regain a bit of normalcy and dignity.

Know recovery is a long process. Even when material stuff is easily fixed and replaced, emotional recovery can take a very long time. Be patient. Be present. Serve humbly.


Fighting for Control

photo-1488523811425-75699793b3e5I put some things in motion.

I was in a frustrating situation and process, and I had taken numerous steps to resolve it, but I wasn’t getting much help. It’s not something I could do on my own. I tried different kinds of persuasion, assistance, accountability, but to no avail. I tried to settle into the lessons I was learning about patience and compassion, but I was also frustrated. I explored other options, and I was satisfied that I had put some things in motion to give myself options. I could see which solution would begin to develop and be ready with additional options just in case.

As I was thinking about my satisfaction in how I was handling the options, another thought screamed at me, “Who was I kidding?”

God is the one who has put things into motion. He certainly uses me, so it’s not as if I have nothing to do with what’s in motion. I’m not off the hook if I don’t take some responsibility. Hopefully I’ve listened well, and I’m working alongside him, but let’s be honest. He puts lots of things in motion that aren’t nearly as short-sighted as my stuff. I need to continue to lean into him and follow well.

Following well and fighting for control are not the same thing. Ugh. That’s so hard when things aren’t moving at the speed or in the way I want.

But God knows better than me. And he knows better than you.

Hard Things

photo-1519144565251-d0bd1b311d1eI had a rough day.

Nothing much happened, but it was just oppressive.

Two of the people I love most in the world dealt with specific issues of the fallout of the divorce. I am so thankful they are able and willing to come to me with their struggles. It’s difficult to listen to at times and process, but it is good, too.

Doing the hard things of life are worth the effort and humility. Relationships are worth it. But I just felt heavy. I did all the things I knew to do to stay focused and give what I could identify to God. I stayed up too late, and while I felt some peace, I also still felt “too” of something.

Too much.

I woke up the next morning with gratitude. Before I went to sleep, the last words on my mind and lips had been to thank God and to put on his armor. I don’t think I moved an inch overnight. I woke up in the same position I had gone to sleep in. My mind was still on gratitude and his armor. But I was lighter. Nothing had changed except that God reminded me of his faithfulness. I went through the day with a cloud close to me, with my heart burdened for my girls and for others, yet my step was just a bit more springy, my heart was a bit more light, and my mind was a bit more clear.