Dorina Gilmore

Podcast: A conversation about “Chasing Rest”

Posted by | behold, margin, parenting, podcast, rest, schedule, Stories | No Comments

One of my favorite places to go on a late summer night is Moravia Winery – just a short drive from our home in Fresno, California. Somehow even when it’s scorching outside, it’s a few degrees cooler out at the winery. My kids love to play wild and free with their friends on the pirate ship play structure. Some of the daddies play bocce ball.

We lounge on picnic blankets and share goodies. They often have a live band playing music and a food truck selling burritos or a vendor serving up fancy cupcakes. As the sun lies down for the evening, ribbons of color dance beyond the rows and rows of vines dripping with grapes.

Of course, if you drive out to this winery during the winter months, you will witness a different scene from the flourishing vines of late summer/early fall. Mysterious fog often seeps in late at night and early in the mornings. The vines are pruned back, standing stark against the winter sky. They have traded green leaves and lush grapes for gnarly and naked vines. This season in the vine’s life is called dormancy, the resting period before new growth.

Rest is necessary not just in the cycle of the grape’s life but also in our human lives. Rest refreshes the mind, body and spirit. And yet, our American culture lies to us about rest. We are led to believe: time is money; those who multitask best are the most productive; and there is no time for rest.

Choosing to rest is challenging with three growing girls who are creative and ambitious.  They are wired like their mama, who loves to fill the calendar squares and jump into new opportunities too. Whenever I see our schedule is squeezed too tight or we are running from one activity to the next, I try to remind myself of the grape vines out at the winery in winter. A season of rest is important for growth. It’s a time when God does special work underground. Once the vines have rested, tiny buds of green appear in spring. And eventually, the vines are lush and heavy with fruit once again.

 

Kindred Mom just released a new podcast episode where my friend Emily Allen and I talk about this concept of “chasing rest.” To read the full original essay I wrote on this topic, click the link below.  

Chasing Rest

 

Celebrating a Heaveniversary: 10 ways to honor a loved one’s death

Posted by | courage, death, family life, grief, kids, running, Stories, struggle | 4 Comments

It surprises me every year at this time. We are finally settling into a school routine and a fall activity rhythm. I’ve hit my stride with my creative work and the groups I’m leading are kicking off. Then out of nowhere I start to get this slow ache deep in my soul.

Grief sneaks in.

And somehow my body and my soul know before my brain that this was the week. Three years ago, these were the final days when my husband was fighting for his life. My memory skids and careens and bumps over the memories. The call to hospice. The oxygen tank. The way my bedroom was turned into a hospital room. The desperate prayers whispered in the kitchen or the bathroom, in the darkest hours when none of us could sleep.

I prayed a prayer I never believed I could. I begged God to take him, to release him from his pain. I looked into his hazel eyes and told my beloved the girls and I would be ok.

And on September 9, 2014, my beloved husband soared to Heaven.

Such beautiful sweet redemption for him after an intense cancer battle. And unexpected relief for me. I did not have to watch him suffer anymore. I had confidence he was running the streets of gold with a new body in Heaven.

Three years later, my soul still knows. My body still remembers. This Saturday we will celebrate Ericlee’s 3-year Heaveniversary. The girls and I decided last year to name this sacred day his Heaveniversary. I was tired of the awkward phrases like the “day he died” or “death day.” I want this day to be an anniversary when we remember a husband, father, coach and friend, and his amazing legacy. Death was not the end of his story; Heaven is.

Are you longing to celebrate a loved one and their legacy? Do you have a Heaveniversary fast-approaching?

I polled some of my widow friends and asked them how they celebrate their husbands’ Heaveniversaries. The following is a list of creative ideas you might consider to honor your husband, your wife, your mother, your aunt, your friend or others on their Heaveniversary. For us, it has been about discovering meaningful ways to remember each year.

  1. Bring a picnic to the cemetery. It’s a tradition for many families from different cultures to visit the grave site of a loved one on their Heaveniversary. We put a twist on this last year by bringing a picnic. I brought pizza and sandwiches from my husband’s favorite spot. We spread a blanket over the grass. Grandma came to sit with us, and we shared stories about him and other family members who were buried at that cemetery.
  1. Release balloons into the sky and send prayers to Heaven. My friend said she took her three children to the cemetery and they released balloons into the sky in memory of Daddy. There’s something beautiful and sacred about letting go and watching these balloons fly to the heavens.
  1. Take a day to go to the lake or another place your loved one would spend a lot of time. Another friend said she took her daughters to a nearby lake, which was her husband’s favorite place to be. They brought lunch and relaxed together. Sometimes getting away on a trip can be the best way to celebrate.
  1. Visit a favorite restaurant and share memories around the table. We might be tempted to avoid special places during the year, but a Heaveniversary is a perfect day to return to a favorite restaurant or a place you shared your first date. Bring friends or family and share memories around the table.
  1. Look through some of your loved one’s treasures together. We have several boxes in our garage with my husband’s favorite childhood treasures, some of his clothes and cards people sent with special stories about him. A Heaveniversary is an opportune time to get these out and to share them.
  1. Peruse pictures and create an album together. The majority of our pictures are digital now, which means less time to select the best photos and assemble albums. When you take time to peruse pictures and put together a special album, you participate in meaningful remembrance of your loved one.
  1. Gather some friends to watch videos together. One of my daughters’ treasures is their dad’s old iPhone. They found all kinds of silly videos he made of them when they were little or workouts he used to do. Last year, we saved those videos to our laptop and hooked that up to our TV to watch them together. We loved the opportunity to hear his voice and laugh again.
  1. Do something active in honor of your loved one. My husband was an athlete and coach. He loved to get outdoors for a hike or run. One way to celebrate his legacy is to do something active in his honor. You might do this with friends or family. You might even sign up for a race and run in your husband’s honor. The training can be a time for grieving and remembering.
  1. Journal your memories. Sometimes I worry that the best memories of my husband will be forgotten. Carve out some time on this Heaveniversary to write down a few memories of your loved one. They don’t need to be perfect or polished. Writing them down helps you remember and record these memories for family in the future.
  1. Host a Heaveniversary dinner. We started this tradition last year and other widow friends have done the same. We invite some of our treasured friends to our house for a special meal. I intentionally invited some of my husband’s friends who we don’t see as much anymore. After dinner, we gathered in our living room to share stories about my husband. What I thought might be a somber day turned into a true celebration.

One thing I’ve learned these last three years is that I need to be intentional about carving out time and inviting my family into practices of remembrance. I can’t wait for others to stand up and offer their thoughts spontaneously. I need to find courage to lead.

Even three years later, my mind is often triggered by memories of my late husband. He appears in my dreams or I find myself saying something the way he used to say it. These make me pause. The grief never goes away but the path somehow grows easier. A big part of this journey has been taking time to lean in together as a family and remember the man he was, and to continue carrying his values into the future.

This Saturday, we will host another Heaveniversary party to remember my Ericlee. We will laugh, we will cry and we will celebrate.

 

**Interested in reading more about why it’s important to give yourself permission to grieve? Check out this post.

***I would love to send you my FREE guide on Navigating Grief with Kids full or ideas and resources. Opt in here.

 

Featured photo via VisualHunt

Book Review: And Still She Laughs

Posted by | book reviews, brave, family life, fear, grief, hope, laughter, Stories, struggle | One Comment

I remember the weekend after my husband died I took my girls to a concert. It was just the healing balm we needed. The music washed over me and somehow helped me breathe. My girls jumped and danced with their friends. Laughter rang out in the aisles.

After the concert, we saw a friend who used to attend our church. She rushed down the row and burst into tears in my arms. “I’m so sorry,” she sobbed.

For the first time, I realized this grief journey was going to be hard and awkward. I would have my private grief, and I would have my public grief. And I would have to learn to navigate both.

I was not feeling sad at that exact moment. God met me during the concert and my spirits were lifted. Even though I was the newly-minted widow, I was not in the moment of sorrow. I had no tears to share with that friend.

I wondered who else I knew was at the concert that night. Did they see me singing and raising my hands? Did they see the girls and me laughing? Were we grieving right in public? Were we dishonoring my husband?”

These questions raced through my mind, but as the weeks unfolded I realized I had to quiet the temptation to please others in my grief. I had to step into the messy and awkward moments, and allow my community to grieve with me and apart from me too.

I had to let myself dive into the deep of being without my life partner, my beloved. I also had to give myself permission to laugh again. And, that I discovered, takes courage.

Kate Merrick’s book, And Still She Laughs, examines the Bible’s gritty stories of resilient women as well as her own experience losing a child to reveal surprising joy and deep hope even in the midst of heartache. The book was released in March but I happened upon it at just the right time smack in the middle of this summer. I took the book to the ocean and drank up the words with the crashing of the waves as my backdrop.

Kate’s a Southern California girl from a surfer family and she weaves her love affair with the ocean into her story of grief and glory. Sometimes a book can be healing. Sometimes a book read in a specific season in a specific place can be even more healing.

Kate writes,“This book is not intended to take the place of grieving; rather, it speaks to what to do when the tidal wave washes past, when the sizzle from the burn settles, when we finally look around and wonder what’s next.  When we wonder if it is actually possible to come out of the paralysis of darkness and find laughter again.”

Needless to say, I was hooked.

If you are walking through grief of any kind, or if you love beautiful, candid storytelling, this book will minister to your soul. Kate also helped me see some of my favorite Bible characters through new lenses and with new compassion.

What I appreciate most is Kate’s honesty. She doesn’t sugarcoat the pain. She doesn’t offer up pat answers or trite, happy thoughts for navigating grief. She’s frank, funny and real. She’s not afraid to talk about the day of her miscarriage or the time a dog peed on her at the beach or how she and her daughter pranked the nurses during her daughter’s cancer treatment.

Kate makes me laugh. And she is convinced laughter is the key to survival. Laughter “can be healing, literally,” she writes. “It can inject an impossibly terrible situation with a whoosh of fresh air. Sharing laughter fosters a bond between humans. In its purest form it brings life.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Kate’s book opens with this: “She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future” from Proverbs 31:25.

My prayer is that you and I can live and laugh like that too.

 

**If you’re a reader and you love to talk books, check out more of my book reviews here.

***I’d love to send you my Glorygram – a weekly word of encouragement with book, podcast and recipe recommendations. Opt in here.

Transitions: Leaving space for the grief and the glory

Posted by | back to school, family life, kids, parenting, relationships, rest, schedule, Stories, transitions | No Comments

On Sunday evening, we rolled into town after a glorious day relaxing at the lake with family and friends. This was the grand finale to our 12 weeks of summer fun.

We packed these weeks with Track & Field camp, travel to San Diego and Haiti, sleepovers with Grandma, staying up late if we felt like it, days for lounging and days for chasing adventure in our own city with friends.

My oldest piped up in the back seat. “Mom, I don’t think I have any shorts to wear to school tomorrow.”

Mind you, I started sorting and gathering school clothes several weeks earlier. I tried not to shout. “What?!” I screamed.

“Remember, those ones you ordered don’t fit,” came her response. We both started to panic. “I think I need a shirt too,” said my middle daughter. We redirected the car toward the nearest Target for a late night shopping trip. In a more perfectly-planned world, I would have been putting my three lovelies to bed at that exact moment, but that’s not how we roll.

Let the transition back to school begin.

This time of year always necessitates transitions of many kinds. Whether it’s transitioning to the new school schedule, starting a new leadership position or stepping down from one, jumping into that new sports season or concluding our time with a group, change is inevitable.

The longer I live the more I’m realizing the time we spend transitioning from one thing to the next is not as rare as we would like it to be. We live in transition all the time.

We talk about making smooth transitions but what does that really mean?

We can grit our teeth and brace ourselves for the change or we can breathe through it.

I remember when I was birthing my middle daughter I had an amazing midwife. She taught me the art of breathing through the contractions. I still use that breathing technique today when I’m running or just calming my spirit in a stressful situation.

In the birthing process, the time we call “transition” is the most intense. Contractions generally come quickly one right after the other. The baby begins to descend into the mama’s pelvis ready to be pushed out into the world. It’s a time of pain dancing with anticipation.

Our human instinct is to clench our fists, tense our muscles (and our hearts) and reject transition as something foreign, an unwelcome time, that thing that surely will break us. What would happen if we leaned into the transition instead? What if we breathed through the contractions, the painful moments? What if we embraced all that a transition has to offer?

On Monday morning, I dropped off all three of my girls – now a sixth grader, third grader and kindergartener – at school together. There were throngs of parents taking pictures of their kids in front of the school. I noticed several of my mama friends who had a spring in their step and that unmistakable look in their eyes – freedom!

One friend met me at my car. We took a few minutes to catch up on the summer events. Our youngest girls are in the same morning kinder class now. We acknowledged that transitions like these are bittersweet. Although both of our girls are eager for a new school and fresh start, they both had tears the night before over some losses.

My baby girl was eager to spread her “ready confetti” – a special gift from her new teacher – under her pillow. She slipped into bed and then began weeping uncontrollably for her daddy in Heaven. Something triggered for her that he was not here to see her off on this big day.

This reminded me that each new season brings a tinge of grief and a taste of glory. New seasons sometimes trigger memories of our losses but also are pregnant with hope for the future. We have to embrace both to step forward.

Perhaps the hardest transition of my life was the day after my husband’s funeral. Some of my friends took the girls and me to the ocean. I stood there with foamy waves crashing over my feet. I thought maybe I could stand there forever just letting the grief wash over me.

After a while I had a strange realization. He was no longer living but I had to keep on living. I had the rest of my life before me. I had these girls to raise in his legacy.

Most importantly, I had a choice – to live in the past or to step forward into the future trusting God to lead me. I had to embrace the transition. I had to give myself space to grieve, and I had to step forward in faith one day at a time.

The other day I was reading in the book of Haggai. Admittedly, I haven’t spent much time in that book of the Bible but I found myself comforted by the words Joshua receives from God about rebuilding the temple. His words through prophecy in Haggai 2:4-9 are to “be strong” and “work.” The promise is God will “be with” Joshua and the people in the transition, in the rebuilding process.

Of course, it’s important to note that the new glory to come was not just a physical building but Jesus Christ himself, the embodiment of glory.

I am reminded that it’s ok to reminisce about the “glory days” but then we need to step courageously toward a new glory.

Friend, if you find yourself smack in the middle of a transition today, press in, be strong and work. The Lord is right there with you. And He’s right here with me.

 

**If you’re interested in reading more about what it means to be a Glory Chaser, check out this post and my new Glory Chasers bible study here.

Grief journey: How to lift your eyes in the brokenness

Posted by | death, family life, fear, grief, Guest blogger, parenting, Stories | 2 Comments

The following is guest post written by my new friend and fellow Hope*Writer Tara Dickson. We met through a writer’s group and I found myself resonating with her story. I am privileged to watch her navigate her “new normal” as a widow mama and grandma. I hope her story ministers to you today!

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Life doesn’t look the way I expected. Does it for anyone?

My husband left this earth and walked into Heaven a year ago February. An incredibly fit and healthy man, the brain cancer he battled for a year and a half was the last thing we expected on the New Year’s Eve he was diagnosed.  

Can we just stop? I want a do over. How can I can keep from walking into this New Year and all that it holds?

This was not what I wanted my life to look like. Alan would have turned 46 the day after he exhaled earth and inhaled Heaven.  Our children weren’t tiny but they all still needed him. Our oldest daughter had just walked through an extremely painful season in her life a year and a half before. Her daddy, her rock, spoke truth over her at every turn, reminding her to trust herself to the Father. He had coffee with her every morning and held her new baby as she mourned her broken dreams.  

Our oldest son had just started college, while our younger son was in high school. They were both trying to figure out what manhood looked like. Then, there was our youngest daughter. She was 13 when her daddy was diagnosed. She is a natural peacemaker, which means she felt everyone else’s feelings on top of her own.

I still remember the day we were sitting around the dinner table and Alan was telling his sister of how he wrestled with the Lord about his healing. He worried about what would happen to us if he was called to Heaven.

Then, with supernatural peace, Alan told her the Father had reassured him He would and could take better care of us than Alan could possibly imagine doing himself.  My flesh wanted to say, “Wait! When did this conversation happen? I am not okay with this!” It wasn’t many months after that Alan did pass on to Heaven.

Grief is hard, beloved. It breaks your heart wide open and lays you bare. Open and empty for the beautiful work He wants to do. It laid our hearts open to hear his voice call us to move to a new state, and brought good changes that affected each one of us.

The ache in our hearts was real, like a big stone resting on my chest, even making breathing hard.  No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t lift it off.

Spring break started the weekend Alan left this earth. We took that opportunity to get away from the beds we couldn’t sleep in and the questions that followed us around town. The ocean was calling me with waves that reminded me my God is bigger than any storm.

It was the end of February, still too cold to swim but walking the beach kept my body moving. The sand between my toes reminded me that I was still living even though my heart was broken. The constant tide pulling the waves in and out shouted at me that life was moving on even if I felt stuck.

I never find unbroken sand dollars; Alan always did. He was much more patient than I was. That day as I walked along the beach looking on my right and left, I glanced down and in a pool of standing water I saw a small perfect sand dollar. I gently picked it up and held it high the rest of our time on the beach, carefully protecting its delicate beauty.

However, in the throes of washing off sandy feet, ordering lunch, holding Ava, my granddaughter, and going to the bathroom, I inadvertently stuck it in my pocket with another shell. You guessed it, it broke. I discovered it later when I was searching my pockets for something else. I wanted to weep but there were no tears.

As I picked the broken pieces out of my pocket trying to see if it could be pieced back together, the inside of the sand dollar turned up in my hand. The oh-so-tiny, but very present “dove of peace.”

Then the Lord reminded me that when beautiful things are broken there can still be peace in the midst of it all. How can this be so? Through God’s grace and by His word.

The fiercer the battle, dear ones, the more important it is to make sure our hearts our filled up with His truth.  When our hearts are wrung straight out in the pressing of our circumstances the truth of God is what spills out and it extinguishes the lies of the enemy. I have seen my heart spill out doubt and fear as well as joy in the mourning and trust that when I am weak He is strong.

Hebrews 4:12  says, “The word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.”

That walk on the beach may have been the beginning of God teaching me to “Lift up your eyes” to His presence but it hasn’t been the last. He will use anything in our path to reminds us, that His word can penetrate the deepest parts of our soul and spirit. Where there are lies, it will uproot them and plant truth. Where there is unbelief, it will pluck it up and plant faith. Where there is despair, it will cast it aside and plant hope.

So, join me dear one, in lifting your eyes, to the one who longs to reframe everything. Let Him be the lifter of your head and let Him take your broken things and  help you find peace in the midst of them.

 

Tara is a recent widow and mother to four children. She is Nana to Ava Rose and newborn, Aria Violette.  Walking through grief has brought Tara back to her first love, children’s literature. She is finishing up a children’s series and is committed to bringing hope to children and adults alike through her writing. Tara loves a good cup of coffee and bringing life to any space, but nothing tops being a mom and nana! Find her on Facebook and  Instagram.

 

 

Photo credit for sand dollar: johnkoetsier via Visualhunt / CC BY-NC-ND

Are you on a grief journey? Check out these articles and my weekly Glorygram for more encouragement on your journey.

 

Learning the language of goodbyes with kids

Posted by | community, death, family life, finishing well, friendship, grief, Haiti, kids, parenting, relationships, Stories, transitions, world travel | 4 Comments

The original version of this article was published on my ministry blog, Gilmores for His Glory, on August 8, 2012.

________________________________________________________________________________

We have said a lot of goodbyes in our lifetime. Sometimes it feels like too many for my heart to bear. This is one of the sacrifices of building a life in two different countries and befriending people from around the world.

I still remember our first full summer in Haiti. My girls were so little. There hearts were so fragile. We kissed and cried in the Fresno airport when we said goodbye to grandparents and dear friends. Then we began our long journey to our new home in Haiti.

That summer my girls bonded with new Haitian friends and many Americans too. The kids at the orphanage next to our mission house became like siblings to them. They spent long afternoons jumping rope, eating mangoes and playing soccer. Each week a new American team would come to serve, and each Saturday we would stand in the driveway and send them off with hugs.

After they would leave, the girls and I would retreat to the bedroom. My mama instinct was to hold it together, but it wasn’t always easy. More often I would gather my little birds in my arms and we would cry together. We would lean into the loss.

Some of our closest friends live in Germany, the Philippines, Haiti, Florida and Maryland. We have cousins in Spain, Texas, Michigan, Ohio, South Carolina and Washington. We visit and this necessitates goodbyes.

I used to wonder if all these goodbyes were too hard for my babies’ hearts, too hard for my heart. I strategized about ways to shield them from the sadness, the longing, and the wondering when we would meet again.

And I found myself asking God some hard questions:

Why must we always say goodbye?

Why risk loving someone deeply when parting will be inevitable?

Since that first hard summer in Haiti, my girls and I have endured many goodbyes, including perhaps the ultimate goodbye. On September 9, 2014, we stood at the bed beside my beloved husband and kissed him goodbye before he graduated to Heaven. It’s a goodbye that still sears my heart, that still makes me ache to my very core.

In this deep longing, I have dug up my answer about goodbyes.

I could draw back. I could avoid goodbyes altogether. I could keep to myself, shelter my kids from friends and family relationships. I could numb out. I could stay put, never travel, never follow my dreams.

I could turn my back on my calling.

I could keep my relationships surface so it doesn’t hurt so badly when people go away.

I could.

But is that what I really want for my life? Is that the mission? Are those the values I want to teach my kids?

Eventually, I realized that the sweet sorrow of goodbye is meaningful. I know the deepest love because I’ve risked that pain. My girls are learning to love well. Our time with people now is quality. And that is a risk worth taking.

I know Moise and Nella and Angeline and Dartiquenov and Cindy and Carla and Marcy and Jeremy deeply because I’ve said yes to the goodbyes. My kids love Gary and Rose Katia and Amanda and Esther and Corban and Hannah and Giovanni and Sophie because we’ve embraced goodbyes.

I can relate to the emotion-filled words of Paul in his letter to Timothy: “I miss you a lot, especially when I remember that last tearful good-bye, and I look forward to a joy-packed reunion.” (‭‭2 Timothy‬ ‭1:3-4‬ , The Message‬‬).

When life is full of goodbyes, life is so much richer.

Now we linger over our goodbyes. They are important to us. We’ve made them into see-you-soons and meet-you-theres.

We’ve promised texts and letters and blogs and photos and Facetime dates. And when we promise, we make that extra effort follow through.

My family has learned the language of goodbye. It’s a heart language. At the close of the summer, my heart is tired, but my heart is full.

We will keep traveling, and we will keep loving, and we will keep releasing our people gently into the Father’s arms for safe keeping.

Who have you said goodbye to this summer? How do you approach this sacred releasing of people? We would love to hear from you in the comments! 

Journey back to Haiti: Learning to Behold

Posted by | behold, grief, Haiti, hope, One Word, sharing faith, Stories, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

The moment I set foot on the new tile in the church nestled in the mountains, I could feel the buzz. Wide-eyed, I scanned the crowd. There was an excitement among the women who gathered. They greeted me with smiles and kisses and enthusiastic hugs. Many of them have become dear friends over the years. This was the Esther Women’s conference in Pignon, Haiti – three days carved out each year to join hands and hearts, to sing and seek God together.

For me, this moment felt like coming full circle. My first-ever speaking engagement for a women’s retreat was here in this place six years before. Back then, I delivered one short message on friendship as a complement to the central teaching by my dear friend who was the keynote. Hands shaking and knees trembling, I stood before those ladies, and God planted a seed.

He wanted me to speak. He wanted to use my story.

Six years later, after much tragedy and triumph in my life, I stood before these ladies a transformed woman. My friend Rici from Fresno joined me to lead worship. My Haitian friend, Walquis, stood at my side. He was my first English student in 2002. What joy for him also to come full circle with me now working as my translator!

Is it any wonder that just as I started sharing about how we can see evidence of God’s glory in Creation that a tropical downpour began? The rain played a symphony on tin house roofs and danced outside the church windows. And we marveled at the glory of His Presence inside.

Some might see rain as a sign of a storm – something to fear or deter – but I encouraged the women to remember that in the rain there is provision and abundance. The rain nourishes the crops. The rain cools the air. The rain cleanses. The rain cultivates the soil of our hearts and builds resilience in each of us.

The women connected. They nodded and called out their response in amens.

I prayed for weeks that God would provide just the right illustrations that would reach out to the Haitian women and draw them into understanding. Behold, this was preaching with props included. Let it rain.

Back in January, I chose the word “behold” as my theme for this year. I’ve discovered it’s one of those words splattered across every book of the Bible but I rarely paid attention to it before. In fact, some versions of the Bible even edit it out. The original word “behold” in Aramaic is a verb that means “to see or witness.”

Starting in Genesis 1:31, there is a call to behold: “And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.”

As I shared with my friends in Haiti at the conference, God took time to pause and see that all the things He made were good. We are called to do the same.

I see Him in the strong wings of the butterfly forged through pressure and metamorphosis.

I see Him in the brilliant red-orange flowers of the flamboyant tree providing shade for us in the yard.

I see Him in the eyes of my new husband, whom I met in Haiti more than 16 years ago on my first mission trip.

I talked with the women about how He is El Roi, the God who sees, named by a woman who endured much suffering and discovered great faith. Her name was Hagar.

In the Matthew 1:18-25, an angel of the Lord comes to Joseph and asks him also to see and witness. “Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.”

That word “behold” precedes the most important announcement ever made – the coming of Emmanuel.

These last seven months I’ve been pressing in and God has been teaching me to behold. It requires I stop, look and listen. To behold is a call to slow, to rest, to marvel at how far God has brought us and trust He is working underground at all times.

On my recent trip to Haiti, I was called again and again to behold. I found myself beholding the progress and redemption I saw in this beautiful place I have called my home in the past.

I witnessed God at work as now a third generation of Haitians are rising up to lead the churches and ministry there. My late husband’s grandparents were pioneer missionaries in these parts in the 1940s. What joy to see the young people carry this torch and continue the legacy with the blessing of their elders!

I witnessed God at work as some of the women who were once on the fringes of this community were now helping lead the conference, cook the food and serve the other women of the church.

I witnessed God at work in the young people who were once fragile, malnourished children I interviewed to bring into the orphanages. Now they are confident and compassionate teenagers contributing to their community and their church. They are dreaming about future careers – a mark of lives transformed.

I witnessed God at work in my three daughters who embrace Haiti and its people as their own, who carry on the passion of their late father who grew up visiting Haiti.

My challenge and encouragement to you today is to ask yourself these key questions: How can God use your story? What are you beholding today?

Beholding beckons us to awake to the wonder of serving Him.The night before the closing session of the women’s conference, I paused with my family to pray. I had some ideas about the last message I would share but I wanted to hear from God. I wanted to listen to where He might specifically lead.

I slept well that night, went for a sunrise run, and then slipped into the church as the women began singing. I knew the finale of this conference must be about beholding God’s glory in community. I shared about how God had provided abundantly for my daughters and me after the death of my husband Ericlee.

And I unfolded the story of how God brought my new husband Shawn out of the fold of our community. It’s a story I never could have crafted or illustrated myself. The women recognized it too. They giggled and clapped. They lifted hands to the heavens with me. And that’s what beholding is all about. It’s stepping back to savor the wild painting the Master artist is in the process of creating. It’s pausing to see how He is “making all things new.”

Beholding calls us to chase His glory in every day. Won’t you join me?

 

Haitian stuffed chayote squash: It ain’t easy being cheesy

Posted by | community, cooking, creativity, culture, Haiti, Main Dish, Recipes, side dish, Uncategorized, world travel | No Comments

One of my favorite things to do when I travel is to hang out in the kitchen with the native cooks. On my recent trip to Haiti, I did just that and learned a new recipe for Militon Faci.

Madame Adeline, a new cook on staff at the guest house where we stay, attended culinary school in Port Au Prince. I’ve long had a love affair with Haitian food. Although I’ve tasted and prepared lots of the Haitian dishes, Madame Adeline introduced me to some dishes I’ve never had before. She was delighted to teach my daughter, Giada, and me the recipe for Militon Faci or Stuffed Chayote Squash using some French cooking techniques.


Chayote belongs to the gourd family, along with melons, cucumbers and squash. Chayote is known around the world by other names including christophine cho-cho, pipinola, pear squash, vegetable pear, or choko. I’ve tasted chayote in Mexican salads and prepared Haitian-style cut in strips and sautéed in a tomato-garlic sauce.

Militon Faci reminds me of a twice baked potato. The shell of the chayote provides a vessel to hold the cheesy mashed insides. It’s pretty dish with melt-in-your-mouth goodness. We were begging in Haitian Kreyol for more!


What’s your favorite squash dish? What culture does it represent? We want to hear all about it in the comments!


Ingredients:

-5 chayote squash

-1/2 teaspoon salt plus 1/4 teaspoon salt

-1 small onion

-1 small green pepper

-1/2 cup flour

-1 cup milk

-1/4 cup butter plus 2 tablespoons cut into small chunks

-3 sprigs parsley

-1 stalk green onion

-2 drops Tabasco sauce

-1 bouillon cube

-1/4 cup parmesan cheese


Directions:

1. Cut 5 chayote in half. Remove center seed.

2. Boil 10 minutes in salt water (1/2 teaspoon salt).

3. Heat oven to 350 degrees.

4. Remove soft insides of the squash. Mash squash with potato masher.

5. Chop one small onion and small green pepper.

6. Put mashed squash in strainer to drain juice. Discard excess juice.

7. Measure out 1/2 cup flour.

8. Heat pan and add 1 cup milk and 1 cup water. Heat through but do not boil. Set aside in separate bowl.


9. Create a bechemel sauce: Add 1/4 cup butter to pan. Whisk until completely melted.

10. Add chopped onion and green pepper to butter in pan. Sauté.

11. Add flour and whisk together with onions and peppers for 1 minute. Add milk and water to pan.

12. Tie together a small bundle of parsley and 1 stalk green onion to create a Bouquet Garni (pronounced “bo-KAY gar-NEE”). Add to sauce to flavor it.

13. Add 2 drops Tabasco sauce, 1 cube bouillon. Keep whisking.

14. Add 1/4 cup parmesan cheese. Let mixture bubble until it thickens. Add small amount of salt (about 1/4 teaspoon).

15. Remove parsley and green onion.

16. Add bechemel sauce to squash and stir together to incorporate.

17. Grease/butter a cookie sheet with sides.

18. Line up squash shells on pan. Fill with bechemel mixture.

19. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

20. Add tiny piece of butter (about 1/2 teaspoon) to the top of each squash.

21. Put tray in oven for 20 minutes to brown tops of squash.

Freedom Soup: Soup Joumou (Haitian Pumpkin Soup)

Posted by | cooking, food stories, kids, Recipes, serve, social justice, soup, world travel | No Comments

My family is flying out to Haiti this evening. We are so excited to see all our friends after two years. I decided to share with you today one of my favorite main dishes they make us in Haiti. It’s called Soup Joumou or Pumpkin Soup. It’s really more like a stew.

Soup Joumou (pronounced joo-moo) is a central part of New Year’s tradition in Haitian homes. The hearty dish commemorates January 1, 1804, the day Haiti was liberated from France. The soup was once served to French slave masters but the slaves who cooked it were forbidden to eat it. After they won their independence, Haitians prepared and ate the soup to celebrate their freedom. Haiti was the world’s first and only slave nation in history that won its own freedom.

In rural Haiti, where I have spent a lot of my time, the soup is prepared on a three-legged circular iron basket filled with charcoal where the pot sits directly on the coals. The most popular type of pumpkin used to make the soup is the kabocha, a squatty and often speckled green pumpkin that boasts orange flesh. Every Haitian has their own version of Soup Joumou, but it usually includes garlic, onions, plantains or sweet potatoes, cabbage, pasta or rice and the pureed pumpkin to thicken the broth. The soup simmers for several hours. Some kind of seasoned meat, often beef or goat, is added to the soup making it a savory one-dish feast.

Soup Joumou is often made in a large aluminum pot with plenty to share with family, friends and neighbors who gather to celebrate the New Year and Haiti’s hard-won freedom. I like to call it Freedom Soup!


Below are the instructions on how to make Soup Joumou. This recipe has been adapted with the help of my Haitian friend, Gerby Seriphin, to simplify it. This one-pot meal is great to serve for a large group or a party. You might get some crusty bread and butter to serve alongside it!


Ingredients:

Epis Seasoning:
1 small onion, coarsely chopped
1/2 green bell pepper, coarsely chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, coarsely chopped
1/2 yellow bell pepper, coarsely chopped
6 scallions, coarsely chopped
6 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1 cup coarsely chopped parsley leaves with tender stems
1/2 cup olive or canola oil
6 basil leaves

Soup:
1 cup distilled white vinegar, divided
2 pounds stew beef (preferably chuck) cut into 1″ cubes
1 lime
1 tablespoon sea salt
16 cups beef or vegetable broth, divided
1 medium calabaza or butternut squash (about 2 pounds), peeled, cut into 1″ chunks
1 16-oz. can pumpkin puree
3 large russet potatoes, diced
3 carrots, sliced
1/2 small green cabbage, thinly sliced
1 medium onion, sliced
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 leek, white and pale-green parts only, chopped
1 1/2 cups rigatoni, penne or other pasta
6 whole cloves
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more
1 parsley sprig
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter, unsalted

Directions:
1. Combine all ingredients for the epis seasoning in a blender or food processor. Blend until smooth like a paste.
2. Pour 1 cup vinegar into a large bowl. Swish stew beef in vinegar to rinse. Transfer beef to a colander and rinse with water.
3. Stir Epis Seasoning Base, juice from lime, and salt in another large bowl. Add beef, toss to coat, and let marinate at least 30 minutes.
4. Heat 6 cups broth in very large stock pot over medium heat. Add marinated beef, cover, and simmer until meat is beginning to soften, about 40 minutes.
5. Add squash to pot on top of beef, cover, and return to a simmer. Cook until squash is fork-tender, 20–25 minutes.
6. Add can of pumpkin to the broth.
7. Add potatoes, carrots, cabbage, onion, celery, leek, rigatoni, cloves, garlic powder, onion powder, 2 1/2 teaspoons salt, 1/2 teaspoons pepper, parsley, and remaining 10 cups broth. Simmer, uncovered, until pasta and vegetables are tender, 30–35 minutes.
8. Add oil, butter, and remaining 1 tablespoon vinegar. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until beef is very tender, 15–20 minutes more.

Serves 15.

 

**Read more about why I’m returning to Haiti here. Do you have a special cultural dish you make in your family that holds a special story? Please share in a comment. I’d love to hear all about it!

Community life insurance: The greatest investment you’ll ever make

Posted by | community, compassion, grief, hope, marriage, Personal Stories, Stories, struggle | 6 Comments

This year my family has faced the most beautiful and painful season of our lives. My husband was diagnosed with stage four melanoma cancer in May. The news came like a sucker-punch to the gut, but it was no surprise to God. In the weeks that followed, we experienced God’s presence and provision in the most profound way and I began to understand how critical community is to our lives.

Read More

Running therapy: how grief crashes like ocean waves

Posted by | brave, courage, death, fear, finishing well, hope, running, Stories, struggle | One Comment

 

The ocean has always been my happy place. Ever since I was a little girl I have found refuge near the water’s edge. There’s something about the crash of the waves, the salty air tickling my tongue and the breathtaking sunsets that draws poetry out of me.

I have run over a diversity of terrains these last few years but Saturday was my first time running an actual race on the beach. I participated in the “Rock’n Around the Pier” Half Marathon from Morro Rock to Cayucos Pier. I found out this memorial run was started to honor runner and teacher Brian Waterbury who died of melanoma cancer in 2003. This out-and-back trail run was quite literally on the hard-packed sand along the Pacific Ocean.

We rode a charter bus with about 35 friends from our Fresno running club, The Express. When we disembarked the bus, we were greeted by the misty, cool air of the Central Coast. This was a welcome contrast to the temperatures that have soared in the triple digits this month in the Central Valley. Fog seeped over the hills and spilled out over the ocean, creating an ethereal mood at the start of this race.

I generally run with my ear buds pumping a carefully-curated playlist of music but there was no need for music when all creation was singing to me. The waves, the wind, the birds. We weaved through kelp, crunched over sand dollars, avoided crabs and leapt rivulets of water.

“Make the race your playground, not your proving ground,” says Lauren Fleshman, a former American track and field athlete. This quote holds particular weight for me. Although I am competitive by nature and training, I have come to experience running as a kind of grief therapy.

When I am running, I feel free. I dig deep and God breathes healing.

My play was interrupted Saturday by two back-to-back phone calls. One from my mom, and one from my brother. I’m not in the habit of answering the phone when running but two phone calls from family alerted me that something might be wrong. My brother let me know that my uncle had died.

Just last week we received word that my 31-year-old cousin died of a heart attack in her sleep. My mom attended memorial services last month for her dear aunt, a close friend and a former student. Our family has experienced so much loss in such a short time.

Of course, these losses stand against a backdrop of losing my husband in 2014 to melanoma cancer. When you’ve experienced this depth of loss, any future losses tend to stir up old grief wounds.

A symphony of waves crashed at my side while waves of grief crashed anew in my heart. This was grief upon grief. It’s hard not to live in fear when grief stacks up. It’s hard not to let your mind wander to the next tragedy, to get beaten down by anticipation of the next death.

Then my feet hit the soft sand. I was running but getting nowhere fast. I found myself gasping for air – the anxiety rising up to choke me. My chest burned. The salty air stung my eyes. The tears started to come. I had to slow my steps to steady my breathing again.

In through the nose, out through the mouth. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale.

I felt like Moses and the Israelites standing in the darkness before the Red Sea. “…and the Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided” (Exodus 14:21). God was working through my darkness to hold back this sea of grief. If He could harness the wind and these ocean waves, He could surely help me navigate these rough waters.

Then I saw my husband Shawn. He had finished the race and returned looking for me. I felt the hope rising. I found the rhythm of my feet again. I strained and squinted for that arch that marked the finish. Shawn kept telling me it was there but I couldn’t make out the black letters through the mist.

I could see the Great Rock – Morro Rock – rising glorious and majestic before me, and I ran toward it. The words of the Psalmist were suddenly on my lips: “My rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God” (Psalms 62:6-7).

Are you being drowned by waves of grief? Are you squinting through the mist for a finish line? I encourage you to run toward the Rock. The waves of grief will come and go, ebb and flow, but the Rock will provide that refuge.

Finally, I saw it. I picked up the pace. I felt my strength and fight returning. My feet kicked to the next gear. I ran for the finish line. And just beyond towered the Rock.

**Are you navigating a grief journey? Could you use some words of encouragement? I’d love to add you to my Glorygram list, which includes a weekly dose of courage and recommendations. Read more about my Grief Journey here.

Book Review: Remarkable Faith

Posted by | behold, book reviews, hope, identity, inspirational, sharing faith, Stories, writing | 2 Comments

 

I have always loved stories. Even from the time I was a little girl, I have been enthralled with the power of story. When I was in the throes of my elementary school years, my family attended a little neighborhood church on the south side of Chicago. I was always eager to get to Sunday School class. There were not a lot of bells and whistles. We didn’t have a fancy worship band or videos with animated Bible characters to capture our attention.

We did have two teachers who were gifted storytellers.

Every week, these teachers would take turns unfolding the details of the Bible. I was filled with wonder when I heard about the ark-builders and giant-slayers, but I was also drawn to the “quieter stories.” I was intrigued by the woman who gave her copper coins in the offering, which was a sacrifice of all she owned. I could not get enough of the stories about Jesus. I was captivated by the way he talked to the woman at the well and washed his disciples’ dirty feet.

These were not just stories to me, but examples with skin on them that eventually led me to deepen my young faith.

 

When I opened Shauna Letellier’s recently-released book, Remarkable Faith, I was filled anew with childlike wonder over the Bible stories. Like a master storyteller, Shauna draws us into eight Bible stories of “unremarkable” people who went to great lengths to get to Jesus. As a result of their faith, Jesus healed them and used them as examples of remarkable faith.

I was immediately drawn into this book because of the way Shauna reimagines these stories in such a vivid and historically accurate way. She helped me to feel the exhaustion of the father whose son was demon-possessed, to understand the wrestling in the mind of the paralyzed man, to appreciate the response of the noble centurion who counted himself not even worthy to take Jesus’ time and to see the courage of the blind beggars who called out for healing.

This is not typically the genre of book I would pursue but Shauna makes me think outside of the box. Shauna doesn’t just retell the story. She invites us to see, hear, smell, taste and touch the nuances of the culture and experience the world through the eyes of the characters.

I also appreciated her commentary after each story. Her words invite me to think about the implications of faith highlighted by each character. In her chapter on “Unworthy Faith,” I was especially challenged by these words:

“Whether you have built a synagogue, an orphanage, or a fine Christian reputation, you cannot earn God’s favor. God’s grace to us in Christ is a gift! … We cannot place God in our service by stockpiling good deeds and dangling them before him as a currency, as though we hold the carrot that makes him do our bidding.”

What a powerful reminder!

My favorite chapter in Remarkable Faith unfolds the story of the hemorrhaging woman in Mark 5 and her “suffering faith.” Readers are invited into the depths of this woman’s story. She was not only bleeding for more than 12 years, but she was also an outcast in her community because she was considered unclean. She was alienated from her family and likely taken advantage of by doctors. Shauna’s description of her healing is visceral and dramatic. We cannot help but rejoice and worship with her.

Whether you have read these stories many times in the Bible or you are new to them, I highly recommend Shauna’s Letellier’s book, Remarkable Faith. It’s a good read that offers a fresh perspective on faith through the lens of the Bible.

 

**If you love books, we need to be friends. I’d love to slip my Glorygram into your box each week with recommendations for my fave reads. You can also check out my other book reviews here. As always, leave your comments below, especially if you are interested in Shauna Letellier’s book or have your own take on it!

Summer soup?!: Tomato-Basil Bisque

Posted by | cooking, Recipes, soup, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

I know what you’re thinking. Soup is the last thing you want to make – let alone eat – when the temperatures are soaring. I hear you.

However, when you are tired of grilling and the crockpot, you might need to shake it up a bit and make some of this soup. (You won’t even have to heat up the oven!)

I love this bisque because it features some of my favorite summer ingredients fresh from the garden or farmer’s market. Basil. Tomatoes. Peppers. Yum! The original version of this recipe was shared by my college roomie Jen. She likes to serve it up on Sunday nights with grilled cheese sandwiches.

Yesterday I had a small group of ladies over, who are going to help me with leading the New Song bible study group this fall at my church. I know food is central to fostering community with this group of women. We all laughed about how silly it seemed to eat hot soup in summer. I cranked up the air conditioning, and then we licked our lips and dug in for more. The ladies insisted I share this recipe. (Chris and Diane, this is for you!)

In Spain, they serve a cold tomato soup called gazpacho that incorporates some similar ingredients. You could serve this bisque cold with crusty bread like gazpacho if you can’t bear the thought of hot soup in summer. Either way, you must try this recipe! It’s great for a crowd.

 

Ingredients:

2 cups celery, chopped (approximately 8 ribs)

2 red pepper, chopped

1 large onion, chopped

1/2 cup butter, cubed

3 cans (28 oz) diced tomatoes, undrained or 10.5 cups coarsely chopped tomatoes with juice

1 small can (8 oz) tomato paste

4 cups fresh basil leaves

2 tablespoons organic sugar

1 tablespoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1 cup heavy whipping cream

Directions:

1. In a large soup pot, saute the celery, onion and red pepper in butter for 5 minutes until tender.

2. Add tomatoes and tomato paste. Bring to boil then reduce heat, cover and simmer 40 minutes.

3. Stir in basil, sugar, salt and pepper. Either transfer half of soup mixture to blender and blend or use immersion blender in soup pot to process about half the soup until pureed.

4. Add cream and heat through. (Do not boil.)

5. Garnish with basil leaves.

**I’d love to hear from you? What is one of your favorite summer meals to gather people at your table?

Stepping into the sweet spot of ministry

Posted by | behold, compassion, death, flourishing, gifts, passion, social justice, Stories, struggle, world travel | 3 Comments

The original version of this blog was published on August 28, 2013 on my blog “Gilmores for His Glory,” which followed our family’s everyday adventures and life doing mission work in Haiti. I’m returning to these lines, this story, today as a reminder of where I have been and where God is taking me.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

I had one of those moments the other day. I was sitting in our pick-up truck headed back to our mission complex in Haiti to make dinner for my family. My dear friend and right-hand man Walquis was driving, trying desperately to avoid the assortment of chickens, goats, motorcycles, kids and huge holes in the road. A group of women from our Haitian Bead Project were in the back of the truck singing a worship song in four-part harmony. Dust swirled on the rocky road before us. I looked out across the sugar cane fields with Mount Pignon in the background. 

Then it dawned on me: I’m in the sweet spot.

Something deep inside my heart was almost singing, “I love this.”

I recalled the scene in one of my favorite movies, Chariots of Fire, when the runner and missionary Eric Liddell says, “When I run, I feel God’s pleasure.”

That’s how I felt in that moment. I felt God’s pleasure. I felt this warmth rising up in my soul and spreading all over my body. I was unwrapping an amazing gift. 

I’m 36 years old, married to a man who is a courageous leader, a disciplined athlete and a faithful daddy. We are raising three girls who are growing and learning every day what it means to cross cultural lines, to live like Jesus and to bridge the gap between the haves and have nots. I have an amazing circle of friends who encourage and support me on this wild journey.

Speaking in Haiti

My “job” is spending time with women in Haiti, teaching them how to create jewelry and sharing my faith with them. The other part of my job is marketing their work and sharing their stories of transformation with friends in the United States.

Somebody pinch me. These are all realized dreams.

I just didn’t realize I was there. Somehow I forgot that these are all the things I have specifically prayed for through the years.  

How I got here

I certainly did not arrive at this place – the proverbial sweet spot – overnight.

I definitely did not follow any road map or take the path I originally planned.

Much of this journey has been hard. I’ve whined and kicked and screamed quite a bit actually. I’ve questioned the calling. I’ve devised plans to make my life more comfortable and predictable.

Our life is far from idyllic. Even as I type this I am sitting in an airplane balancing my laptop on my knees while nursing my youngest. We have been on standby living in airports from Port Au Prince to Fort Lauderdale to Dallas to Phoenix for two days. Mama’s “Mary Poppins bag” is just about empty with only a few more diapers, some stray peanuts, a plastic finger puppet and a pad of post-its (mostly scribbled on) to keep my girls busy.

I’m wearing the same pants, underwear and tank top I had on yesterday – with a different sweater to spruce it up. (My traveling fashion secret.) My kids clothes are stained with toothpaste and pizza grease. Our Haitian braids are looking frizzy, our eyes red with travel.

Most people would not call this life I live glamorous. 

Orphans in Haiti on porch

What I had to leave behind

Every day that I work in Haiti, I am reminded of what I leave behind. I leave behind my air conditioner, my hybrid cars, my nicely-fenced backyard, my iced fraps and my pillow-topped king-sized mattress. I leave behind my skinny jeans and makeup and high-speed internet.

I leave behind dreams of publishing books and sending my kids to swim lessons and Vacation Bible School with their friends.

I leave behind a predictable calendar, a consistent income.

Some days what I leave behind digs deep, leaves tread marks on my heart. I leave behind my family, my closest friends.  

I leave behind safety.

I leave behind planning and retirement.

I leave behind so much but I also gain much more than I ever imagined.

Braided

I have learned a new language. 

I have befriended people I might not otherwise.

I have participated in amazing stories of transformation of women, mothers, daughters, and grandmothers.

I have climbed to the top of mountains and looked out over vast oceans.

I have tasted a dozen varieties of island mangoes.

I have awakened before dawn to the sound of angels singing in the church just outside my window.  

I have offered a handmade dress to an orphan girl who wore it like a princess.

I have spooned a plate of rice and beans for a young man dying of hepatitis.

I have prayed with a blind woman, mother of 7. I have watched her down a glass of water, whetting her parched lips, before she returned to the streets.  

I have held a newborn baby with brown, round cheeks and chubby legs. All the while, her defying the odds.

I have gained the courage to stand up in the middle of conflict, to embrace miscommunication and racial tension.

There is so much to gain when we risk loving, when we risk leaving our comforts, when we risk saying Yes to God.

Haiti kids for MOPS

What the sweet spot in ministry is really all about

In the game of tennis, when that little neon ball hits the “sweet spot” it results in a more powerful hit – not to mention that ping noise that makes the tennis ball sing.

I’m starting to see that hitting the sweet spot in ministry is never about what I’m doing or accomplishing or how I’m impressing or leading. The sweet spot is that place where I feel wholly alive using my God-given gifts and at the same time humbly submitted to following His lead.

This summer I had a taste of it when I was given the opportunity to speak at a women’s conference. I looked out over an audience of grandmas and mamas, and I shared my story. The story of my difficult, beautiful mess. And somewhere in sharing my story I was sharing the story of Hagar and Ruth. I was sharing a story of El Roi, the God who sees the invisible, the God who comforts, the God who casts out fear with love.

I loved sharing these stories. When I shared these stories I felt His pleasure.  

This may be surprising coming from the girl whose nervous knees would knock hard against the piano during recitals, who used to take a seat in the back and used to hurl before speech class in college. Public speaking is the last career I expected to pursue. Working with women and children who reek of poverty and disease is a place I never imagined I’d find joy. The rural mountains of Haiti is the last place this city girl expected to find home.

Riding donkey in Haiti

One of my favorite parts about writing is that when we scribble something down in a journal or share it on a blog we have the ability to return to it later. My writing has always served as a kind of “Ebenezer stone” for me. In 1 Samuel 7, the Israelites must face the the Philistines in battle. Samuel cries out to God for help. God’s response is quite dramatic when He sends loud thunder to frighten the Philistines and the battle is won by the Israelites. In verse 12, it says Samuel placed a large stone between Mizpah and Shen as a landmark. He named it Ebenezer as a reminder of the ways God helped them.

As I was reading through the archives of my blog the other day, I happened upon the above story about the “sweet spot.” I remember writing this post in 2013 and marveling at the place God had me. I reflected on all the challenges he had brought our family through.

The post itself was an Ebenezer stone. I was laying down a rock and thanking God for helping me find a “sweet spot” where I could feel His presence and He was using me in my giftings.

Of course, I had no idea my husband would be diagnosed with stage four cancer a year later. I had no inkling that Ericlee would graduate to Heaven the following September. I did not know our time serving in Haiti would be cut short. I did not anticipate how I would have to grieve the loss of my Haitian community and serving in my “sweet spot” there.

Looking back, I now see how God used my time in Haiti to grow new passions, interests and gifts in me. He gave me a heart for serving women and helping them grow in their faith and knowledge of the Bible. Over time, he grew a confidence in me to speak in public settings. I know those are not things I would have pursued if God had not led me to Haiti and given me space there to practice.

In this season of life, I feel called to live and serve in Fresno, California. God has opened many new doors for me to speak in schools and churches, for me to share my grief journey with women’s groups, and publish books for children.

I’m returning to Haiti at the end of this month to speak at that same women’s conference in Pignon, Haiti. This time I’ll be sharing a new set of stories of how God has proved faithful to me even in the death of my husband, the grief journey, and the redemption of my family.

I believe there are times when we will feel like we are in the “sweet spot,” when we will feel wholly alive as we help others flourish. It’s important to mark these moments. It’s also important to realize that these moments may just be God cultivating our seeds to help us bloom in a new place and a new calling in the future.

How sweet it is.

Make cooking into a creative competition for kids (with pizza dough recipe)

Posted by | back to school, creativity, culture, food stories, Main Dish, Recipes | No Comments

The smell of garlic mixing with basil wafted to my nose. Laughter filled the room as kids rolled out billowy pizza dough into creative shapes and ran to the “market table” to retrieve ingredients. In the corner, some oil and Italian sausage were sizzling in an electric skillet.

“What will help thicken our sauce?” one called out.

“How much time do we have left?” another quipped.

Looking for a fun activity for this summer with your kids? How about inviting them into the kitchen to make some memories and some yummy, creative eats?

This past year I helped teach some cooking classes for my daughter’s fifth grade class. Her school is all about hands-on learning and our cooking classes provided great opportunities to discuss healthy choices, math, creativity and more.

For the end-of-the-year celebration, we staged an “Iron Chef Competition” so the kids could show off their newfound skills and creativity.

One of the moms came and showed the kids how to make homemade pizza dough (recipe below). The next day they used that pizza dough as their “secret ingredient.” We divided the students into teams of four or five. Each team had to make an appetizer, main dish or dessert using their pizza dough, a homemade sauce, and at least three other toppings or ingredients.

These kids knocked our socks off with their creativity!

Our judges had a tough time picking the winners because these kids made everything from pesto dough bites to calzones to berry-filled desserts with their pizza dough and ingredients. The winner was the Purple Mountain’s Majesty dessert. So yummilicious! The best part was seeing the kids have the confidence to chop and mix ingredients, and then serve up their creations.

Mamas, it’s often easier to keep the kiddos out of the kitchen but cooking could also provide a fun activity for a summer afternoon or weekend evening. And who knows, maybe one day you can just assign them the task of making dinner while you put your feet up and read a book or relax?! It’s all about training!

Ingredients:

2 cups (9 ounces) unbleached bread flour, chilled

3/4  teaspoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon instant yeast

5 teaspoons olive oil

2/3 cup + 2 tablespoons water, ice cold (40°F)

 

3 cups mozzarella cheese

Other toppings of your choice (ie. black olives, sliced green peppers, fresh basil, onions, pepperoni, Italian sausage)

olive oil spray

parchment paper

pizza stones or pans

 

Directions:

  1. Stir together the flour, salt, and instant yeast in a bowl. With a large metal spoon, stir in the oil and the cold water until the flour is all absorbed, repeatedly dip one of your hands or the metal spoon into cold water and use it to work the dough vigorously into a smooth mass while rotating the bowl in a circular motion with the other hand. Reverse the circular motion a few times to develop the gluten further. Do this for 5 to 7 minutes, or until the dough is springy, elastic, and sticky, not just tacky, and register 50 to 55 degrees. (The dough should clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom of the bowl. If the dough is too wet and doesn’t come off the sides of the bowl, sprinkle in some more flour just until it clears the sides. If it clears the bottom of the bowl, dribble in a teaspoon or two of cold water.)
  2. Place a square of parchment paper in a large container with a lid and spray with olive oil spray. Sprinkle (or “dust”) flour over the dough. Transfer the dough to container. Mist the dough generously with spray oil and place cover on the container. Put the container of dough into the refrigerator overnight to rest the dough.
  3. Remove the dough from the refrigerator 2 hours before making the pizza. Make sure your hands are dry and then sprinkle flour on them. Divide dough in three. Lift each section of the dough and gently round it into a ball. Lift the dough up, and have someone else dust three pieces of the parchment paper with flour, and then mist with spray oil. Place the dough on top of the parchment paper. Gently press each ball of dough into a flat disk about 1/2 inch thick. Dust the dough with flour, mist it again with spray oil, and place the cover back on.
  4. Now let rest for 2 hours.
  5. If using a baking stone, place on the floor of the oven (for gas ovens), or on a rack in the lower third of the oven at least 45 minutes before baking. Heat the oven as hot as possible, up to 800 degrees (most home ovens will go only to 500 to 550, but some will go higher).
  6. Place a large (a little bigger than final pizza size) piece of parchment paper on the work surface and dust it with flour. Dust the front and back of your hands with flour. Have a partner lift the dough out by the parchment paper. Have them gently turn the dough upside down across the back of your fists and peel off the parchment paper. Roll dough out to the crust shape you desire.
  7. Lay it on the parchment paper. Lightly top it with sauce and then with your other toppings, remembering that the best pizzas are topped with a less-is-more philosophy. The more toppings there are, the more difficult it is to bake. A few, usually no more than 3 or 4 toppings, including sauce and cheese is sufficient.
  8. Slide the parchment paper and pizza onto the stone and place in oven. Wait 2 minutes, then take a peek. If it needs to be rotated 180 degrees for even baking, do so. The pizza should take about 5 to 8 minutes to bake.
  9. Remove the pizza from the oven and transfer to a cutting board. Wait 3 to 5 minutes before slicing and serving, to allow the cheese to set slightly.

**A huge thank you to Elizabeth Orr who shared the original version of this pizza dough recipe and taught the kids to make the dough. If you’d like to check out more of my recipes shared in community, click HERE.

**Check out my children’s picture book, Cora Cooks Pancit, which also includes a recipe in the back to make with kids!

Book Review: At Home in the World

Posted by | book reviews, community, culture, family life, friendship, identity, outreach, serve, Stories, Uncategorized, world travel | No Comments

My first real venture out of the United States was a study abroad program in Central America during my senior year of college. Our home base was San Jose, Costa Rica, but we also spent time sojourning through Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua.

I still remember that moment.

I was sitting around a rugged wooden table with a diverse group of Guatemalans and a group of college students from across the United States. The table was spread with billowy, soft bread, crema for dipping, sliced avocadoes, juicy steaks, rice and beans, and a pitcher of some kind of icy, hand-squeezed citrus refresco. We bowed our heads to pray before our meal, and my heart swelled a bit.

I was home.

Mind you, I don’t have any Central American blood. I had never traveled to Guatemala before. But something deep inside me felt at home. The warmth of the people, the bright colors of their woven clothing and wall hangings, the rich flavors of the food, the passion of their praise and worship, the abundant affection of the children – all of it felt like home to me.

In fact, I felt more at home there than I had ever felt back home in the U.S.

Less than three years later I found myself surrounded by hundreds of Haitian children in the middle of a soccer field in the Northern mountains of Haiti. I was there with a group of young career singles from my church in California to put on a Track and Field camp. In the sweltering July tropical heat, we marked off the field like a circular track and we watched these kids race joyfully around it in bare feet. Somehow by the end of that week, I had learned enough Kreyol and cross-cultural sign language to communicate with these kids.

I felt it again. I was home. I was far from home, yet I was very much at home.

When I opened Tsh Oxenreider’s recently-released travel memoir, I knew I had found a kindred spirit. Tsh understands what it is like to feel At Home in the World. She, too, is a mama fueled by wanderlust but also longing for a sense of rootedness, a sense of community, a sense of home.

This book is unique because it takes readers on an adventure with Tsh’s family across four continents in nine months. She and her husband are not your typical world travelers. They are not trying to escape responsibility or drop out of college or avoid a withering relationship. They are happily married and have three kids in tow. They limit themselves to one backpack each and endeavor to stay in neighborhoods and homes where real people live across the globe.

This is not a fancy vacation. This is “worldschooling” at its best.

I was immediately captivated and intrigued by Tsh’s storytelling and reflections. This book whispers, “Come along” without pomp or pretense. We adventure with this family through the bustle of traffic in Beijing. We join them to snorkel the magnificent Great Barrier Reef. We linger with them over Thai food in Chiang Mai. We celebrate a summertime Christmas with them in Queensland.  We join them for a coffee ceremony in Ethiopia and mint tea at the market in Morocco. We coast the Nile River with them in Uganda and stand in awe before Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. We buy bacon together at the boucherie in France and sample gelato more than once a day in Italy.

I love Tsh’s reflections on home throughout the book. She challenges me with this: “Travel has taught me the blessing of ordinariness, of rootedness and stability. It’s courageous to walk out the front door and embrace earth’s great adventures, but the real act of courage is to return to that door, turn the knob, walk through, unpack the bags, and start the kettle for a cup of tea.”

It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book purely for fun. I savored every chapter of At Home in the World. I tucked it in my tote and took it with me to the beach in Malibu, a café in Fresno, and on a camping trip to Soledad Canyon with all my people. I devoured every delicious word. And when I got to the last page I was faced with the dilemma of either starting the book again or booking tickets for my own family of five to somewhere new.

**If you are an avid reader, I encourage you to check out some of my other book reviews. These books have carried me through seasons of tragedy and triumph.

I often serve on book launch teams as a way to get to know authors and their message better. I had the privilege of being part of Tsh Oxenreider’s team for At Home in the World.

Up next: I’ll be reviewing Remarkable Faith: When Jesus Marveled at the Faith of Unremarkable People by my friend Shauna Letellier for July. Pre-order it today!

What are your favorite summer reads for kids or adults? Comment below and let me know what you’re reading! Also, I send out a weekly Glorygram with stories, reading and podcast recommendations, and my recipes. I’d love to deliver it to your inbox. Opt in here.

Journey of the heart: Haiti is calling me home

Posted by | community, compassion, culture, friendship, gifts, grief, hope, outreach, sharing faith, social justice, Stories | 12 Comments

 

It’s been more than two years since I’ve tasted Haitian fried chicken with plantains cooked over a charcoal burner.

It’s been more than two years since I’ve hugged the necks of the children in the orphanage who are now careening into their teen years.

It’s been more than two years since we have seen those goats on spindly legs grazing in the fields and stood at the edge of the muddy-red river.

It’s been more than two years since I have cupped the faces of my Haitian sisters and shared stories of God’s amazing grace.

This summer I’m going back.

I’m returning to Haiti to speak at the Esther Women’s conference at the end of July. I’m delighted to be taking my family, my daughter’s best friend, and my dear friend Rici Skei, who is also a pastor and dynamic worship leader from Fresno. This will be my third time teaching God’s word for this conference, which draws women of from four churches in the Northern Mountains of Haiti as part of Christian Friendship Ministries.

I can’t wait.

My first trip to Haiti was in the summer of 2001. That trip was led by my first husband Ericlee. In those 10 days, I absolutely fell in love with the Haitian people. I still remember looking out from the little prop plane as we departed the mountain town of Pignon. I gazed over the undulating hills and sapphire sky, and I knew deep inside my heart this was not my last trip to Haiti.

Haiti was home.

As many of you know, that was just the beginning of my relationship with Haiti. After quitting my job as a newspaper reporter for The Fresno Bee, I returned to the Northern mountains of Haiti the following January to teach English to some of the leaders I had met the summer before. Living there full-time was far different from a week-long mission trip but I was hooked.

I honed my language skills, wrote letters home to my friend Ericlee, and learned to embrace the solitude that is implicit when living in a country where so few people speak your native language.

The following summer of 2002 I helped lead another short-term trip to Haiti with Ericlee. As God would have it, Ericlee proposed to me at the top of one of the nation’s most well-known landmarks, the Citadel. This country that he visited every year since he was a child had brought us together. We started planning our wedding. Little did we know that God would call us to invest full-time in serving the Haitian people just a few years later when a devastating earthquake hit. We sunk in roots and cultivated long-term relationships.

My passport is full of stamps from this Caribbean island now.  For much of our marriage, we took one or two trips a year – sometimes staying for as long as three months as Ericlee served as the Director and I focused on Communications/Marketing for the non-profit we helped start. My girls have Haiti embedded deep in their hearts. They have grown up with the kids in the orphanage next to our house. They learned to jump rope, braid hair, and suck on chicken bones from their Haitian friends.

Our last trip to Haiti was in spring of 2015 with my Haitian-born mother-in-law who grew up on the mission field. This was a very different kind of trip. After burying my Ericlee that September before, this was an extension of his memorial. We returned to mourn with our friends and family. I discovered on that trip that cancer may have snuffed out Ericlee’s life but it could never steal his legacy of faith. The Haitians honored him and loved on me, encouraged me and prayed over my future.

After leaving Haiti in 2015, I felt very clearly that God was calling me to step away from my work with the non-profit. I was entering a new season, living in Fresno, California, and raising my three daughters as widow. I needed my family and community in Fresno.

I needed time to grieve and heal.

Although I was confident in my decision, I didn’t anticipate the secondary loss I would experience leaving the ministry and my people in Haiti. I sat in the brokenness for months – grieving the loss of purpose, the death of dreams, the separation from community Ericlee and I had cultivated there.

These past two years, God has been stitching back together the wounds of my heart. He’s been growing in me a new sense of purpose. He’s given me permission to rest and dream again. He’s brought beauty from our ashes.

I’m also returning to Haiti because I have a story of restoration that I must tell. I know God is calling me to walk those dusty streets, to drink in the memories and to declare to the women of Northern Haiti that these dry bones have life again. I long to be an encouragement to them as they have been to me.

Now is an important time to return to take my daughters back to the community they so dearly love and to experience the legacy of their daddy anew. My oldest, Meilani, is excited about bringing her friend Tessa Schultz to experience Haiti with us. I also need to introduce my Haitian friends to my new husband, Shawn.

I actually began my friendship with Shawn back in 2001 in Haiti. He was part of that same mission team from our church that was led by Ericlee. Shawn and Ericlee were friends from high school. They were both runners and crossed paths many times through the years. On that trip, Shawn was assigned to be my prayer and coaching partner. We taught the Haitian kids how to jump hurdles and run sprints for the track & field camp.

Of course, I had no idea how God would thread together our lives all these years later and bring him as a kinsman-redeemer to our family. It is our joy to return to Haiti together as a family July 22-30.

Haiti is calling me. She’s calling me home.

 

There are three ways you can partner with us this summer:

  • Join our prayer team. Simply comment below or send us a private message and we will keep you posted on specific prayer needs along the way. Your prayers are vital to us.
  • Give a financial donation. This year’s plane tickets cost $1,200 per person so you can do the math and figure out the cost for a team of seven of us traveling to Haiti. It’s not cheap. Your tax-deductible donation is an investment not just in us but also in the people of Haiti. Whatever we raise beyond our travel needs will go to the women’s conference.
  • Collect toiletries. Each year the women who attend the Esther women’s conferences look forward to the little “goodie bag” they will receive at the conference. This year, I’m collecting travel-sized toiletries to share with the women. If you’re at a hotel, save what you don’t use. You can also buy the travel sizes at your local drug store, Target, etc.

Follow our journey on Instagram! And please attend our community night to hear more about our trip. Details below!