community

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

Posted by | community, Compassion, Featured, Gospel, Grief, Hope, Marriage, Personal Stories, Stories, Struggle/Hardship | 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.

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Book Review: At Home in the World

Posted by | Book reviews, community, Culture, family life, field trips, 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 | 10 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!

In the Shadow of the Giant: How to be a Glory Chaser

Posted by | Behold, community, courage, fierce flourishing, finishing well, laughter, running, self-care, Stories, Struggle/Hardship | 6 Comments

 

There is no gun to signal the start of this race. Just a voice bellowing “Go!” that echoes throughout the forest. I start up the trail. When I say up, I mean straight up. My trail shoes hit the rocky path, and I feel the strain. I lift my knees and pump my arms. My lungs burn for the first few miles because of the elevation, which soars above 5,000 feet.

I run today with a band of 10 mama runners (with 30 kids among us), who have become my tribe this year. We all run at different paces but we cheer for each other along the way. I’m not sure how it happened exactly. A few of us said we were going to try a trail race. Then several more signed up. And a few more stragglers registered at the last minute. And the rest is history. They remind me that I can do hard things in community.

This race is called the Shadow of the Giants, started in the 1990s by a notorious trail runner known as Big Baz. We’ve been told the now-75-year-old likes to harass runners out on the course.

This is my first trail 20k. I’ve run marathons and half marathons but this is the longest distance I’ve tackled on the trail. I’m a road runner. I grew up in the city racing 5ks and 10ks with my daddy and then eventually joining the high school track team when my soccer coach told me it would be good cross training.

The trail is different.

It taunts and charms me at the same time. The trail requires embracing the unknown. The trail experience is less about pace and mileage, and checking my Garmin watch, and more about lifting my eyes to drink in God’s glory around every curve.

I once heard a preacher talk about how we are called to be “glory chasers.” Pastor Mitchel Lee’s phrase sparked something deep inside me. He argued that we humans were put on this earth to discover God’s glory and reflect it back to God and those around us.

We have permission for ambition but not for personal glory. We are to live and work and run for God’s glory.

I pray for God to show me ways I can be a “glory chaser.”

I started this back in 2014 when I chose the word glory as my theme word. I had to train myself to notice His glory around me through the tragedy and the triumph. That was the year my husband was diagnosed with stage four cancer. That was the year I experienced God’s glory in sunsets and along the coast. That was the year He showed up for us through our community, who served us, fed us, collected money for medical bills, and lifted us. That was the year my lover leaped into Heaven – the ultimate Glory – leaving me a widow with three children.

Now three years later, I’m still a glory chaser. I’m still looking for God in my every day. I’m tracing his faithfulness through every piece of my past. I’m leading others up the trail to unearth His glory for themselves.

This trail through the famous Nelder Grove not far from Yosemite National Park is the perfect teacher. The first four miles of our race is uphill. The battle on the trail is always against the mind.

My mind zigs and zags as I fix my eyes on my feet. So many rocks and rivets to navigate. Can I do this? Will my knees hold up? Do I have enough water? Will they leave me behind? How will I finish?

I start to lift my head when I hear my running buddy say, “We need to remember to lift our eyes up from the trail.” She, too, is driven to see the glory.

My eyes can’t help chasing up the trunks of the majestic sequoia trees – each one pointing toward Heaven. I am reminded of a Creator God who took time to plant every tree in this grove and design every bird and beast and flower that call this place home.

A glory chaser lifts her eyes to see God’s glory even when the trail is uphill.

I am overwhelmed by the beauty of this view – miles upon miles of trees and sapphire sky. My soul is calmed by the sound of water dancing down little waterfalls below us. We are in the shadow of the Giants and the shadow of the Most High God.

My friend just read Psalm 91 to me. I meditate on these words as I run: “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.” I whisper a prayer of thanks.

Thank you, Lord, for the shade provided by these trees shielding us from the heat of the sun and strengthening us on this uphill track. Thank you for lungs that can breathe and legs that run. Help me not to take these for granted but to see them as part of your glory too. Amen.

Before long, we have been running 7 miles. We hear water rushing below us and we know the river crossing is near. This is the X-factor, the uncertain part of the trail I have been most anticipating. After a heavy rain fall this past winter, I have heard this crossing could be as high as my waist. I debated for days what to wear and how to carry my gear.

When we arrive at water’s edge, I look at my friend. “Well, here we go.”

A glory chaser runs through the water instead of around it.

I think about Moses in Exodus 15 and how he followed God’s command. He led the Israelites straight to the roaring Red Sea. They ran for the water and the rapids parted.

A voice sings through my ear buds: “Your grace abounds in deepest waters.”

I step into the ice cold and begin to blaze a trail. I am filled with laughter as the water rushes over my legs and splashes my arms. I anticipated this as a difficult obstacle to cross but it proves a refreshing and memorable part of the race. Baz is on the other side of the shore with his white beard and broad smile.

“You made it, darling,” he says, warmly. “What did you think of it?”

“It was glorious,” is all I can say.

My friend Amber is behind me. She catches up and we continue on the trail. We feel a rush of excitement that we have survived the river and we are almost finished with our 20k.

We can breathe again without burning lungs. We chat about books we’ve read and travels we hope to take one day with our families. The trail offers a mix of companionship and solitude. I am grateful for my friend on these long miles to keep me going.

Her knee starts to hurt. We walk a while. I try to encourage her. We give ourselves no pressure to make time goals like I might in a road race. We want to savor every step. The sun crosses our path in patches but just when I put on my sunglasses we have ducked back into the shade. The temperature is perfect – another glimpse of God’s glory today.

My watch tells me we have finished 12 miles. Amber urges me that I must go ahead. She wants to walk and insists I run to the finish. I concede. The solitude will serve us both well, I know.

A glory chaser always runs with the finish in mind.

The trail turns from a wide road big enough for a fire truck to a single track of switchbacks headed downhill. I can’t help it. My feet take me faster and faster. I jump over logs and duck under tree branches. I am chasing the finish line now. I don’t know where it is exactly, but I trust my legs and my God to show me the course step by step.

This is a lesson I have learned these past three years. If God had revealed the whole course – all the details of my husband’s cancer journey, his death and our grief, and even the redemptive pieces of my story like getting remarried to one of his best friends, I am not sure I would have survived. I would have been overwhelmed by His full glory. He ran just ahead of me and paced me with His presence. I always ran in the protective shadow of the Giant.

My sprinter’s heart is pounding. I want to finish well. I want to run for His Glory. I want to cross the line like my husband did with arms outstretched and hear Him say those long-anticipated words, “Well done.”

 

**Are you interested in hearing more about how to be a glory chaser? Join here for updates on my Glory Chaser book and bible study project! And please share ways God has shown His glory to you in the comments below!

Left behind: Sorting through a loved one’s treasures

Posted by | community, death, finishing well, Grief, Stories, transitions | 8 Comments

 

I pull in the driveway after picking up the kids from school. They’re giggling and talking in the back seat. I hit the button for the garage door. My girls emerge from the car with arms full of backpacks, art projects and library books. I somehow balance my own laptop, this morning’s smoothie cup, packages from the mailbox and my youngest girl’s lunch bag.

The girls race inside but I hang back. I walk slowly through the garage past the rows of boxes, the bikes and the stacks of framed pictures. My heart trembles again with a mix of shame and heaviness. I feel shame that we still have all this stuff in our garage despite moving here more than a year and a half ago. The heaviness hangs stagnant in the air because I don’t really want to face the task of sorting again.

I live in one of those neighborhoods where most people pull into their pristine garages with polished concrete floors. Meanwhile, we have a garage full of junk. At least that’s what I imagine people thinking. Someone driving by would never know there are treasures in those boxes, remnants and keepsakes of another life, the traces of a husband and daddy gone to Heaven too soon.

This is the remainder. The stuff left behind.

My husband was diagnosed with stage four melanoma cancer in May 2014. Our little rental on Harrison Street was the hub for family and community gatherings. We had an amazing backyard where I hosted my weekly workout group, volunteer meetings for the non-profit we ran and countless play dates. That summer, our home morphed into a medical care facility. Our master bedroom transformed into a hospital room, a visitor center, a resting place.

My husband graduated to Heaven less than four months after his diagnosis. I knew I couldn’t stay in that house but I needed time to sort through the grief, the memories and the stuff we had accumulated together over the years.

A little more than a year later, I found myself signing the papers for a new home across town near our favorite regional park. I put my name on stacks of paperwork – each page reminding me that I was indeed a widow stepping into a new life without my beloved. Was it any coincidence that the name of the man selling the house to us had the same rare name as my husband? Tears streamed down my face as I signed my name next to his on all those papers. No mistake. No accident. I was reminded of God’s perfect and wild provision for the girls and me.

After signing the papers, I went home and got to work. It was time to begin sorting.

I didn’t anticipate how difficult this part would be. Moving is hard at the base level. It’s exhausting to pack up your life when life is still moving forward. Whether you are married, have kids, or are single, it takes time to categorize and put things in boxes. In my move from the Harrison house, I discovered the work and emotions are magnified when grief is tangled in the process.

I tried my best to simplify things. I organized things in three rough categories: stuff I wanted to keep, stuff I wanted to share with others, and stuff I wanted to donate. Of course, the process was much more complicated than I expected. While it was easy for me to give away my own excess clothes and the kids’ toys, it was excruciatingly hard to decide what things of my husband’s to give away. Should I keep his shirts, his shoes, his journals, his G.I. Joe collection, his books, his CrossFit equipment, his childhood photo albums? What would be meaningful for my girls’ to have? What would we want in the future? My mind swirled with a thousand questions and angles to look at each piece.

I had about a month to prepare for our move. I quickly discovered I needed to tackle it in chunks. It was too heavy for my heart to bear at once – not to mention parenting three kiddos and sorting through their stuff at the same time. Some days I had energy to get the job done. Other days I was paralyzed by the decisions in front of me.

I am especially grateful for a few dear friends who came to help me wade through the hard decisions. One friend came to help me sort through his office. We made a box for keepsakes and items with sentimental value. We shared some tears. He also helped me purge and shred items that I didn’t need anymore. The moral support was a priceless gift.

Another friend came to help me in the final days before the big move. She saw the weight I was carrying as I agonized over what to keep for my girls for the future. My friend grabbed a large box and handed me a sharpie. She instructed me to write the words “Daddy Time Capsule” on the side and urged me to throw in any last items. “You can save these for the girls and just sort through them in the future,” she told me. I sighed relief.

These were just the words I needed.

Some days I beat myself up because I couldn’t get through the sorting faster. Now I look back and realize how important it was to take time. It was a journey not just of the hands, but of the heart as well. I had lived 11 years with my man. It wasn’t a season to be purged in a day.

And I’ve discovered this is how grief is. It’s a multi-layered process that takes place over time. I might try to just pull in the driveway, close the garage door and move on with my life, but three years later the memories are still vivid. I have to give myself grace to peel back layer by layer to sort through box upon box.

I write today to encourage those of you who are facing the difficult work of sorting through a loved one’s things. First, I urge you to carve out time for this task. There are circumstances that require a quick move but if you can help it at all give yourself time. Schedule days when you can move through the memories. Don’t do it all at once. Invite a friend or family member to help you.

And finally, give yourself grace because in the sorting there will be grieving. And that is important work too.

 

 

Next week I’ll be sharing some practical and creative ideas to preserve items and honor the legacy of a loved one who has died.  Comment below if you have any stories or tips on how you sorted through your loved one’s stuff. What did you keep? What did you pass on? Where do you keep the most treasured items?  

Last month I did a series on “Navigating Grief When Life Moves Forward.” In case you missed it, I encourage you to check out some of the articles or share with a friend who is grieving:

The Garden – an introduction to the series

Grieving Together – an article on grieving with children

Choosing Joy – a guest post about a spouse choosing joy even on a long cancer journey

When a Grandparent Dies – a guest post about how one mom is navigating her own grief and grief with her kids

Facing Triggers and Trauma – an article about steering through grief when triggers and trauma color the journey

When You are the Caregiver – an article about navigating grief and feelings of guilt when you have a front-row seat to a loved one’s decline

When You Have to Say Goodbye to the Place Your Heart Calls Home – a guest post exploring the idea of “good grief” we experience when we are uprooted from a place or home we love

When You’ve Experienced Pregnancy Loss – a guest post sharing a first-hand experience with miscarriage and stillbirth.

Navigating Grief When Someone You Love Dies Suddenly – a guest post sharing about the sudden death of her mother.

Would you like a copy of my FREE resource for “Grieving with Kids“?

I’m passionate about meeting people in their grief and sharing a message of hope and glory. Let’s connect!

A conversation about “Grieving Together” on the Kindred Mom podcast

Posted by | Behold, community, Compassion, death, family life, fierce flourishing, Grief, Hope, kids, relationships, Stories, Struggle/Hardship, Uncategorized, writing | No Comments

 

My new friend Emily Allen interviewed me a few weeks ago for her Kindred Mom podcast. I’m excited to announce the podcast just went live. I hope you will tune in to hear our conversation. I’m chatting with Emily about navigating grief with my kids after their dad died in 2014. She asked some really sensitive and insightful questions. In the podcast, you will learn more about my story, some tangible ways our community came alongside us in our grief, and the backstory behind my children’s picture book, Cora Cooks Pancit.

This podcast conversation was inspired by an essay I originally wrote for the Kindred Mom blog called “Grieving Together.” I hope this will encourage mamas and others who might be navigating grief with littles. It can be hard and exhausting work. Believe me, I know. That’s why I’m passionate about sharing on this topic to walk with others.

In the podcast, I mention a free resource I developed sharing tips on how to navigate grief with kids. The resource includes encouragement for parents, practical ideas on how to honor a loved one after death, and a list of books and movies I’ve used with my girls to stimulate conversation on our grief journey.

Listen to the podcast here or paste this link into your browser:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/kindred-mom-podcast/id1236598848?mt=2&i=1000385429230

Last month I did a series on “Navigating Grief When Life Moves Forward.” In case you missed it, I encourage you to check out some of the articles or share with a friend who is grieving:

The Garden – an introduction to the series

Grieving Together – an article on grieving with children

Choosing Joy – a guest post about a spouse choosing joy even on a long cancer journey

When a Grandparent Dies – a guest post about how one mom is navigating her own grief and grief with her kids

Facing Triggers and Trauma – an article about steering through grief when triggers and trauma color the journey

When You are the Caregiver – an article about navigating grief and feelings of guilt when you have a front-row seat to a loved one’s decline

When You Have to Say Goodbye to the Place Your Heart Calls Home – a guest post exploring the idea of “good grief” we experience when we are uprooted from a place or home we love

When You’ve Experienced Pregnancy Loss – a guest post sharing a first-hand experience with miscarriage and stillbirth.

Navigating Grief When Someone You Love Dies Suddenly – a guest post sharing about the sudden death of her mother.

Would you like a copy of my FREE resource for “Grieving with Kids“?

I’m passionate about meeting people in their grief and sharing a message of hope and glory. Let’s connect!

It takes a village: Letter to all the mamas who have journeyed with me

Posted by | community, death, family life, fierce flourishing, friendship, Grief, Hope, kids, laughter, new mom, Personal Stories, protecting kids, Stories, Uncategorized | No Comments

Dear Mama Friends,

I think you know who you are. You are the ones who have walked with me over the last decade on this wild journey called mothering. You are my people, my kindred spirits, my mother blessings.

You are the ones who called me to encourage me when the breastfeeding was hard and the baby was losing weight. You are the ones who brought me hot meals and chocolate when I was adjusting to the new normal. You are the ones who ventured out on field trips and play dates to the zoo, the museum, and the park.

You are the mamas at Borders bookstore that day when our oldest kiddos were just babes. We were such a beautiful, motley crew of mamas from many cultures and many parts of the city, trying to find our footing on this mother journey. We were nursing and laughing through our insecurities and learning from each other. We were so thirsty for friendship and someone to say, “Yes, me too.”

And that was only the beginning.

You are the one who stood in the kitchen with me and tried out new recipes when our littles were racing through the house. You and I strolled through the farmer’s market and discovered fresh vegetables to offer up to our families in creative ways.

You are the ones who came every week to work out in my backyard and met me in the chaos. We sweated, we laughed, we prayed. You provided accountability and encouragement when I needed it most.

You are the grandma who takes her shopping and teaches her to love the stories of the Bible just like her daddy in Heaven did.

You are the Nana who helps my little girl learn to read, who piques her interest in poetry and science experiments. You are the one who invites her into the kitchen to measure and pour and lick sticky fingers.

You are the new grandma who takes special care to buy the perfect gifts, who praises their energy, and speaks life with words of encouragement. You have welcomed me into the fold so quickly and made me a daughter.

You are the friend who taught me to embrace the unique personalities of all three of my girls, to nurture their talents and weather the challenges they face.

You showed me what it looked like to advocate for your boy when he had special needs. You spoke up for all of us – for your child and mine. You walked the line with grace.

For this, I am grateful.

When I met you years before when we were single girls with a heart for traveling the world, I never imagined what our mother journey would look like. You celebrated with me through pregnancies and baby showers even when your own arms were empty.

We cried together when Mother’s Day was hard for you, when the questions came and the days grew long. And I was there when you arrived home on that airplane from halfway across the world with your baby boy, and when you got that call came from the hospital that another baby boy was born. I love these boys like my own girls now because that’s what mothering together looks like.

I still get choked up when I think about the long summer days three years ago when you rushed in to help me mother when my husband was battling cancer.

You are the mothers who came to fold my laundry on the big red couch, to wash our endless dirty dishes, and pick lice out of my daughters’ hair. You are the mothers who rubbed my shoulders and read me the Psalms to strengthen me so I could go back in that room to care for my dying husband.

You are the mamas who helped pick up my kids from school and read them books before bed. You are the mamas who passed your own kids off to tired husbands so you could be with my family in our time of crisis.

You are the ones who grocery shopped, delivered meals and gave gift cards months after he was gone. You are the widow-mamas who sat with me on Sunday afternoons and cried with me about how hard it was to move forward without our teammates.

You are the one who came every week for tacos and dance parties when I needed a friend. You were that voice, that reminder that God’s grace would cover me even as I learned to solo parent.

I have not forgotten. I will not forget the way you gifted us your presence.

You are the ones who invited me to your table to pray, weep and dream about a new future. You are the ones who urged me to keep writing and preaching my story even when it felt hard.

You lifted me with that late-night text when I was weary. You told me on our early-morning runs that I better keep following my passion, my convictions to the finish line. You stood long hours with me at the track and on the soccer field cheering our big kids through disappointment and victory.

You are the mamas who visited me in the hospital, who sat with me watching the sun set over ocean waves, who stood with me by the grave, who clinked glasses at our wedding and celebrated a new marriage.

Mothering should not be a solo journey. It should be a community dance. A place where we band together and hold each other’s hands and laugh long and lift each other up. We might have to stop once in a while to wipe a snotty nose or take that one to the bathroom, but we are in this mothering thing together.

I am thankful for the all the women in my life who have joined me for this glorious dance. And I am especially grateful for you.

 

**Would you like some encouragement for your weary soul? Sign up for my weekly Glorygram where I share personal stories, recommendations and recipes just for mamas!

Book Review: Never Unfriended

Posted by | Book reviews, community, Compassion, fierce flourishing, friendship, Inspirational, Personal Stories, Self Doubt, Stories | No Comments

 

I’ll be honest. I’ve had this book on my nightstand for a month, and I didn’t want to read it.

Don’t get me wrong: I adore Lisa-Jo Baker and her writing. When her Surprised by Motherhood book came out, I raced through it and then bought copies for all my mama friends’ birthdays that year.

I just didn’t think a book titled Never Unfriended was for me. Gratefully, I’m surrounded by an amazing circle of friends and, if anything, my issue is not lack of friends but not having enough time to spend with these women.

As I stepped into this book, I quickly realized that Lisa-Jo had some important things to say about friendship that I needed to hear. I discovered that I do have some past hurts and hang-ups from broken friendships that have been weighing me down.

Lisa-Jo offers up a healthy mix of authentic, personal anecdotes and rich biblical teaching. About three chapters in, I realized this book wasn’t just about friendships gone awry or girl drama like I thought. This book is actually about cultivating real, authentic community. There couldn’t be a topic more near and dear to my heart.

I love how Lisa-Jo is willing to go first. She admits it’s taken her a while to get there but she’s committed to stepping out of her comfort zone for friendships. “So I’m going all in,” she writes, “I’m going to keep showing up and going first and telling my embarrassing stories because I’ve learned that it’s when we let people see the un-Photoshopped parts of our lives that they’re the most comfortable.”

Lisa-Jo models for us all the importance of vulnerability and commitment in pursuing friendships. She talks about the power of shared stories and letting people into our awkward moments and imperfect living rooms.

When Lisa-Jo starts talking about being “un-fine” in front of her friends, my mind immediately flashes back to two years ago when my husband was dying of cancer and my people rushed in to fold laundry, wash the grimy dishes, and hold me close when I was choking back the salty tears of my new reality.

This is the messy stuff true friendship is made of.

Perhaps the most challenging part of this book for me was Chapter 6, “We Can’t Control Other People’s Stories.” Lisa-Jo spoke right into my heart about some sticky friend situations I’ve endured in the past.

She wisely writes, “Every time a relationship has been more toxic than I could possibly transform, I was either too young or too vulnerable or too unqualified to be able to make anything healthy out of that environment. Because some wounds need professional, tender counseling from those qualified to speak objectively into a raw and hurting person. In those cases, God has given the protection of being able to grant forgiveness while simultaneously opening an exit for me to leave so there was still a chance to heal.”

Mic drop.

Lisa-Jo’s book whispers, “I’ve been there” while reminding me of healthy ways to navigate the ups and downs of friendship. I’m so very grateful I kept reading.

If you have ever suffered from FOMO, been squeezed tight by the clutches of competition, or wondered how to deepen your friendships in this chaotic world, this book is for you.

 

 

**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 Lisa-Jo’s launch team for Never Unfriended.

Next month I’ll be reviewing a mama travel memoir by Tsh Oxenreider called At Home in the World. Feel free to read ahead! I’m already a chapter in, and it’s fabulous!

 

Farewell, old friend: When forty is the new thirty

Posted by | Be You Bravely, Behold, Biblical Womanhood, community, courage, creativity, death, family life, fierce flourishing, finishing well, friendship, gifts, Grief, Hope, individuality, Inspirational, kids, laughter, One Word, parenting, passion, relationships, rest, Stories, transitions | 4 Comments

 

This week I said goodbye to a good friend. She’s the friend who has walked with me through some of my greatest joys – the birth of two of my baby girls, finding my sweet spot in ministry, and learning a new language. She’s gone with me to book signings and baby showers. We have laughed until our bellies ached and sang together at the top of our lungs.

She’s also that friend who journeyed with me through the darkest days. She was there when he lost his job and Christmas was just around the corner. She was there when we were just scraping by, trying to raise a family. She was there when we received his cancer diagnosis. She stood with me by the graveside and sat by me when I wept and wailed my “whys” and “how comes” to God and the stars.

She’s been a faithful friend. She’s taught me how to love my body and stand firm in my convictions. She’s helped me to feel confident standing on a stage and mothering my three unique children. She’s the one who taught me how to let go of pretense and perfection.

Farewell, Thirties. Oh, how I will miss you.

I have a new friend now. I don’t like to replace people but it’s kind of turning out that way. Last Saturday we toasted my new friend with a full house and music spilling into our yard on Backer Avenue. We served up Indian food and delectable desserts. And my new friend swept into my life with a new haircut and a promise of new adventures to come.

Some people have jokingly called her my “mid-life friend.” I know better. I know she could be gone tomorrow.

She told me we have a blank canvas before us and handed me a paint brush. I pulled a new painter’s palette and basket of paints from that gift bag she brought. I don’t know how she knew I needed this. It’s like she read my journal or eavesdropped on my early-morning, whispered prayers.

“It’s time,” she said.

“Time for what?” I quizzed.

But I knew. I knew she was saying it’s time to remake myself.

It’s time to embrace all my old friend taught me and let go of the mistakes we made together. It’s time to stop worrying about pleasing people and start sharing this gorgeous glory story God has given me.

It’s time to move forward.

It’s time to give myself permission to rediscover, to explore, to celebrate, to rest and to remake me.

My new friend said I can run marathons, travel to new lands, jump into a new career, discover new adventures with my girls, dance wild and free with my new husband, and every once in a while linger over the memories of another life, another decade.

Hello, Forties. It’s so very good to meet you.

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” ~Revelation 21:5

 

 

Would you like to read more about what I learned in my thirties decade?

Check out these blogs: 

Learning to flourish through the seasons

Personal Sabbath: How training for a marathon taught me to rest

Navigating Grief: When you have to say goodbye to the place your heart feels home

Posted by | community, Culture, Grief, Guest blogger, kids, outreach, Personal Stories, relationships, serve, Stories, Struggle/Hardship, transitions | 2 Comments

By Melissa Ens

“Good grief, Charlie Brown.” I’ve sighed a lot these last few years and wondered what kind of grief, exactly, is the good kind? True, there is godly sorrow that leads to repentance, (2 Cor. 7:10) but what I’ve needed is sorrow that would lead to healing.

In December 2011, my husband, our 3 children and I moved to Peru, where we expected to live for the next decade. Less than two and a half years later, however, we moved back to Fresno, brokenhearted after saying goodbye to our friends, our dreams, and the best golden retriever in the world.

In California and in Peru, seasons come and go. Yet even years later, memories mixed with grief can surface. I still sometimes hesitate to feel and release the sadness they stir up for fear that releasing will somehow mean forgetting.

And that’s what I really don’t want.

I don’t want to forget the wonder I felt in the warmth of our first southern hemisphere’s holiday season. The wonder of arriving in a new country with dreams of a new life there. Our kids’ first Peruvian church service. The ladies spontaneously taking Mikaela and me to see Juanita’s amazing nativity display with hundreds of animals and figurines. (How I miss those mujeres!)

I want to remember Pastor George picking us up near midnight on Christmas Eve, driving us through the plaza to see the decorations on the way to his home to share Christmas with his family. (We still laugh about Timothy falling asleep in the car and then sleeping on the couch through the whole gathering. He was sure after that he’d never been to Pastor George’s house!)

I remember the oddness of seeing Christmas decorations – snowmen, Santas and wrapping paper – on display right next to swimsuits and beach towels for the summer vacation that was just beginning. We got our kids a pool for Christmas the next year and our dog barked in circles around them as they splashed the January afternoons away with our Peruvian pastor’s kids.

Maybe you’ve seen Panetón here. (It’s a sweet cake with candied fruit pieces that Peruvians can’t celebrate holidays without.) Walking through the supermercados there, I was stunned by the endcaps stocked and shelves sky high with boxes and boxes (and hundreds more boxes) of Panetón. Christmas “chocolatadas” for the neighborhood kid ministries meant gallons of hot chocolate made over a wood fire in a huge pot in the back of Anny’s house. (And more panetón.)

And the music… It’s the music I miss the most. I fell in love with Peruvian Christmas music at that first Christmas Eve service. There was even more music in the malls and markets, in restaurants, and the town plazas all decorated for Christmas with trees, trees and more (artificial, but huge and fancy) Christmas trees.

Melissa and her friend, Claudia, pose together in Peru where they met.

 

In 2013, suspecting it might be our last December there, I bought a couple recordings of the traditional Christmas music piped everywhere during the holidays. Two years later I was back in Fresno with those CD’s in my hands.

I had yet to listen to them.

I held them that morning in 2015 and read the titles of the songs wondering what kind of flood of grief would come crashing on the shore of my heart when I heard them. (The year before, I couldn’t even stand the idea.) Now would it bring a tsunami of tears that would wash me away? Or would I just laugh at how awful some of the music was?

I recalled the Christmas program at church our last December in Peru. The kids performed and I had recorded Toby’s class on my phone. As I held the CD’s, I was terrified realizing I didn’t know where that phone was, or if the photos and videos were backed up anywhere. No matter that if I played that song Toby would run away to hide from the grief it stirred up. He couldn’t handle it yet, but I needed to find it so I could hold it in my hands and listen to it again and not run away.

I think now that’s what good grief is. It’s whatever grief we don’t run away from but are willing to run to Jesus with. It’s grief we allow Jesus to carry us through. It’s grief we allow to rain down or well up and felt for what it means – that something or someone we love is no longer with us in the way they used to be.

Good grief recognizes the good that was and accepts the sadness in holding it as just a memory now.

 Dreams, hopes, and even places we held dear in our hearts become part of us. When we lose them or have to let them go, it hurts and we need space to grieve. In our case, leaving Peru meant we all grieved the loss of friendships, the surrender of dreams, and saying goodbye to a place, people (and even a dog) we truly loved.

I finally understand good grief.

Good grief trusts that even as specifics of memories fade, it really is the love that remains. I might not remember everyone’s names, but I will forever carry love for them in my heart. Good grief trusts that carrying love and being carried by Love will be enough.

I knew someday we’d look back and marvel at the fact that we really lived in Peru. I knew it would eventually feel a bit like a dream, but the sadness helps me know it was real. The ache helps me know we really did live there, and we really did love there. I am thankful for that.

Immanuel is still with us. In many ways, healing has come. Grief (and sadly, memories) will continue to fade. But love will always remain.

 

Melissa Ens loves Jesus, singing, words, learning, laughing, watching sunsets with her hubby of 21 years and playing games with her kids. She thinks praying with a pen and journal or talking with friends are the best forms of therapy ever. She used to blog at Musing Melissa, but these days is working on finishing and sharing her story. She’s excited about visiting loved ones in Peru this summer.

 

 

Don’t miss the other articles in this “Navigating Grief as Life Moves Forward” series. Feel free to SHARE with a friend who might need these words of encouragement.

The Garden – an introduction to the series

Grieving Together – an article on grieving with children

Choosing Joy – a guest post about a spouse choosing joy even on a long cancer journey

 When a Grandparent Dies – a guest post about how one mom is navigating her own grief and grief with her kids 

Facing Triggers and Trauma – an article about steering through grief when triggers and trauma arise

Would you like a copy of my FREE resource for “Grieving with Kids“? I’m passionate about meeting people in their grief and sharing a message of hope. Let’s connect!

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