death

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

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!

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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.

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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! 

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.

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.

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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.

10 creative ways to honor a loved one’s memory (and clean out the garage)

Posted by | cooking, creativity, death, family life, gifts, grief, hope, Pinterest, Stories, transitions | 2 Comments

Have you recently lost a loved one? Do you know someone who has? Perhaps one of the biggest challenges after the funeral is figuring out what to do with all the stuff left behind. Last week I posted a blog about “Sorting through a loved one’s treasures.” I shared my personal story of sorting through my late husband’s belongings after his death. That sorting was much harder than I anticipated mostly because I had to make so many difficult decisions about what to keep and what to give away or donate.

While it was easy for me to purge my own excess clothes and my kids’ toys, it was excruciatingly hard to decide what things of my husband’s to pass on. Should I keep his T-shirts, his shoes, his journals? What about his G.I. Joe collection, his CrossFit equipment, his childhood photo albums? And all those boxes of books from his days teaching and coaching? What would be meaningful for my girls to have in our new home? What would we want in the future? My mind swirled with a thousand questions and angles to look at each piece.

Here’s the reality: I couldn’t keep everything.

Before moving to our new house, I did the bulk of the sorting. I cried a lot of tears. I shared a lot of items with family and friends. By the end of that month of sorting, I was exhausted physically and emotionally. The final items I packed up into about 10 boxes and brought them with me.

I have a confession. Those boxes are still sitting in my garage and we can’t park my car in there quite yet. It’s a work-in-progress. I’m giving myself grace today as the courage rises in me to tackle the sorting again soon.

As promised, this week I’m returning with some practical and creative ideas on how to preserve a loved one’s memory without having to put up with a garage full of stuff. There are hundreds of ideas out there if you search Google or Pinterest. This is a specially-curated list of unique ideas I completed or plan to create in the future.

If you know someone grieving the loss of a loved one, these also could serve as meaningful gifts you could help make or buy.

  1. Make a photo memory book. My husband loved photos. He had albums from holidays, sports events, memorable trips and teams he coached. Photos are difficult to throw away but albums also take up a lot of space. One idea is to scan some favorites and put them into a digital memory book. Think of it as a “Best of” album. I love to use Shutterfly or Picaboo. Once the photos are uploaded to one of these sites, you can choose your own layouts or have the program assemble the book using premade templates. This is one way to consolidate and preserve photos without having to store a lot of different albums. You can view the book online or order a printed copy.
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  3. Frame a recipe or letter. Recipes are not just instructions on how to make something. They also tell a story about the person who made the food. If your loved one left behind recipe cards in their handwriting, you might consider framing it as art for your kitchen. You can do the same with a special letter or card. This is a precious way to showcase your loved one’s handwriting. You never know when you might want Grandma’s secret sauce recipe or that favorite cookie recipe your mom made at Christmas.
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  5. Sew a Memory Pillow. I asked a friend of mine who likes to sew to help me make these special pillows using a pattern we found. You can take button-down shirts your loved one left behind and cut them to make into pillow cases. We each selected one of my husband’s favorite shirts. My friend sewed them and we slipped pillow forms inside. My girls especially loved this because the memory pillows are something to hold and hug when they miss Daddy. Some people put special tags on the pillows. We love the ones that say, “This is a shirt I used to wear. Whenever you hold it, I am there.”
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  7. Decorate with books. My husband had a large collection of books and combined with my own collection it was way too much for our new home. A recent trend in home decorating is the use of old books. I got this idea to select some of my husband’s special books like his Bible, favorite devotionals or even coaching books to stack around our home for people to peruse. Books tell a story of a person’s interests and loves. If you prefer not to have fingers staining the pages of the books, you might tie them together with raffia or twine and stack them on the mantel, place them in a vintage bird cage or in a glass case.
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  9. Download pictures and documents to a drive. We had pictures and videos my husband took stored on all different devices. One of my goals is to consolidate all these digital images and even documents written by my husband on to one hard drive or thumb drive. It might not sound very aesthetic but I know these may be important in the future as I am trying to share my husband’s legacy with my daughters and perhaps grandchildren. The devices can be disposed of or sold and the treasured files will be preserved.
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  11. Piece together a T-shirt quilt. My husband was an athlete and he had quite a collection of T-shirts from special races and sports events. As a gift, his mom had a T-shirt quilt made using his favorite T-shirts. This is something that can be used daily, or displayed, or even passed down to future generations as a memory of his athletic achievements.
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  13. Assemble a memory box. This is a great project to do with little ones. You can buy a wooden box, use a small vintage suitcase or even a shoe box to create your memory box. Some people decorate the outside of the box with the loved one’s name or paint it a favorite color. The box can be filled with special items like photographs, keepsakes like a yo-yo, a medal, jewelry, a ticket stub, a favorite pen or cologne. I hope to work on this with my daughters so they each have some things that will remind them of their dad and time they had together.
  14. Order a piece of handwriting jewelry. I recently ran across this idea of taking something handwritten by a loved one and making it into jewelry. A quick search for “handwriting jewelry” on Etsy, for example, results in a lot of options of vendors who can artfully complete this project for you. I think these would make beautiful gifts with a message “written” by that loved one or even their signature.
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  16. Share the wealth. Many people have collections of certain items from china to figurines to baseball cards to other items. If you don’t want to keep an entire collection, you might select a few items and then divvy up the collection to family members who can display them or appreciate them in their own way. For example, my husband had a large collection of Christmas ornaments. Our first Christmas without him we invited over some close friends to help decorate our tree. We let all of the kids select an ornament to take home to remind them of my husband. I can still see the delight on the little boys’ faces as they held tightly to their Superman, G.I. Joe, Spiderman, Luke Skywalker and other ornaments.
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  18. Create a time capsule. As mentioned in my article last week, there were some items left behind by my husband that I just couldn’t decide whether or not to save. Give yourself a gift in the future. Pack these things into a box labeled with your loved one’s name and the words “time capsule.” You might have more energy at a later date to make those kinds of decisions and discover then something you really wanted to keep. This was a reminder I didn’t have to complete all the sorting in one season. It was very freeing for me.

 

Do you have more creative ideas you have seen or used to preserve a loved ones things without filling up your whole garage or storage unit? I would love to hear about them. Please leave a comment below or feel free to come back and share if one of these 10 suggestions works for you!

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!

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, flourishing, grief, hope, kids, relationships, Stories, struggle, 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, flourishing, friendship, grief, hope, kids, laughter, Personal Stories, 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!

Farewell, old friend: When forty is the new thirty

Posted by | behold, brave, community, courage, creativity, death, family life, finishing well, flourishing, 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: Soaring Above the Turbulence

Posted by | behold, death, grief, hope, Stories, struggle | 3 Comments

 

By Dorina Lazo Gilmore

I am not one for window seats. As much as I love to travel, my Achilles heal has always been motion sickness. Let’s just say I always know the location of the nearest barf bag. Sitting near the window doesn’t usually help with that affliction.

But there I was, peering out the airplane window with such delight. I could not help but pause in wonder of the sapphire sky and the feathery clouds below us. My hubby squeezed my hand. You would have thought I was a kid on a ride at Disneyland.

Our destination was even better: the Big Island of Hawaii.

Shawn knows my heart for travel. He surprised me with a 5-day trip using airline miles to celebrate our first anniversary in Kona. This was a big deal for me. We had contemplated going to Hawaii for our honeymoon but it was the place I enjoyed my first honeymoon with my late husband Ericlee. A year before I wasn’t quite ready to lean into the joy and the pain of that place. I needed a new and different kind of adventure.

Now I felt eager to make new memories with Shawn. I was one year stronger. That blue sky outside the window beckoned me. The promise of ocean waves and time for rest with my love allured me.

Near the end of that flight, the tray table in front of me began to shake. Passengers grabbed for their plastic cups with jiggling ice cubes and devices sliding into their laps. The captain quickly came on over the speaker and warned us we were flying through clouds and there was a long spell of turbulence ahead. My heart sunk. My stomach dropped. I closed my eyes and tried to relax.

Those clouds that appear so beautiful when you are flying above them or looking up from the ground actually cause turbulence when you get too close. I have discovered this is the way it is with grief as well. Turbulence, you see, is normal on flights in the same way grief is an integral part of the flight of our lives.

Grief does not interrupt life. Grief is life. At some point, in some way, we will experience loss. This month we have traversed many stories of grief through my friends who have contributed to this series on “Navigating Grief As Life Moves Forward.” I have learned from these stories that every journey is unique but also holds threads of familiarity to my own story of loss. Whether losing a spouse, a grandparent, a child or a mother, there is turbulence. Even in moving away from a place or a ministry we love, there is uncertainty. There is longing for something we can never quite recover here on earth.

I have survived three Aprils now – the hardest month of my year – brimming with his birthday, our wedding anniversary, and Track and Field season full of memories of coaching together through the years. April is also a month of anticipation. I remember the uncertainty we felt three years ago. I remember the stage four cancer diagnosis that came in May.

Grief creates layers of depth, compassion and grit in us. Grief forever colors the way we see the world. Grief knows the contrast of suffering and grace. Grief can also give us a special lens to see God’s glory in a more vibrant and nuanced way.

From a distance, I can see the beauty in the storm. I can trace God’s glory lighting the edges of the clouds of my life. And certainly, my plane can dip and dive through the clouds but I choose to soar higher.

I love the example of the eagle. This unique and powerful bird flies higher than most birds. The eagle uses a soaring method of flying. She spreads her long, rectangular wings for hours and only beats those wings occasionally, letting the thermals of hot air carry her to great heights. Eagles actually lean into storms and high winds to soar higher and farther.

If you are navigating grief today, I want you to know you are designed to soar. This does not mean avoiding turbulence or running from the pain of grief. Those are important parts of the journey. It does mean choosing to fly higher. It means focusing our eyes on Heaven and the Glory to come. It means renewing our hope daily in the One who strengthens us and gives us wings.

Isaiah 40:31. “…those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

 

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 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!

Navigating Grief: When you have experienced pregnancy loss

Posted by | death, family life, grief, Guest blogger, hope, kids, parenting, Personal Stories, Stories, struggle, transitions | One Comment

 

By Sharon McKeeman

The wound remains.

Time has passed, is passing still, and I hold our long, awaited baby. The pain of the full-term stillbirth and two miscarriages has dulled, but three of my seven children are not with me. The pieces will never be put back together here on earth.

And now, as I hold this newborn bundle growing into a healthy, wiggling child my arms remember the shape of what I have lost. Grief has become tangible, abstract mourning swallowed up by tiny breaths upon my neck, grasping fingers and curling toes.

This is a time of joy—I relish it. But when I stare at her button nose and deep blue eyes, I also see the son I held unbreathing. Her eight pounds curled in my arms remind me of his nine, and I cry behind closed doors because I can’t bring back my child.

How do I tell of this? When everyone hugs and rejoices, how do I say that this precious little life is one more unexpected turn on my journey with grief? It is hard to navigate life as well as death, joy as well as sorrow.

The wound will always remain.

There is no new child that will replace the ones I have lost. There is no wholeness aside from Christ in this life. The only healing is in the One who blesses the brokenhearted, but even His scars remain. My mind presses into His nail torn hands and feels His tears upon my cheek. I take one step and then the next, breathing gratitude for every minute here and every loved one held. Still, I hold space for the precious little ones I cannot reach. I have no choice; the journey is a long one. The grief will not fall fully silent until we meet again.

This is my secret—how holding a new life brings healing, but also triggers memories and longing. I do not tell all the rejoicing onlookers, for fear they will think me ungrateful. Maybe they would understand. One thing I know, the grandmother with five of her own and more grandbabies on the way still drops tears like rain when she tells me of the two she lost.

We are spirit souls.

Holding, loving, ever reaching out.

And when a piece is cut away, the wound stays with us—a blessing, a message—a sign of just how deep our capacity to love, and how real the one we wait for is.

 

Sharon McKeeman is a homeschooling mama to three sons and a daughter here on earth, and three precious children in heaven. She is a Midwestern girl at heart who now lives with her family on the sunny beaches of Southern California. She is an author, educator, speaker, and photographer who shares more of her story as @sharonmckeeman on Instagram and at www.sharonmckeeman.com where you will find her blog, Writing in the Dust, as well as her newsletter, Mourning into Joy, which is filled with encouragement and resources for navigating pregnancy loss with hope.

 

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 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

 

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!

Navigating Grief: When you are the caregiver

Posted by | death, grief, hope, self-care, serve, Stories, struggle | No Comments

 

Dawn crept through our bedroom window. I hauled myself out of bed and stumbled down to the kitchen. I ran the water in the sink and began to scrub carrots for his morning juice. As the water flowed, my own hot tears streamed down my face.

I wept, recalling the harrowing night before – his moaning, his struggle to breathe, and my own fear that if I fell asleep I might wake and he would be gone. I wept with heavy shoulders because I was staring down another day of serving when I was already past my breaking point. I whispered a desperate prayer to God to give me a seed of courage.

Somehow I walked back to the bedside of my husband to offer him the gift of hope. This went on for days and weeks. The memories are vivid for me even three years later. This is the work of the caregiver. This work is marked by physical, emotional and spiritual exhaustion. For some, the work lasts for years.

It is hard and holy work.

I now know the most difficult job I have ever faced is being a caregiver for my husband when he was diagnosed with cancer at age 40. I also would not trade that time with him for anything. It was my privilege to usher my husband to the throne of God.

Battling guilt

Caregivers often battle guilt. As I watched my husband’s health decline and the weight fall off his once-athletic body, I felt guilty.

Why him? Why not me? What had we done wrong?

I secretly longed for respite. I pined for time away from the house. I needed a break from the heaviness of it all. I also had a hard time accepting the relief when it came.

One weekend, my husband’s best friend offered to come stay with him and rallied some of his best college buddies to come visit. I was slated to take a group of mom leaders from my church to a one-day conference. I desperately needed the time but I was filled with such anxiety and guilt about leaving my husband behind. I knew he was in good hands, but it was difficult to step away.

If any of you have ever cared for someone with a terminal disease, you know what I’m talking about. Death seems to lurk around every corner. There’s no time for self-care when someone you love is suffering.

Now I know that’s not true. It’s pertinent that caregivers take breaks. We cannot care for others well when we are depleted of energy ourselves, when we don’t feel in our right mind.

Is it any wonder that the conference I attended that Saturday was entirely devoted to supporting people in times of crisis? Every word, every message, every song penetrated my soul.

Diving into anticipatory grief

I needed that time away to breathe, to process and to grieve.

I grieved the way things once were. I grieved the beautiful memories we had made and the adventures we chased in our life together. I grieved dreams of growing old together. I grieved a life my three young daughters would face without their beloved Daddy.

I understand now I was experiencing anticipatory grief. People rarely talk about anticipatory grief, but it’s the kind of grief that helps us to process the impending death of a loved one. Those days of grief were horrible, but they were doing important work in my heart. They enabled me to release my husband when the time came.

My mother-in-law told me it would happen. She told me I would feel the shift in my heart. For weeks, I didn’t want to believe it. I thought acknowledging death would somehow be giving up hope.

She was right.

One day my prayers changed. For months, I prayed fervently for the miracle of healing. I believed that my God who raised Lazarus from the dead could also revive my Ericlee. I still believe that. I also remember that one day my prayers became pleas for mercy. I begged God to take him home. I just wanted the suffering to stop.

I was able to whisper in my husband’s ear that we would be ok. Our community would care for the girls and me. He was free to go on to Glory. That day I gave him wings.

Pivoting away from haunting memories

Perhaps the most challenging part of grief when you were the caregiver is wading through the haunting memories. I watched my husband’s face become gaunt. I saw the tumor grow. I followed the bumps appearing all over his body as the disease spread. I heard the strain in his breathing as the cancer invaded his lungs near the end.

Try as I may, I can’t wipe away these memories.

I also have some sweet memories of serving him. I remember one Sunday when we had friends coming to visit I found myself fumbling through the bathroom drawer for his toothbrush. All the supplements, medicines and juices were staining his teeth. At the time, it felt silly – maybe even obsessive of me – but I wanted him to have clean teeth.

There was so little I could do at that point that brushing his teeth felt important. Looking back, that little act of service has become a savored memory. Did it matter that he had clean teeth? No. Would perfectly brushed teeth save him from death? No. It mattered to me because it was one of my last chances to give my man the gift of dignity.

It mattered to me because I saw the look of love in his hazel eyes when he could not even speak words of gratitude.

If you are caring for someone today who is battling a disease or nearing death, you are not alone. In the midst of it, you may not feel like it’s a privilege to stand by someone’s death bed, but it is. Caregiving is important work. It’s hard, beautiful, and sacred work.

 

 

 

Have you missed the other articles in our Navigating Grief as Life Moves Forward series? Check them out here:

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!

Navigating Grief As Life Moves Forward: The Garden

Posted by | community, death, flourishing, grief, hope, parenting, Personal Stories, Stories, struggle, writing | 6 Comments

 

This month I’m hosting a blog series: “Navigating Grief As Life Moves Forward.” I am working to be more intentional with my blog to serve readers like you who are navigating the winding path of a grief journey.

This series was inspired by many conversations I have had with friends about the struggle to move forward after experiencing loss. There’s not really a finish line to the grief journey but it certainly changes over time.

One of the most powerful things I’ve learned about grief these last several years is that when we share our stories vulnerably in community, we are stronger.

There’s a Swedish proverb that says, “Shared joy is a double joy; Shared sorrow is half sorrow.”

This proverbs rings true in my life. I have been blessed by a community of friends who have shared in both my joy and sorrow.

The goal this month is to create a safe place to share our grief stories. I long to encourage you, to bless you, for you to say, “me too” deep in your spirit. I want to link arms with you and say, “You are not alone, my friend.”

I’ve invited several writer-friends to share their stories in this space during April. My friend Danielle will unfold her experience with anticipatory grief as her husband Kenny faced a cancer journey that last several years. My friend Sue will be sharing about navigating the death of a grandparent with her kids. My friend Sharon will give us a glimpse into her life dealing with pregnancy loss. I hope their diverse stories will be a reminder that while every journey is unique, there are a host of us who have walked the path of grief.

I think of my friend Janine. Her husband died in a cycling accident just a year before my husband Ericlee died of cancer. I remember standing at her Jim’s funeral reception and Janine squeezing my hands tight: “Cherish every moment,” she whispered. Ericlee and I wept with Janine. We had no idea what lie ahead for us.

Janine has walked ahead of me on the grief journey, modeling for me what it means to embrace life after loss and grieve well. She has also walked by my side, teaching me to trust in God to fill in all the holes and gaps. I’m grateful for her vulnerable sharing through the process. Janine and the other widows I know give me courage.

I hope this month you will read these stories and share your comments or pieces of your own story. You have permission to grieve and process here. I imagine us all as potted plants. We can sit in the sun and struggle to grow in our own little pots or we can be transplanted into a grand garden and nourish each other. We can offer up our stories and colors to flourish together.

 

Have you missed the other articles in our Navigating Grief as Life Moves Forward series?

Check them out here:

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!

It’s a truffle, no it’s a cake: Flourless Chocolate Torte

Posted by | cooking, death, Recipes | No Comments

 

“Mama, we don’t have to worry,” came the sweet voice of my 5-year-old from the back seat.

“About what, baby?”

“Daddy’s birthday. I know God is going to make him the biggest birthday cake in Heaven.”

I smiled at the thought. April 2nd would have been my beloved’s 43rd birthday. He’s been in Heaven for three birthdays now. We still celebrate. We still remember the way he inspired so many to faith and fitness. The girls and I dream often about what he might be doing in his new heavenly home.

I was going through some old pictures on Sunday and I came across this one. This Flourless Chocolate Truffle Torte was one of his favorites. In fact, this is the last birthday cake I made Ericlee. I imagine him digging into a giant version of this today with no guilt.

Baking for a gluten-free guest? Looking for something chocolate and decadent? (Who isn’t?) This. Is. Your. Cake. This has become one of our favorite chocolate desserts ever. In fact, I didn’t even realize it was gluten-free until after making it several times. I love the simple ingredients that I can always keep on hand. Think chocolate truffle in a cake-like form. Perfect for holidays, birthdays or baby showers.

It’s heavenly.

Rumor has it: the strawberry stands are open in Fresno-Clovis where I live. Add some fresh, sliced strawberries and sweetened whip cream and this cake is downright sinful!

Ingredients:

-16 oz. dark chocolate, chopped (I like the big bar from Trader Joe’s)
-1 cup butter (organic and raw)
-2 tablespoons strong coffee or vanilla
-8 large eggs, separated
-3/4 cup organic sugar + 2 tablespoons for cream
-1 pint whipping cream or coconut cream
-sliced strawberries or other berries for garnish

 

Directions:

1.Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a round spring-form pan with olive oil or line with parchment paper.

2. Melt butter and chocolate together over medium-low heat. Be careful not to burn chocolate. Use a whisk to incorporate the two. Add coffee or vanilla. Set aside to cool.

3. Meanwhile, separate the eggs and beat whites until peaks form. Set aside.

4. Beat egg yolks and sugar until a thick, pale yellow batter forms.

5. Add half of cooled chocolate and half of egg whites to yolk batter. Use a spatula to gently fold in. Then fold in the remainder of the other two. You do not want to beat this or overmix. This will make the cake light and fluffy instead of a a flatter, denser torte.

6. Pour batter into pan. Bake approximately 30 minutes until the center is springy or tiny holes have formed.

7. Let cool at least two hours before serving (unless you’re after a more runny chocolate lava-type cake).

8. To make cream, beat one pint of whipping cream until light peaks form. Add 2 tablespoons sugar.

9. Top cake with whipped cream and berries.

Grieving Together

Posted by | death, family life, grief, kids, rest, self-care, Stories, struggle, transitions, Uncategorized | No Comments

 

Just in the nick of time, I dropped off my older two daughters at elementary school before they were tardy, and then continued on to my youngest daughter’s preschool. Green, yellow…slow red. Green, yellow…slow red. I followed the rhythm of the stop lights as my 5-year-old sang at the top of her lungs in the backseat. I smiled as I listened to another one of her off-tune, made-up songs.

Then I leaned in to hear some of her lyrics: “My daddy is in heaven. His leg was hurt. We need to pray for him. He’s with God,” she chirped. “I miss my dadddddddy.”

“What are you singing about, baby?” I asked her, trying to be nonchalant. It had been several months since she mentioned her daddy, who died from cancer two and a half years earlier. We pulled into the preschool parking lot. I reminded myself not to panic but to let her process.

“I’m singing about my daddy in Heaven,” she informed me.

“You know, he has a new body in Heaven now,” I said gently. “He doesn’t have that big tumor on his leg anymore.” Her face lit up with a smile, “Really?! I can’t wait to see him again.”

These conversations have become normal life for us now. Never in a million years did I imagine I would be helping my children navigate the death of their father at such a young age. If you would have asked me a half dozen years ago, I would have told you that skill just wasn’t in my wheelhouse. Then again, isn’t mothering about rising daily to learn new skills and praying regularly for God to cover our shortcomings?

{For the rest of this article, click over here to Kindred Mom. I am so honored to be a featured writer on their site today.}

 

 

**If you would like to read more about my grief journey, check out these articles.

**I send out a weekly word of encouragement with recommendations, recipes and more. Join me for Glorygrams here.

The Ministry of Presence

Posted by | community, compassion, courage, culture, death, fear, friendship, grief, hope, Personal Stories, politics, relationships, serve, sharing faith, social justice, Stories, struggle | 2 Comments

 

Last night I woke to the sound of my 5-year-old whimpering in the next room. I ran in to check on her. “Mama, mama, I had the baddest dream,” came her trembling voice. I climbed into the top bunk bed next to her and laid down. “Mama’s here,” I assured her. She put her little hand in mine. Immediately, I felt her body relax. She drifted back to sleep. In that moment, I realized what my baby-girl needed was my presence.

That little scenario made me pause. I couldn’t help thinking about the emotions I have felt in the weeks following the election and the Inauguration last Friday. This season has been harrowing to say the least. I have voted in six presidential elections in my lifetime, and I never remember it being this bad. The divisiveness, the name calling, the character bashing, the violence, the fear, the dismissiveness of those in my community grieves me.

Immediately following the election, I read a lot of posts on social media that people should stop being crybabies about the outcome. I read more of the same after the Inauguration on Friday and the Women’s March on Saturday. These were painful to read because there is so much more at stake here. It’s not a simple, “Your team won; mine lost” scenario. Meanwhile, my Facebook and Twitter feeds have also been teeming with posts about hate crimes and sexual assaults committed, about friends with families and local businesses who fear being deported, about school children expressing uncertainty about their future.

My heart aches for my people and our country.

I have been searching for my place in all this. I have been asking myself, “How can I use my voice as a woman, as a multi-ethnic American, and as a Christian in this climate? How can I leverage my privileges to lift up the most vulnerable? How can I offer grace and love to my neighbor in tense times like these?” The answer I keep hearing is related to what my 5-year-old taught me when she was fighting her nightmare. I need to offer up the “ministry of presence.”

In this context, a “ministry of presence” means moving in close to listen, laying down our defensiveness and agendas, and offering up empathy instead. I have been reading Ann Voskamp’s latest book, The Broken Way, and she reminds me anew that Jesus always moves into the places of grief and offers up the ministry of presence. She writes, “In a broken world, isn’t the call always to koinonia, to communion with community that bears our burdens with us? Wasn’t suffering then actually a call for us to be a community, to stand together and bear under, trusting that arms of love are always under us?”

I have been offered the gift of presence several times in my life, and it has been important to my healing. When I was in college, I was walking to class one day and two men grabbed me from behind. In the days that followed that sexual assault, fear rose up inside me like an all-consuming monster. Thankfully, I escaped rape but the damage to my mind had already been done. I could not walk down the street or a hallway without feeling anxiety or going into a panic attack.

During that season, a dear friend and her boyfriend (who later in life became a police officer) decided to be present with me. They woke up early every morning and walked me to my classes. They waited around to see me home in the evenings. It was a simple gesture but their presence made all the difference in the world. Little by little – through counseling and mountains of prayers over many years – I regained confidence. I found the tools to combat my fear. Of course, it was unrealistic for them to be my bodyguards for life but their willingness to be present with me in that initial season was a powerful gift.

More than 15 years later, I faced a devastating stage four cancer diagnosis for my beloved husband. This was a different kind of trauma. During that journey, I had hundreds of people who offered to help us in tangible ways but it was the ones who offered the “ministry of presence” whom I needed the most. Friends came to play worship music for my husband in his final days. Friends came to sit with us through the long hours of the night when he faced the most pain, and I was the most exhausted. My community stood with me by the graveside, and they offered my young daughters and me a safe space to grieve in the months to follow.

One family offered us the gift of their presence just a few months after his death when it was time to buy a Christmas tree. Our family’s tradition was to go to a local Christmas tree lot and pick out a tree with Daddy. As the time drew closer to Christmas, dread heightened in my heart. Our friends asked me this question, “How can we be present for you this season? What’s something we can do to support you?” They agreed to accompany us to the Christmas tree lot.

The girls ran down the aisles of the tree lot in search of the perfect tree with their friends. The husband helped secure it to my car. My dear friend hugged me tight as we put it up in our home. The tears pooled in my eyes when a gathering of friends came to decorate our tree. We shared ornaments with all of them as reminders of my husband and his quirky personality.

This simple act was healing for our family because it was more than a “like” on Facebook or an act of service, more than a check or card in the mail. They were not focused on giving advice or urging me to get over it. These friends stepped into a messy, awkward situation full of grief and memories, and they were present. They listened to our needs and offered to go with us on the journey. We were not alone.

I give these two examples because I believe in these challenging times we are all called to the “ministry of presence.” It’s easy to mouth off on Twitter or re-post that article on Facebook that supports our views, but the reality is people are hurting and scared. The most courageous thing we can do is listen. The bravest thing we can do is stand with them.

We recently visited a family who has adopted children from Ethiopia and Mexico. A picture of Donald Trump flashed on the television behind us. Their middle son asked his mama again and again if his brother would be deported. She told me he has asked hundreds of times in the last week. His parents try to reassure him and offer up comfort, but it’s hard.

I sat at my kitchen table the other day listening to the story of a dear friend who has been working for years to get her American citizenship. The process has been hairy. She watched the election with fear and trembling, realizing the ramifications for her family after living and contributing in the U.S. for decades. I listened. She educated me. She spoke with courageous faith and prayed for God to make a way for her now.

I recently dined with a group of my heart friends at a local Indian restaurant, where we often celebrate each other’s birthdays. This group of friends represents a diversity of cultures and professions. We all attend different churches and live in different parts of the city. It was important to be present with each other, to sit face to face and listen to each other’s unique experiences. One woman’s son was afraid his grandma (who is a citizen) will be sent back to El Salvador. Another friend said one of her clients just chose to move to Mexico to escape all that is happening.

I considered my own multi-ethnic daughters, whose hair colors and skin colors vary in hue. How would these next four years shape their cultural identities? Would they endure comments and prejudice? As mamas, my friends and I contemplated: How can we administer grace, teach resilience and model peace in our communities and our homes?

My challenge to myself and to you is to ask: How can I be present for someone today? This is not just about acts of service or help. It’s taking time to listen, to empathize, to grieve alongside others.

These are some practical examples that have inspired me:

-invite friends to dinner and ask them to share their stories
-walk to school with neighbors and friends
-make something and deliver it to a neighbor from a different cultural background and ask them how they are doing
-offer to sit and be present with someone who is grieving
-read books to your children about empathy, kindness and other cultures
-stand with someone in your community who is afraid
-speak up against racist or sexist remarks

Friends, this is how we can be used by God in these uncertain times. In Matthew 1:23, an angel announces the birth of Jesus Christ: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God with us.’)” God chose to put on flesh and come to earth as a baby, who grew to be a man, who chose to be with people, to walk alongside them in their suffering, and lay down his life for them.

In the same way, we are designed to dwell with others in community. We need to carve out space for lament in our churches. We need to ask the hard questions and listen to our neighbor’s story. We need to set aside our political differences and be present with others, especially those vulnerable during this season. This is activism too. We need to seize the opportunity to be Immanuel – God with us – to those in our community.

**This article was previously published on www.inAllthings.org.

Learning to Flourish through the Seasons (and the big reveal of my 2017 One Word)

Posted by | behold, death, flourishing, grief, margin, rest, running, self-care, Stories, struggle, transitions, Uncategorized, writing | 5 Comments

 

For me, 2016 started with fireworks. On January 16, Shawn and I celebrated our wedding – a true redemption story after losing my beloved Ericlee to cancer in 2014. That year was a journey of finding God’s glory even in the darkest hours. Then 2015 was a year to redeem, to witness God bringing new value to all that had been broken and lost for our family. As I stood at the altar with my bridegroom, surrounded by more than 500 friends and family, I felt like I was stepping into a new and spacious garden ready to bloom. I was eager to flourish.

I chose FLOURISH as my One Word to focus on for 2016. At the start, flourish sang to me of bright colors and new beginnings. The dictionary tells me that flourish is a verb, meaning to thrive; to grow luxuriantly; to be in one’s prime; to be at the height of fame, influence, success; to prosper. I marched into 2016 with a spirit of newfound joy and fierce hope.

Of course, just as in past years, I had no idea how that one word would shape me, challenge me, break me and remake me from the inside out.

A few months into 2016, I started to feel overwhelmed. I had way too much on my plate. I was still leading in several large capacities, while adding a new husband, new family situation and a giant new speaking/writing project to my list. Something had to give. In a conversation on one of our regular date nights, my hubby gently suggested I clear my plate of commitments so I could really focus on the new projects God was calling me to.

I balked.

Clear everything from my plate at one time? Who does that? I loved everything I was involved in. Every piece felt important and meaningful. What could I possibly get rid of or step down from? They needed me, right? I hemmed and hawed. I strategized about ways I could keep certain things and be more efficient with my time.

One afternoon, I overheard my mother-in-law giving my middle daughter a lesson in keeping roses. The two of them were on the front patio of our new home with huge garden clippers. I saw the sad state of our rose bushes. The one in the middle had two thick, root branches that were so heavy they were making the whole bush topple forward. As Grandma directed, my 7-year-old went to work pruning branches. Even some of the prettiest roses on the bush had to be clipped for the good of the entire bush.

The lesson was not lost on me. I knew deep in my heart it was time to prune.

These familiar words echoed in my heart: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes that it may bear more fruit.” (John 15: 2-3, ESV).

Did you catch that? It doesn’t say he leaves the branches that are thriving, the biggest branches, the ministries that look the most successful, the activities that bring in the most people or seem to depend the most on you. The verse says every branch – even the ones bearing fruit – must be pruned.

Hadn’t I already learned enough about pruning? After all, in the past year and half I had sacrificed my husband to cancer, my position working for a non-profit in Haiti, several circles of friends, and so many of my life-long dreams for our family. Letting go of those things was excruciating. Why would God ask me to give up more?

This time it was about obedience. Looking back, I know He was asking me to let go of some good things that had become so big in my life they defined me. These were the thickest branches of my rose bush weighing me down. He wanted me to lean into His present calling on my life so my identity was re-defined in Him.

This spring I surrendered my teaching job at the university. I passed on my role leading a thriving moms group (MOPS) at our church. I stepped out of some other community groups and said no to a bunch of invitations to speak and attend events that had become regular on my calendar through the years.

At first, it was much harder than I thought it would be. I thought I could just move on to the next thing but I discovered even when God prunes us for the good we need to give ourselves time to grieve. I missed the communities and circles of friends. I missed the sense of purpose I had felt in those spaces.

I also discovered something scary about myself. I didn’t know how to rest.

After more than a decade operating a non-profit with my husband and working in highly-demanding leadership and ministry places, I didn’t know how to sit in the quiet. In those months, my branches felt naked, bare, no sign of green or color. I had to learn to wait and listen and trust.

During the summer, I chose to focus on a few things to nourish my soul and my body. I chose to read more books and signed up to run a full marathon. This was important not just to fill the time but to deliberately and intentionally take time to learn and be quiet. As I logged lots of miles and hours, I started to feel alive again. Especially when I was running, I carved out time to listen and pour out my heart to God. And when I would come home from long runs, I was exhausted and ready to rest. Naps were unapologetically part of my day.

Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. (John 4:13-14, ESV)

Like my thirsty rose bushes, my soul needed water. I needed to let this living water seep deep into my soul soil and nourish my roots. For years, I had only afforded myself quick drinks at the drinking fountain. This summer I drank deeply from the well. I gave myself permission to rest, to run with my Father and spend time investing in my husband and daughters. That nourishing phase was important to helping me recalibrate my heart and all of us to bond as a family.

When September rolled around, our family rhythm changed again. My girls went back to school and for the first time in more than a decade I had at least three full days a week to focus on my writing. For years I had dreamed of this time but it was finally here, and it felt revolutionary somehow. I had the time to work on editing and sending out several of the children’s book manuscripts I had written. I also had brain space to work on a bigger book and bible study project.

One day as I was slipping in our front door, I stopped in my tracks before the rose bushes. Huge pink blooms the size of my 5-year-old’s head were on multiple branches. I had never seen roses this big. We clipped half a dozen to put in a spacious, glass vase on our dining room table – a reminder that God often allows us to bloom in unexpected ways in His perfect timing.

In November, I received an email from a children’s book agent that she was interested in representing my work. Then I heard from another and another agent. After 10 years of receiving rejection letters and wading through the discouragement of having so little time to devote to my writing, I had choices. For such a time as this I am stepping into a new season of writing, publishing and sharing my stories for His glory.

This fall, Shawn and I also signed up to help coach the cross country team at our daughters’ school. We decided this was something we could invest in as a family and could provide a door for us to develop relationships with more families in our school community. Just before Christmas we hosted an end-of-season celebration at our house. As kids jumped on the trampoline in the yard and the kitchen and dining room were spilling with parents and coaches, I felt a deep joy welling up inside. I flushed with the color of this new garden we found ourselves flourishing in.

If I had not gone through the process of pruning, resting and nourishing, I might not have the chance to experience these surprising blooms.

I am returning tonight to the words of John 15, this time in verse 8: “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (ESV).

In a year’s time God has taught me much about the process of flourishing. I cannot become a flourishing garden overnight. In fact, I have to prepare myself to be pruned in every area at one time or another. And most importantly, I need to cultivate my time to have space to help others flourish so my Father – the Master Gardener – can be glorified. I know the process of flourishing will circle back around. He will continue to ask me to prune, rest, nourish and bloom in various seasons.

I am looking to 2017 with expectancy.  My One Word chosen for 2017 is BEHOLD. This word has allured me for a few months now. I believe it is about BEing, pausing and living present in His presence. I know it’s about allowing Him to HOLD me close, to hold still and to savor each moment. I’ve already started a treasure hunt through the Bible. I’ve discovered that word BEHOLD is used in many ways. Most prominently, it’s used as a call to fix our eyes upon, to observe with care, and to reflect God’s glory. Sounds like the perfect banner to hold boldly overhead as I enter into 2017.


What are some of your reflections on 2016? Have you chosen One Word for 2017? Please comment below and start the conversation.

This is a story I never would have written for myself – ever

Posted by | compassion, death, grief, marriage, Stories, struggle | No Comments

His breathing tightened. Each breath now was a labor. After almost 12 years of listening to the cadence of his breath as we ran marathons together, as he slept by my side, this sound was foreign, painful. I tried to hook up the oxygen tank brought by hospice.

Twice I connected the tubes to his nostrils. Twice he ripped them out. He was still fighting for life even as the cancer coursed through his body. His mother told me with her eyes that we were near the end. My heart knew it, too.

One by one, I ushered my young daughters – ages 2, 5 and 8 – into the room and urged them to kiss Daddy one more time. I cradled his hand in mine, fingering that wedding band – an unending circle of love between us. At dawn, light streamed wildly through the blinds of our bedroom window.

His hazel eyes moved toward the light. He clapped his hands together in his signature way and left his broken body behind….

**I wrote this article for the Valley Voices section of The Fresno Bee. Click here for the rest of the article that ended up running in more than 20 newspapers across the country.

http://www.fresnobee.com/opinion/readers-opinion/article102119772.html

Do you have a friend who needs permission to grieve? Please share!