Personal Stories

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

Posted by | community, Compassion, Featured, Gospel, Grief, Hope, Marriage, Personal Stories, Stories, Struggle/Hardship | 6 Comments

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

Read More

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

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

Dear Mama Friends,

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

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

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

And that was only the beginning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For this, I am grateful.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Book Review: Never Unfriended

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is the messy stuff true friendship is made of.

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

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

Mic drop.

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

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

 

 

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

I often serve on book launch teams as a way to get to know authors and their message better. I had the privilege of being part of Lisa-Jo’s launch team for Never Unfriended.

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

 

Navigating Grief: When Someone You Love Dies Suddenly

Posted by | fierce flourishing, Grief, Guest blogger, Hope, Identity, parenting, Personal Stories, relationships, Stories, Struggle/Hardship, transitions | One Comment

 

By Kimberly Rose

Your mom lives forever. At least that is what I told my little girl self growing up. Or at least I was counting on that as truth since I was being raised by a single parent.

I grew up poor, and we moved a lot. I have three older sisters, but there are a dozen years between us. For many years, that meant I had my mom all to myself.

My older siblings were not able to break out of the poverty we lived in. They struggled with many of the same pitfalls and addictions that plagued earlier generations of our family.

I knew about the history of failure and defeat in my family. I was a watcher. I carefully watched the mistakes my sisters and mother made so I would not grow up and make them too.

My mom knew that I had a potential for greatness. She saw the fire and passion in my eyes when I talked about future dreams. My mom knew one thing for sure: God had given her another chance at motherhood late into her thirties. He had also given her what she believed would be a child she could pour into and push to higher ground.

And push she did. I almost buckled under the weight of her expectations. Always late, but never giving up.

I worked hard and earned my high school diploma. Mama cried uncontrollably when I handed it to her. Only one of my family members had completed high school up to that point. I told her that some people at church were going to help me get to college. We were both uncertain about how the financial aspect would all work, but we knew that even though we had economic challenges, I was smart and worked hard. Mom was supportive and inspired. We knew with God on our side it was possible.

Climbing the mountain of college, nearing the peak, seeing the summit of the very last semester, I got the phone call.

“Are you sitting down?” My oldest sister’s voice over the phone. “Mom’s gone.” I wasn’t sure I’d heard right. The air in my body was sucked out. My knees hit the ground. I couldn’t breathe.

My sister’s voice was shaking.

My mother was crossing a popular intersection in our town in the middle of the afternoon. A car ran the light, and hit her, killing her instantly. The car never broke, and never stopped. No one really saw what happened. Only a vague description of the car was reported. She laid in the street for all the world to see, and no one knew what to do.

I called her answering machine over and over to hear her voice just one.more.time.

It was not like terminal illness, where I had to painfully watch her die. I was never given the opportunity to say that one last goodbye. She was here one day, and gone the next, passing through me like the wind.

No more.

No more holidays, no advice on marriage, no one to call when I nervously held my crying newborn at 2 a.m.

I asked my professors for two weeks leave from school to bury my mother and take care of my affairs. I knew what I had to do. In my grief, I felt the push. The same push I’d felt all my life – to go on and to honor her with the one thing she wanted.

I graduated that spring earning my bachelor degree. Sitting alone in a crowded auditorium my eyes searched frantically for a sign, anything to symbolize her spirit. My eyes rested on the school emblem. “There you are,”  I barely whispered. The school I attended for four years was founded the same year my mother was born.

Sometimes a song, a smell, or someone in a crowd who looks so much like your loved one causes you to look again. Hints of grief are always there. But, we can move forward.

One day, one step, one breath at a time. The best way to navigate grief is to live.

 

 

 

Kimberly Rose lives in Central California. She teaches full-time and is working on a master’s degree in administration. She is a marathoner/ultra runner, chasing the Boston dream. Kimberly embraces grief today by finding the small moments that make life meaningful. 

 

 

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.

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, newborn, parenting, Personal Stories, Stories, Struggle/Hardship, 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 have to say goodbye to the place your heart feels home

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

By Melissa Ens

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

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

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

And that’s what I really don’t want.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

I had yet to listen to them.

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

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

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

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

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

I finally understand good grief.

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

The Garden – an introduction to the series

Grieving Together – an article on grieving with children

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

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

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

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

Navigating Grief As Life Moves Forward: The Garden

Posted by | community, death, fierce flourishing, Grief, Hope, parenting, Personal Stories, Stories, Struggle/Hardship, 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!

Book Review: You Are Free to Be Who You Already Are

Posted by | Behold, Book reviews, community, Grief, Identity, Personal Stories, Stories, Struggle/Hardship, transitions | No Comments

I have dreamed about traveling to Italy since I was a little girl. I never imagined that I would get to experience the Sistine Chapel, run around the Colosseum, walk the steps of Trevi Fountain, and stand awestruck before the statue of David at age 38 with a new husband. I never imagined I would get to share handcrafted raviolis and tiramisu we made together in a cooking class.

I remember sitting on a train careening across the country en route from Rome to Florence. My eyes were glued to the window. The landscape was changing right before me. In a few hours, we traversed from the big city bustle to a more serene countryside with rolling hills.

On that train, God spoke to me about something more important than all the breathtaking sites and delectable food.  After so many months of deep grief following my husband’s death, after so many restless nights of crying out to Him and wondering what the future would hold for my daughters and me, God was changing the landscape. He gave me a wide-angle view of His glory.

The words of this verse breathed over me so many times in the last few years came to life: “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert” (Isaiah 43:19).

He had made a way. He was reminding me that I was free.

On that trip, God reminded me who I was at my very core, who He created me to be. He began rekindling some of my passions and dreams. He was giving me permission to trade my mourning for dancing, to step into a new marriage, a new family life, a new season that I was free to create.

When I first saw the title of Rebekah Lyons’ new book, You Are Free: Be Who You Already Are, I couldn’t help thinking about my trip to Italy. It’s the place where God most recently reminded me of this important biblical message – that we are all free. I was eager to read Rebekah’s book because this is a journey I was already on.

In You Are Free, I felt like Rebekah invited me to sit down for a cup of coffee to talk about freedom and all the many ways I need to walk in it. Rebekah tells her story of rescue from striving and approval, but she also invites me to reflect on my own story.

I heard Rebekah speak at the first IF:Gathering I attended in Fresno four years ago. She was one of the teachers who caught my attention with her vulnerable, personal story coupled with her passionate preaching. Rebekah overcame depression and anxiety to step into a new place of freedom in Christ.

Perhaps the most impactful chapter for me was “Free to Grieve.” Rebekah shares about the birth of her son Cade, who had a traumatic birth and was born with Down syndrome. Her words pierced me:

“Something died in me that day: the controlled plan for my ‘perfect’ life. In return, something was born that day: surrender to an unchartered and forever-changing path.

As I have navigated my own grief journey after my husband was diagnosed with cancer and died four months later, I have found this to be true. That year there was a shattering of my dreams.

Rebekah’s perspective challenged me: “But here’s the truth I’ve found: we only find that wholeness, that unity, when we allow ourselves to mourn the death of our worldly expectations.”

She encourages all of us that we not only need to give ourselves permission to cry and mourn, but there is actually freedom and comfort to be found in grief. Jesus meets us there. This was a profound reminder. My own story serves as a testimony this is true.

I highly recommend You Are Free as a great Spring Break read or even a book to work through more reflectively with a journal in hand to answer the “Becoming Free” prompts at the end of each chapter.

 

**If you are an avid reader, I encourage you to check out some of my other book reviews. These books have carried me through seasons of tragedy and triumph. I often serve on book launch teams as a way to get to know authors and their message better. Next month I’ll be reviewing Never Unfriended by Lisa-Jo Baker.

**Do you have a favorite book you are reading right now? Please let me know about it in the comments! I love to share recommendations. Sign up here for my Glorygram – a weekly(ish) gift of encouragement just for close friends, including lots of book and recipe recommendations.

The Ministry of Presence

Posted by | community, Compassion, courage, Culture, death, Fear, friendship, Grief, Hope, Personal Stories, politics, protecting kids, relationships, serve, Sharing faith, Social Justice, Stories, Struggle/Hardship | 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.

Reduce stress and start your day with music! Let me send you my specially-curated FREE Morning Worship playlist! Join me!

Enjoy this blog? Please share so more friends can benefit!