2017 October

Book review: Picturing Heaven

Posted by | book reviews, death, gifts, grief, sharing faith, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

The other night I went for a walk with my 6-year-old around the track at our local high school. The sun set far quicker than I anticipated, and we found ourselves strolling in the dark. Of course, it wasn’t completely dark because as we rounded the bend we looked up and saw the sky was lit up with stars. I smiled, savoring this sacred moment with my youngest girl.

We wandered into a conversation about stars, and then, as is common in our family, we started talking about Heaven. We chatted about whether we thought Daddy in Heaven could see the other side of those stars.

“I love my daddy so much,” came the sweet voice of my girl.

“I know you do, sweetie,” I said.

I have learned to let her share freely when she starts talking about her daddy. These conversations are a part of our rhythm. We wondered aloud if he could see us walking around the track. We imagined him talking with his grandma. My girl perked up because she knows she is named after her great-grandma. She remembered our chef friend, who died recently, and talked about him making cream puffs for Daddy in Heaven.

As I reflected later, I remembered that our initial conversations about Heaven happened with the help of author Randy Alcorn. After my husband died, I immediately tracked down a copy of Randy Alcorn’s Heaven book. My daughters were asking lots of questions, and I heard the book was a primer on all things Heaven from a Christian perspective. It’s a dense book packed with 25 years of research and answers to questions anyone might have about heaven.

I still use it as a bookend on my shelf, joining my other books about grief. I also bought Heaven for Kids.  After their dad died three years ago, I read chapters of the book aloud after dinner. Even though some of it was over my girls’ heads, those two books invited us into conversation and using our imaginations about what Heaven would be like.

Recently, I was scrolling through Instagram and happened upon the cover image of a new coloring book devotional using some of the content from Alcorn’s book. I ordered Picturing Heaven right away, thinking it would be a great gift for my. What I discovered is that God intended to use the coloring book to minister mostly to me.

This book features beautiful spreads illustrated by Lizzie Preston with special gold overlays and short devotionals by Randy Alcorn. The beautiful images to color attracted my attention initially, but it was the deep reflections paired with scriptures that invited me into the Heaven conversation anew.

What I like most about this book is that it breaks down some of the main themes from Alcorn’s Heaven book into easy-to-understand nuggets. For example, I was reminded in the first devotional that the “present Heaven” is the place believers in Jesus go when their physical bodies die, but it’s not our final destination. The Bible reminds us that we are destined for another place – a resurrected Earth.

Alcorn writes, “God’s children are destined for life as resurrected beings on a resurrected Earth. We must not lose sight of our true destination!”

I have been reading this devotional with my family – my new husband and my three daughters, who are now ages 6, 8 and 11. We all have resonated with it on our own terms. We also love getting out our colored pencils and coloring the pages while we chat about the content.

I would highly recommend Picturing Heaven for any individual or family, especially those navigating grief. It would make a great gift to share with friends along with a nice set of colored pencils!

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Making space for lament when national tragedy strikes

Posted by | community, compassion, death, fear, grief, politics, social justice, Stories | 5 Comments

A few weeks ago I drove up the mountains to pick up my oldest daughter from 6th grade camp. The highway began to bend and wind into the woods. The sight of the forest took my breath away. I was stunned by the devastation and destruction left by the forest fires in that area.

A grove of trees that just a year ago boasted a vibrant, red-green-gold was now marked by black trunks and brittle branches. The grove was sparse with fallen trees in the road and piles of ashes all around.

I couldn’t help but pull over and just stare in sacred silence. Like many places up and down our beautiful state of California, this area burned. This forest and the people who live near it have endured much suffering and loss.

Calvin Crest Camp, where I was headed, was spared but the fires snuck right up to their back door, and the evidence of the burning is all around. Fires still blaze farther north in Santa Rosa this week. Scrolling through Facebook, I am grieved by the pictures of friends’ childhood homes, hospitals and schools burned to the ground in that area.

Meanwhile, in other parts of our country and world, devastating hurricanes have put whole cities under water. Death and destruction permeate the landscape. Just a few days before I drove up to Calvin Crest, a mass shooting in Las Vegas left 50 dead and countless injured. I have been heavy with the thought of so many people trying to dig themselves out of the devastation.

So much loss. So much to grieve.

These last three years since my husband died from cancer, I’ve learned that if I don’t make space for the grief it will sneak up on me like a forest fire. Before I know it, my heart will be ablaze with grief, unstoppable and racing toward despair.

Because of the deep grief I’ve endured, new grief – like the death of another loved one, a natural disaster or national tragedy – piles up in my heart. It feels like grief stacked upon grief, and it’s heavy to carry. I need to be gentle with myself.

This week I am reminded of the importance of lament. We have moved away from the Biblical practice of lament in the North American church, but I believe now more than ever we need it. Lament is an invitation to cry out to God in suffering and pain. It’s a way to express deep sadness while also acknowledging God at work in the suffering.

In his book, Prophetic Lament, Soong-Chan Rah writes, “The American church avoids lament. The power of lament is minimized, and the underlying narrative of suffering that requires lament is lost. But absence doesn’t make the heart grow fonder. Absence makes the heart forget.”

I am challenged by these words to carve out space for lament. I do not want to forget the injustices I see around me. I do not want to forget those who are suffering. I do not want to share an article on social media about the shooting in Las Vegas and then move on to a heated debate about gun control. We dishonor those families when we rob them of the time to grieve. We do a disservice to ourselves when we attempt to march on to political discussions unscathed by the human tragedy.

The Bible offers up a model for lament in the Psalms and the poetry of the book of Lamentations. Psalm 40 is one of my favorite examples of lament. David writes opens the Psalm with words of thanksgiving: “I waited patiently for the LORD, and He turned to me and heard my cry for help. He brought me up from a desolate pit, out of the muddy clay, and set my feet on a rock, making my steps secure” (Psalm 40:1-2).

Later in the Psalm, David cries out to God in his own weakness and helplessness: “Lord, be pleased to deliver me; hurry to help me, Lord” (Psalm 40:13). Many of the Psalms express pain, grief, worry, fear and then the Psalmist is led into hope in God. I am grateful that the Bible includes examples of people expressing sadness and grief in times of tragedy and trauma. This gives us permission to lament as well.

Let me encourage you during these difficult times to hold space for grief. We all grieve in unique ways. For me, this means clearing my schedule for a trail run or getting out my journal to write some lines about how these losses are hitting me. For you, it might mean sitting in the quiet of your backyard to watch the birds or strolling through the neighborhood. It might mean letting yourself cry in your bedroom.

When many are grieving, I believe it’s also important to reach out to people and acknowledge the pain. It’s tempting to sweep the tragedy under the rug. Some of us feel sad and helpless, so we stuff it down and quickly move on. We need to fight this urge and intentionally check in with our people.

I’m concerned that in this age of social media we choose to do more of our processing on the internet when it’s our face-to-face relationships that need tending to. We need to listen to others, talk through what we are feeling, and carve out space for prayer. I like to do this by making a pot of soup or a cup of tea and inviting people to my table so we can hear the nuances in each other’s voices. And we can cry together.

My challenge to you is to think about ways you can hold space for lament in your own life. Give yourself permission to put it on the calendar or cancel some other activities. Invite a close friend into conversation or prayer about the state of our world. This is the way we can come together in community and push back the darkness.

**I have developed a FREE RESOURCE for readers navigating guilt and shame in grief. This little exercise has helped me so much on my own grief journey. Check it out here.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash.

Italian Wedding Soup: Sharing our souls over a hearty bowl of soup

Posted by | community, compassion, cooking, food stories, Recipes, soup | No Comments

These past several weeks have been marked by tragic headlines – hurricanes whipping coastal cities and neighboring islands, floods devastating Texas, forest fires chasing up the state of California, and a mass shooting in Las Vegas.

These natural disasters and national tragedies weigh heavy on my heart. They push those in the eye of the storm into survival mode. First responders are called from all corners. And the rest of us must shoulder deep grief from afar. It’s easy to start processing all our feelings online and neglect face-to-face time with our family and friends.

With all the heaviness, I find myself hungry for more time with my people, and that requires being intentional.

I know I need to pull my girlies and my husband close and tell them I love them.

I know I need to carve out space to grieve together.

I know I need to lean into the loss and sift the feelings of fear that creep in.

That’s why I started thinking about comfort food this morning. Comfort food is something warm I serve up at my table for the purpose of gathering people and sharing our souls. Comfort food takes a while to assemble and cook. The time is important. We can’t offer comfort to one another in a rush either.

Today I’m sharing a recipe for one of our family’s favorite soups: Italian Wedding Soup. This one can feed a crowd. We serve it up in both the grief and the joy. The marriage of hearty vegetables and meatballs nourish the stomach and the soul well.

I’ve discovered that when I invite my kids into the kitchen to help me cook, it affords us time to talk, process, grieve and encourage one another. My Giada loves rolling meatballs, and Meilani is great at measuring ingredients. Zayla is good at stirring the vegetables in the pot. And everyone is good at the tasting part!

I encourage you in these difficult times to gather your people, maybe invite your neighbors and rev up a pot of Italian Wedding Soup.

For soup base:

1 cup onion, diced

1 cup celery, diced

1 cup carrot, diced

1 cup ham or bacon, diced

1 tablespoon garlic, minced

2 tablespoons olive oil

12 cups chicken broth

2 teaspoons dried oregano

2 teaspoons dried basil

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes or a dash of cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon parsley

1 bay leaf

1 can cannellini (white kidney beans)

2 cups spinach or kale leaves

1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated

 

For Meatballs:

Approx. 30 small meatballs (You may use already prepared meatballs or mix the following ingredients together and roll your own meatballs.)

1 pound ground chuck

1/2 cup unseasoned bread crumbs

1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated

1/4 cup whole milk

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

1 egg, beaten

1 tablespoon dried oregano

1/2 tablespoon garlic powder

1/2 tablespoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon dried basil

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Mix together ingredients for meatballs and roll into bite-sized balls.
  3. Place on a greased baking sheet. Bake meatballs for approximately 10 minutes so the meatballs will hold their shape in the soup.
  4. Meanwhile, put a large soup pot or Dutch oven on the stove and heat olive oil at medium heat.
  5. Chop onions, carrots, celery and ham and add to pot.
  6. Mince garlic and add to pot.
  7. Stir ingredients and heat until softened.
  8. Add chicken broth, oregano, basil, red pepper flakes, parsley and bay leaf.
  9. Simmer 20 minutes over low heat.
  10. Drop meatballs into simmering soup.
  11. Cook approximately 10 more minutes.
  12. Add beans, spinach leaves and Parmesan cheese. Keep heat on low and cook 5 more minutes.

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Marathon Lessons: How to persevere when your race isn’t turning out how you expected

Posted by | behold, community, courage, death, finishing well, flourishing, grief, running, Stories, struggle | 6 Comments

We began to inch toward the start line. Throngs of runners from 100 countries around the world joined us for this epic race – the 40th Chicago Marathon. I tried not to focus on my nervousness and instead enjoy the experience of being there with so many people from all walks of life chasing the same goal.

About a year before, I started dreaming up ways to celebrate my 40th birthday. Choosing something for my 40th carried some weight and grief for me as I remembered that my beloved went to Heaven in his 40th year of life. Running the Chicago Marathon bubbled to the surface as a big challenge I wanted to work toward. I live in Central California now so journeying together with my family back to the city where I grew up seemed like a memorable way to celebrate.


I run races year-round, but my focused training for the marathon began in June. My friend and I disciplined ourselves to run before dawn and the stifling heat of the day descended on Central California. We enjoyed long weekend runs on the trails around our city. Those runs afforded me a new rhythm of quiet to connect with God, to process my grief, to breathe new life to my dreams.

And now, five months later, the big day was here. As the announcer signaled for us to start, I felt a surge of excitement. We began to navigate the streets and neighborhoods of Chicago. I tried to take one mile at a time and not focus on the entire 26.2 miles before me, which was still daunting.

The first challenge was finding space to run. With 44,000 runners, I had to do a lot of weaving and negotiating to find a path for my feet. The timing had to be just right.  You don’t want to cut anyone off, but you also don’t want to get stuck behind a group running a slower pace. Runners elbowed me and pushed me more than once. My hubby-coach ran next to me, and my training partner ran just ahead. I tried to steady the cadence of my breathing. The three of us struggled to stay together because of all the people surrounding us.

I started thinking about a passage in Hebrews I have been working to memorize with a group of women from my church. It says,

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:1-3).


Remember the witnesses

These verses came to me at just the right time, providing inspiration for tackling the race ahead. At mile 3, we passed our family cheering crew – my parents, three daughters, my sister and brother’s family, and even some friends who have become family through the years. They motivated us on with smiles, high fives, hugs and hand-decorated signs. Not only were we surrounded by more than 1.5 million fans lining the streets of Chicago, but we were supported by our people, our witnesses.

I couldn’t help reflecting on how critical the support of my people has been through the years. My tribe has supported me at races, the births of my girls, graduations, weddings and more. They stood with me at my husband’s bedside when he battled cancer. They held me tight at the grave when we surrendered him to Heaven. Their encouragement buoys my strength.

As I ran the race, I could almost hear my Ericlee cheering from Heaven. I imagined him pumping his fist and calling out in that bellowing coaching voice. I thought of the others gathering in Heaven with him to witness my race. I saw my grandparents on both sides, many dear friends, and other heroes of the faith. This is the power of a community of support. I do not believe we humans are meant to run the race alone.


Weed out the thoughts that entangle

I felt a little slower than usual. I couldn’t find my pace and my stomach felt queasy. I made it past the half marathon point. At mile 15, I knew I had to find a bathroom fast. Just in the nick of time, I found one. After waiting in line, I got back out on the course with my team. I was disappointed because I knew I had lost precious minutes there. I felt weak.

My running partner said she was going to go on ahead. I have to admit this was hard. I don’t blame her a bit. In fact, I probably would have made the same choice if the tables were turned.  The competitive side of me just had a hard time accepting that I couldn’t push harder to stay with her.

I would say about 80 percent of running a marathon is the mental game. My mind started to spiral downward at this point. The temperature was rising. The sun started to beat down on me. I felt tired with each plodding step. I was disappointed in myself and felt ashamed that my husband had to run such a slow pace to keep me going. I started to compare myself to others in my mind.

Then those words rang out: “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.” I was hindered by my self talk. My sin was in my attitude, my comparing, my jealousy, my shame. I felt like a tangled mess. I wanted to just lay down in the middle of the street and ugly cry.

I knew I had to rally. My husband offered to carry my hydration vest for me. I literally had to throw that thing off my tired shoulders and figuratively throw off my negative self talk as well.


Run with perseverance

I didn’t realize it until later when my hubby told me but I started saying the words to the verse out loud: “And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us…” I kept thinking about that word perseverance. It means persisting in spite of difficulty, obstacles or discouragement.

I reminded myself that I believe in doing hard things. I want to model that for my daughters. If I have learned anything in my grief journey, I have learned that the best way to navigate grief is to lean in, to take the next step, and the next. I made it to mile 20.

On mile 22, God sent me an angel. There was a woman on the side of the street giving the most rousing victory speech. Her words spoke truth and life into me. She reminded me that the marathon is about grit and glory. I believe that we are to be glory chasers, giving glory to God even in the most difficult times. Here was my chance. I had to run the race marked out just for me.


Follow the pacer

I’m not going to lie. Those last 4.2 miles were not easy. I was hot. I could feel the chafing beneath my shirt. I kept drinking water but still remained thirsty. Everyone around me was walking. I was tempted to stop, but I couldn’t. Shawn started running just ahead of me then. I knew what he was doing. He was pacing me. He knew I needed someone to follow, someone to chase. I fixed my eyes on his neon yellow “Run Big” shirt, and we ran.

And these words were running through my mind: “…fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” Some days are just hard. Sometimes the race is not what we hoped for or expected. It’s easy to focus my eyes on my shortcomings and disappointments. Hebrews 12 reminds me where to fix my  eyes – on Jesus. He’s the pioneer, the first, the one blazing the trail, my pacer for life.

We had one last hill to climb and then we turned the corner. That bright red banner screaming “FINISH” was my invitation. I shifted to that last gear, and ran my guts out.


And in the end, it turns out the marathon was not just a birthday challenge to accomplish. The marathon was an important teacher for life. I learned to remember the witnesses, weed out the thoughts that entangle, run with perseverance and follow the Pacer.

All for His glory!

 

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