Chasing God's glory through all circumstances

brave

Running for His glory: How running taught me to stay

Posted by | brave, courage, discipline, finishing well, identity, running, Stories, Uncategorized | No Comments

This essay is part of our summer series called “Running for His glory,” focusing on the intersection between running and faith. I met Jennie through the Hopewriters online writing community. Jennie and I had this enlightening conversation earlier this year on her “In This Skin” podcast, which includes a bit about how running has helped us both. She writes in this essay about how running teaches her to stay the course God has set out for her. 

 

By Jennie G. Scott

Salty streaks ran down my cheeks as my ponytail bounced behind me. I couldn’t tell if the streaks were sweat or tears. Probably a combination of both.

My lungs burned, my legs ached, and my watch calculated the miles. When I laced up my running shoes that morning, I didn’t know the training run would be what broke me. Not physically — that was the part I could handle.

But emotionally.

*****

I didn’t run a step until after my second child was born. Six months after I delivered her, I pinned on my first running bib – and almost threw up during the race.

The marathons I’ve run since then were easier than that 5k. (Training makes a difference.)

Now, years later, running is a part of my lifestyle. It’s one of the ways I keep my body healthy, but more importantly, it’s a way to keep my invisible self in shape. When I run, the distractions disappear that usually keep me from thinking about the hard things. It’s as if I’m a captive audience to my own thoughts. The cadence of each footfall gives rhythm to the thoughts I’d rather keep at bay. The monotony of the run opens the floodgates of my mind.

*****

That morning, I chipped away at the miles my training plan spelled out. As I did, my body reluctantly complied with what I asked it to do. I’ve heard it said that the first mile is a liar, and I couldn’t agree more. The first mile always tells me to stop and that it’s just not a good day for a run. But there always comes a point when the body gives in and agrees that yes, perhaps, a run is what we need.

I followed my normal route, barely noticing the lake on the left and the construction on the right. Instead of my brain registering what my eyes saw, it drifted to the hurt that was filling my heart.

I pushed it down to prevent it from coming to the surface during the work day and in the evenings with my children. I pretended I was doing fine.

But I wasn’t.

Step after step, arms pumping in propulsion, my body took over and let my heart have room to move — a luxury I’d been denying it, since I couldn’t trust what it would do.

That morning, it finally acknowledged the truth. With nothing in the way, my heart released its pain, its feelings of betrayal, its questions, and its doubts. My heart was honest for the first time in weeks, and the physical release that came with my run brought an emotional release I desperately needed.

It’s amazing how often a run will release an emotion.

In my years as a runner, I’ve logged thousands of miles, run dozens of races, worn out more shoes than I can count, and have even won my age group a time or two.

But more than that, I’ve learned countless lessons you can’t see from the outside. The most important of those? Running has taught me to stay.

It’s forced me to stay in the moment. My first marathon training partner told me, “Just run the mile you’re in,” and I can’t think of better advice for life. We can’t undo the past, and we can’t live in dread of what might be. All we can do is stay here, in this moment, fully present and fully alive.

It’s taught me to stay when it hurts. When you run, there’s always an element of pain or discomfort. A calf muscle that’s tight, a blister from last week’s long run, a sock that’s twisted in a shoe, or some chafing you couldn’t prevent.

Runners can’t prevent pain; we can only learn to handle it. Life will hurt, no matter how well-trained we are or how much preparation we’ve done. Pain is inevitable and inescapable, but we get to choose how we’ll face it when it comes.

Running has taught me that everything I’d rather run from is usually what I need to face the most. Every race has a hill that elicits groans, a gravel portion that tests the nerves, or a weather condition we couldn’t predict. Though our preference would be to run around those obstacles or avoid them altogether, the only way is through.

The only way is to stay.

Running has taught me to stay in spite of my doubts, my insecurities, and my feelings of inadequacy. At the starting line of every race, I look around and wonder just who I think I am. I gauge myself against the clearly more experienced runners, the ones whose muscles look well-toned and whose gear looks more professional than mine. I look at them and doubt myself, but then I turn up my music and remember my training and acknowledge that I, too, have a place in this pack. I stay, and I start, and somehow I always finish.

Running reminds me that while the easiest choice may be to run from difficulty, sometimes the best choice is to remain in it. This is true in races as it is in life. Stay the course.  My runs teach me to stay the course God has placed me on. This pain, this detour, and this unexpected obstacle will not derail me.

Friend, if you stay, you will grow. If you stay, you will change. If you stay, you will become stronger.

 

Jennie G. Scott is a former high school English teacher who now uses her love of words to share the hope of the Kingdom. A writer, speaker, and runner, she is a self-described deep thinker who can spend way more time than she should choosing the just-right word. She is a mom of two who has journeyed through single parenthood into marriage with the most patient man on the planet. She writes online at ww.jenniegscott.com. You can also find Jennie on Instagram @jenniegscott or hosting the “In This Skin” podcast.

 

*Are you a runner or enthusiastic walker? Dorina and her husband Shawn recently started the Glory Chasers running group on Facebook. They offer up courage, coaching, and community for Christian runners. If you’re a runner or know one, join us!

Read more articles in the “Running for His glory” series:

-In “When God brings you full circle,” Dorina describes how sometimes we have to return to particular places, relationships or memories in order to measure just how far we’ve come. She learned this on a trail race she ran a few times in different seasons of life.

-In “How running found me,” Danielle E. Morgan shares her story about how running found her as a young adult and has shaped her health, her mothering, and who she is in Christ today.

-In “Battling negative self-talk,” Kristy Wallace runs us through how she reframes her internal dialogue using scripture. She runs and meditates on specific passages throughout the week.

-In “How running provided healing during mental illness,” Abigail Alleman shares her personal story of how running provided an avenue for her to continue healing during dark seasons.

-In “Discovering running as soul care,” Erin Reibel talks about how she grew into loving running as a busy mama. She consider it an important soul care practice.

-In “How I started running for all the wrong reasons,” Gloryanna Boge shares about how she started out running for all the wrong reasons, but God redeemed it for her.

-In “Run the hill,” Mark W. Jackson unfolds how running hills has helped him learn perseverance through life’s trials.

-In “Finding God’s sanctuary on the trail,” Allison Tucker shares about how God meets her on the trail. I love that she is a grandma who still ventures out into God’s sanctuary in Creation!

-In “Learning to breathe at higher altitudes,” Dorina Gilmore talks about how God breathes life into us, and we live on borrowed breaths as we run life’s path today.

-In “How one mother trusts God’s timing,” Lindsey Zarob shares about how pregnancies took a toll on her body. She had to press the pause button on running for a season, but God brought it back around for her in a new place and new way.

– In “When you feel like running away,” Shannon Rattai writes about how running has become a kind of therapy for her where she can release her burdens and anxiety to God.

 

*Main photo by Morgan Sarkissian on Unsplash

Running for His glory: When you feel like running away

Posted by | brave, courage, finishing well, Guest blogger, running, self-care, Stories | No Comments

“I look up to the mountains— does my help come from there?  My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” -Psalms 121:1, 2

This essay is part of our summer series called “Running for His glory,” focusing on the intersection between running and faith. I met Shannon through the Hopewriters online writing community. In this reflection, she shares about how running is a kind of therapy for her. Trail running helps her release her burdens and connect with God. She’s a glory chaser too!

 

By Shannon Rattai

As I stand at the base of the trail, shoes laced up, determination in my gaze, I stare at my “mountain.”

It’s not the trail before me, winding up and up over the foothills. It’s not the next path that leads me higher into the forest that I’ve come to love.

It’s the mountain that is burdening my spirit. It’s the weight on my shoulders. The heaviness that has infected my heart, mind, and body.

It’s in our human nature to want to run. Maybe not in a marathon, or around the block, but to run away from what burdens us beyond what we can bear.  Our thoughts tell us: this is too much or I can’t take anymore, or I can’t deal with this any longer.” My personal favorite is that question: why me?.  

These thoughts are constant disrupters, adding to the noise of my busy life.

God calls me to be still. He calls me to listen for His voice. He calls me to seek Him and His help. He is the mover of mountains. I need to seek and ask.

The higher I climb, my anger, frustration, and cries of desperation reach their depths.  I push myself further and faster. I’m trying to outrun my problems, but they don’t want to leave.  They cling to me like the number I pinned to my shirt in a race. They try to define me and remind me of the hopelessness I feel.

As I run over the trails, I purposely release my anxiety and cares. With each pound of my feet, I lay the burdens at His feet. I breathe in His goodness as He ministers to my weary soul. The whisper of the wind on my face, the gentle bubbling of the brook, the soft melody of the songbird all reminds me He is there. He is all around me. He has never left me alone. I don’t need to fear or do this on my own.

Running for me is therapy. A way to work out frustrations, to sweat away my anxiety and despair. A way to literally run away.  

But, it’s so much more than that too. It’s a place where I meet my Saviour, my Friend,here peace is spoken to my spirit. I find clarity when I run. And the view is pretty spectacular as well!

As I reach the crest of the foothill, the sun is coming over the horizon. The truth seeps into my heart like a healing balm. My help comes from the Lord. He made the heavens and the earth. My problems are not too big for Him to handle. He’s got this…and He’s got me.

Whatever troubles you are facing today, my prayer is that you find this same peace. Slip on your running shoes, go out into nature, and run towards God. He is waiting for you.

 

Shannon Rattai started running later in life. The lure of nature and exploring creation has led her on many adventures in running. She loves to run with her son. While numbers occupy most of her day, she loves to read, write and point others to the amazing peace she has found. Shannon can be reached on Facebook  at Shannon Rattai or on Instagram as @shannonrattai. 

 

 

 

*Are you a runner or enthusiastic walker? Dorina and her husband Shawn recently started the Glory Chasers running group on Facebook. They offer up courage, coaching, and community for Christian runners. If you’re a runner or know one, join us!

Read more articles in the “Running for His glory” series:

-In “When God brings you full circle,” Dorina describes how sometimes we have to return to particular places, relationships or memories in order to measure just how far we’ve come. She learned this on a trail race she ran a few times in different seasons of life.

-In “How running found me,” Danielle E. Morgan shares her story about how running found her as a young adult and has shaped her health, her mothering, and who she is in Christ today.

-In “Battling negative self-talk,” Kristy Wallace runs us through how she reframes her internal dialogue using scripture. She runs and meditates on specific passages throughout the week.

-In “How running provided healing during mental illness,” Abigail Alleman shares her personal story of how running provided an avenue for her to continue healing during dark seasons.

-In “Discovering running as soul care,” Erin Reibel talks about how she grew into loving running as a busy mama. She consider it an important soul care practice.

-In “How I started running for all the wrong reasons,” Gloryanna Boge shares about how she started out running for all the wrong reasons, but God redeemed it for her.

-In “Run the hill,” Mark W. Jackson unfolds how running hills has helped him learn perseverance through life’s trials.

-In “Finding God’s sanctuary on the trail,” Allison Tucker shares about how God meets her on the trail. I love that she is a grandma who still ventures out into God’s sanctuary in Creation!

-In “Learning to breathe at higher altitudes,” Dorina Gilmore talks about how God breathes life into us, and we live on borrowed breaths as we run life’s path today.

-In “How one mother trusts God’s timing,” Lindsey Zarob shares about how pregnancies took a toll on her body. She had to press the pause button on running for a season, but God brought it back around for her in a new place and new way.

 

*Main photo by Jessie Fröde on Unsplash

Running for His glory: How running found me

Posted by | brave, courage, discipline, family life, Guest blogger, running, self-care, Stories, struggle | No Comments

This essay is part of our summer series focusing on the intersection between running and faith. Danielle and I connected through the Hope*writers group online. She brings a unique perspective to the table on how running found her as a young adult and shapes her health, her mothering, and who she is in Christ today.

 

By Danielle E. Morgan

In high school, I tried running to try and stay fit. My mom was a decent runner, and my oldest brother ran track. I hated it. It was all I could do to muster the ability to run one mile. It took me longer to run one mile than it would take my whiny preschooler, but I ran that mile and felt so accomplished.

But I hated running. I even remember telling my mother one day in pure frustration that I would never ever be a runner.

Never once would I have imagined that one day I’d run a marathon, hike the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim, participate in the Ragnar Trail Relay two separate years, and that at the end of the day, from season to season, running would become something I needed deep in my bones.

I never set out to become a runner; it was just something that sort of happened to me. I always say “running found me.”

Twelve years,  before I had any children, I set out one summer to get myself healthy. I was dealing with high cholesterol that my endocrinologist was adamant I take care of. The freshman 15 I had put on in college turned into the senior 25. Then I had three years of marriage combined with a full-time job, in which I developed a lifestyle of eating out a lot and no regular exercise.

My motivation to get healthy was pretty high because of the health risk I was facing. My doctor had encouraged me to start exercising and being intentional about the things I ate. Due to my unique issues with cholesterol, I was able to consult with a nutritionist to offer guidance and tools along the way.

I faced each day with one goal in mind: I was going to move my body for 30 minutes and be consistent five days a week. 

We had just adopted a black lab who needed a ton of exercise, so I put him on a leash and woke up every morning at 5:30am to take a 30-minute walk. If you think I’m crazy for getting up that early, you aren’t the only one.

It was July in Arizona, and if you want to exist outside for more than 5 minutes without getting heat stroke, then you will wake yourself up before the sun does.

I walked every day, Monday-Friday, and it became a regular part of my routine. After losing 12 pounds in six weeks, I was hooked. I had no idea I could lose 12 pounds, and now I was seeing my consistency produce a reward. It felt so good.

I kept walking and lost 35 pounds by the end of four months. I was a new woman. I had to buy new clothes and throw out the old ones. For the first time in my life, I owned my confidence and wasn’t pretending anymore.

I started to get addicted to exercise. I knew it was good for me, and even more so, I knew that I never wanted to go back to that person I was before it all started.

Then something happened. The walking became easy. I wasn’t getting the same sort of sweat I had gotten before and I realized in order to get my heart rate up and utilize the 30 minutes best, I needed to pick up my pace.

One day, I just started jogging. I thought, “I’ll just run until I’m uncomfortable, and then I’ll walk.”

The first time I tried running, it lasted maybe 30-45 seconds. So, I listened to my body and resumed my walking pace until I felt good enough to go again.

After a few weeks of off-and-on running and walking, I jogged the entire half hour. I couldn’t believe this was happening to me. How was it that I was running – by choice!? And that was just the beginning…

When I look back on the past 12 years, I am deeply blessed that running  found me.

Running for me is like writing; It fills up my soul with its richness, but requires grit and tenacity. It’s deeply hard and life-giving at the same time.

Running has been woven into the very fabric of my motherhood as I’ve bonded over hundreds of miles with my children. It’s also been the perfect escape for me. Running is my personal retreat when I’ve needed to unpack the heaviness of life and allow God to work through my literal breathlessness.

There is something powerfully divine about the places your feet can take you. It’s different when you experience a firm foundation under your own two feet, because getting somewhere requires strength, endurance, and pure fight.

When you find yourself standing over a bridge overlooking miles upon miles of road, or in the bottom of a canyon with unending hills to climb before you see the top, you realize then and there that you are so very small and God is so very big.

And yet, He invites us in. He crafted these heights and depths for our very enjoyment and has allowed runners to experience Him through nature in a uniquely glorious way – a way that fills our soul and gives life to our bones.

Running is a holy experience, a collision of the physical and spiritual in a supernatural way. It allows us to experience God through the lens of breathlessness and grit as we rely on Him for every step.

To me, running is the perfect picture of what life is. It’s less about the destination and more about our reliance on a Holy God as we embark on the journey. There are many roads and pathways your feet will carry you, but as you trust in Him, He will guide and direct your steps along the way.

 

Danielle is an Arizona native, wife, and mother of 2. She works full-time for a large multisite church as a Communications Director, in addition to consulting for a Digital Marketing Firm. Danielle is passionate about writing and speaking and is a regular contributor to local churches and organizations on issues of faith and women in business. She is particularly interested in empowering working moms and encouraging women to use their voice of influence in the workplace. When she’s not working, you can find her running outdoors or frequenting local restaurants and coffee shops.
You can connect with Danielle on Instagram at @DanielleEMorgan or on her blog at www.DanielleEMorgan.com.
*Read the other articles in this series:

-In “When God brings you full circle,” Dorina describes how sometimes we have to return to particular places, relationships or memories in order to measure just how far we’ve come. She learned this on a trail race she ran a few times in different seasons of life.

*Dorina and her husband Shawn recently started the Glory Chasers running group on Facebook. They offer up courage, coaching, and community for Christian runners. If you’re a runner or know one, pass it on.


A podcast roundup: My story for His glory

Posted by | brave, community, compassion, courage, death, family life, flourishing, gifts, grief, hope, identity, kids, marriage, parenting, passion, Personal Stories, podcast, relationships, rest, running, self-care, sharing faith, Stories, struggle, transitions | One Comment

Each one of us is called to be a storyteller. We tell the stories of our lives in different ways. We may use our creativity to write, paint, cook, and even do our jobs with excellence. In everyday conversations, we have many opportunities to share what God has done for us and His faithfulness. Our stories point others to His glory.

Romans 9:17 says, “I appointed you for the very purpose of displaying my power in you, and to spread my fame throughout the whole earth” (NLT).

We might think our story in insignificant, mundane or too tragic, but it has a weighty purpose in God’s eyes. According to this verse, God has actually appointed us to help make Him famous. We have the opportunity to continue His glory narrative in the circles and spaces God has put us in.

I’ve recently had several opportunities to share my story on podcasts. I love the podcast format because conversations and topics flow freely. I hope these conversations will encourage, inspire and challenge you to continue sharing your story.

Here’s a quick roundup of those programs:

-Emily Allen and I talk about “Grieving Together” on the Kindred Mom podcast. I share my story about wading through the loss of my husband while mothering three young girls. I had to learn how to make space for each one of us to grieve in our own unique ways.

-I chat with Jennie G. Scott on In This Skin podcast about growing up in a multicultural family, navigating grief, running as therapy, raising girls, and body image. Hear some of my passion on these topics and more on Episode 19.

-Becky L. McCoy invited me to share on her podcast Suckerpunched about being a caregiver, burnout and grief. I was the primary caregiver for my husband when he battled melanoma. We talk about how it takes a lot of courage to rest.

-I dish with Alana Dawson on the Mom Wants More podcast about pursuing our passions as moms, how God grows our gifts organically, and what it means to flourish together after loss.

-My new husband Shawn and I got to share on the #StayMarried podcast about how God brought beauty out of ashes through our story. I love this conversation because it includes Shawn’s version of the wild glory story God wrote for us.

-My friend Michelle Diercks invited me to be on her Peace in His Presence podcast. I share about how God was present with me in the valley of the shadow of death and used scripture to lift my heart.

If you listen in to any of these conversations, I would love to hear from you. What’s one takeaway you will remember?

 

I listen to podcasts in the car, while I’m cooking or prepping meals, and sometimes when I’m running.

Here are five podcasts I listen to regularly:

The Next Right by Emily Freeman

Jesus Led Adventure with Stephanie Bryant

Out of the Ordinary with Lisa-Jo Baker and Christie Purifoy

Lead Stories: Tales of Leadership and Life with Jo Saxton and Pastor Steph

Typology by Ian Morgan Cron

What are some of your favorite podcasts?

Grief Journey: Embracing Your Child’s Individuality

Posted by | brave, courage, grief, individuality, Stories, struggle, transitions | 2 Comments

As a mama of three girls ages 2, 5 and 8, there’s a lot I’m still learning. In fact, every day is a wild journey of discovery about my girls and myself. One thing I do know for sure: we are all different.

Read More

Book review: It’s all under control

Posted by | book reviews, brave, fear, finishing well, flourishing, Personal Stories, self-care, serve, sharing faith, Stories | No Comments

I’ll be honest: I didn’t think I needed to read It’s All Under Control.

I don’t operate under the illusion that I have it all under control or even that I need to have it under control. Our family has weathered so much loss and transition in the last four years that I’m pretty convinced the only one in control here is Jesus.

Basically, I feel like I have my inner control freak under control.

Jennifer Dukes Lee drew me in with her on-point storytelling and her tell-it-to-you-straight girl humor. And I’m so glad she did. Bottom line: I needed to read this book. Right now. This month. In this season.

I felt like Jennifer was mentoring me as I’ve been reading this book. She speaks candidly on topics like “When being in control gets out of control,” “Finding courage to do really hard things,” “Why every control freak needs to take God off her to-do-list” and “Learning to pause when you want to push.” Those are all chapters in the book and areas I need to think through in this middle season of life.

I am a mother to 2 elementary kids, 1 junior higher. I am ramping up a writing and speaking career, living in a new neighborhood, attending a new church, and investing in a fairly new marriage after my husband died from cancer four years ago. My friendships are shifting. My passions and purpose are shifting. I’m 40-something and my whole world appears to be shifting.

Jennifer describes it this way: “We ask for a map, but instead Jesus gives us a compass and says, ‘Follow me.’”

So true. I’m in that season where daily I’m learning to follow Him. Obedience is about baby steps. And let’s be real: it’s not comfortable. It means saying goodbye to rhythms and people who have been instrumental to my growth. It means being misunderstood by friends. It means embracing vulnerability and sharing my story whenever and wherever He tells me.

Jennifer speaks into this very struggle: “Obedience is not for wimps. At first, obedience can resemble the passive posture of letting God carry you where he will. It turns out that obedience is quite often a gutsy thing that will compel you to stand upright and march forward, even if it threatens your security, your own longing and your idea of success.”

I love the way Jennifer ushers us seamlessly between her story and experiences into stories of people in the Bible who learned the same lessons. This book also contains lots of special features to help readers take these lessons from the theological to the practical.

Jennifer includes exercises at the end of each chapter to take inventory on our life and help make key decisions. She coached me through writing down my “core boundaries” and my “burdens and carriers.”

I highly recommend It’s All Under Control to any of my friends who are on “a journey of letting go, hanging on and finding a peace you almost forgot was possible,” as the subtitle says.

*Jennifer Dukes Lee wrote a guest post for my blog called “When ‘Let go and Let God’ is bad advice.” Check it out here.

*Images for this post were provided by Jennifer Dukes Lee.

*Disclosure: Compensated affiliate links used at no extra cost to readers.


When “Let Go and Let God” is Bad Advice

Posted by | brave, community, courage, grief, hope, Stories, Uncategorized | No Comments

Today I’m welcoming my friend Jennifer Dukes Lee to my table. She is one of my (in)courage sisters. That means we both write regularly for Dayspring’s (in)courage blog. Jennifer just released a book called It’s All Under Control. I’ll be sharing my full review of the book next week. Her words are mentoring me today, and I hope they will encourage you too!

 

Sometimes “let go and let God” is bad advice. Let’s all take a deep breath and not let that sentence scare us.

I understand why “letting go” becomes our default phrase when we want to live surrendered to Jesus. “Letting go” definitely sounds more Jesus-approved than “hanging on.”

But there will be times when you simply can’t let go. You’ve got to hang on tight, as if your life depends upon it. It will feel like you’ve hitched a ride on the back side of a hurricane. Your hands will get calloused and cramped. This isn’t the kind of surrender we usually hear about, is it? This kind of sweat-on-the-brow surrender is fiery and wild. It will ask so much of you that it will hurt.

Perhaps you will be able to let go later. But not yet.

Don’t let go when it gets difficult. Let go only when it’s time.

Until then, hang on.

Scott and I had to hang on tight a few years ago when uncertainty hit our farm like a punch to the gut. Scott’s father, Paul, died of leukemia. Scott would not only grieve the loss of his father and business partner, he would also care for the land alone.

Paul died in the cold of winter. That spring, we were so grateful for the mercy of God when our crops grew tall, thickening over the rows so everything green was touching. There was something so beautiful and hopeful about that. It felt like everything was going to be okay, even though Paul’s old John Deere cap drooped, sad, on a nail by the back door.

We had hope.

But then October came. Not a single plant had been harvested when we awoke to find a thick blanket of snow covering the crops. The snow stole the hopefulness we’d felt earlier that year.

Late that afternoon, a farmer who lived a few miles away tapped his knuckles on the back door. I opened it and found him standing on the doormat with his fists shoved into a thick quilted jacket with a corduroy collar. He showed up at our house on a really hard day, during a really hard year.

“Scott home yet?” he asked.

“No,” I told him. “Still doing chores.”

“Well,” the farmer continued, “you just tell him that I stopped by because I want him to know something for certain. I want him to know that the harvest always comes. You’ll let him know?”

I nodded my head, feeling a catch in my throat.

The farmer had come to remind us, in his own way, what the Bible says about hanging on in hard times. “At the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9, emphasis added).

Friend, I don’t know exactly what you’re going through. Maybe it feels like the harvest will never come. Maybe if feels like all hope is lost. Perhaps you want to “let go” or give up. But what if you need to hang on a little longer?

Today I’m the friend at your back door, tapping my knuckles to see if you’re home. I’m standing on your doormat to tell you the same thing the old farmer told me: “The harvest always comes.”

And I’m here to tell you that the farmer was right. Weeks after he stood on our stoop, the harvest did come. The snow melted, and Scott drove the old green combine back and forth across a gently sloping hill and harvested the crops.

Don’t give up, friend. Hang on when God tells you to hang on. He is still in this.

Hang on. Yes, it’s hard, but it might not be time to let go.

Hang on. This might be only a season, with relief around the corner.

Hang on. When you hang on with bravery, you emotionally strengthen others who are struggling to hang on themselves. You’re showing them that it’s possible to do hard things.

Hang on. For your marriage. For your kids. For your church. For the people that your ministry bravely serves. For the hurting. For your friends who don’t know if they can hang on anymore.

Hang on. Because Jesus will meet you in the middle of your hardest battles.

Hang on.

 

Jennifer Dukes Lee is the wife of an Iowa farmer, mom to two girls, and an author. She loves queso and singing too loudly to songs with great harmony. Once upon a time, she didn’t believe in Jesus. Now, He’s her CEO. Jennifer’s newest book, It’s All Under Control, and a companion Bible study, are releasing today! This is a book for every woman who is hanging on tight and trying to get each day right―yet finding that life often feels out of control and chaotic.

Adapted from It’s All under Control: A Journey of Letting Go, Hanging On, and Finding a Peace You Almost Forgot Was Possible by Jennifer Dukes Lee, releasing September 19, 2018 from Tyndale House Publishers.

 

Moving forward after loss

Posted by | brave, courage, death, family life, grief, hope, Incourage essays, Stories, struggle, transitions | 3 Comments

Six boxes. Our family just moved to a new house this past weekend and all that’s left at our previous house is six dusty, tattered boxes of my late husband’s treasures. I donated at least a dozen boxes of books and a random smattering of home décor from my other life. I feel like I have made steady progress over these last few months. Yet I’m still paralyzed by these final boxes.

My fingers linger over his favorite sweatshirts, t-shirts, and his high school letterman jacket. I keep wondering if these are precious or pointless. Will my daughters need a hug from their daddy in the future? Will they wrap themselves in his jacket on prom night and feel him close? These are the decisions that leave me heavy and decision-fatigued. My mind swirls with a thousand questions and angles to look at each piece.

Another box is full of letters and cards given to me at his funeral. These are handwritten stories that form the tapestry of his legacy. A student who still remembers the way he made her laugh in math class. An athlete who made a choice to become a coach because of the way my husband poured into him when he was a troubled teen. A colleague who met my husband a few mornings a week to pray for students and their families.

September 9 is my husband’s four-year heaveniversary, and I can hardly believe the work God has done in my family and heart these past four years. We have learned to move forward. There were days when I never believed I could live without him. The grief was so heavy I felt like I was walking around carrying a backpack of heavy boulders. I couldn’t imagine a new life for my three daughters and me.

Then God came in gently and said,

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 (ESV)

{Head over to www.incourage.me for the rest of this article on “Moving forward.” Please leave a comment about your own experiences with moving.}

Book Review: Unexpected

Posted by | book reviews, brave, courage, death, fear, finishing well, grief, hope, Stories, struggle, transitions | No Comments

What’s the most unexpected thing you have ever experienced?

For me, it was a stage four cancer diagnosis for my husband at age 40. When he graduated to Heaven less than 4 months later, my faith was shaken. I was paralyzed by guilt, confusion, shame and fear about the future. My husband’s death was unexpected and I had to learn how to navigate grief and move forward.

Christine Caine’s new book Unexpected: Leave Fear Behind, Move Forward in Faith, Embrace the Adventure reaches out to people in all seasons of life who are faced with the unexpected like I was. Through compelling stories and practical strategies, this book helps readers anticipate the unexpected and to live with true joy trusting God in all things.

I had the privilege of hearing Christine live at the Propel Activate event in Long Beach a few weeks ago. Christine writes how she preaches. She is a vivid storyteller and loves to drop truth bombs to challenge her audience.

My favorite part of the book is in Chapter One where she talks about how we cannot expect to control the unexpected, but we can expect that God will be faithful to the promises He makes in the Bible. She goes on to list 20 promises we can expect verified by Scripture. For example, we can expect God to turn our mourning into gladness as it says in Psalm 30:11-12.

“You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent.” 

In the chapter “When the Unexpected Disappoints: Rising Up in Resilience,” Christine reminds us how important it is to recover your wonder when you have faced the unexpected. “Holding to our faith–even in the face of deep disappointments–is critical,” she writes. “Making God’s promises bigger than our disappointments is essential.

My family is presently in a season saturated with transition. Some of the transitions we chose and anticipated like my daughters transferring to a new school this fall and moving to a new house a few weeks ago. Some of our transitions were unexpected like my husband’s company restructuring or God leading us to leave the church we attended for almost two decades.

In Unexpected, Christine taught me: “We can’t control what life sends us, but we can control how we respond. After all, the only way through is… through.” These words give me courage to keep moving through the transitions and the unexpected trials. I highly recommend this book. Christine’s words are an important reminder that God moves with you and me through it all.

Book Review: A Grace Disguised

Posted by | book reviews, brave, community, compassion, death, grief, transitions | 10 Comments

We are moving in a week. As I’ve been preparing for the move, I’ve been sorting through boxes upon boxes of books. This is an almost torturous task for me – a book lover who would much rather be reading books than tossing books to the donation pile. The other day I happened upon a copy of the book A Grace Disguised by Jerry Sittser. This book was recommended to me several years ago. Then I discovered another used copy in a different box from my mom.

Mind you, I just purchased a brand-new copy of this book a few months ago when a writer friend quoted it in her new book I was reviewing. I am a firm believer that certain books come to us in specific seasons of life when we need to read them. I like reading new releases, but I have no problem returning to classics or books I haven’t gotten to from the past.

This summer I needed to read A Grace Disguised. The timing was just right.

This book is a moving meditation on the losses we all suffer and the grace that can transform us. Loss is that word we try our best to evade, but sometimes we just can’t escape. I’ve experienced many losses in my life, but the most profound loss was my husband’s death to cancer in 2014. Author Jerry Sittser’s loss was through a tragic accident that claimed the lives of his wife, mother and young daughter.

A Grace Disguised: How the soul grows through loss is not just a book about one man’s sorrow. Jerry bravely and poignantly leads readers into a conversation about what we can learn from suffering. The premise of the book is that it’s not the circumstances that are important, but it’s more important what we do with those circumstances.

“We do not always have the freedom to choose the roles we must play in this life, but we can choose how we are going to play the roles we have been given,” writes Jerry.

He approaches the topic as a husband, father and religion professor. Jerry reminds us that it is our response to suffering that will shape our lives after loss. He covers topics like how to reconcile God’s sovereignty with human freedom, how to face the darkness when it closes in, and how community lifts us in our brokenness.

As I read this book, I found myself nodding and writing things like “yes and amen” or “This is my experience too” in the margins. Jerry’s personal experiences with grief affirmed my own. He acknowledges that each grief journey is unique, but has a powerful way of bringing out the universal truth in the experience as well.

I especially resonate with the way Jerry talks about his loss experience. He writes,

“Yet the grief I feel is sweet as well as bitter … Never have I felt as much pain as I have in the last three years; yet never have I experienced as much pleasure in simply being alive and living an ordinary life. Never have I felt so broken; yet never have I felt so whole. Never have I been so aware of my weakness and vulnerability; yet never have I been so content and felt so strong. Never has my soul been more dead; yet never has my soul been more alive.”

On September 9, we will celebrate my husband’s 4th heaveniversary. A Grace Disguised caused me to reflect on the ways my soul has grown through loss these last several years. Like Jerry, I see my experience as both bitter and sweet.

Though it is counterintuitive for my personality type, I have learned to lean into suffering and grief. Instead of avoiding the pain, I have learned to hold space for it, to sit quietly with the memories, and to let the tears fall freely when they come. I have learned to be present with my daughters in both their grief and glory moments. I have embraced rest and creativity with a newfound freedom. I have also grown a deeper sense of compassion and empathy for others who are grieving and suffering.

Jerry spoke at a leadership conference I attended in the summer of 2014 when my husband’s health was quickly deteriorating. I breathlessly held on to every word of his experience. At that time, my grief was anticipatory. I had no idea what the path looked like ahead. Jerry’s message prepared me then and affirmed me now in my journey.

This book is a must-read if you have endured some kind of tragedy or find yourself on a grief journey. It’s also a beautiful choice for a gift for someone processing loss. You might also check out the sequel book, A Grace Revealed, which tells the story of how God redeems our lives and unexpectedly turned the ashes into beauty for Jerry’s family.

*Every month I give away a free book to one of my subscriber friends. Simply subscribe here for my Glorygram newsletter and you will be entered for this month!

Photo by Pepe Reyes on Unsplash.

If God wills: How to pray when healing doesn’t come

Posted by | brave, community, compassion, death, grief, hope, prayer, Stories, struggle | No Comments

On the day my husband received a stage four cancer diagnosis, a group of our closest friends and family gathered at our house to pray. They all crowded in our bedroom and circled around my husband, our three daughters, and me. On one of the scariest days of my life, I was strengthened by the fervent prayers of those in our community.

We cried out to God together for his healing. I knelt on the carpeted floor and with hot tears spilled my worst fears to God in the presence of my friends and family. That time of corporate prayer was powerful and important for all our hearts.

But after my husband’s death in 2014, I wrestled with God. Hundreds of people across the globe had prayed for months for my husband’s healing, and it hadn’t come.

Why continue to pray when our prayers weren’t answered?

As a new widow, I struggled to know how to pray and how to proceed. My faith was strong, but my heart felt fragile. My prayers escaped as desperate whispers on the darkest nights of grief.

But God was patient with me. If He could handle the bold prayers of Paul, the emotional prayers of David, and the heart cries of Job, then He could handle my doubting, imperfect, raw prayers.

Over time, I was reminded that just because we pray doesn’t mean we get our way. We don’t put in a certain amount of time on the prayer time clock to gain a certain outcome. In fact, the purpose of prayer is not to persuade God to do things our way; it’s to draw close to the Heavenly Father and sit in His presence.

Jesus models this for us when He prayed at the Mount of Olives before His betrayal.

And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed,
saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me.
Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”
Luke 22:41-42 (ESV)

In this honest prayer, Jesus shows us how to express our hearts to God and how to pray with trust for His will to be done. In the verses that follow, an angel appears to Jesus. He is strengthened by the angel even in His deep anguish.

My heart shifted over time as I realized the purpose of prayer is to connect more intimately with the Father and trust His sovereignty. In my grief, He was close to me. He wept with me. He offered comfort when the ache was heavy and the future seemed hopeless. Now I embrace the sweetness of knowing I can surrender the outcome of every single prayer to a capable and all-knowing God.

I still believe God answers prayers. I believe miracle healings are possible, but I pray differently now. I pray boldly that “if God wills” He would heal my friend, my child, and my neighbor. I preach hope to the wife whose husband battles cancer, to the friend who wonders if his marriage will ever be repaired, to the mother who struggles with her rebellious child. I’ve been in the trenches praying with my people, and I’ve seen God answer prayers quickly, slowly, and in the most unexpected ways.

I also pray that God will give courage, grace, and strength to those who are suffering and enduring pain. My prayers are no longer based on fear and disappointment because He has proved Himself faithful time and again.

Four years after my husband’s death, I am grateful. I am not grateful for his death or our suffering, but I am grateful for the ways God has transformed our grief for His glory. I am grateful God did not reveal the outcomes to me all at once but instead guided me step by step, day by day, prayer by prayer, back into His arms.

{The original version of this post was published at www.incourage.me. Please leave a comment about your own experiences with prayer. I love hearing from readers!}

{Featured photo by Avi Richards on Unsplash}

 


{Summer Blog Swap} Facing uncertainty: stepping out of the boat

Posted by | brave, courage, fear, Guest blogger, identity, inspirational, Stories | No Comments

Welcome to my Summer Blog Swap! This month I am inviting four of my blogger friends over to this space to share some of their posts and perspectives. It’s a fun way to introduce some of my favorite people to all of you. This week I’d like you to meet my friend Carol Graft. We met through a writing group called Hope*writers. Carol loves to encourage women to be creative and cultivate their faith. She writes on her blog here and for the Breathe Writer’s conference blog.

 

Matthew 14:22-33 tells the story of an encounter Peter had with Jesus. The disciples are on a boat in the middle of the Galilean sea when a storm happens. Peter was in a situation of uncertainty. I’ve been there many times. I’m sure you have as well.

Your Galilean storm, your fishing boat, may look different but it’s still a call to step out of your comfort zone.

Over the years my comfort zone for many things has been stretched. Whether that was getting up in front of people to lead worship, or speak, or teach, it has required a lot of stretching and even more faith.

I was especially challenged when I was asked to do things I hadn’t seen anyone do before. This was traveling in what was new territory for me. A step out of the boat moment.

There have been times when I wasn’t sure if I was entering the Twilight Zone, or if I was hearing Jesus  saying, ‘Watch me.”

Now, in this season of life, stepping out of the boat requires putting words on paper. My comfort zone became chapel speaking or Sunday teaching. Writing has involved a lot of apprehension, a lot of intimidation. This writing life is definitely not comfortable. It’s still new to me. As writers, we always wonder, “Will my words have any impact?”

Like Peter though, I am stepping out. The water may be rough; the voices of the enemy and the naysayers are harsh, much like the winds Peter and the rest had to wrestle against. Jesus though, is there, asking me, asking the rest of us to step out of the boat.

Stand on the water and start taking those steps. Take that small step out of our comfort zone.

“Wait! Don’t look down.”

“Look straight ahead,” Jesus says. “Keep your eyes on me.”

His arms are outstretched, His face is encouraging. His hand is waiting to grasp ours when we get to where He wants us to go.

If we take those first steps out of our comfort zone and out onto the water, He will meet us. He will guide us.

He will also wait until we are comfortable again, and say “Now, step out some more.”

 

 

Carol lives in West Michigan where she’s close enough to the beach to chase  sunsets. She has been married 34 years and counting. Carol is mom to 7, mostly grown, children, 4 of which are married and blessed with three grands. She loves to teach and encourage others in this journey with Jesus. She is learning to follow God and step out on the water.

The steepest path: A single parent’s choice of faith vs. fear

Posted by | brave, courage, death, discipline, family life, fear, flourishing, grief, hope, kids, parenting, relationships, Stories, struggle, transitions | No Comments

My feet felt heavy, like someone had filled my trail shoes with rocks. I followed the path before me. Each step brought me closer.

I stumbled, but eventually regained my footing. I could make out a fork in the road just ahead. The cadence of my heartbeat increased. My feet slowed.

I found myself at the intersection of fear and faith.

Which way would I go? Which path would I choose this time?

After my husband died in 2014, I faced many fears as a young widow. I often felt overwhelmed and vulnerable. He had been my anchor, the one who helped me feel secure, and empowered me to run after my calling. Without him, I second guessed my decisions and agonized over the future. I feared financial ruin and being alone for the rest of my life.

Although my faith was strong, my fears frequently reared their ugly heads. I had to make a choice. Would I run down the path of fear or pivot toward the steeper path and run with faith?

One of my biggest fears was that I would not be able to parent my children well. At the time of his death, my girls were ages 2, 5 and 8. My husband and I were partners in parenting. We prayed for our family together. We agreed on discipline. We tag-teamed when the other person was tired or frustrated. Now I had to be the mother and father in parenting.

My fear was not an issue of striving for perfectionism. After birthing three babies, I knew I would never get the parenting thing perfect. I was more fearful that I couldn’t give my girls my best. There were days I just didn’t have my best to give. Simply breathing and surviving grief were my focus.

Some days it felt like my girls had been cheated out of time with their daddy. He wouldn’t be able to attend their high school graduations and walk them down the aisle at their weddings. I feared his absence would damage them emotionally and their grief would overcome them.

Before I married my late husband Ericlee, I heard his grandmother teach on Isaiah 54:5. She spoke passionately about how God is our husband and partner. These words carried me as a single girl, a married woman when my husband was traveling, and eventually as a new widow:

Wedding bandsFor your Maker is your husband—
the Lord Almighty is his name—
the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer;
he is called the God of all the earth.

– Isaiah 54:5

This verse and others have helped me fight my fears and replace them with truth. The more I wrapped my heart in truth, the more confidence I gained as a parent. He covered me in a blanket of grace again and again.

When I was uncertain about a decision, when I needed strength to discipline my children, when I had to attend those parent-teacher conferences or awards assemblies alone, when I couldn’t participate in an event because I didn’t have childcare, I clung to those words.

There was comfort in knowing God, my Maker, also serves as my Husband. He cares for me and partners with me. He imparts knowledge and courage to me when I call out for Him. He fills in what I lack. And He transforms even the darkest circumstances for His glory.

{This essay is continued today over at my friend Jerusha Agen’s blog. Find it here.}

*Main photo provided by Jens Lelie on Unsplash.com.

{Summer Blog Swap} Letting go of control and looking for the miracle

Posted by | brave, compassion, courage, family life, Guest blogger, Stories | No Comments

Welcome to my Summer Blog Swap. Over the next four weeks I am inviting four of my blogger friends over to this space to share some of their posts and perspectives. It’s a fun way to introduce some of my favorite people to all of you. This week I’d like you to meet my friend Lea Turner. We met through a writing group called Hope*writers. Lea lives in Mississippi with her family. She has five children – three grew in her belly and two grew in her heart through adoption. She is powerful speaker for women and also writes about resting fully in God while letting go of striving and anxiety. 

By Lea Turner from A Heart at Rest

I sat in the quiet stale room of the hospital, six years ago,  listening only to the beeping sounds of the machines.

I wasn’t sure how we got here, except that it all started with an email from our adoption agency asking if we could take a baby with a severe heart defect. I had no idea, seven months later, I would be sitting in the ICU staring at my son with a wired shut chest and tubes running everywhere wondering if he was going to make it or not.

No one could have prepared me for that moment. My mind swirled with questions: Would he live to pass his first birthday? Where was the miracle we so desperately prayed for? Why would You, the God of the universe, not reach down and just stop the hurting? How could I possibly walk through the next few months or even years?

It all seemed so overwhelming.

My faith was tired. And maybe your faith is tired too.

Tired of praying? Tired of fighting? Tired of believing? Feeling unsure of how it will all work out? You’re just plain overwhelmed with it all.

Who knows if it will all come together? Who knows if the dream you have believed for years will come to fruition? Who knows if in all the waiting your heart will ever stop hurting?

I didn’t think mine would. I wasn’t sure how I would recover from the news of the surgeon saying it was the worst heart surgery he had ever performed. He went on to explain that my son, who was only seven months old, had the worst scar tissue he had ever seen. He wasn’t sure what the outcome would be or how long he would live. He tried something new. He called it a shunt, and he was hoping for the best result.

I felt like the widow in 1 Kings who most likely didn’t like the answer she received either.

 “As surely as the Lord your God lives,” she replied, “I don’t have any bread – only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son that we may eat it – and die.”

Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first, make a small cake of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me and then make something for yourself and your son. For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: “The jar of flour will not be used up, and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord gives rain on the land.” (1 Kings 17:12-14 , NIV)

She told Elijah she only had a little bit, but he said to cook what she had and give it to him. He promised it would then supernaturally multiply for not only her current need but for his also. She had a choice to make; place her faith in the words of the prophet of God, or believe the very real evidence of her current situation…her lack.

Maybe, just maybe, I was focusing on the wrong thing. And maybe, just maybe you are too. My attention had been on my lack of faith, but doesn’t it just take faith like a grain of a mustard seed to move a mountain? (Matthew 17:20)

Much like the widow in 1 Kings I had to make a choice. I was either going to believe the negative report of the doctor or was I going to believe the word of the Lord: My son shall live and not die.

When the widow released her “seemingly small bit,” the miracle happened. When we are willing to let go of something that does not seem enough for the moment, a miracle happens.

I chose to release my “seemingly small” faith into the hands of a giant personal God and trust Him with the results.

Letting go of the control and fear and releasing it to God, allows His peace to rule our minds. This release of control is not a one-time thing, it is a daily surrender and sometimes minute by minute surrender. Over and over again replacing the lies with God’s truth and reminding ourselves, “Let the peace of God rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace” (Colossians 3:15). Peace is our inheritance.

Six years later, I find myself in this same place again.  My son is undergoing another procedure at the end of the week and my faith feels weary. A shed of fear of the unknown still robs my peace. I’m learning there’s no shame in my lack of faith because He meets us in our weakness. When my thoughts are leading me into shame, instead of allowing them free rein, I imagine the future with God in it. The freedom comes when we believe God is good no matter the outcome. It comes knowing we never have to imagine a future without His presence. His grace will always be enough to carry us through whatever life may throw our way. No matter what the miracle may look like because sometimes it’s not exactly what we thought. But this one thing I know: He is good!

The journey has been long, and I am continually laying down my questions and choosing to believe God with the results. He is faithful!

Maybe you’re in need of a miracle today, and your faith is tired. Go ahead and choose to let go of your “seemingly small” faith that does not seem to be enough, and watch God work a miracle.

 

Lea Turner is a blogger, speaker, wife, and mother of five, three grew in her belly, two in her heart through adoption. She’s on a journey of resting fully in the love of the Father by letting go of striving and walking in her identity of Christ. Lea has a passion to inspire others to work from a place of rest rather than strive from a place of anxiety. She writes about it on her blog. Also connect with Lea on Instagram, Facebook. You can download her free ebook Empowered right here.

*The original version of this blog was published on A Heart At Rest.

*Featured photo by Matthijs Smit on Unsplash.

Running After His Glory in the Darkness

Posted by | brave, courage, death, finishing well, hope, inspirational, running, Stories, struggle, Uncategorized | No Comments

“Three, two, one, go!” the race director bellowed, his voice echoing through the forest. And we were off. My lungs burned as we headed straight uphill through the grove of sequoia trees at 5,000-feet elevation. Inhale. Lift. Exhale. Lift. Inhale. Lift.

I tried to find the rhythm of my breath and feet to make it up that first long hill. I had confidence knowing I had completed this race before, but five miles of hills is still five miles of hills. I knew what to expect, but I still had to put in the work.

Sometimes life is about breathing and lifting, putting one foot in front of the other. Sometimes life is about lifting our eyes to chase God’s glory up the steepest hills and through the darkest corridors of the forest.

I learned this in a profound way in 2014 when my husband was diagnosed with stage four cancer. Every part of the journey felt like running uphill through the darkness. As his health quickly deteriorated, I took on the role of caretaker.

My once strong, athletic husband depended on me to take him to doctor’s appointments, to make decisions about treatments, to prepare special meals for him and even to brush his teeth. The work was heavy and heartbreaking. Lift. Inhale. Lift. Exhale. Lift. Inhale. Lift.

As I ran the Shadow of the Giants race, I could not help but take note of the landscape. The trail through the Nelder Grove — not far from Yosemite National Park — looked strikingly different from the year before when I ran the same race. Fallen trees and blackened trunks provided surprising contrast against the backdrop of the bright blue sky.

A wildfire earlier in the year blazed its way through 12,407 acres of this forest. The cause of the fire was unknown, but it threatened communities, historic buildings, resorts, and the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad. People were evacuated from hotels and homes.

I was surprised to discover that though forest fires destroy so much, good things can result as well. When a fire rages through dry underbrush, it clears thick growth so nourishing sunlight can reach the forest floor. This encourages the growth of native species, and a resilient tree, who survives the fire, can even experience a growth spurt.

As I ran, I saw evidence of new growth in the Nelder Forest. Green grass and leaves sprouted in all directions. Wildflowers dotted the trail. As I rounded the corner after the steepest part of the race, angled light beamed through the blackened tree trunks. Beauty rose up from the ashes.

My husband graduated to Heaven in September 2014. Out of the grief, a fierce sense of hope has emerged in my life these last few years. I still bear the scars of loss, but God uses these to open doors so I might impart courage to others. My three daughters have resilient spirits, which I believe spring from the fire they have walked through.

Do you feel like you are running uphill through the dark? Are you feeling the sear of the fire at your heels?

I have learned the challenge is in how we respond. Will we let the fires of life destroy us or refine us? Will we let grief overtake us or will we choose comfort in Christ? Will we sit in the ashes or will we wear a crown of beauty?

Friends, let’s draw strength from these words in Isaiah:

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me…
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.

Isaiah 61:1, 2-3 (NIV)

I started sprinting as I neared the finish of the race. Oh, how I love that final taste of glory! The trail turned to single track. I whizzed by lush, green ferns. I slowed to climb over felled tree trunks. Inhale. Lift. Exhale. Lift. Somehow the chase for His glory felt easier. My heart was singed by fire, but I found unexpected joy in the journey.

{The original version of this blog was published at www.incourage.me.}

International Widows Day: Why reaching out a hand can make all the difference

Posted by | brave, community, compassion, courage, culture, flourishing, grief, Haiti, hope, organization, parenting, social justice, Stories | 4 Comments

I attended a writer’s conference a few months ago and met a pastor from another state. We chatted for about 15 minutes, and I briefly shared my story of being widowed in 2014. I could see he was filled with great compassion. He asked me how he could support my work sharing about grief and imparting courage to widows. We exchanged contact information.

A few days later I received an email from him again asking how he could support me. He had spent some time reading my blog and Instagram posts. He read about my recent marriage and wrote this: “I never thought about the fact that people can be married and still a widow.”

His honesty struck me. I have learned so much these past four years about myself, about navigating grief and about the widow life. One thing I believe is that when you have experienced deep loss, that loss marks you. In some ways, it’s like a scar. The scar may heal and smooth over time, but it never really goes away.

I will always be a widow.

I will always carry the scar of deep grief in losing my beloved. I remember what it feels like to suddenly be a single parent while navigating grief. I still get choked up when I think about the ways God miraculously provided for our medical bills and practical needs in the home after my husband’s death. I don’t ever want to forget about the compassion I was shown by my community in my early widowhood.

My experience has also given me a deep empathy for other widow mamas. God has knitted in me a passion to use what I’ve experienced to reach out to these women in their brokenness. I know that linking arms with other widow friends has provided a path to much of my healing. I write and speak to help widow mamas know they are not alone in raising their children and navigating daily grief.  I want them to hold on to a fierce hope and step into a life of flourishing, despite their loss.

June 23 was named International Widows Day by the United Nations in 2010. This day is an opportunity to raise awareness and action to achieve full rights for widows. The United Nations estimates that there are some 258 million widows around the world, with more than 115 million of them living in deep poverty. In many countries, widows are marginalized and stigmatized as a source of shame.

My heart breaks to think about women across the world who are often evicted from their homes, vulnerable to abuse and trafficking, struggling to raise their children and navigating grief at the same time. I remember sitting with several widow friends in Haiti listening to their stories. When their husbands died, they were faced with much more than sadness. They lost all hope of provision for their families. They were often marginalized in their community. They were vulnerable to people who wanted to take advantage of them.

When I helped start The Haitian Bead Project in 2010, our goal was to provide jobs for vulnerable women in the community. I did not anticipate how many of them would be widows. I also did not anticipate that one day I would be able to relate to their situation on a much more personal level.

The Bible mandates special care for widows. There are dozens of passages that address how to care for these women. Perhaps no one states it as plainly as James, Jesus’ own brother. He writes, “Religion that is pure ad undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (James 1:27, ESV)

My challenge to you today is to think about how you might lift up a widow in your midst. How can you come along side a widow who is grieving? How can you use your time and resources to encourage a widow-friend? How can you make purchases or donate to projects that will empower widows across the globe who are vulnerable?

A few weeks ago I spoke at a women’s event in California about “Flourishing Together.” Many in the audience were widows. A dear friend of mine stayed afterwards and introduced me to several of her friends. They shared stories about how they had walked together through grief. I was struck by two things: all of these beautiful women were widows, and all of them were examples of what it means to be overcomers. I will always treasure their stories of grief and their beautiful smiles, which spoke volumes about their resilience.

Here’s the reality: Once you are a widow, you are always a widow. The path of grief twists and turns. Sometimes the path is flatter and almost feels like a normal stroll. Other times it feels like you are hiking straight uphill. But through the years I have learned that grief always feels lighter when I am hiking with a friend by my side.

 

*If you are a widow mama or know one who could use support, check out our Widow Mama Collective group on Facebook. 

*Are you navigating a grief journey? I would love to stay connected with you more personally. I send out a weekly Glorygram with words of encouragement and recommendations for books, podcasts, and other resources to help you on your journey. Sign up here.

*Featured photo by Daniel Frank on Unsplash.

Facing transitions: How to grow resilient kids in a changing world

Posted by | brave, courage, death, end-of-school year, family life, finishing well, flourishing, friendship, kids, parenting, Stories, transitions | 2 Comments

One summer I planted a backyard garden with tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini and eggplant. A friend helped me construct a raised wooden box for our plants. The kids and I watched the baby plants push through the soil and stretch toward the sky.

We enlisted my dad to help us water the garden while we were gone on a trip. After two weeks away, we came home to find hearty plants climbing over the edge of the planter box. I was so excited about taking in the harvest and getting creative in the kitchen.

I gathered a basketful of huge cucumbers and eggplants. Much to my disappointment, the tomatoes were tiny, and there were only a few on the large plants.

After a little investigation, I discovered tomato plants are particular. They need space to grow. They love heat. They like their stems buried deep in the soil so they can become more rooted. They need water, but too much water is too much of a good thing. In his eagerness to tend to our garden in the blazing summer sun, my dad had overwatered the tomatoes.

That summer I learned tomatoes need resistance to create resilience.

As we are closing out the school year, we face a new season of transition. My kids are transferring to a new school in the fall on the other side of town. That means we will be saying goodbye to dear friends and families who have become our community. We have planted ourselves in this school for the last four years, and it’s difficult to step away even though we are excited about the next chapter.

Are you facing transition today? Are you staring down a change in a job or church? Have you just buried a spouse or had to say goodbye to a good friend? Is your child changing schools or watching his dear friend move to a new place?

The reality is we spend a lot of time in our lives transitioning from one thing to the next. Seasons change. Kids grow up. Tragedy strikes. Friendships wane. Leaders we love move on to new callings. As a mama, I have a deep-rooted desire to protect my kids from the hard stuff, to shield them from the pain and heartache, but I’ve learned this does not always serve them well.

Like the tomato plants, kids grow resilient when they learn to navigate transitions. Rather than trying to shield my girls from challenges, I believe my job is to help them learn to embrace each new season. I’m learning to be attentive and intentional about their needs and my own during transition.

Here are a few things we do to traverse transitions:

Make space for the grief. When we are in transition, it hurts. It’s tempting to march on to the next thing or gloss over this season in an effort to avoid the pain. After my husband died in 2014, I knew I had to help my three daughters walk through their grief. The pain was unavoidable. I learned to make space for them to grieve. I asked questions like “What do you miss the most?” I listened. We shared memories of Daddy. This opened space for us to process what we were all feeling.

Be present together. It’s important to carve out extra time to be together, especially when we are in a time of transition. We have to be intentional to slow things down so our hearts can catch up. We take family walks in our neighborhood. We linger around the dinner table. We snuggle extra before bed. We plan road trips, which afford us time together to digest and talk through the transitions.

Bathe yourself in scripture. I learned that I am most vulnerable during transitions. It’s easy to feel insecure and doubt my decisions during these times. One thing that helps me navigate those feelings is to dig deeper into God’s Word. I create a little notebook with scriptures to speak truth over my soul. I make a practice of returning to these scriptures in the cracks of time when I am tempted to believe the lies of shame, guilt and doubt.

I love the reminder in James 1:19-20: “In simple humility, let our gardener, God, landscape you with the Word, making a salvation-garden of your life” (The Message).

Talk about what’s to come. We have discovered there is joy in talking about what we are looking forward to in the next season. After taking time to grieve, anticipation of the future can be a hopeful and healing thing. For us, that means talking about seeing Daddy again in Heaven one day or what we are looking forward to at our new school. This lifts our attitudes when we are in the trenches of transition.

Growth always requires hard work and sacrifice. Growth requires trusting God and moving forward through transition. Sometimes this means pushing through the hard earth of suffering, disappointment, fear, rejection, and even loneliness. This journey is where faith and character are cultivated. I want these things for my children and for myself.

Summer is my favorite time to eat tomatoes. When they ripen to that deep red hue, they possess such a robust flavor. At other times of year, tomatoes can taste bland even mealy in texture. Summer is their season, and their flavor is brightest after they have endured the heat and transition.

*Learn more about the themes of flourishing and cultivating in my new Bible study, Flourishing Together. Details here.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

 


Book Review: Grace Like Scarlett: Grieving with Hope After Miscarriage and Loss

Posted by | book reviews, brave, compassion, death, family life, grief, hope, struggle | One Comment

The texts were pecked out late into the night. I could read the desperation and grief between the short lines she wrote. My dear friend had endured another miscarriage. Her body had betrayed her again. I cried out to God on her behalf. Honestly, I didn’t know exactly how or what to pray, but I wanted to support. I learned to listen and groan alongside her in that season. I learned about the power of the ministry of presence.

Statistics show 15 to 20 percent of pregnant women in the U.S. experience miscarriage. I remember when I was a young girl my mama shared with me that she, too, endured miscarriage. I have often thought about what it might be like to meet my older sister in Heaven one day.

Experiences like these solidify for me the profound need for Adriel Booker’s new book, Grace Like Scarlett. The book is a moving, personal narrative about how one family endured pregnancy loss and navigated grief. Adriel invites readers to wrestle, to wonder and discover redemption in the wild waves of grief with her.  Her passion is to walk alongside women who endure the “secret grief” of miscarriage.

You know a book has touched your soul deeply when you simply can’t put it down. I am not a fast reader. I underline and highlight and journal in the margins of books. I like to savor the pages over weeks and months. I make books my companions for seasons.

This week I’ve carried this book everywhere with me. I’ve holed up in my bedroom, curled up on a couch in a coffee shop, read while waiting at small claims court and in the pickup line at school. I gobbled up Adriel’s words because she seemed to be writing my heart. At moments, I wondered if she had somehow read my own journals. It felt that personal and resonated that strongly.

Adriel writes, “We had to resist the impulse to deflect our grief or fight our brokenness. We had to reject the compulsion to figure out how this could be rewritten into a success story. We had to enter in as is.”

Although I have never had a miscarriage, I felt like she was mentoring and affirming me on my own grief journey. After my husband died from cancer in 2014, I have grieved and mothered three young daughters through grief.

What I appreciate most is Adriel’s honesty and authenticity. She doesn’t gloss over the pain. She doesn’t skip over her own ugly feelings of jealousy and anger. She doesn’t shy away from the theological conversations about suffering and God’s sovereignty. To use her words, she takes a deep dive into the hard stuff.

I love the metaphor she uses of the duck dive. “Surfers learn early on that unless they want to get swept back to shore, they have to learn to duck dive – take the whole surfboard and duck underneath the coming wave. Instead of trying to get over it or around it, they know the best way through is to go under.”

This metaphor rings true in my own grief journey too. In these last four years, I have learned the way through grief is to dive under with Jesus. The waves swirl and smack. They are powerful and unpredictable, but we must lean in or drown.

I also resonate with these poignant words Adriel writes in “And Then She Laughs”:

“Grief expands the soul and exposes our need, but it also expands our heart to receive love and be changed by it. This becoming can make us more whole if we are open to receive (and by changed by) God’s astonishing love.”

This book is an important read for anyone grieving, and particularly for families navigating pregnancy loss. I was especially touched by the letter to grieving dads written by her husband and ideas for helping kids process grief in miscarriage included in the appendix.

 

**I would love to connect with and encourage you more regularly! I send out book, podcast and recipe recommendations to my Glory Chasers tribe here.

**I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by linking to amazon.com. There is no additional cost to readers.

Resurrection rising: How to wait through the winter of grief

Posted by | brave, compassion, death, finishing well, flourishing, grief, hope, inspirational, sharing faith, Stories, transitions | 3 Comments

All winter she waited, wondered, rested until one day in the deep soil of anticipation and grief she felt the ground around her warming. She felt her strength rising, pushing through the transition. The pain was acute there, but the shadow was lifted. And now, fully-rooted, well-nourished she extended her arms in abandon toward the light. She burst through hardened earth – a flash of fire – her petals singing Spring!

There’s a fiery-red-orange freesia that blooms right outside my front door. I did not plant her there. She was an unexpected gift that came with our house when we bought it. The freesia is a perennial. Her beginning is a bulb that burrows deep in the hard earth of winter and then breaks through to produce new life year after year. She is a fragrant flower – her scent a kind of herald, announcing a new season, a resurrection.

Like the freesia, we must weather our own winters before we can experience the warming colors of spring. We must face seasons of grief and death before we can taste the victory of resurrection. We must endure Good Friday to arrive at Easter Sunday.

There is a process that happens in the heart during a winter of grief. In May 2014, my husband Ericlee received a stage four cancer diagnosis. I watched his body quickly deteriorate that summer as the cancer coursed through his body. An army of our friends across the globe joined us in praying over him.

Although I believed God could heal him, I do remember the day when my heart finally surrendered. My prayers shifted. I begged God to take him because I couldn’t bear to watch him suffer anymore. The pain was acute there. A few days later, he soared to Heaven.

It may sound strange to say but I felt great relief in my heart that day. I had the sacred privilege of sitting by his side when he died. He held my hand. His labored breath ceased. An indescribable light filled his eyes. Death was not the end for him; He was beginning a new life with a new body in Heaven.

In the weeks and months to follow my husband’s death, I also experienced disbelief. It was hard to believe he was really gone. It was hard to believe God would really take him that way. It was hard to hold on to hope on the darkest days of grief.

Tears watered the soil of my heart. I found that rather than abandoning me, God was with me. He wept with me. He comforted me in the dark place. These words from the Bible in John 16:33 became real to me there: “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world.”

Jesus reminded me through these verses that we will all face trials and suffering, but we can have hope in Him. He chose to die a literal death on a cross so that we might experience an eternal life in Heaven. The story of Easter illuminates this tension between death and life, between grief and hope, between fear and courage. He gives us permission to grieve and urges us to be courageous. I believe sickness and death serve a purpose in this life. These things mold us and teach us compassion, resilience and fierce hope.

A pregnant woman’s body is designed to push through contractions. Transition is the period when the contractions come quickly. It’s the time of the most acute pain right before the mama feels that urge to push and the baby’s head emerges. Out of the deepest pain, new life blooms there.

I now know that I had to push through the darkest days of grief to glimpse the brilliant light of a new life. A resurrection has happened in my heart and my home. God brought a new husband and daddy for my three girls in 2016. We are now crafting a new life with new dreams while still holding fast to my late husband’s legacy of faith. God has ushered us into spring.

Are you in a winter of waiting? Let your waiting be purposeful. Take time to reflect. Give yourself permission to feel deeply and grieve the past. Live expectant of the resurrection to come.

 

 

 

**Are you struggling through a grief journey? Sign up for my weekly note of encouragement here. I also have a FREE resource on “Navigating grief with kids” that you will get delivered to your inbox when you sign up.

*This article was also published in The Fresno Bee under the title “Easter’s promise.”

*The opening of this article was reprinted from the “Nourish” chapter of Dorina’s new Bible study, Flourishing Together: Cultivating a Fruitful Life in Christ available on Amazon.

(Featured photo by Thomas Wolter on Pixabay)