Chasing God's glory through tragedy and triumph

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{A blog series} All Things New: My new normal

Posted by | back to school, brave, death, family life, grief, Guest blogger, parenting, Stories, transitions | No Comments

The following is a guest post written by my widow friend, Danell teNyenhuis. I met her through a young widows group in Fresno, California called G.I.G. (Gals in Growth) facilitated by grief counselor Patty Behrens. I hope her story gives you a glimpse of what life after loss can look like. I love the way Danell has embraced her “new normal” and made it her own.

 

On April 19, 2016, I was a happily married mother of two daughters, ages 17 and 19. I was working at a job that I didn’t particularly love but I had a great life. I had been married for nearly 24 years to the love of my life and we were looking forward to being empty nesters! On April 20, my perfect little world was shattered when a drug-impaired driver hit and killed my husband Patrick, while he was on his morning bike ride.

I’ve written so many things about that day and the days since then. My journey has not been easy but I’ve kept going, and now I’m at a new place in my life. The day Patrick died I was overwhelmed with the outpouring of love and support. Even that first day I felt deep gratitude. I knew right away that the direction of my life would change; I just didn’t know how.

Admittedly, there were , such as becoming more involved with our church, Divine Mercy, and starting my Village of Support group. I try to give myself a break and realize that I can only do so much. God has a plan, and it’s not always exactly what we think it is going to be.

The biggest thing I discovered is that people like to read what I write. I’m told that I am able to put my thoughts into words that help people in some way. The main reason I write is to help with my own healing process. Helping others is an unexpected bonus.

I also discovered that I can remain calm in a crisis and that helping others is also healing for me. As I sorted through the remnants of my shattered life, I decided to focus on the things that gave me joy, including my girls, my family, and helping others.

In September 2016, I enrolled in Grand Canyon University and began an online master’s program in Professional Clinical Counseling. I am on track to graduate in early 2020 if I take one class at a time. Fortunately, my employer was offering early retirement packages. I retired last January so I’ve been able to focus on school. Neither of these things were even on my radar before Patrick died.

Another part of the healing process for me was to make small, gradual changes at home. I went through Patrick’s things at my own pace and did some re-organizing. I had to learn how to do things that were previously his responsibility. I made decisions about the house and yard that he would normally make.

These changes at home have helped my grieving process. When you walk in my home, it’s still the same house, but not exactly the same. I need it to look different because my mind sometimes plays this cruel trick and tries to convince me that it was all a nightmare. I never have to look far for a gentle reminder that he is gone, but I am still here and doing okay.

Continuing his legacy

My husband was full of life and it’s hard to imagine he is gone. Honoring his memory and preserving it is very important to me. I created a Virtual Memorial page modeled after the page a classmate created for his son.

The Patrick’s Virtual Memorial page includes his obituary, eulogy, photos, videos and messages. The page has been visited 13,401 times and that means a lot to me. Patrick was in a bluegrass band, The Steam Donkeys. I have a lot of videos from performances and ones he made of himself practicing. These are stored on his YouTube channel, PatrickT9. The best ones are the ones that have him talking in between songs. They really show his quirky humor.

My blog is my biggest tribute to him. My Life After Patrick started as a way for me to tell the incredible story of how love and community got me through the Worst Day of My Life. Later it became a way for me to remember and share stories of Patrick. Today, it serves as documentation of how I continue to make my way towards my new normal. I was also able to show how well our daughters are doing and their accomplishments. I know he is smiling down on all of us from heaven.

Raising daughters

I really worried about my daughters, Sierra and Camille. I should have known their dad was continuing to be present in their lives. Sierra took incompletes in classes after his death, but went on to not only complete them but graduate from CSU Long Beach in three years with honors. Camille graduated from Clovis East with honors and was accepted at UC Davis.

Saying goodbye to my youngest daughter Camille this past September was hard. I wasn’t sure how she would do at school. She has been such a rock through all of this, and I was worried that she hadn’t taken time to grieve. I know it wasn’t easy.

The very first day she joined a Christian fellowship. She quickly developed close friendships. She started attending mass on Sundays – something we had not done regularly for many years. She told me the first Sunday was very emotional, but it felt good. When she is home on breaks, we have gone together. One Sunday I gave her a hug because it was so nice to be there with her. Later she told me that she was feeling her Dad’s presence.

Blending families

The biggest blessing since Patrick died has been the way our families have come together. I like to tell people that they have merged. Patrick used to get together with his brothers on the first Friday of each month. The first year after he died we continued this tradition and invited both of our immediate and extended families.

My siblings refer to his siblings as brother and sister, and I feel like I have another set of parents. We spend a lot more time together. In fact, my brother took Mom and Pop teNyenhuis on his family vacation! This has helped us all as we continue to grieve.

I also know that Patrick would not want me to be alone. I know there is no jealousy in heaven and if I fall in love again I know he will be cheering me on. I am cautiously venturing out into dating. It’s not easy and definitely a lot different at this age, but I’m giving it a shot.

I turned 50 in December – a milestone that Patrick will never reach. I chose to throw myself a party and took a trip to Disneyland! A little extravagant, but it was great to celebrate with family and friends! My new normal includes taking time to celebrate family and friends as often as possible. I like to find ways to make new memories with my kids! Life is short, and I want to enjoy it.

A week before Patrick died the girls and I took him to the Paul McCartney concert on his birthday. I had bought him a laptop for Christmas and he had begun recording himself playing his banjo. The day he died I opened his computer and found a video of him playing Blackbird. I consider it a love letter that he left for the girls and me. These lyrics are meaningful to us:

 

Blackbird singing in the dead of night

Take these broken wings and learn to fly

All your life

You were only waiting for this moment to arise

 

Blackbird singing in the dead of night

Take these sunken eyes and learn to see

All your life

You were only waiting for this moment to be free

 

I would give anything to have my old life back, but I can honestly say I have a good life today. I think Patrick would be proud of me. The three of us have, in our own ways, moved forward and done great things. We have taken our broken wings and learned to fly. We have embraced our new normal! I know God has great plans for all of us.

 Danell teNyenhuis is the proud mother of Sierra and Camille. She is retired from Aetna and is currently a full-time student through Grand Canyon University, pursuing her master’s degree in Professional Clinical Counseling. She hopes to someday turn her blog stories into a book. Connect with Danell on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram as Danellt9. 

 

 

**This post is part of a January series called “All Things New.” Check out the other stories in the series and Dorina’s new Bible study, Flourishing Together.

All Things New: Life Beyond the Hospital Doors” – a guest post by Danielle Comer about life for a young widow after her husband died of cancer

All Things New: Learning to Flourish After Loss” – an introduction to the series by Dorina Lazo Gilmore, including why she chose “All Things New”

Flourishing Together is a new 6-week Bible study just released on Amazon. If you are interested in delving deeper into this topic of how God grows beautiful things out of the ashes and dirt of our life, please check out the study:

**black and white version

*full-color version

Book Review: Daring to Hope

Posted by | behold, book reviews, brave, compassion, courage, death, grief, kids, serve, sharing faith, social justice, world travel | No Comments

I still remember reading Katie’s Davis’ first book Kisses From Katie. I was sitting under a mosquito net in the stifling heat of a Haiti summer. My husband and I were operating a non-profit at the time. We had three daughters chasing each other through the mission house and a host of Haitian children playing in the yard. Reading about Katie’s life raising a dozen adopted girls in Uganda and starting a non-profit as a single woman, gave me just the spoonful of brave I needed to wade through the hard stuff.

Her words were my lifeline, my inspiration, my challenge to keep on keeping on. That was four years ago. Almost a different lifetime ago for both Katie and me.

The other day a friend texted me. “You have to read Daring to Hope by Katie Davis. I can’t put it down, reminds me of you.”

I went straight to Amazon and ordered it. I knew I needed her words again.

The book asks this critical question: How do you hold on to hope when you don’t get the ending you asked for?

This is a question I’ve asked myself dozens upon dozens of times in the last three years since my husband graduated to heaven. Katie is a hope writer like me. She is always chasing hope, always looking for God’s glory in unexpected places.

Although Daring to Hope could be considered a sequel to her first book, this book also stands alone. It’s a book about holding on to hope when you’re bone-weary and broken. Katie’s poignant storytelling and vulnerable sharing invites readers in. She grapples with the death of a friend, the sickness of many in her community, the suffering of her children. She walks a tightrope across life and death and still manages to embrace the extraordinary in the ordinary. She returns again and again to God’s Word and her purpose to give Him glory.

“Slowly, I was beginning to understand that it wasn’t my productivity that God desired; it was my heart,” writes Katie. “It wasn’t my ministry God loved; it was me. God was glorified, isglorified when we give Him our hearts, give Him ourselves, and faithfully do the thing right in front of us, no matter how small or trivial.”

That’s a big statement coming from a woman who experienced a lot of large things in her young life. She had a large family and directed a large ministry called Amazima. She led a large team of staff and volunteers to serve more than a thousand families.

This book reminded me that grief always gives way to the joy, that death always holds a promise of new life. I love the way Katie unfolds her love story, which again is a story brimming with hope.

Katie’s version of hope is never cheesy or far-fetched. It’s gritty, and sometimes a little bloody, and always redemptive. As she so beautifully sums up, her “scars whisper of His glory.”

**Thank you for reading today! If you’re interested in more of my book reviews, click HERE. I always share about books that touch me deeply and help me wade through grief to His glory.

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.

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The uninvited guests: Battling guilt and shame after loss

Posted by | brave, community, courage, death, grief, parenting, Stories, struggle | No Comments

**I’ve developed a free resource to help people combat the lies that guilt and shame bring. Click here if you’d like a copy gently delivered to your inbox.

 

After my husband died, we had many friends and family who came to visit. People brought us meals, cards, and abundant gifts for my girls. But there were two uninvited guests who kept showing up at my door at the most inopportune times. Their names were Guilt and Shame.

After an intense and harrowing four-month cancer journey, I was especially haunted by guilt that I didn’t do more to save my husband. I agonized over whether or not we had chosen the right treatments.  I questioned God if I should have done this or that to make my beloved more comfortable in the end.

It wasn’t until a few years later that I found the peace I needed to release my guilt. A friend reminded me that when my husband was diagnosed with cancer he was already in stage four. There is no stage five cancer. There was not anything I could do to “save” my husband at that point. In fact, now I realize it’s arrogant for me to even entertain the idea that the treatments we choose will “save” a life. We do our best and follow His leading, but the number of our days is up to God alone.

I also felt guilt about not allowing more visitors to see my husband in his final days. I know many of our friends and family felt guilty for not seeing my husband or reaching out to him before his death. No one realized how aggressive his cancer was. I felt very protective of him in his final days. I knew he was very weak and wasn’t himself. I had to make that hard call to limit the visitors. Later, I took on the guilt of our friends and family who did not get to say their final goodbyes.

When I became a widow and an unexpected single parent, I began to feel guilt and even shame about asking people for help. Without my life partner, I suddenly needed assistance with common household tasks and repairs. Some of these things I weathered through by myself. I learned to do things like taking out the garbage and locking the doors at night – tasks my husband always covered. On some things, I allowed friends to help me. One friend came to fix my garbage disposal, another walked around my home and found things that needed to be repaired.

In that season, I grew an empathetic heart for single mamas. I realized how difficult it is to arrange childcare and to taxi drive kids to events when you’re the solo parent. I would ask for help, but sometimes I felt guilty. I’m grateful for the friends who generously offered up time in their busy schedules to love on my kids so I could attend meetings and work.

I felt guilty for leaning on my friends so much for emotional support. Of course, my tribe wanted to be there for me but it was an emotional shift for me because I was used to being there for them. I had to allow myself to be vulnerable and invite them to sit with me in my grief.

In the last few years of this grief journey, I’ve discovered through research and friends’ experiences that it’s common for widows to feel guilty after a spouse dies. It’s also characteristic for children and other family members to take on guilt. We have a lot of time on our hands to mull over what we could have done differently and guilt sneaks in. For some, this becomes an even deeper battle against shame.

Brene Brown, shame researcher and author of Daring Greatly, defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.” She differentiates in her book that guilt is best understood as the attitude “I did something bad,” while shame is believing “I am bad.”

For me, I realized I really had to put my self-talk in the check. There were times when I was particularly sad or feeling insecure because of my grief that I found myself swimming in self-doubt. I wondered if I could go on. I doubted if I could be a good mother to my three girls who desperately needed me to lead and love them well. I wrestled with simple decisions. I found myself resenting household and mothering tasks because I had to do them alone. In those times, my guilt could quickly move to shame if I let it.

When I find myself sitting at the table with shame and listening to her lies again, I have to remember the weapons of what Brene Brown calls “shame resilience.” She says “shame derives its power from being unspeakable” so the first weapon is to call out or name guilt and shame. I learned to just tell my people, “Hey, I’m having a hard time asking for help today but can you help me with…”

My second strategy is one I learned years ago through Beth Moore’s Bible study, Breaking Free. She taught a method for visualizing and taking captive any controlling thoughts. The idea is that you recognize the lie you are hearing in your head and you stand up against that lie with God backing you. Then you tear down that lie from the walls of your mind and put up truth from God’s word. Finally, you make that lie bow down to the truth.

Beth writes, “Taking thoughts captive to Christ doesn’t mean we never have the thought again. It means we learn to ‘think the thought’ as it relates to Christ and who are in Him.” Beth’s method and values help me put things into perspective. Feelings of guilt and shame are natural for all humans but what we do with those thoughts and feelings is important in allowing us to move forward.

I want to encourage you fellow widow mamas and others on the grief journey to bathe yourself in the grace and compassion of Christ in this process. Let these words from Hebrews 4:16 wash over you: “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Friends, we are not meant to walk this journey alone. Today, with God’s help, I’m inviting Courage, Resilience and Grace to my table.

 

**I’ve developed a free resource to help people combat the lies that guilt and shame bring. Click here if you’d like a copy gently delivered to your inbox.

Photo by Sasha Freemind on Unsplash

Book Review: And Still She Laughs

Posted by | book reviews, brave, family life, fear, grief, hope, laughter, Stories, struggle | One Comment

I remember the weekend after my husband died I took my girls to a concert. It was just the healing balm we needed. The music washed over me and somehow helped me breathe. My girls jumped and danced with their friends. Laughter rang out in the aisles.

After the concert, we saw a friend who used to attend our church. She rushed down the row and burst into tears in my arms. “I’m so sorry,” she sobbed.

For the first time, I realized this grief journey was going to be hard and awkward. I would have my private grief, and I would have my public grief. And I would have to learn to navigate both.

I was not feeling sad at that exact moment. God met me during the concert and my spirits were lifted. Even though I was the newly-minted widow, I was not in the moment of sorrow. I had no tears to share with that friend.

I wondered who else I knew was at the concert that night. Did they see me singing and raising my hands? Did they see the girls and me laughing? Were we grieving right in public? Were we dishonoring my husband?”

These questions raced through my mind, but as the weeks unfolded I realized I had to quiet the temptation to please others in my grief. I had to step into the messy and awkward moments, and allow my community to grieve with me and apart from me too.

I had to let myself dive into the deep of being without my life partner, my beloved. I also had to give myself permission to laugh again. And, that I discovered, takes courage.

Kate Merrick’s book, And Still She Laughs, examines the Bible’s gritty stories of resilient women as well as her own experience losing a child to reveal surprising joy and deep hope even in the midst of heartache. The book was released in March but I happened upon it at just the right time smack in the middle of this summer. I took the book to the ocean and drank up the words with the crashing of the waves as my backdrop.

Kate’s a Southern California girl from a surfer family and she weaves her love affair with the ocean into her story of grief and glory. Sometimes a book can be healing. Sometimes a book read in a specific season in a specific place can be even more healing.

Kate writes,“This book is not intended to take the place of grieving; rather, it speaks to what to do when the tidal wave washes past, when the sizzle from the burn settles, when we finally look around and wonder what’s next.  When we wonder if it is actually possible to come out of the paralysis of darkness and find laughter again.”

Needless to say, I was hooked.

If you are walking through grief of any kind, or if you love beautiful, candid storytelling, this book will minister to your soul. Kate also helped me see some of my favorite Bible characters through new lenses and with new compassion.

What I appreciate most is Kate’s honesty. She doesn’t sugarcoat the pain. She doesn’t offer up pat answers or trite, happy thoughts for navigating grief. She’s frank, funny and real. She’s not afraid to talk about the day of her miscarriage or the time a dog peed on her at the beach or how she and her daughter pranked the nurses during her daughter’s cancer treatment.

Kate makes me laugh. And she is convinced laughter is the key to survival. Laughter “can be healing, literally,” she writes. “It can inject an impossibly terrible situation with a whoosh of fresh air. Sharing laughter fosters a bond between humans. In its purest form it brings life.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Kate’s book opens with this: “She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future” from Proverbs 31:25.

My prayer is that you and I can live and laugh like that too.

 

**If you’re a reader and you love to talk books, check out more of my book reviews here.

***I’d love to send you my Glorygram – a weekly word of encouragement with book, podcast and recipe recommendations. Opt in here.

Running therapy: how grief crashes like ocean waves

Posted by | brave, courage, death, fear, finishing well, hope, running, Stories, struggle | One Comment

 

The ocean has always been my happy place. Ever since I was a little girl I have found refuge near the water’s edge. There’s something about the crash of the waves, the salty air tickling my tongue and the breathtaking sunsets that draws poetry out of me.

I have run over a diversity of terrains these last few years but Saturday was my first time running an actual race on the beach. I participated in the “Rock’n Around the Pier” Half Marathon from Morro Rock to Cayucos Pier. I found out this memorial run was started to honor runner and teacher Brian Waterbury who died of melanoma cancer in 2003. This out-and-back trail run was quite literally on the hard-packed sand along the Pacific Ocean.

We rode a charter bus with about 35 friends from our Fresno running club, The Express. When we disembarked the bus, we were greeted by the misty, cool air of the Central Coast. This was a welcome contrast to the temperatures that have soared in the triple digits this month in the Central Valley. Fog seeped over the hills and spilled out over the ocean, creating an ethereal mood at the start of this race.

I generally run with my ear buds pumping a carefully-curated playlist of music but there was no need for music when all creation was singing to me. The waves, the wind, the birds. We weaved through kelp, crunched over sand dollars, avoided crabs and leapt rivulets of water.

“Make the race your playground, not your proving ground,” says Lauren Fleshman, a former American track and field athlete. This quote holds particular weight for me. Although I am competitive by nature and training, I have come to experience running as a kind of grief therapy.

When I am running, I feel free. I dig deep and God breathes healing.

My play was interrupted Saturday by two back-to-back phone calls. One from my mom, and one from my brother. I’m not in the habit of answering the phone when running but two phone calls from family alerted me that something might be wrong. My brother let me know that my uncle had died.

Just last week we received word that my 31-year-old cousin died of a heart attack in her sleep. My mom attended memorial services last month for her dear aunt, a close friend and a former student. Our family has experienced so much loss in such a short time.

Of course, these losses stand against a backdrop of losing my husband in 2014 to melanoma cancer. When you’ve experienced this depth of loss, any future losses tend to stir up old grief wounds.

A symphony of waves crashed at my side while waves of grief crashed anew in my heart. This was grief upon grief. It’s hard not to live in fear when grief stacks up. It’s hard not to let your mind wander to the next tragedy, to get beaten down by anticipation of the next death.

Then my feet hit the soft sand. I was running but getting nowhere fast. I found myself gasping for air – the anxiety rising up to choke me. My chest burned. The salty air stung my eyes. The tears started to come. I had to slow my steps to steady my breathing again.

In through the nose, out through the mouth. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale.

I felt like Moses and the Israelites standing in the darkness before the Red Sea. “…and the Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided” (Exodus 14:21). God was working through my darkness to hold back this sea of grief. If He could harness the wind and these ocean waves, He could surely help me navigate these rough waters.

Then I saw my husband Shawn. He had finished the race and returned looking for me. I felt the hope rising. I found the rhythm of my feet again. I strained and squinted for that arch that marked the finish. Shawn kept telling me it was there but I couldn’t make out the black letters through the mist.

I could see the Great Rock – Morro Rock – rising glorious and majestic before me, and I ran toward it. The words of the Psalmist were suddenly on my lips: “My rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God” (Psalms 62:6-7).

Are you being drowned by waves of grief? Are you squinting through the mist for a finish line? I encourage you to run toward the Rock. The waves of grief will come and go, ebb and flow, but the Rock will provide that refuge.

Finally, I saw it. I picked up the pace. I felt my strength and fight returning. My feet kicked to the next gear. I ran for the finish line. And just beyond towered the Rock.

**Are you navigating a grief journey? Could you use some words of encouragement? I’d love to add you to my Glorygram list, which includes a weekly dose of courage and recommendations. Read more about my Grief Journey here.

Farewell, old friend: When forty is the new thirty

Posted by | behold, brave, community, courage, creativity, death, family life, finishing well, flourishing, friendship, gifts, grief, hope, individuality, inspirational, kids, laughter, One Word, parenting, passion, relationships, rest, Stories, transitions | 4 Comments

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s time,” she said.

“Time for what?” I quizzed.

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

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

It’s time to move forward.

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

Check out these blogs: 

Learning to flourish through the seasons

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

Be You, Less Busy

Posted by | brave, christmas, family life, inspirational, parenting, Stories | No Comments

What am I really longing for this season? What traditions are just part of the show and which ones really matter to me? I realized that every year I long for two things: quality time to enjoy the story of Christmas and a meaningful way to bless others.

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