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Chasing God's glory through tragedy and triumph

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From homeless to hopeful: A story about the artisans of Street Hope

Posted by | christmas, community, compassion, culture, grief, hope, Incourage essays, Stories, struggle | No Comments

Caroline sits in a circle of plastic chairs pulled up to a rustic wood table. Her children play nearby. She holds together two pieces of felt in one hand. Her thumb and forefinger hold a needle threaded with black. She drives the needle through the red and green felt and pulls the thread gently through to the other side.

Her fingers fly and the stitches begin to curve into the outline of Mary, Joseph, and the Christ Child. There is something in her dark eyes — a flickering, like the white lights on a Christmas tree. She is filled with a confident expectation of what lies ahead and what lies right there in the ornament she sews.

She has the gift of hope. Something hard to come by given where she came from.

Caroline was forced from her home along with her brother when she was twelve years old. Her parents said they would be better off in the Nairobi streets. Caroline’s brother did not survive the first year. She lived on the streets for fifteen years — defenseless, bitter, alone — where she became pregnant several times and one of her children died.

Today, Caroline is a part of an artisan group called Street Hope. She joins a dozen women who were once homeless and who now sew products in exchange for a fair wage to help with living expenses. (in)courage alum Kristen Welch started Street Hope in 2016 as an extension of Mercy House Global after a visit to one of the largest slums in the world located in Nairobi, Kenya. Her heart was to empower these mamas who desperately needed a dose of hope.

Jump over to www.(in)courage.me for the rest of the story and details on how you can link arms with Caroline and Street Hope this Christmas season!



*I am a Dayspring affiliate at no extra cost to my 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.

 

Table talk: Savoring time around the table

Posted by | christmas, community, cooking, culture, food stories, friendship, grief, hope, kids, laughter, Recipes, relationships, Stories, Uncategorized | No Comments

My Italian mama made dinner time a special event. She was always in the kitchen stirring the sauce, putting my brother and me to work rolling meatballs, and stuffing manicotti shells for company. She instilled in us that meals were an opportunity to extend hospitality. My parents loved to invite friends from church, neighbors, and my friends from school to our table.

Everyone loved my mama’s cooking, but more than that, I think they were attracted to the rich sense of community they found at our table. Laughter rang out on Friday nights when my high school friends gathered after a game. On Sunday afternoons, we told stories around the table with friends and dished bowls of ice cream with my mama’s famous pizzelle cookies.

Even though we didn’t have extended family in town, we always had extra guests at our dinner table. The table was the gathering place where friends became family through the years.

Now that I’m a mama myself, much of our life also revolves around the table. The table holds a centrifugal force, drawing our family together. The table is the place where the stories and light most often unfold.

I treasure the times my three daughters are in the kitchen with me. One sets the table while the other two help with dinner. At ages 12, 9, and 6, they have learned the art of chopping, mixing, stirring, sautéing and serving up meals. Their creativity and tastes are beginning to blossom as I give them more responsibility and freedom.

We have a multicultural family, and my kids share my love for all kinds of ethnic foods. On a given day, we could be chopping vegetables for Filipino pancit, measuring spices for Indian butter chicken, sautéing Chinese fried rice or baking our favorite salted caramel chocolate chip cookies. We love to play with ingredients and make a mess.

Through the years, I have discovered our most meaningful times at the table include four ingredients. Click over to https://www.kindredmom.com/2018/09/16/savoring-time-around-the-table/ to read the rest of this reflection. 

Book Review: A Grace Disguised

Posted by | book reviews, brave, community, compassion, death, grief, transitions | 8 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.

*I am giving away a FREE copy of A Grace Disguised. Simply subscribe here for my Glorygram newsletter and let me know why you would love a copy of this book!

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.

{Head over to www.incourage.me for the rest of this article on prayer. Please leave a comment about your own experiences with prayer. I love hearing from readers!}

{Featured photo by Avi Richards on Unsplash}

 


Instant Pot Filipino Garlic Fried Rice: A creative way to celebrate friendship

Posted by | community, cooking, creativity, culture, flourishing, food stories, friendship, gifts, Main Dish, Recipes, relationships, side dish | No Comments

A few of my favorite things are good food and celebrating my people. A few months ago, my friend’s husband enlisted me to help plan a 40th birthday party for her. Bev’s desire was to gather together with a small group of girlfriends and cook up a fabulous dinner together. Then she wanted to invite the husbands to join us around the table to enjoy the food and celebrate.

Now this is my kind of party. I used to host a monthly Cooking Club at my house with 10 couples who met for a similar kind of dinner party. We tried out all kinds of new recipes together, using new and exotic ingredients. Some of the women were just learning to cook so we shared techniques and practiced together.

One key ingredient to Bev’s birthday party was no kids. We love our kids, and we also savor some good adults only conversation.

Bev and I put our creative minds together and chose the menu for her birthday bash. She wanted an Asian fusion theme so we settled on the following:

Asian Chopped Salad with peanut dressing

Vegan Gluten-free Thai Spring Rolls

Garlic Butter Sauteed Asparagus

Asian-style Flat Iron Steak

Filipino Garlic Fried Rice

and my famous Chai Cheesecake

I helped shop for ingredients and Bev’s hubby bought an array of appetizers and wine for us ladies to sample while we were cooking. The one recipe that we decided to experiment with was the Garlic Fried Rice. There’s a traditional Filipino breakfast dish called Sinangag that Bev has tried before. This dish is a garlic rice topped with green onions and a fried egg.

We decided to make this recipe uniquely our own adding some local produce. The fun thing about fried rice is you can always incorporate what you have at home. Carrots, bok choy, peppers, and asparagus are a few ideas! This rice can be served up as a main dish or a tasty side like we did with steak and other goodies.

The dinner party was a huge success mostly because Bev got her wish for her kitchen full of treasured friends, quality conversation, and delicious dinner. Bev and I have been heart friends for more than 13 years now. We have done life together from pregnancy years to now having kids in middle school. We have processed grief and death, challenges in parenting, job and ministry changes, and even education. I love that she is a friend who always appreciates and good meal and points me back to my relationship with Jesus.

Do you have a friendship that has outlasted several seasons? In our busy culture, it’s easy to drift apart from friends if we are not intentional.  I encourage you to celebrate a friend in your life with a cooking party. The food doesn’t have to be fancy. The recipes don’t have to be difficult. Time together bonding in the kitchen and around the table is always well spent.

Instant Pot Filipino Garlic Fried Rice (Sinangag)

Ingredients:

1/4 cup butter or olive oil

6 cloves of garlic, minced

4 cups basmati rice

5 cups chicken broth

1 cup carrots, chopped finely

1 cup corn (fresh, frozen or canned will work)

1 cup red pepper, chopped

1 package bacon, coarsely chopped

Garnish: 1/4 cup green onions, chopped

Directions:

  1. Add butter and garlic to Instant Pot. Select “Saute” feature and saute until garlic is fragrant.
  2. Add rice and stir to lightly brown rice and coat with butter.
  3. Add chicken broth.
  4. Lock Instant Pot. Select “Manual” and set to 10 minutes.
  5. While rice is cooking chop remaining vegetables and saute bacon in a pan.
  6. Release pressure on the Instant pot. Stir in vegetables and bacon. Garnish with green onions.

Serves: 10 (side dish portion)

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 | 2 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.

**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.

Book Review: Holy Hustle: Embracing a work-hard, rest-well life

Posted by | book reviews, community, creativity, end-of-school year, family life, flourishing, identity, rest, schedule, serve | No Comments

Do you need to work harder? Do you need to rest more? What shapes your ideas about work? What if you could redeem hustle for God’s glory? These are just a few of the questions Crystal Stine is tackling in her newly-released book, Holy Hustle.

Crystal presents a challenging and refreshing examination of the roles of work and rest in our lives. Her central message is that we should “work without shame and rest without guilt” for the glory of God.

I love the way Crystal holds both of these ideas in tandem. Crystal encourages women to pursue “holy hustle,” a word-hard, rest-well lifestyle that chases faith instead of fame.

Each chapter of the book includes Crystal’s personal narrative, an inspiring quote, a section that digs deeper into a Bible story or passage, a Holy Hustle story about another woman practicing this lifestyle, and pages for reflection and journaling.

Crystal hits on three main themes:

  1. Serving not striving
  2. Embracing community, ditching comparison
  3. Redefining our purpose as we seek God in our work

These themes resonate deeply with me as I have moved through seasons of working as a stay-at-home mom, working part-time from home, working outside of the home, and now working full-time from home, while raising three school-aged girls. I constantly have to shift my perspective back to working and resting for the glory of God.

One of my favorite parts of the book is the way Crystal unpacks the story of Ruth. This has always been one of my favorite books of the Bible, and especially since 2014 when I was widowed. Ruth’s character inspires me, but I never considered what this story teaches us about work and rest.

Crystal points out that Ruth is a beautiful example of what it means to stay where God has called us until the work is done. “Ruth didn’t show up and do the bare minimum to get by. She hustled. She worked hard, respectfully, resting when needed, and finishing the work that was before her.”

In Ruth 2:5-7, it actually says Ruth worked all day and took time to rest.

“Rather than allow her circumstances to push her to strive and scramble and make a way for herself, Ruth saw a way to serve her family and did it with her whole heart through not just one harvest season, but two,” writes Crystal.

I am learning the value of less striving and taking on a posture of serving like Ruth. In my own life and work, God continues to open doors of opportunity I never would have experienced if I was simply hustling for my own gain.

Crystal closes the book by talking about “The Blessing of Rest.” I grew up in a work-hard, strive-more family. It wasn’t until recent years that I have come to understand the importance of rest to refill, refuel and refresh my spirit, as Crystal talks about. Holy Hustle helped me to think more deeply about my own choices about work and rest.

This book comes at the end of the school year and the start of summer – a perfect time for reexamining my own work rhythms and expectations with my three daughters home. I highly recommend grabbing a copy of this book and heading for the beach or your favorite spot to read and rest.

***

Read more about my own wrestling with work and rest in my Flourishing Together Bible study now available on Amazon. The journey of writing this Bible study showed me that rest is an important part of the flourishing process.

***

*This post includes Amazon affiliate links with no extra charge to the buyer. Thank you for helping keep my blog going through your purchases.

Book review: Rooted

Posted by | book reviews, community, death, flourishing, Uncategorized | No Comments

A few months ago, I took my kids on a day trip to Sequoia National Park with friends. The park is full of sequoia redwood trees, which are some of the largest trees in the world. With their ruddy, giant trunks and branches extending toward Heaven, these trees are truly majestic.

I learned the General Sherman tree is the largest known single stem tree on earth standing 275 feet tall and an estimated 2,300-2,700 years old. What I find extraordinary about the General Sherman and the sequoia redwoods in general is not what we see above ground. I’m fascinated by their root systems that can hold up a tree with a mass of 2,472,000 pounds.

Redwood tree roots are surprisingly very shallow, often burrowing down only six to eight feet deep, but extending outward for more than a hundred miles. Their roots intertwine, connect and work together with the roots of other trees to share information and resources. The true majesty of these trees lies underground.

I received a text from a friend several months ago. She said I needed to read this book Rooted: The Hidden Places Where God Develops You by Banning Liebscher. The title intrigued me because I just published my second Bible study, Flourishing Together. I was preparing to teach it at my home church.

Rooted arrived just on time. Banning’s words provided rich food and affirmation for my soul on a topic God was already preparing me to share about through my study.

The book is organized into different sections. The opening six chapters lay the foundation of Banning’s premise: before we can develop our vision for life and ministry we must let God develop us.

“For you to bear abundant, enduring fruit, God needs to make you bigger on the inside than you are on the outside,” writes Banning. “You have to let Him build your root system in secret before He leads you into making a visible impact on the world.”

After the opening, Banning describes three types of soil: 1. Intimacy 2. Serving 3. Community and unpacks how these inform our journey of discovering God.

In Rooted, Banning takes us through the life of David to show how God expands our root system underground in order to later make an impact above ground. Banning illuminates the way God prepared David for the crown.  He develops an intimate relationship with God in private that fuels and guides his actions in public.

Banning was on staff at Bethel Church in Redding, California for 18 years and founded the Jesus Culture ministry during that time. Not only is he a great writer, but he has “street cred” too. He has lived this message about being rooted before growing far-reaching ministry.

Banning writes with the voice of a pastor, a teacher and an encourager. He especially challenged me with this: “When we come through that valley of the shadow of death, when we emerge out of the deep end, then what? We have an awareness of God’s abiding presence that forever changes the way we see impossible situations… Our roots are firmly established in the revelation of a Father who never leaves us.”

I have found these words to be true in my own life. As I faced the death of my husband in 2014 and entered that secret place to grieve with my Heavenly Father, I discovered His faithfulness has kept me rooted. He has shown me His presence through His word and community. Today I see how God is using my story and expanding my reach much farther than I ever imagined.

 

 

Read more about my personal story of flourishing after loss in Flourishing Together:Cultivating a Fruitful Life in Christ, a 6-week Bible study now available on Amazon. 

How “This Is Us” gives America permission to grieve

Posted by | brave, community, compassion, courage, death, family life, grief, identity, kids, relationships, Stories, struggle | No Comments

Do you watch the show "This Is Us"? Here's why I think that show is helping all of us navigate our grief narrative. // www.dorinagilmore.com

**Spoiler Alert: If you’re not caught up on your viewing of “This Is Us,” this article contains some references to scenes and details from Season Two. If that’s not going to kill you, read on. 😉

 

My friends will all tell you I am not a TV girl. I usually have a low tolerance for predictable series TV, a weak stomach for anything violent and a short attention span for sitcoms. I even hide my eyes during most of the commercials these days. If anything, we watch the food channels and the Olympics in our house.

Then I discovered “This Is Us.”

I saw a clip of the NBC network TV show on Facebook one day, and I was intrigued. I learned the show delved into some themes that touch my heart and life: grief, adoption, foster care, cancer, addiction, race and body image, to name a few. I got a two-week trial of Hulu and watched the entire first season in a few days.  I couldn’t stop.

Now I have a standing Tuesday night date on the big couch in our living room with my husband Shawn. We laugh, we cry and we find ourselves venturing into deep discussions. Part of the reason this show has captivated us (and perhaps the rest of the country) is the way they continue to navigate the grief narrative. “This Is Us” has given America permission to grieve.

Whether displayed in a gallery, illuminated on a stage or unpacked on a screen, art opens our hearts to feel deeply. We experience grief, joy, anger, frustration, wonder, sympathy and more when we engage in the stories of others. “This Is Us” artfully invites us into a tangled web of stories that resonate and make us feel like they are talking about us.

In her book Walking on Water, Madeleine L’Engle articulates this idea: “In art, either as creators or participators, we are helped to remember some of the glorious things we have forgotten, and some of the terrible things we are asked to endure, we who are children of God by adoption and grace.”

I remember going to the movies just a few weeks after my husband’s death. A handful of my closest friends took me to see “One Hundred Foot Journey.” I bawled my eyes out.

It’s not a particularly sad movie, but I cried because I was reminded of my own broken love story. It stirred up memories for me of all the dates I had with my late husband to eat Indian food. I felt deeply the tensions between cultures and lifestyles. When the main character experienced loss, I found myself meditating on my own losses. The movie gave me unexpected space and permission to grieve.

“This is Us” is doing the same thing for many Americans today. Our people are dying of cancer. Children are being abused. Friends are parting ways. Spouses are navigating miscarriage. Women are struggling with eating disorders. Young people are facing increasing fear and anxiety because of the swirling chaos around them. Relationships are complicated and nuanced. We are all grieving something – whether it’s the literal loss of a father or the figurative loss of a dream. This show is helping us lean into these losses.

I can particularly relate to Rebecca (played by Mandy Moore), who is widowed and finds herself raising three children on her own. She later marries her late husband’s best friend. Her circumstances feel reminiscent of mine. My husband died from cancer in 2014, and I immediately found myself raising three young daughters as a solo parent. By God’s wild grace, I, too, married one of my husband’s best friends and began a new life with my girls. We are traversing a similar journey of trying to honor my late husband’s legacy and trying to create a new life with new dreams.

Do you watch the show "This Is Us"? Here's why I think that show is helping all of us navigate our grief narrative. // www.dorinagilmore.com

We watch Rebecca draw up great strength and courage after the death of her husband so she can help her three teenage children navigate their grief. At times, she pushes down her own needs and grief to tend to her family.

We see her son, Kevin (played by Justin Hartley), turn to alcohol and prescription drugs to cope with his father’s death. We witness his twin sister Kate (played by Chrissy Metz) struggling with food as she grows up. We learned in Season Two that this is partly a mask for her extreme guilt over the circumstances of her father’s death.

We also glimpse the grief of the adopted son Randall (played by Golden-Globe award-winning Sterling K. Brown). The legacy of his father (played by Milo Ventimiglia) is present with him as he matures and becomes a husband and father himself. Also in the show, Randall grapples with the cancer journey of his biological father (Ron Cephas Jones), who he is united with later in life. Randall faces a mid-life crisis that is very much informed by his grief over losing both father figures.

I appreciate that “This Is Us” presents grief in an emotionally authentic way. Viewers get a window into the ways many different characters navigate grief. Their loss affects them in different seasons of life in different ways. I remember my friend, who is a grief counselor, telling our young widows group that grief is like a ball of tangled yarn. It’s not a five-stage process that is linear. It’s not a race with a finish line; it’s a life-long journey with twists and turns and steep parts to the path.

She warned us that grief will affect our children differently in different seasons of life. As I listen to the stories of my friends who are widows and walk out my own journey, I know this to be true.

One thing that is missing from the “This Is Us” grief narrative is the element of faith. I know my own faith in a God who comforts has been the key to navigating grief and tragedy in my life. I find myself wondering what Rebecca’s narrative would look like if she turned to a faith that was more than just a faith in herself.

Do you watch the show "This Is Us"? Here's why I think that show is helping all of us navigate our grief narrative. // www.dorinagilmore.com

I’m grateful for shows like “This Is Us” helping give those who have endured loss permission to grieve. This show also helps normalize conversations around grief. We all could offer up more comfort and be more present with each other if we would just begin the conversation about grief.

As Kate says in Season 2, Episode 3, “There is a difference between wallowing and actually having a normal conversation about [grief]. There is. You know what? When I went to my weight loss camp and I saw a therapist and she asked me about dad’s death, and I couldn’t talk about it. I couldn’t talk about it. And you know what she told me? She told me that if I don’t learn to face my grief, that it would be like taking in a deep breath and holding that breath for the rest of my life.”

**Photos by: Ron Batzdorff/NBC

 

Are you navigating a grief journey? I would love more opportunities to encourage you on a regular basis and share articles I write for friends who are grieving. Join my Glory Chasers tribe here.

This resource guide includes 5 tips for Grieving with Kids and suggestions of books, activities, movies and more to share with little ones to start conversations about grief.

*I have developed a FREE download for people navigating grief with kids. This includes tips and resources like book titles, movies and other creative projects that have proved useful with my own girls. Opt in here and I’ll slip it gently into your inbox!

**I offer coaching sessions for parents who are helping their kids navigate grief. Interested in some one-on-one help? Message me here.

Instant Pot Indian Butter Chicken: Leaning into vulnerability

Posted by | community, courage, Recipes, struggle, Uncategorized | One Comment

When you sit down face-to-face with someone at the table for a meal, it invites familiarity and intimacy. In our busy world where connection often happens in quick texts or over social media, time connecting at the table is rare. It takes vulnerability to invite someone into your space, to prepare food and go deeper in conversation.

Author Brene Brown says, “You can’t get to courage without walking through vulnerability.”

I know I have gained courage through times at the table being vulnerable with dear friends. That’s why I’m passionate about fostering community through food.

For the last few months, my go-to dish has been Indian Butter Chicken. It’s a personal favorite I’ve been trying to perfect for years. Every time I go to an Indian restaurant I have to order the Butter Chicken. It’s tradition.

My sister-in-law gave me an Instant Pot for Christmas, and I’m basically obsessed with trying out all the new recipes. Dishes that typically take hours of braising and stewing can be served up in 30 minutes or less. I read several recipes by Indian chefs who actually departed from the traditional, more time-consuming method of making Butter Chicken to use the Instant Pot.

I’ve been tinkering for several weeks, and I finally settled on the following mix of ingredients. What I love about this Butter Chicken recipe is it tastes like it’s been marinating for days. The chicken is tender and the spices are robust with each bite.

Butter Chicken holds a kind of magic for me. I have many memories sharing this meal with friends in different contexts.

I sat at my friend’s dining room table one night this winter and cried my eyes out over our Butter Chicken and naan takeout. I meet every few months with this group of friends over Indian food. When I’m with them, I feel the freedom to grieve, to question, to philosophize and to dream. They infuse me regularly with courage as I watch them navigate hard things too.

I recently sat in a local Indian restaurant with a new friend eating Butter Chicken and other Indian delights from their lunch buffet. We realized three hours later, when alarms sounded to pick up kids from school, that we had gone deep in conversation over that meal. I’ve only known her a short time, but I felt the connection. Once again, it happened over food.

This past Sunday, we invited a couple and their two kiddos to our table for Butter Chicken spooned over rice pilau. My husband and I have known them for years with lots of threads tying our lives together. It was fun to catch up. By God’s grace, both our families are navigating marriage and parenting in this season. We swapped birth stories and parenting advice, savored memories and laughter together. I loved the reminder that trust and friendship are often cultivated at the table.

I hope you will try out this new recipe and be intentional about inviting someone to your table today. Lean in to the vulnerability. Fill your plates and fill your souls.

Indian Butter Chicken {for your Instant Pot}

Ingredients:
1 tablespoon ghee (or 2 tablespoons butter)

1 large yellow onion, chopped

6 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, minced

1 tablespoon sea salt

2 teaspoons turmeric

2 teaspoons paprika

2 teaspoons garam masala

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 29-oz can organic diced tomatoes or 5 Roma tomatoes, chopped

1 8-oz can organic tomato paste

3 pounds boneless chicken thighs (cut into bite-sized chunks)

1 cup heavy cream (room temperature)

½ cup fresh cilantro leaves (optional)

  1. Turn your Instant Pot to the sauté feature. Add ghee, onions, garlic, ginger and salt.
  2. Sauté until soft and fragrant.
  3. Stir in spices: turmeric, paprika, garam masala, and cayenne.
  4. Add tomatoes and tomato paste.
  5. Stir in chicken thighs.
  6. Cancel the Sauté setting and then press Manual. Set for 8 minutes and lock lid. Make sure the Instant Pot is on “sealing.”
  7. When the 7 minutes is complete, switch from “sealing” mode to “venting” mode for quick release.
  8. Stir in heavy cream and let rest 10 minutes before serving so sauce will thicken. Serve over basmati rice or with Indian naan bread. Garnish with cilantro leaves.

Makes approximately 8-10 servings.

*Gluten-free

Flourishing Together: God does not want us to run alone {live video}

Posted by | community, courage, finishing well, running, Stories, struggle, video | No Comments

 

 

For more on this topic, check out Flourishing Together, Dorina’s new 6-week Bible study just released on Amazon. If you would like to discover how to flourish by God’s design after loss, please check out the study and consider joining the Flourishing Together collective group on Facebook:

**black and white version

*full-color version

Why fitness is easier to foster in community

Posted by | community, death, friendship, grief, inspirational, relationships, running, self-care, Stories, Uncategorized | No Comments

I remember when my first daughter was born I had this funny idea that I would be able to wear my normal, pre-pregnancy clothes on the trip home from the hospital.

After a traumatic birthing journey that spread across Memorial Day weekend, I was sadly mistaken. I was torn up, sore, struggling to breastfeed, and there was no-way-in-heck I was going to get those jeans over my middle section. I cried, and I wore my trusty, velvet, maternity/yoga pants home.

This was the beginning of the battle with my body.

I learned that the sacrifice of a mother is emotional, mental and physical. There was a huge learning curve ahead of me. As a former athlete and working woman, spending hours in a glider feeding my new baby girl was more difficult than I expected. Not only did I feel relegated to the chair, but I also had to reckon with my broken and bruised body.

The doctor said it would be a couple of months before I could run again. He was right.

And when I started walking, the journey was hard – full of starts and stops, weeping, self-loathing and learning to love my body again in all of the transitions, in all the various clothes sizes I would have to wear.

That season served as a crucible for me in which God grew a passion for coming alongside women in their fitness journeys.

A year after I had my first baby girl, I found myself standing before a group of women from my MOPS group sharing about my journey. My husband, who was a physical trainer and coach, joined me and encouraged the women to reframe the way they thought about health and fitness.

He preached what he had preached to me through my hardest days. We are called to health and fitness not as a means to lose or gain weight or to look good in the latest fashion. We are called to steward our bodies well and to use them for God’s glory.

{Read the rest of the story over at Kindred Mom today. I’m sharing my heart there.}

10 Inspiring Books I Read in 2017

Posted by | book reviews, community, compassion, death, family life, flourishing, friendship, grief, inspirational, Personal Stories, relationships, self-care, serve, social justice, Stories, struggle, transitions, world travel | No Comments

At the start of 2017, one of the goals I set out for myself was to read. Don’t get me wrong: I read all the time, but my goal was to intentionally read books.

This goal was about quality reading not quantity.

I found in this fast-paced, social media-driven world that I was too-often reading lines and posts and headlines, but seldom reading for depth, understanding, reflection. I had this bad habit of starting books and never finishing them because my schedule was too jam-packed.

This past year I gave myself permission to put down my smart phone and feel the delicious pages of books between my fingers. I let my kids play at the beach or the park, while I read. I spent Sunday afternoons reading for long stretches. I brought actual books with me wherever I went like i did when I was a child. I underlined and wrote notes in the margins. These books became my companions, my journals of sorts.

And now I have a stack of books that I actually read. These 10 books especially have been a part of my 2017 journey. They have challenged me, encouraged me and inspired me. They have walked me through grief and helped me see God’s glory. I hope you will explore some of them too.

  1. The Broken Way by Ann Voskamp

Subtitle: A Daring Path Into the Abundant Life

Genre: Christian Life/Spiritual Growth

Quotable: “Wounds can be openings to the beauty in us. And our weaknesses can be a container for God’s glory… God does great things through the greatly wounded. God sees the broken as the best and He sees the best in the broken and He called the wounded to be world changers.”

My review: The theme of this book is identifying our brokenness and stepping into the brokenness of others as the path to a more abundant life. If you feel broken and bruised, if you are wondering whether there could possibly be a way forward through grief, if you are burdened by the suffering in our world, you must read The Broken Way. It may just be your path to the abundant life.

For the full book review, click HERE.

  1. Nothing to Prove by Jennie Allen

Subtitle: Why We Can Stop Trying So Hard

Genre: Christian Living

Quotable: “We get to trade striving for rest. We get to trade striving for confidence – not confidence in ourselves but in the power of a sturdy heroic God, eager to rescue.”

My review: Nothing to Prove is written for the weary traveler, the woman who is overwhelmed by expectations and pressures, as well as the hidden belief that she is not good enough, talented enough or spiritual enough. Jennie shares real-life stories of her own struggle with inadequacy and insecurity, and then invites readers into a more spacious, grace-filled place.

For the full book review, click HERE.

 

  1. You Are Free by Rebekah Lyons

Subtitle: Be Who You Already Are

Genre: Christian Life/Inspirational

Quotable: “God cares more about our presence than our performance.”

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

For the full book review, click HERE.

 

  1. Never Unfriended by Lisa-Jo Baker

Subtitle: The Secret to Finding and Keeping Lasting Friendships

Genre: Women’s Issues/Spiritual Growth

Quotable: “I am convinced that the shortest distance between strangers and friends is a shared story about our broken places.”

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

For the full book review, click HERE.

 

  1. At Home in the World by Tsh Oxenreider

Subtitle: Reflections on Belonging While Wandering the Globe

Genre: Personal Memoir

Quotable: “Travel has taught me the blessing of ordinariness, of rootedness and stability. It’s courageous to walk out the front door and embrace earth’s great adventures, but the real act of courage is to return to that door, turn the knob, walk through, unpack the bags, and start the kettle for a cup of tea.”

My review: When I opened Tsh Oxenreider’s recently-released travel memoir, I knew I had found a kindred spirit. Tsh understands what it is like to feel At Home in the World. She, too, is a mama fueled by wanderlust but also longing for a sense of rootedness, a sense of community, a sense of home.

For the full book review, click HERE.

 

  1. Remarkable Faith by Shauna Letellier

Subtitle: When Jesus Marveled at the Faith of Unremarkable People

Genre: Christian Living/Inspirational

Quotable: “Whether you have built a synagogue, an orphanage, or a fine Christian reputation, you cannot earn God’s favor. God’s grace to us in Christ is a gift! … We cannot place God in our service by stockpiling good deeds and dangling them before him as a currency, as though we hold the carrot that makes him do our bidding.”

My review: When I opened Shauna Letellier’s book, Remarkable Faith, I was filled anew with childlike wonder over the Bible stories. Like a master storyteller, Shauna draws us into eight Bible stories of “unremarkable” people who went to great lengths to get to Jesus. As a result of their faith, Jesus healed them and used them as examples of remarkable faith. I was immediately drawn into this book because of the way Shauna reimagines these stories in such a vivid and historically accurate way.

For the full book review, click HERE.

  1. And Still She Laughs by Kate Merrick

Subtitle: Defiant Joy in the Depths of Suffering

Genre: Christian Life/Spiritual Growth

Quotable: “We want the blessing of a Christian life but none of the pain. We think twice about diving in, risking love because we might lose it, risking reputation, comfort, all these things we think will keep us safe and happy. We sit in a beach chair across the street because we don’t want to get dirty or uncomfortable or become a target for sea gulls.”

My review: 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. 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.

For the full book review, click HERE.

  1. Shalom Sistas by Osheta Moore

Subtitle: Living Wholeheartedly in a Broken World

Genre: Christian Living/Social Issues

Quotable: “A Shalom Sista recognizes that brokenheartedness and whole- hearted living are not opposites. No, we hold these things in tension. We’re beautiful and we’re broken.”

My review: Osheta Moore’s book, Shalom Sistas: Living Wholeheartedly in a Broken World, reached out to me right where I am today – heart-weary, wanting more shalom in my life, and wondering where I can contribute in this chaotic world. Osheta describes a “shalom sista” as a woman who loves people, follows the Prince of Peace, and never gives up her sass.

For the full book review, click HERE.

  1. Picturing Heaven by Randy Alcorn, Illustrated by Lizzie Preston

Subtitle: 40 Hope-filled Devotions with Coloring Pages

Genre: Devotional/Adult Coloring Book/Inspirational

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

My review: This book features beautiful spreads illustrated by Lizzie Preston with special gold overlays and short devotionals by Randy Alcorn. The beautiful images designed for coloring initially attracted my attention, but it was the deep reflections paired with scriptures that invited me into the Heaven conversation anew. What I like most about this book is that it breaks down some of the main themes from Alcorn’s original Heaven book into easy-to-understand nuggets.

 For the full book review, click HERE.

  1. Daring to Hope by Katie Davis Majors

Subtitle: Finding God’s Goodness in the Broken and the Beautiful

Genre: Christian Living/Inspirational

Quotable: “My hope is a flickering flame that has weathered wind and storm. Somehow, God will not allow it to be completely blown out. He sustains me. No matter how desperate things become, somewhere deep inside me He has placed the audacity to hope, the daring to believe that this time, things could be different.”

My review: Daring to Hope is 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.

For the full book review, click HERE.

What are some of the books you read in 2017? What is on your bedside stack for the new year? Comment below. I share reviews and recommendations regularly in my Glorygram. Join my community HERE.

*Disclaimer: DorinaGilmore.com uses affiliate links for things Dorina has bought and/or used personally. If you click through her referral link, at no additional cost to you, she earns a commission if you make a purchase. 

Guest post: Grief and the Holidays: How to survive when you don’t feel like celebrating

Posted by | christmas, community, compassion, death, family life, grief, Guest blogger, kids, Stories, struggle, transitions | 2 Comments

The following is a guest post from my friend and grief counselor, Patty Behrens. Her insight and encouragement has carried me these last three years since my husband’s death. I love the way she reaches out to people navigating loss,  especially young widows. She facilitates a young widows group I have been a part of called Gals in Growth (GIG) that meets monthly in Fresno.

________________________________________________________________________________

“The ‘Merry’ in Christmas and the ‘Happy’ in New Year just doesn’t seem to fit this year.”

Those words were the first line of my very short Christmas letter to family and friends 5 months after my husband died suddenly on a family vacation. I didn’t feel much like celebrating. I wanted to push the fast forward button to skip over the holidays and wake up in January. That was not going to be possible with three children anxiously awaiting the upcoming festivities of Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Can you relate?

Our family of five loved the holidays with all the festivities and traditions of picking out a Christmas tree at a local tree farm. We’d run through the mass of trees hiding and chasing each other on our search for the “perfect” tree. Of course, my hubby was the one to cut the tree, get it secured on the car and bring it into the house for decorating. How was it possible to get through that tradition, not to mention the multiple others?

There was decorating the tree with each of our bags of special ornaments while Christmas music played in the background or lighting an Advent candle with a special dessert each week, delivering gifts and food to a needy family, having my in-laws over Christmas Eve for traditional homemade German food and my husband reading the Christmas story while the kids played the various parts, and eating our special homemade raspberry almond coffee cake with a candle lit as we sang “Happy Birthday” to Jesus.

It was impossible to replicate any of these traditions because “he” was a vital part of all of them all.

We did survive although we certainly did not thrive that first holiday season. I tried the best I could to make things good for my precious children. But, I had to do some things differently. My sensitive daughter wanted to hang on to every tradition as I simply explained, “This year I can’t.”

We let some of those traditions go and others we tweaked a bit to ease the pain. We invited close family friends over for Christmas Eve along with my in-laws for our traditional German meal. That evening we spent the night at my sister’s home despite protests from my daughter. I could not bare the pain of waking up that Christmas morning without him.

I wish I could say that was a smart move; however, it brought some pain of its own. It was too different as we stepped into their traditions, which were far from our own. Christmas dinner at my mom’s house brought more distress as both my dad (who had died a year earlier) along with my hubby were missing. There was no mention of either of them. It was the classic “elephant in the room” scenario.

Back at our house, we reclaimed the day as each child lit a candle in memory of their dad. We snuggled on the couch to watch home videos of him. The memories came bursting forth with laughter and joyous comments as the videos played. We survived our first Christmas.

Our second Christmas was much better as I intentionally made some changes. We chose as a family which traditions and activities were important while other ones were let go. We still invited a family over for Christmas Eve, which started a new tradition for us.

We decided to stay home for Christmas morning to do our thing. We brought the “elephant” out of the room as we played home videos at my mom’s house which opened the door to laughter and precious stories of our loved ones. They were remembered.

Through this grief journey, God has taught me numerous, valuable lessons and even gave me a ministry of helping other widows in ways I had struggled. Care Connections was birthed in April of 2002 and continues today. We have monthly work days where workers do home projects at widows’ homes, including putting up Christmas lights, decorations and trees if needed, along with other home needs throughout the year.

My favorite work day of the year is December as families, singles and people of all ages gather to deliver over 150 gifts to widows and their children letting them know we care and are thinking about them. It’s a tradition for my family. There are also home projects being completed with several of them being Christmas related.

The work days provide monthly opportunities to connect with other families. Through the years, my children had male role models who taught them how to do various home tasks and operate power tools, (Yes, my son learned how to operate a chain saw!) At Care Connections, we all learn to serve others in need.

This year, why not join us? If you live in Fresno/Clovis, I invite you to come with your children or by yourself to Care Connections on December 2 as we once again deliver gifts to widows for a few hours in the morning. We meet at the back of the Bridge Church parking lot at 3438 E. Ashlan Avenue in Fresno at 8:30 am where you can join a work crew or a team delivering gifts. We all return for a delicious lunch at noon where stories of the morning are shared. It may not make the holidays pain-free but it will be one of those activities you will remember as being “good” and lifting your mood for that day.

There’s no magical way to fast forward through the holidays or remove the pain, but there are ways to have “moments of joy” where the pain is eased and to help make the holidays a little bit better. Click here for a guide to Survive the Holidays. For more tips on surviving and thriving through the holidays, sign up here to receive weekly encouragement during this holiday season.

Patty Behrens is a licensed psychotherapist with a private practice in Fresno, California with specialties in grief, trauma and anxiety with a passion for helping others through their life struggles. She is founder and director of the Care Connections grief ministry, http://www.careconnectionshelp.com. To contact Patty or receive her more tips for surviving the holidays, go to www.counselingfresno.org

Photo Credit: Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

An Unexpected Feast: When Grief Meets Gratitude

Posted by | community, compassion, cooking, death, family life, flourishing, food stories, friendship, gifts, grief, kids, soup, Stories | No Comments

We dipped into hearty bowls of butternut squash soup garnished with sprigs of fresh parsley. We passed platters of golden roasted turkey, Nana’s green bean casserole, and homemade crescent rolls. My dear friend added a plate of her family’s special Salvadoran pupusas to the mix, while my famous pumpkin tiramisu chilled in the refrigerator for our grand finale.

What mattered that year was not what we were serving up on our plates but what we were serving up in our hearts. There was a deep gratitude that was almost palpable around the table after the grief journey we had endured as a family.

Just the year before, we had navigated our first holiday without my beloved husband. He was diagnosed with stage four cancer that May and soared to heaven in September, leaving our whole family and community reeling. I never imagined this would be my story. I didn’t ever believe the tasks of a widow-mama would be in my wheelhouse.

That first Thanksgiving we all had to recalibrate for we had lost our leader. I missed him helping me chop the celery for the soup. I missed his booming voice saying the blessing. I missed him entertaining the girls and laughing loud during dessert. His absence loomed large at the table. I had to dig deep to pull up the gratitude then. I had to train myself to name the small gifts – breath in my lungs, three brave daughters, sunsets chasing across the sky, and saving grace.

A year later, the landscape of my heart and our family had changed dramatically.

Just like the abundant food on our table, the blessings were abundant too. My fiancé sat to my right. He started the meal with a blessing-prayer, thanking God for our first meal as a family in the new home we just bought. My youngest girl with the golden hair, like her “Daddy with Jesus,” squeezed the hand of her daddy-to-be. She was bubbling with excitement for the wedding in January where she would be the flower girl.

My dear friend from El Salvador, her two sons, her husband, and his two sisters from India joined our table. They, too, had tasted grief that year as their dad had journeyed through cancer. These were friends who had become like family to us during crisis.

We shared tears and prayers. We drew close together in the gratitude.

After we had emptied the bottles of sparkling cider and most of us were pushing back from the table, there was a kind of hush…

To read the rest of this post, click here and join me at (in)courage.

Making space for lament when national tragedy strikes

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

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

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

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

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

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

So much loss. So much to grieve.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For soup base:

1 cup onion, diced

1 cup celery, diced

1 cup carrot, diced

1 cup ham or bacon, diced

1 tablespoon garlic, minced

2 tablespoons olive oil

12 cups chicken broth

2 teaspoons dried oregano

2 teaspoons dried basil

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

1 tablespoon parsley

1 bay leaf

1 can cannellini (white kidney beans)

2 cups spinach or kale leaves

1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated

 

For Meatballs:

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

1 pound ground chuck

1/2 cup unseasoned bread crumbs

1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated

1/4 cup whole milk

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

1 egg, beaten

1 tablespoon dried oregano

1/2 tablespoon garlic powder

1/2 tablespoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon dried basil

Directions:

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

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

Posted by | behold, community, courage, death, finishing well, flourishing, grief, running, Stories, struggle | 7 Comments

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


Remember the witnesses

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

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

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


Weed out the thoughts that entangle

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

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

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

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

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


Run with perseverance

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

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

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


Follow the pacer

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

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

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


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

All for His glory!

 

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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