Chasing God's glory through all circumstances

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Providing a sense of home for widows in Haiti

Posted by | community, compassion, courage, death, friendship, grief, Haiti, hope, outreach, serve, social justice, Stories, struggle, Uncategorized | No Comments

She would often tap-tap-tap on the back screen door of the Bell Mission House built by my husband’s grandparents, where our family typically stayed. The first thing most people notice about Comère is she’s blind. Comère walked more than 5 miles from her home in Bahoncy beyond Fontaine in the northern mountains of Haiti. She would bring one of her six children to guide her steps on the dusty road to our house.

Part of her story that you might not guess is that Comère is a widow. Her husband died 9 years ago because of malnourishment and dehydration. Comère’s frail frame and gentle voice always stir up compassion in my heart.

In the early days, she would ask me for canned food to help feed her children. The cans were something they could carry on the long journey home to share with the others. I would dig through our cupboards and send home canned chicken or tuna, and sometimes tomato paste or soup with her. She would down a glass of water and squeeze my hand before she left.

I don’t remember exactly when I met Comère. In my 19 years of traveling and working in northern Haiti, she has shown up regularly. Somehow, she always knows when I am in town.

Widows in the country of Haiti are among the most vulnerable members of society. Comère is just one of many widows who struggle to survive. Many widows become homeless and outcasts when their husbands die. Few have extended family to care for them. While widows in the United States might have access to social security, life insurance, or death benefits, there are no government programs to provide for the needs of widows in Haiti.

When my husband Ericlee and I were first married, we talked a lot about God’s heart for the vulnerable. Our own hearts were especially burdened for the orphans in Haiti. I remember one summer we looked up all the verses in the Bible that talked about orphans. What I didn’t realize was important at the time is that most of the scriptures that talk about caring for the orphans also mention providing for widows.

It wasn’t until my husband soared to heaven in 2014 that I returned to the Bible to investigate these scriptures that express God’s heart for widows. As a newly-minted widow with three fatherless daughters, I wanted to remind myself what God said.

James, Jesus’ brother, describes it this way: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27).

I believe James exhortation is literal. God wants us to care for orphans, widows and the most vulnerable in our culture. Dozens of scriptures from the Old Testament to the New Testament show this heart.

This past July, my family traveled to Haiti again to visit friends and so I could speak at a women’s conference in the northern city of Pignon. While we were there, my long-time friend, Pastor Gerby, invited me to share at his country church in Fontaine. I delivered a message on the book of Ruth and how God sent His son as our ultimate kinsman-redeemer.

After service, I asked Pastor Gerby if I could meet some of the widows in his congregation. I was surprised when more than 20 women shuffled their way to the front of the church. They were a mix of ages – some had children or grandchildren, some did not. Several of them had been attending the church for years. My heart was overwhelmed as I realized almost 20 percent of the church was comprised of widows.

That Sunday morning, I got to hear the stories of several of these women. Their grief and loss was familiar, yet the struggles they faced were so different. Jobs were hard to come by. I learned the church fed them after service. For some, this might be the only full meal they would enjoy for several days. I prayed and wept over my widow sisters.

Sitting on the end of the front pew, was my friend Comère. After our time of sharing she rose, reached out for my hand, and clung to me. Pastor Gerby led us outside the church. He showed us the orphanage and school that were part of the campus. Then he began to illuminate his vision for building a Widows Home for these women in his church.

My heart was immediately moved by this vision. My new husband Shawn also felt the call to invest in this project. We were especially impressed by the idea that the local church was already moving. They were already feeding these women. Pastor Gerby also talked about how these women could be given jobs on the campus like serving lunches to the school children, helping in the orphanage, or beautifying the church. They would have a new sense of purpose and community.

I couldn’t help thinking about my own grief journey. After my husband’s death, I questioned my calling and my purpose. I stepped down from my work helping direct the non-profit we started in Haiti. I needed time to heal and navigate loss with my children.

Over these last five years, I’ve learned that there is profound purpose and healing in coming alongside others in their distress and grief. God has given me many opportunities to share my story and to journey with others who are grieving. As it says in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” Now, I believe, He is opening the door for us to help build this home for widows in Haiti. Sometimes offering a helping hand can lead to our own healing journey.

 

Friends, we are inviting you to link arms with us today to raise up the Widows Home in Fontaine, Haiti through Haiti Gospel Outreach. We know many of us here in the United States have resources that can be used to help provide not just a house, but a home for these Haitian women. Every little bit counts. Our goal is to raise $15,000 by November 30, 2019. If you would like to give toward this project, you can donate here. Please include “Widows Home – Dorina” in the notes. You can also help us spread the word by sharing this Facebook live video.

 

Running for His glory: Learning to breathe at higher altitudes

Posted by | abundance, community, courage, flourishing, friendship, grief, hope, Incourage essays, relationships, sharing faith, Stories, Uncategorized, writing | No Comments

Breathe in deeply. Let the air gently fill your lungs. Pause. Then release. Feel the tension in your shoulders drift away. Inhale again. Then exhale.

This is the give and take of breath. This is a deliberate slowing of the cadence of our breath. This is discovering a new, unforced rhythm.

Breathe was the theme of the retreat I attended in June for the writers of (in)courage. After a wildly busy Maycember, this was exactly what we all needed. Thirty-one writers and staff traveled to Estes Park, Colorado for three days at the base of Rocky Mountain National Park to just breathe.

The goal: to exhale the rush of responsibilities and inhale the presence of God through fellowship with sisters.

Although we spent some time in meetings and creating new content, the leaders carved out lots of space for us to breathe. We were encouraged to take a nap, go shopping or hiking, participate in rooftop yoga, or spend time with God in the mountains. To just breathe.

The Hebrew name for God is Yahweh. It is said when the Hebrew letters YHWH are pronounced, they sound like a deep breath. This connection is no coincidence in my mind for God Himself fashioned Adam from the dust of the earth and breathed life into his lungs.

Here’s one thing I learned about breathing that weekend in Colorado: Sometimes the air feels thin at higher altitudes.

One morning I went for a 5-mile run on a path not far from our cabin. My chest pulled tight as I tried to fill my lungs. I slowed down and took shorter breaths. I had to give myself grace that my pace was not as fast as it might be at home, where I live in a valley.

In life, sometimes the same is true. We find ourselves at an unfamiliar altitude, and we need to take shorter breaths. We need to slow our rhythm to breathe deeply.

Maybe you can relate. Maybe you’ve experienced some trauma in your past or you are presently walking through a crisis, and it feels hard to breathe.

These are the times when it is a gift to sit shoulder to shoulder with others. It’s so easy to default into isolation when we feel overwhelmed. When we share our stories, when we bear witness to truth and pain, we offer each other breath.

Breathing then comes a little easier. Inhale long. Breathe out.

I experienced this in Colorado with my (in)courage sisters. Writing and speaking can be lonely work. I don’t have many people in my everyday life who understand what I do and its challenges. These women, who live all over the country and minister in many different ways through words, are my colleagues, my co-laborers.

As I listened to the stories and experiences of other writer-mama-sisters from diverse backgrounds, I felt breath fill my lungs. I was bolstered for the task ahead – to continue to share the Gospel message and to help people discover God’s glory through my words.

In Ezekiel 37, the prophet talks about a valley of dry bones – a symbol of lifelessness. God says to these bones:

I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.

Ezekiel 37: 5-6 (NIV)

Then He breathes into them, and the dry bones miraculously rattle and snap to life. These bones were once dry and dead, but now they are alive and moving.

God breathes – sometimes through the stories and encouragement of others – and we come to life.

May we also look for opportunities daily to breathe new life into each other. As a mama, I want to consider ways I can breathe life into my children. This may mean softening my tone when I’m irritated. This may mean encouraging my daughters to try new things or persevere through challenges.

I desire for my words to be life-giving to my friends. This may mean calling out talents my friends have or speaking truth to them when they are struggling with self-doubt.

One of my favorite songs is “Great are you, Lord” by All Sons & Daughters. This song became especially meaningful to me in 2014 when my beloved husband was battling cancer. A couple of friends from the worship band at our church visited our home to sing with my husband. He was too weak at that point to go to church.

As they sang and played guitar, my husband sat on our big red couch and listened with a look of heavenly contentment on his face. Our three daughters danced as these worshipful words filled our home:

“It’s your breath in our lungs so we pour out our praise…”

Ironically, the cancer was spreading during that time to my husband’s lungs. His breathing was labored. Little did we know that soon he would soar to meet the One who first breathed life into him. He would exhale this earth and breathe in Yahweh face-to-face.

Whenever I hear this song, I can’t help but think of that moment. I reach for gratitude even when breathing feels hard like on my run or when I’m working. I thank God for my lungs, for this daily cadence of borrowed breaths, and for the privilege of living one more day to reflect His glory.

 

My new husband Shawn and I love connecting with Christian runners. Check out our Glory Chasers running group on Facebook where we offer up courage, community and coaching for runners at all levels.

Running for His glory: Discovering running as soul care

Posted by | community, Guest blogger, prayer, running, self-care, Stories, transitions | No Comments

This essay is part of our summer series called “Running for His glory,” focusing on the intersection between running and faith. I met Erin through an online writers community called Hope*writers. Her story talks about how she grew into loving running as a practice of soul care as a busy mama.

 

By Erin Reibel

I ran track for one year in 8th grade.  I was horrible – like came in lasted, hated every practice, went to the bathroom to avoid the drills, horrible.

After that, I avoided running like the plague.  I did other things; I played basketball. I swam on the swim team. I rode my bike, so it is not like I wasn’t active.  I just never really embraced running.

Picking up running seemed like the least likely option when I was trying to get in shape in my early 30’s after giving birth to my fourth and last child.  I wanted to lose those last few pounds of baby weight, and I needed a goal to work toward. I signed up for a 10k, downloaded a coaching app, and recruited a friend to train with me.

I think what initially drew me to running was that it was easy.  I could just lace up my shoes and head out the front down. No packing the kids in the car and driving to the gym. No swimsuit. I did not need to find teammates and coordinate another schedule, when I had the time I could just go.

But that still didn’t mean that I liked it.  As a matter of fact, I still hated every sweaty, out-of-breath moment of it.  It took running consistently for almost one year – that’s right one whole year – before I could identify the real benefits for me. And even then, I could only identify the benefits in the absence of running.

As a busy mom, I have a hard time slowing down.  When I sit down to pray, I find myself either creating my grocery lists or falling asleep.  Early in my prayer life, I was exposed to the idea of coloring your prayers. It is sort of like doodling while listening to a lecture. By having my hands busy, I was able to focus my mind on my prayers.  Running offers me a similar experience, except engaging my whole body.

Moving my legs and getting my heart rate up forces my entire body to work. This leaves less room for my mind to wander.  When I run, it takes about a mile for me to get over that inner dialogue that tells me “Everything is sore,” “I want to go back home,” and “Why do I do this to myself?”

Then something inside me switches. My mind turns away from those superficial concerns and dives into what I really need to speak with God about that day.  After about a mile of me talking, my mind finally releases all that it can. I fall silent, and I listen for God to speak to me.

And God speaks.

God answers my prayers. God gives me peace. God provides me with direction.  When I am stumped with a message or having problems negotiating a tricky personal situation, I find that I can feel God’s presence more tangibly while running.

Oftentimes, I will stop and voice message myself, the turning point in my next message, or send an email because I finally have the right words to say. or note who the Holy Spirit was prompting me to check on once I got back home.

For me, running is no longer just exercise for my body; it is an exercise for my soul.

Here are a few ways I incorporate the practice of prayerful running in my life:

  • At least once a week, I go on one 4-6 mile run with the focus of prayer.
  • When life is really overwhelming, I increase my running, working in two or three 4-6 mile runs that are focused on prayer (i.e., I am not listening to music or podcasts)
  • When I have trouble focusing, I will often say a favorite verse of scripture over and over again, to the pace of my run. This would be a type of contemplative running.
  • One of the busiest times of the year is the holiday season from Thanksgiving to New Year’s day. During that time, I go on a running streak (trying) to run at least 1 mile every day.  This makes sure that I am taking at least 10 minutes a day to take care of my soul and reconnect with God.

When my life is at its most stressful, when I have more things on my list than I can possibly accomplish, those are the days that I need to run even more.

Psalm 62:5 says, “Oh, I must find rest in God only, because my hope comes from him (CEB version)!”  Running fuels my body and provides my soul with the rest in God that it so desperately needs.

 

With almost two decades of experience, Erin Reibel has led children, youth, and adults to think about church and community engagement differently.  She received her Bachelor of Arts from the College of William and Mary in 2001, her Master of Divinity and Master of Christian Education from Union Presbyterian Seminary in 2009 and her Doctor of Ministry from Wesley Theological Seminary in 2018, where she focused on the challenges and opportunities women face in leadership. She is the founder of Hometable Community, a place where people can find instruction, encouragement, and accountability for their spiritual journey. Follow her on Instagram at @reibelreads and Twitter as @erinreibel.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Redeeming Ruth: The Father’s Heart for the vulnerable

Posted by | abundance, community, compassion, courage, culture, death, flourishing, grief, hope, inspirational, relationships, Stories, struggle, Uncategorized, video | One Comment

I was invited to share a message this Sunday at Action Community Church in Clovis for their summer series, “A Father’s Heart: a series about things God cares about.”

I chose to share about God’s heart for the vulnerable, specifically widows, orphans, immigrants/foreigners and the poor.

In this message, I unpack the story of Ruth in the Bible and how God also brought a kinsman-redeemer for me and my family.

Check out the full video of the message here!

*If you’re interested in more details about my speaking & teaching, check out my Speaker Page here.

Running for His glory: When God brings you full circle

Posted by | abundance, community, courage, finishing well, grief, running, Stories | No Comments

This summer we are featuring a series of stories here on the blog about the intersection of faith and running.  Through the years, running has been my lifeline, the place I connect with God, and my therapy. Over the last five years, I’ve written several essays about how running has helped me grieve the death of my husband and given me new courage. I’ve invited 10 friends to share their stories of how running has shaped them and become spiritual practice for them as well. I hope you will join us weekly for the “Running for His glory” series. 

 

By Dorina Lazo Gilmore

The conditions may not have been ideal for a race. Gray, overcast skies. Muddy, slippery trail.

Of course, the elements rarely deter trail runners. They show up rain or shine for the pure adventure of the race.

My friend Heather and I donned running parkas and set out at the sound of the starting whistle. We were filled with gleeful anticipation of the race to come.  I knew in my heart that God would show up with His presence and gift me some glimpse of His glory along the trail.

He always does.

The first time I ran the San Joaquin River Gorge Trail race was in 2015. That was my first trail race ever. Although I have been a runner all my life, I quickly discovered that running on trails through hills and valleys is very different from racing on the flat road. Trails require negotiating rocks, ducking under tree branches, and sometimes coming face-to-face with wildlife.

The trail taunts and charms me at the same time. It’s challenging, but I just can’t get enough of wildflowers chasing around each curve in spring or the rainbow sherbet colors of the sunrise dancing over the mountains.

That morning the trail felt less intimidating. This was my third time running this race, and in many ways, I felt like I was coming full circle.

We come full circle when we experience a series of developments or circumstances that lead us back to the original source, position, or situation. It kind of feels like déjà vu but with a twist.

In Exodus 3:12, God speaks to Moses from a burning bush. He promises to bring the people out of Egypt and that they will return to worship Him on Mount Sinai. This is the beginning of Moses’ journey before he is sent out to rescue the Israelites from slavery and lead them to the Promised Land.

I imagine Moses felt like I did the first time I ran a trail race. I was unsure of my footing, tentative about what lie ahead, and insecure about my abilities to complete the race.

In Exodus 19, Moses and the people have finally escaped Egypt and journeyed back to Desert of Sinai at the base of the mountain. Moses has come full circle.

Sometimes we have to return to the mountain so God can remind us who He is and set our feet back on the rock.

On that morning, God shows up for the Israelites in thunder and lighting, fire and smoke. God displays for the Israelites just how big and powerful He is.

He reminds them that He is greater than all the idols and false gods they could make for themselves. He underscores who He is – the Lord, the God of Israel – who is faithful to keep His covenant promises to them. He provided passage for them through the raging Red Sea and food (manna and quail) for them in the desert.

In Exodus 24, Moses goes back up to Mount Sinai and experiences the glory of God in a cloud. This time he enters the cloud and stays for forty days and forty nights. He abides and dwells with God. During this time, God gives Moses life instructions on many things and sends him back to the people with the Ten Commandments written in stone.

Sometimes we have to return to the mountain to dwell with God and learn something new for our journey.

Every time I go for a trail run God shows me something new. One time He showed me His power in the rushing waterfall. Another time, He reminded me of His Presence through the fiery orange wings of a butterfly. On the San Joaquin River Trail, He renewed my courage on a familiar path. He reminded me that I can do hard things when I run with Him and let Him set the pace.

Sometimes we have to return to particular places, relationships, or memories in order to measure just how far we’ve come.

This year God has brought me full circle in surprising ways. There was a time after my husband’s death that I felt crippled by grief. I wasn’t sure if I could run without him. I’m not that woman anymore. God meets me again and again on the trail and shows me His faithfulness to lead and provide.

This past season, I had the opportunity to coach my daughters’ track and field team. As I watched my girls run and jump for God’s glory, I thought about my late husband Ericlee. He and I coached track and field together for nine years. Our kids grew up on the track.

In many ways, I feel like I’m coming full circle now coaching my daughters – and with my new husband Shawn. It’s wild to think about how far we’ve come!

Are you coming full circle?

Maybe you find yourself returning to a favorite childhood spot or connecting with an old friend. Maybe you are sitting by the grave of a loved one who has passed into glory or digging into some difficult memories from your past. If you are feeling like you are right back where you started, take heart. God may have brought you full circle to remind you who He is, to teach you something new, or to measure just how far you’ve come.

 

*The original version of this essay was featured at www.incourage.me.

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


How to celebrate Father’s Day when your daddy is gone

Posted by | community, compassion, death, family life, grief, hope, parenting, Stories | No Comments

I still remember that first Father’s Day after my husband’s death. I didn’t know what to do.

As the day grew closer, I felt more and more paralyzed about how to prepare for the day.

I was invited to an out-of-state wedding. Despite my guilt in leaving my three daughters behind with grandparents, I knew I needed to go. It would be good for my soul.

My girls enjoyed that Sunday celebrating their Papa Doug and visiting with their Uncle Paul and cousins.

As for me, I woke up early that Father’s Day morning. I had some time alone in my hotel room to let the grief wash over me. I ended up writing a reflection about how my late husband had been a father figure to so many. He invested deeply in our three daughters, but also in friends and orphans in Haiti.

Deep in my soul, I felt the weight of his absence, but also the strength of his legacy. I also felt compelled to thank all the family friends and fathers who stood in the gap for my girls and me in our grief.

Father’s Day, like many holidays, can be filled with mixed emotions. Maybe some of you have a daddy in heaven like my girls. Maybe some of you will feel the ache of separation from your father because of divorce, deployment, imprisonment or a job that takes him out of town.

Sometimes Father’s Day is complicated because grief mingles with joy as we celebrate fathers who are alive, but also long to remember our daddies who have died.

The following are some ideas compiled with the help of some of my widow friends on how to remember and celebrate Father’s Day when a daddy is gone. I have found it’s important to make plans ahead of time, but to hold them lightly and cover ourselves with grace on the actual day.

  1. Write a letter to your father. Even if you can’t deliver it or mail it, the act of writing a letter can be healing. Include some special memories, perhaps some things you wish you could say today, or a description of how you are feeling today.

 

  1. Take a picnic to the park. Pack a lunch and spend some time sharing as a family. My daughters love having me tell stories from when they were little or trips we took with their dad.

 

  1. Go to a special place like the ocean or the cemetery and allow kids to release a balloon in honor of their dad. There’s something sacred about letting go and watching these balloons float to the heavens.

 

  1. Make a reservation for Dad’s favorite restaurant and take the family out in his honor. Use your time together to talk about his legacy.

 

  1. Look through photos together and compile a “Best of Dad” collection to print in a photo book. Many of our pictures are digital now, which means we seldom take time to curate our favorites. Perusing and selecting photos can be a meaningful time of remembrance.

 

  1. Write thank you cards to the father figures in your circle. Take some time to thank the men who have influenced you, loved on you, and nourished you through the years.

 

  1. Buy ingredients and make you dad’s favorite dessert. Talk about some of dad’s favorite things as you eat the dessert together.

 

  1. Do simple art project together. Paint a photo frame. Pull out some markers or crayons and color together. Make a collage of things that remind you of your dad and his legacy.

 

  1. Take a sunset walk together through the neighborhood or at a local park. Give yourself space to share if you want to or to simply hold space for remembering your father.

 

  1. If it feels overwhelming to see all the fathers at church on Father’s Day, plan your own special devotional time for your family. Read a favorite Bible story or from a family devotional. Pray together.

Here’s the bottom line: There’s really no wrong way to celebrate Father’s Day. Be gentle with yourself as you make space to remember, to be sad, to experience joy, to laugh, to grieve, and to celebrate.

I am reminded of these words in Romans 8:15-17: “And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”

What a gift that we are adopted into God’s family. We are not fatherless. We are his children, His co-heirs. I’m learning to cling to this truth and hold the weight of it.

Grief and glory are always co-mingling. May our Father God meet you in your grief and comfort you there this Father’s Day.

 

**Dorina hosts The Widow Mama Collective, a support group on Facebook designed for widows who are navigating grief and still mothering kids at home. Join Dorina and friends here or pass this on to a friend who might need it!

 

 

 


*I am an affiliate for Dayspring at no extra cost to my readers.

A podcast roundup: My story for His glory

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s a quick roundup of those programs:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Here are five podcasts I listen to regularly:

The Next Right by Emily Freeman

Jesus Led Adventure with Stephanie Bryant

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

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

Typology by Ian Morgan Cron

What are some of your favorite podcasts?

One word for 2019: The big reveal!

Posted by | abundance, community, courage, flourishing, grief, hope, One Word, Stories, wonder | No Comments

This past Thanksgiving my family and I took an epic trip to Hawaii. We started planning the trip last December with the goals of spending time together, celebrating my late husband Ericlee’s life, and introducing the kids to Hawaii where our grandparents first met.

Eighteen of us cleared our schedules and boarded planes to travel to the Big Island. For much of the week, we were together as a big, beautiful, boisterous group. But on Wednesday, we chose to split the group and go on our own adventures.

I agreed to take a group to a favorite spot my husband Shawn and I fondly call “Hidden Beach” because most tourists don’t frequent it. When you approach the beach, you can see the lava rocks, which are characteristic of this island’s landscape, form a natural cove.

The sand is white-blond, but in the cove the water is serene and so clear I could see my teal toenail polish. Waves crash in the deep-blue distance. I grabbed a snorkel mask and headed out on what I call a “wonder hunt.”

My feet stumbled at first over the jagged rocks and coral. Sand swirled around me. I had to hold back my hurried pace. I began to walk slowly, deliberately, trying not to disturb the ocean playground unfolding beneath my feet. There was a heavy hush in my soul.

I stood perfectly still. Then a beautiful yellow fish with black and white chevrons sashayed before me like a ballet dancer. My eyes lit on a canary yellow fish with blue fins being chased by a parrot fish with an iridescent purple and blue body. They moved in and out of holes in the amber-colored coral, chasing each other like kids playing tag. A school of silver fish swished by.

I swelled with a sense of awe for my Creator, who spoke these creatures into being. I felt like a gleeful child twirling in the wonder of this giant, God-inspired aquarium.

Beneath the water, I learned a lesson I’ve been embracing all year. I’ve been chasing wonder as my theme word for 2018. God has continued to remind me in a myriad of ways to still my soul, to slow my pace, to stop. Every time I do, wonder kaleidoscopes before my eyes.

Navigating transition

2018 was a year of transition for our family of five. Last January, I began to feel a wrestling in my soul. Shawn and I prayed over some heavy decisions and big changes we felt God was leading us to make. We processed with our girls as well. This provided a good opportunity for us to talk with them about discerning the voice of God and His direction for our lives.

In the end, we decided to leave a beloved community and transfer all three of our daughters to a new school. We also decided it was time to look for a new church after 18 years. We did not anticipate that in this same season my husband’s company would restructure, requiring him to move to a new office. God also opened the door for us to move to a new house in August.

In many ways, I felt like we were transplanted to a whole new life. All of my rhythms were shaken up or abolished. I had to make space to grieve the loss of community and recalibrate my heart. I’m not going to lie. It was hard. Some days were heavy and lonely, but God surprised all of us with wonder.

What I learned about wonder

I learned that wonder can’t be rushed. It requires slowing and noticing God at work in the small details.

Wonder requires stillness. I learned to embrace the silence instead of being afraid of it. He met me in the open spaces we carved out on Sundays and each morning. He whispered healing to my soul. He showed me the rich value of Sabbath for myself and for my family. I started to crave solitude with God in a way I have never experienced before.

As I went on a treasure hunt through the Bible, I discovered lots of examples when God performed wonders and miracles for his people. He healed the sick, spoke through clouds and fire, and rained down grace through the birth of His Son Jesus.

In the quiet, I also leaned into some of my own brokenness and deepest questions.

Why didn’t God choose to heal my husband Ericlee from cancer?

Why does so much evil and violence prevail in our culture?

Why should I invest in communities when I know I will be met with hurt and disappointment?

God gently listened to these piercing questions, sometimes accusing questions, and ushered me to some understanding of truth. I am confident now that He always works for His glory and our good. I don’t have a full understanding of His mysterious ways – why some are healed on earth and others in Heaven – but I do still believe in miracles. And I witnessed them throughout this year.

He proved faithful to our family in small and big ways. He provided for our needs and many desires. I stepped into some exciting new opportunities to write for (in)courage and WeCoach Together. I signed with a literary agent and completed two book proposals, which will go out to publishers in the new year. New doors are opening every day for speaking and sharing my story. My girls are flourishing in their new school. We have made new friends at church and in our neighborhood.

Pursuing a new year of abundance 

Sometime in November, I began to hear a familiar whisper. A word. This one word gave me pause, made me curious. It seemed to beckon me until I finally decided to pay attention.

That word appeared in the most surprising places – in conversation, in books or blogs I’m reading and in Scripture. Somehow, I can’t stop thinking about that word.

This is my 8th year choosing a word theme. It’s become a practice for me to lean in close with God and to listen to what He might say to me. Of course, He always teaches, leads, disciplines and comforts me in ways I wouldn’t expect.

One Sunday, our Pastor Brad shared in a sermon about the nuances between the prosperity gospel mindset and the poverty gospel mindset.  At the heart of his message was a challenge to think about the difference between scarcity and abundance. Scarcity always worries about not having enough. It’s focused on lack. It believes that someone else’s gain or success or happiness will put you behind.

Then he talked about abundance, which is unexpected blessing from God – not earned or stolen – used for God’s glory. Abundance allows us to accept his good gifts and also extend generosity to others without hesitation. Abundance makes room for collaboration and flourishing in community.

God has already been showing me His abundance is quantified in a much different way from the prosperity the world chases. It’s not about excess of material stuff or wealth, but about pursuing and embracing abundant life.

Abundant life is characterized by a fullness of joy, rest, and energy for the work of God. Abundant life runs in contrast to an existence that focuses on what I lack, what I’m missing, or what I’m dissatisfied with in the day-to-day. For too long I have been bracing myself for what tragedy might be around the next corner.

On this first day of 2019, I’m stepping forward with courage and these questions on my heart:

What does God have to say about abundance in His Word?

How can I live into God’s abundance without being poisoned by selfishness, pride, gluttony or entitlement?

Where will God reveal abundance in 2019?

Friend, I’m inviting you to join me on this journey of seeking abundant life. 

Let’s meditate together on these words in Psalm 31 and and take refuge in Him:

Oh, how abundant is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you and worked for those who take refuge in you, in the sight of the children of mankind!

-Psalm 31:19 (ESV)

My word themes through the years:

2012: joy

2013: grace & mercy

2014: glory

2015: redeem

2016: flourish

2017: behold

2018: wonder


*I am an affiliate for Dayspring at no additional cost to readers.

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 | 10 Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Pepe Reyes on Unsplash.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

{Featured photo by Avi Richards on Unsplash}

 


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 | 4 Comments

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

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

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

I will always be a widow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

*Featured photo by Daniel Frank on Unsplash.

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.

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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.

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*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