\ compassion | Dorina Lazo Gilmore

Chasing God's glory through tragedy and triumph

compassion

Discovering the dignity of work

Posted by | compassion, courage, creativity, flourishing, friendship, gifts, hope, Incourage essays, Stories, struggle | No Comments

I traveled to Haiti in the summer of 2011 with my family to begin directing a non-profit in the growing town of Pignon. During a bumpy truck ride from the Port-Au-Prince airport to the northern mountains, our Haitian director Peter shared with me his vision to provide jobs for women who were part of his church. He had a burden for these families that consistently came to him for money and food.

Peter wanted a longer-term solution than simply giving handouts to his congregants. This is the typical model for relief — especially in a place like Haiti which is often noted as the “poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.” Donated water, supplies, clothes, and more pour into the country for free distribution.

This kind of relief is necessary in times of emergency like after a natural disaster, but it’s not sustainable long term. This handout model creates a dependency and often works against poverty alleviation.

Peter discovered a fair trade jewelry company in Port-Au-Prince that used recycled materials to craft their products. He befriended the American woman who started it, and she invited him to bring some of the women from the mountains to learn how to make jewelry. He chose a few women and sent them for training with hopes of making them leaders to train other women in the church.

That day, as our truck blazed a trail through the dust and gravel, Peter asked me if I would help the women start their own business. My heart leapt when I first heard his idea. I never imagined I would have the chance in Haiti to use my passion for creativity and my love for making jewelry.

I grew up frequenting craft stores and creating jewelry to give as gifts to friends and family. While visiting colleges during my junior year of high school, my mama teased me that I would probably make my college choice based on proximity to the best bead store. Creativity was in my bones. I felt most alive when I was creating something with my hands.

That summer in Haiti I gathered the first group of artisans – nine women from Pignon who stepped up to learn how to roll their own beads from upcycled cereal boxes. We formed The Haitian Bead Project. Many learned quickly. I showed them how to arrange their beads into necklaces and twist wire to make earrings. We worked together to improve the quality of our creations and to find designs that would be on trend for buyers in the United States.

Teaching these women the skill of making jewelry opened up two important doors for them — the dignity of work and the power of creativity.

God designed humans to work, which sets us apart from all other creatures. The dignity of work is central to our value as human beings. Work can provide a sense of purpose, honor, and hope for the future. When people develop marketable skills and find jobs, they can provide for themselves and their families. They are no longer shamed into begging and reaching for handouts.

Join me over at www.incourage.me for the rest of this story and ways you can help provide the dignity of work for God’s daughters in need.

Running for a purpose: Remember Haiti team exceeds goals

Posted by | compassion, courage, grief, running, Stories | No Comments

3-2-1- GO! The whistle blew. And we were off. We were a group of 12 adults and 6 youth chasing the finish line and raising funds for HaitiGO’s school lunch program. Lots of people run for fun or fitness, but this crew trained for 3 months and raced the Two Cities Half Marathon and relay on Sunday for a greater cause.

The goal: to raise $6,000 to help build and equip kitchens in the schools that are part of the HaitiGO ministry. Some team members participated in the relay race running 7.2 or 5.9 miles, depending on which leg. Others ran the Clovis or Fresno half marathon (13.1 miles).

Nine years ago, when my late husband Ericlee and I decided to run the Two Cities Half Marathon and raise money for our upcoming move to Haiti, we had no idea what God had in store. That year 19 friends and family joined us. Each year since, we have linked arms with HaitiGO and picked a project to raise up our brothers and sisters in Haiti. Thousands of dollars have been raised through the years to help build an orphanage, to dig a well, to support pastors and churches.

On Saturday, November 3, more than 50 people gathered in our home and celebrated another year of training and honoring Ericlee’s legacy. Ericlee coached the team and ran the race for 4 years with me before he graduated to Heaven in September 2010 after a swift battle with cancer. He loved to run and use fitness as a platform for sharing about Haiti and giving God glory.

Every year this race is a new experience full of new memories. This year’s team was driven by the perseverance of six kids ranging in age from 9-12 – Hannah Lafferre, Natalie Garcia, Amin Moreno, Jeremiah Valorosi, Mia Vasquez, and my daughter, Giada Gilmore. These kids were dedicated to running three times a week with the team and fundraising so kids in Haiti could get a meal that would sustain them. At each practice, they would join hands and pray for their Haitian friends, for new sponsors and for safety as they trained.

The entire team raised more than $8,000, exceeding their original goal. We are especially grateful to our corporate sponsors also featured on our Remember Haiti team T-shirt. They include:

-Self-Publishing School

-ICAD Automation

-Digital Attic

-Higton Bros Real Estate

-Granville Homes

-W&W Concrete

-Lazo & Associates

-EECU

-Huckleberry’s Fresno restaurant

-Woodward Fit Body Boot Camp

-Leavenworth Elementary School

-Wooten’s Auto Glass

-Jay Chapel

The treasure of this team was the community built through training and fundraising together. Several of the families have been a part of the team for years. I’m always surprised and blessed by those who did not know Ericlee or who have never been to Haiti, but still feel called to run for God’s glory! Each one of us has a choice as to how we spend our time and where we invest our energy. This race is one of our annual choices to continue to live out Ericlee’s legacy in community.

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!



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5 myths about grief and 1 important truth

Posted by | compassion, death, grief, identity, kids, laughter, Stories, Uncategorized | 16 Comments

After my husband’s death, I quickly discovered people had a lot to say about grief. Sometimes they would share their opinions in hopes of offering comfort. I realized oftentimes these comments were driven by myths about grief that get passed around, rather than a deeper understanding.

Through my grief journey, I have learned how vital it is to separate the misconceptions from the reality of grief. When we are grieving, we are vulnerable. People’s well-intentioned words can sting us in surprising ways. When you’re actually grieving the death of a spouse, or the loss of a child, or the loss of community when you’ve moved to a new place, comments about how you should be grieving are not helpful.

I decided to take an informal poll of some of my widow sisters and friends. The following are some common grief myths that frequently find their way into attitudes and conversations. There is great value in having conversations about how we process our grief because it helps us learn about ourselves and helps others understand our journey. Whether you are grieving yourself or supporting someone who is, I hope this will help you gain a deeper awareness of the grief process and how unique it is for each person.

Myth #1: Grief has five stages.

People often talk about these definitive five stages of grief. The five stages of grief were a theory developed by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in 1969. These stages include: denial, anger, depression, bargaining and acceptance. Some people think you go through these five stages in order and then you are done with grief.

David Kessler, co-authored a book with Kubler-Ross called On Grief and Grieving. He explains that these five stages are tools to help us identify what we are feeling. “They are not stops on some linear timeline in grief.” Grief cannot be simplified or tucked into a logical flow chart. If your grief looks different from the next person’s grief, you are not crazy.

Myth #2: Grief is linear with a beginning, middle and end.

Grief can skip, repeat, do a loop-de-loop and double back. In other words, grief is a journey, not a destination. At times, the journey feels treacherous and uphill. At other times, it’s about walking slowly forward one step at a time on a steadier path.

When I realized that my grief and loss would be with me long-term, it helped me shift my focus. I was no longer wondering when I would “get over it.” I was free to concentrate more on how to grieve well. I have to be intentional to check in with myself. Around certain anniversaries, I know I need to carve out space for grief. When I am unexpectedly triggered by grief, I need to give myself the gift of grace.

Myth #3: Time heals.

I have heard some widow friends talk about how the first year after their husband’s deaths were the hardest. I have heard others say that year 4 and 5 are the most difficult. One friend explained it this way. Time doesn’t heal loss. Over time we simply get more used to our new normal and how to live with the loss.

My grief counselor once suggested that grief is more like a tangled ball of yarn. You never know exactly what you are unraveling. It’s a mix of many threads and emotions and we need to give ourselves time to untangle these at our own pace.

Myth #4: You shouldn’t feel joy or happiness while grieving.

A few weeks after my husband’s funeral, some friends invited the girls and me to a concert. We desperately needed to get out of the house. That night I discovered how important it was for us to let that music wash over us. The girls laughed and danced with their friends. I was filled with such surprising peace and joy after such a long season of caregiving for my husband and watching his health deteriorate.

After the concert, a friend who I hadn’t seen in years came up to me and burst into tears. I wasn’t particularly close with her, and I wasn’t even sad in that moment. She sobbed into my shoulder and told me how sorry she was for what we had endured. I appreciated her words and willingness to reach out to me, but later I felt a little guilty. Maybe I should have acted sadder. Maybe I shouldn’t be out at concerts laughing and dancing with my daughters so soon after my husband’s death. These ridiculous thoughts swirled in my head.

I brought these questions about my grief to God. I realized then through His gentle reminders that I was free to grieve in my way. Over time, I have learned that every day can be filled with joy and grief dancing together. As Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4 reminds us: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens… a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.”

Myth #5: The goal of grief is to “find closure” and move on.

I have encountered this attitude in different conversations since my husband died. People long for us to be “ok” so they ask questions like: “Do you have closure about your husband’s death?” Or they say, “It looks like you’ve moved on.”

As a person who is still very much grieving the death of my husband and my children’s father, I’m never quite sure what to say. I have an indescribable peace in my heart that God is and will continue to use my husband’s death for His glory. I trust God in this. I’ve already had the privilege of seeing the way He has saved lives, encouraged souls, inspired people to draw closer to their families, and bolstered the faith of my daughters because of Ericlee’s death.

Do I have closure? No. Am I ready to move on? No. I am moving forward. Day by day, step by step, decision by decision, I am moving forward. I am not closing a chapter. I am not getting over him. I am moving into a season where I have a choice to live his legacy and remember him in a new way.

***

I’ve shared with you five common myths about grief. Let’s end with this truth. We can’t fit grief into a box or a series of stages. Jesus is our model throughout his ministry that we need to lean into the unique experiences of individuals who are grieving.

My favorite example is the way Jesus took time to weep with Mary and Martha over the death of their brother Lazarus. John 11:33 says, “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.”

We learn in verse 35 that Jesus actually wept. He knew that Lazarus would later be raised from the dead, but he still takes time to weep with his friends. He knew they needed Him. He enters into their pain, and through His presence offers comfort. He weeps with each of us in our grief today. And, in turn, we have the opportunity to be present with someone who is grieving.

 

**I want to learn from you. What are some of the myths about grief that you’ve heard? What has your journey been like? I’ll be sharing part two of this series later this month. I hope you will add some of your own experiences in the comments.

*Photo by Killian Pham on Unsplash

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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}

 


Unexpected friendship in a cup of cold water

Posted by | compassion, courage, friendship, Haiti, hope, laughter, sharing faith, social justice, Stories | No Comments

The sun blazed and dust swirled. Sweat dripped in every crevice of my body. My belly swelled announcing my third baby, expected to appear sometime that winter. My unexpected assignment that summer: to help start a jewelry business employing women in the mountains of Haiti.

I arrived in Haiti, excited and nervous. I knew I had to start by building trust with the women, but the task felt daunting with the cultural barrier between us.

A small collective of mamas gathered under the church awning to learn how to roll beads. As I prayed for an open door to connect with them, an idea flashed through my mind: I ran into the kitchen for a pitcher of cold water and a stack of cups.

A few of the women looked at me sideways as I approached their circle. No one said a word, and the awkwardness hung thick in the humid air. Then one of the women smiled and walked over to me.

Dlo?” I pointed at the pitcher. “Water?”

She nodded.

The other women didn’t make eye contact, but Madame Moise took a risk and invited me to sit next to her. I watched as she held the skewer in her left hand and used her other fingers to roll strips of cardboard into perfectly-symmetrical beads. She spread glue over the beads to seal them.

She showed up the next afternoon with an English-Haitian Creole dictionary. “How are you?” she pronounced each word with care. Her question invited me in. “I want to learn to speak English,” she said.

“I want to learn to make beads,” I said, pointing at the rainbow-colored skewers full of beads drying in the sun.

{Hop over to (in)Courage for the rest of this story about unexpected friendship}

 

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

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

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

By Lea Turner from A Heart at Rest

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

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

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

It all seemed so overwhelming.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

*Featured photo by Matthijs Smit on Unsplash.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Resurrection rising: How to wait through the winter of grief

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

(Featured photo by Thomas Wolter on Pixabay)

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.

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. 

Book Review: Daring to Hope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

**I’d love to send you my Glorygram! It’s a weekly personal note I put together for my friends with an encouraging story, podcast and book recommendations, and my fave recipes! Opt in here.

Book Review: Shalom Sistas: Living Wholeheartedly in a Broken World

Posted by | book reviews, compassion, courage, flourishing, self-care, serve, sharing faith, social justice, Stories | No Comments

When I was widowed in 2014, one of the most difficult things I did was step away from the missions work I was a part of in Haiti. My late husband and I directed a non-profit, which included for me running a social goods jewelry business. Our work was demanding, fulfilling, creative and challenging – not to mention lots of travel back and forth between countries. After my husband’s death, I knew I needed to step down from my leadership roles in the organization in order to care for my children and make space for our grief.

It was tough.

To walk away from my mission and community in Haiti was humbling and hard. It was a secondary loss for me. Looking back, I know it was the right decision. I also know God has kindled a surprising new sense of mission and purpose for me right here in Fresno, California, where I live.

My ministry focus is my family, my kids’ school, my church and my city. I’ve grappled at different times with what it means to stand up for peace and justice while sitting in the front seat of my SUV with a bunch of kids in the back.

Osheta Moore’s new 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.

One night Osheta prayed a brave prayer: “God, show me the things that make for peace.” The book unpacks the answer Osheta received as she studied peace for forty days.

Osheta describes a “shalom sista” as a woman who loves people, follows the Prince of Peace, and never gives up her sass.

By that definition, I’m in. You?

Osheta is a Los Angeles-based writer and podcaster. She is a mother of three and wife to an urban pastor. In other words, she’s got street cred.  Osheta ushers readers in like girlfriends linking up for coffee. She’s a gifted storyteller but still packs a punch with theological prowess on this topic.

Shalom Sistas is divided into five parts: Shalom After the Storm; Shalom with God; Shalom within Ourselves; Shalom in our Relationships; and Shalom in our World.  Each section of takes readers through Osheta’s 12- point “Shalom Sistas Manifesto.”

I resonate especially with this line: “Don’t get me wrong: while shalom brings peace, it is also active and alive. In my forty days of peace, I became convinced that peacemakers are not pliable, passive, or permissive.”

I appreciate Osheta’s perspective because sometimes talk about shalom and peacemaking is misconstrued. The most memorable peacemakers in history were not passive people, but rather souls marked by courage, grit, passion, and deep conviction.

Another chapter that really hit home for me was “This Brown Skin: We Will See the Beauty.” Osheta unfolds her own story of learning to see beauty in her brown skin. Osheta serves her readers with her vulnerable and honest story of how she came to a place of peace with her own body. This is an aspect of shalom I have not thought about before.

The beauty of Osheta’s book is that she challenges us to expand our views and practices of shalom, but she does it in a way that feels inspiring and manageable. The pages of this book are brimming with practical ideas of how to sprinkle shalom like confetti in all directions.

 

**I have had the privilege of being a part of Osheta Moore’s launch team. I did not know her before but she talks to everyone like they are insiders aka BFFs. She also hosts a podcast called “Shalom in the City,” which I highly recommend checking out.

 

Community life insurance: The greatest investment you’ll ever make

Posted by | community, compassion, grief, hope, marriage, Personal Stories, Stories, struggle | 6 Comments

This year my family has faced the most beautiful and painful season of our lives. My husband was diagnosed with stage four melanoma cancer in May. The news came like a sucker-punch to the gut, but it was no surprise to God. In the weeks that followed, we experienced God’s presence and provision in the most profound way and I began to understand how critical community is to our lives.

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