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Chasing God's glory through tragedy and triumph

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5 myths about grief and 1 important truth

Posted by | compassion, death, grief, identity, kids, laughter, Stories, Uncategorized | 2 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

#Blessed: How my view of blessing shifted after my husband’s death

Posted by | death, finishing well, gifts, Pinterest, sharing faith, Stories, struggle | 2 Comments

A few years ago, I received a gift. It was a canvas that artfully displayed this phrase: “Thankful, Grateful and Blessed.”

I hesitated to display it in my home. You see, I struggled with the word “blessed.” About the time my husband Ericlee was diagnosed with melanoma cancer in 2014, a hashtag became popular on social media. On Twitter, Facebook and Instagram posts, people began to use #Blessed as a way to “humbly brag” about their lives.

Family Christmas photos with folks in coordinating Christmas outfits, Pinterest-perfect dining room tables, delectable meals at restaurants and announcements of fabulous job promotions were posted with #Blessed.

Ironically, my husband’s nickname during college was “Blessed Boy” because of all the amazing things he experienced. His friends teased him for the ways he excelled in sports, the gifts he received, and the way he seemed to sail through life.

When Blessed Boy was diagnosed with stage four cancer, I began to question it as his wife. At the time, all those #Blessed social media posts pricked my heart. I found myself wrestling with God and asking:

Are we still blessed on the hardest days?

Are we only blessed when life goes according to our plans?

Are we blessed even in the face of disease and death?

The dictionary tells me the word “blessing” means favor or a gift bestowed by God. In Genesis 1, we see how God blessed His people from the very beginning.

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them.

– Genesis 1:27-28 (ESV)

Somewhere along the way though, the meaning of the word blessed has become skewed and overused. As American Christians, we often refer to material blessings and a life full of ease and privilege as #Blessed.

Is this really what blessing is all about?

Kate Merrick says it this way in her book, And Still She Laughs: “We throw around the word blessing haphazardly, as if God is a supernatural Santa Claus waiting to bring treats to good little girls and boys.”

Kate helped me set my theology straight. We do not receive blessing from God because we deserve it, because we have served him a certain way, because we have gone to church 3 out of 4 Sundays this month. In fact, we cannot earn His blessing at all. It’s a gift. Freely given. Undeserved.

Blessing is about being loved deeply by our Creator God. We are blessed when we possess that peace that surpasses understanding, when we receive the help of the Holy Spirit, when we feel the tender comfort of the Father.

Matthew 5 helps drive home this idea that blessing is not quantified by our possessions, but by the condition of our spirits.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

-Matthew 5:3 (ESV)

So let’s be clear. If you’re widow, a single mom, an orphan, a homeless family or a community in the path of a hurricane, blessing is still yours. In fact, you are smack in the middle of the blessing, according to Matthew 5:4-5:

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”

-Matthew 5:4-5 (ESV)

Jesus concludes this section about what it means to be blessed with this encouragement:

“Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

-Matthew 5:12 (ESV)

I have learned two things about blessing: We are not blessed because of what we acquire but because of what has been gifted to each one of us. The ultimate blessing is eternal life we receive because of Christ’s sacrifice and His daily presence with each one of us.

When my husband was battling cancer, God was with us in the waiting rooms. He was with us during the surgery. He was with us during the painful nights. We felt Him in the scriptures we read. We heard Him in the echoes of the worship music we listened to around the clock. His presence was profound as the days passed and the cancer coursed through Ericlee’s body. We were not alone. God was with us, and that was our blessing.

Second, we have the opportunity to bless others when we multiply a perspective of gratitude to God through hardship.

My dear sister-friends in Haiti have magnified this for me. I have visited and worked in Haiti for almost 17 years now. Every time I go and spend time there I am inspired by my friends who live in abject poverty with unspeakable challenges, but still see life as a blessing. They worship with such passion because they know God is with them through every storm.

After Ericlee’s death, I was challenged as a widow to daily look for God around me. I practiced gratitude to lift me from the heaviness of grief. When my eyes were on the swelling colors of the sunset or my daughters dancing in the yard, I felt blessed. When I filled my lungs with oxygen, I felt blessed. I was reminded that my Creator God was with me. He comforted me on the darkest days of grief. This was a profound blessing.

This past week one of my dear mentor-friends Eunie McEntee soared into Heaven. Although Eunie battled ocular melanoma cancer for the last several years, she modeled how to truly live blessed by blessing others.

The root of the word blessed in Hebrew means “to praise, to fill with strength, to adore.” According to these definitions, Eunie lived a blessed life. It wasn’t an easy life. It wasn’t a life that was pain-free. Yet her life pointed everyone she came into contact with back to Jesus. She was strengthened in her trials and used them as an opportunity to strengthen and bless others.

I remember her talking about how ocular melanoma cancer actually gave her new eyes to see from God’s perspective. She overflowed with grace and gratitude. I know her reward is great in Heaven today because of the investment she made in others for His glory.

We have to be careful about how we throw around hashtags and statements about blessing. If I scroll through #blessed on Instagram, I might confuse blessing to mean something it’s not. Blessing always turns the glory away from us and back to God.

 

I would love to connect with you more personally on your journey. Subscribe here for my weekly, Glorygram email full of encouragement, recommendations and resources.  

Photo by Kayle Kaupanger on Unsplash.

 

Moving forward after loss

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

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

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

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

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

Then God came in gently and said,

Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.
Isaiah 43:19 (ESV)

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

Book Review: Unexpected

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Review: A Grace Disguised

Posted by | book reviews, brave, community, compassion, death, grief, transitions | 6 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}

 


{Summer Blog Swap} How to keep your eyes on the light when darkness surrounds you

Posted by | death, family life, fear, grief, Guest blogger, hope, rest, Stories | No Comments

Welcome to my Summer Blog Swap. This month I am inviting four of my blogger friends over to this space to share some of their posts and perspectives. It’s a fun way to introduce some of my favorite people to all of you. This week I’d like you to meet my friend Tara Dickson. We met through a writing group called Hope*writers. Tara is a recent widow and mother to four children. Following her husband’s death to glioblastoma, brain cancer in 2016, she began sharing her story of grieving with hope and pursuing her dream of writing.

 

When my beloved husband went to Heaven at the age of 45, I felt like life as I knew it was over. I couldn’t imagine how to step forward. In fact, it felt like my own heart had stopped beating with his. But the ache didn’t lie. I was still here with four children to guide, most of them still teenagers. They were on the cusp of adulthood. Who would lead them forward? Who would teach my boys to become men? Whose arms would comfort our daughters? I wanted to do all those things but was struggling to find how to breathe, myself.

Then His Spirit breathed, upon us. He gave us permission to hide our hearts in His shadow.

What does it mean to hide in His shadow, while he puts us back together? What if we believed that the things of this world have not broken us, but only bruised us?

Dear ones, we may feel shattered beyond repair and of no use to Him or anyone, but we are merely being refashioned for another purpose.

Psalm 91 makes some mighty promises:

“He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High
Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress.”
My God, in Him I will trust.
He shall cover you with His feathers, 
And under His wings you shall take refuge;
His truth shall be your buckler. 
You shall not be afraid of the terror by night, 
Nor of the arrow that flies by day,
Nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness,
Nor of the destruction that lays waste at noonday.
A thousand may fall at your side,
And ten thousand at your right hand;
BUT it shall not come near you.

He shall call unto me, and I will answer him; 
I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him and honor him.”

Abide.
Trust.
Take refuge under his wings.
Use your shield, let every thought be sifted through the voice of truth.
Don’t give in to fear.

When you call, He will answer.

“But trouble surrounds me,” you say. “Where is he?”
He is with you in the trouble. He is with you and He will deliver you and give you honor. And after you have suffered a little while he will strengthen confirm and establish you!

The secret beloved is to not get lost in the dark. Why do you think scripture speaks so much about the light? Because, he knew there would be darkness beloved. In this world you will have trouble, not you might or if you are good you won’t… but YOU WILL have trouble.

But take heart, he says, “I Have Overcome the World.”

So how do we follow the light when darkness seems to surround us? We start by not looking at the darkness.

Have you ever stood outside on a dark night with only the light of the moon to illumine the dark? I mean really, dark, without even a street lamp for comfort. The darkness is an inky black, and the more you stare into it the more disoriented you become. But, glance at the moon, the only source of light, and objects take on their perspective. Shadows recede and tree branches take on a beautiful etching across the night sky.

Beloved, we must keep our eyes on the light rather than the darkness to keep our perspective. The enemy would love to overwhelm and overcome us. He would like us to feel lost. But take heart, you have a safe place to hide, under His wings. You can trust Him, He is a good king. Send fear on its way, because when you call, He promises to answer.

Maybe it’s loud and you need to get quiet so you can hear him. Maybe you are tired and you need to rest. Let him lead you beside quiet waters and restore your soul.

Come what may, never forget that He is with you! He is! Fear is a liar, darkness distorts our vision and our feelings that carry such weight with us, don’t always speak truth. His word is the anchor that holds us in any storm. Fix your gaze back on him, hide in His shadow and let Him do his holy work in secret.

Let him piece you back together fit for the purposes He still has in store for you.

 

 

Tara spends her time teaching as well as writing words of hope for children and adults.  She is an agented author with Credo Communications. You can find her sharing words of encouragement at taradickson.com or on Instagram. Her ingredients for a good writing environment include a good cup of coffee, dark chocolate with a cozy blanket nearby. Rain on the roof is a bonus.

 

 

 

*Main photo by Natalya Letunova on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

I found myself at the intersection of fear and faith.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Isaiah 54:5

 

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

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

Running After His Glory in the Darkness

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

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

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

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

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

My once strong, athletic husband depended on me to take him to doctor’s appointments, to make decisions about treatments, to prepare special meals for him and even to brush his teeth. The work was heavy and heartbreaking. Lift. Inhale. Lift. Exhale. Lift. Inhale. Lift. {Jump over to incourage.me today for the rest of this article on “Running After His Glory in the Darkness.}

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

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

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

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

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

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

That summer I learned tomatoes need resistance to create resilience.

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

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

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

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

Here are a few things we do to traverse transitions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

10 meaningful sympathy gift ideas for widows and families

Posted by | creativity, death, family life, grief, kids, Stories | 2 Comments

I am a gift giver. The challenge of finding just the right gift for someone brings me great delight. In the past few years, I’ve had many people ask me what kinds of gifts to give to a widow or family who has experienced loss. This is often the hardest kind of gift to find.

After my husband died, we received many practical and personal gifts that my girls and I still treasure. I remember our life group bought heart-shaped lockets for each of my daughters with their daddy’s picture inside. They gave them these sweet necklaces at his graveside service, and the girls felt so special.

I’ve compiled a list of gift ideas you might consider for a friend or family member after a death. Many of these can be ordered online or purchased in local stores, depending on what you have time for. Let me encourage you that taking time to write a short, personal note goes a long way. And let’s never underestimate the gift of presence. Sitting with someone who is grieving is a sacred and purposeful gift.

  1. Gift cards – I wanted to start here because it’s a very practical and helpful way to bless someone after loss. Gift cards are also easy to mail. I received gifts cards for grocery stores, local restaurants, car washes, coffee shops and bookstores. These came in handy when I was tired or wanted to do something special with my girls. Be creative. You might also purchase a gift card for a cleaning service, a massage or spa day, or a favorite clothing store.
  2. Coloring booksStudies have shown that coloring is very therapeutic when dealing with stress, grief and anxiety. One of my favorite new coloring books is Picturing Heaven, which includes 40 hope-filled devotions by Randy Alcorn with beautiful coloring pages. There are other adult coloring books with scripture to meditate on while you relax. I suggest including a box of fancy colored pencils to complete the gift.
  3. Shirt pillows – One friend took some of my husband’s favorite button-down shirts and made pillows for my girls. We call these their Daddy Pillows. The girls still sleep with these at night and take them on trips. If you’re crafty, you can sew these yourself using this tutorial or have them made through an Etsy shop like this one.
  4. Devotionals – My husband’s favorite devotional through the years was Streams in the Desert. We read this one many times throughout our marriage and it was especially meaningful in his final days of life. Each devotional compiled by L.B.E. Cowman urges readers to persevere with faith through the hard trials of life. I gifted copies of this devotional to everyone in my family and many close friends after my husband’s death. They even have devotional for kids that I went through with my daughters. Devotionals are meaningful gifts that can provide daily encouragement for the grieving.
  5. Sympathy garden stones – A garden stone is a sweet way to remember the impact and influence one life has. I have seen handmade garden stones or ones like this designed by Dayspring. Roy Lessin writes, “When a stone is dropped into a lake, its impact leaves behind a series of ripples that broaden and reach across the water. In the same way, the impact of one life lived for Christ will leave behind an influence for good that will touch the lives of may others.” This is a unique gift of remembrance.
  6. Memory box with letters – My husband was a teacher and coach for many years. The kids and teachers from the school where he taught put together a collection of letters for our family. These letters included words of encouragement and stories of how Ericlee had influenced their lives. Those letters are timeless treasures because they remind us of my husband’s legacy.
  7. Remembrance candle – I’m part of a young widows group here in my city. Our leader gifted each one of us a special candle to light and remember our husbands. We light a candle at Christmas and on key anniversaries to be reminded of the light my husband brought to our family and community. Here’s a whimsical version I loved.
  8. Books about grief and hope – After my husband’s death, I was hungry to read encouraging words. I longed for answers to some of my questions about suffering and heaven. There are many books on the market that reach out to the grieving. My top 5 include: Why? by Anne Graham Lotz; A Grace Disguised by Jerry Sittser; Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering by Timothy Keller; Finding Faith in the Dark by Laurie Short; Heaven by Randy Alcorn
  9. Personalized jewelry – I recently heard about these pieces of jewelry that takes a person’s actual handwriting and makes it into a unique bracelet or necklace. I loved this idea, especially for remembering people like my grandma who always wrote beautiful cards to our family. Check out this example of personalized handwriting jewelry.
  10. Memberships – One of the most thoughtful gifts we received was a membership to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. My daughters were 2, 5 and 8 when their dad died. All three of them love sea creatures. This gift gave us the opportunity to make new memories together. For someone who has children, you might consider a membership to a local zoo, trampoline place, ice skating rink, museum, etc. Adults might enjoy a pass to a ski resort, botanical garden or art class.

I hope this list will provide some specific ideas for gifts as well as spark your creativity in ways to bless someone after loss. What are some unique gifts you might suggest?

***Would you like a copy of my FREE resource for “Grieving with Kids“? I’m passionate about meeting people in their grief and sharing a message of hope and glory. Let’s connect!

**The above article includes Amazon and Dayspring affiliate links. If you purchase through these links, the author does gain a small percentage at no additional cost to the buyer, which helps maintain this blog.

*Featured photo courtesy of Unsplash.


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. 

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)

Italian Easter Bread: Anticipating the resurrection

Posted by | cooking, death, family life, kids, Recipes | No Comments

When I was a little girl, I used to love to go to my Grandma Sara’s house for Easter. When you walked in her kitchen anytime during Holy Week, you were greeted by the intoxicating aroma of fresh bread. Grandma would make a little braided loaf for each of us kids.

Yep, that’s right. A personal loaf for each of us. The best part was I didn’t have to share with my little brother.

I can still remember sinking my teeth into that sweet, billowy bread. It was one of the few times we were allowed dessert before dinner. Of course, Easter bread really wasn’t dessert, but it sure tasted like it when it was warmed and slathered with butter. (Excuse me, while I wipe away this drool.)

Making bread by hand requires patience through the process. There’s the mixing of the ingredients, the adding of the yeast, the proofing the yeast, the kneading, the rising and sometimes rising again, and finally the baking. Each step of the process is unique, depending on the kind of bread you are making.

I have been reflecting a lot on this verse in John 6:35 where Jesus talks about how He nourishes us:

Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” Jesus feeds us physically, spiritually and emotionally. I have been challenged in this season to really look to Him for provision in my life instead of striving and depending on my own efforts. Those always fall short.

Just a few years ago, I found my Italian grandma’s recipe for Easter bread. I decided to try to make it on my own. The loaf multiplied. It almost tripled in size during the rising process. I was reminded that Grandma didn’t make anything in small quantities.

My mom and I put our heads together and realized that this recipe was probably the one she used for the loaves for all the grandkids plus a few big loaves for Sunday supper. Grandma’s food always multiplied to feed many. I can imagine her in Heaven today kneading loaves of bread and mixing up Italian sauces for a host of friends and angels.

Italian Easter Bread Recipe

Ingredients:

-9 1/2 cups bread flour

-5 eggs, beaten

-1 tablespoon sea salt

-1 1/2 cup sugar

-1/2 cup butter, melted

-1 1/2 cups whole milk, warm

-1 teaspoon vanilla

-2 tablespoons + 3/4 teaspoon yeast

-3/4 cup water

Directions:

  1. Heat milk in a small saucepan over medium heat.
  2. Transfer milk to a measuring cup; stir in 1 tablespoon sugar.
  3. Sprinkle yeast over milk and whisk to blend. Let sit until yeast is foamy, about 5 minutes.
  4. Add eggs; whisk until smooth.
  5. Combine remaining sugar, flour, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook.
  6. Add milk mixture and vanilla. With mixer running, add room-temperature butter. (Reserve some for brushing over the bread at the end.)
  7. Add 3/4 water as dough and begin mixing for 1 minute until dough comes together.
  8. Knead on medium-high speed until dough is silky, about 5 minutes.
  9. Brush a medium bowl with some melted butter; place dough in bowl. Brush top of dough with remaining melted butter; cover with plastic wrap.
  10. Let dough rise in a warm, draft-free area until doubled in size, 1–1 1/2 hours (or 2–2 1/2 hours if dough has been refrigerated).
  11. Divide into four balls of dough. Then divide each ball into three sections and roll gently into thin logs.
  12. Pinch three logs together at one end and braid. Tuck ends under loaf. Let rest for 30 min.
  13. Bake at 375 degrees for approximately 20 minutes or until golden brown.

How to Nourish Your Soul with God’s Word Hidden in Your Heart

Posted by | courage, death, fear, flourishing, Guest blogger, Stories, struggle | 4 Comments

Photo by Alina Dub // www.freshbreadandflowers.com

During my husband’s cancer journey, we spent a lot of time driving to appointments, sitting in doctors’ offices and hospital rooms. We often found ourselves waiting. In the waiting, fear creeps in if you leave the door to your heart ajar. I decided early on that I needed a battle plan to fight fear in those moments. I needed courage, and so did my husband.

I remembered a practice one of my mentors taught me years earlier. Michelle would buy me these spiral-bound 3×5 index cards. She encouraged me to use the notebook to write out verses that spoke to my heart. If I happened upon a meaningful verse in our Bible study or at church in a sermon, I would write it down.

The practice of writing out the scriptures helped root them deep in my heart. A recent study affirms that students who handwrite out their notes tend to remember them better. There’s something that happens in the brain when we are writing by hand that is different from typing. It’s a slower process, and it sticks. I believe the same applies to scripture. I know I am more likely to remember a scripture if I take time to write it out.

 

Photo by Victoria Bilsborough on Unsplash

Michelle taught me to carry around those notebooks in my purse or diaper bag so they were easily accessible. I would pull them out when I was waiting in line or nursing the baby or when a friend needed a word of encouragement. I would use these little snatches of time to meditate on the words and sometimes even to memorize them.

The day we met with the surgeon who told us the large tumor near my husband’s hip was inoperable I pulled out my scripture notebook. With trembling hands and heart, I read the words to Romans 5:3-5 and John 16:33 and Isaiah 41:10 aloud to my husband. Our future was uncertain, but our spirits were somehow fortified.

That winter, after my husband soared to Heaven, I started a new notebook. I filled the cards with verse upon verse about my God who comforts, who is strong when I am weak, who is my Maker and my Husband. Through the years, that simple practice stuck with me. I still make scripture notebooks for each new season of life. I dig through the Bible for just the right verses. It’s kind of a treasure hunt.

This is a special guest post I wrote for my friend Janette McLaughlin’s blog. Hop over here for the rest of the story.

Book Review: Breaking the Fear Cycle

Posted by | book reviews, courage, death, fear, grief, Uncategorized | No Comments

A few weeks ago my middle daughter got sick. It’s winter and flu season so that was probably not surprising. Her fever raged on for a few days. I was slated to leave for a two-day conference that Thursday. My prayer was that she would rally and get better before I left.

I’m sure every mama hates to see her child sick, but this scenario holds extra weight for me because it is a trigger for one of my worst fears. In 2014, my husband received a stage four cancer diagnosis. I watched as his body quickly deteriorated in a few short months. We buried him three and a half months after his diagnosis.

After my husband’s death, I have often battled fears that something might happen to my kids. On the night before I was to leave for the conference, I held my little girl’s hand. All color drained from her face. She was lethargic. She did not appear to be getting better. Hot tears stung in my eyes as I started imagining my worst fears coming true.

Despite the fact that I would only be a 5-hour drive away and my daughter was in good hands with her new daddy and my mom by her side, fear started doing its ugly work in my head. I wept and prayed. Then I remembered Maria Furlough’s Breaking the Fear Cycle: How to Find Peace For Your Anxious Heart sitting on my night stand. I threw it in my bag.

On my trip, I started to read this book about how to find peace when we feel anxious. Maria’s words spoke right into my heart, meeting me in that battle with fear. What I love about Maria’s book is that it is a mix of honest storytelling and Biblical truth. She lived through her worst fear and provides raw, beautiful tools to help the rest of us navigate our journeys with faith.

I especially value the reflection questions at the end of each chapter. These thoughtful questions are perfect for journaling or discussing with a trusted friend or group. I wholeheartedly agree with Maria’s claim that we need to fight fear head on and call out our worst fears in order to overcome them with God’s help.

She writes, “Once we gaze upon our fears with honest indignation, we can see that, yes, God is bigger than even the worst thing we can imagine.”

The chapter that made the biggest impact on me was “Chapter 5: Wrestling Matches with God.” I resonated deeply with Maria’s wrestling with God. She walks us through her doubts, questioning and process of wrestling. She doesn’t sugarcoat her journey.

With my husband’s diagnosis and death, I wrestled too. Although my faith was strong, my fears reared their ugly heads all of the time. Initially, I wrestled with God about the idea that my healthy, fit man could have cancer. I wrestled with God about taking away my rock and partner in ministry. I wrestled with God about the grief my young children would have to endure. I wrestled with God about healing. I wrestled with God about what would truly bring Him glory.

“I fought him tooth and nail, but it was in the fighting that true surrender came,” writes Maria in her book. “God doesn’t want our passive faith. He wants our active faith. Our very much honest and true fighting faith.”

Maria highlights other wrestlers in the Bible. She unfolds the stories of David, Job and Jacob and shows how they wrestled with God. I know that it was in the wrestling and in the fighting that my own faith also became more rooted. God proved Himself faithful again and again. He showed me that He is bigger than my fears.

If you are battling fear of any kind today, I highly recommend Breaking the Fear Cycle. It’s a quick read with practical and personal applications for everyone.

 

**I would love to communicate with and encourage you more regularly! Join 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.

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.

This article gives practical ideas for soul care and self-care for widows and others grieving. Resource links included. www.DorinaGilmore.com.

10 Ideas for self-care for widows and others grieving

Posted by | brave, creativity, death, flourishing, grief, hope, identity, rest, running, self-care, Stories, worship, writing | No Comments

After my husband died, I realized I desperately needed to take some time to nourish myself and my three daughters. From the day he received the initial stage four cancer diagnosis to the day he graduated to Heaven, we lived in crisis mode.

During those months, I slept very little. I cared for my beloved around the clock as the cancer coursed through his body. He needed medicine and special foods every hour. I traveled with him to countless doctor appointments. In his final weeks, he needed help with basic hygiene and trips to the bathroom.

When friends and family members came to relieve me in taking care of him, I could never really rest because I was so fraught with anxiety. I experienced anticipatory grief. I couldn’t keep down much of my own food, and it showed in the amount of weight I lost that summer. I was withering.

I had to learn how to take care of myself again. I realized how malnourished I was physically, emotionally and spiritually. As a caretaker, I poured out everything. I needed to eat literally, but more than that, I needed to lean into my relationship with God and the nourishment of my community.

The following is a list of ideas for self-care and soul care that have helped me over the last few years. These suggestions are not meant to be prescriptive. I hope instead they will provide encouragement and inspiration for you as you navigate your own grief journey. If you know someone who is grieving, these are areas you can encourage them. For widow mamas, the greatest gift can often be providing loving care for her children so she can take a little time to care for herself.

When we are navigating grief, I believe we need to start by nurturing our souls. A key part of my journey has been rooting myself continually in Christ. I call these practices “soul care.” Through “soul care,” God has helped me learn to flourish and move forward after such profound loss.

My first five suggestions are ideas to connect with God in a personal way:

  1. Listen to worship music. On my darkest days of grief, worship music lifted me. I even developed a worship playlist on Spotify that helped me turn my eyes to Jesus. I listened to it when I was doing the dishes and folding clothes. Now I press play on this list every morning to get my heart pointed in the right direction. I recently read an article that talked about the neuroscience behind listening to music. The article said a single song can reduce anxiety up to 65 percent. Music has the power to calm our nervous system.
  1. Write in a prayer journal. When my husband was first diagnosed with cancer, a dear friend came over with a wrapped gift. Inside was a journal with the words, “Dear God, Guide me in prayer.” The scriptures on the pages helped guide me each morning as I poured out my heart to God. I wrote freely without a lot of pressure. I journaled my questions, my doubts, my fears and even a running list of gratitude. I’m grateful for this prayer journal now four years later. It provides a path to remember and trace God’s glory along my grief journey.

 

  1. Read a devotional to start your day with truth. Many days I started exhausted. As a single mama of three children, I sometimes struggled to begin a new day without my husband. I decided to read a devotional each morning to help replace my discouragement with Biblical truth. A few of my favorites include: Streams in the Desert by L.B. Cowman, One Thousand Gifts devotional by Ann Voskamp and A Spectacle of Glory by Joni Eareckson Tada. Sometimes I would journal my responses to the devotionals I read.
  1. Develop a scripture notebook. A mentor of mine encouraged me years ago to create a scripture notebook for each new season of life. This is as simple as heading to your local dollar store and buying a small notebook. (I like the ones that are spiral-bound notecards.) Then begin writing down Bible verses that contain words to remember in your present season. I found meaningful scriptures that provided hope, courage, faith and comfort for my journey. I read these scriptures and worked to memorize them when I felt weak or alone.

 

  1. Get out into God’s Creation. God meets me in nature. A walk in the park, a day at the ocean, a hike in the mountains, the petals of a perennial freesia pushing through the hard earth, a pine tree pointing toward the heavens – all of these remind me that God is in control and He is in the business of bringing beauty from ashes. My girls are used to me pulling over to the side of the road whenever God starts painting the sky at sunset. There is something about this spectacular color show each night that brings me a profound sense of wonder and comfort.

These next five ideas are more practical ways to nourish your body and mind:

  1. Drink more water. Tears are a natural part of the grief journey. I cried a lot after my husband died. It was also important to me to grieve and lament through tears with my children. One article notes that excessive amounts of stress hormone and cortisol are produced in grief and crying. This makes it difficult to sleep and concentrate. Drinking more water can help flush away the toxins and replenish us when we feel like we are in a fog.
  1. Give yourself permission to nap. I had a difficult time sleeping at night, especially right after my husband’s death. I felt his absence the most when I was climbing into bed alone. I was often filled with anxiety about being the only adult in the house to protect my children. I learned over time how important it was to give myself permission to nap. The National Sleep foundation says even 20-30-minute naps can improve mood, alertness and performance. It was difficult at first, but over time I learned to relax for short amounts of time, and it helped me feel less exhausted by my grief.
  1. Exercise regularly. Exercise benefits the brain by increasing blood flow and helping a person focus. Grief often leads us to headaches, fatigue, insomnia, sickness, loss of appetite and other physical symptoms. Researchers say regular exercise can help relieve many of these physical symptoms. You might consider joining a gym or a running group or a local yoga studio to make exercise part of your self-care rhythm. That first year I signed up to run a half marathon with friends.
  1. Discover a new hobby. Trying out new activities during a grief process can also be therapeutic. I have one widow friend who started playing hockey. Another found joy in hiking. Another started painting. Another went back to school. After my husband’s death, I joined a group of mama friends who like to trail run. The combination of being out in nature and taking on a trail with lots of varied terrain provided an important outlet. I find that running is therapeutic for me. I have time to process my grief apart from my children while running.
  1. Schedule quality time with friends. Perhaps one of the biggest challenges after my husband’s death was fighting feelings of loneliness. I am grateful for a handful of friends who stepped into the awkwardness and spent time with me while I was grieving. I encourage you to plan regular outings with friends you trust. A coffee date, dinner out or a movie can serve as a good space to help process grief with others. It was always worth the extra effort to find a babysitter for my kids.

I have found over the last four years that returning to this list of soul care and self-care practices has helped me steer clear of some of the unhealthy habits that often emerge during grief. It’s easy as widows and mothers to put our own needs as secondary to our family’s needs. We have to be intentional to carve out time to restore our souls, bodies and minds.

I am often comforted by Jesus’ example of taking time to weep with his grieving friends and resting in the Father’s arms. His words in Matthew 11:28 took on new meaning for me on the grief journey. He says, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” These words continue to remind me that I am not meant to carry this grief alone.

This list is certainly not exhaustive. I would love to hear from you in the comments. What are some of the soul care and self-care practices that have helped you on your grief journey? 

Part of this essay was taken from Flourishing Together, a 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:

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This article gives practical ideas for soul care and self-care for widows and others grieving. Resource links included. www.DorinaGilmore.com.

*The above article does include Amazon affiliate links. If you purchase through these links, the author does gain a small percentage at no additional cost the buyer. Thank you for supporting the costs of www.DorinaGilmore.com in this way.

{A blog series} All Things New: Finding a path out of darkness and loss

Posted by | brave, death, flourishing, grief, Guest blogger, hope, Stories | 5 Comments

The following is a guest post by Mary Hill as part of a blog series called “All Things New: Learning to Flourish After Loss.”  Mary writes about the loss of her dad at a pivotal time in her young life and how she found light after that dark season.

My mom’s small home seemed so quiet that day.

I received a phone call from my aunt at work.  “Your dad died this afternoon of a heart attack. You need to go to your mom.”

All I could think when I heard the news, “Why? We had such great plans for the summer. What about our plans to take day trips together this summer? I just moved back home. I can’t believe he is gone.”

I dropped to the ground in disbelief and let out a cry, causing my assistant to run into my school library office. Then the principal rushed in to comfort me. She offered to drive me home, but I declined. I wanted to drive alone with my grief. The sun felt too bright on that spring day. I drove in a bubble.

Finally, arriving at my mother’s home, I rushed in, “Mom.” The paramedics finished with their collection of my dad’s body on a stretcher. I found only a minute to tell my dad good-bye. They left with him. I found my mom on the floor near the bathroom. Her face empty and filled with despair.

I hugged her and lifted her up.

“He’s gone,” she cried.

It seems like just yesterday.  I had just moved home in January 1999 after graduate school and a 10-year absence from my home town.  My dad died in late May 1999.

“Why did God take him from me so early? He was only 55,” I remember crying.

My mother sat on the couch sobbing. My brother rushed in and then went out into the yard and collapsed in his own grief.

I walked around our home and found my dad’s Bibles. He owned several versions. I picked up his Amplified Bible from off the living room table beside his recliner where he often studied and found it open to 2 Corinthians 5:1-5:

“For we know that if the earthly tent [our physical body] which is our house is torn down [through death], we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our [immortal, eternal] celestial dwelling, so that by putting it on we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened [often weighed down, oppressed], not that we want to be unclothed [separated by death from the body], but to be clothed, so that what is mortal [the body] will be swallowed up by life [after the resurrection]. Now He who has made us and prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave us the [Holy] Spirit as a pledge [a guarantee, a down payment on the fulfillment of His promise].”

Then I found my dad’s other bibles, including the King James Bible, on his bedside table also opened to the same scripture. I showed my mom the Bibles.

“He knew. He was going home,” I told my mom with amazement.

Three days later at my father’s funeral, the preacher proclaimed, “Earl preached his own funeral sermon the day he died.” He shared the story of the Bibles left open to 2 Corinthians 5.

“Earl was always early. He often arrived at church an hour before even the service started to pray. At 55, he left early to be with his Savior in Heaven,” I remember the preacher saying.

His early departure brought even greater grief because the dream of a better relationship with my father also died with him.  Mistakes I made as a young adult created a relational rift with my dad that we were trying to restore before he died.

My dad also suffered from depression and manic episodes throughout his life. He finally found a medication that made him stable and calmer. He was making such great strides that year, and his new calmness created a closeness with him that I never felt before. Then God took him home.

My life seemed like a desert during the next two years after my father’s death. I also lost a husband during this period. I decided to leave him because of violent abuse that I feared would never end until he killed me.  In less than a year and a half, I lost my father and signed divorce papers. Darkness and grief were my friends then.

Today, I look back at those times in somber awe. I endured such a time of loss, but God brought me through to the other side, stronger and closer to Him than I could ever imagine.  Nancy Ortberg writes in her book Seeing in the Dark:

“Dark times can provide hope to other people. We all go through times in our lives that hurt and bring darkness.  In these times, Jesus gives us just the right amount of light that we can handle. It is a light that leads us to Him. We survive and the dawn comes. Then we take the light He has given us and watch for others who need light and help. We can pass it on using the gifts and talents He has bestowed upon us.”

My life now is filled with hope and new light. I have a daughter, who started high school just this past fall, and a wonderful husband, who loves the Lord.  Indeed, God brought me through the wilderness and provided a new thing for me.

As Isaiah 43:19 says, “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth; do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”

Mary Hill blogs at Maryandering Creatively where she shares her poetry, photography and creative nonfiction. She is a stay-at-home disabled mom who loves to write about her testimony of God’s continued working her life.  You can also connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram.

 

 

Featured photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

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

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

All Things New: My New Normal” – a guest post by Danell teNyenhuis about finding a new life with her daughters after her husband’s tragic death

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

All Things New: Letting Dreams Die, Cultivating New Ones” – an essay about the hard work I had to do in my heart after my husband’s death to dream again

All Things New: Learning to Breathe Again” – a guest post by Tara Dickson about how she learned to breathe again and lift her eyes to Jesus after the death of her husband.

All Things New: Finding the Courage to Love Again” – an essay about how God graciously brought new love into my life and a new daddy for my girls after the death of my husband to cancer.

 

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

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*full-color version