Chasing God's glory down unexpected paths

death

The dance of grief and glory through the holidays

Posted by | abundance, behold, christmas, courage, death, gifts, grief, hope, Incourage essays, kids, laughter, Stories, transitions, Uncategorized | No Comments

I still remember our first Thanksgiving after my husband Ericlee died. My family tried to hold it together. We tried to stay the course with certain traditions, but it was clear everything was off-kilter.

He wasn’t there to run the Turkey Trot. He wasn’t wearing his silly apron in the kitchen, helping me chop the butternut squash for the soup. He wasn’t there to say the Thanksgiving blessing-prayer. We tried to make conversation around the table, but it felt strained, awkward, even empty without his presence.

Looking back, I wish I spoke up when things felt wonky. My heart was heavy, but I couldn’t push to find the words to articulate it. As a newly-single mama, I was cracking inside for my three girls who were without their gregarious daddy. I saw my family stumbling through the holidays as our gatherings lacked his leadership, but I knew I could never fill his shoes.

Now I know it takes time for a family to recalibrate when someone dies.

We need to blanket ourselves and others with grace. We need to make space for the emotions and the grief. We need to give ourselves permission to throw out or reinvent some of the traditions for the sake of our souls.

Since Ericlee soared to Heaven, I’ve learned to carve out intentional time to cherish his memory with my girls. That first Christmas without him, we ended up re-imagining some of our traditions. Ericlee would always wear a Santa hat while we decorated the house. Now my new husband Shawn or one of my daughters dons Daddy’s hat.

When we decorate our tree, we take time to linger over the ornaments and share stories about him as we hang each one. It’s not the loud, festive tradition we once had with Christmas carols blaring in the background and Daddy’s blazing voice, but it’s our own way of including his memory in our season.

I know many of you may be tiptoeing into this holiday season feeling raw and vulnerable. That miscarriage you experienced a few months ago, that recent cancer diagnosis, that child estranged from your family, the death of your spouse or grandparent, the unspeakable injustices raging in our world – all these griefs weigh heavy on your hearts.

This is not the time to plaster on a cheery face, to go through the motions and shut down our emotions.

This is the not time to turn away from our grief; it’s time to draw close and offer the present of our presence to each other.

This is the time to muster up the courage to sit together, to weep with each other, to listen to each other’s stories, to rejoice in the new beginnings, and the unexpected gifts. Friends, let’s vow to lean in together, to embody Immanuel for one another.

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
    and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).

Matthew 1:23 (ESV)

This next week you may be throwing a football in the front yard, or sitting down at the table with family to carve up a turkey, or to feast on Grandma’s famous pumpkin pie. Our family will celebrate our fifth Thanksgiving with my beloved in Heaven. We are deeply grateful for all the things God has redeemed. I can honestly say that joy tips the scale more often, outweighing the sadness in our home. That’s the truth.

What’s also true is that sometimes the tears still spill over, the memories overwhelm, and grief sashays into the room when we least expect. And that’s OK too. We are ready in our hearts for this wild dance. I am starting to believe this dance is the way to embrace the holidays. I could sit on the sidelines and fake it, or I can jump into the dance whirling with joy and pain, memories and merriment.

Friend, It’s normal for the holidays to hold both a tinge of grief and a taste of glory.

Like in the birthing process, pain often precedes the joy. Mary endured painful contractions so that the Messiah Jesus might enter the world. The baby wrapped in swaddling clothes was wrapped in the paradox of death and life from the very beginning of the story.  God knew He was sending His son to earth as a baby born to die so we all might live.

Jesus said,

I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

John 10:10 (ESV)

To fully discover the abundant life Jesus gifted us, we have to embrace the pain with the joy, the bitter with the sweet, the grief with the glory. He continues to show me His glory shines in every dark corner, in every cold stable, in every rough manger.

*Dorina has written and recorded a free Advent devotional about discovering the abundance of Jesus in the Christmas season. Sign up for her Glorygram here and a free copy will be delivered to you weekly during December.

6 Ways to Find God’s Peace Difficult Circumstances

Posted by | courage, death, fear, flourishing, grief, hope, inspirational, rest, Stories, struggle, Uncategorized | No Comments

Ever since I was a little girl, I have loved the hymn “It Is Well.” There was something about those lyrics that brought a sense of peace whenever I sang them: “When peace like a river, attendeth my way… It is well, it is well, with my soul.”

Horatio G. Spafford, the man who penned that hymn, experienced profound tragedy with the death of his son to sickness, the loss of most of his real estate investments in the Great Chicago Fire, and then later the news that all four of his daughters had perished at sea in a ship wreck.

How did Horatio find peace in the face of so much tragedy?

He was rooted in his faith and he understood peace in his soul.

I only began to understand this in the midst of my own tragedy in 2014 when my husband was diagnosed with stage four cancer at age 40. Though we were often gripped with fear and uncertainty, God continued to give us surprising peace in the midst of our storm.

Peace is certainly not a formula or a 5-step process, but here are some specific ways we found peace in our situation:

Start by defining peace.

We often think of the word peace as the absence of fighting and chaos. Jesus gave peace as a gift to us in the midst of turbulent situations. His definition of peace was different from world peace. He cared most deeply about peace in our hearts.

Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Don’t let your heart be troubled or fearful.” John 14:27 CSB

In this chapter, Jesus was talking about the gift of the Holy Spirit. He explained that He would be going away to heaven, but he was leaving the Holy Spirit to personally guide and give us peace.

 

Separate lies from the truth.

When we are facing trials, we often let our minds wander to the worst-case scenario. We entertain our fears and let them rule our hearts. The Psalmist warns us:

Turn away from evil and do what is good; seek peace and pursue it. Psalm 34:14 CSB

We actually have to pivot from the lies of the enemy and bask in God’s truth. We have to intentionally seek peace by separating lies from the truth. For example, when my husband was diagnosed with cancer, I was fraught with fear. I feared being alone and raising my girls without my partner. Yet, all throughout scripture God promises to be with me and to never leave me alone. I had to cling to that truth and turn away from my fears.  

 

Surrender control to the One who controls it all.

Oftentimes we do not feel peace because we are trying too hard to control a situation. I learned this in my husband’s cancer journey. I believed if we chose just the right treatment it would save him. The reality is we are never in control. The peace only came when I was able to surrender control to God and trust Him for the outcome.

This verse reminds me that God’s peace surpasses understanding and control of all the details:

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:7 CSB

 

Meditate on scripture to encourage your heart.

One practical way I learned to find peace is by writing out and reciting scripture. A mentor of mine encouraged me years ago to develop a scripture notebook. In each season, I write out verses that encourage and bring me hope.

When I focus my mind on the truth in scripture, I do not have space for stress and worry. This proved helpful in doctor appointments and during the hardest days of my husband’s cancer journey.

 

Listen to worship music.

Music is another way to fix our minds on God’s truth and to calm our fears. I love the story in 1 Samuel 16 when David played the lyre for Saul who was being attacked by a harmful spirit. The music calmed and refreshed him.

I like to create worship playlists on Spotify to help me through different seasons. When the chaos is swirling or I am fraught with worry, music helps me fix my mind on the truth and calms my soul like Saul. It’s difficult to worry and worship at the same time.

 

Discover His glory through Creation.

God frequently brings me peace through nature. The petals of a perennial freesia pushing through hard earth, ocean waves crashing, 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 daughters 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 that brings me a profound sense of comfort and peace.

 

Friend, remember you are not alone. We all face unexpected trials. God promises to offer peace and comfort if we continually seek Him.

Write out the following scripture and pray for peace in your present situation:

Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all. 2 Thessalonians 3:16 ESV

{The original version of this article was published at www.Dayspring.com.}

Running for His glory: 4 ways a half marathon transformed my prayer life

Posted by | death, Guest blogger, prayer, running, Stories, Uncategorized | No Comments

This essay is part of our summer series called “Running for His glory,” focusing on the intersection between running and faith. Heather is a new friend I met through the Hopewriters online writing community. Heather shares how running has transformed her prayer life and gives some practical ideas on how we can incorporate prayer and scripture in our runs as well. 

 

By Heather Lobe

I laced up my sneakers and packed all of the essentials for my longest training run yet – 11 miles. Breathing in deep through my nose, I pushed off against the greenway path and steadied my pace. Mile by mile, I prayed for the individuals whose names were in my pocket on a 3×5 note card.

With the rhythm of my feet on the pavement, and the sound of the rushing water with the river next to me, I entered into a time of communion with God. The rest of my week was packed full and overflowing, loud and chaotic, but in those long runs it was just the Lord and me. This was a chance to clear my mind and embrace the beauty of the open sky above.

When my lungs or legs grew tired, I flipped my index card over to remind myself of that day’s meditation. For that run, I prayed through Isaiah 40:30-31:

“Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

I wasn’t always a runner. In fact, there are distinct memories burned into my mind of timed tests during physical education classes in school. We were supposed to run laps on the track, and I just remember feeling so bored from the repetition of the flat red track. I had trouble running a full lap without stopping, so I often just used my long legs to power-walk as fast as I could around the track. Whenever I passed the gym teacher, I worked my way up to a jog for as long as I could endure.

In 2014, I entered a season that opened up time and space for me to address some areas that I had been neglecting for years. As I took stock of my mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical health, I realized that I needed to do a better job of taking care of myself. I entered into a time of counseling, joined a support group, and decided to nourish my body with healthier eating and exercise.

In that period of finding myself again, I decided to become a runner.

When I first started out, I was discouraged that I couldn’t even finish a mile. I pushed too hard. I tried to run too fast. It was too much too soon.

I learned to embrace the process and just start small. Run 3 minutes, walk 2. Run 4 minutes, walk 1. Run 5… see if you can keep going. It took a month, but I finally was able to run a mile without stopping. It seems like such a small accomplishment, but it represented the beginning of a journey for me.

Eventually, I signed up for 5k races and regularly ran 3 miles at a time. In 2016, I signed up to run a half marathon in the mountainous college town where I work. During that training time, I decided to press in to the quiet. I started to pray as I ran. This opened up a completely new way of approaching those training runs and the long stretches of time dedicated to race preparation.

God revealed some amazing lessons about communicating with Him through my half marathon training:

Prayer is not a stagnant thing. I am missing out if I believe prayer requires me to kneel beside my bed or talk to God when I am in the pew at church. God invites us into regular conversation with Him and wants to be part of every ounce of our day. He invites us to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). We can pray while we drive, walk, parent our children, sit at our desks, cook dinner, or sit with hurting friends. We can offer up our requests and listen for His voice even in the busyness of our weekly routine or in the rhythm of a training run.

Scripture is a powerful prayer tool. Over the course of my training, I wrote various words from Scripture onto a 3×5 notecard that I could carry in my pocket. Some were verses that gave me strength or courage to keep pressing into my run, and others were calming truths I needed during that hard season. When I don’t have the words, I can use words that God gave us to return to Him as a plea, a meditation, or an offering.

We are called to pray for others. For most of my life, I think my prayers sounded more like, “Dear Heavenly Father, Gimme, gimme, gimme.” During my long runs, a friend suggested that I pray for a different person each mile. On the back of the notecard with my verse for the day, I also wrote a name next to each mile I was planning to run.

Something transformative happens in our hearts when we repeatedly pray for others in our lives. It takes our eyes off our own problems, and joins us as partners in prayer with others who also have needs. My notecard even contained a few names of people I really didn’t want to pray for who caused hurt or who I was having a hard time forgiving. I focused on asking God to bless those people and to soften my heart towards them. He was and is faithful in answering those prayers.

Take it one step at a time. Training to run a half marathon (13.1 miles) happens one step at a time. I cannot jump past all of the hard stuff in my life to get to the finish line. As I worked through sore muscles, shin splints, tired lungs, and adjustments to my protein and caloric intake, I grew in my capacity to listen to my body and learned how to move forward in my training – one run at a time.

That same season was filled with many questions about the future and how to move forward, but God taught me to trust Him to lead, one step at a time. I prayed for His wisdom to show me the next right thing, and He used my training to remind me to slow down my tendency to run ahead and just listen to Him.

 

Heather Lobe is a grateful believer in Jesus Christ who has seen firsthand how God redeems broken lives and heals our deepest wounds. Heather is a writer, speaker, and worship leader with a heart for others to know Jesus. Active in her local community and the Celebrate Recovery ministry, Heather’s heart is for women to know that they are known, loved, and healed in relationship with Christ. She delights in making gratitude lists, finding good local coffee, and running and hiking the mountains of Roanoke, Virginia where she lives with her husband and son. You can find more of Heather’s writing at www.heatherlobe.com, and she’d love to connect with you on Instagram.

*Are you a runner or enthusiastic walker? Dorina and her husband Shawn recently started the Glory Chasers running group on Facebook. They offer up courage, coaching, and community for Christian runners. If you’re a runner or know one, join us!

Read more articles in the “Running for His glory” series:

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

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

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

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

-In “Discovering running as soul care,” Erin Reibel talks about how she grew into loving running as a busy mama. She consider it an important soul care practice.

-In “How I started running for all the wrong reasons,” Gloryanna Boge shares about how she started out running for all the wrong reasons, but God redeemed it for her.

-In “Run the hill,” Mark W. Jackson unfolds how running hills has helped him learn perseverance through life’s trials.

-In “Finding God’s sanctuary on the trail,” Allison Tucker shares about how God meets her on the trail. I love that she is a grandma who still ventures out into God’s sanctuary in Creation!

-In “Learning to breathe at higher altitudes,” Dorina Gilmore talks about how God breathes life into us, and we live on borrowed breaths as we run life’s path today.

-In “How one mother trusts God’s timing,” Lindsey Zarob shares about how pregnancies took a toll on her body. She had to press the pause button on running for a season, but God brought it back around for her in a new place and new way.

-In “When you feel like running away,” Shannon Rattai writes about how running has become a kind of therapy for her where she can release her burdens and anxiety to God.

-In “How running taught me to stay,”  Jennie G. Scott writes about how running has helped her to stay the course God has set out for her in this life.

 

Main photo by William Farlow on Unsplash

Providing a sense of home for widows in Haiti

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Redeeming Ruth: The Father’s Heart for the vulnerable

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

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

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

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

Check out the full video of the message here!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 


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

Remembering Grandma Cora: Cooking Up a Legacy in the Kitchen

Posted by | cooking, courage, creativity, culture, death, family life, finishing well, flourishing, food stories, grief, hope, identity, individuality, inspirational, laughter, passion, relationships, Stories, Uncategorized, world travel | No Comments

The second you walked into my Grandma Cora’s house you could smell the fragrance of onions, ginger, and garlic sautéing. She would swirl pancit noodles in her big pot and you could hear the music of the carrots and celery dancing as she added a splash of soy sauce.y

No matter what time of day – morning, noon, or night – Grandma always had something going in the kitchen.

Sometimes she would invite me to the table to roll Filipino lumpia with the aunties. We would scoop little portions of filling onto the egg roll wrappers. Tuck-flip-flip-roll. Tuck-flip-flip-roll.

Their fingers would fly, and I would try to keep up. I loved to listen to their stories of growing up in Hawaii and later raising their kids together in the Bay Area.

Grandma had a rice vending machine at her house. She would send me with a little bowl and tell me to press the button for one, two, or three cups of rice. Then she’d pull out the stool so I could climb up and dump it into the rice cooker. She’d measure the water using the first line on her index finger. Grandma made me sweet rice balls for snacks and twice-boiled rice when I was sick.

Somehow Grandma could make some rice and a package of chicken legs stretch to feed a multitude. There were always cousins, neighbors, and strangers showing up at the table like hungry baby birds eager for Grandma’s cooking.

Her hospitality was paramount.

Her family, including six kids, immigrated from the Philippines to the Hawaiian islands when she was a girl. Their Filipino culture blended in with the locals. They embodied the Hawaiian spirit of aloha that extended welcoming arms to all. They had a way of making strangers into family.

My grandma was also creative. When she wasn’t making art in the kitchen, you could find her crafting, sewing, or singing. She took up oil painting in her late fifties, and every inch of her home was covered in framed canvases. Her greatest delight was in painting fuchsia-colored hibiscus flowers and crashing ocean waves.

When I was a young teen, she encouraged me to pursue my creative interests. She would jump on a plane and fly across the country to see me perform in a piano or dance recital or to cheer on my brother at the theater. Her courage to try new things encouraged me as young person.

Grandma had a deep sense of adventure and loved to travel. She worked for thirty years for United Airlines so she could enjoy the privileges of exploring the world with reduced-cost airline tickets. She and my grandpa took trips to places like Australia, Italy, England, France, Spain, China, and the Philippines. She loved to eat food with the locals and make new friends.

During my senior year of college, my vivacious grandma had a sudden heart attack and went into a coma. I flew to California to be by her side in those days of quiet waiting. Despite the machines and the tubes, she was the picture of peace. I didn’t want to believe it at the time, but she was ready to meet her Savior.

We held her wrinkled artist hands and sang hymns and her favorite hula songs to her. She couldn’t speak, but she squeezed my hand whenever I would sing. I knew she heard me.

Those music notes were the last exchange of the heart we had.

I hope one day that people will reflect on my life and they will recognize these gifts of generous hospitality, courageous creativity, a sense of adventure, and deep faith. Grandma certainly planted the seeds.

The morning Grandma Cora soared to heaven, my hibiscus plant bloomed on my front porch in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I stepped outside on that brisk May morning of my college graduation, and I knew in my heart she was gone. The earth could not hold her anymore. The Master Gardener had called her home.

Some of you may spend this Mother’s Day without your mamas and grandmas. There are many of us who will taste the bittersweet of this holiday because we will miss them.

I am reminded of Timothy and how Paul attributed to him the legacy of faith passed on by his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice (2 Timothy 1:5). Friends, let’s acknowledge our losses, but let’s also embrace the opportunity to live the legacy of the courageous women who have gone before us.

Aloha, Grandma Cora.

 

*I wrote a children’s picture book called Cora Cooks Pancit that celebrates Filipino cooking, culture, and Grandma’s legacy. You can find details here.

*This blog was originally published at www.incourage.me.

A podcast roundup: My story for His glory

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s a quick roundup of those programs:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Here are five podcasts I listen to regularly:

The Next Right by Emily Freeman

Jesus Led Adventure with Stephanie Bryant

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

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

Typology by Ian Morgan Cron

What are some of your favorite podcasts?

You are not forgotten this Valentine’s Day

Posted by | compassion, courage, death, flourishing, friendship, gifts, hope, identity, Incourage essays, inspirational, sharing faith, Stories, struggle, Uncategorized | No Comments

For some of us, this day brings a slow ache. The fragile edges of that lace doily your kid gave you can feel like shards of glass scraping across your tired heart.

Every grocery store stocked with roses near the checkout, every card boutique with aisles upon aisles of cards and heart-shaped boxes of candy, every commercial for romantic dinner packages, every billboard talking about diamonds being a girl’s best friend, and the window displays of that one lingerie shop in the mall remind us of what we lack. They remind us of who and what we are missing.

Friend, I’m here to deliver this gentle but giant Valentine’s Day card right to your door from the one who calls you Beloved.

Yes, I’m talking to you, my widow sister.

This one is written for you, single friend and single mama.

For you, who wears the word divorcee across your chest like a scarlet letter — you’re included.

This letter is for you, little sister in your college dorm, wondering when your time will come.

I’m reaching out to you, the woman whose husband is deployed or distant or working in that other city today.

The God of the Universe sees you today in your desert place and cares deeply about your story. Just as the angel of the Lord found Hagar by a spring of water in the wilderness, He is coming swiftly today to remind you He is El Roi, the God who sees you.

And He calls you Beloved. That is your name, dear one.

He is your Maker and your Husband. He partners with you. He parents with you. He meets you with wisdom, instruction, and grace. He is your Redeemer, the one who brings you new value each day.

You are His bride dressed in white, walking the winding aisle of this life but anticipating the future wedding feast in eternity.

If you feel lonely tonight, remember Him as your first Lover. He is calling you: “Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away, for behold, the winter is past; the rain is over and gone” (Song of Solomon 2:10-11).

His love is steadfast and dependable. He draws you to His chest, and He delights in you. Let Him calm all your fears and insecurities today. He rejoices over you exactly the way He made you with every curve of your body and tender edge of your face.

Sister, if you are longing for a true BFF, our God is the most faithful of all friends. He’s the one who will sit with you at coffee and listen with His eyes. He’s not distracted by His phone or His to-do list. He is focused on you because He created you. He knows you. He sees you as His masterpiece.

You can feel freedom to confide Him, to present your doubts to Him, and to wrestle through all your questions with Him. He can handle you. You are never too much or not enough for Him. He surrounds you like a shield.

Friend, you are precious to our God. You are a Daughter of the King. He lifts your chin with His gentle, strong hands so you can see glimpses of His glory in each day. Crimson-colored roses and boxes of truffles are nice, but they pale in comparison to the sunset He paints in a kaleidoscope of colors for you each night.

He whispers love for you through those gossamer clouds sashaying across the horizon, through that baby girl you cradle in your arms, through the star-studded night sky.

He leaves the other ninety-nine to go after you. You are the one.

He drives out fear every moment with His love. He laid down His life for you. There’s no more romantic gift than that – a God-man who says you are worth the ultimate sacrifice.

Beloved, be loved today.

*You do not need to travel alone. I send out a weekly note of encouragement with fun recommendations, reads and recipes. Subscribe for my Glorygram here

**This post originally was published at www.incourage.me.

 

 

Introducing the Widow Mama Collective

Posted by | death, family life, finishing well, friendship, grief, hope, parenting, Stories | No Comments

I never wanted to be a part of this club.

I never imagined when I was a bride sailing down the aisle at age 25 that 12 years later I would be living “‘til death do us part.” This wasn’t part of the plan or part of a future I ever imagined. 

I am a widow.

That word widow defines me in some sense as one who has lost a husband. It also reminds me that I have loved and grieved deeply.

I remember the early days of my widow journey when my grief was fresh and the future seemed ominous. I was hungry and grateful to connect with other widows who had been down the path. I looked to them for hope, guidance, and assurance that survival was possible. I didn’t dare dream, but they helped me believe there was a way forward.

Friends like Janine and Patty were golden to me as they grabbed my arm and said, “This way.” They reminded me each grief journey is unique. They recognized and acknowledged my pain. They pointed me back to the God of comfort. I am forever grateful and hope to offer this same support to women.

This week I linked arms with three other widows who are mamas to launch the Widow Mama Collective. This is an online group meeting on Facebook to offer regular support, community and resources to widow mamas. Women can join for free by requesting to join the group and answering a few questions. 

I’ve been praying over this passion project for more than a year now. When I’ve had opportunities to speak for events or write online, I often hear from women who are widowing alone. They have little support and very little contact with other widows. When we share our stories and our experiences with others, community is forged and grief lightened. 

I’m excited to introduce my three widow sisters, Lisa Appelo, Tara Dickson, and Becky McCoy. We all met through an online writing group called Hope*writers. Our heart is to offer support and encouragement to these dear women who are in the trenches. We all live in different parts of the country and have different stories. We are all mamas too, which adds a unique element to journeying through grief. We recorded this live conversation on Facebook. Tune in to learn more about our stories.

?If you know of a widow in the throes of mothering, please send her our way. We have a private group on Facebook called the Widow Mama Collective where she belongs. No one should widow alone. ?

Love after loss: When the end of the book was actually the next chapter

Posted by | abundance, death, family life, grief, hope, kids, parenting, relationships, Stories | 2 Comments

Three years ago today, I floated down the aisle and stepped into the most unexpected glory story. After my beloved husband Ericlee graduated to Heaven in September 2014, I believed my love story was over. Until death do us part. On January 16, 2016, our Author-God handed us a new draft, a new chapter. He invited my three daughters and me into a redeemed story only He could write.

Like the widow Ruth in the Bible, who in her grief found a path to her new husband Boaz, God led me to mine. Shawn was one of Ericlee and my dearest friends. We had many grand adventures with him through the years. He supported our ministry in Haiti. He celebrated with us when our three daughters were born. We prayed faithfully for his future wife. I never ever imagined it would be me.

When I look back over our wedding pictures from that glorious day 3 years ago, joy bubbles up in my spirit. We laughed, we cried, we feasted, we danced, and all the while giving God glory for the surprising beauty He brought from our ashes.

These last 3 years have been full as God has grafted Shawn into our family and woven us all together. I always felt the deepest brokenness about my girls growing up without their daddy, but now they have a new daddy who lives Ericlee’s legacy. He cares for them, provides for them, patiently helps them with homework, and takes them on special Daddy dates. He has adopted them as his own. (Talk about a plot twist for a single guy who never imagined having children!)

The other night I went to dinner with girlfriends. When I came home, I noticed Shawn wasn’t in our room so I tiptoed over to our youngest daughter’s room. Sure enough, he was asleep right next to her – the two holding hands. Don’t get me wrong, our home life isn’t always peaceful and perfect, but that picture of the two of them side by side speaks volumes of the redemption God has brought into our narrative.

My own grief journey did not end the day Shawn and I said “I do.” That’s the funny thing about grief; It isn’t easily brushed aside or replaced by moments of happiness or even deep joy. The grief ebbs and flows, and we must go with it. I’m grateful for a husband who gives me permission to grieve even four years out, who sits quietly and holds me when I cry, who feels the depths of loss because he also lost a dear friend.

I also had to find the courage to love again. It is a deliberate and daily choice. I try not to compare my husbands. Each one is unique, each gifted in his own way. In this new chapter of life, I have to continue learning to be vulnerable, to lay down my selfishness, and embrace what God has given us as a family in this new season.

Recently, Shawn and I got to share our story on the #staymarried podcast. The light bulb moment for me was when Shawn said Ericlee and my marriage was the one he most looked to as an example. We were the most influential couple in his life. In that way, Ericlee lives on with us today. His legacy is not forgotten because his love as a husband and father influences who we are as a family. It’s a thread that is woven intentionally throughout our story.

Today we celebrate a wedding anniversary, but more than that, we stand witness to the glory of a great God who is constantly redeeming our relationships, rewriting our stories, and restoring with abundance. Friend, I want to encourage you that your story isn’t over yet.

**Are you navigating grief? Are you on a journey after the loss of a spouse, sibling or friend? I would love to mentor and encourage you. Sign up here for my weekly Glorygram to receive stories, resources and recommendations that will usher you through your unique story.

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

5 myths about grief and 1 important truth

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

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

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

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

Myth #1: Grief has five stages.

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

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

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

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

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

Myth #3: Time heals.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

 

**I want to learn from you. What are some of the myths about grief that you’ve heard? What has your journey been like? I hope you will add some of your own experiences in the comments.

**Are you struggling through a grief journey? Are you longing for a companion on your trip? Sign up for my weekly note of encouragement here. I also have a FREE resource on “Navigating grief with kids” that you will get delivered to your inbox when you sign up.

*Photo by Killian Pham on Unsplash

*Disclosure: Affiliate links are used with no extra cost to readers.

#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, Stories, 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 | 10 Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Pepe Reyes on Unsplash.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

{Featured photo by Avi Richards on Unsplash}

 


{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 verse and others have helped me fight my fears and replace them with truth. The more I wrapped my heart in truth, the more confidence I gained as a parent. He covered me in a blanket of grace again and again.

When I was uncertain about a decision, when I needed strength to discipline my children, when I had to attend those parent-teacher conferences or awards assemblies alone, when I couldn’t participate in an event because I didn’t have childcare, I clung to those words.

There was comfort in knowing God, my Maker, also serves as my Husband. He cares for me and partners with me. He imparts knowledge and courage to me when I call out for Him. He fills in what I lack. And He transforms even the darkest circumstances for His glory.

{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.

As I ran the Shadow of the Giants race, I could not help but take note of the landscape. The trail through the Nelder Grove — not far from Yosemite National Park — looked strikingly different from the year before when I ran the same race. Fallen trees and blackened trunks provided surprising contrast against the backdrop of the bright blue sky.

A wildfire earlier in the year blazed its way through 12,407 acres of this forest. The cause of the fire was unknown, but it threatened communities, historic buildings, resorts, and the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad. People were evacuated from hotels and homes.

I was surprised to discover that though forest fires destroy so much, good things can result as well. When a fire rages through dry underbrush, it clears thick growth so nourishing sunlight can reach the forest floor. This encourages the growth of native species, and a resilient tree, who survives the fire, can even experience a growth spurt.

As I ran, I saw evidence of new growth in the Nelder Forest. Green grass and leaves sprouted in all directions. Wildflowers dotted the trail. As I rounded the corner after the steepest part of the race, angled light beamed through the blackened tree trunks. Beauty rose up from the ashes.

My husband graduated to Heaven in September 2014. Out of the grief, a fierce sense of hope has emerged in my life these last few years. I still bear the scars of loss, but God uses these to open doors so I might impart courage to others. My three daughters have resilient spirits, which I believe spring from the fire they have walked through.

Do you feel like you are running uphill through the dark? Are you feeling the sear of the fire at your heels?

I have learned the challenge is in how we respond. Will we let the fires of life destroy us or refine us? Will we let grief overtake us or will we choose comfort in Christ? Will we sit in the ashes or will we wear a crown of beauty?

Friends, let’s draw strength from these words in Isaiah:

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me…
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.

Isaiah 61:1, 2-3 (NIV)

I started sprinting as I neared the finish of the race. Oh, how I love that final taste of glory! The trail turned to single track. I whizzed by lush, green ferns. I slowed to climb over felled tree trunks. Inhale. Lift. Exhale. Lift. Somehow the chase for His glory felt easier. My heart was singed by fire, but I found unexpected joy in the journey.

{The original version of this blog was published at www.incourage.me.}

Enjoy this blog? Please share so more friends can benefit!