Chasing God's glory through all circumstances

family life

Running for His glory: How one mother trusts God’s timing

Posted by | family life, Guest blogger, hope, parenting, rest, running, self-care, Stories | No Comments

This essay is part of our summer series called “Running for His glory,” focusing on the intersection between running and faith. Lindsey is a guest on my blog today, sharing 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. 

 

By Lindsey Zarob

My first pregnancy had complications resulting in strict bed rest at 29 weeks through the end of the pregnancy. My second pregnancy required a more modified bed rest starting at 31 weeks, until the end. (Oh, and these precious little babies were only 13 months apart.)

Yep, two babies in a little over a year. This meant I barely recovered before we had baby #2 on the horizon. Because of the challenges with my previous pregnancy, this momma couldn’t walk much, let alone run during this second pregnancy. My body was a sacrifice for my kiddos, and I felt it.

Before children, running was my go-to adventure. It was my excuse for travel — hello Dublin Marathon! — and my sanctuary. Running helped build my community as I connected with friends over long runs. It was my lifeline.

I met God on those runs. I talked with Him at length. I professed my gratefulness to Him and listed all the good things in life, whether I felt them or not. I pleaded my case in prayer.  And, at times, I lamented great loss. Running was a wholistic endeavor for me.

After baby #2 was born, our condo in the city was a little tight. We knew it was time to move to the suburbs. This meant I was leaving my lake-front running path in the beautiful Windy City of Chicago for who knows what? Sidewalks and streetlights? I couldn’t run on my beloved path for what seemed like ages, and now we were leaving it forever.

We had another child about two years later. This meant I had three kids under three and a half. I hadn’t started running again because, well, life. I was working, I had young children, and I knew that these pregnancies had taken a toll on this body of mine.

I had split core muscles to repair, pelvic floor challenges to consider, and zero time to do the work to heal these things. I felt like I was missing something and no amount of brisk walks was going to replace it.

Sadly, I had given up on ever really running again. I couldn’t see how I could fit it in. Being a wife, mom of three, and working (sometimes part-time, sometimes full-time) meant there was little room to fit in the things I loved. (Can I get an amen from all the mommas of littles out there?)

Running became my long-lost love. And I really thought I would never find it again.

But it found me.

Finally, six years after my oldest was born, we decided I would leave the workforce and stay home with the kids. We felt this was God’s nudging for our family. We made some drastic moves, including down-sizing our house to make it happen.

This was a hard transition for me, but God was working behind the scenes as He always does.

Because I was home now, I could squeeze in the time for physical therapy so I could repair  some of the physical challenges that came from my pregnancies. After doing the necessary work, I was hitting the pavement again. And man, did it feel amazing.

This was the same year that my oldest child started kindergarten. He was making friends left and right, which meant I was being introduced to new parents all the time. It turned out that our new “tiny home” (as I affectionately call her), was in a tight-knit little neighborhood with a lot of amazing people.

Unbeknownst to us, God had moved us right down the street from one of my son’s new best buddies. And wouldn’t you know, his buddy’s mom is a runner. In time, she and I became great friends, and now we run together weekly. In God’s kindness, He brought my lost love back and with even greater blessing.

My body didn’t seem the same. My environment and circumstances had drastically changed. I thought a part of me had died and would not return. But God had different plans and provided in abundance. In His time, He made it beautiful.

I also discovered a running path right behind our house that extends through multiple towns and forest preserves. It winds through marsh lands, meanders through horse farms, and goes on for what seems like forever. That path is an incredible gift right outside our back door!

Friends, let me encourage you to not give up even when it seems like all signs point to the end of something. Our God delights in giving us the desires of our hearts. It may look different than in the past, and it might not come about the way you thought it would, but He will provide.

Don’t give up on the love that He placed in your heart. He placed it there for a reason and will make sure it comes back to you in full measure.

 

Lindsey is a wife, mom, and part-time Creative Strategist/copy-writer who works from home. Balancing roles and responsibilities keeps her on her toes. She loves to run and be outdoors whenever possible, but her most favorite thing is to enjoy the stillness before her household wakes in the early hours of the morning. You can find her at www.lindseyczarob.com, on Instagram @lindseyczarob and on Facebook @lindseyczarob.

 

 

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

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.

 

*Main photo by Fil Mazzarino on Unsplash.

Running for His glory: How running found me

Posted by | brave, courage, discipline, family life, Guest blogger, running, self-care, Stories, struggle | No Comments

This essay is part of our summer series focusing on the intersection between running and faith. Danielle and I connected through the Hope*writers group online. She brings a unique perspective to the table on how running found her as a young adult and shapes her health, her mothering, and who she is in Christ today.

 

By Danielle E. Morgan

In high school, I tried running to try and stay fit. My mom was a decent runner, and my oldest brother ran track. I hated it. It was all I could do to muster the ability to run one mile. It took me longer to run one mile than it would take my whiny preschooler, but I ran that mile and felt so accomplished.

But I hated running. I even remember telling my mother one day in pure frustration that I would never ever be a runner.

Never once would I have imagined that one day I’d run a marathon, hike the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim, participate in the Ragnar Trail Relay two separate years, and that at the end of the day, from season to season, running would become something I needed deep in my bones.

I never set out to become a runner; it was just something that sort of happened to me. I always say “running found me.”

Twelve years,  before I had any children, I set out one summer to get myself healthy. I was dealing with high cholesterol that my endocrinologist was adamant I take care of. The freshman 15 I had put on in college turned into the senior 25. Then I had three years of marriage combined with a full-time job, in which I developed a lifestyle of eating out a lot and no regular exercise.

My motivation to get healthy was pretty high because of the health risk I was facing. My doctor had encouraged me to start exercising and being intentional about the things I ate. Due to my unique issues with cholesterol, I was able to consult with a nutritionist to offer guidance and tools along the way.

I faced each day with one goal in mind: I was going to move my body for 30 minutes and be consistent five days a week. 

We had just adopted a black lab who needed a ton of exercise, so I put him on a leash and woke up every morning at 5:30am to take a 30-minute walk. If you think I’m crazy for getting up that early, you aren’t the only one.

It was July in Arizona, and if you want to exist outside for more than 5 minutes without getting heat stroke, then you will wake yourself up before the sun does.

I walked every day, Monday-Friday, and it became a regular part of my routine. After losing 12 pounds in six weeks, I was hooked. I had no idea I could lose 12 pounds, and now I was seeing my consistency produce a reward. It felt so good.

I kept walking and lost 35 pounds by the end of four months. I was a new woman. I had to buy new clothes and throw out the old ones. For the first time in my life, I owned my confidence and wasn’t pretending anymore.

I started to get addicted to exercise. I knew it was good for me, and even more so, I knew that I never wanted to go back to that person I was before it all started.

Then something happened. The walking became easy. I wasn’t getting the same sort of sweat I had gotten before and I realized in order to get my heart rate up and utilize the 30 minutes best, I needed to pick up my pace.

One day, I just started jogging. I thought, “I’ll just run until I’m uncomfortable, and then I’ll walk.”

The first time I tried running, it lasted maybe 30-45 seconds. So, I listened to my body and resumed my walking pace until I felt good enough to go again.

After a few weeks of off-and-on running and walking, I jogged the entire half hour. I couldn’t believe this was happening to me. How was it that I was running – by choice!? And that was just the beginning…

When I look back on the past 12 years, I am deeply blessed that running  found me.

Running for me is like writing; It fills up my soul with its richness, but requires grit and tenacity. It’s deeply hard and life-giving at the same time.

Running has been woven into the very fabric of my motherhood as I’ve bonded over hundreds of miles with my children. It’s also been the perfect escape for me. Running is my personal retreat when I’ve needed to unpack the heaviness of life and allow God to work through my literal breathlessness.

There is something powerfully divine about the places your feet can take you. It’s different when you experience a firm foundation under your own two feet, because getting somewhere requires strength, endurance, and pure fight.

When you find yourself standing over a bridge overlooking miles upon miles of road, or in the bottom of a canyon with unending hills to climb before you see the top, you realize then and there that you are so very small and God is so very big.

And yet, He invites us in. He crafted these heights and depths for our very enjoyment and has allowed runners to experience Him through nature in a uniquely glorious way – a way that fills our soul and gives life to our bones.

Running is a holy experience, a collision of the physical and spiritual in a supernatural way. It allows us to experience God through the lens of breathlessness and grit as we rely on Him for every step.

To me, running is the perfect picture of what life is. It’s less about the destination and more about our reliance on a Holy God as we embark on the journey. There are many roads and pathways your feet will carry you, but as you trust in Him, He will guide and direct your steps along the way.

 

Danielle is an Arizona native, wife, and mother of 2. She works full-time for a large multisite church as a Communications Director, in addition to consulting for a Digital Marketing Firm. Danielle is passionate about writing and speaking and is a regular contributor to local churches and organizations on issues of faith and women in business. She is particularly interested in empowering working moms and encouraging women to use their voice of influence in the workplace. When she’s not working, you can find her running outdoors or frequenting local restaurants and coffee shops.
You can connect with Danielle on Instagram at @DanielleEMorgan or on her blog at www.DanielleEMorgan.com.
*Read the other articles in this 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.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 


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

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?

How pruning clears the path for new growth

Posted by | family life, flourishing, grief, Incourage essays, kids, self-care, Stories, Uncategorized | No Comments

I saw the most gorgeous tree the other day at my kids’ school. She stopped me in my tracks with her huge blooms that were fuchsia on the outside and blush pink on the inside. Just a few weeks ago, this very tree was naked, seemingly dead and dry. Now, she sang of new life and was flourishing.

We are in the throes of transition from winter to spring in Central California where I live. That means some of the trees are stark and barren, while others are bursting with colorful blooms like the one I saw on the school campus. This also signals the time when fruit trees, roses, and vines must be pruned.

One of my dear friends lives on a property in a town about thirty minutes from my house. She and her husband have 2.5 acres with an extensive organic garden and a small grove of fruit trees, including peaches, nectarines, and plums.

Mary taught me a little about pruning. When she and her husband prune their fruit trees, they have three goals:

1) cut back all the branches to instigate growth,
2) trim excess smaller branches that steal nutrients from the main branches,
3) cut the lower branches to train the tree to grow upward and outward.

When Mary explained this about pruning, I couldn’t help thinking about one of my favorite passages in Scripture when Jesus talks about the concept of pruning. He says,

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit, he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.
John 15:1-2 (NIV)

These verses do not say to cut back just the dead and sinful branches. Jesus says every branch must be pruned for the purpose of greater growth. If we apply the same principles of pruning to our own lives, it means we have to consider cutting back all our branches or commitments.

In our culture, it’s so easy to say yes to too many activities, too many good things, too much busyness. The hardest part for me is choosing what to cut back. I have to open my hands before the Master Gardener and ask Him if there is anything that needs to be removed, trimmed, or shaped in each new season.

After my husband’s death in 2014, I felt like God was asking me to step back from working with the non-profit organization we had started in Haiti. This was a difficult decision for me because I had been serving there for many years with my late husband. I had nurtured deep friendships and felt a strong sense of identity within that ministry.

God asked me to lay down my pride and empower others to step into leadership of the organization. This required courage and vulnerability, but I knew it was the right decision. I needed to make space for grief and be present for my three daughters in their grief journey.

In other seasons, Jesus has prompted me to step away from leadership roles or commitments that were taking too much time. He wanted me to choose margin and rest. This past fall, my daughters were starting at a new school. Our family started attending a new church. It was also a busy time for my new husband in his job. As much as I was eager to jump into new opportunities, God asked me to prune back my involvement in volunteering at church and attending Bible study.

I needed space and silence to listen to where God might be leading me in this new season. This also afforded me more quality time with my family to help them through their transitions.

Every new season is an invitation to reevaluate and prune our lives for greater growth. And in a pruning season, it is critical to abide in Jesus.

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
John 15:5 (ESV)

That word abide means “to dwell or remain.” In this verse, Jesus invites us to sit down and spend time with Him so He can root us. He reminds us that apart from Him we can do nothing. We have to hand over the pruning shears and our control to Jesus.

Pruning is often painful. Jesus understands pain and suffering, and that’s why He’s the perfect person to walk with us through that process.

Pruning can also bring grief. Sometimes we need to give ourselves permission to grieve what we are stepping away from or losing. Christ offers comfort and peace when we lean into Him.

Pruning requires courage. It’s hard to say no to good things. It’s difficult to step away from groups and commitments that have been meaningful in a certain season of our lives. It’s a challenge to pivot away from something that was our passion or made us feel successful. Jesus serves up strength and provides confidence when we dwell with Him.

Friend, let me encourage you to embrace the pruning today. Let’s trust the Master Gardener who cares deeply about each one of us and also sees the big picture of His garden.

What do you need to prune in this present season
to make room for Jesus and new growth?

 

*Dorina has written more about pruning and how God has designed each of us to flourish in her Bible study, Flourishing Together: Cultivating a Fruitful Life in Christ. Details here.

 

Book review: The Road Back to You

Posted by | book reviews, family life, flourishing, gifts, identity, individuality, relationships, Stories | No Comments

For six Wednesdays, the doorbell rang just a little before 9 a.m. I poured steaming hot water in the French press and pulled goodies from the refrigerator. There were usually four or five us sipping coffee and cozying up under blankets before the fireplace.

We gathered on these mornings for what you might call a “book club.” Of course, The Road Back To You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile, was simply a jumping off point for many conversations about personalities and relationships. The enneagram provided a new pathway for understanding ourselves and the unique way God designed each of us.

What’s the en-eee-ah-gram? Good question.

I know, I know. It sounds like some fancy, scientific term. The enneagram is an ancient personality typing system that helps people discover who they are and what makes them tick, explain Ian Cron and Suzanne Stabile in the introduction.

The Road Back to You serves as a practical primer for folks who want to dive into learning about the enneagram and the nine different types. The authors include comprehensive descriptions of each of the numbers with approachable, witty anecdotes.

“Every number on the enneagram teaches us something about the nature and character of the God who made us,” the authors write. “Inside each number is a hidden gift that reveals something about God’s heart.”

I have to admit: I love personality tests. I’ve taken the Myers-Briggs, the Strengths Finder, the animal test, the color test, and a few others. What sets the enneagram apart for me is that this personality typing system feels more nuanced. The more I learn, the more I understand about the healthy and unhealthy tendencies of my personality type.

Some of you may be cringing at the idea of a “type.” It doesn’t mean everyone with the same type has the same personality. The enneagram doesn’t try to box people in. The enneagram simply gives language to talk about how we are wired and what motivates us. It provides a deeper understanding of how God designed us and how to relate with others around us who are designed similarly and differently.

Through The Road Back To You, I learned I have a 7 personality type. That means I’m an Enthusiast. A healthy 7 embodies joy and boundless love for life. The book tells me they are able to incorporate pain and disappointment into the whole of their lives, rather than avoiding it. They are great storytellers, fun, adventurous, spiritually-grounded, practical and resilient.

These are certainly things I strive for. I identified with 15 of the 20 statements that described what it’s like to be a seven. Some examples include: “I’m an optimist to fault,” “Anticipation is the best part of life” and “Life is better than people imagine. It’s all about how you explain things to yourself.”

The more I read, the more I started to feel like someone was reading my journal. I was convicted when I read that a 7 acts like a 1 (Perfectionist) when she is stressed. She is prone to gorging herself on interesting ideas, jamming her calendar with activities, and planning the next great escapade. As I dug deeper, I learned how important it is to practice restraint, moderation and solitude on a regular basis.

Gulp.

My friends identified themselves as a 2 (Helper), 4 (Romantic), 1 (Perfectionist), 9 (Peacemaker), and 8 (Challenger). This made for lively conversation as we each embraced and pushed back on certain traits. We affirmed and coached each other.

On our last meeting, we gathered in a circle carrying the things we learned about ourselves and each other. We prayed over each person, her gifts, her struggles, and her central relationships.

What I discovered is that our time was much more than a book club. It was a sacred journey into our identities as image bearers of God.

The authors frame it this way: “We most delight and reflect the glory of God when we discover and reclaim our God-given identity with which we lost connection shortly after our arrival in this fallen world.”

 

Other enneagram resources you might want to check out:

-Take a quick Enneagram test here: https://exploreyourtype.com

The Path Between Us: An Enneagram Journey to Healthy Relationships by Suzanne Stabile

The Sacred Enneagram: Finding Your Unique Path to Spiritual Growth by Christopher L. Heuertz

Typology podcast with Ian Morgan Cron

*Do you know your Enneagram number? How has the Enneagram helped you on your journey? Share in the comments.

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.

For those longing for a little Good News

Posted by | behold, christmas, compassion, family life, Incourage essays, inspirational, kids, One Word, Personal Stories, sharing faith, Stories, wonder | No Comments

Our friends Jenny and Peter recently posted a collection of the sweetest photos announcing their pregnancy. Baby onesies and ultrasound pictures were pinned to a clothesline they held between them. What joy to see their smiling faces and to wish them congratulations on this good news!

We make a big deal about baby announcements in our culture. It seems like every week I see some adorable photo on Facebook or Instagram announcing a “bun in the oven” or revealing a baby’s gender in a unique way.

I also had the amazing experience of being with close friends when they received the good news their baby was born in a hospital nearby and adoption papers were being finalized. After a long journey with infertility, this news was full of rejoicing. This good news proclaimed a message that beauty does come from ashes.

Friends, are you longing to behold some good news?

Maybe it’s been a hard year for you. Maybe you’re stuck with a diagnosis. Maybe you’re grieving the death of your husband. Maybe your arms feel empty as you are still longing for a baby. Maybe you are spending the holidays in the hospital with a loved one. Maybe you are feeling bone-weary from all the news of shootings, destructive fires and floods, and war in our world.

Are you wondering if there really is any good news anymore?

In Luke 2:10, the shepherds receive the ultimate good news. They were watching over their sheep one night when an angel appeared to them. Naturally, they were frightened by the glory of God shining all around them. They weren’t expecting this news.

The angel said:

“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
Luke 2:10-11 (ESV)

The word ‘behold’ precedes the most important announcement ever made: the good news that a Savior has been born. The shepherds behold the good news by going to Bethlehem to see for themselves that this announcement is true. Then they spread the news about Jesus.

For the rest of the story,  jump over to (in)courage.me with me today.

Book review: Rhythms of Rest

Posted by | book reviews, creativity, family life, grief, inspirational, rest, running, self-care, Stories | 2 Comments

My middle daughter and I cuddle up on the chaise part of our big blue couch. We each hold fluffy balls of yarn in our lap with wooden knitting needles. I’ve chosen a golden-mustard color today and Giada has her favorite light turquoise yarn. Before long, you can hear the click of the needles as we knit, purl, knit, purl in neat rows.

This has become a Sunday tradition for us.

Knitting is a kind of creative therapy we both need. I am learning the art of slowing down, of making space for Sabbath. This is not about productivity. It’s about creativity and being together.

When I knit with my daughter, I’m intentionally choosing a different pace from our weekdays when I’m too often multitasking, working from home, keeping the proverbial plates spinning for a family of five, and rushing us off to the next thing. When I take up the needles and yarn, I am more present in the moment.

I exhale. I savor this time.

“Sabbath is a life raft Jesus extends to us every week to prevent us from drowning in our work,” writes Shelly Miller in her book Rhythms of Rest: Finding the Spirit of Sabbath in a Busy World. “It’s not enough to know how to get to the other side of your busyness – it’s doing something about it that will set you free.”

Shelly offers up this book as a gift for the weary soul who longs for rest but doesn’t know how to make it reality. She helped me on a journey of setting new rhythms for myself and my family this year.

“God created rest to be as natural as breathing,” Shelly writes. “Sabbath is the exhale required after six days of inhaling work.”

But how do we truly exhale in a fast-paced, social media-driven world that never rests?

That was the question I’ve been asking myself for the last handful of years. I knew rest was important to my soul and perhaps even to my productivity, but I wasn’t sure how to do it.

The first treasure I discovered in this book is the importance of contrast. Shelly says we can’t truly rest if our Sabbath day or Rest time looks the same as all the other days of the week. This means we have to prepare in advance for Sabbath.

I’ve applied this in simple ways for our family. On Saturday nights, I try to make a double portion for our dinner so I can save some for Sunday. This helps me exhale on Sunday evenings. Instead of spending extended hours in the kitchen, I can sit on the couch and knit with my daughter or go for a family bike ride. It’s a small adjustment that has helped me shift my heart in a big way.

This isn’t about following certain rules or being religious. This is about making space. As Shelly puts it in the book: “Preparation in rest precedes the miracle. When we run errands early in the week, clean up the house, prepare food for the weekend, these are acts of love at the root. Preparing for Sabbath communicates to Jesus, ‘You matter most. I want to spend time with you.’”

Those words inspired and convicted me.

Shelly also helped me to see that Sabbath rest helps us to be more aware of God’s powerful presence, especially in the midst of pain and hardship.

She writes, “Sabbath provides space between you and your problems, enabling you to see from God’s perspective, often with surprising results, like a word breaking through your questions about life and awakening you to something more important.”

I found this to be true, especially after my husband died in 2014. I was already a runner at the time, but I took up trail running as an activity where I could find space. My weekend long trail runs were a contrast to the rest of my week.

In the steadying of my breath and the wonder of Creation I saw on the trails, I met with God. I had freedom to grieve, to question, and to feel His comfort as I ran. Shelly calls this a “ruminating practice” that invites peace and rest.

Of course, this looks different for everyone. Some might spend time in the garden, crochet, read a book, walk in the neighborhood, or paint.

My daughter says knitting helps her listen. She is so much like her mama. Through the years, knitting is another calming practice that allows me that space to think, dream and listen more deeply.

I love the way Shelly uses her own struggles and grappling with the concept of rest to gracefully invite her readers into this conversation about Sabbath in a busy world. She models for us how to create Sabbath in personal and practical ways.

**For the month of December, I’m gifting my readers a FREE Advent devotional on the theme of Wonder. Read more about how God has challenged me to slow down and soak in the wonder of the season. This devotional includes a reflection, scripture reading and discussion questions that are  perfect for personal or family use. Sign up here.

*This post includes affiliate links at no extra cost to readers.

When God transplants you to a new garden

Posted by | family life, finishing well, flourishing, identity, inspirational, Stories, struggle, transitions, Uncategorized | No Comments

I grew up in Chicago in a neighborhood where the houses were like little boxes made of brick sitting in neat rows along the city streets. Even though we had a small backyard, my mama always made space for a garden.

Every spring we would head down to the local nursery and pick out packets of seeds and plants. We dreamed of making Italian pesto and marinara sauce with our herbs and tomatoes. We salivated over eggplant parmigiana or moist zucchini bread we could create. Of course, we had work to do before we would ever taste the fruit of our labor.

Mama would hand my brother and me little shovels and spading forks. Our first assignment was to break up the hard soil to get it ready for planting. This was the cultivating process, where we also had to uproot any pesky weeds.

We mixed in the dark, rich top soil with the gray, ashy dirt that had endured Chicago’s winter. They say it’s best to prepare the soil a week in advance so we had to be patient in the process. Our soil needed extra nutrients before we could transplant the seedlings from the nursery.

Finally, we would gather around as Mama dug little holes evenly-spaced in the garden boxes. Then she removed the plants from the containers and gently loosened the roots. She slipped the seedlings into the holes and we would gently pat the dirt around them. Mama always had us soak the soil right after the seedlings were planted. They needed lots of water to nourish them as they got settled in their new home.

A few months ago, God transplanted our family. We moved into a new house. My three daughters transferred to a new school. My husband’s company restructured, which meant he had to move to a new office. We also decided, after much prayer and processing heavy things, that it was time to find a new church.

These are beastly transitions. Whenever you shift your daily rhythm, relocate or transfer to a new position, it takes time to recalibrate. It takes time to get fully rooted and ready for new growth.

As I survey my life, God has transplanted me several times. He transplanted me when I went off to college three hours away from my family. He transplanted me after college from Michigan to California to start a new job as a newspaper reporter. He transplanted our young family when my late husband and I started a non-profit in Haiti. And now we are being transplanted again.

Through these experiences, I have learned several lessons:

First, I have to dig in to do the work of cultivating the soil. Before I could move to these new places and spaces, I had to be willing to shake things up, to dig through the memories, to sort through what we would be leaving behind and grieve. I had to say goodbye to people and mark what God taught me in that season. Cultivating is the hard part, but it yields such growth.

Secondly, when we’re being transplanted to a new garden, we have to nourish ourselves well with the truth. Mama taught us to add nutrient-rich soil and plenty of water to help our seedlings grow at the start. In the same way, our souls need nourishment. We need more time in God’s Word, more time in prayer, more time to connect with the Master Gardener as we navigate transition.

When people or settings are new, our souls go through a kind of shock like a seedling does in new soil. Insecurity, resentment, and doubt can creep in. We may find ourselves longing for the old garden because it was familiar and comfortable. This is when we need to press in to the truth that we are known and loved by God no matter where we go.

Once we have been transplanted, we also need to give ourselves time to listen and observe how things work in the new garden. It’s tempting to rush into familiar rhythms, but we might miss something new God wants to bloom in a new place. For example, I’ve led women’s Bible studies for years. I was tempted in our new church to sign up for Bible study right away and inquire about leadership, but I felt God encouraging me to hold back. He’s invited me into a sweet season of rest and personal Bible study that I believe has been important to strengthening my roots in this new season. This also has afforded me more time to be present with my daughters in this transition.

Maybe some of you have been transplanted recently. Maybe you’ve moved to a new city, a new job, a new church. Maybe you’ve just graduated from college or now you have an empty nest. Maybe you’ve just sent your baby off to kindergarten or have found yourself back in school. As you are transplanted to this new place or new situation, remember to keep your eyes on the Master Gardener. He is faithful to go before us to cultivate the soil and help us root ourselves if we cling to Him.

It’s not the one who plants or the one who waters who is at the center
of this process but God, who makes things grow.
1 Corinthians 3:7 (MSG)

Have you ever been transplanted? How did you stay rooted in that season?

*I have written more on how God designed each of us to flourish for His glory in my Bible study, Flourishing Together: Cultivating a Fruitful Life in Christ. Details here.

Click over to (in)courage to read the original of this post…

Photo by Benjamin Combs 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.}

{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.

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

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

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

By Lea Turner from A Heart at Rest

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

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

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

It all seemed so overwhelming.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

*Featured photo by Matthijs Smit on Unsplash.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crystal hits on three main themes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 | 3 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.


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